Calvary Gospel Church, isolation, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Stress, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

Virginity

*This post could be viewed as graphic so reader beware*

When you grow up in a church like the one I grew up in virginity is very important. Alongside that goes the rampant sexual abuse of young girls. These two things coexist in an impossible way. Girls bear all of the responsibility for keeping themselves and the males pure even if those males are adults. The males can be forgiven over and over and never really lose any status but once a girl gives in she is forever ruined in the eyes of the church. After Steve Dahl abused me I was seen as a temptress and as spoiled. How sad to have the adults in your life see you as ruined at the age of 12. It hurt to be seen this way and it destroyed my self-esteem. I started to see my future as very limited. Women are viewed as only good for marriage and raising a family and you can only marry someone who is also United Pentecostal. I had 5 dating options within my church if I wanted to stay within my age group. If the parents of those boys saw me as dangerous or tainted they were going to dissuade their sons from dating me. This meant that I often dated and had puppy love romances with boys from other UPC churches. Their parents wouldn’t know about what Steve did to me.

At age 16 I dated a man who attended Calvary Gospel. His sister and her husband were part of the “in” group. This guy was well into his 20’s but no one batted an eye. I wasn’t anything to preserve or protect, after all, I was already ruined. This guy was a chronic backslider and he was the most dangerous choice I could find. At this point, I was so angry. A boy who I really cared about, one of the 5 options, had just broken my heart. I knew his mother did not approve of us being together. She made no secret of how she felt often saying things when I could easily overhear. It was after this break up that I started to see the church in a way that became harder and harder to look away from. I cried for weeks after this breakup. I would cry in my office at school and I stopped eating. Eventually, I withdrew from all of the church activities I was involved with and went from sitting in the second row to sitting in the back row. People would look at me kind of weird but no one said anything and none of the adults checked in on me. So I decided to rebel.

After years of feeling never good enough I decided to date Mike, the 20-something guy who I would eventually have sex with. We went to church together and everyone knew we were a couple but no one spoke out and said, “Hey that guy is an adult and she is underage!” It was accepted and I am sure the church saw it as a good match. The guy no one would want their daughter to marry and the teen no one would want their son to marry. People treated Mike fine, he was male, and whenever he backslid the prayer chain would light up. They had compassion for him even if they thought he was kind of a troubled guy. Our relationship was not a good one. He was mentally and emotionally abusive to me. He stalked me after I broke things off with him. One night, just like many of the evenings we spent together, we had sex. It was not special. It was more like checking something off of a list. I was detached from what was happening, being with Steve Dahl taught me how to do that. I wasn’t in my body or feeling anything. I was somewhere else watching someone else. I believe I felt that by doing this I would be stepping closer to adulthood and if the church was going to insist that I was a whore than I was going to be one. My heart breaks for my child self because I was still a child and I needed an adult, just one adult to care about me.

I have been thinking about this a lot over the last couple of days. It hit me, while I was doing yoga, and I see things clearer now than I ever have. Mike didn’t take my virginity. Steve did. By age 12 he was doing everything but having intercourse with me and he tried to have intercourse with me. Not to be too graphic but you don’t have to have intercourse to have penetration. All those years growing up in that terrible church the adults all knew something I did not. I kept thinking that I was still a virgin because I had not had sex, but they all knew what Steve took from me. I think this is part of the reason I felt nothing about what Mike and I did when we eventually had intercourse. This makes me so sad.

I want to close this post by saying I do not agree with Calvary Gospel. Losing your virginity doesn’t make you less than. If you are young and reading this please hear me! You are just as worthy before sex as after. If an adult is having sex with you or trying to have sex with you please tell someone. If the first person does nothing keep telling until someone listens. If you have been or are being abused please don’t take the shame of the abuser into yourself. The shame and responsibility belong to them. If you were abused and never told anyone that is ok too. If you want to tell now, even if the abuse has stopped that is ok too. You are good, worthy, and wonderful. I am here to support you along with so many others.

D

Calvary Gospel Church, Compassion, Crime, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Justice, Leadership, Pastor John Grant, Sexual Abuse, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

Following The Leader

Over the last year, I have written about how much it saddens me that the congregation within Calvary Gospel Church seems to have completely lost their hearts and capacity for compassion. I have turned this over in my head repeatedly and this post comes from the conclusions I have reached.

