I grew up going to the same Lutheran church every Sunday since the age of four, when my family moved from D.C. to Baltimore. I began attending Sunday School classes immediately. I remember loving it, just eating it up! And I was a little artist, so I loved the church, the stained glass, all the paintings of Jesus and the children and his flock. Over the altar was (and still is) a huge alcove to the rafters with a painting of Jesus standing in the clouds of heaven with his arms outspread, and love in his face. That was my image of Jesus. My father was the church adult choir director (and a public school music teacher). He got me into reading music at an early age, and by six, I was in the children’s choir. My mother was a night nurse full-time, and by age seven I had three younger brothers, who also went to church.
I never tired of going, and loved every aspect of church and learning about Jesus! It was a kind environment. At least until I was fourteen… I’ll get to that.
I remember when I was seven, my maternal gramma was visiting and sleeping in my bed, I slept on an army cot beside her. We stayed up late talking and I was able to ask her all the questions I could think of, and I don’t remember what most were now, except that she told me that Jesus’s love saves us and we shouldn’t be afraid to die. (I guess I must have asked her if she was going to die? I did know death, an uncle whose farm I summered at raised and slaughtered beef cattle and chickens, and hunted, fished – I followed along – he let me see everything about farm life – and I knew animals died.) The windows in my bedroom, four of them, were tall and wide and I could see the sky at night if I didn’t pull the blinds. I looked and looked in the stars for heaven every night after that, unafraid to die, knowing I would be with Jesus. This is how secure I was in Jesus as a little girl…
…Before other things started to take forefront in my life.
To capsulize it, I grew up in a physically, sexually, psychologically and emotionally sabotaging abusive home. Both parents were culprits who – despite the church front – fought often and violently, my father beating my mother. I was witness to so much trauma as a child. At ten, they divorced, and at age ten I became the “little mother” to my three brothers (seven, five and three) while my mother worked full-time at night, drank and did whatever during the day while we were in school, and when I came home from school, she would go to bed. I raised my brothers completely. The entire four-bedroom house and all needs including shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry, homework, bath time, ironing (including her uniforms, which had to be perfectly starched).
I took it on. I had Jesus! I took my brothers to church on Sundays, walking us all the mile each way. I made sure they wore white shirts and their pants were ironed. (LOL and this is *capsulized, you are saying?) They played in nursery while I was in choir. I was confirmed at twelve, and became an acolyte, too. I was definitely embedded and felt at home in my church – and trusted it.
At the age of fourteen, I was “failed” from passing 9th grade Sunday School (and told I had to repeat the year) because I could only come every other Sunday due to a class one brother had on Sundays. I can attest that I was the most earnest and devoted girl in that Sunday school class. I knew for a fact that I was the ONLY one who had not done any drugs, drank, or lost my virginity. In short, I was a “good girl.”
I was crushed! The pastor wouldn’t change his mind – it was based on attendance. Oh my gosh, I reeled emotionally and spiritually from this. So I went to Young Life meetings here and there when I could get rides, and continued to be the little mother at home. My mother was a narcissistic working alcoholic who I now know is a misogynist and was sabotaging every element of me. I got no love at home.
However, I played guitar, teaching myself. By 1974 and in tenth grade, I was a fine artist, and did a drawing a day, or worked on a painting. I rode my bike from Catonsville to Ellicott City and back every night after I did the dinner dishes for exercise and for time to myself. I sewed my own clothes on my gramma’s foot-pedal treadle sewing machine, and read the bible every day! But then I was invited to be in the pilot class for the Baltimore School for the Arts and my mother wouldn’t let me go – another blow!
I spent every moment I could in Catonsville High School’s art rooms, encouraged by the teachers to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. They and the administration were all frustrated with my mother’s refusal to support me as an artist. (Little did anyone REALLY know the horrors we lived in at home – she was a Joan Crawford mom when awake.)
There was a twelfth grader, Will Wilson (who is a well-known painter now). I used to just sit next to him and work on my art and watch him paint. It was Will who knew I was searching for more meaning and that I was so crushed by what my church had done to me. He had been to a Forever Family meeting, but chose not to return. But for some reason, Will thought it would be good for me, so he and his brother Jeff took me to a meeting on Clay Street in Baltimore, in October of 1974, and I Got Saved. I cried with joy, it felt as if the love of Jesus I had felt as a child was restored – and more! And I became a serious little lamb, and was so into it that I bought into giving the church all my jewelry, bringing food I took from our home, giving them my allowance, denying my flesh by sleeping on my wood bedroom floor with no pillow and one blanket only. I read only the bible, stopped watching television and reading newspapers, books, magazines… I only read the Bible. I even stopped playing my guitar, which to this day I still have a neurological barrier with from the brainwashing, I am sure. Because I had been a pretty apt self-taught classical guitarist, and could also play chords and pick out and transcribe any song I chose to. BEFORE the FF/COBU.
I was in for almost two years, between the Reisterstown, Clay Street and Catonsville houses.