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Stumbling Toward Faith Copyright 2004 by Youth Specialties Youth Specialties Books, 300 South Pierce Street, El Cajon, CA 92020, are published by Zondervan, 5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Altson, Renee, 1969- Stumbling toward faith : my longing to heal from the evil that God allowed / by Renee Altson. p. cm. ISBN 0-310-25755-7 (softcover) 1. Altson, Renee, 1969- 2. Christian biography--United States. I. Title. BR1725.A655A3 2004 277.3'082'092--dc22 2004008753
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version (North American Edition). Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan.
Some of the anecdotal illustrations in this book are true to life and are included with the permission of the persons involved. All other illustrations are composites of real situations, and any resemblance to people living or dead is coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means---electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other---except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without the prior permission of the publisher.
Web site addresses listed in this book were current at the time of publication. Please contact Youth Specialties via e-mail (YS@YouthSpecialties.com) to report URLs that are no longer operational and replacement URLs if available.
Editing and project direction by Dave Urbanski Cover and interior design by Proxy Printed in the United States of America
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i grew up in an abusive household.
much of my abuse was spiritual---and when i say spiritual, i don't mean new age, esoteric, random mumblings from half-wiccan, hippie parents. i don't mean that i grew up thinking all the wrong ideas about religion or what it meant to be saved because i was given too much freedom or too many options. i don't mean that my father protested the phrase 'under god' in the pledge of allegiance or told me there was more than one way to heaven.
i mean that my father raped me while reciting the lord's prayer.
i mean that my father molested me while singing christian hymns. i mean that there was one way, that i was (literally) 'under god,' and that i could never escape my sinfulness.
my father corrupted nearly every single thing that in my deepest moments of belief i see that god created for good or for righteousness.
he did it slyly, without my even realizing it.
he did it deliberately, without regret.
he fully convinced me that god was on his side, that i was bad, that i was lucky to be loved (by god, by him, by anyone), and that i was to blame for things no child--- nobody---should ever be blamed for.
i had a strange sense of power because of this. i was terrifi ed of god, yet i felt more powerful than god at the same time. my dad told me that if the sun didn't come out in the morning, it was because it (the sun) 'didn't want to look at your ugly face.'
so i felt more powerful than the sun, but i felt powerless under the weight of my father's body.
i made wagers but never followed through on my agreements.
i dared god to kill me (it would have been a welcome relief ). i embraced fundamentalism---it was familiar, it fi t in with my self-blame, and to some extent, my overblown sense of power.
i wandered through various religions, particularly the ones with strict rules and defi nitive boundaries. i was baptized a mormon, a jehovah's witness. i fl irted with scientology. in the end, i came to one conclusion: the warm acceptance i felt in each of these groups was only there because i was conforming to that group's ideals. the people only loved me because they had to, because it was written in their religion that they treat others well. they only had faith in me because i shared their faith, too.
the moment i doubted, or strayed, or showed independence, they became vultures. they told me i was unworthy. it was almost like living with my father all over again. almost.
i don't even know what 'home' means, except that i long for it. i long to heal, to have this yawning chasm inside of me fi lled, to believe in something bigger than me, holier than i dare to imagine, more gracious and full of kindness than i dare to wish for.
this book is an expression of my journey 'home.'
a dusty cathedral inside my heart: cobwebs engul. ng a silent altar, hardened wax from a burned-out soul.
i don't know when the beauty died, or when the breath of god grew stale or how the candles ---monuments of glory--- were consumed and engulfed by the darkness.
down on my knees in the rubble surrounded by fragments of shattered stained glass cutting, ripping, slashing tender skin. collections of teardrops in bottles and bell jars, skipping a stone, for every sin.
my father prayed with me every night.
he lay on top of me, touched my breasts, and prayed that i would be forgiven.
'father,' he said.
i cringed at the association.
'heavenly father, make my daughter a better person.
let her be good enough for her mother to come back. let her prove to her mother that she is a good girl. we know that her mother left because she was a bad girl. help her to be good enough. make her a better person. take away her sin. forgive her in spite of how awful she is. let your blood cover all her sin. help her to stop being so bad.'
i lay underneath him and trembled. i closed my eyes, as much to avoid his face as to pray properly. i made promises. to stop disappointing him, to stop disappointing god. i repented for all my sins, for all of my wrongdoings, admitted my fallen wretchedness, my guilt, my shame.
i would have done anything to bring my mother back.
i would have done anything to feel clean, feel loved, to have been good.
a white-skinned virgin lies naked and ashamed on the altar of your madness. obsessed with the purity of a never-broken heart, of a never-broken child, so perfect, so ripe for the taking.
our consecrated rite: in and out pounding in the soul, pleading in the heart,
lying open on your altar paralyzed helpless disbelieving.
where is the sacrifice, father? where is the ram in the thicket?
i am the ram. i am the sacrifice. the only thing good enough for god. for you.
i drove through the darkened streets, crying so hard the wheel vibrated underneath my hands. i didn't dare pull over; i was afraid the grief and shame would destroy me, that it would make me stiff, that i'd slip away.
i had just left my associate pastor's offi ce. he was a man i'd deeply admired---the fi rst one after years at the wrong church who had won my confi dence, my trust. we'd met a couple of times, and at the time he said he liked me. he told me i was a sensitive soul, that god would do great things in my life.
i believed him. i forced myself to. i had spent years seeking great things for my life, great movements of god, emotional healing, a sense of purpose, connection. i didn't want to be the one who never had miracles, the one who always sat on the god sidelines while everybody else got god touchdowns.
the summer mission trip was part of those god dreams.
i wanted to go to mongolia. there was so much sadness there, so much brokenness. i believed, just by looking at photos of those folks, that god would do great things for them. they had hunger in their eyes, the same quiet but desperate longing i saw in my own. i believed somehow that, by offering god to them, i would fi nd god offered back to me as well.
i fi lled out the mission trip application at a jack in the box restaurant. drinking a strawberry shake, and with trembling hands, i answered all the questions. how long i'd been saved, what jesus meant to me, why i wanted to go share the good news.