He called me ‘A Trophy of His Grace’

10391606_1255727242356_3720953_n (1)I was born in May 1975, in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. I had a step-brother from my mother and we lived a pretty good life, not lacking anything but neither living in great abundance. Everything we had was as a result of my parents’ hard work. They both had to work as the Communist government believed both men and women had to work, or they would be taken by force and put in labor camps!

I grew up going to kindy from an early age and then to school with the house key strapped around my neck because I usually arrived home 4 hours before my parents, from 6 years old onwards. It was normal with all kids, there were no dangers on the street, crime was pretty much under control and all the kids just came home, got into their house with the key they held around their neck and waited till the parents got home.

Amazingly there were no reports of kids getting hurt or in trouble that I have heard of because of this. We all adjusted to the expectations of the Communist goverment and made life work under those circumstances. The parents did not seem to worry either that we were ok, even though I lived in a flat of units at the 8th floor! Oh, when I think about all the things that could have gone wrong …

My mother and father were nominal Orthodox believers. They would go to church on Easter, Christmas or if there was a baptism, marriage or funeral. My mother was seeking God a bit deeper at times, mostly asking God for her needs to be met.

The Orthodox church, especially the way it was in the capital city, was not so much a place where the priests would encourage people to be seekers of God. It was more of a place of ritual, where you went, kissed multiple pictures of saints, put money in the boxes under the various saints and say a prayer to those saints, hoping that your problem will be resolved. Some saints were more popular than others and people thought that if they gave money and prayed some prayers in front of those saints, they had higher chances of an answered prayer.

The whole service was a ritual with incense swung around by priests in long robes who sang songs you could not understand and spoke many things that you could not hear as there was no microphone. People thought that it was enough to just come and be there, get blessed with holy water, do the ritual and go home. Certainly the priests did not ever say that anymore was needed, so why would people feel otherwise.

Confession of sin was done to the priest once a year, on a particular day, when the whole community would go to church to go through the ritual. You can only imagine the queues. Since the priests had to hear it, and there was only one priest and one deacon per church, that took a while.

The priests though had a formula that made the process easier. You would go, kneel before the priest while he was sitting on a chair, he would put his Ephod on top of your head and he would ask you questions:

Have you lied? Have you stolen anything? Have you listened to your parents? Etc All you had to do is say yes and no – there was no request that you should change from now on or explanation on what repentance was. The priest would do some sort of prayers over you and you were done. The only thing that caused conviction was your own conscience and the church building atmosphere.

The lives of people were not very affected by the thought of the existence of God. They had a general fear of God and reverence for God, church and the priests, but it did not impact a great deal on the way they lived their life. They would just go ahead with life as if it was all up to them to make it through, they were in control of their lives and as long as they did the rituals they felt they did enough.

Many of the men would be drinking alchohol and get drunk, beat their wives and many of the women had abortions, which they justified because life was hard. There was no major transformation in their life as a result of their faith. It was there for times of trouble and to meet their needs when they felt they could not help themselves.

I was raised in this environment.  My mother had a picture of Adam and Eve falling away into sin in the garden of Eden in the hallway, which was pretty explicit for the eyes of a child, but they never saw it to be anything but holy. She also had icons – pictures of saints or God – almost in every room on the wall, facing the east. I never saw her myself personally praying to them, but she probably did.

I lived in one of the many tall grey apartment blocks that filled the capital. That was not so much of a negative because there was such a great community spirit in these buildings. People would go to each other’s houses at any time to borrow things, chat, and children made friends and were in each other’s houses every day and playing in front of the buildings. From this point of view I had a great childhood, had a number of very close girlfriends and had at least 30 or more children we could play outside the building on any given day. I built many great memories from those years.

Everything seem to go reasonably well for my family. I had a step brother from my mother and we seemed to prosper and my parents felt like they kind of made it in life and they could just enjoy the fruits of their labour. This lasted till my mother became pregnant again and now they had a dilemma. Do we keep the child and go through all that raising of a baby and small child thing again or do we just abort. After all, so many women did it, it did not seem like a big deal to many. I think the stats were indicating at one point that 85% of all pregnancies were ending in abortion. It was a culture of death, selfishness ruled and abortion was the easy option verses being inconvenienced with the hardship of raising another child.