I believe that CGC is a cult of personality. In the beginning, it was focused on John Grant and now by extension his family. The congregation was mean spirited when I was a child in the ’70s and ’80s and it seems that it has only gotten worse over time. I do not see any evidence that CGC is all that interested in following what most folks would consider to be Christian principles. Instead they follow what the Grant family says and in some ways John Grant has replaced God in their hearts and beliefs. At the very least their version of Christianity is harsh and devoid of lovingkindness. There is a coldness present that leaves no room for understanding. It seems like a perversion of the gospel to blame victims and hide criminals.

When churches are run with such a strong leader in control of almost everything they run the risk of becoming cults and that is how I feel about both CGC and the UPC as a whole. When those in the pews hang on the words of the pastor or organization leadership and can no longer see the words within the Bible or hear the voice of God then haven’t they shifted into cult territory? There is such a strong focus on tongues but not on love. There is a legalistic focus on standards but very little is ever said about grace and grace is rarely shown, unless you are a man who has committed sexual sin against a child. Has the church board ever said no to John or Roy Grant? Have the elders ever called them into question? My guess is no because the church is set up to “question not God’s anointed.” Once in that territory, I would argue that the pastor can do almost anything and use hearing the voice of God to justify it. This doesn’t seem like a safe or sane situation to me. Because of this I firmly believe that the Grants have surpassed God in the hearts and minds of the rank and file within CGC. When I was a child they taught me that something becomes a cult when it is no longer Christ-centered. It seems to me that they have more than strayed into this area. Many people talk around the word cult and seem scared to apply it to the UPC but I am not one of those people.

It is shocking how they as a congregation can shut their eyes and ears to the stories coming from those who have walked away. Many of us were children when we attended and we grew up under the influence of the church, and many of us have had very similar outcomes. Pretty much everyone who has read my story and commented to me has said they are so sorry and sad about what I suffered as a child. The exception to this has been CGC and their leadership. They have referred to us as bringing damnation down on our heads, as bitter women, and as demon influenced, but have they spoken to any of us? Have they weighed our experiences against the Bible? What does the Bible say regarding people who harm children? No, they shut their eyes and ears and applaud the man who covered it all up. They believe it is them against all of the survivors never once considering the body of Christ might be more than just them. They seem to agree that protecting the church from scrutiny and Grant’s leadership from being called into question is more important than the lives of so many people.

Judgment features heavily within this congregation. Are you sick? Hmm better get your heart right so you can be healed. You must not have enough faith, better work on that. Are you poor? It’s probably because you are not tithing enough. God would bless you if you would be more perfectly in line with what the church teaches. Were you preyed upon by a pedophile, well you must have lead him on in some way. Anything that is wrong in your life or a hardship can be tied to some sin you must be guilty of. This puts the congregation in the role of guessing what your sin might be or standing in judgment instead of offering aid. I think all of this comes from John Grant and not the Bible. As a pastor and now bishop he has shaped the congregation into his own image. He has shown no compassion for the children driven from his congregation and seems more worried about his legacy and reputation. So why would we expect anything different from the congregation? If he or Roy were teaching the folks in the pews to love us and show compassion and mercy my guess is things might be different. If they were saying that older men with young underage women will no longer be tolerated then that would reflect in the congregation as well.

I’m not writing this as a takedown piece on John Grant or his family. I’m writing it to illuminate how far CGC has strayed from “normal” Christianity. I’m writing it in hopes that it wakes up even one person, saves one child from the fate I suffered, or even just causes someone to examine things a little closer.

Deb

Childhood, Compassion, Family, Forgiveness, Holiness Standards, Leadership, Parents, Poverty, Self Esteem, Sexual Abuse, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

You Are Worthy

Today I want to tell you that you are worthy. If you were sexually abused as a child you are worthy. You did not draw that older man into sin. He made his choices and he was an adult. You were a child and children cannot consent. I am so sorry if the church did not protect you, love you, and help you to heal. You deserve love, support, and an apology. I am still stunned at Calvary Gospel’s silence. I am experiencing them as no more loving now than they were when I was a child.

