Putting it all in Perspective

Based on my recent posts, I’ve had some people I grew up with contact me and apologize for not seeing what was happening or not doing something.  These are people my own age – they were kids at the time the same as I was.  For them and for all of you who are reading this story, Please know that if you were someone I grew up with, you too were a child.  You’re now looking at this through adult eyes.  I want to tell you that I don’t hold any grudges against any of you. Any responsibility belonged to Cleo, Lou, Felix (you’ll meet him later) and the other adults who turned a blind eye and ear to abuse but knew the truth and didn’t do anything to stop it. You had no way of knowing what was going on.  I’m OK today.  I’m going to take a “time out” from the story itself so I can explain.

It isn’t that I feel “good” or “right” or anything else.  It’s a confidence that I know God hasn’t left me – He never did – and that He will redeem it all somehow in some way.  I don’t have the answers and I don’t understand it.  But I know that He held on to me the whole way and He is still holding on.  That is very clear to me even now as I’m working through the story again.

People are the ones who told me God was this or that, or that He didn’t love me or that I wasn’t worthy.  All my life, people have been trying to speak for God.  And these are people who were supposed to be offering me “help” by their actions.  They acknowledge what happened was bad, but they told their own versions of the story (I was sold rather than kidnapped.  I needed to forgive and forget about past abuse.  I needed to change and start acting better, etc.)  It was never so clear as when a so-called Christian counselor said – “I can’t help you.  No one can help you.  Not even God can help you.”  That’s the time I hit the bottom and tried to escape it permanently by my own hand.

But Jesus wasn’t the one beating me up.  That came from others, from their words.  And I believed their words.  All those sent to counsel me had the same message … until one day while I was bawling my eyes out, an older man with a white beard walks by.  Turns out he was a Methodist minister.  I hadn’t met him before and have never seen him since.  But during that one meeting, he showed me clearly that Jesus loved me.  He took the time (quite a while that day) to help me separate what I had heard from the fundamentalist crowd about God’s wrath versus the Love and Mercy God really offered.  The page in my life slowly started to turn.  It took a long time, because shutting down the “you’re not worth anything” messages is hard.  They were very well ingrained by this time.

I saw a “secular, unsaved” therapist (never mind the fact that she was a Southern Baptist).  The old crowd told me she was evil just because she was licensed.  But this time, I didn’t listen to their words. I was learning boundaries.  I began to see there were plenty of other Christians – real Christians – in the world around me. This is something that may sound strange, but fundamentalists teach that those who don’t believe exactly as they do are probably unsaved, going to hell, or at the very least not living as they should. Most of the cruelty came from fundamentalists.  I began to question the things I had been told.  If they were so very wrong about this therapist, these other Christians I had met, and the like … what else were they in error about?

So I pulled into myself, focused on finishing school, and even dropped church for a while.  When I started attending again, it was one of those “off limits” community churches which got tongues wagging even more.  But having been exposed to Grace finally, I didn’t care about them anymore.  I became aware that I didn’t have to earn my place with God like they said I did.  I began working as a nurse for the County in which I was living at the time. That really opened up my eyes.  You might call it all part of my own “Grace awakening” process.

Fast forward several years and I’m hit between the eyes with cancer.  I was told, “God gave you cancer.”  But that’s all they offered.  No other support came.  And it is a serious, rare cancer where the doctors wanted me to get to a specific treatment center.  Tongues still wagging and now I’m mad:  “God!  How can you do this to me?  Haven’t I been through enough?”  And the answer came from an unlikely source.

My oncologist was an Italian Catholic who reminded me both of us were people of Faith.  He reminded me that God hadn’t left and that Jesus would stand with me.  A few days later, I have a job that covered my living expenses for six months, and an offer from the Diocese of Philadelphia to pay for moving.  And I’m not a Catholic then or now!  How’s that for WWJD?  My old fundamentalist friends start the gossip chain.  I’m taking money from Catholics.  Yet none of them offer to help in any way.

Through it all, as I look back, I hear (not audibly) God’s voice (still and small like it usually is) saying clearly, “I am still here, Cathy.  I love you unconditionally and will always stand by you.  You don’t need to work it out by yourself.  Leave it all to Me.”  So even when my story upsets you, know that I am “OK” right now.  I’m “OK” because God says I am.  He hasn’t left and I know He won’t. I do have days when my faith is weak.  When my body is sick.  When PTSD flashbacks taunt me.  When I am angry, frustrated, even depressed.  Telling my story is just a part of my healing.  Pausing for some reflections is a good thing.

Kindergarten Times Two

The following is one of my “flashbulb memories.”

The first time I was enrolled in Kindergarten, I don’t think I had ever seen another child since  Cleo had kidnapped me two years earlier. I was very frightened, wouldn’t play with my classmates, and I cried … I cried a lot. I have been told they asked Cleo to put me in something like a Pre-K or daycare for these and other reasons. I had not been “socialized” with other kids is what the school told her. Of course, Cleo didn’t remove me, but let me struggle, cry, and be terrified the whole school year – and then got angry at the teacher and school when I did was asked to repeat Kindergarten the next year.  The school was run by the same church where Cleo took me when I was three. She had told him I was found abandoned in one of rental properties in the city.

The following school year, Cleo placed me in another Christian Day School. She told this school that she had lost my birth certificate, but would order one from the state. The school allowed me to begin on time but, like the other school, would not allow me move into first grade.  I did much better the second year in Kindergarten.  At least better at school.

Lou was a severe alcoholic. He would come pick me up at school. Very frequently Lou would stop for a “few drinks” on the way home at a place called. “Susie’s Lounge.” I remember one day in particular. I don’t know what month it was, but it was in the winter. There was snow on the ground. I remember Lou stopping and telling me to stay in his truck. Lou went into Susie’s. I have no idea how long he was really in the bar, but I do know it was light when he went in and then dark and very cold. Lou still hadn’t come back. For a child it could have been only a hour to hour and a half, but seemed much longer. I remember it was snowing and I was so cold my teeth were chattering. I remember this couple seeing me inside the truck and coming over to the truck. I was so cold.

The woman opened up the passenger side door and she started rubbing my arms and body. The man took his winter coat and put it over me like a blanket. Through chattering, I told them that my daddy was inside. The woman picked me up and carried me inside the bar. She and the man she was with started arguing with the bartender who wanted no part of having a small child in her bar. Finally, Lou stumbles over drunk and says that I belonged to him.

Now the two men were arguing. I guess at one point in this whole thing the bartender realized that I had been in Lou’s truck in the cold. The woman picked me up and sat me on her barstool, asked if I liked hot chocolate. I remember this, because although I was cold I didn’t know what to say. Lou was a mean drunk. This bar also had a kitchen and although I can’t remember whether I said that I liked hot chocolate or not, I soon had a nice hot cup sitting in front of me.

Lou didn’t stick around much longer. He picked me up and carried me to his truck. Although I did not know why he was in such a hurry at the time, I suspect he knew someone had called the police.

Susie’s bar was maybe a mile and a half from the farm. After this incident Lou didn’t take nor pick me up from school much. I remember going to and from this school in a taxi.  The reason I rode in a taxi is because this school didn’t have bus transportation at this time. I was only in this school one and a half years.

Lou never visited “Susie’s Lounge” again. Not after that incident. He didn’t worry about that, much. There are always other bars for an alcoholic to drink himself into a stupor.  No police came to my rescue after that incident at Susie’s.  And, as for the pastor from the first school, I’m undecided if he ever knew that I was kidnapped.  One thing is for sure, he never called the police on Cleo.