My parents even came to me and asked me if I want another sister. I was excited at the thought and said yes, since my brother was 10 years older than me and I felt I could enjoy another sibling.

Sadly, they did not listen to me, my father encouraged my mother to go ahead and they both decided to abort. Because we lived in Communism, strange enough, there was a law against doing abortions. Yet people used to find nurses or doctors who were willing to do it and do it under the radar, sometimes with substandard instruments and methods.

As a result, my mother caught an infection because of unsterilized instruments, which progressed into cancer. I was 7 years old when I realized mum was not well and people were worried around her. She went on to do various treatments, radiation, heat therapy, anything she could find, she tried. She was only 35 years old and too young to die. I used to hear her wail in bed with pain. I was certainly affected emotionally by that, but I never said anything to anyone.

She started going regularly to church and pray for healing. And God answered her desperate simple faith.

They have heard of a very famous doctor in Romania who discovered a cure for cancer, using medicine and nutrition as treatment. Just to get the medicine, you would need to sit in a queue day and night for 2 weeks at least to get to be seen and get the treatment. My father was working during the night and stay in the queue during the day, desperate to save my mother. In the end, he managed to sneak through while helping unload the medicine truck and got the treatment ahead of time.

My mother was only allowed to drink a special kind of red wine, and eat steak, nothing else. I remember the constant steak cooking that went on at our house. She soon went from lying in bed to been able to help paint my grandmother’s house! We were all encouraged at the progress, even though she used to be in stage 3 cancer.

I wish I could tell you it all ended well, but it seems that the devil was determined to hurt my mother and me. My father had a dream around the time I was born where 2 men in black with black masks came and asked for me, to take me and kill me. In the dream, I was around 8 years old. My mother then stepped in front of me and they took her. This unfortunately became a reality shortly after I turned 8.

My mother’s parents grew in a remote village in the country area, were not very educated and were really scared that my mother would die from cancer. They did not trust doctors that would make her well, because they took their son when he had a skin disease to a doctor and they could not help him. But when they took the son to a witch doctor, the skin disease left him. So, without telling my father, they encouraged my mum to go home and have a try been seen by the witch doctor. They were orthodox believers, but they did not think they were doing anything wrong to seek healing from a witch doctor. My mother, in her desperation to try anything to get better, agreed to deceive my father and tell him she was going in the country so she could eat healthier meat and drink healthier wine locally produced.

The witch doctor asked her to bring 3 medical thermometers with her, a black cat and a black chicken to sacrifice. He told her she had some sort of’ living silver’ running through her body – yes, I know that’s strange –  and the way to remove it, apart from sacrificing the animals was for her to drink the mercury from the 3 thermometers!!! After drinking the mercury, she was meant to stay locked up in a room for 3 days while she was eliminating the ‘living silver’ and not eat or drink anything and not talk to anyone. My mother went ahead and did this and she entered in living hell in her body, wailing and feeling in agony.

One of the young neighbours who was studying medicine heard her wail from her house and she came to enquire about her. The grandmother was crying and told her everything, but they never thought anything wrong was done. The young to-be-doctor though found my father’s number and called him to tell him what is actually happening and encouraged him to come and take her back to hospital. My father was fully unaware of what took place and was horrified to hear of it.

Once my mother returned to Bucharest, she was in a really bad shape. She sensed she was dying, so she called my father’s mother and made her swear she will look after me after her death, she knew I would need a lot of support and care after she was gone.

I remember one day she filled a toilet with blood, in front of me. The ambulance was called and she got up to go with them, but she paused before she left the house and took a deep look at it, trying to absorb everything in it, she had a sense that she might not return back there.  I was quick to catch her reaction and I also knew then that she might never come back home. I wept as they took her away. My grandmother tried to comfort me, but I was not able to receive comfort. I sensed what my mother sensed and it was too real to be reversed by a few calming words from the grandmother.

