My Origin Story

Recently, I was given an opportunity to tell how I came to faith in Christ. That’s kind of a tricky story…when you come from a family where there is mental illness and domestic violence, nothing is ever simple.

As a nine year old girl, I had the privilege of going to a church camp for a week. This was probably my first time away from home that long, and I was pretty quiet (some girls tried to block the cabin door and not let me back in saying “You know, people would like you better if you talked more…”). But the Bible study part and the singing part and the part where you got asked if you wanted to “give your life to Jesus” drew me right in. I thought maybe if I put Him in control of my life, I could go home and not fight with my brother and not yell back when I was yelled at and be “really really good” and then maybe my family would not be so angry all the time. Here’s a glimpse into a little girl’s world:

Jesus Loves the Little Children

Jesus loves the little children?
Oh really? Yes, I see…
He must love the other children
(This don’t look like love to me!)

In the car, while Mom hits Dad
And we sit in the back
Afraid and sad
As we drive to the church
And park in a row
Where all those nice people
That Jesus loves go…

I think of the words
Those nice ladies say,
“You can get what you want
From God if you pray.”
So I pray, and I pray,
And I pray and I pray….
(But it never makes
The pain go away).

So sometimes I wonder
Why I am so bad
That Jesus can’t love me
And neither can Dad.

After camp, I went home filled with hope that things would be different. That lasted about two days, so I kind of decided God didn’t answer my prayers, that I wasn’t good enough, and gave up on faith. It’s normal for little kids to think everything is their fault, but that’s a lot for a little kid to try to sort out!

Our family still went to church every week, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Our new Sunday School teacher when I was 14 was a young mom with a big heart and a lot of enthusiasm. She kept telling us God loved us and that He had a plan for our lives and that faith was the only reasonable response. She seemed sincere, but it still all seemed like just words.

Then, three weeks after a friend of mine hung himself, her beautiful 18 month old daughter was killed in a tragic accident. I thought surely she would give up her hope and faith. I mean, how can anyone make it through that kind of loss and still believe God is good and kind and loving or even watching!?!?! But she did.

Seeing her still cling to God and not just give up was pretty powerful. One night we prayed together and I gave faith another chance. God answered this time. Hope began to sprout from all those seeds Sunday School teachers had planted in my heart, even when the ground was still pretty hard and dry.

I am very grateful.

Hand Lotion in the Afternoon

(My mother has been gone for three years now, but as mother’s day approaches tomorrow, I am reflecting on her strength at living her whole life with mental health challenges in a society and a time where those were often neither talked about nor treated effectively. One of the times she was hospitalized, a nurse explained to me that there was nothing we could have done that would have made it easier. She said it was a biochemical malfunction and she cycled between episodes too quickly and unpredictably for medication to have been effective. I will always be grateful to that nurse.)

Tired hands
Dry from weeks in a hospital
In a coma
Heavily medicated
Restrained…
Life and death fight for preeminence
Life wins
Her eyes open
As I am rubbing lotion on those hands….
Instead of words of assault, criticism or disgust
She speaks coherent words
Words of appreciation:
“for angels like me….”
She’s back, and she is aware
Wondering what happened
Wondering where she was for “all those years”
(in a coma six weeks but “gone” so long before that)…
A new stage in her life begins
One where, for brief periods
She does not fight the universe and all that’s in it
Brief periods where we talk
Only God knows why, for her
Normal was never an option
Grateful she came back
No matter how short the time.

Teresa Norman Nov 2019

Soul Menders

Recently, I dreamed I had on a beautiful white satin dress
And I was standing on a small stool.
There were tears, rips, and messy jagged gashes
Torn in the beautiful garment I was wearing.
It looked like I had been in a fight–
Like some terrible violent thing had happened!
But as I stood on the stool, leaning into strong arms
I saw several sets of gentle, competent hands
Equipped with needle and thread
Skillfully repairing the tears in my beautiful garment.

At first, I couldn’t understand what was happening,
But as I woke up, I understood –
God saw me in my weakness and my trouble
And brought me to this place
Because He loved me.
If I didn’t panic,
Didn’t run from the help being offered,
If I stayed with the process,
(even when I thought I could not)–
These loving repairers of my tattered life
Would be the hands of Jesus to help mend my soul.

Dear God,
Help me to be a soul mender
(not one those who make the tears in the first place).
Help me to be one of those who lift up the broken,
Providing mercy for the memories
And a place of safety for those who need to heal.
Help me never take for granted Your grace.
Only You can make us whole.
Thank you for the soul menders in my life.

Teresa Norman Apr 2020

A Vessel Of Honor

A noise was made in heaven as the way parted and the Accuser entered the throne room. He came with a list…”See that little pot in the corner? It was made from defective materials. It is too small and weak for any good use. It’s broken now. Surely you have no remaining purpose for that one….It will never amount to anything…Can I have it? I’ll dispose of it for you…take care of the problem…It should be discarded. Surely there is no use for it…” (He inches slowly toward the pot and bends over to grasp it when the Lord’s strong voice booms out saying, “Silence! This one was made for My use. I designed it. I am not done with it yet. I have a purpose your eyes will never understand. It was bought and paid for with My blood: I ransomed this one! It has been redeemed! You will speak no more against it! It is mine!”

Satan slithered away and the Lord went and tenderly picked up each broken piece of the fractured vessel, missing nothing. He carried them to a workbench. The Holy Spirit came and together they labored with love over their broken vessel. The blood of the Lamb and the oil of joy covered each ragged edge as God reconstructed what the enemy thought he had destroyed. Slowly, from a pile of broken pieces, God fashioned a beautiful vessel of honor. At the banquet celebration He held, this vessel was on the table of the King of Kings — a beautiful goblet full of new wine. Its delicate, intricately shaped stem and ornamented sides were beautifully decorated with scenes declaring the victory of the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously.
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From Psalms 30:8-12 NLT
I cried out to you, O Lord.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
9 “What will you gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise you?
Can it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear me, Lord, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O Lord.”

11 You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.
You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
12 that I might sing praises to you and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever!

Teresa Norman April 6, 1991

A Heart Divided (Poem)

Lord, I need an undivided heart –
Pieces of mine still lay in the rubble
Of the damage done
By those who came before-
The destroyers,
Abusers,
Molesters,
Bullies,
And monsters
who tortured a little girl
Who, instead of singing songs about a sunrise,
Now cowers from its light.

I know you as a Father-
A loving, gentle Savior
(I’m sure I do-
The evidence of your great faithfulness
Has sustained me this far) …

But a piece of my heart,
(the piece still under the wreckage
In the far corner of my not-quite-outrun past)
Questions if maybe you are a bully….
(Not the kind who does the damage –
Not the kind who cheers on the others,
But the kind who watches and maybe holds their coats…
You don’t speak.
You don’t make them stop.
You stand in silence…)
WHY?

How can my heart be in two places?
I cannot repair it myself. I have tried.
God, I need you.

Teresa Norman 2020