I joined this great Bible Art Journaling group on facebook. Bible art journaling is an act of worship that I recently got into. Last night I shared a few images in that group of what my daughters and I had done so far. I also posted that I have had quite a journey to get to Christ and those ladies inspired me to share more about what that looked like. I have really wanted to share my testimony for some time now, but just haven't brought myself to do so. I'm finally ready to share now, so here goes!
My childhood was not the best. It was quite awful actually. I've seen people post about how they wish they could go back to the simpler times of their childhoods. Where everything was peaceful and fun and you didn't have so many responsibilities. Let's face it, sometimes adulting is just rough. This dreamy childhood was not my reality. My sister and I had a childhood full of abuse from our parents, mentally and physically. I was also sexually abused by a baby sitter and a neighborhood kid that was much older than me. I won't go into much detail about any of the abuse. It's far too painful to relive it. I often dreamed of being rescued, hoping that someone would come in and save us. That didn't happen.
I never knew my biological father, but my sister's father is the one I had always called daddy. He was from Pakistan and he was a muslim. So we were raised to be muslim. I remember going to the mosque when I was 7 years old and some lady led me into a room filled with fifty people I didn't know. I was seated in the middle of the room on the floor, while that lady sat beside me and whispered something into my ear, line-by-line, for me to repeat out loud. It was in arabic, which I was still learning, so I had no idea what I was saying. When I had finished all of my "lines" everyone cheered loudly! I had no clue what had just happened or why they were cheering.
Apparently I had just professed my islamic faith. The rules my step-father set in place were strict. Praying five times per day in a certain direction [I didn't understand why], couldn't eat pork, no eating with left hand [I'm ambidextrous], I couldn't wear any shorts, t-shirts, tank tops [even with thick straps], shoes over a half inch tall, talk on the phone, have friends, watch movies or shows that my schoolmates watched or listen to most music. The list went on and on. He also scolded me for taking seconds at dinner. He insisted this would make me fat, and he wouldn't tolerate any of us being fat. That started my 20 year battle with anorexia, but that's another blog post. He had always beat my mother often, but now he was beating her daily. And then the abuse was turned on us. It was a horrible cycle with no escape. Sometimes the cops would be called by a neighbor and sometimes we would stay at an abuse shelter.
It only got worse by the time I was in middle school. I was pulled out of public school after getting "caught" wearing stretch pants under a shirt that hung down to my knees for gym class. Not a revealing outfit by any stretch, but I was beat for it and punished further by being placed in a private islamic school. To say I hated it would be a severe understatement. I remember having to wear this horrible green salwar kameez [traditional clothes]. I also had to wear a hajab and be fully covered. I remember every morning finding something "interesting' on the floor in the back of the car so that I could duck down. I didn't want the neighborhood kids to see me.
I wasn't certain that God existed. He didn't sound very nice. The way I was being taught at the mosque every week, he sounded very angry and unloving. I pictured him ready to strike me down at every offense. Since I was 7, I had been told there is a good angel on your right shoulder and demon on your left shoulder. They record all of your deeds, good and bad. For every bad deed, it takes 10 good deeds to undo it. When a bad deed is wearing more than one necklace or talking to a friend who is wearing shorts [according to my father's rules]...you can see how I was in despair. I would never get to paradise. I was doomed. I remember before bed in the evenings, I was forced to read from the qur'an, through tears. I hated being forced into a religion when I wasn't even sure if I believed in anything.
Once I found a bible that had belonged to my mom when she was a teenager. It was a small, leather bible with a zipper enclosure that had a cross attached to it. I was curious. So I opened it and flipped through the pages. "In the beginning..." that's as far as I got before my step-father came barging into my room. He completely lost it. I was frozen scared. He ripped the bible from my hands and threw it across the room, "THIS IS GARBAGE!!! TRASH!!! FILTHY LIES!!!!" He shook with anger. I didn't dare touch another bible.
A few years later my parents divorced. I was at least now allowed to wear shorts, listen to my music and hang out with my friends. My step father no longer had anything to do with me or his biological daughter. However, I was still being abused emotionally and physically. I was now sure that I was an atheist. I was also depressed and felt there was no point to anything. I was in and out of eating disorder facilities where I was treated for depression as well. Then I even decided to practice wiccan. I was suicidal and attempted it many times. It was a dark place and I felt so alone. I was lost, but I was so sure that God didn't exist. Why would he have let all of these awful beatings happen? Surely if there was one, he hated me.
