when some of us have been harmed by life, by others, it can become so easy to feel like damaged goods, like somehow we weren’t good enough to be protected by God. like maybe his favor is on others, but not us. a theology that supports a God who orchestrates bad things that happen to people is something that many churches & christians unknowingly pass on-that “all things happen for a reason”, “God is in control”, that “we are his children and he is our perfect parent.”. yeah, if we are his children, then what kind of dad would let some of these things happen on his watch? why does he seem to bless some and ignore others? why does God allow such horrific things to happen to beautiful innocent children? why do some get sick and others stay well? oh, don’t think for a minute i will try to reconcile these incredibly complex questions, but i do think as Christ-followers we need to acknowledge that there are many out there who see themselves as less-than, somehow not worthy of God’s protection and care. last week at the wounded heart sexual abuse group that i am co-facilitating, one of my brave friends who has been hacking through this material sober, after 30 years of cocaine addiction, shared some of her feelings in relationship to God. she said that sometimes she feels like maybe she’s part of “God’s ghetto.” i honestly thought it was the best line i had heard in a long time. God’s ghetto. how many feel like that sometimes?
well, a lot of my friends do. “janice” (i will be changing all the names on these interviews just to make sure everyone has total freedom to communicate safely) is one of my dearest companions on the journey. i met her when she was just starting her entry back to God. she actually was going through wounded heart when i met her, but the only problem was that she was going through the material still high on drugs. the pain was too great, and she wasn’t ready to do the work. now, 5 years later, she’s 3 ½ years sober & is tackling the material again. she’s brave. she’s wise. she’s a quiet leader in more ways than one. and she can hit the nail on the head when it comes to feeling relegated to the margins with God. join me in entering into just a slice of what her world looks like, feels like, is.
what’s a little of your background, what kind of family did you come from? what does some of your journey look like?
I was raised in a Christian family, with a mom and dad who were very good to me. On the outside, we looked pretty perfect. I was sexually abused by a cousin when I was 8 years old, but I was afraid to tell my parents because I was afraid it would hurt them and destroy our “white picket fence” kind of life. When I was 13 years old, we moved and my neighbor started abusing me. I smoked my first joint with him. After that things just kept snowballing. From then on, I started drinking and drugging and doing anything I could do to numb out my pain. This lead me to start selling drugs when I was 16 (I even sold to my high school teachers! I know that’s going to freak some parents out). Somehow I always managed to hold down a basic job, an apartment, and pay my bills. My family never knew about my problems. I funded 30 years of cocaine addiction by selling drugs, and I only all the way stopped doing that 3 years ago. Selling made me popular, and I liked that feeling. It made me feel like I had something people wanted. For all the years I was doing drugs, I honestly blocked out what had happened to me as a little girl. Then, about 5 years ago I ran into my cousin. The memories came back and I kept doing everything I could to try to forget. Somehow I ended up in a church for a friend’s baptism. Next thing I knew I was going regularly, but the truth was I’d do cocaine lines in the bathroom before services. No one there knew what I really struggled with, but I did find myself drawn to God. During this time, I ended up visiting a camp I used to go to as a kid, and I can’t really do the moment justice, but it was there that I smelled God again. Like really smelled him. After that, I kept going to church and ended up in the Celebrate Recovery program and began to work on my sobriety. It was a roller coaster of relapses, but I celebrated my three year sobriety last July. The hardest part of getting sober has been having to let go of all the people I knew from my partying life and trusting these new people, the church people. I remember telling you that I knew I could rely on my bar friends, but i wasn’t sure I could rely on you guys. It’s also been hard to have to actually feel my pain instead of numb it out. I am just now discovering I actually have a voice, something to say, and I am beginning to learn to use it. It freaks me out, though.
describe a little what your life feels like sometimes?
My life feels lonely a lot. In my past, I spent hours and hours at the bar, and really, I was never alone. I also did always hold down a job. It filled my days and then partying filled my nights. In the past few years, I have developed a lot of health issues that have resulted in me being unable to work, so now it seems like I have too much idle time on my hands. I have never been married, my most faithful companion is my dog, I am no longer checked out on my life, but now I have 24 hours a day to fill sober, with no job, and being in chronic pain. On top of it all, I am waiting to see if my disability gets approved, which stresses me out.
when you mentioned feeling sometimes like you were in God’s ghetto, what does that mean to you?
