Baptism is a beautiful thing; it was once explained to me as the physical representation of an already present spiritual transformation. As I mentioned last week, my actual baptism was definitely a celebration. However, it’s also where things got real.
Despite various warnings throughout catechism class, despite wise words in conversations with my mom and my sponsor, despite hearing the Prayer of Exorcism (not the pop-culture type exorcism, but rather a Catholic prayer of protection) at my baptism, nothing prepared me for the almost immediate attack from the enemy. I did not always believe that the enemy could have such an effect; however, in recent years its become pretty obvious that his whisper is my kryptonite.
There’s no real way for me to tell this story, there’s too many details that have been lost in translation. Too many moments that have been forgotten, skewed by time, muted by alcohol, or broken by denial…but I’ll give it my best shot.
I was baptized the same year that I reluctantly dragged my awkward body through the doors of the local high school; a place where I can honestly say, I spent the unhappiest years of my life. High school is already difficult enough. Full of hormones, emotions, temptations, and all kinds of insecurities. The worldly messages were already loud; telling me that my awkward preteen body, and my sleep deprived preteen brain were not good enough.
But it was that consistent whisper during my sleepless nights that I found deafening.
The one that told me the messages were right, that the sideways glance that girl gave me really did mean that she hated me, the one that told me everyone thought I was lame because I, eternally clumsy, had tripped in front of the hockey team. The one that told me I was no good because I wasn’t as smart or as athletic or as pretty as those girls.
This was not an attack I knew how to fight.
I spent years, sleeplessly listening to that whisper and quietly attacking myself in the midnight hours while the rest of the house slept.
In the midst of this, things became worse when my immune system decided to attack itself, triggered (we think) by an H Pylori infection, and causing a chain reaction of 24-7 nausea, inability to regulate my temperature, and red, itching, swelling hives. Some the size of loonies, others the size of golf balls, some larger. All miserable. I was given permission from the school administration to carry Benedryl with me to all classes (which only made me feel like more of an outsider, but was better than turning into a lumpy, itchy monster in class). Having woken up a few times with my face so swollen with hives I could barely breathe, I developed a fear of falling asleep and spent the better part of my grade 8 and 9 years writing poetry, watching the Independent Film Channel and reading until 4 or 5 am. I slept an average of 3 hours a night, and would often accidentally make up for it on Saturdays (or Sundays) when I, appearing to be a normal teenager, slept until noon without moving.
By the end of the year following my baptism, I’d all but forgotten how to pray and any hope I had placed in God, the medical system, or anything else was fading fast. I was pretty miserable and pretty sick and incredibly tired.
I recently reread some of the poetry and journal entries that I had written during that time in my life, and while I know the words were the only healing I could find at the time, they were pretty dark, broken and empty. It triggered a memory of one particular piece of writing that thankfully, I destroyed when I was 16 or so. One piece of writing that wrenches my heart to remember; sitting on my bed writing my own teenage version of a Will, terrified that one day soon, I might not wake up.
But I did wake up, every morning since, thank God.
Coming through the end of grade 9, and starting off in grade 10, my world changed again. While I was still fostering an inwardly spiraling hurricane of self-doubt and low self esteem, outwardly my physical body was beginning to heal. Without explanation, or any sort of diagnosis or official treatment from the BC medical system, the nausea and the allergic reactions, receded. Not having to focus on diet restrictions, allergy medication, and visits to the E.R. at random hours, and already having done a complete 180 from the shy but optimistic 13 year old I once was, I turned my attention not to God but to friends, boys, and the most popular weekend activity. Parties.
It seemed an easy world to fall into. There was always somewhere to go on Friday nights, there was always someone new to meet, there was always a welcoming face when you arrived. The real draw for me though was not the people but rather the lies. Whiskey seemed to be my drink of choice, when I had a choice, but that didn’t matter. What really mattered was the way my head spun when I drank it. The way my nerves calmed, the way the whispers telling me everything that was wrong with me, became silent. What mattered was the way people liked me when I was drunk, they way they laughed with me, and danced with me, the way they accepted me. They told me that I was still myself “but funnier”, “but louder”, “but more outgoing”. They convinced me I was all the things I always wished I could be when I was shy and sober.
It never occurred to me that they were drunk too, and therefore, probably had no idea what they were talking about.
And it really never occurred to me that perhaps I was hearing a different, but just as damaging, whisper this time. One that was drawing me in closer…instead of pushing me farther away, as I was used to.
It didn’t matter, anyways. They liked me and for a little while, I liked me too.
I tell you this to show you how easily I believed the lies, how easily I gave in to the temptations, and how easily those parties and the people I met there lead me to the worst night of my life.
There is a part of me that feels that I’m being melodramatic when I write this part of the story; the same part of me that used to buy into the “all kids do it” line. The thing is…where most teenage rebellion stories end with an equally drunk college experience and some disappointed (or sadly, approving) parents, my own brand of rebellion almost ended everything when I was 15.
