Mocking laughter followed me as I lumbered down the hallway. Amid the other sounds of students talking about homework, the older ones seeking out that “special someone”, and teachers patrolling the hallways, I could always pick out that derisive sound. Sometimes a solo, sometimes a chorus, but always a part of the background noise of my day. It’s because I’m a PK (preacher’s kid), isn’t it, Lord?” Why did we have to move here? I was actually liked and included in Michigan. It’s so different here. There was no answer to my plaintive plea. The fact of the matter was, I didn’t know why my classmates were so mean to me. Why they felt the need to push me down, block my way, comment on how marred my appearance was (as if I didn’t know), or leave me propping up the side of the school building, reading a book while they all played together. I didn’t need to be ridiculed again for my version of walker-soccer.
But being a PK seemed as good a reason as any. My father graduated from Western Theological Seminary in 1976. He had chosen the ministry as his profession because he knew God had called him, so church life was all I’d ever known. We started out in Wisconsin, then Michigan, and finally back to Wisconsin again, where we would stay for 17 and a half years. It was an amazing period of ministry for my dad. And I’m glad it was successful for him. I can’t say that I don’t wonder how my life would have been different if we’d been somewhere else–anywhere else. But here we were, whether I liked it or not.
Fast forward about eight years from that day in second grade, and we’re still in Randolph. The bullying isn’t quite as overt as it was for the first five years. Now, mostly, my classmates leave me alone. Not that this is much of an improvement. Having no friends and being alone all the time means that the only voices to keep me company are the ones I’ve heard for years. You’re ugly. Why do you walk like that? Can’t you try harder to be normal? You know you’re never going to get married, don’t you? Why do you like church so much? It makes you even weirder than you already are. We don’t like you. We don’t want you. Just go away.
The truth was, I didn’t know why I liked church so much. After all, the classmates I saw at school were the same ones I had in my Sunday school class. At least here though, they didn’t target me directly. They were in church, you know. But I loved hearing my dad preach (even if he did seem to go on a little long–I love you Dad!), and I loved the stories we heard from the Bible during Sunday school (even if I’d heard them before and annoyed my classmates by knowing all the answers).
As I reflect on that part of my life now, I know God was preparing me to, ironically enough, be a pastor as well. In the meantime though, all I knew was that I’d volunteered to preach the sermon for that youth Sunday during my sophomore year of high school. It was on the Ten Commandments, and I’m sure it was terrible. I’m sure it was terrible because I didn’t really understand why we had the Ten Commandments when no one I knew seemed to follow them. I’m sure it was terrible because God and I, well, we weren’t really on speaking terms. Yes, I knew all the right answers to all the questions, and my dad was the best preacher I knew, but if this God was going to allow this dark, sinister hell to be my life, well, then he and I weren’t going to talk! But then people from my church came up to me after my “sermon” and told me how much I reminded them of Dad, and had I ever considered becoming a pastor? Over and over, and over again I heard people express this sentiment. Yeah, right. That’s just what I want. To put an even bigger target on my back. Besides, don’t you know what women aren’t supposed to do this? You all are crazy. But their crazy words stuck with me. I didn’t know it then, but I belonged to God, whether I liked it or not.
I graduated from high school, never so glad to leave a group of people in my life. I was off to a Christian college (yay!) where people would actually behave like grown-ups. For the first time in my life I had friends, and I felt physically different walking into a classroom because I knew I wasn’t walking into the lions’ den.
Only now the lions’ den was in my head. I was severely depressed and suicidal, so I took advantage of the school’s free counseling services. Throughout all those years and all those sessions, my counselor would take me back mentally to a bullying scene I could remember. That was the problem. I’d blocked out most of what had happened, so I couldn’t understand the turmoil I was feeling. But when I could remember, I would go back there, and after reliving the experience, my counselor would say, “Okay, now put Jesus there. Where is he in that memory?” Most of the time, Jesus was in the corner, tears streaming down his face, his hand reaching out to me. I wouldn’t understand what the hand meant for years, but I understood the tears. Maybe Jesus hadn’t stopped it. But he hurt along with me, and that was enough. I belonged to God, whether I liked it or not.
But ten years of turmoil and abuse will also leave a person with significantly altered brain chemistry, which for me meant clinical depression. My counselor tried for two years before I finally agreed to an anti-depresssant. No, no. This is just a spiritual problem. Not a chemical one. I feel this way because I don’t believe or trust enough. Just show me how to do that, and I’ll be fine. But I wasn’t fine. I loved Jesus now, and I had a better picture of who he was, but I still wasn’t fine. So I tried the meds. And they helped. But it was still hard. Geez, God! Having cerebral palsy wasn’t hard enough? You had to give me depression too? You sure do know how to make it hard for a person to love you! And yet love Jesus I did. It just didn’t make any sense that I did.
I have cerebral palsy…that does not induce a person to love.
I survived ten years of bullying which God did not stop….that does not induce a person to love.
I deal with chronic clinical depression that will always need treatment, and led me down two suicidal cycles before it got under control….that does not induce a person to love.
I went into an area of work where I am still not accepted by the denomination who raised me….that does not induce a person to love.
And yet still, I love. I love the God who created me, protected me, held me, restored me, and redeemed me. Perhaps because when your world falls to ashes, you have no other recourse than to crawl up into Jesus’ lap–to lean hard on God.
One of the tenants of the Reformed faith is a belief in predestination and belonging to God even before we are aware of it. And it’s something I believe in because I’ve seen it play out in my life. And to say it’s a controversial doctrine within and without our circles is putting it mildly. It’s not one that I’ll argue to the death over–only salvation through Jesus Christ is worth that–but without Jesus’ choosing me, I don’t know where I would be. Six feet under, probably. I will forever be grateful that God chose me even when I did not have the capacity or understanding to know or choose myself. I belong to God whether I like it or not…and I like it.
To the Glory of God.