I had the strangest dream-memory last night. The dream was very clear flashbacks of my time in the United Pentecostal Church in the late 90s, before Junction City. Oddly I could remember people’s faces and actions so very clearly. Most of the time I forget faces over time.

I realized during the dream-memory that all of this happened nearly 15 years ago. The children I remember are now grown. One is probably married and another probably engaged.

The dream-memory mainly revolved around the kids. I’ve never been much of a kid person. I prayed as a pre-teen that I would never be able to have kids. I really thought babies hated me. The first babies/toddlers I was ever around much that seemed to like me were the pastor’s kids at this church. They had a boy and a girl. The boy was around 3-4 when I started attending, and the girl was no more than 18 months, I’d guess, and probably quite a bit younger. With the pastor up preaching and the wife with a nursing baby, there were many times when I would take care of the little boy during church. I’d take little things with me in my purse to entertain him, and later the little girl, too. I’d stay after church and entertain them while their parents counseled sometimes, too.

They were cute kids. It was hard on me when the pastor kicked me out. On top of all the regular reasons, it was hard because I knew my disappearance would hurt them. I’ve never been that close to any other kids, even my niece and nephew, because I saw them so often and spent so much time with them.

In the dream-memory one of the other things I remembered was how the pastor’s wife wanted the little boy to have a suit, but they couldn’t afford one. One of the other members and I found a suit at a yard sale that would fit him. I was hesitant because the pants didn’t have a zipper, just an elastic. But there was a tie and a vest and it was cute. I figured he could wear those with regular pants and look dressed up. We bought the outfit and took it to her. I told her that I knew the pants probably wouldn’t work but she insisted. The boy came to church the next Sunday in the outfit, embarrassed half to death about his pants with the baby elastic in them, and me embarrassed for him. I never saw him wear the vest or tie (or the outfit) again.

I also remembered clearly, once again, the night the pastor and his wife called me into the kitchen area after church where the pastor accused me of lusting after him and told me if I didn’t change, he’d throw me out. That they were leaving to evangelize and when they returned I’d better have changed or I’d be gone. It wasn’t his words I remembered, but that when he stopped accusing me and told me that he’d now pray, the pastor’s wife linked the tips of her fingers with mine. It was like she was shaking as hard as I was, like she was holding on. I always wondered about that. I wondered why she didn’t get in trouble. I wondered why she did it to start with.

For years I blamed myself for getting kicked out. I thought that because he was a “man of God” he must have known something about me that I didn’t know. I fought leaving because he ‘prophesied’ that I would leave and cut my hair and put on pants. He ‘prophesied’ that it would happen immediately, but I still fought leaving just to prove him wrong. And then I felt guilty for doing that, for wanting to make a ‘man of God’ a false prophet. I felt when he kicked me out that I would be sinning to ‘backslide’ and sinning, as well, not to, because it would be proving him a liar.

I know, that’s messed up. But it’s how I felt at the time.

I just needed to remember, and then to write it down.

Years later, looking back, I realize that she was abused. I remember specific things he’d do, things she said had happened even from the day after their wedding, that should have clued me in that he was abusive. I remember seeing him abuse his kids, especially his daughter. Of slapping her legs again and again while she screamed and he yelled he was going to break ‘that woman spirit’ in her. A child still in diapers. I remember his refusal to stop long enough to let his little boy use the bathroom on road trips, the wife’s admission that she’d made her son pee into diapers because he had to go so bad and her husband wouldn’t stop, the child’s humiliation. I know the little boy wet his bed, probably at least until I left when he was 7-8. And I know there were reasons. I think one of the hardest things about leaving there was leaving those kids, knowing they were being abused but staying silent, afraid to say anything because they might be taken out of that home and ‘the Truth’. And because we weren’t supposed to say anything. He was the ‘man of God.’

I struggled after leaving, have struggled for years, with prayer. God didn’t answer my prayers- my pleas- that he’d make a way that I could stay. My dream of finally being in the inner circle was shattered, and so was my confidence in prayer and in God in general, in much of what I was taught. I knew in my heart that I’d done pretty much everything I was supposed to, that I sacrificed, that I gave, that I obeyed unquestioningly even to the point of accepting a false accusation that I was lusting after that man. My hope that I would marry, my hope of having kids, recently awakened, all were gone. I doubted whether I could even eat with other believers without making them sin. There was no way I could be anything in any church. Not in my mind, not at that time. And not for a very long time after that.

I woke up this morning whispering a prayer for those kids. The son, now a man, the young girl, now around 18 or 19 probably, and quite possibly soon to be married off to who-knows-what in exchange for a good place for the dad or the brother to preach, and the youngest, born after I left.