I was raised above two bars, Rathskillers and the Clipper. My mother held down two jobs to support us and never went on welfare. If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then our home missed the mark. Mealtimes, bedtimes, and structure were not present in my life. I didn’t learn the value of brushing my teeth, cleaning my room, washing my hair, or any of those simple tasks so many children take for granted.
What I did learn was that Jesus loves me. Every Sunday my mother took me to the Methodist church at the top of the hill. I still recall all those childhood Bible stories and songs. In the absence of an earthly father, the Lord became my main focus.
I was raised with a brother 4 years older than myself and our playground was the streets and alleyways. At home, family time consisted of fighting the bedbugs, centipedes, and cockroaches (occasionally a rat). I didn’t have to worry about picking up anything, or chores, or tasks. Where we took it off, or left it, is where it stayed.
Bedtime was particularly hard. I remember putting my hands over my ears so I wouldn’t have to listen to Mr. S. beating Mrs. S.. Then there was the noise from the bars bellowing upwards. We lived on the top floor and my mother would sometimes fill up a bucket full of water and pour it on the drunks below. That was family fun time!
My friend Marilyn was sent to Newark State School (to this day I don’t know why), Margaret was raped by a couple of men and ended up in Willard state hospital, Marjorie got herself pregnant and was sent to California to live with her grandmother, and Erica’s father was an alcoholic. I lived in an area of pain and suffering.
To my rescue came the various organizations such as the Salvation Army, YMCA, as well as others. Each of these had a part in teaching me what I wasn’t learning at home and I struggled.
When things got real rough, I would climb out on the firescape and look up at the deep blue sky and think God made that … As I found angels in the clouds I knew he was watching over me. I would look down amongst the broken beer bottles and find a wild flower. Jesus made that! I made a game out of finding the good in everything — even people.
I often think of ‘Old Art’ who was drunk more than he was sober. I never knew where he lived. I think he lived on the street. He always looked like he hadn’t shaved in two days and always wore the same dirty, tattered suit. Sometimes, I would go and shake him until he’d wake up. Then he’d wave, smile, and mutter “How do little girl”. I knew Jesus loved Art as well.
The hardest lesson I learned was one time when a friend on the other side of town invited me to her home. That home seemed like a palace to me. It was all sparkly and clean and she had a white canopy bed. “Her parents must be rich”, I thought. I was so elated that SHE would want to be my friend. Then her mother came home and asked me to leave. As, I walked down the stairs I heard her mother yelling at Cynthia, “I don’t want you associating with such trash!”
I must have looked like trash with my dirty clothes, bad breath, and poor manners. Yet, I knew “Jesus Loves Me”. I was the rich one. I was blessed with a Grandfather that loved the Lord with all his heart. He went to church every week and remained loyal to me till the day he died. He was a mentor and role model in the midst much turmoil. Yet, the lessons at home continually collided with every opportunity around me. As I grew towards adulthood, I became depressed and rebellious.
Then caseworkers became involved, one after another. Until, at the age of 14, I met Mrs. Elizabeth Hopkins from Ontario County Social Services. I was tired of these people prying into my life and then walking out. I trusted no one but the Lord. So, I made up my mind … I would not co-operate with any of them again. All they’d get from me is the silent treatment.
Each week I’d walk into Mrs. Hopkins’s office and just stare out the window. Finally, about the 7th week, it was raining outside and I was engrossed in watching the drops of water fall against the windowpane. She asked me if I liked the rain. I looked at the ceiling and then back out the window, ignoring her.
All of a sudden, I heard her fist pound on the desk and she started crying. She lifted my folder up and slammed it on the desk, “My director said that if I don’t get you to talk tonight, I have to turn you over to someone else.” She grabbed a Kleenex and mumbled something about being unprofessional. Then remarked, “You’ve been tossed around enough. I want to help you!”
Then there was the quiet. I sat there feeling about an inch high. What do I say? After all the hours of silence, it wasn’t easy to muster up any words. I finally replied, “Yes I do”. She look astonished, elated, and couldn’t believe her ears as she muttered, “What?” and I replied, “I do like the rain”. And she was my caseworker until I went away to college. She taught me to speak properly, dress well, and seek goals in my life. See how much Jesus loves me!
If I were to sum up the lessons I learned through all the trauma and tribulations of my growing up years it would be with these final notes:
– A most powerful gift that we as humans possess is the ability to filter our perception of the outside world.
– We need to prayerfully interpret everything through the Holy Spirit, for we can’t control all that’s directed at us.
– If we decide to dwell on the ample supply of negativity around us, we’ll miss the beauty of creation all around us.
– If we choose unfiltered reality, then it’s simply our own choice to allow the world to empower their versions of life upon us.
– We don’t exist in isolation and fellowshipping can bring great satisfaction “if” our worth is not dependent on what others think but upon the Lord.
– Our lives aren’t centered around the church or an individual but around “Christ”. We’re called to encourage, support, and love one another.
– Decide who you are and what God wants you to be, then commit yourself to abiding in his Word and becoming the Lord’s Disciple.
– Jesus Loves Us All!