My mother was hospitalised and quickly went into stage 4 cancer which is usually fatal. I remember turning 8 and my father took me to buy me a doll, but it was not a happy day. My father was very sad and I momentarily rejoiced when I got the doll, but it was quickly replaced by a deep sense of sadness. We couldn’t really quite celebrate it. My mother just went into comma on my birthday …

I went to visit her that day and my grandmother said wailed out loud and called my mother’s name, Maura, and said: Look, your daughter is here and it is her birthday. I will never forget this moment. Even though my mother was in comma, she could hear and she somehow, almost supernaturally, went out of comma for a few seconds, lifted her head, opened her eyes wide, looked at me and then collapsed back into comma.

That was our official good-bye, it seemed to me that the power of her love was so great, that it brought her out of comma just to see me one more time. I knew then I was loved very deeply, yet this love was getting hijacked from me. I stood there in tears and I felt like I was shred into many many pieces on the inside, the way you shred cooked chicken into small strips. I suddenly had a broken heart and a broken spirit.

Two days later, at 1 am, we got a call from my father saying my mother passed away. I remember getting on the phone, hearing what he said, feeling a bit of sadness, but I was in shock, I could not say much or react much.

My grandmother who was sleeping with me was crying and she urged me to go to bed. I went to bed and started to cry myself. My grandmother could not bear hearing me cry, it was ripping her heart out and while she was wailing told me: Do not cry, Mari, do not cry, just go to sleep. I turned with the back to her, trying to obey her and tried to cry very quietly, but because I felt I was not allowed, I did not cry much and fell asleep.

This was the worst thing my grandmother unknowingly did to me, because I somehow locked all the grief inside and I could not cry anymore. I was in shock and unable to cry it out. All the preparations for burial started to happen around my home and the way the habit is in Romania, her casket was brought and laid open on our dining table. Every neighbour, friend and relative came to say their good-byes, the house was full of people for 3 days. I remember only one time when someone wailed hard outloud and they talked about me in their wailing, how I don’t have a mother anymore and that was the one time I broke out and was able to cry for a bit.

I hated the looks of all the people who were there, every time I appeared in their sight, they would start to talk about me and look at me or even comment out loud saying: Poor her, she doesn’t have a mother anymore. Poor her, poor her.  I heard those words so many times, I totally hated them but I did not know exactly why. They gave me a message that something is wrong with me, that I am inferior somehow, not like all other children. I’ve learned to not call people: Poor you! The feelings of inferiority that it creates in a soul is not worth it.

My aunt took me away with my cousin to her house so I was not seeing so much grief.  In fact she was intending to adopt me because she always wanted a daughter, but she only had a son. I went reluctantly, I really, really wanted to be where my mother was, even if she was dead. But I complied cause as a child authority figures seem to be the people you just obeyed, so I went along. I remember enjoying their beautiful home, playing with my cousin and loving the feeling of family that was in their home. I just lost that around eight months back when my mother became sick and it felt really good to feel that feeling. I really enjoyed my stay there for a day or two, but behind it all, there was a sadness I could not shake.

I returned for the burial and even though everyone was wailing around me and about me as well as about my mother, I could not cry.  I only cried once when my father, in obvious great distress, asked me to take a handful of earth and throw it over my mother’s casket in the grave. I felt then the absolute knowledge that I have lost her forever. But even that was short lived. I just could not really cry.

Before this, I was a normal child, free of worries, happy, joyful, childish. I am surprised now to realize that during that time, no one actually set me down to talk to me, ask me how I feel about the huge loss I just experienced and just listen to me. That is what I really needed, I did not realize this then, but I know this looking back, after the healing that God gave me from all this pain many years later. Only a few people even hugged me or came close. I think people were in shock  and overwhelmed at what happened to me and did not know how to react towards me, they were frozen by their own grief for me. I probably would have found it really hard to express myself, due to the fact that I was told not to cry by my grandmother. But with some gentle encouragement and lots of love, I would have been able to come out of emotional prison I shut myself in.

