The following is a highly summarized autobiography written by my mother-in-law, Susan. It is an extremely short version of her book “You Don’t Have to Move the Washer to Make Toast.” Even the book itself is short and summarized, so keep in mind that the story below outlines a few quick snapshots from a long and very interesting life. I will post part 2 soon.
The point of the story is that God still pursues us even in our own rebellion against him. He loves us and continues to show His love even when we hate Him and think He hates us. And all it takes is submission to Him to have hope in our lives. God offers us a free gift, the gift of a relationship with Him, and there is no sense in running from it. Read on to hear my Mom-in-law’s story:
A Story of Hope
“People have described me as a happy person. Yes, that’s true, because of the Hope given in a Promise. If someone from my childhood were to meet me today, they wouldn’t believe I was the Susan they used to know. If the women in the Army barracks in Germany, some whose doors I kicked in or the woman whose jaw I broke were to meet me now, they would say: “It can’t be!” And then ask, “What happened to you?”
I would have to reply, “God happened to me.”
I have lived a dozen lifetimes—mostly in defiance of God, mostly pushing God away. But, God kept pursuing me. I just didn’t understand what He was doing. When I moved to Yukon in 1982, I was very lonely. I was ill with terrible seizures—dark, blank spells that lasted hours, sometimes days. I suffered with depression, and a big time drinking problem. There were even demonic things taking place around my house. My life was a dismal failure—a litany of failed relationships, ruined friendships, drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity—some of it sheer perversion.
I lived many lives and have been many people. I attended a private boarding school. I lived in a fancy house, where my bedroom had white carpeting and a grand piano in the corner. And then I have lived in a rat and flea infested hole-in-the-wall. I’ve lived in an old car, then a park, and finally homeless. I’ve stood in line for food and food stamps. Down or up, I blamed God—I blamed others—I blamed my childhood.
So, what happened?
To answer that, I must tell you a story about my life that demonstrates a connection by one single thread—the hope of something better. The hope of mercy, forgiveness, and grace…and hope kept me alive.
A Rough Life
Our family lived in a tarpaper shack with an outhouse, near a river at the edge of a small NE Kansas town, population 204. My dad was the town drunk, and cruel without limitations. Life at my house was one survival situation after another. Small towns talk about everyone, so I lived as an outcast. Remember that word “OUTCAST”—it’s very important. I grew up angry. I was just as apt to curse you or hit you as I would feel like being nice to you. Who did it matter to, anyway?
One summer, about age 6, I attended vacation Bible School. Imagine a skinny tom boy-ish girl with a quick temper and boy’s haircut made to wear a faded, hand-me-down dress, and second-hand shoes. I had to go and was promised snacks. I was always hungry.
When I went down into the church basement, I heard giggles and snickers at my haircut and my clothes. I hit one boy closest to me, so I was put at the end of the table with one of the volunteers. I was given a coloring sheet and some crayons. No, I wasn’t going to color anything, but I was told I could have cookies and milk if I did. The picture was of a wimpy looking, long haired man with some fuzzy sheep. I took the black crayon, holding it like a dagger, and carved marks all over the sheet. I then announced that I was done. I was already an outcast when I arrived, and isn’t that how an outcast acted?
While we had cookies and milk, given to me by a patient and kind woman, I listened to the story of Zaccheus (Luke 19:1-9). He was a little guy, an outcast forced to climb a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. The Jesus in this story was not the long haired wimpy guy on the coloring sheet. This Jesus in the story called out to Zaccheus to come down out of his tree and went to his house. My Vacation Bible Study teacher said that Jesus would come to my house if I asked Him.
Each day there were more Bible stories, and they showed me a powerful man named Jesus who had mercy and compassion, never cruel, and who had the power of God to heal. Maybe He could come to my house and heal my crippled sister; my violent, schizophrenic mother; and my drunken, abusive father. Maybe Jesus would come and heal my broken, angry heart.
I waited two weeks. Every afternoon after Vacation Bible School, I waited in my cherry tree. My teacher said Jesus would come, but I never saw Him. My dad asked me what I was doing, so I told him I was waiting for Jesus. He laughed. And then my dad told me ‘THE LIE’—you know the one, the lie that Satan wants all of us to believe, the one that says that God is powerless. The one that is so easy to believe when things get bad.
