The first and most important lesson when it comes to love is honesty. If I am to share this journey honestly, I must start at the beginning. Nothing is more healing than the truth told with love, so I tell my story truthfully in the hopes that it will help you heal as you hear it and find the courage to tell your own story. I am thankful for everything in my path because it brought me to a beautiful place of peace. I have no hard feelings about anything that has occurred along the way. My prayer is that sharing will bring comfort to you as it has brought comfort and great healing to me.
This was written on March 27, 2012, the 48th anniversary of the beginning of my relationship with Christ. I grew apart from God for a time, but my relationship with Christ is stronger and sweeter than ever before. Now, let me tell you how this journey began…
Lessons in Love: Gigi’s Journey
My journey began on October 4, 1952 in the middle of an argument my parents were having about going to a party. Daddy wanted to go, but mama did not. She wasn’t feeling well after moving furniture all afternoon, and she wanted to stay home. She told daddy she thought she was having labor pains. I wasn’t due for another six weeks, so daddy wasn’t buying her excuse. The argument got heated, and mama’s water broke. Daddy was convinced, took mama to the hospital, and I was on my way in to this world. They got to the hospital in time, but the dry birth was difficult for mama and for me. Although I was very early, I still weighed five pounds and was healthy by all accounts. I had no hair, eyebrows, or lashes, so I resembled a little alien and would fit in one of daddy’s hands. Alien is a word that describes me well as I’ve often felt I was not like everyone else. First of all, I was not a boy. Daddy was disappointed, but mama loved me like an abandoned puppy. The argument coupled with the disappointing news that I was another girl set the stage for my young life. It soon became clear that I didn’t process information the way others did. My mama told me often that I wasn’t like everyone else, and that was going to hurt me. Daddy definitely thought something was wrong with me and was constantly trying to straighten me out.
When I came home from the hospital, I was unable to suck successfully, so mama cut the nipple of my bottle to allow the formula to flow freely into my mouth. Mother was a feeder and believed food to be the cure for everything. She made feeding me a priority. If I was awake, I was eating! I was pitiful, and mama was determined to fatten me up whatever it took. The process was a tedious one, but she persevered. She kept me near her all the time and put a mirror in front of my face so she could make sure I was breathing. Daddy kept his distance. Not only was I a girl, but a scrawny one who had mama’s complete attention. I realize now how much my arrival and early weeks determined my course. Mother and daddy grew even further apart than they had been before my premature arrival. A bad situation got worse as mama smothered and daddy smoldered. His disdain and mama’s love grew in equal proportion as I struggled to survive in this crazy new world. The warm water was replaced with the dryness of a desert. Water has been a defining force in my life, so it’s appropriate for them to figure so profoundly in my arrival.
I not only survived, I thrived and surprised everyone except my pediatrician who told mama I would be her strongest child. I was a chunky toddler who loved my mama more than anything and feared my daddy. I scurried to mama’s side when he came into the room. My earliest childhood memory is of daddy beating me for wetting my pants. I didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, and made a puddle on the black and white kitchen floor. The image of the checked linoleum floor is a very vivid one. Daddy jerked me up by one arm and beat me. I know there were earlier beatings because my oldest sister told me so. They continued until the summer before I turned six. That shocked me, but it explained my recurring nightmare about the pier and the lake. For some reason known only by him, daddy singled me out and made me the object of his wrath. He called me stupid instead of Kathy, and I bore the brunt of his jokes, especially when I lived up to his name for me.
Life changed, and my journey almost ended on the pier at our cabin on Lake Hickory during the summer of 1958. I had nightmares about being under water, and mama explained that I had fallen off the pier when I was little. She went on to say that daddy ruined a suit and pair of good shoes going in after me. She said he cussed and screamed when he got me out. According to her, it was because of the shoes and the suit. Mama’s explanation made perfect sense, so I accepted it and moved on. The dream continued to recur until the truth surfaced during the summer of 2011. My oldest sister helped me piece together the events and find healing. That summer, the dream came back in a powerful way. It would not go away and was so vivid it took my breath away. I prayed and asked God to show me what He wanted me to see and heal my hurt as He desired. Now, in the dream, there was a man on the pier behind me. His loving presence comforted me, and I realized it was Jesus. I grew more frustrated each time the dream recurred and continued to pray about it.