You are worthy even if your family did not dress right, or if you are brown or black, and even if your family did not tithe enough. A child shouldn’t have to pay for their parent’s choices. None of us can control the color of our skin or the family we are born into. We certainly could not have controlled our parent’s actions.

You are worthy even if you made mistakes, snuck into the movies, or listened to top 40 radio when your parents were out. These things are not sins, they are a normal part of growing up. No one perfectly listens to the adults in their life. Normal human development dictates that teens challenge adults, it is how we grow and become independent.

You are worthy if you wore a slit in your skirt, asked too many questions, or got bored in church. If you kissed a boy behind the church camp auditorium when you were supposed to be inside, if you faked being sick to stay home from church, and even if you faked speaking in tongues because you were afraid to disappoint your parents.

I see you trying to pretend that you are ok, trying to heal, trying to deal with the coldness coming from the people who raised us. I see you dealing with trauma, being the family outcast, never being 100% sure if you made the right decision when you left the church. I see you wondering if you should have kept your mouth shut about it all.

I understand not being educated properly and how that stays with you all your life. I understand playing small, staying invisible, always waiting for something bad to happen. I understand feeling weird in the world like you can never quite fit in. I understand the world not understanding where we come from and how exhausting it can be to try to explain.

For the men out there I see you too. Struggling to come to terms with what has happened to the women you grew up with, ministered to, your sisters and friends. I see you having many of the same struggles as I have only different at the same time. I know that there are survivors among you and when you are ready to tell your story we will be there for you as you have been there for us.

Consider this my love letter to all the survivors out there no matter what your damage is. You are worthy. Please don’t let those who refuse to ask for forgiveness, who refuse to take responsibility, and who choose to stand in judgment rather than lend aid define you. I see you as strong, brave, and overcomers. We have overcome the lack of love, support, grace, and normal human kindness we should have received as kids. We have found each other and created a life raft for one another and any new survivors who choose to join us. You are good even if you are not perfect. You are worthy.

 

C-PTSD, Depression, Family, Fear, isolation, Rapture, Shame, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

The Process of Leaving and Dealing With Trauma

When I speak with survivors one topic comes up over and over again. The people in their lives who love them cannot understand why they continue to suffer from trauma and pain from the past. Friends, co-workers, and people they interact with online often seem to want to give them the same advice. They want to offer you a quick fix and often that fix comes with a warning about not forgiving or holding onto negativity for too long. What they don’t realize is that the process for working through trauma can take a lifetime. Forgiving and “moving on” is not going to resolve the trauma responses coming from the survivor’s body. It can seem like someone has moved on but if you’re not inside their head and their body you can’t really understand. Triggers can make it hard to not think about things and can effect the body in some very real ways.

When first leaving an abusive group you’re probably in survivor mode. You’re trying to figure out how to get away and then how to live without the community you may have been in since birth. People who have known you all your life might shun you or feel the need to warn you about hell and the coming end times. You may lose family and will most certainly lose friends in the process. Often you end up feeling much more alone than you could have ever imagined. You may not have the social skills needed to maneuver in the new world you find yourself apart of and you may lack job skills or be poorly educated. Add to this a fear of hell and the rapture and you can see why just getting out and acclimating to the world can be a very tall order. Once you’re out you may find yourself dealing with depression, anxiety, insomnia, and loneliness. I consider this to be phase one of three phases.

When I started phase one I was a teenager. I went from a very insular community out into a big world that I was not ready for. When I left the church no one came looking for me. I struggled through the realization that they didn’t care. I always suspected that but when it became a reality it hit me hard. I went to public school for a year and found I had nothing to talk to my peers about. When I was in the church I felt weird like I did not fit in and then when I went into public school I felt the same way. Everyone was planning for their future. I thought I had good grades and could have gotten into college but I had no one to help me navigate that journey. Neither of my parents attended college. By this time my mother was already pretty sick and preoccupied with raising my bother and dealing with her abusive husband. My father’s attitude was that if I had a husband I did not need an education. He felt the same way about driving which meant I did not learn to drive until I was much older. I discovered that I had missed many of the milestones that my peers had experienced and would continue to miss them because I had no way to know what was normal and how to get those experiences for myself. Over time I came to realize that my Christian school had supplied me with a subpar education. If I had someone to help me navigate the gaps I could have taken classes to fill in what was missing, the issue is I did not know what I did not know. I worked in restaurants for a long time and got a little apartment for myself. I did what I had to to survive and tried to tell myself that I had time and everything would be ok. I was always afraid of a wrathful god. When I cut my hair and pierced my ears there was this moment where I was just waiting for lightening to strike. This new world was both exciting and scary.

