40 years ago today - June 9, 1974 - I sat in between my then mother in law Marge and her sister Jo at a Vic Coburn Crusade held at the Morris Civic Auditorium in South Bend, Indiana. I was 15 years old and it was my one year wedding anniversary.
Now, how I got to this crusade on my wedding anniversary, I don't quite remember. Maybe this guy was only in town for that one day and my mother in law talked me into it. Maybe I really wanted to go and somebody had to take care of our baby Shay, so her dad volunteered. Not really sure what went down, but there I was listening to this guy as he strutted up and down the stage preaching on Jesus.
Let me give a bit of background here: Got pregnant at 14, the baby's father Dave was 16. We ran away - you remember, the Wilderness Story - dubbed so because we camped out in a forest. Our families had been so worried about us (we were gone almost a month) that when we returned they were so happy to see us that at first, we got very little flack. But pretty soon, the pressure to make decisions and plans was getting heavy.
Dave's mom, who was a Christian, took us to see her pastor. His only purpose in speaking to us was to get us saved. We sat in the back bedroom of his trailer and after listening to his pitch, prayed with him just so we could get the hell out of there. Now, we both believed in God, we just weren't quite sold on what this guy was talking about.
My mom, took us to my brother Greg's pastor - Greg was the only spiritual one in my family at the time, having committed at a young age to Jesus. We met with Reverend DeBolt at Dave's mom's home. His only purpose was to get us out of our sinful situation - which was living together at Dave's mom's house. His suggestion almost sent me into a nervous breakdown; he wanted us to live apart and "try" this love we claimed we had for each other. Imagine a 14 year old girl pregnant 41 years ago - not too many of us around. You were not even allowed to be in regular school in those days, there was a special program at the YWCA. They wanted to keep you from the embarrassment of facing your fellow students in your pregnant state, but I also suspect it was to prevent you tarnishing the other young girls in school. So, I was already feeling a bit isolated. None of my friends had gone through this and I felt pretty alone. My family was supportive, but I still felt like a black sheep. My baby's father was the only thing I could count on and who understood and this preacher was trying to take him away from me.
Well, my meltdown backed him off a bit and we continued to live together in a home we rented from my parents. Every few days my mom would come over and ask me what we were planning to do. When I told her I did not know, she would remind me that my dad could come over at any time and kick Dave out and would be well within his rights to do so. They really wanted us to make the decision to get married. This was about the end of April in 1973.
These were tough conversations with Dave and I was the only one having them with him. I was already in "motherhood" mode and the instinct to protect and nurture my unborn child were rooted. It made sense to me to get married - we had already decided we were keeping the baby and I was ready to settle down. The year or so before I got pregnant I had gone from a straight A student to a steady D student. I was sniffing glue, smoking weed and Marlbouros. Social time with my girlfriends included playing the telephone "hotline" - you called special numbers that gave you a busy signal, but you could hear other people talking. People on the hotline shouted out their numbers and then you called them. Most of the people were guys looking for action. Man, have I got a few stories about that! Skipping school had become a regular thing. So...my life was kind of going down the toilet. The moment I realized I was pregnant, all that changed. There was a purpose and meaning for me. I was carrying a life inside and I had to take care of it. Even though I wasn't thrilled with being pressured to get married, I wasn't opposed to it.
|My pink dress|
I believe Dave felt some of those things as well, but it was harder for him to have that pressure to "do" something. So, he resisted agreeing to marriage a bit longer than I did, but eventually said yes and seemed pretty happy about it. So, June 9, 1973 my dad walked me down the aisle in my neon pink wedding dress (that my mom made) singing to me "Here comes the bride, short fat and wide". It is a memory I cherish to this day as there was no malice in it for him, only love and trying to bring a smile to his very nervous 14 year old baby girl's face.
Fast forward to June 9, 1974. Our baby Shay was born in September, so she was almost 9 months old. Dave was working in a horrible fiberglass factory and I was a stay at home mom. We were still in the little house my parents owned - a 2 bedroom pre-fab with paper thin walls. But it was home - we had made it so. It had been a rough first year though. All I knew how to cook were hamburgers, hotdogs and Mac & Cheese. Housework? I had no idea. It was hard to make the transition from boyfriend and girlfriend to husband and wife. It was important for Dave to still feel he had some control over his life and he took to hanging out with his drinking buddies on occasion. During those times he treated me more like the girlfriend than the wife and that was hard - I did not take to it very well. Looking back, I am not mad about it. But at the time it was devastating.
