From Fear to Feedom
"What happens if a tornado comes?" I remember worrying about that as a child growing up in Wisconsin. One summer in particular, I can recall a day when tornado warning sirens sounded all around us. So I asked my father, "What will happen to us?" "I guess we’ll just die," he answered matter-of-factly. Questions about death and disaster came up often in my mind, but whenever I asked, my father had the same answer. If we heard a siren, my grandmother would gasp with alarm and pray out loud. I remember not being able to fall asleep because I thought I would die in my sleep. I’d listen intently for my heartbeat and would pray every night, "If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take."
Fear, fear, fear. I felt like life was out of control. Closets and drawers were crammed with old out-of-date clothes of my mother’s going back to nineteen and whatever. The kitchen counter was piled with papers, the paper garbage bag leaking. My sister and I had no structure at home. When Mom said to clean our room, she just meant floors. Everything else was crammed in the closet, hanging out of overstuffed drawers that wouldn’t close, piled high on chests-toys, games, books, dirty clothes-everything and anything. We could go out to play and be gone for hours without my mother calling around to find out where we were. We were rarely disciplined, and seldom by Mom. She would tell Dad when he came home and he would spank us. Had. My parents kept to themselves; we seldom socialized or invited people over, not even family.
When our neighborhood would have block parties, we didn’t attend because the food was grilled and "might cause cancer." As I grew older, I found out that we ate differently from other families. All food had to be eaten in the "proper" combinations. For example, fruit could only be eaten at breakfast, starches with starches, and protein had to be eaten with non-starchy vegetables. And no sweets! Anything that wasn’t on the plan was called "gup." I can remember at supper time counting out peanuts with my sister and having a contest to see who would eat the most. The few times we’d visit relatives we’d have to eat separately from the others. I began to realize that I was different from other children: they were eating peanut butter or ham sandwiches for lunch; I was eating lettuce on dry wheat bread.
In first grade, my mother told the teacher that I could not eat the treats brought to school for the Christmas party unless someone brought banana bread because that was something my grandmother made. At home, though, my sister and I discovered that up on the very top shelf of the cupboard and at the back of the freezer we could find hard candy or ice cream treats that my mother had stashed away for herself. We would snoop around to find them then sneak our slivers, hoping she wouldn’t find out. When we got our allowance we’d go off to the store and buy goodies. One day I bought a whole box of cream puffs and downed every one of them.
We were taught that honesty to the tee was important; for example, if we found a penny, we should always return it. But we knew that lying about our feelings or thoughts was expected. To show emotions, especially tender ones, was considered weakness. Although my mother was generous with her hugs, my father stayed emotionally distant from us and acted like a tough guy. Like my dad, I had my mean side: I liked to bully my sister and the younger neighborhood children until they cried; it felt exciting to get them upset.
As I got older, I felt increasingly left out and unable to fit in with my peers. Because of this, I kept quiet and felt more comfortable listening to others. In junior high I began hanging around with older guys, smoking cigarettes and marijuana. When I was thirteen, I began dating an 18-year-old boy. My mother disapproved of his age, but allowed me to date him any-way. We partied with older teens, and I began drinking, flirting and got into sinful behavior. I didn’t really like him, but I liked riding around in his orange 1970 Roadrunner so that people would see me and think I was cool. I wanted to do whatever I could to fit in and be liked.
However, I was full of shame because I knew inside that what I was doing was wrong. Mom talked in vague terms about what was right and wrong for girls and I had enough Christian teaching to know that. My parents had sent my sister and me to Sunday school at the Lutheran church, even though they never went themselves.
But it was my grandmother who was serious about her faith. She prayed the Lord’s Prayer in English and German. One day when I came over dressed in my tight jeans, tight black shirt, thick eye make-up, and frizzy, bleached hair, she looked at me, gasped and said, "Mein Gott en Himmel, you look awful. Get away from me!" I knew in that instant that she knew I was not pure. I felt ashamed, but didn’t change my ways.
By the time I was 17, I had a very bad reputation and was teased in class. One of my teachers, who was concerned about me, seated me next to a Christian guy. Rick was very accepting of me and had stacks of "Cornerstone" magazines by Jesus People USA on his desk, which he offered to me. I’d take some and read them, seeing that lives could be trans-formed. Soon after, Pat, a girl I used to party with who had become a Christian, handed me one of the tracts that she gave out on the street. I thought if she was out there with those tracts and believing them, it was okay for me.
