The Shadows of yesterday
(One Family's Crisis)
By Carmen Pena
God is My Rock
I said before, how important my faith and my religion were in my teenage years. I wasn’t a fanatic; it’s just that those two aspects were my leaning post. I’ve always had a connection to a higher power because after all; something stronger than me is the only explanation that I can five for my survival through those days. But, it wasn’t always peaches and cream when it came to my church, my place of worship. My faith was tested many, many times and it is still being tested to this very day, thirty years later.
With everything being dysfunctional in my life and having no one that I could talk to about it, really made my life at times unbearable. As a teenager, I missed my dad tremendously; I couldn’t go to him with my troubles because of Marlana’s attitude towards me. She wouldn’t appreciate me calling and crying on her husband’s shoulders, even if he were my dad. She was a big pain and so was Carlos since I couldn’t even mention my father’s name in our household. Both of these adults, Carlos and Marlana put a strain between me and my father, not to mention the things that he was doing. Can you imagine my emptiness? Can you understand my quest to be whole? Life can be so unfair.
After Aunt Valencia moved back to the Dominican Republic, I no longer had a church where I could worship. The Baptist church where she used to preach wasn’t the same after she left, so that was a big lost for me until my mom referred me to a Pentecostal church. This church was much stricter than any church I was introduced to. My siblings and I nicknamed it the “Peabody Church.” To this very day, I do not know why mom referred me to this particular church, especially since she had to know the background, the history of this church with our family. Why would she put her daughter through even more ugliness? Was she trying to deliberately hurt me, and chip away the only thing that I believed in and trusted? My spirit was already broken, so what was she trying to do? Again, where is the protection?
The first Sunday after arriving at the church for services, and introducing myself to the congregation as Lorena Ramirez; the evil stares should have alerted me that something was wrong. No one seemed pleased to see this new, young, visitor as if I were Satan himself, in the flesh. It was the most uncomfortable feeling that I had ever experienced being in a church. People were whispering and eyeing me as if I were poison. I should have gotten up and walked out, but I didn’t. I had a right to be there because I was seeking refuge and solace with God. He was my Lord just as much as he was theirs. Besides, I enjoyed the upbeat choir, which music had more spirit than what the Baptist church had. I could also see that there were more kids my age attending this Pentecostal church, and to me this was good. I knew I would be more apt to befriend some of the young teenagers here than the folks at the Baptist church, which seemed was made up of elderly people more than young folks, since the new preacher took over.
After the service was over, which was a few hours later, the preacher’s wife approached me. She wasn’t wearing a warm smile of greetings. She didn’t even extend her hand in welcome. She was already disappointed in me without knowing me as she snubbed me with her cruel words; suggesting that I not come back to her church, ever again. She made it plain and clear that this house of worship was not for people like me, or my family. We were not welcomed to worship there. I was shocked, stunned and hurt, disillusioned as I listened to the words roll off her tongue, and in God’s house; and they called themselves Christians. They were hypocrites! Would they too turn their noses up at us because we were poor, because we were from another country? Aren’t we all supposed to be the same in God’s eyes, rather rich or poor, black or white? They should practice what they preach. As far as they were concerned, I was proven guilty of some crime which I did not understand. Whatever it was, I knew that I was innocent. They only thing that I could be guilty of was being poor and from another country, and since when is that a crime?
It wasn’t until sometime later, that I found out why I was treated so unchristian like. As it were, there was a big scandal within the church that involved my relatives; my uncles, aunts, and grandmother. I’m not sure of all the details of what happened, or even if the scandal held any truth in it all. No one in my family talked about it, as if it were a deep dark hidden secret. But, whatever happened years before I even came to the United States, has left me with an unfounded bad reputation, and the church elders were not giving me a chance.
Thank God, I did not listen to the preacher’s wife; I continued to worship at that church for the next five years, all because I had met other teenagers who didn’t scorn me. They did not treat me like an outcast, or a bad seed. We had a lot in common and it was their friendship that helped me through those years. We created a bond regardless of how the adults felt. There were between twenty to twenty five kids in our unique little group, and we gave love and support to one another even while the older members tried to sabotage our group. This was the first time that I had ever experienced a support system like this. I couldn’t give it up, or walk away from it because it meant too much to me. The adult members, the parent’s of my friends, did their best to break the friendship up by trying to keep their kids away from me. They claimed that I was a bad influence. Can you imagine me as a bad influence? This was just the devil at his work. You know he always bring confusion and chaos.