My life up to then was fertile ground for rejection mixed with great anger. Being sexually abused by a neighbor when I was around 6 and growing up watching my older sister get the shit beat out of her by her insane husband made me a mix of broken emotions. The rejection and shame that formed from the abuse left me with an un-fillable need to be loved and the beatings and abuse I watched my sister go through gave me a chip on my shoulder towards men. I decided very early in my life after witnessing an exchange between my sister and her husband that NO man would ever be allowed to treat me that way.
|Me at 13|
Simply stated - I was a mess! How on earth could this 17 year old guy - who had his own childhood issues - ever know what it was that his new wife needed?
So, that was my condition on that night in June, 1974 sitting in this auditorium next to my mother in law. Because we had "prayed the prayer" with her pastor, she thought I was already committed. And I was to a point - BUT - listening to his message that night, which included some pretty thick fire and brimstone, I was moved. When the altar call came I sensed Jesus calling me, but I was also very aware that the people I was with already thought I was "saved". Oh, it was hard at that time. Looking back on it, I think "what was I afraid of?"
The pulling of the Holy Spirit was greater than my fears. I needed to make a public confession of my belief in Christ and so I fought through what I guess was embarrassment and went forward. A very nice local pastor prayed for me and that was it! I went home, told my husband - who at the time was a bit skeptical - and I have never turned away or regretted my commitment to Christ.
40 years. Wow, the stories, the history, the struggles and the triumphs. What has that 15 year olds life turned into? Even though this piece is lengthy, its the Readers Digest version of Susan Jo Crabill Greenawalt Barnard. That night I opened my heart to a love I had never known before - a love so great it has pushed me on to move past hurt and into renewal. The naysayers had us pegged for failure - but not God. If you would have asked me then where I would be 40 years later I don't think I could have ever imagined where life would take me. For a girl who started out with very little knowledge of cooking, I became an award winning baker and have cooked many a meal for many folk, including in my own restaurant. I have been involved in several churches and have been ordained. I have done lots of public speaking (Thank you Daniel Rice) from behind a pulpit and teaching classes. I am a writer and poet and perform my work at Spoken Word events. I have formed friendships and relationships that have enriched my life beyond measure. So many things that I treasure and chiefest among them has been raising my 3 kids; Shay, Job and Anna - they are my heart and my legacy.
I have told many stories about my life already through this blog and my poetry and I know there is more to come. I will say that if I had not made my decision to stand up that day 40 years ago I am pretty sure I would never have made it this far. God took what had the potential to be a disastrous situation and made it into an opportunity for glory. My walk with God has never quite fit into the established model and that has presented some struggles, but the wrestling has only made me stronger. My goal is to make my world one that God defines - sometimes that means coloring outside the lines. Not everybody gets that, but as long as God is pleased, then its all good.
The marriage to Dave did not survive, but we tried hard for 25 years to make it work. We had some very good times with lots of laughter. But, growing into two very different people took its toll. We finally realized that we were bringing no glory to God in our fighting and would soon end up hating each other and truly, where is the glory in that? But in that time we raised 3 wonderful children and now have 3 wonderful grandchildren.
Through much patience of some spiritual mentors and professional counseling, the wounds from sexual abuse have been healed. My anger towards men has been balanced with the presence of Godly men in my life. And those painful situations have made me who I am - a compassionate, loyal, fearless woman with passion. I will fight for you, pray for you, believe for you and try my best to see it through. Because of the brokenness of my heart, I have an understanding of your pain. Because of the healing I have experienced, I have faith for yours. As a result of keeping secrets as a kid, I have gone the opposite way as an adult and don't mind sharing my story. If you hook up with me for any length of time you will find out that I don't play games and if you are interested in getting some real stuff done, I am your girl. To talk about the things I have overcome and accomplished does not say I am so great, but says that God is. Jesus is in my heart and every good thing I have ever done is because of Him - if I can't share that, then why am I here?
God brought that perfect man into my life and I married him in 1999. He needed no coaxing or pressure - he pursued me because he knew what a wonderful catch I would be! And I said yes because I saw what a wonderful catch he was! Two people who had been wounded by life, yet overcame it to believe in love again. We continue to nurture and protect that love with a fierceness because we know what its like to lose it. Next month we will celebrate 15 years of marriage.
My life in Christ is an amazing journey that has so much more road to cover. I am thankful for where it has taken me in the past and looking forward to where it will take me in the future. Because if God is for me, who can be against me? And I know that I know that I know - He IS for me. His love gave me the anchor I was searching for, the safe port in the stormy sea and He has been my compass keeping me on the right path.
|My sweetie pie and me!|
One final thought: My former mother in law that I spoke of, Marge Greenawalt passed last week. I will never forget that she was the one who brought me to the place where I found my salvation. Thank you Marge - till we meet again on the other side.