When my grandfather died, I was devastated. I’d always considered him my best friend, my advocate and my ally in a world that so often seemed hostile to me. I was a lonely child and I often felt like an outsider. My grandfather made me feel accepted and unique. And more than that, he represented God to me. Most of what I knew about God, I’d learned from him and I would forever equate him with godliness and mercy.
I was seventeen and was still dating the Jewish boy who by then was in college. It was a very unhealthy relationship, to say the least: he was most probably mentally ill and he frequently threatened to commit suicide and take me with him. While he was away on a theater tour of Europe I mustered up the courage to break up with him.
After that, I fell hard for another boy who rejected me and finally ended up dating another boy who was my age. In the fall after I graduated from high school, I went away to college but I still saw my boyfriend on weekends. The one time we had unprotected sex, I got pregnant and had an abortion when I was nineteen. I felt guilty and confused and didn’t really want to be with my boyfriend any more, but I didn’t know how to end it.
In my second year of college, I met the young man who would become my first husband. I was attracted to him partly because he was planning to become a minister. In my state of mind, that felt like a sign from God. I broke up with my high school boyfriend and started dating the prospective minister. Nine months after we met we were married. We were both twenty years old.
What’s probably obvious to you, my readers, is that my husband was a replacement for my grandfather, but I didn’t see that until years later. I still considered myself to be a Christian at this point, but I didn’t really feel very close to God. Being married to a divinity student made me feel closer. But our marriage wasn’t made in heaven and we found ourselves wondering why we’d gotten married.
About this time I met a “born-again” Christian and she impressed me with stories of how much God cared about and loved me. I realized that I’d never allowed God into my heart and that I needed to know Him personally. My husband and I both came to the same conclusion at the same time and a few months after we were married, we, too, became “born-again” Christians.
My mother didn’t understand my new-found religious devotion. In her eyes, I’d always been a Christian. But I knew that I’d been seeking something more and I felt that I’d found it by finally accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior for myself. I felt that before that I hadn’t really known what it meant to be a Christian. I was finally learning what it meant to be in a personal relationship with God.
But all was not smooth-sailing. My husband took on a very rigid view of what it meant to be a Christian, especially a Christian wife and mother. (We started our family a year and a half after we married.) He insisted that he was not only the head of our marriage but that he was also my spiritual guide and counselor. The problem with that was that he was extremely critical and I constantly felt judged and found wanting.
We struggled to make our marriage work, but after ten years and four children, we separated. He had his own church by then and I had to move, with the kids, out of the parsonage. We moved in with my parents. I was blamed for the break-up and lost all my former friends in the church. I was suddenly a black sheep in God’s kingdom.