Life teaches us all sorts of things. The teaching starts at home with our families. There are some lessons that we are taught that stick for life. Don’t touch the cooker, you will burn yourself.
A lesson proved to six year old me by my younger brother in Spain. He (aged three) pulled a boiling pan of water off the stove and burned his whole arm and some of his chest. (it meant that he had to spend the whole holiday sitting under an umbrella in bandages with my Nanna, whilst I got to spend loads of time with my parents. It was great. lesson learned by all. Aimee wins big time. I have a very clear memory of being on a pedalo at sea and there were jelly fish. I could see the little dots on the shore that were my brother and Nanna, I was the happiest.)
There are other lessons that my parents drilled into us daily that none of the four children they had chose to carry one with. The main source of disappointment for my father was the fact that none of us chose to carry one with Jesus. My parents were missionaries. They were VERY pro Jesus. We all went to the church private school on bursaries as the children of missionaries get free private education whilst mum and dad are saving everyone’s soul.
I stayed with other families in the church a lot when I was little whilst my parents went away to different places to check on the work that they had been doing in different places over the years. The best school picture of me was taken whilst I was staying at another families house, my parents actually bought it! (my mum was awful at doing hair, I usually looked like a mousy haystack, but this lady could even use the hair bobbles with the little balls on them that I had always lusted after)
There is one other from when I was about fourteen and could do my own hair. ( I am not at all sad that they didn’t buy the others though, each year I would bring home a terrifyingly bad photo of myself that mum would look at and say “never mind” and put it swiftly back in the envelope. My face does crazy things a lot of the time)
Going to church was great. It was like being part of a great big family. You knew everyone, it was safe and you were all there to be together. The bible says that you must have fellowship to sustain your faith. Looking back it was a bit more keeping up with the Joneses than praise Jesus. Everyone wanting to be perceived as the most holy.
The fellowship thing also makes sense. If you are a recovering alcoholic you go to AA meetings to remind yourself that drinking is bad and spend time with other people who are doing the same thing so that you can be bolstered by their efforts and feel part of a group.
I was supposed to stay at the church school right the way until college. I was asked to leave after the first year of senior school. I had been bullied on the school bus daily by a horrible girl. I had told my mum, who had gone to speak to the head teacher about it. The girl who was bullying me was from a foster family. Her parents had not been christians, (or awesome hence the fostering.) It was explained to me, that as a christian I should show her love and she would stop bullying me.
Now shock of shocks, this did not work. I ended up losing my temper massively and we had a very physical fight that resulted in me throwing her down the stairs on the double decker bus. She had broken bones. I no longer had a place at Jesus school. So off I went to the local state school.
My first day I arrived, bible in hand, ready to save everyone and show them all how super dooper being a christian was. My clothes were not right, my bag was wrong, my bike, bike helmet, coat, shoes, pencil case all giant warning beacons to the other girls that I was strange. A few of them tried to overcome my outward failings, I was an anomaly, state school started senior school a year later than private school. All of these girls had been going to school together since they were five. There was probably about four junior schools that fed into this senior school, although it was new for all of us, they all had familiar faces to walk past in the corridor.
I did not. Nobody had ever heard of my school. My school had a baptismal pool in the floor of the school hall. My school had it’s own christian happy birthday song. My school had less than fifteen pupils in a year. I am glad that I have always been confident and blindly carried on doing whatever I like if I think I am right. Don’t worry dear reader, I know that a lot of thirteen year old girls in that situation may have cried into their pillow at night, been scared. Not me.
I had encountered someone not from a christian family before. She used to beat me up on the bus. I beat her up in the end. She only bullied me because she didn’t expect me to fight back, and she was bigger than me and I was pretty smug and annoying ( I didn’t know that at the time) My mum had handled that quite well too, she told the head at christian school that she wasn’t cross with me for doing it. She had been several times to discuss the problem and they had done nothing, it was bound to happen in the end. So I was justified, no guilt here, I had a chat with Jesus about it and we were cool.
I tried very hard to evangelise my way around the school, there were an awful lot of people who had obviously never heard of Jesus. I think the only reason that I wasn’t beaten to a pulp was the shock from the other girls. They would tell me I was wrong/deluded/mental/annoying but I was covered in a big shiny Jesus force field. Ever since I could remember I had been told how clever Satan was at tricking people, I knew that it was going to be tough to make them see the light. I would frequently walk away from situations with the parting comment of “you will be sorry when you are in hell.”
