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Accepted in the Beloved

When I was in kindergarten, I used to play with a girl named Gail, who lived across the street. Gail was like me — very tiny and skinny. When her parents left the house, they locked the front door and left a window open just a bit. When they returned, they let Gail shimmy in through the window and unlock the ​door for them. I thought that was cool. One day Gail invited me over to her house to play. My mother said I couldn’t go into the house because they were Catholics. We didn’t go to church, but that didn’t matter. They were Catholics.

About that time, my brother was born, and most of the attention in the family went to him. His bassinet replaced my crib in my parents’ bedroom (we lived in a one bedroom apartment). My new bed was placed in a downstairs garage without heat or windows or any way of communicating with my parents. I would lie awake at night, cold and frightened, feeling cut off from the rest of the family, punished for something I hadn’t done. I stuttered a lot and was put in a special speech class in first grade. I couldn’t read out loud very well because of my speech problem, so I was classified as being mentally slow.

During that year, while school was in session, we took a vacation to visit relatives in Oklahoma. My father became gravely ill and was admitted to a Catholic hospital. A nun stayed in his room for two days, rocking in a chair and praying for him. She said he had a family and he was too young to die. God bless that nun, because my father finally recovered. However, I had missed a lot of school, and when I returned, my teacher was very angry because I was not up with the rest of the class. I remember going home and eating mud pies that I made, because we didn’t have very much money. I felt I wasn’t worth real food.

When I was about ten years old, my grandmother insisted that our family start going to church — the Church of Christ. I was afraid. I didn’t know what a church was. When I got there, I felt very awkward. I had never been in an auditorium with that many people in my whole life, and I didn’t know what was expected of me.

Not long after, the church had a summer Bible camp for kids my age in the mountains, and all my family insisted that I go. I didn’t know a single other person that was going. I trembled all during the long bus ride into the mountains, feeling anxious about what would happen when I got to camp.

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