With my most clear 20/20 hindsight, the thing I remember best from that night is the nudges.
Lying to my mom, trying to convince her that we were just going to stay at a friends house. Hearing the tone in her voice over the phone, the way she insisted to drop my overnight bag off for me, the gut feeling that she already knew. I should have just gone home.
Nudge # 2
The conversation we had, after getting out of the taxi at 11pm to face the locked gate of the golf course. 4 teenage girls, alone, taking a taxi to an off limits area, climbing under the gate, near midnight. Even we thought the taxi driver should have called the police, or the management for the course at the very least.
Aggressive Nudge #3
Exchanging a knowing look with the other girls, upon realizing that there were 3 adult men leading 4 teenage girls past the golf course, through the clearing behind and into the woods. Leading them to a ski cabin at midnight. We knew them, one of the girls was dating one of them, we’d partied with them. Called them friends. However, with one glance, we all had the same moral dilemma that night. This was not okay.
Giant, Terrifying Nudge #4
A bear, walking across the clearing. Barely visible to the eye, in the almost dark, summer air. And a comment…I don’t remember it now, but it was something about protecting us with “the machete”. Yes, you read that right. The machete. Thankfully one that was not used for anything that night, and I believe was thrown out of arms reach and into the woods by my own hands later that evening.
Horror Movie Nudge #5
Cell service faded out half way to the cabin. Near the time another comment was made. Something about us spending the night out there. That’s when I decided that if I walked any further, it would only be because I wouldn’t dare leave my friends out there. Each of decided, verbally and very clearly, that we would not be staying overnight. However, they walked on, so I walked on.
There were other, smaller nudges throughout the evening, leading up to each of those moments. The entire night was full of giant warning signs and reasons to go home and crawl under the covers. With each nudge, we realized again that there were so many ways this night could turn out terribly wrong. In truth, we had no idea what was coming.
I realize now that this was not necessarily a collection of sketchy moments, but instead moments of intense clarity. A passionately loving father opening his daughters eyes, wishing they would truly see. Truly listen. He was speaking clearly, but the last two years had trained my eyes and ears to be incredibly selective.
The rest of the night is a blur; my memories ripped up and scattered like confetti. Shock will do that, as will denial and embarrassment. I have no frame of reference or timeline for the remaining events. I remember the bottle of wine being passed around, with few sips being taken. The beer can being poured on the overstuffed wood stove; sizzling and filling the small cabin with its signature scent. A scent I still can’t stand, to this day. How hot the small space was getting, as I sat in the corner listening to one of the men flying into a fit of rage outside. Over what, I can’t remember.
The stove pipe glowing hot, the roof bursting into flames above our heads. A single moment of clarity in my own head, seeing the flames and my 3 friends turning away from the door and towards me in the corner. Spinning one of them around, pushing us all towards the door. The same door that had been slammed so hard earlier that night it jammed so tight we feared we had been locked in. One of the men pushing me from behind.
There is more to the story of this little ski cabin in the woods, how it burned down, the many events that followed in the time between our panicked exit and the police stuffing us into the back of various vehicles. These details aren’t nearly as important to this story as the resolution is.
The fact that I walked out of there that night. Blind and limping, having been injured from falling onto a log during a disagreement outside the fiery cabin and losing my glasses while trying to clear the road in for the fire department. But I walked out, as did every other person who was there that night. Out of a terrible situation that could have been so much worse, in so many ways (as you can imagine from those nudges).
When I returned the next morning, thankful for my life and also terrified for it (my parents were the farthest thing from impressed or forgiving that morning), I could barely breathe.
The cabin was almost entirely gone, the bench where I had sat just hours before was now ash piled at my feet. The surrounding trees had been licked with flames, but the most remarkable thing was…it hadn’t spread. Despite our distance from town, the time it must have taken for two of us to get out far enough to call 911, the time it took for the fire department to respond, the season and the vast amount of surrounding trees…the fire hadn’t spread.
Thank the Lord for perfect timing that night, for volunteer fire fighters ready and waiting, for still, cool air that didn’t carry the fire towards town.
The incredible thing to me, about this part of the story, is the Fathers loyal love. He did not turn away from me, even when I had turned from Him, He kept reaching for me even when I was ignoring Him, He was there through years of my distancing myself, He was present even as I was drowning myself in my own hurricane of alcohol and self-doubt, He was always there…even knowing that it would be years yet before I really turned my face back to seek Him.
The same legs that had walked on that night, carrying us into this incredibly terrifying situation, carried us out…though I don’t really believe mine should have been able to. He was faithful that night, even as we had ignored every loud and loving nudge.
I’m certain He was there, pushing us out of the fiery cabin, pushing us towards the clearing.
Read Part 4 – The Question of Purity