I was born and raised in the foothills of the N GA mountains, and have lived here all my life – having never moved more than 40 miles from my childhood home. My parents were very involved in our small Southern Baptist Church. . .Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night – we were there. If something else happened some other night of the week, we would probably be there then as well. My parents sang in the choir, served in the children’s ministries, and were on every possible committee. And in small Southern Baptist Churches, there are tons of committees – finance committee, education committee, missions committee, the building committee. I don’t remember all of them, but I’m pretty sure my parents served on all of them. At least that’s how it felt.
When we weren’t in church, my mom was a speech therapist in the county school system. I can thank her – among other things – for my general lack of a southern accent, and my belief that most ills in this world could be cured with a good casserole. She was, and is, a loving, supportive, fantastic example of a Christian, Southern Woman. My father was a self-employed businessman/entrepreneur . . .which for the longest time I thought was French for “unemployed”. In reality, my father is a brilliant man, who would have been a philosopher in another lifetime. Instead, as a young man he enlisted to fight in Vietnam and came home a radically changed man who would be forever marred by PTSD. Despite that, I never remember my father being anything but encouraging and supportive toward his children. I also have an older brother – 5 years older than me, who I remember being both protective of me, and threatening to beat me up regularly, and then ignoring me. So, I think our relationship was pretty normal.
Thanks to the requirement that I be in church early and often, I had strong beliefs about God even as a fairly small child. I was saved when I was 7 – firmly and sincerely believing I was a Wretch, saved by grace. Emphasis on the Wretch, less emphasis on the grace. My relationship with God was primarily based on a fear of judgement, fear of retribution, and a deep and abiding belief that I was so miserably unworthy that God was probably irritated he had sent Jesus to save me.
I remember my baptism, but what I remember most was the argument that led up to it. I got saved, I wanted to get baptized, and my pastor was hesitant about baptizing someone so young. My father went storming into his office and told him that if he didn’t baptize me, and as I grew up if I moved away from the faith and rejected God. . .that my immortal soul was on my pastor’s head. I was baptized with a quickness. My father had a temper when the mood hit him, and a flair for the dramatic, and it worked to my advantage in that moment.
To say that I was a high strung, high stress child would be completely accurate. I may have hidden it well, but my good girl persona was only due to a fear of judgement – not an innate desire to be or do good. I made good grades, knew all the right things to say to everyone, and was positive I was still the absolute worst. I also had some social anxiety that would cause me to get physically ill when I had to attend events with people I didn’t know. My mom just assumed I had a stomach bug (Public School Germs are the Worst), and as far as I know, never made the connection between my illness and some upcoming event.
All in all, though, my early childhood was a picture of standard lower middle-class normalcy. All of that shifted for me the year that I turned 10.