During winter vacation, I got very sick with tonsillitis. Away from my usual friends and fed up with how I was living, I realized that this was the opportunity for a clean break from the whole scene–the hangout and my friends. At home quietly, I asked Christ to come into my heart. Then I asked Him to change my reputation.
I don’t think I ever went back; I quit all the misuse. I started attending Rick’s charismatic church and hanging around with other Christians. I was in church Sundays, Wednesday nights, and for Bible study during the week.
With my newfound faith, my life dramatically changed. The blatant
sins were gone and my sole interest now was learning more about Jesus and how to please God. I looked very spiritual, sang the loudest, cleaned the church, seeing myself as a counselor and helper. On the outside, I fit in very well with the other Christians, but self-righteousness masked the same fears and insecurities about myself that I formerly covered up with sin. I had quit smoking but immediately gained twenty pounds.
About this time I became interested in Dave, who also attended my church. The second time I met him, I prayed God would give him to me and I lost the twenty pounds to "hook him." There were hints early on that we had some problems in our relationship, but I ignored them because my mind was made up. I was going to marry him, period!
The misery really began after we got married. He treated me a lot like my Dad had. A pattern developed: he would pick on me by comparing me with other women. For example, he reminded me that I had regained the twenty pounds by pointing out slimmer women. I would feel hurt and was seething inside, but wouldn’t let on to Dave or anyone else. So when Dave would criticize me, I would pray for him, secretly raging inside. This was part of the spiritual act I put on with everyone, to cover up my true feelings.
We were very active in our church-he was an elder and I was involved in Bible study and prayer groups. We were both looking very spiritual on the outside. However, as time went by, it became clear that Dave had his own sin issues to deal with. I never let him know how it upset me; instead, I tried to control him. His sin made me feel very self-righteous. I was the spiritual one.
About this time our church invited a couple of speakers who talked about our "freedom in Christ"; they taught that we Christians are in union with Christ. We are really Christ in our forms, and we were okay by faith, not because of our Bible reading and prayer. Dave and I really liked the sound of it and started attending meetings in our area.
I did not understand being Christ in my form but I took the "freedom in Christ" gladly. Since I had believed that I had to read the Bible, pray, go to church, and worry about knowing God’s will to stay right with God, this was good news! However, in our Bible study, the misunderstanding of freedom led to license. No, let me be plain-sin-drinking and flirting on my part and sexual sin on the part of others. We dumped any kind of Christian life and went into seven years of worldly living. The same sin patterns continued on. At that time we started getting The Intercessor. I’d pick it up and read here and there. I would remember vaguely, "Oh yeah, I’m Christ in my form."
Again, we grew tired of the way we were living and returned to church. But the teaching there was very legalistic and was not about the freedom in Christ we’d learned about.
In 1991 we contacted The Intercessor and attended the Zerubbabel Minnesota Conference. As in the past, being around people brought up my old fears and I found it very hard to speak in a group. As we went around the room introduc
ing ourselves, I felt so petrified that I dissolved into a squeaky, blithering crybaby. When it was my turn to share about myself, I blurted out that I felt like I didn’t have any friends. Then I burst into tears. But I felt safe among these people and knew I could talk about what was really going on in my life.
As the discussion continued, I began to get a much clearer under-standing about what it meant to be Christ in my form. I had thought that saying I was Christ in my form meant that everything I did was Christ. I had picked up the truth that I was operated by either Christ or Satan, but I didn’t really know what this meant or how it applied to my daily life. I had slapped Christ over how I lived and not seen that much of the mess in my life was a result of an alternate possibility.
So when the subject of choice came up, I had no idea what they were talking about. It made no sense to me. I was Christ in my form. So what was the choice? I didn’t like the way people responded to me when I asked more questions. I felt misunderstood and like a victim and whined and complained (sniveled) about the response I was getting. All of a sudden I realized that at this very moment, how I was behaving wasn’t Christ. It was Satan! I was expressing Satan’s view and saying his words-I wasn’t "just Carol"; it struck me like a bolt of lightning to realize that I was being operated by Satan at that moment. It frightened me to realize that Satan was able to use my members.
From that point on, I slowly began to apply the truth of who I was to specific areas, instead of using it as a blanket over everything I did. I had believed that my lifelong fear around other people and inability to express myself was just the way I was. It was a painful fact of life. As a result, I had never made close friends or fit in with other people. I knew now that the place to begin was to talk and be as honest as I could be. It seemed like an impossible task.
