Unwanted. That’s how I felt my entire childhood life while growing up in the Message. My parents were high school sweethearts and only teenagers when I was born. My dad had wanted my mom to undergo an abortion. Obviously though, she kept me, and they soon married. My parents joined the Message when I was in kindergarten. They were mired in a rocky marriage, and I think the promise of a closer walk with God through special revelations attracted them to it. Unfortunately, the Message was the perfect environment for creating abusive homes. It gave the “head of the home” the ultimate authority and created overly submissive wives who enabled their husbands. I grew up with abandonment and neglect issues, verbal and physical abuse, anxiety, and unrealistic fears instilled into me from false Message doomsday prophecies (such as earthquakes and tsunamis, atomic bombings, Russian invasions, and Message holocaust camps created by the US government). Not quite the childhood result one would expect from a church promising so much holiness and elitism.
Our house had good memories but, unfortunately, some terrible ones, too. I was called ugly and told I was hated. My birth was blamed for causing unhappiness. Sometimes quality family time meant watching porn on the bed or couch together. During my dad’s first affair, my brother and I accompanied him to his girlfriend’s house so we could play with her son while they went to the back bedroom. I had to run for my life on at least two occasions, once when I was 5 or 6 (I ran away because I was told I’d be put in jail for talking to the police) and again when I was older at home (I was threatened at knife-point). I gave up complaining about the abuse because I was told it was my fault if I didn’t fight back harder. I was ridiculed for crying or showing fear, so I learned to hide my feelings. I was covered in bruises often, and after being questioned at school, I started wearing long sleeves when necessary to hide my arms. Then the cutting began. The only place I felt safe was in my bedroom with the door locked, but even then, the pain was so deep within. I cut my arms and wrists with kitchen knives to ease the hurt in my heart. At least for those few moments, I, not someone else, was in control of the pain.
When I was around 10 years old, I developed severe separation anxiety after going to a funeral of a young mother who died in a car accident. This was before cell phones were popular, and I worried whenever my mom and I weren’t together. Panic set in any time she was late coming home from work. I would sit on our concrete driveway so I could catch the first glimpse of her car pulling in. The knot of fear in my stomach made my imagination run wild with a dozen scenarios of how she could die and leave me. I didn’t realize it wasn’t normal to feel this way, and when she didn’t express the same concerns about me while we were apart, I assumed she didn’t really love me as much as I loved her. And the feelings were only compounded by not receiving any protection in our abusive home. Again, I felt unwanted. The separation anxiety unfortunately carried over later into my early married years whenever my husband and I were apart.
I also felt unwanted by the Message and its church members. The Message stole my self worth. Somewhere around the time I was a young teenager, I realized the prophet’s hateful teachings against bastards were about me. According to him, God wouldn’t accept bastard-born children into the Kingdom of Heaven because they had to pay for their parents’ sin. Despite that teaching, I did receive a personal relationship with Jesus. Message churches were very isolated and even more cliquish within. Very few families included my family in after-church activities, and I always felt like I was on the outside of the group. I felt secluded from girls my age because I didn’t choose to get married when I was 17 or 18. I even lost friends over my choice to go to college like my mom had. My mom was a single parent later in my childhood, and she was abandoned by the church even more than her children. On one occasion, we were invited to dinner at our pastor’s house, only to have my mom be put to work serving and cooking for the pastor and all the other families that were also invited. The Message still binds my mom to singleness, even though her own pastor's daughter was allowed to divorce and remarry in the Message.
The most difficult hardship was feeling unwanted by my own self. As a teenager, being raised in the Message was extremely difficult. I dressed and looked so different from my school friends- long skirts, stringy uncut hair, and no makeup for my acne-covered face. I always felt like an outsider. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the music or watch the movies that other kids my age would discuss. I wasn’t allowed to date, either. Plus, according to the prophet, my female body was created by Satan to tempt men to sin, and as a female, my intelligence was too low to vote or even drive a car. My desire to cover my facial acne with makeup was a sin, as were my desires to have healthy, trimmed hair and to obtain an education. I hated me. I was severely harsh with myself, always using negative thoughts to control my actions. I agreed with everyone else. I was ugly and worthless. If I didn’t want me, why would anyone else? I was severely depressed and struggled constantly with suicidal thoughts.
Thankfully, the depression subsided after moving to Ohio following college graduation. I suppressed so many childhood memories, not dealing with them until I left the church 10 years later. The Message focuses so much on being the perfect elite Christian that members can never be real with themselves or each other. After leaving the Message, my husband and I joined a church that was the opposite of the Message. Here we found sound Biblical doctrine, love, and the Celebrate Recovery program. I was able to work through all the pain I had endured through deep, REAL conversations. This church created a safe place for sharing and healing hurts; God moved in miraculous ways I had never seen or felt before. I learned that hurt people hurt people, sometimes unintentionally. We each deal with pain by outwardly hurting others and/or hurting ourselves. Then last year, sitting alone cross-legged on a couch, I told myself for the very first time that I would choose to love me. I know that sounds completely crazy, but it was life-changing! I bitterly cried in that moment, feeling love for myself for the very first time in my life.
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