Finally, I called my two older sisters to see if they could fill in the blanks and help me find closure. Linda had no memory of the event because she was too young at the time to have seen much, but Ann recalled the day with great clarity. I asked her to please tell me the truth because it was part of my heart’s healing. I also told her that I had no hard feelings for anyone, and my need to know was not about placing blame. She tearfully told me the whole story after I asked her if it was possible that I made the conscious decision to step into the water. Part of my concern about the recurrence of the dream was the feeling that I wanted the pain to stop, and the water represented a way to escape. It seemed as though I had stepped in on purpose. I saw myself alone on the pier. The feeling of loneliness was overwhelming, and my need to escape pain was very real. Ann told me that there were people and boats all around me because there was a big party that weekend. I was surprised to hear of the crowd and even more surprised when she described me as the saddest little girl she had even seen. Ann told me that the beatings had gotten worse and were unrelenting that summer. I carried the marks, and Ann carried anger and guilt. We were all at daddy’s mercy at the lake because of our isolation. The nearest store was a tiny place over a mile away. We had no car when daddy was at work, and Ann said the place was like a prison during the week. There were parties on the weekend with lots of alcohol and food, but the weekdays were long and lonely. Daddy was a different man when he drank, but the beatings were more intense during the week. She told me that I was in the midst of a large crowd of people when, just as in my dream, I looked down at the water and stepped in. I don’t remember struggling, but I do remember the feeling of comfort as the warm muddy water surrounded me in my dream. I have no memory of the incident except for brown muddy water.
Ann said that she and daddy were up by the cabin and saw me step in the water. Daddy took off like a shot, jumped straight in the water, and pulled me out. He did ruin his suit and shoes, but his screaming was not directed at me and had nothing to do with his clothes. He was livid that no one noticed a child going into the water. As Ann told me the details, I had a profound sense of relief. My dream finally made sense, and I understood that God wanted me to know the truth that had been hidden in my heart for so long. Even as she described the sad little girl, I could breathe for the first time since going into the water. So many questions were answered as the truth came to the surface. I connected to the little girl and felt her pain. As the truth about her surfaced, my heart began to heal. The truth is powerful and cruel at times, but it set me free as I listened and absorbed it. I had no anger when Ann told me, and I have no anger now. Daddy had his own demons, and this was about finding freedom from mine.
Daddy lost his job that summer and had to go back to school to train for a new job drafting plans for heating and air-conditioning systems. We moved to a new neighborhood and sold the place at the lake. Daddy stopped beating me, but he continued to call me stupid and belittle me when the opportunity presented itself. I believe he gave up on me after the incident at the lake. Perhaps he wasn’t ready to admit any wrong doing on his part. He often said to me that a child should only be spanked until the age of five because it was too late after that to do any good. I had the feeling he believed it was too late for me. Whatever motivated the beatings, it wasn’t my fault. It was something in his heart that never healed. That truth healed and freed my heart in a powerful way, and that encourages me to continue seeking the truth even when I know it will hurt. I needed to let go of the notion that I deserved daddy’s wrath. It is no wonder that I found myself in unhealthy relationships that left me getting what I believed I deserved or filling my deep desire to be rescued.
As I draw nearer to the anniversary of my profession of faith 48 years ago, I realize that April is a month of great significance in my life. Easter is a big part of what makes it so important. Mama, Tyler, and Lillyann were all born in April. The journey changed, and my lessons in love took on new meaning on April 14, 2009, when Miss Lillyann Rose began her journey on the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama never saw her sweet little great granddaughter, but I know the two of them would have loved one another dearly. Mary Sue and Lillyann very much alike. Mama began dying as Lillyann began living in April 2009. Such is the nature of this world. Mama was losing clarity as far as her thinking was concerned, and because she saw her first pictures of Lillyann the day following her birth, she was convinced Lillyann was born on her birthday and named after her mama Lilly Bell Banning. We never told her otherwise because she was so delighted.