The next phase comes when you finally feel free from the group and you try to convince yourself that you can live without them and just get on with things. Many people I speak to can be stuck in this place for decades. They convince themselves they are doing great and have just left it all behind. Reality is usually much different. Sometimes during this period addictions will show up as a coping mechanism. Many survivors try to fill their lives with activities, family and work in an attempt to forget about the trauma, but the unresolved trauma is still there like a ticking time bomb. During this time if you talk about your trauma or pain people will often slap you on the back and say something like, “But you’re away from them now so life must be good!” This is phase two.

I left my abusive group and then jumped right into another one. I hear that is not uncommon. I only stayed in that group for a couple of years before leaving. During this phase, I reveled in my freedom and filled my life with having children and experiencing as much as I could after a life of real restriction. The pain of my past never went away. It was always lurking in the background with it’s best friend fear. I tried to listen to what pop psychology told me. I tried to release the past and I tried to forgive. I tried to get on with my new life. Now I’m not saying those are bad ideas, all I’m saying is that they are a very simple answer for an extremely complex problem. They did nothing to address my C-PTSD and in the end, I just ended up feeling more broken because I couldn’t just get over it. Over time I got more and more sick. I have always had insomnia but as I’ve aged it has become much more constant. The underlying stress and anxiety brewing within me caused me to have severe stomach issues that I am still trying to heal. I also have asthma which I do not think came from the trauma but it is well documented that mental health has a big role to play in how severe asthmatic symptoms are. My body was trying to send me messages and I just kept turning the music up louder and trying to convince myself I was ok.

Phase three is what I like to call the “wake up” phase. Sometimes it happens suddenly and sometimes in little things that add up to a creeping realization. By this time the addictions are at a breaking point or maybe you just don’t sleep anymore. However it displays, you reach a point where you can no longer ignore the toll the unresolved trauma has put on your body. Things will pop into your head that you just can’t shake and you can no longer make excuses for. I feel people often reach this stage when they are in midlife and things slow down a little. They have age and experience which causes them to view the world differently. They are fully adults now and are in a better position to judge where they came from. This is usually a crisis breaking point. Illusions fall away and the past you have been hiding from is waiting there for you.

My phase three went on for a very long time. Over the years the creeping realizations would make it hard for me to ignore what happened in the past. When my oldest child reached the age I was when I was molested I realized how little she was. I could see how sweet and innocent she was and I had a bit of a crisis. These things would happen from time to time over the years. As I matured I could see clearly the past decisions that the adults made around me during my childhood as monsterous and cruel. For a long time I would make excuses for them and try to find ways to not face up to how bad things really were. Once I started writing this blog I started to really wake up. It felt like blindfold after blindfold was ripped from my eyes forcing me to look at the trauma I suffered and get real with myself about the repercussions of it. This can be really hard, when you get to the point where you can’t look away. You can no longer deny the truth in front of you or make excuses for people’s bad choices. It forces you to change the way you think and can really change your life in profound ways. Some people lose what remaining family they have, some people just realize the depth of what was done to them in childhood. With all of that comes fresh waves of grief, anger, anxiety, fear, and so on.

Once you can see the trauma you suffered clearly then you have to get to work on healing yourself and figuring out how to live in your new reality. This is where I am right now. I left the UPC when I was 16, I’m now 49, that’s 33 years to get to this point. I am one of those people who is always working on myself, I’m introspective and I’m always seeking self improvement and it still took me 33 years. This is not a quick process and I suspect I will be healing from it forever. I am ok with that and I hope that you can be too. One of the hardest things is when the people you love or just the people you want to like you seem annoyed that “you’re still dealing with that?” They question why you can’t just forget and be happy. If you love me or even just like me some the best thing you can do for me is accept me where I’m at. Understand that this isn’t something that is just going to go away. It is something I’m working on all the time. Sit with me when I’m sad and don’t try to fix it, just let me know you’re there. Take me out for coffee and listen even if you’ve heard it a million times. Lastly try to remember that I’m doing my best.

