By Jennifer Lee Wright
When I was little, about 3 or 4, I was adopted. I actually spent time in an orphanage like the one in the movie Annie. I remember standing in a big long line waiting on my turn to get into the bathtub where there were 2 ladies. One put you in and washed you up, the other took you out and dried you off as the next person was getting in. There were sleeping quarters full of beds separated by girls and boys. I remember the day my adopted mom and dad came and picked me out and took me home. I screamed, cried, and kicked the worker carrying me out the whole way.
I wish I could say I was taken into a home full of love and that they planted in me a love of Jesus, but I'd be lying if I said that. Although my new dad was a Baptist preacher, it was a home filled with religiousness and rules. He preached against celebrating Christmas and Easter because they were Pagan holidays. I heard a lot in his sermons about backsliding, damnation, and heathens. When I asked my mom how you got 'saved' I was told that I'd just know. One day I would have this feeling of walking on clouds and feeling as light as air and I'd just KNOW that I had been saved. Seriously! That's what I was told! and while we prayed before meals, I don't ever remember there being conversations about Jesus or how he died for my sins and most certainly I was never told how much he loved me. Forgiveness and grace were never spoken, only rules and judgement.
It was a home in which I was scared to death each day as my bus came near home to drop me back off. Feeling like I was going to throw up in fear of what mess my mother may have found in my closet or under my bed while I was gone. There was a wooden paddle that sat on top of the refrigerator that was frequently used. I would be spanked until there were bruises. Sometimes, mom would just get mad and start hitting and I’m not sure why. Coat hangers on bare skin, an ink pen repeatedly stabbed into the back of the child that poked another with it, biting a child’s hand until it bled to teach her not to bite, etc. (These were foster children who were placed with her because of terrible home conditions, who were in need of a safe place to be.) There was little compassion for typical kid things. Spilled water glass at the table, spanked. Crying cause I was stung by a bee, spanked as well as ridiculed for being such a baby. There was plenty of verbal abuse as well. I grew up thinking I had no common sense, was stupid, and couldn’t do anything right.
It wasn’t just my mom, it was my dad too. I remember very vividly after a spanking when I was about 6 years old and being sat back at the kitchen table thinking how much I hated him and how badly I wanted to be big and strong so I could hurt him back and show him what it’s like. I envisioned wrestling him and hitting him back when he came at me. However, I can’t for the life of me tell you why I had been spanked in the first place. So much for teaching me a lesson, huh? These people were PRAISED by others in their circle as having done such a wonderful thing by rescuing me from the orphanage and giving me a home, love, and raising me in the church. *gag*
After 25 years of marriage, they ended up divorcing. Dad broke the news to Mom on Mother’s Day that he was turning her in for a newer, younger version. Now ain’t that sweet of him? This also meant he was removed from the church and no longer allowed to preach.
My mom went on a crash diet and lost 100 pounds. She developed lumps on her tongue from malnutrition. One morning she woke up puking blood. She was a diabetic and her blood sugar was so high she should have been dead. It was in the 600's when she got to the hospital. A few months later, she had open heart surgery for a triple bypass.
She was very sick and weak after her surgery, so she enlisted my brother that was 10 years older than me to wield the paddle. He was her biological son. I remember there being quite an argument over it the first time as she’s guilting him into doing it telling him that if he won’t, she will...and that she’ll probably have a heart attack doing it. All while I stood at the end of her bed with my pants down. I guess I was about 10 or 11 at that point. I only remember her using him for this purpose maybe 2 or 3 times. Once she got her strength back she carried out the punishments herself again.
One morning when I was 13, we found her on the floor of the living room surrounded by vomit. She'd suffered a massive stroke in the night. She was rushed to the hospital where she passed away about a week later. Sadly, the most overwhelming feeling I had was relief. Relief that this woman could no longer hurt me. And that made me feel guilty because she was my mom. I was supposed to be sad and miss her and a whole range of other emotions.
I was then sent to live with my adopted dad and his new wife. More misery. He wasn't abusive, per say, but the rules were ridiculous. He did spank me once when I was 14. It didn’t hurt, but I was highly embarrassed and ashamed that he would touch me like that. I wasn’t a small child anymore. Why was he so angry he felt the need to try to hurt me? Again, can’t tell you what for.