My longest standing friend lived up the road from me then. We made friends because we both had roller skates and would stake up and down the road together. Her mum was a spiritualist. I told her all the time that her mum was a witch and was going straight to hell. I must have been very convincing because she converted in the end (she got baptised in the pool at my old school!) In fact when I left the church she was still going. (Thankfully it was short lived, or she may not have remained my friend for another twenty years)
I remember going for a family day out and my dad being stopped by a man trying to sell AA breakdown cover. My youngest brother looked up from the pushchair and said “No thank you, we are christians.” We all laughed merrily and carried on walking. At the time it was adorable. Looking back, a bit more terrifying that a three year old recognised a sales patter and knew that we had our own as a family. (My dad never did have any sort of breakdown cover though, our super old bangers always seemed to break down close to home…..dum dum dum…… Jesus cover?)
After a few years of being out in the big, wide world my faith had started to take a battering. For all sorts of reasons. The people that I had been warned about (everywhere was like a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah) didn’t actually seem that bad. I had been to some of their houses, their mums seemed quite like my mum (minus the Jesus and the preference for patchwork instead of housework) they ate the same things for dinner and they were allowed to watch things on TV that I wasn’t so it was BRILLIANT there.
Then there was science. I was in the top set (there is no surprise there right, I was a mega boffin, I was a prefect as well) so we got a full picture of how the earth was made, evolution and the such like. Which I had to admit made more sense than the bible. My dad had countered my science argument with the fact that seven “god days” may actually represent millions of years and that just because he didn’t mention dinosaurs in the bible didn’t mean that he hadn’t created them, it just meant that God was focusing on other, more important things. (like writing big lists of people who were related to each other, and outlining how everything is gross and wrong and will make you go to hell, cheers book of Leviticus. I think we would have all quite liked a book on dinosaurs instead)
The teachers at my school were very patient with me. I would regularly interrupt classes to pose theological questions. I think one of my finest moments was in R.E when I informed the class that it was pointless learning the details of other religions because they were all satanism dressed up to look pretty, to tempt everyone away from the truth ( there were Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Jewish girls in my class, they were horrified and I could not have cared less, I got my just deserts though, one of my worst G.C.S.E results was in R.E because I didn’t bother to learn those things)
Another real challenge for my faith was happening at church itself. The “Toronto blessing” had arrived. This was a phenomena that had started in Canada, people would fall on the floor, convulse, laugh uncontrollably, weep or other loud demonstrative things. Obviously everyone wanted this to happen to them. To be the one that God had touched so dramatically.
We would all pray for each other by the laying on of hands (everyone touches a non erogenous zone, head, shoulders, upper back) the hands had started to become more forceful, sort of pushing you and praying. I had already become a pro a speaking in tongues ( I find myself making lots of the same nonsense talk now I am a mother so maybe it wasn’t a gift from god, and maybe I was just making it up…….fala lach la, um bringd op thrup di shall la) so I should really be falling over when people prayed for me.
And fall I did. As soon as you were on the floor they would move onto the next person. The carpet at church was really soft. I fell asleep there on quite a few occasions while I was being “blessed”. I realised that I was faking it.
My mum was one of the few people that was not lying on the floor. She was getting really sad that God was not choosing her. I remember thinking about confessing to her on the way to a youth meeting that she was driving me to. I brought it up, she started talking about her disappointment, as she was talking she started to laugh, the laughter became almost hysterical, tears were rolling down her cheeks. We nearly crashed.
As she sat, very badly pulled over on the side of the road, crying and laughing I remember feeling a mixture of worry and relief. When she composed herself she was the happiest that God had finally “blessed” her ( cheers God, we nearly died, could you not have chosen one of those times at church when mum was just standing there and not driving?) It was all very confusing.
About six months later my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer. And six months after that she died. And with her the last shreds of my faith went too. I was seventeen. My brothers were thirteen and eight. My sister was nine. I had been banished from the house four days before she died as it was suspected that I was bringing evil spirits into the house that were preventing God from healing her.
I was not supposed to talk to my siblings in case I poisoned their minds ( I found a bed sit two streets away, they would sneak over on the way home from school)
It was the worst and lowest time of my life.
People from church that I had known all of my life would cross the road to avoid me.
And who was there to pick me up, support me and stop me from self destructing anymore than I already had?
The non christians. The people that I had judged, lectured and annoyed. My best friend’s hell bound mum bought me food parcels, sat up with me at three in the morning and cared for me endlessly. She still does to this day.