 

Uncategorized

Rachel’s Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Dear Roy,

I was raised in the church that you now pastor. You never got the opportunity to be my pastor because I left for many reasons some of which I’ll explain later on in this letter. You did see myself and many others grow up in front of your eyes while your dad was our pastor. I have such good and bad memories all mixed together and sometimes it gets very confusing. I should probably be directing this towards all of the elders throughout the years and your father John Grant as well because he was my pastor while I attended. I’m directing this towards you now because your voice can bring the change I feel is necessary to start or continue the healing process that so many like myself need.

I want you to know the people of Calvary Gospel Church were my family growing up. I was loved by so many and so many helped me in times of great need. I will always be grateful for the compassion and kindness I was shown. I’ll always be thankful for the families that took us in and gave us a safe place when my mother left and helped my dad in his time of need. If one can love, be hurt, want change, but still be angry at the same time that’s how I feel. I like many others suffered trauma that even with counseling makes it impossible to want to go back to my Calvary Gospel Church family. I feel grief and loss for so many of my once friends, but also find quiet support from others. It’s weird to have such pain and hope at the same time.

I’ve learned that a family is only as sick as it’s secrets and the same can be said about a church family. There were so many things that were kept secret or purposefully hidden while I was attending both the church and the Christian school. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with six sexual assault survivors from my youth. They were all minors assaulted or raped by adults. There are also secrets of minors touching minors inappropriately. When it’s hidden knowledge that adults are sexually assaulting minors and getting away with it, that behavior is sadly typical in children and some will respond in this way because they do not understand what is going on. I’m sure there are many other survivors that are still scared to tell their story for fear of being shunned or talked about behind their back.

One of those survivors is my older sister. She was raped as a teenager around the age of 13 by Mike Bakken a man in the church that was ten plus years her senior. She went openly out on dates to Pizza Hut with him and myself. There were plenty of other church adults who witnessed it. He had sex with one other underage person that I know of (my friend Deb) before he raped my sister.

I go back and forth in my mind about how all of this could have happened. Was it the culture that taught little girls from the pulpit that a slit in her skirt causes adult men to lust but then didn’t tell those same adult men to keep their hands off? Was it countless adult men dating underage children and teens without any repercussion from the pulpit? Was it that parents were too trusting? Was it that we were so scared of hell that when something bad happened to us as children we didn’t say anything? Was it that 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15-year-old children were to blame for the lust of others? Was it that we were not shown the love we needed so we were searching for love? I think it was a mix of all of it and much more that could take years to explain.

I know I’m not perfect so let me be the first to say to you Roy that I’m sorry I didn’t have the courage, to tell the truth as a child when I saw these things happening and when they were happening to me. I have deep regret and have suffered severe depression because of it. I wish I had been stronger back then. I was scared and I could have potentially helped a lot of children not have to suffer through the trauma I did. I should have asked for help, but I didn’t think we’d be believed. I should have stood up and asked why things were wrong instead of cowardly letting them happen. There was a lot of fear involved in my silence, but I’m not scared anymore. I want to make right the wrongs that happened and the only way to do that is to apologize. I am truly sorry to anyone I hurt with my silence and inaction.

What I want from you Roy, like I asked my dad to do, is to acknowledge that these things happened. Acknowledge that they were wrong. Apologize for the elders and pastors for hiding things and not taking them to the police. Apologize to the people that were threatened into silence. Change your policies so that when people are assaulted, especially children, the police are notified. Foster a culture where when bad things happen children don’t blame themselves for the lust of others. Create a place where toxic shame doesn’t exist and it is safe to tell the truth when one is being hurt. I honestly believe that most people want to do the right thing but are scared to or can only follow your lead. Please be the leader Calvary Gospel Church needs. Please choose to do the right thing for all those hurting people. Please do what Jesus would want you to do.