I had this friend, Nicole. We had been friends since middle school. Now, in high school she told me about this "cool place" she goes to hang out and wanted to know if I wanted to come. I asked her about what it was exactly. She explained that it was a Christian teen hang out. Um. No thank you. That sounds awful. She wasn't even phased by my complete lack of interest. She asked me Every. Single. Week. Without fail. Once I even remember telling her that I would ask my mom. I didn't ask my mom. I didn't want to go. I finally agreed to go ONE TIME.
So this hangout, called Direct Hit, looked kinda 90s grunge [it was 1999 so...]. There were pool tables, diner type booths, a stage, tables with chairs around them and some kind of music playing that I had never heard before. It seemed pretty chill. The people sure looked happy to be there. "This had better not be a cult...," I thought. After about 20 minutes, everyone moves near the stage and a band starts playing music, and then everyone is singing. "What the...?" I didn't understand what was happening, the lyrics sounded nice though. Then there was some talking by the youth pastor and then they put in a video.
TD Jakes pops up on the screen. I wasn't really paying attention until he started talking about
something called the Second Coming of Christ. Wait. I've never even heard of a FIRST coming of Christ. In fact, WHO is this Christ person? TD Jakes spoke about The End Times and being Left Behind. What is all this about?! Here I am looking around the darkened room at all these teens who don't even look alarmed by this information. They are nodding along, knowingly. I'm very literally on the edge of my seat. This stuff was riveting. I turned to my friend and whispered, "I don't want to be left behind." She whispered back, "Yeah, me neither." But, this wasn't in a fear mongering way, which was how islam was in my experience. There was no, "Believe this or spend eternity in hell fire!!! Repent now for your evil ways!!!" The youth leaders were kind and gentle and patient. This new information was fascinating. I had never heard anything like this before, and I had to know more.
Not long after that, maybe a week or so, my friend, Nicole, bought me a Teen Study Bible. This was much larger than the old one I found in the attic years earlier. I didn't know where to start in this giant book of words. I called up one of my new friends, Daniel, from Direct Hit and he said, "With everything going on in your life**, read Psalm 91." You know what I felt after reading it? Comfort. I had never felt such a feeling. I certainly never felt that when I was forced to read the Qur'an. My step dad was wrong. It wasn't garbage. It wasn't lies. It was truth. Even though I could feel its truth, I didn't immediately decide to become a Christian. I still needed answers. "So even when I mess up, God still loves me?! How can that be possible?! I'm an awful person. So grace isn't something I earn?....like with good deeds? It's a GIFT?! From God, himself?! Whoa." Nothing in islam gave me this peace. Or atheism. Or wiccan.
A year and a half later, I was baptized. Life didn't get easier, but I no longer felt alone. I had friends to help me grow and to answer any questions I had. The Bible became a source of comfort when I just couldn't deal with everything happening. The hardest thing, still, for me to grasp is His love for us. It was so pounded into my head that God is angry, that it completely blows my mind when I try to think of a love SO GREAT that He would send his ONLY son to die for us. For Me.
That deep emptiness of wanting to have a dad that loved me was and is filled. No Earthly father has ever loved me, and I wanted that love, craved it so desperately. As a child I was calling out, "Here I am! PLEASE LOVE ME!!!" God answered that call. He loves me more than any person ever could. Unconditionally. It's been a roller coaster of a spiritual journey. Moving away from God, moving closer...It always feels good to come home. So that's the story. My testimony. My journey from islam, to atheism, to wiccan to Christ Follower. And I will continue to follow Him forever, for He has delivered me. He has saved me. And He loves me.
** EDIT: None of my friends knew about the abuse. It never occurred to me to ask for help or to tell anyone. Ever.
NOTE 1 : I also still have that Teen Study Bible and I'm still friends with Nicole :-)
NOTE 2 : Before my parents divorced, my mom, sister and I lived in Pakistan. BEST experience of my childhood. I just want to say that my step-father's family are the most caring, loving and sweetest people I've ever met. They are nothing like my stepdad is. FYI we have it good here in America.