Life happens. The LIE is that God isn’t there to help anyone. My dad said that God even likes to curse people and see how they act (his example was Job). Anyway, it looked that way to me. My dad reminded me of my crippled sister. The physical evidence was pretty compelling. I had no answers for him and I began to doubt my Bible school teacher.
Things Not Seen
But, as I think back on that time, it is true that I didn’t actually SEE Jesus walk down the dirt road to our house, but He changed my heart. There was an awareness of God that happened that summer. It was something that took years to listen to and act upon.
My Grandma Jo (Josephine) Strawn (my father’s mother), was the only one in our family who ever went to church. She told me to pray and never stop praying! I wanted to go back to church because when I heard the stories about Jesus, and about God, there was hope in them. No one read a Bible around our house, and we didn’t go to church. Outcasts didn’t do that—not welcome there, not welcome anywhere. I didn’t own a Bible. When I talked about Bible stories, it wasn’t real.
My dad said “oh, that was all a long time ago, in the Bible—not here and now”. It made me very angry. I had been going to a church, and they must have lied to me. My parents never kept their word. I didn’t live at church, I lived at home, and God didn’t live there. Maybe the people at the church didn’t tell the truth either.
God did watch over me, and I’m ashamed of so much that He saw. God stood by and watched me beat one of my little sisters into unconsciousness. I WANTED God to intervene—to stop me—to change things like in the Bible. I was filled with rage, and it was God’s fault in my mind.
I turned away from Him, and tried to push away thoughts of Him. I was sorry I was aware of Him. I decided I was going to live my life IN SPITE of Him, even shaking my fist at Him. If He was real, He must prove it against all the overwhelming evidence. A stupid decision like this is truly how a person lives life the HARD WAY, and my life was hard, and about to get harder. This wasn’t God’s fault.
When my parent’s brutal, abusive, and adulterous marriage broke up, my sisters and I were outcasts again. The rage inside me turned into bleeding ulcers and violent outbursts. After being a hostage at my dad’s apartment one weekend, police and all, I ran away from home. I was blamed by my mother for all the abuse that happened to me and my next youngest sister. That was the last straw. I ran away, down along the river where no one would look for me, spending a cold and painful night.
The next morning, when I began throwing up blood and was weak from lack of food, I went to a church friend’s home. Her mother fixed me chicken and dumplings and said, “I know that things aren’t good for you, but the pastor at the church will listen to you. We will go with you and see if he can get your parents to help change things.”
This woman and her daughter were willing to take me, an outcast, and stand by me when they didn’t know the entire story. They were willing to face down my stepfather who was a generous donor to the church, a big shot in town, as well as my sharp tongued socialite mother when my friend’s family was considered from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’.
I was amazed. The new pastor was in a tough spot. He forced the issue as gently as possible by proposing a compromise to my mother: not sending me to a mental institution, but instead, to a Catholic boarding school. Regardless of the religion, it would be a closed environment, with rules and regulations, away from home where I couldn’t influence my sisters or run away. Since my mother and stepfather’s reputation were now on the line, in front of witnesses, they agreed. Ironic isn’t it? A church school?
For two and a half years, I spent time hearing about God, listening to sermons on behavior, and living under strict rules. I felt free. No one hit me there. Everyone was treated the same—a new experience for me. I only had to endure my mother and stepfather over summer vacation and holidays. I longed to go back to religion, classes where I could succeed, and have real friends.
Then, I’m an outcast again—the only Protestant at Catholic school can’t be class president or Student of the Year, even though I was chosen—it wouldn’t look good to the private school board members. No date for the prom—a Protestant girl with a Catholic boy just wouldn’t set a good example. But then, it was all over: Graduation. I must leave the comfortable, regulated life I lived.”
written by Susan Rader
Up to this point, Susan’s encounters with God were confused by abuse and meaningless religion. But even as strict as Catholic school was, it was a respite from a horribly manipulative family and a relentless world of pain. Read part 2 (coming soon) to hear the rest of the story.