The step mom seemed to hate me and was constantly trying to get me in trouble. Like, when I washed dinner dishes if one was not cleaned thoroughly enough, I got grounded, and dishes were inspected nightly. Even SMELLED! Because apparently eggs leave behind a smell on plates. ??? I had to write sentences if I forgot to push the chair up to the table after dinner. Or I wrote sentences if I pushed it up too far! I couldn’t have it actually touch the table because it might crease the backing of the chair and over time cause damage. If I forgot to make my bed before school or if a sock was left on the floor, I was grounded. A week for every offense. Basically that meant I was ALWAYS grounded. Sentenced to my room with no tv, no radio, no telephone, and only allowed to leave the house to go to school or work. I started working when I was 13 at a greenhouse. Partly for sanity reason, but mostly because my dad told me to get a job. I had to give my paycheck to him and he would then give me my lunch money for school out of it. I was never given my own money to do with as I wanted.
After a particularly bitter time at home where my step mom slapped me across the face, I just reached the point where I’d had enough. I went to a friend's house and refused to come home. My dad tried to make me come home or go to jail. I chose jail. So off to the police station we went. We were forced to start family counseling in which the counselor agreed that I needed to find a new home. The environment I was in was unhealthy. He (the counselor) would often drop in on me at school to check and see how I was doing. At 15, arrangements were made for me to go live with another family. As my dad dropped me off, there were no hugs or be-goods, or take-care-of-yourself’s. Instead, he told me to NEVER contact him or any of his family again.
The last couple years of school are a total blur. I honestly don't know HOW I managed to graduate. Apparently a couple of the teachers saw some potential and put me in a work study program, which made me feel useful and have a reason to go everyday. Most of the time though I went to school high or hungover. When I finally graduated, I moved out as soon as I was 18. I started going to college, but that didn't last long. I was too busy having 'fun'.
I found that an easy way to make money and party at the same time was to work in the bars. I didn't really like the taste of alcohol, only the effect, so I did a lot of shots. It allowed me to get on stage with my barely covered nipples and miniscule G string and shake my butt for dollar bills. It allowed me to stand in front of men and let them look at me in ways that, at the time, made me feel as though they liked me, or that I was special, or had something special and was desirable. I actually really enjoyed it at the time. I felt that I had a power over men and had something they wanted. In my heart of hearts, looking back at that time, all I was really wanting was to be loved, but I had no clue what it meant to be loved, let alone respected, appreciated or even accepted. I so badly just wanted to be liked and have friends and people that cared about me. I had nothing and no one.
Many times I woke up the next morning not sure how I had gotten home. Other times I would be really messed up and would lay in bed at night wanting so badly to not do these things. I would pray and make promises to God to not do it anymore. Only to get up the next morning and start all over. I wanted to do better, but I truly had no idea how. All I knew was that I was disappointing God and he must be mad at me. I had broken all the rules and everything I had been taught and for some reason, I didn't have the willpower to do better.
I met my husband at one of those bars. He was working there as an assistant manager and bouncer to put himself through college. Within 2 weeks we were living together. I quit dancing and started looking for other jobs. Not so much because I felt what I was doing was wrong, but because I spent all my time talking with him when I was there and not making any money!
Anyway, fast forward to several months later, I was invited to go on a weekend church retreat by someone. While there, I sat alone the first night looking up at the stars. I asked God that if he was real and could hear me, to show me a shooting star. I had never seen one before and I'd always wanted to. About 30 seconds later, I saw a shooting star! I started crying. He was real! And He could hear me and answer me! This was amazing to me!
That was the start of my Christian walk. I think. I had been baptized when I was 9 and thought I'd 'been saved', but this time was different. It was real. It was personal, and it was sincere. I wanted so badly to be different and I needed a savior. So I got baptized again.
Miracle of all miracles, the man I loved stayed with me through all of this. We got married just a few months later. No one really expected it to last, but so far we’ve lasted almost 20 years! So goes to show don’t judge a relationship based on how it started. :)
Whenever we talked about having kids, I would advocate for spanking. I used to print off articles by Dobson as to the benefits of it and the how to’s of spanking and why, as a Christian, it was a necessary tool of discipline. He always disagreed and never wavered on his opinion. He too had come from a not so great family. A broken home, twice over. Mostly it was neglect though, as his mom would work three jobs and leave the kids home alone to care for themselves. But there was also some spanking, yelling, or other things. His older brother was abusive and would beat on him sometimes if he didn’t do what he wanted him to.
