Belonging: An Evangelical Story

(Part 4 of TBD)

Pain is Inevitable

I’ve been through a lot of painful experiences in my life. Not as much as some, but perhaps more than most. How pain and suffering relates to my Christian journey is something that I have thought about a lot as of late.

From childhood until my teenage years, my experiences included the following:

Kidnapping & Murder

In August of 1991, when I was 9 years old, our family received a call from some friends of ours. These friends had moved from Anchorage to a small Alaskan town called Tazlina some months before. They were calling to report that their 11 year-old daughter, Mandy, had gone missing. She had disappeared while walking on the road to a friend’s house.

At first I wasn’t even worried, for the simple reason that I didn’t believe anything so terrible could happen to someone I knew. I’d heard about kidnappings on Unsolved Mysteries and America’s Most Wanted, but stuff like that only happened to far-away people in far-away places. I believed they would find Mandy alive and well, and there would be a perfectly rationale explanation for where she had been.

Her body was found ten days after she had disappeared. She had been shot twice in the head with a .22 and raped by an inanimate object. The world suddenly seemed like a much darker and scarier place. [1]

The Departure of a Brother

When I was 8 or 9, my mother had a nervous breakdown. I was staying overnight with friends that weekend, but I was told that the pressure of raising two disabled sons and three other children had gotten to her, and she had run screaming and crying into the street. Shortly thereafter, my older brother was sent to live in a group home in Oregon, reducing the number of siblings to four and making me effectively “the oldest.”

As an adult I learned that my older brother had been accused of molesting a 5 year-old neighbor girl. I knew nothing about these accusations at the time.

Threatened & Assaulted

During my final year in Alaska (ages 9-10), my parents became friends with a single mother who had a son and a daughter—let’s just call them Darcy and Kerrick. Darcy was maybe two years older than me while Kerrick was about two years younger. Often my parents would go out to dinner with Darcy and Kerrick’s mother, leaving us six children alone to play together.

Darcy and I were friends for a while, but in my final month in Alaska, she grew inexplicably mean and cold, as did her brother. As soon as our parents would leave, Darcy and Kerrick would retreat to her bedroom and lock the door, refusing to let anyone else come in and play with the Sega Genesis. We began begging our parents not to leave us alone with them, but they didn’t listen.

Then the day came when Darcy snapped. On one of these days when our parents were out, she grew angry at my autistic brother (she was age 12; he was age 8) and intentionally slammed his wrist in her bedroom closet door to punish him, causing the wrist to bleed. Over the course of the evening, she slapped the same brother hard across the face twice and punched my sister (age 4) in the nose, giving her a bad nosebleed. These siblings were not touching her, talking to her, or doing anything to her. She attacked them completely unprovoked.

When I headed for her mother’s room to call the police, she appeared at the end of the hallway with her hands full of kitchen knives. Then she raised them and began to run at me screaming. I felt like I was in a horror movie. In that moment, I truly believed I was about to die.

I ducked into the master bedroom. Kerrick slipped into it with me and refused to let me lock the door. I fought with him to keep the door closed for several minutes before giving up and dashing to the phone, but Darcy barged in through the door that her brother opened (without the knives, thankfully) and pulled the jack out of the wall. She wouldn’t let us call the police on either house phone, so I gathered up my siblings and we left. As we were walking across the lawn away from the home, Darcy ran out and shoved my sister flat on her face one more time for good measure.

The only thing I could think to do was to walk to a McDonald’s several miles away and call the police there. This was Darcy’s neighborhood and I knew none of the neighbors; I was paranoid that the closest houses would harbor friends of Darcy who would notify her or return us to her. I tried to flag down passing cars, but no one would stop. After about a mile, some in-line skaters stopped us to ask what was wrong, and told us they had seen a red-haired girl on a bike with knives in her hands. I panicked at the thought of Darcy catching up to us again with her knives. We ran for the nearest row of homes and began knocking frantically on doors until we found someone who was home, a sweet elderly Asian couple. They took us in and called the police. Everyone we told our story to expressed shock that a 12 year-old girl had terrorized us like that.

I had nightmares for months after that, even though we moved to Washington state just a few days later. It wasn’t rational, but I worried that Darcy would somehow find me and come after me.

Miserable at School

I was frequently and harshly teased during junior high and my first year of high school. I was teased for being too tall, too thin, poor, and ugly. Students I had never seen or talked to would stop to tell me I was ugly. No matter how I changed my hair or my clothes, no matter how much make-up I put on, it never seemed to let up. Rumors frequently flew that I was anorexic and bulimic because of my slight weight, even though I was never any of those things. By my sophomore year, I literally had no friends at school. Even my own cousins (I had one a year older than me and one a year younger) did not like hanging out with me, and their friends seemed to put pressure on them to keep me to away.

What hurt most about all of this was that the teenagers at church and youth camp were not really any different from the teenagers at school. They were just as cliquish and mean. Church offered no relief from my pain.

Verbal & Physical Abuse

My first experience with abuse occurred when I was about eight. My mother came home from drinking with her friends, got angry at me over something trivial, and beat me with a wooden spoon all over my face, chest, back, and hands. I remember my parents having a huge fight over it when my father found out about it, and my dad keeping me home from school for a few days so the teachers would not ask about the dark bruises on my face and arms.

My father retired from the Air Force when I was 12 or 13, and had trouble securing a steady job after that. As he bounced from dead-end job to dead-end job and our already meager finances were stretched to the limit, he came to take out his frustrations on me. We would fight almost every night that he came home from work (which was every 3-4 days). My father would tell me that I was a terrible child, that I was worthless, that no other parents would ever want a daughter like me. I had nearly straight As in school, was in all kinds of honors programs, and was not doing drugs or sleeping around or anything like that.

Physical abuse was rare, but it happened. I remember my father punching me in the stomach on Christmas day, 1997. I fell into despair after that. Home was war and school was hell, and I found neither friendship nor love at either. Feeling crushed between these two hostile terrains, my mind turned to the locker where my father kept his guns as I began to contemplate suicide. [2]

—————-

[1] For more on Mandy’s case, please see Cold Crime: How Police Detectives Solved Alaska’s Most Shocking Cases (Epicenter Press, 2006) by Tom Brennan, 164-79. See also Forensic Files Season 3 Episode 31, “Sphere of Influence” (2003).

[2] I should say that I hope no one judges my parents too harshly by what I’ve shared here. My mother was a very different person by the time of her death in 2008, and my father is a very different person today. My father also hails from an abusive childhood home, and it is very common that those who were abused as children turn into abusers as adults.

Belonging: An Evangelical Story

Part 1 – Growing Up in Alaska, Growing Up Irreligious
Part 2 – Finding Jesus?
Part 3 – First Things, Church, Baptism
Part 4 – Pain is Inevitable


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