I know I’m his, but it sometimes feels like maybe I’m a second-class citizen. A first-class citizen gets all his miracles and he does awesome stuff in their lives. They get relationships. They have something to do with their time. They don’t seem as lonely as me. They get money, at least more than me it seems. They can move around, do things, instead of feeling stuck in their house. They didn’t get abused. I kind of feel like I get a glimpse of good things, the leftovers, but not as much as other people. If God has anything left to give at the end of the day, I wonder if maybe I can get at least get that. The times the Ghetto feeling gets the worst is when I go 2-3 days without human contact. That is when the doubt really set in and I wonder why God doesn’t let me have a better life.
what do you think is the most damaging thing about being abused?
I think what my abuse taught me is to hide everything. I don’t let people see me be sad, mad, or really anything. We learn how to hide. We also learn how to make everything somehow be our fault.
you’ve always been single. when you look around and see people married, what kind of feelings does that stir up in you?
It makes me sad. It makes me jealous. And definitely this is when the pissed off at God starts going on.
why do you think you chose drugs & alcohol as a way of escape?
For me, drugs and alcohol really helped me be accepted in a group of people, to feel wanted and included.
what scared you the most about getting sober?
I really didn’t know anything about life without drinking and drugging. I haven’t really known how to do my life without these things, so I am a grown woman but it feels like I am just now learning what it’s like to live. I was also really scared that I would leave my druggie friends behind and then my new friends would leave me, too. Actually, what’s ended up happening is I’ve had a few of my druggie friends follow me to sobriety and none of my new friends have left me yet.
what is the hardest part about your day-to-day life with a lot of debilitating health issues?
There are times that I think about going back to my drinking and drugging because I think then I won’t hurt as much. I think also the pressure of not having insurance. The unknown about my future: Will my disability really come through? What will Medicaid look like if I really get it? How will I pay for my meds until I do get it? These are all the things that really get me down.
in the middle of the night, what are some of the things you cry out to God?
Sometimes I yell: “Why? Why can’t I get a break? Can’t you see I’m trying?”. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I thank him for all you guys. Sometimes I thank him for the little glimpses I see.
what brings you the most relief?
Those little glimpses I was talking about before. The God Squad. People driving me around when I can’t get around, helping me get my meds when I need them. And believe it or not, when I speak and have a chance to share my story or experiences, even though it scares me to death. Sometimes through certain songs, I really feel God.
if you could change one thing about your life what would it be?
I do wish there was a man in my life.
are there any really stupid things christians have said to you along the way that made you want to wring their necks?
“You need more faith.”
“Read your Bible more.”
“That’s of the world” – When I showed an old friend who’s a Christian my eyebrow piercing.
what are some of the ways people have helped you the most?
When my friends take me out to the movies, go to Starbucks, simple little stuff that breaks up my day helps me the most. Even a 10 minute phone call might be the highlight of my day, depending on the day. Anything that makes me know I’m not alone makes a huge difference.
have you felt marginalized by “the church” or christians sometimes? how?
I have that feeling like I don’t measure up. I have some of that party girl in me still, even though I don’t party anymore. I’m not the typical good Christian girl. I’m an old hippie at heart. I think of proper Christians as people who aren’t tattooed, pierced, and don’t listen to the Pussycat Dolls. I am all of those things. I don’t feel that in my community, but sometimes when I’ve visited other churches I feel like I don’t quite fit in. They are all so put together and preppy looking.
what have you learned about God these past few years?
Right when I am ready to give up or think he doesn’t care, somehow he shows up in little ways and reminds me he is there.
how do you think the church could become more safe for people who are struggling with addictions & their relationship with God.
Not be so phony. Be honest about the real things. Love the tattooed people. Love the people who come in dirty. Let people be where they are at with God: mad, happy, whatever it is.
describe the communion you facilitated a while back at the refuge. what was that experience like for you?
I talked about being okay with being pissed off at God. That it’s okay to yell at him. I hate it when people talk all super-spiritual about God. I sometimes use communion as a time to “make up” with God because I’m so mad at him sometimes. I never thought I could sit through a service years ago, let alone think that I could talk and lead something. Then, to have people say afterward that they understood what I was saying, that they got me, was the greatest feeling.
What do you have to say to someone who feels like they, too, are part of God’s ghetto?
That they’re not alone. That maybe my little mustard seed of hope could give them a little. Hang on.
thanks, my dear friend, for sharing a piece of your journey with us. may all those who sometimes feel part of God’s ghetto feel a little less alone. and may we never make people feel like they are in God’s Ghetto when we are together in community.
a few questions for you all:
- what are some of your thoughts about this slice of janice’s story?
- do you have any other questions you want to ask?
- what are some of the ways you might have felt part of God’s ghetto? what has that looked like, felt like for you?