I never cease to be amazed by how much my daughters, 8-going-on-9 twins Jodie and Roni, want me to hang out with them. Like I was their best friend or something. Of course, I don’t mind, I love it! But I’m still amazed.
Because I never felt that way when I was growing up.
I remember how when I was a young girl I wanted to run away from home. Several times before I turned 12, I actually made attempts. And finally, when I was 12, I really did get to leave home. I had to live in a dorm because I transferred to a school that was ridiculously far from where I lived. Two years later, I transferred to an even farther school and had to live with relatives.
But I valued that physical separation. It made the emotional gap seem like a simple consequence. We were a two-career household, and according to snippets of stories about my babyhood, I was not that easy to be with. No, I was not rude or disobedient. My mother made sure of that.
I was on the quiet side, it seemed. I seem to have had a habit of just standing up and walking out.
My father’s favorite story was how, at two years old, I stalked off upstairs, in the late afternoon dark. It was impressive that a two year old would not be afraid to go on her own. My brother told me, just a few years ago, what had happened next.
They couldn’t find me in our bedroom and so they started to panic. Someone had the bright idea of looking in the second bedroom, and I was found asleep in the pile of clean laundry.
“And you were angry because we woke you up,” my brother said.
“Well, of course I’d be angry!” I retorted, laughing. “I was asleep! And you woke me up! What two-year old would be happy with that?”
Why would an 8-year old want to run away? I really don’t remember details anymore, but I knew it had something to do with feeling misunderstood and unaccepted. The harder I tried, the more I had to try for. Grades were never high enough, room was never clean enough, penmanship was never neat enough.
Don’t even start about beauty.
Never enough. Never good enough. I wonder if that’s one of the greatest wound that can be inflicted on a child’s self-esteem.
It’s not that I’m willing to settle for what I am now. I love to learn, to grow, to get better. I know I have to. I can’t be stagnant.
But I needed the acceptance. Still do. And the way I eventually coped with it was to reject them back:
“If you cannot accept me for what I am now, you will not be part of what I can become.”
Family was different for me back then. Home was where I put on my mask, where I assumed a different character. Where I was on my toes, always on guard.
And where I was most alone.
I first read through the Bible, a Tagalog comic-book version, when I was eight. Little did I understand then that God was starting to make his way into my heart, and my life. Because my family was deeply religious, I knew how to pray. Because I was lonely, I learned to imagine.
Jesus was one of my imaginary friends.
When I had to live away from home, Jesus became my only “imaginary” friend. Then my best friend. One in whom I confided crushes, heartaches, fears of failing history or biology (genus wha–? dissect what?!), wishes of going home that would be replaced by pleas to go away after a few hours…
I was 12. The independence lasted until after I turned 16, when I acknowledged that Jesus was not just an imaginary friend who kept me company (and kept me sane), but the Son of God who came to die for me to save me from hell. I recognized him as my Savior, and bowed to him as my Lord.
And then he sends me home.
Now the separation was not physical. It was emotional and spiritual. And more than ever I wanted to run away. Because though my family was religious, they saw my becoming a born-again Christian as betrayal. Our gap was now a chasm. And in the pain, confusion, and anger, I forgot that Jesus was still my friend.
But HE didn’t forget. He stayed quietly in my life. Even when I started to drink, he stayed. And when I tried, this time with better planning, to run away yet again, he stepped in and stopped me.
“You don’t need to run away to be with me,” was his gentle whisper.
Nothing changed on the outside. If anything, some things grew worse instead of better. But he stayed close, almost touchable. I even once tried to take my own life — I already had the knife over my wrist when the phone rang, and it was for me. If I had been alone at home, I would have ignored it, but my mother was home, and she knew I was there. Not taking the call would make her investigate.
And so I stay alive. Jesus is the friend who called my bluff. Having accepted me for what I am, he will always be part of what I can become.
He has stayed to help me become what HE has designed me to be.
And only recently did I begin to comprehend that all this time, I AM what he wants me to be.
That was why all the bother of leaving heaven, giving up divine privileges, becoming a man, dying on a cross, going to the grave, rising from the dead. So I could be his. He had won my heart when I was 8, my trust when I was 16, my surrender when I was 19. He had won me when he took my place on the cross, and he has shown me that he has no intention of letting me go.
In fact, his words were: “No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” (John 10:29,30 NLT)
I had prayed that my children would not go through the loneliness I did at their age. I am glad that Jesus was able to break through that loneliness to draw me to himself, but it is not something I would wish even on someone who hates me.
I believe Jesus is answering my prayer. My children see me as a friend they can share their life, toys, games and dreams with. And I find that I can share my childhood friend with them, the Friend who sticks closer than a brother — or a twin sister. The Friend whose love is deeper than a mother’s. The Friend whose arms are stronger than a father’s.
Their real best friend.