I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness until I was 12 years old. I remember feeling pressured, overwhelmed and constantly afraid of God and religion. In that capacity I never felt loved or safe. Even most of the bible stories scared me.

Sodom and Gomorrah – Fire and Brimstone

The story of the baby threatened to be split in two to appease two mothers.

An evil snake.

A sacrificed son.

The man who had his strength stripped from him.

A horrible plague and blood smeared on doorways.

Rivers of blood, locusts, floods, and the list goes on.

I know the stories. I know all the stories. They were profound and meaningful and frightening to a child.

I lived in fear of the demons and the wrath of God. I was awakened by dreams of the devil and the idea of hell terrified me.

Most holidays were pagan and I had to leave the classroom when the Lord’s Prayer was read over the school PA system.

I was questioned as to why.

Why did I have to stand in the hall.

Why couldn’t I sing Christmas Carols?

Why couldn’t I hunt for Easter Eggs?

Why didn’t I get a party, presents and cake to celebrate the day I was born? And why couldn’t I go to birthday parties to celebrate others?

I left for school every day wondering if today would be Armageddon day and I might never see my mother again. My mom was all I had.

I prayed I would be one of the magical 144,000 that would be saved but I knew it to be unlikely, I was just a child.

I prayed that myself or someone I loved would never have a terrible accident and need blood because if so, God said they couldn’t have it and so they would die.

I knelt by my bed every night and prayed. I don’t remember the things a child prays for but I was mandated to do so, so I did. I was told my prayers would not be heard if “Amen” wasn’t prefaced by “in Jesus name we pray”, so I recited what I was told.

I was drowing in fear and rules.

One day my mother was denied her God and her religion during one of the worst times in her life.

She needed help. She needed healing. She needed friendships. She needed love.

It was then that her religion dropped her. This was when God was denied. This was when she needed him most and was told by the Elders that he could not, would not, be there for her unless she did penance for doubting and for questioning the rules she was asked to follow. Her life was falling apart, she was questioning everything! In my mind she had been betrayed by God. It was when she needed him most that he stopped trying to find her. He stopped shining his light on her and so she chose to believe in something else for a while. She chose to believe in herself.

It was the first year we ever had a Christmas tree.

It was the first year we ever had presents.

It was the first and only year I put on a costume and went door to door collecting candy because by then I had already aged out of a tradition meant for children.

It was the first year I celebrated my birth. I was 12 years old.

And now I say how dare you religion.

Not God, religion. God and I have a wonderful relationship now because I learned who he really is beyond the confines of the rules. I learned that he was trapped by them too.

He was forced to banish his children to the shade by laws he did not make.

I learned to see his light. I stopped being afraid. The devil and the demons stopped waking me in the night and I no longer kneel to pray. Instead I pray always and everywhere and it’s like talking to my best friend. He told me the mask religion forced him to wear never changed who he really was. His love remained pure and constant and free even though I was told he was withholding.

I learned to trust that he would never hurt me. I grew into a woman who stood strong in the knowledge that he always believed in me. To a grown woman the stories are just stories now but I am saddened by the fear they caused a little girl already living in a world that overwhelmed and frightened her. I am sorry the love and the light of the lord was denied but grateful I found my own light.

I no longer fear the end of the world.

I was told as a child I would be denied access to the Kingdom of Heaven if I sinned. I lived in fear of making a mistake. But then I remember telling myself as a very young child that God could see my heart, that despite my mistakes he knew I was good and it is based on that, that I would be judged.

The idea comforted me as a child and it still carries me now.

I no longer believe in heaven or hell as a destination. They are alive and inside us always.

We can decide where we want to live.

We can construct our own hell and at any time we can choose to open our eyes to see heaven.

It lies in FAITH

It lies in HOPE

It lies in GRATITUDE

It lies in STRENGTH, CONFIDENCE AND PEACE.

It lies in KINDNESS.

It lies in LOVE.

Be all those things.

See all those things around you and this crazy world, even as it is now, is HEAVEN.