Whether I Like It or Not

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.

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10 thoughts on “Whether I Like It or Not

  1. Jill! So much good stuff here. You are an autobiographical theologian and pastor in the style of Moltmann. In my humble opinion that is one of the best things for a pastor and budding theologian to aspire to. One can rarely go a chapter in Moltmann without him mentioning his suffering, his loss and his bearing the burden of his people’s sin during WWII and his experience as a prisoner of war. He writes in his autobiography “A Broad Place”:

    “Then I read Mark’s gospel as a whole and came to the story of the passion; when I heard Jesus’ death cry, ‘My God, why have you forsaken me?’ I felt growing within me the conviction: this is someone who understands you completely, who is with you in your cry to God and who has felt the same forsakenness you are living in now. I began to understand the assailed, forsaken Christ because I knew that he understood me. The divine brother in need, the companion on the way, who goes with you through this ‘valley of the shadow of death,’ the fellow-sufferer who carries you, with your suffering. I summoned up the courage to live again, and I was slowly but surely seized by the great hope of the resurrection into God’s wide ‘wide space where there is no more cramping.”

    Your image of Jesus in the corner crying, suffering with you immediately reminded me of those words.

    I’ll admit to not liking the term predestination because of it’s 16th and 17th century trappings and the prevailing Dordtian understanding of double predestination. But one can hardly be a Christian and not have some doctrine of election, which at the end of the day still summons words to mind like chosen and called. For me personally I think of Ephesians 1:3-14 where election is inextricably intertwined with God gathering up all things in Christ. We are the ones granted wisdom and insight, the ones to whom God has made known the mystery of God’s will. Even if one interprets this in the most hopeful sense (e.g. Christocentric Universalism) it is still an offense to those not (yet?) part of this new community and it still confers just as much responsibility on the elected one as it does privilege.

    Thank you so much for offering this heart bearing and honest post here. I hope it is the first of many to come.

    Towards Shalom,

    Wayne

  2. Jill,

    I am sitting here weeping with my computer on my lap. I feel that pain. I know some of that suffering. But, your love and your heart shine forth God’s love and grace with such clarity even though you have experienced such darkness. All I can say is, “Thank you, Jesus.” The world needs this piece, Jill. Thank you for your courage to write it.

    April

    • April, thank you for saying that the world needs this piece. I’ve encountered a rather high level of uncomfortability in others when sharing my testimony from this lens, as if people are saying, “Do we really need to talk about this? (Can’t we shift to something more cheerful?)” And of course, the perfectionistic pleaser in me wants to be able to do that.

      But what I have seen is that none of us have bright and shiny stories. And to represent them that way is an affront to God. But what a lot of us do have is hope. And stories of redemption. And restoration. Now, the formation of hope, recognizing redemption, and living into restoration are lifelong processes, and sometimes it feels like a “one step forward, two steps back” process, but the trajectory IS forward. Perhaps it is the slowness of the process that causes such discomfiture in our instant gratification culture.

      I pray for you often, that God would continue to open your eyes to the ways in which he has restored your life as well. May be both continue to serve the Savior who loves us well.

  3. A beautiful witness to the strength and depth of your faith, Jill. Thank you for sharing your experience and your pain with us. As the mother of a daughter with a physical disability who struggles as you did/do with some very similar issues and experiences with her peers, this truly hits home. I give thanks for a God who accompanies us on the journey and weeps with us in our pain. I give thanks for a God who is leading you beside still waters and into green pastures to proclaim the grace and truth and love of God. I give thanks for a God who has led us to a supportive counselor and, hopefully, a supportive college environment.
    As Henry Nouwen writies, “The mystery of God’s love is not that our pain is taken away,
    but that God first wants to share that pain with us. Out of this divine solidarity comes new life.” (from Nouwen’s book entitled “Compassion”).
    Bless you, Jill, as you continue to bless the lives of those around you.

  4. Wayne, I completely understand not liking the word predestination. It has been used to such wrong means and it’s still a very misunderstood word. It may have been better to use a different word in its place, but I used that word precisely because it has so many Reformed “trappings”, hoping that by talking about being chosen, people would know more of what I mean.

    Honestly, when I look at the way I live my life, I live as though everyone IS chosen. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my Bible study class, “You may not understand that person. You may not even like them. You may think they’re terrible. But always remember, they’ve been made in the image of God too. They are loved deeply by Jesus. And you don’t know what Jesus’ plans are for them.”

    It really is true what Calvin said–being chosen, elected, predestined, etc.–is a mystery that will fall apart–from our human perspective–if we probe too deeply. I DO understand what I wrote above, and that’s how I live.

    I think it would be exciting if you and I could come up with a word that isn’t quite so loaded. Are you up to the challenge? 🙂

    I am humbled by your comparison to Moltmann. He’s literally next on my list of things to read. There are times when I wish my theology and experience weren’t so shaped by pain, but that the same time, I think the point is not to wallow in it, and I don’t do that–anymore. It’s a nasty place. I have no desire to go back there.

    Much love, brother, Jill

  5. Ann,

    My prayer for you and your daughter is that you both would find a way to allow her pain to form her, but not to limit her. I do talk about pain a lot because it was so formative in my life, and I think this sometimes can be misinterpreted as allowing it to define me to the uttermost. Yes, it does define me, but I don’t think that’s the only thing I’m about. I’m not saying though, when there aren’t days and times when my pain doesn’t limit and trap me. Fortunately, because of all the cooperative work God and I have done, I can snap out of it pretty quickly. The perfectionist part of me wishes I never even went there in the first place, but if I’m overly hard on myself about it, that’ll just lead me right back to the pit I came out of a long time ago.

    So the challenge for you and your daughter is to learn with formation looks like, and to learn what self-pity looks like.The line between the two is very fine, but definition is essential. Without such definition, we will never become the people God dreams we would be.

    My prayers are with you in this calling to parent God has laid on your life.

  6. Thank you for sharing your story. I admire your courage. I have a physical disability and mental illness as well and I left the church because the people there weren’t accepting (well one church was but I had to move away from it). I think if more people like you with disabilities were in positions of power within the church its attitude would change. So keep up your good work.

    • intercision,
      I apologize for taking so long to reply, but Holy Week in ministry = very busy. And my heart aches for the lack of acceptance you’ve found in what should be the most accepting group of all–the people of God. I still face resistance in my context, and I cannot lie, it makes me angry. I refuse to lose hope though. If I lose hope, I’ll lose the chance to be a part of any change God is working in the midst of. I am convinced that you are changing your small corner of the world, wherever you are, and I pray that God will make his work obvious in your life. May God continue to heal you as well, and lead you to a place where the people of God pour out grace and love upon your head.

      • Thanks for the encouragement! Does your church have any specific outreach for individuals with disabilities? I would love to read more of your writing as your experience is a unique and necessary one. I went to Wheaton and then and since I’ve kind of felt like I was blazing my own trail (both times I was in the faith and when I had fallen away).

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