We took time to grow up together before we had kids. We sowed our wild oats so to speak. We were kind of living a double life, really. We went through the motions, went to church, went to small group bible studies, talked the talk, but at home, after work, and on weekends, we’d meet up with friends at the bar, smoked up in the parking lot with friends. We looked and acted just like every other person our age that we knew. I can’t say we weren’t ‘saved’ at that point. We had many discussions about God, about moral beliefs from the bible, about Jesus, about who he was and what he’d done. We were kind of living an in between life. We had one foot in the door of Christianity and one foot still in the world and living like everyone else partying it up.
Finally, after being together for over 5 years, my husband graduated college and we hung up our partying hats by deciding to start a family. We got serious about seeking God’s place in our lives. This is the point where I can say that we really started growing as Christians.
After a year of being sober and trying, we became pregnant with our first child. Something changed. Deeply, drastically, beyond anything else I’ve ever experienced before in my life, upon becoming a mother. Suddenly, I NEEDED God in ways I’d never known or thought was possible. I didn’t want to mess this up. I needed him in my marriage, I needed him in my mothering, I needed him in everyday things. But more, I learned a whole new side of, and understanding of…...love. I was also forced to face the demons of my past and sort through them. I had to think upon and work through how I had been raised. I had to realize that I didn’t have a family unit around me to help me in my new role of life. It was devastating, heartbreaking, and healing all at the same time.
One huge life changer for me was when I held my baby. I would look at her and I would feel such a huge, breathtaking emotion that I couldn’t understand or put into words. All I knew was that I loved this child in greater proportions than I even knew was possible. I felt as though I was going to explode, I had so much going on inside. Finally the dam, that wall of protection I’d built up inside of me to be strong and carry on, broke and the flood burst forth. I broke at the realization of what had been done to me as a child came flooding in with a clarity that made me ache to my core. I wept out of heartbreak for myself as well as for the healing laying in my arms at a chance of a new kind of life. A chance to break the cycle. Tears just poured out of me in a cleansing way and washed away my pain as pure love filled me from within that I never knew existed.
As I looked at this child so small, so helpless, and so dependant on me for her everything, I simply could not imagine ever treating her the way I had been treated. How could THAT be good and right and lovely? It flew in the face of everything I knew about God. Granted, I didn’t know much, but I was learning that he wasn’t the God I had been taught as a child. He was a God of love, grace, forgiveness, peace, mercy, patience, kindness and goodness.
Oh how God turned my world upside down to bring me to where he needed me to be for just this time of my life. I feel as though I just started living the day I became a mother. Everything else leading up to it was just a practice in messed up life that I never want to go back to. Mothering is simply put, the hardest and most rewarding experience you can ever have. It’s also been the single most used tool for God to teach me of himself. That first year I died. I died to self. I died of who I thought I wanted to be. I died of being the kind of mother I thought I was going to be, and I embraced the piece of God inside of me and allowed Him to lead me to be the kind of mother He thought I ought to be.
I’m now over a decade into my life changing journey of motherhood and I’m starting to see the fruits of our labors. The labors so many people told me along the way was not right. That I was spoiling my child. I was creating bad habits. That it was unbiblical. Many reasons to not listen to the little voice within me, but I refused to listen to anyone other than the heart that was within me of which God wrote his will upon.
Do I have perfect kids? No. Am I a perfect mother? No. Is their dad perfect? No. There’s no such thing. But I’m giving it everything I’ve got within me to be and do better than I was given and taught. I hope my children never know the fear of coming home not knowing what kind of mood mom might be in. What they might have done that might warrant being struck today. I want them to know only my love. I want them to remember our night time snuggles. Our soothing them from fear in the dark. Our loving them unconditionally.
We are not perfect, nor do we all love perfectly, but we try. Not perfect, only progress. I'm a broken mess and at times I'm not even sure that I KNOW how to be loved, let alone how to love another person. I've been abused, neglected, and abandoned time and time again, yet God is healing those broken places and giving me people in my life that I can count on and love. I’m learning how much God loves me and how much he’s always there for us. And one day...I will be perfect. And so will you.
2 Corinthians Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
|It takes on quite a deep meaning when applied to parenting, eh?|
40 days to gentle parenting:
The rod verses: