The Woven Intricacies Of Finding My Path With God
I was under the age of 6 — I know this as that’s the age when my parents would divorce — sitting alone outside on the porch steps offering up a heartfelt running commentary. “Jennifer, who are you talking to?”, my Mother asked. “Jesus.”, I replied. In the innocence of my child’s heart, what I was doing was absolutely normal — I fervently believed that everyone sat and chatted away with Jesus. It was as if my faith was woven into my DNA — an innate part of who I was.
Being raised in a Christian household isn’t exactly an accurate description. While we attended the local United Methodist Church regularly, and my mother was a youth leader, organist, and choir director, the dysfunction in and around me was in direct contrast to how I felt you should act and be treated as a Christian. Different church leaders, moving, and the changes we faced as I was growing up, while confusing, left me with an innate belief that I was indeed a Christian, although I certainly didn’t understand where I fit in as one. As a kid growing up, I didn’t comprehend nor consider how the life I lived was woven into Christianity. I did, however, feel an innate love for Christ and consider myself faithful and a devout Christian.
There were seeds of love that had been planted in my life and shined as positive bursts of light amidst an otherwise dark storm. Alcoholism, physical and sexual abuse, depression, and anxiety along with moving several times -sometimes to escape, others to return to abuse — were all constant companions of growing up. Although there was turmoil surrounding me that wasn’t positive, I can look back fondly at those bright moments, thankful that I most assuredly would have been a lost soul without them.
As a Senior in high school, I realized that as I was nearly ready to strike out on my own, my life could look and feel different. I had a driving desire to have Jesus and strong family values as the core of it, and I began to attend churches with friends. To tell you it was discouraging would be an understatement. The thought that it could be possible to have been born in the wrong country or time period was one I entertained often, as I didn’t seem to fit in — until I did.
A good friend who I sang with, and whom I admired, invited me to attend her church with her family. I let her know adamantly — based on my past attendance to churches — that I would most likely not share her nearly contagious enthusiasm for her church. She was nonplussed and we set a time on Sunday to meet. Retrospectively, it would have been more advantageous if I hadn’t gone at all, or at the very least — if I hadn’t wanted more — but what happened is I felt as though I had found a family and within 6-months, the same month I graduated high school — I became an official member of what I would later realize was a cult.
Unfortunately, my life in a cult lasted a total of 17-years. How you may ask? In person, you would realize I’m not stupid, or introverted, nor do I tolerate bad behavior, and (even during these 17-years) I stood up for those in situations where they were the underdog. So how does a smart, extroverted person with good behavior who goes to bat for others end up in a cult? More specifically, how could I have NOT realized I was in one, and why didn’t I run like hell to the hills?
Cults are like abusive relationships. Insidious, gaslighting entities that beat down your self-worth and manufacture feelings that if you’re unhappy, or question and don’t understand something, it’s your fault. In religion specifically, they use fear, manipulation of doctrine, guilt, failure, the threat of hell, and your feelings against you. You are left feeling unworthy, and at fault of not only your own eternal salvation — that of your family as well.
Although it took me 17-years to leave, I left with a bang. I left the church and my marriage simultaneously. I no longer cared that I was losing all family, friends, and support — as in a cult the people in it become everything — and I had almost no one outside of it to turn to. I hit a point of no return, and I knew my sanity as well as my relationship with Christ, would fare better going it alone.
It’s now been 16-years since I took charge of my life again. There have been many moments of feeling lost again — of wondering if I was born in the wrong time or place. I’ve gone through the process of attending churches to find where I fit. I spent years searching and years taking a break until the time came that my husband and I, coming from very different backgrounds, decided it was indeed time to find our place. Coming back to God, to a balance of love and grace, to scripture read line by line in context, and to people who embraced my brokenness, was truly a gift during a time and pandemic where much of the world seemed to be falling apart. In all the chaos surrounding us, we found more peace, happiness, and freedom than I had experienced in longer than I can remember.
Through all of these stages, I never stopped sitting and having conversations with Jesus. Me and Him chatting away on the porch steps. Thankfully, He was there all along, even though I had to search to find Him again.