Sincerely,

Rachel Capacio

C-PTSD, Compassion, Crime, Justice, Leadership, Sexual Abuse, Trauma, Uncategorized, United Pentecostal Church

An Open Letter To Pastor Roy Grant

Roy, it has been a long long time since we have spoken or really had any contact with each other. I have thought about reaching out to you many times but something has always stopped me. I know instinctively that any interaction between us will be painful because neither of us is who we were when we knew each other.

When I was a child I looked up to you as a big brother. You were an adult but just barely and at the time I believed that you understood me. As the youth leader and school monitor, you kept us within the lines without seeming authoritarian. I felt like you understood how oppressive it could all be and so you tried to bring the fun with you when you could. For a long time, you gave me rides to school along with as many kids as you could fit into your old Blazer. I’m sure my mother almost never gave you gas money. It makes me smile now to think of how Norman and Tim would have to hoist me into the truck because I was so tiny and it was so high up. My childhood was a dark dark place and the times when I was having fun with you shine bright in the midst of it all. Even now it makes me smile to remember watching Star Trek in your basement after church and doing donuts in the empty parking lot. I was so scared we would crash and you and the boys would laugh at me. Silly kids stuff but when your home life is so bad things like this make life bearable. When I won a place on the honor roll field trip and my shoes developed a hole I told my mom I would just skip it. She called you and you called around until you found a pair of shoes for me. We never talked about it but you came through for me and it was a big deal in my little life.

I don’t think you singled me out and to most people, these things might not seem like much. Speaking from my child self they were important to me. You just never know how a small act of kindness will impact a child. I always try to remember to smile at kids because I recognize that my smile might be the only adult smile they see that day. Once you stepped back some and John Seidl took over youth group and Sunday school things became harder. He was much sterner and I never felt like I could not let my guard down around him. I’m sure you were not perfect but I always felt like you wanted everyone to feel included. When you were not around school or the youth group as much I felt like there was no adult I could turn to who wouldn’t immediately judge me. Sympathy and compassion were impossible to come by.

This brings us to now. I know that I am probably not your favorite person due to the things I have exposed within my blog. I am sure that you and I disagree on most things. I know that this will probably not bring about the change that I and so many others wish to see but I feel compelled to try. I’m sure it has felt like I’m attacking the church and your family. It has never been my wish to attack anyone. I have only been trying to shed light on my experiences in order to help others and maybe get a little bit of justice for myself. If I thought your father would listen I would be directing this towards him. You are the pastor now and so I’m directing this towards you. I’m writing this to plead with you and Calvary Gospel to change. I’m asking you to acknowledge how bad things were handled with regards to Steve Dahl and countless other abusers. I’m asking you and the church to apologize to all of the people who have been hurt by policies that go a long way towards protecting the church but leave in their path, countless victims. I’m asking you to develop church policies that include going to the police first when a victim comes forward because this is the only way the community at large can be protected from predators and physically abusive people. Lastly, I’m asking that the church no longer tolerate older men dating underage women. It is one of those things that everyone knows about but no one does anything about. By acknowledging the church’s role in the pain of so many survivors you could help bring a tiny bit of healing to my community. We could all rest easier knowing that you are committed to reporting abuse and protecting children. We could all rest easier knowing that another Becky or Debbie is not being groomed within the walls of the church.

I know how hard this kind of change would be and I understand that my posting this publically is going to make things even harder. I’m posting it publically because I don’t believe the church or you will respond any other way. I am also concerned about my words being twisted and this way it is all out in the light for anyone to read. I’m going to sign off for now and I hope that you will be the hero this situation needs. To the other pastoral staff, I’m sure you will see this and I hope you will also be a part of bringing some healing into the lives of so many who have been devestated by Calvary Gospel.

Family, Uncategorized

How Religion Continues To Hurt My Family

This week something really painful happened to me. It felt like being punched in the stomach. It came completely out of left field and so I was not prepared. Earlier I posted on Facebook this cute photo of my dog and myself at the park. One of the comments left by my extended family included condolences for the loss of my grandmother. The thing is I did not know that my grandmother had passed. I was already experiencing a rough week and this was an added hurt that I did not need right now. I quickly went to Google to confirm that my suspicions were correct, and sadly I was right. My grandmother had passed and no one in my family told me. I instinctively knew that my brother had not received a call either.

