If. I was once told that “if” was the biggest little word to ever exist. That isn’t a lie.
Everyone posts these meme’s all the time with messages that sound good, but has anyone ever stopped and really read them, tried to understand what they’re really saying, or did they get caught up in the moment because they said something itching ears wanted to hear? Everyone has the answer… to every problem. Yet all those answers come with a hitch, a ransom, a sacrifice, an obligation, or/and a price. If… If… If… You know what I’ve learned? It’s all bullshit. I lived my life believing IF… If I obeyed, then life would be okay. Well, I tested that theory many, many, many, many times. People lie. Let me tell you a story.
I can remember being about seven years old and sneaking off one morning to catch a church bus. I wanted to be like my next door neighbor, I can still remember her last name – Janosek. I wanted to be a regular girl, wear frilly pretty dresses, have girl toys, have two normal parents that weren’t handicapped or abusive, parents who had real jobs and not drug dealers, who went to church and PTA meetings. I wanted to be free to laugh and be silly, be anything but who and what I was. It didn’t seem like such an impossible dream, but to me at seven it seemed alien and a world away; impossible. But impossible didn’t stop me, it never did. So, I dressed as much like a girl (I was an extreme tomboy with five brothers) as I could and stood at the road, determined to wave that church bus down. I caught that bouncy bus not knowing where it’d take me, what would happen to me, or when or if it’d ever bring me home. People lie.
I ended up being delivered to a little country church where I was shuffled off to a gymnasium with several other children and told a story about a man sacrificing his son for his faith. I thought it barbaric that God would tempt a man to kill his own son in order to test his faith. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around, parents sacrifice themselves to save their children? That, of course, wasn’t the life lessons I’d learned by that age. A parent killing their kid for their own interest… that was easy, that was normal. What a manipulation. People lie.
I was pulled to the side and asked if I wanted to go to heaven, yet I had no concept of heaven. All I’d heard of heaven was a place in the fluffy white clouds, wings, and golden harps. That sounded boring to me, so I told the lady that I didn’t want heaven, I just wanted an earth where people didn’t hurt each other, that I didn’t think this place was so bad, except for the people in it. I thought the earth was beautiful, even magical, if the people in it would stop hurting it and each other. She quickly informed me that in heaven there was only peace and that nobody ever cried. I didn’t believe that, because I cried all the time. I didn’t cry to just cry, and I sure as hell didn’t cry where other people could see me. My dad beat me so bad one time I passed out, because he wanted to see me cry. I refused. In private I cried because I hurt, because I was scared, because I hoped and constantly had those hopes dashed with violence. Crying made me realize I was real, it reminded me that I could feel pain, but also joy. Why did I want to go somewhere and not feel anything? They were not selling me on this whole heaven thing. I guess she could see that, so she changed her tactics and started telling me of the OTHER consequences of not being saved – the idea of eternal damnation, a life filled with violence and pain. I wondered in that moment what I had possibly done at seven years old to have been damned while I was still alive. I was a little smartass and told the woman, “It’s not so bad. You get used to it.” Obviously that wasn’t the right answer. So, I soon learned of the lake of fire, torture, demons, the devil and brimstone. I still wasn’t scared. I was raised with a pack pit bulls, after all. People lie.
So, this determined lady was hell bent on saving my soul, she changed her tactics once again and asked me if I loved anyone enough to die for them and started telling me about the story of Jesus, how he was an innocent man yet tortured, beaten, and then killed to save us all. It was the only story that really peaked my interest, but I couldn’t understand why this one man’s sacrifice was any different than what I had done regularly to protect my brothers, or to protect my mother. I’d taken beatings for them, I’d given them my food at times, I’d kept my mouth shut and endured the worst of humiliation and abuse at the threat of losing them, being taken from them, or separated. I know, had given the choice, I would have died for them, taken a bullet in their place. I dreamed of doing that very thing quite often. That was an easy decision. So what made this man’s decision any better than mine, or any other human being that would do the same for someone they loved? I’d learned enough history by this time to know people died for other people all the time, yet we didn’t worship them. Why him? Telling me that I was supposed to love somebody because they first loved me and died for me, was a hard concept for me to understand. I wanted to scream, “Prove it!” People lie.
