I looked around the little room I called my home. Well, ‘home’ was hardly the word I would have chosen. My ‘space’, maybe. Or even my ‘living quarters’ but nothing about it was home.
For three months I had lived in this small space, just big enough for an old, saggy, double mattress, shoved in a corner on the floor. There was no bed frame and probably not enough room for one. At the foot end of the bed was a bit of space, maybe two or three feet, where I kept my suitcase that I lived out of, and a small black and white TV.
Somewhere in the mix of clothing, shoes and jewellery, my Bible lay buried and all but forgotten. I never travelled without it, even though I seldom laid hands on it. It brought me comfort, though I never understood why. Along with my Bible, and just as neglected, was my ‘Dear Jesus’ diary, with only a few tear-stained entries.
It had been a long two years. When I left home, a month before my 16th birthday, I only had one thing on my mind—to escape the fear and trauma of abuse and violence. Never did I imagine that I would end up turning my back on God. He had been there through all the abuse, the only Comfort I had ever known in childhood, the only One I talked to, the only One who saw me tremble and heard me beg and plead for hope and purpose. He was all I had, and the only One I had truly loved since the day Ms. Harms told the story of the prodigal son in grade 3. She had used the felt board to show the Father waiting for his son, and when he saw him a long way off, he jumped up—Ms. Harms quickly picked up a new father character, standing him upright—and ran out to meet his son. He fell on his son’s neck and wept, welcomed him home, and threw a big party. That was the God I loved.
My plan, just before I turned 16, was that I would leave home and build a new life with a bright future and He would always be in the picture. And, amazingly, He was. Just not the way I had thought He would be, in intimate relationship. He was there, the forgotten God, the unseen Guardian.
My plans went very wrong after too many things happened to make me question whether God really is like that prodigal son’s father. I desperately wanted Him to be, but His kids sure were not acting the part. And, being a kid myself, I couldn’t separate the hurts imposed on me by Christians—aka human beings—and the kindness of God and His unwavering love for me.
That is how I began a journey, in search for hope and a bright future, with my back turned on God. And that is what led me to that little room, living in one of the darkest, slummiest, parts of Fort Wayne, Indiana, engaged to a drug dealer.
It didn’t occur to me that my life was not normal. While my life wasn’t constantly threatened, as it had been in childhood, there was plenty of violence, death threats—just not directed at me.
Besides the general dysfunction, there was also blatant satanic worship in my new environment, and God was not in the picture. Unlike home, where there was the constant buzz of activity, with up to 12 kids in the house at once, I now spent my time alone in a small room, day after day with nothing to do. During the day I had only water to drink and was typically offered only one meal a day—in the evening. On occasion there was a bit of cereal or toast but most days, it was that evening meal that sustained me.
Being raised in poverty, the thought of not having enough food was not completely foreign to me. Though my parents usually managed to feed us something—if only bread and jam—three times a day, we were accustomed to being rationed. I remember being hungry at times, but never going hungry for a day. For all the abuse in our home, I give both parents credit for trying to provide for our needs. Tragically, because of the cycle of abuse from past generations that they passed on to us, they lacked the awareness to protect us spiritually, emotionally, and sexually, as well as from physical violence.
To see these things in a new environment was therefore not startling. It was the same ‘normal’ I had known, in a new environment with a slightly different twist.
It was in a moment of hopeless desperation that I dug out that Bible and my ‘Dear Jesus’ diary and I whispered a little prayer. It was simple. I needed help. I had no money. I had no job. I was in the United States without papers and couldn’t get a job. I was stuck with no hope of escaping this reality.
In that place of complete emptiness I asked God to speak to me one more time, to get me out of that hell and, if He did, I vowed I would give Him the rest of my life and never turn from Him again.
God works through circumstances one might not initially expect. My fiancée lost his job for making racist slurs and beating up a black man at the blood bank—something that infuriated me because suddenly he was just like my father. After giving him a cold shoulder for a few days, I ‘forgave’ him and ‘filed it’. I would simply have to accept it. This was life. Days later, he took a trucking job to get by.
Not long after this transition, he had a run, to Kitchener, Ontario, and I joined him. When we arrived at the Detroit/Michigan border on our way back to Indiana, a female officer exercised her full authority over me. She was the first female officer I ever encountered, and she was the first officer who did not allow me across the border without ID—something I did not carry.
My fiancée had to be in Georgia in just over 16 hours, and it was a 17 hour drive, so he left me at the border. I was stuck.
It had been two years and two months since I lived at home. During this time my family had only seen me a time or two and now, I had no choice but to call them—I had no one else.
My youngest sister answered and, after consulting with older siblings, informed me I would have to call back in a few hours after they had some time to weigh the pros and cons. That was fair. It wasn’t like I had a relationship with them. They owed me nothing.
It was a cold December day, and I had no place to wait, so I wandered around the docks. A handsome, well dressed, clean-cut trucker, in his late twenties, struck up a conversation with me and offered me his truck to warm up. He had to wait at least 3 hours before he could leave, he said. Hesitantly, I agreed. What if he was planning to kidnap me? Then again, I reasoned, I had seen it all, what could a trucker do to me?
When I climbed into the rig, I was breath taken. It was extravagant! I had not seen anything like it before in a truck! Hardly even in a house! He joined me and immediately set out to break the ice, asking me questions about myself. Who was I? Where was I from? Who was going to pick me up? Would I like him to try to help me get into the United States, where we could make arrangements to connect with my fiancée? The trucker, whose name I don’t recall, was a perfect gentleman the whole time, focused only on helping me.
At some point I called home and was told that my brother and sister-in-law were on the way and when I should expect them. When that time came, I thanked my new friend—an angel, for all I know—and returned home.
My family had changed during my absence. Relationships were not as dysfunctional as they had been… though I was still ill at ease over being home. No one preached their religion to me, or told me I would go to hell if I didn’t believe like them. Home had become relatively peaceful. And in that peace, the walls around my heart slowly crumbled.
I didn’t miss the little room, or even the man I had thought I wanted to marry—just to have a place to belong and someone to love me. I didn’t miss his secretive stops at random houses—stops that I later recognized as drug deals, but was too naïve to see then. I didn’t miss anything about that life.
It was then, away from the chaos of running from all that had once been, that I realized how desperately I missed the God of my childhood—the forgotten God. He wasn’t the God I encountered in religion, nor was He the God with the big stick. He was the Daddy-Father that Ms. Harms introduced me to in grade 3. The Daddy-Father who ran to meet His prodigal son when finally he saw him coming home.
Somehow I knew that He had waited patiently for me, His prodigal daughter, just like that story, and He was never far away. He had loved me all along, and I had always had a place to belong, right in His heart.