The negative things that the adults were trying to put into their children’s heads about me were totally untrue. I wasn’t bad, I wasn’t sleeping around; matter of fact, when I was married, I was a virgin on my wedding day. I was clean and pure just for my husband. I wasn’t drinking, smoking, stealing, lying, or doing any witchcraft. I was not sinning because I knew God would see me and therefore, would not be pleased. Who in their right minds would want to displease the Lord of the worlds? The thought of doing that scares me. The only thing I did was wear a little lipstick than what their daughters would wear, or I would wear a skirt that was two inches above m knee. These were just some of the things that the “Peabody Church” were strict about. Maybe sometimes I laughed too loud. It wasn’t that I was trying to bring attention to myself. I was a teenager! How many times have I had a good laugh in my lifetime? The adults even thought that my clothes were a little too stylish for their taste. These in my opinion were little stupid things that went on, making me feel like hell. I bought my own clothes with my own money that I earned. I worked hard for it. It felt good being able to buy for myself, especially when I didn’t have nice things before I started working. My clothes were decent because I was decent.
So many attempts were made to stop me from coming to that church by so-called Christians. That showed me that their hearts were not pure. They didn’t care about saving this teenage soul. They wanted to destroy it. But you know, God wasn’t going to let them do that.
I remember when I tried to become a member of the “Youth Group,” and the preacher denied my acceptance because he would always listen and take the words of what the other were saying about me. I had no one to stand up for me, except me. No adult came to my defense of all the negative implications thrown at me. Why did I keep coming back to a place where I wasn’t wanted? It was because I found my friends there, and they believed in me, and they wanted me there because they truly liked me. I felt loved and I truly felt that I belonged around them. As for the rest of the congregations, they will have a lot to answer for on judgment day because after all, God doesn’t like ugly. I was then and I am still today, a child of God. He is my rock and always has been. I dare anyone to prove that I was guilty of any negative thing that I was accused of. Prove it in the eyes of God!
The way the adults treated me at that church was not very Christian like. I can truly say that when I stand before God on Judgment day, he will be pleased with me because I have done nothing to be ashamed of, not even as a teenager. The church, I believe is supposed to call the people to God, But this Pentecostal church was turning people away. I know several of my teenage friends, who are adults, now say they despise that church, and they refused to ever go back. I had one friend who had died not being a Christian, and I blame that all on the church because of how they treat their young members. If you ask me, I think the “Peabody church” was a little too sanctified in their philosophies for their own good. Being sanctified means being holy, there was nothing holy in the treatment that they bestowed upon me and my friends. I was not rebellious, I was a teenage Christian with good intentions, and a pure heart, and devoted to God.
The years went by and I continued my struggle to be accepted into the church. I guess they finally realized that I wasn’t going anywhere because God was my rock, and eventually, they let me join the youth group. It’s just too bad that by the time I was allowed in, many of my friends had dropped out because they weren’t strong enough to take the pressure
So many unhappy memories come to my mind of those days, so long ago. Memories of good relationships and best friend sticking together, who were labeled “bad seeds” all because of the snake tongues that lashed out from the Saints.
I became so involved with the church after I was given permissions to join the youth group. I stayed busy. I became best friends with Sarah, who was like a sister to me. We did a lot of things together, good decent things; like attending prayer meetings every Monday night, and on Friday evenings when most teenagers were out having fun, you’d find Sarah and I at the church on any given Friday night, praying until midnight, rejoicing in our Lord. It wasn’t that were forced to be there; it was because we wanted to be there. But still, the ugly rumors began to raise its ugly head again, when the Saints decided that we were spending too much time together, and that I was the culprit. I was still considered to be a bad influence because at the age of seventeen, I had my own car. I had parents who didn’t care where I went or what I did. Sure, that would have been the perfect opportunity to become wild, and wayward, but that wasn’t me, and God knew that, Sarah knew that, and above all….I knew that. But, those hackling hens of the church refused to believe in my innocence.
The devil never rest, he is always on the prowl, and when he sees weakness no matter where it is, even in the church, he feeds on it, and then destroys it, chopping it down to the ground and then walks over it laughing. If I can see this, how come they, the people of the church see it?
Every time one of the Saints would say something negative about me, I just had to grin and bare it. I had to accept the good with the bad, after all, that’s what I have been doing all my life. And yes, I continued my struggle to be accepted a devoted Christian for many years. If God wasn’t my rock, I would have failed so many times through my trials and tribulations; but, as they say today, “He’s my rock,” he always has been and will always be because regardless of the so-called Saints at that “Peabody Church,” I’m still a soldier in the army of the good Lord. I was then as I am still today, thirty years later, marching in God’s footsteps.
Next chapter coming soon...