It took me nearly 20 years to reconsider that answer, because the next thing this lady did was scare the hell out of me by making statements like I needed to be washed in this man’s blood in order to be redeemed, dunked in some water to be cleaned, and then I needed to obey him and keep all his commands so that I will be worthy enough to enter heaven. I knew I’d already flunked this test, because I sure as hell wasn’t about to let somebody pour their blood over me, nobody was going to push me under the water, and I was too stubborn to blindly obey a bunch of rules I didn’t understand. I just smiled, shook my head to tell her what she wanted to hear, watched her shed a few fake tears for me, schedule a baptism for the next Sunday, gave me a Bible, gave me some candy, and then put me back on the bus that brought me home. I never went back to that church. But, I never forgot that day. People lie.
I kept hearing that woman’s voice in my head saying, “If you believe in Jesus, he will save you.” I needed saving in the worst way. I once wished in the middle of a hurricane for Superman to save me, but he never came. He ended up being a lie, a figment of someone else’s imagination. Don’t even get me started on Santa. Biggest disappointment of all. People lie.
My next memory had me lying in the grass, staring into the sky, wondering what was beyond the clouds, beyond the blue, beyond the stars. I watched the treetops sway in the wind, the ants crawl between the blades of glass, the beauty of the sunlight in a drop of water falling from the spigot into a tin bucket. It’s the most peaceful and profound moment I’d ever felt in my life. I was just a child, a human, and for the first time in my miserable life, I wondered why I existed at all, why I lived the life I lived, who I was, what was my purpose, and that if a real god existed, did he see me, know what I endured, know how I hurt? That was the first time I ever prayed. I whispered into the wind, “If you’re real then I want to know the real you. Let me see the truth. People lie. Save me, please.”
There was a wooden plaque that I’d sometimes stare at for hours. It read, “If Christianity were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of hypocrisy it represented, especially for this waif of an abused Jewish girl, but I’ll never forget it. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to that plaque. It shaped my mind more than I ever realized. Needless to say, Jesus never showed up at my doorstep to save me. Until the time I was 23, I lived in hell, in survival mode, hating the world, determined not to let it beat me. I honestly don’t know how I survived those years, but it was at this time I traded one hell for another, a different kind of hell, a hell that transferred the outside pain to the inside. I was no longer fighting for my life every day, instead I was fighting for my soul. When I lost my first hope at real love, a part of me died. I finally became a Janosek, I hid among middle-class idealism, I became it’s poster child, only it wasn’t what I thought it would be. People lie.
For the next twenty years I obeyed, I lived a life of obedience, to my family, to my husband, to my church, to my god, to my community, to everything. My dream was that my children would not have the life I had, no matter what it cost me. I gave it my everything – I gave it my faith, my trust, my loyalty, my gifts, my skills, my heart… I gave it my all. I studied, I learned, I volunteered, I tithed (everything – money, time, gifts, abilities), I prayed EVERY DAY with sincerity. If ANYONE in this world could pray more sincere that I did with my nose in the carpet for 20 years, then NO ONE has hope. I believed with every ounce of my being… that IF… ‘my people who are called by my name will humble themselves, seek my face, turn from their sins, then will I open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing they’d not have room enough to contain. If… I believed I would receive. If… I was obedient and faithful… my husband would love me, my kids would love me, my family would love me, my church would love me. People lie.
I didn’t just pray once and expected the world to just fall into place in an instant. I prayed faithfully for nearly 20 years. I have journals and journals and journals of my prayers. I’d crawl into bed next to a husband every night who didn’t want me, most nights crying myself to sleep, wondering why I wasn’t enough. I watched one of my kids run away from home, leave me worried for years if they were even alive or suffering, blaming myself for being too hard. I watched a family that promised to love me forever disappear along with the divorce papers, along with other family members that stole from me, lied to me, and used me. I watched a church full of people who told me they loved me nearly every day just vanish behind their church doors. I suppose as long as I looked like them, talked like them, and walked into their doors I was worthy. Hmmmm? I wonder where the lost sheep really gather? People lie.
So, here I am, bombarded everyday with the meme’s of life, seeking my own truth, trying to save my own soul, not for a heaven or to avoid a hell, and not to find love. People lie, especially to themselves. That includes me. I don’t have any answers, but I know they’re not found in “if”. That’s all bullshit. I found love only when I chose to love myself. Salvation? Everyone has their own faith, even if they think they have something else. Quoting scripture to me is fruitless. Quoting meme’s, philosophies, logic, ideals… those are all fruitless too. Quit trying to save me or change me, just love me. If you can’t do that, just go away. I don’t want you. I sure as hell don’t need you. I’m still lying in the grass, staring up into the heavens, wondering, whispering into the wind, “People lie. Are you real, because I sure as hell know I am.”
Till next time,
Image by: sympathyforlove.blogspot.com – Lying in the Grass by Hermann Hesse