If You Are Real
By T. Suzanne Eller
(excerpted from Real Teens, Real Stories, Real Life)
The small church was crowded. All around me people worshiped a god that I didn’t believe existed. Why was I there? My neighbor asked me to come. To be honest, I thought they would leave me alone if I did.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had attended services with my family a few times, but it was more of a ritual or a way to celebrate holidays. What I hadn’t anticipated was the wetness pressed against my eyelids as I clenched them shut.
My motto? Never let them see you cry. I wasn’t about to break down in front of people I didn’t know. I wasn’t crying because I felt the presence of God or that I sensed his love for me. I fought tears because I was mad, so angry that I shook inside.
How dare the preacher stand there and talk about the love of God. It was easy for him and people like him to spout off about a God who existed, who had a purpose for every person. Well, maybe their God had taken a personal interest in them but he didn’t live at my house.
The mother I am about to share with you is the not the mom I have now. You see, she had an encounter with God, and he brought her out of the darkness of emotional pain and healed her. In order to share my story, I have to share a little bit of hers as well.
My mom left home at 16 years old, pregnant and newly married to a boy who thought he was a man. She lost her first baby to cystic fibrosis when the toddler was less than two years old. She had her second child at 18 and left her husband at the age of 21. He came to visit her one night and forced her to have sex. She discovered two weeks later she was pregnant.
I was that baby.
Mom married a good man who loved her and the two little kids that came as a package deal. But in spite of this turn of events, my mom was fragile.
Growing up, I never knew what to expect. There was physical abuse and apologies. There were humiliating punishments, harsh words, and tearful requests for forgiveness.
It wasn’t always bad in my home, but when it was it was loud and chaotic and frightening. I feared one day that my mom would pull the trigger or hurt herself. I hated the words that came out of her mouth when she was angry.
One day my mom chased me through the house, brandishing an umbrella as she screamed at me. I ran out the door and into the rain. I was wearing a T-shirt and jeans and no shoes. The cold rain pelted me as I ran down Latimer Street. I pushed through the wetness, pumping my arms as I ran as fast as I could. Finally I stopped, bending down to catch my breath as my tears meshed with the raindrops. I slowly turned around and walked home, sat on the curb, and wept until my throat closed.
I was stuck. I couldn’t run away. I had no money, no place to go.
I started smoking at the bus stop, pushing boundaries with my teachers, and drinking with my best friend. My attempts to be tough must have appeared hilarious to others. I was skinny to a fault and looked younger than my age. Being tough didn’t come natural. My heart was gentle and I hated conflict and fighting, yet every single time I let my guard down someone hurt me.
That’s when the hardness crept in. Never let them see you cry. Never give them a chance to know you care.
One day it all came to a head. My mom pulled us around her in her bedroom. She put a gun to her head and threatened to shoot herself. I was scared, but not because I thought she would die, but because under my breath I whispered, “just do it”.
Who was this person I was becoming?
Two years later I stood in the little church. The pastor sang, strumming on the guitar as people knelt at the altar. “He loves you,” he said. “He has a plan for your life.”
I challenged God. “If you are real,” I whispered, “If you exist and you know me and you love me like he says, I need to know.”
I expected nothing, yet I received everything as a tender touch reached past my hardened heart. I’ve had trouble explaining this moment to people over the years. “Did you see God?” No. “Did you feel God’s presence?” Yes, but so subtle and deep inside of me, touching areas that I had closed long ago to anybody, that I knew it was God.
I stumbled from the church. I ran home and told my mom that I had just got “saved”, though I really didn’t understand what had occurred.
My circumstances were still the same, but everything was different on the inside of me.
I made mistakes, huge blunders as I tried to learn what it meant to follow Jesus as my Savior. I wasn’t perfect, but I understood his love. The people of that little church ministered to me in ways they will never understand. There were times I wept at the altar and then went home to chaos. There were times I fell in my walk with Christ and their gentle encouragement helped me to keep going.
It is amazing what can happen when God restores a broken life. It can be beautiful like the portrait that my mom is now, the shattered pieces of her life assembled together in a beautiful picture of God’s mercy.
Today I am a mom, an author, a speaker, a wife, and in love with four beautiful grandbabies. I have the opportunity to share the story of my life and the beauty of purpose and the fact that God loves us from the beginning.
I found a note from my dad under my pillow one day. I still carry it with me, the tattered pieces a reminder of what God has done. My quiet father, who very rarely shared the depth of his emotions, said in that letter, “I have watched you and I see that you have something that is of great worth, a treasure. I know that it is real and I admire you for your faith and your love for God.”
We have never spoken of that letter, but it came at a time when I prayed for a sign. “God, show me that you hear my prayers. Heal my family. Let me know that you are listening.” The folded piece of paper under my pillow was heaven sent and priceless.
For years my mom and I have been friends. She is compassionate, loving, and sometimes she’s still fragile, but she’s beautiful to me.
I am still running after the same God that touched my life. He’s been with me through good and difficult times, but my love for him will always be wrapped around that first moment when he reached down to an angry, hurting girl and silently whispered that he loved me.
I still can’t help but whisper back, “I love you too”.
copyright, 2002, Real Teens, Real Stories, Real Life, T. Suzanne Eller