My heart was going through changes that I didn’t fully understand. Hindsight is much clearer than any other vision. As I reflect on April 2009, I realize my heart was changing in powerful ways. The pain of a broken marriage and the hurt of a fairy tale which ended painfully left me numb with a deadbolt on my heart. If you don’t love, then you won’t be hurt was my new mantra. God knew that wasn’t going to work. My heart had experienced a renewal during Holy Week, and I was feeling again. I sang alone in front of a group for the first time and found my voice; it had been hidden away for many decades waiting to burst forth. What a beautifully freeing feeling as I sang “What Wondrous Love” and “Where You There” in front of the group. My soul and spirit were soaring, and I wanted more of this amazing feeling. I found the courage to start down a path that would change my life and my heart forever. My heart was light and took off in a direction that would lead to the sweetest love and deepest pain I’ve ever known.
Love creates both joy and sorrow in our hearts. Both are necessary for healing and growth. Healing is not about being restored to my former condition, but rather about transforming and going in a new direction. Healing does not mean an end to pain. In fact, in many ways it opens doors that allow greater hurt than ever before. With love, the pain of separation goes to a new level. The greater the love, the more painful the separation becomes. That is the price of love, which is not for the faint of heart. The beautiful lesson in love is that separation causes God to suffer. As I experience the pain of being away from those I love, I get a very tiny taste of the loneliness Christ felt on the cross, the sadness God feels when I refuse to accept His gift of love, and the frustration caused when I ignore His Holy Spirit. That is a sobering lesson that brings me to my knees in humility.
It is again Holy Week, and during our Sunday service yesterday, we read the passion passages together. God’s presence touched me deeply as I heard of His walk to the cross and the love it represents. During the afternoon, I attended a party in honor of a fiftieth wedding anniversary. The lessons during the past few weeks have been about marriage and commitment. My marriage was a poor example of faith and love, so it was good to see what a marriage founded upon a love of God looked like after five decades. As I looked at the photo of a young couple, I realized they still had the same look on their faces fifty years later. That is a blessing I missed and will never experience. That kind of love comes from living and loving someone for fifty years. True love becomes a strong and beautiful tree that can weather the storms and take pleasure in the children from many generations swinging from its branches. The celebration of a long and happy marriage and the Spirit-filled singing and reflection of the evening service brought me to a beautiful place of understanding love more clearly.
I am beginning to understand that following Christ is not a walk in the park, but rather a love-filled journey which brings joy and peace as I learn that His love brings hope. Heartbreak and suffering also accompany love because separation from those we love is painful. Giving up what I want and truly wanting what is best for those I love is the sacrificial love God desires for me to comprehend so I can become the disciple and be an ambassador of His love in His world. I am feeling more challenged than ever in my life; it is impossible for me to love as He loves without His help. There have been many times in the past three years when I have begged Him to let me run away and hide from the hurt, and I know there will be many more. Last night, however, I did not ask for escape from the pain but for understanding. He made it clear as I cried that I am right where He wants me to be. I understand now that this pain is not about punishment or penance, and it is not about martyrdom either. It is about true discipleship and learning. Funny how that knowledge helped me sleep like a baby and wake with a feeling of peace. I know I will stumble as I am no where near as strong as Peter or as zealous as Paul or as faithful as Mary. Falling and failing are part of following, and they all stumbled along the way. That brings me comfort as does the fact that He made me just the way I am and has a special work that only I can do. My fervent prayer is that I will look to Him, His Son, His Spirit, and His Holy Word to find His way and let go of mine. He is truly of God of hope, and love and peace and joy:)
On the 48th anniversary of my acceptance of Christ’s love and forgiveness, God showed me the changes that He was making. The process will not be complete until I am in God’s presence. As I practiced “Take My Life,” I thought of my prayers for consecration and sanctification. It is my heart’s desire to be holy, and my prayers are that I will become ripe, ready, and mature. I realize that like the disciples long ago, I do not understand what that means, but I have a much better idea than I did when I first began those prayers. The beauty of God is that He takes my supplications and works them slowly into my heart. I do not know what God has in store for me, but I do know that He is at work in a big way. That blesses me because it means I’ve gotten out of His way so He can. So many amazing blessings this week, and I know that Good Friday will be even better. Easter will be the beautiful icing on the cake:)
Now, here are my letters to Lillyann, messages to Mylah and excerpts from my journal. I share the journey in Christ’s precious love.
His love and my love always, Gigi:)
That is God’s promise and mine.