The first year at summer camp, I was so scared to talk that I’d cry almost any time I was in a group when it was my turn to share. Walking into the cafeteria put me in a panic. I couldn’t figure out who to sit with at lunch. If I sat with this one, what would so-and-so think? Maybe the one I wanted to sit with wasn’t as "spiritual" or with-it as the other. But if I sit with this one I might feel uncomfortable and wish I was sitting with someone else. What a bind Satan had me in!
I took a risk and talked about my panic with others at camp. Against my feelings I began to believe that Christ-I was walking into the lunch room, sitting with who-ever I wanted to sit with, and it was fine. When I was sharing with others, against my feelings, I began to blurt out what-ever I knew was honest and true for me, even though it may have looked or sounded foolish. Christ/Carol could do it. I knew the other way was death.
I knew how to do it at camp or fellowship but not at home. But I was sick of being a fat blob, eating out of control, so I applied it to my eating. I wanted to make a clean break, so I started a healthy eating plan, and knew that Christ could keep on the plan. That’s all I knew at that point. Slowly, as I started to do that, I started to see more things at home.
Home was still hell. Dave would come home behaving selfishly and insensitively, picking apart everything I did. I would be mad and upset but too scared to say anything. I’d feel one way but act another, to keep from making waves. At First I even thought his behavior was normal and that I deserved to be treated that way. I wasn’t that different from my mother. Mom had hidden the food-I hid my insides.
But it was killing me inside to let this pattern continue. I realized that Jesus Christ is honest and that’s who I am. In spite of how I felt, I began by telling Dave what I thought and how I felt when he was critical and mean. It felt hard and scary standing up to him, but I trusted that it was ChristlCarol standing firm. I also started talking on the phone to others who could encourage me and, when necessary, point out when I was seeing Dave wrong.
The same was true of my father; I had to be honest and stand up for myself with him, as well, when he would say something cutting that hurt me. He was cold and matter-of-fact when I would call him and made excuses for not coming to visit us. Finally, I realized I needed to have boundaries with him, so I wrote him a letter telling hiln that it was up to him to contact me and treat me like a person.
Then I began taking charge of the children. A couple of years ago I confessed how defeated I felt trying to deal with my four year old son, David. Here I was an intelligent 36-year-old mother of four and I saw myself as incapable of dealing with a stubborn, Satan-operated four year old. I bought the typical view that we hear these days: that I shouldn’t get mad at my child, but if I do, I shouldn’t discipline him while angry. While discussing this with others, I realized that I was doing to my children the very same thing my parents had done to me: giving them no boundaries and very little discipline. My believing and consequent behavior was sin and destructive to my children.
I learned that my anger was a normal reaction to the disobedience of my child, just as the Bible describes God’s anger at our disobedience to Him. A friend I respect took an interest in my problem with my son and in one short day disciplined him herself, modeling for me the firm but loving way of dealing with a rebellious child. I began applying what I had learned from her. The children now respect me as their mother and are responding positively to having the discipline and boundaries I grew up without.
As a family, we still have our fights. But the difference is that I do not shrink back; I say what I am thinking. I tell Dave if I think he’s believing a lie about himself or me and the truth becomes evident through me being honest with him. I can’t help him unless I’m honest about what I’m seeing. Since I am one with Christ and I have the mind of Christ, my thoughts are important to say. Dave and I are operating as a team more than ever because we know we are both operated by the same person.
Today, I enjoy having the freedom to speak out and say my opinions. I still feel afraid about some things: speaking up in a group of people, saying the unpopular thing, having to hold myself and my family to high standards. When these fears come up, I remind myself of who I am-an expression of Christ who is for others. Fear may be the feeling of the moment, but that’s not my identity. What a change from the past! "If, therefore, the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 13 No 4
- What is this Human Self of Ours?
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- A Look at a Book
- Body, Soul & Spirit
- 1997 Irish Conference Report
- Zerubbabel Focus: Living Links
- Excerpt from Who Am I?
- Summer Camp: Moving Forward
- Z-Youth at Camp
- From Fear to Feedom
- Questions & Answers
- Tape Talk
- Area Fellowship News: Wisconsin Fellowship
- Excerpt from Who Am I?
- The Mailbox
- To Think About…
- To Think About…
- Words to Live By…