God called me out of bondage into freedom in the moment my first child was born:
I was twenty three, fundamentally unchurched, reasonably content in my liberal, secular-humanist worldview, when God took advantage of my hormone-logged postpartum daze and hit me over the head with a baseball bat. I held my baby daughter in my arms and I knew, I knew God loved me like I loved this wet wrinkled start of a human being. I got it. I didn’t love this little lump because of her good works (though I certainly hoped she would grow to be someone who would do good in the world). I didn’t love her because of what she could do for me. I simply loved her because she was mine, I had created her, and she was good. If I loved her this much, this freely, and this fully, how much more did God love me? In this overwhelming moment in the maternity ward, I heard a voice and caught a glimpse of God.
Until that moment I had run away from the oppression and injustice and violence of my childhood, but I was not free of it.
I ran away when my father left my mother and I thought I could leave her too. Within a month of my leaving the house, my mother began to terrorize my younger brother in my (and my father’s) place. I returned home to protect him, to draw her rage and malice onto me, away from him. Two years later, I ran away again when I graduated high school. I went to San Francisco and got a job as a nanny. I wanted to prove to myself that I could provide for myself, by myself. I had a roof over my head, food on the table, and some spending money. I congratulated myself that I had gotten free. Then the mother of the family for whom I worked began yelling and screaming at her daughter in front of me. It wasn’t long before I witnessed the mother beat her 10 year old daughter. I hadn’t escaped. The battered hope I had tried to keep alive in me died as I found myself back in a house filled with violence. Conventional wisdom was right after all. I was doomed to repeat my childhood—wherever I went—into a job, into a marriage, I would simply recreate the horrors I had hoped to leave behind when I left Texas. I ran away from the nanny job for college, joining Jeff (my future husband) at the University of Chicago. I ran away to Europe and then to Seattle. I ran away into marriage and almost immediately found myself pregnant. I was sick and slept through much of my pregnancy. When I woke up, I read child rearing books and watched other mothers with the keen eye of an anthropologist. I wavered between hope and fear, but fear that I would do to my child what had been done to me was definitely winning out over hope that it might be different for me and for Jeff, and for our child-to-be. I had moved 3000 miles from home, made the honors list at college, become fluent in a foreign language, and married an amazing guy, but I was still oppressed by the violence of my past. I was still bound.
Until I was set free in that moment in the maternity ward.
I hardly have the words to describe. I was healed and held in God’s overwhelming love, I was transformed by God’s words to me: I love you like you love this little one. Those words were both a baptism—you are my beloved child and in you I am most pleased—and a call to be the parent and person I barely dared to believe I could be. In that moment I was set free (mostly) of my fears, and free of my fears I fell into the arms of Love. I went forth free to love my baby girl and to be loved by a God I had decided did not exist, did not matter to my life. And although I would not say that that loving and being loved has been easy, I am most clear that loving has been liberating. That moment set me free and continues to call me ever on to Freedom.
That moment was over two decades ago. That moment was a conversion moment—it was a liberation moment. It was also the beginning of a new life. I died to so many things in that moment and in the moments that followed. I died to the overwhelming fear of repeating the past. I died to the despair that wanted to insist I was doomed to perpetuate the violence. In that moment of Love I was called. And the call that came that moment keeps calling me all these years later, calling me to deeper relationship with God (and therefore deeper relationship with those dear to me), calling me to a great new work—a great new world. God’s call to make a home and a family filled with love, grew me into a new person, one who was ready to say yes to a call to seminary. That call, in turn, grew me into a new person, one who was ready to say yes to a call to begin the work of re-membering my childhood. That work I have done faithfully with the help of a gifted and generous counselor and the support of my dearest friends and family, as well as the spiritual guidance of my friend and minister. Although that work continues, I see (even now) how that work is preparing me for whatever call will come—whatever crazy thing God might ask me to do next.
That moment when God broke in set me free. The great whine of my life is: “I want a different childhood!” That I will never have. But I am so thankful for the family I have built with Jeff and our girls, so thankful for the gift and the grace of it all. I do not get a “do over” for my childhood, but I do get a chance to be a part of a loving life-giving home, full of laughter and free of violence. As I have sharpened my skills for mothering (and for partnering) over the last twenty-some years, I have become ever more the person I want to be—the person God is calling me to be. And becoming that person liberates me more all the time.
What does that liberation feel like? It feels like a glorious gift. It feels like a dream come true. It feels like a mistake. Sometimes I feel like I got away with something. Mostly what I feel is overwhelming gratitude, a gratitude that brings tears to my eyes and almost leaves me breathless.