So I went through high school and began college with all this pain. I carried it with me everywhere and could never get away from it. My grades were always good, but I never had to work at it. I don’t say that to brag, it was a saving grace. Otherwise, I probably would have flunked out. There were several teachers who were an incredible support and helped me make it through from day to day.
The level of pain, insecurity, low-self esteem, anger, and frustration I was carrying around weighed me down. I was overweight, I never dated anyone and I believe I was just really waiting to die. I never attempted suicide, but I just knew I was so ruined that I’d never make it to thirty.
I attended Illinois State University and made it through with the support of a few good friends. I was an English major and felt that going to college was more to spite my father, than anything else. He was an illiterate man who graduated high school only because other people in his class felt sorry for him. Then he spent the majority of his time brutalizing young girls and boys who had the misfortune of being part of his “family.”
I met a man in my junior year of college. He was quite a bit older than me and he was gentle with me sexually. We got married a year after graduation. It was never a bad marriage, but it was never demanding. I did essentially whatever I wanted, which pretty much consisted of going out and eating too much.
I was so broken at that point, it was amazing I could function. I got up and went to work and looked like a normal, functioning person. I worked for attorneys in two different states. It was good work and I enjoyed it for the most part, but my life was essentially and act. Underneath the facade of a competent legal assistant was so much brokenness. There were so many pieces and so much pain. I kept waiting for it all to break through my skin and tear the world apart.
Since I was about twelve years old, I had felt that I’d been called to go to seminary. Call is difficult to understand and hard to explain, but it always felt like seminary was waiting for me. I didn’t necessarily want to go and had no idea how I would get there. I didn’t feel smart enough to get into a master’s program. I had no idea how I’d pay for it and how the rest of my life would fit around it. A particularly persistent friend, Keran Olm-Stoelting, would ask me almost every time we would talk if I’d applied for seminary yet. I told her to shut up on more than one occasion.
The commonly accepted doctrine of the church just didn’t make sense to me. That wasn’t a new struggle and I’d been questioning the church and its politics for as long as I could remember. It never made sense to me that the god we were supposed to worship could only be described with male language. A father God was the most terrifying thing I could imagine. If this god was anything like my father, how in the world could generations of people, including women who had suffered in similar ways as I had, think that god was worth honor and praise.
Then I attended a new church in Quincy, Illinois. The first thing I saw when I entered the building was a poster advertising Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis. I thought to myself, “Yes, that’s where I’m going.” Then I thought, “What the hell was that all about? There is no way.”
I started Eden Theological Seminary in January of 2005. I learned so much in seminary and made so many good friends. I pushed and challenged my professors every step of the way. I often wondered if some of them regretted having me in class.
Two professors in particular gave me the space to challenge and push boundaries. Christopher Grundy and Michael Kinnamon gave me the latitude to search for answers to my questions. I didn’t always get the answers, but at least I was allowed to ask.
At the same time I was going through seminary, my marriage was breaking up. The marriage was good when I was broken, but once I started to heal and put all the pieces back together, sex became something more important for me. It was not an area in which my husband could participate in the healing process for me. We separated and eventually divorced.
As an additional part of the healing process, I was becoming more vocal about what I had experienced as a child. I had signed up for several different newsletters written by other survivors. In one newsletter, there was a side piece that asked if anyone reading it had experienced sexual abuse and then entered the foster care system. The people asking the question wanted to write an article to try and change the national child abuse laws. That was not exactly my experience, but I responded to the query and never expected to hear anything. That was the first of many times in the following months that I never expected to hear anything. It was also the catapult I needed to speak.
It was also the summer I turned thirty.