Both my parents have been gone for a while. I have an aunt and an uncle plus cousins who live in Florida. All of my extended family are Pentecostal even if they are not United Pentecostal. Just like the church I grew up in they all feel they know the truth and are special, even better than other churches. Only they have the real truth! These beliefs have done so much damage to my family.

When my mother had run through all of the “acceptable to her family” churches in Madison we started to attend Calvary Gospel. Calvary Gospel was very similar to the other churches we attended except for one thing, baptism. They baptized in Jesus name and not in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. My mother’s family was so angry when we started to go to that church. They told my mother to never let herself be rebaptized because she would be damned if she did. They also did not believe my baptism was valid. Fast forward a few years and all of our family picked up and moved to Florida leaving my mother, brother, and I alone up here in Wisconsin. We drifted apart. Some because my mother was always the black sheep and some because of the distance. My mom’s family didn’t like who she married the first time and then again the second time. They did not approve of my leaving Pentecostalism and eventually Christianity. They also turned their back on my brother when he came out as gay. They have a very narrow idea of what is acceptable and none of us ever fit into it. Over the years my grandmother would send me letters and cards on the holidays. They were always very surface based and they always ended with a warning about getting my heart right before the rapture. Merry Christmas, watch out the devil is going to get you, was the feeling they always gave me. When my beloved grandpa passed no one in my family told me. When I found out I was heartbroken. He had been sick for a long long time and so I was kind of surprised when he finally passed. Once I found out it was too late to send flowers or fly down for a funeral. I learned of his passing months after the fact. I cried for days right after my third child was born during a time that should have been filled with light and joy. I cried for my lost grandpa and for the cruelty my family delivered.

Fast forward to a couple of months ago, my brother and I had this conversation and I told him I assumed grandma would pass soon and I did not think anyone would tell us. That is exactly what happened. You might wonder why I was shocked, I wondered that myself. I think cruelty always shocks me even when I know it is coming. How could they be so mean and cold? I might be hard for them to find after all of these years but my brother lives in the same area as they do and they could have found him easily. My grandma was not always the easiest person to be around. She never asked about my children her great-grandchildren, she really never asked about me. It was like in her world I did not exist unless I was saved and in the manner she expected. I was not fully human in my lost state. She always cared about my salvation but I know that is because she felt she would be held to account by God if her family was not “living right.” My mother’s siblings feel the same. They did not tell us about her death because they do not wish to talk to us. We are lost and unclean. They, unlike my grandma, have never cared about our salvation. They have made no attempts to proselytize, they have just turned their backs and wiped us out of existence. It is like annihilation. We don’t exist to them. We have no worth because we are not exactly their brand of Pentecostal. Plus there is some racism mixed in. I am the brown grandchild and that makes me even less acceptable. They have no desire to have the brown granddaughter and gay grandson at the funeral to ruin their day.

My grandma’s passing hurt me more than I could have anticipated. I was bewildered by the pain. It was so deep and there was so much of it. After a few days, I realized what was happening. I was grieving all of the lost years. I was grieving the relationship I always wanted to have with her. I was feeling the rejection and abandonment of all the time without her. I was reminded of how much my mother’s family dislikes and rejects my brother and myself. All because of religion (well and a dash of racism). How sad that they have allowed this to keep us apart. How sad that she never knew her great-grandchildren. How sad that after losing her daughter she let herself lose her grandson and granddaughter, her only remaining link to my mother. How sad that even though I walked away from it all so long ago it can still reach out and hurt me.

In all of this, I am trying to hold onto the good things I feel I got from my grandmother. I’m tough and resilient just like her. I’m physically strong and strong-minded just like her. When I was a little girl she always marveled at my sturdiness and made me feel like I was invincible because of it. I’m sure there is more but that is all I can see right now.

Because of how my mother’s family is I have strived to be more accepting of my own children. They are all adults now and they all believe different things about God and spirituality. I try my best to always let them know that I love them no matter what. Nothing can tear them away from me, least of all religion.

Grandma