After this event, and after being unable to cry and express myself, I changed dramatically. In fact, my personality changed. I became an introvert and I looked at life with serious eyes, studying it and trying to make sense of it. I became very quiet, always studying people and studying life and I guess subconsciously seeking answers to the tragedy that just happened to me. I became more serious in every way, not smiling much, not able to rejoice deeply in my soul, though outside I still appeared to be able to rejoice and play. Deep heart felt joy became something I did not know any longer. It took me many years to discover my real personality, and it only happened after God did an extensive healing work in me. Now I know that truly I am more of an extrovert than an introvert, though I do like and need to have some times only to myself.

People everywhere, for months and even more than a year, kept on saying to me: Poor you, if your mother was alive and would just see you now. Anytime I succeeded well at school or grew up, while congratulating me, they always brought the pain up by saying: Oh, if your mother was here to see you, how much she would rejoice. It was their way of grieving, but unfortunately they were grieving ON ME, they dumped their grief on me subconsciously and left me to deal with it by myself.

They would remind me of how much my mum loved me and then cry in front of me because they felt sorry for me that I lost such a good mum. They would tell me memories of mum and me that they have witnessed on how my mum loved me, some which I never knew, my memory did not register those.

By doing this, they only stirred up the grief in me, that I could not release and make me feel rather like I was not a normal child. After a while, I concluded that indeed I was  not a normal child, in fact, not a whole child, less than all other kids, because I did not have a mother. Inferiority started to set in in my heart.

After my mother died, we could not bear being in the same house where my mother was. The superstitious belief said that the spirit of the departed hovers around the house for 40 days. As a result of this belief, we started to experience weird things in the house. Cupboard doors were opening by themselves in the middle of the night, we would hear bangs in the windows in the middle of the night. They had a big portrait of my mother on one wall and I literally felt like she was following me through the house. We were scared.

My brother went into the army and we decided we will move to my grandmother’s house so I could be looked after and escape the house. We literally abandoned the house, locked it and left it empty. This meant that I had to change school as well, which was another big change for me. It felt weird trying to adjust to a totally strange class of children and a new teacher, but in a short time I got used to it.

My grandmother house only had a cement yard that was really narrow and cement all in front of the property. There was one big tree in front of the house and it had earth around it for about half a meter in circumference and I made it my hobby to plant lots of flower seeds. It became my little world I would withdraw in and that garden had so much care that it became spilling over with many many flowers. Playing with the dog and the cat was another hobby, though in the end even the cat died of mouth cancer. I developed friendships on the streets and we had lots of fun there together.

I also threw myself in learning very well for school and I was top of the class for the year. It was my way to make up for the insecurity inside and the lack of love that I felt, apart from the fact that I enjoyed learning  and I was good at it. I was trying to fight the ‘Poor you’ image that was poured over me when my mother died and change it with the opposite. I wanted to her: ‘Smart her’ or anything else that was pozitive. Without realizing I was slowly also becoming trapped by the need of approval and praise from men.

My father was dealing with a lot of things, he was accused by my mother’s relatives of being the cause of my mother’s death because he encouraged her to have the abortion. And he was dealing with the huge loss of loosing his wife at the age of 36. My father tried to get her wherever she could be helped to save her. I remember some years later, I read in a newspapers testimonies from people who were treated by the same doctor with the same medicine and who survived stage 4 of cancer. I remember the regret of reading that, knowing my mother improved a lot and then gave herself in the hands of a witch doctor who destroyed her. I had to forgive that witch doctor as well as my grandparents who were acting in ignorance and desperation.

Forgiving someone who hurt you is simply a decision of the will, even though your emotions are still hurting and with your mind you feel like you don’t like that person. You can still decide to destroy the debt they owe you through their sin towards you by simply deciding in your mind to let it go and cancel their debt and then hand them over by faith to God for Him to do what He sees fit. All justice comes from Him and revenge is His, as the Bible says. You are not asking God to take revenge on them, but simply putting them in God’s hands for Him to decide what He wants to do. I have found that doing this has freed my heart from unforgiveness, when I struggled with it.

Sometimes forgiveness it’s a process and you have to keep on forgiving – cancelling the debt – and keep on handing them over to God, till your emotions and mind come in line with your decision and that can sometimes take some time. You can also pray for and bless those who have done you wrong. You can say things like: Lord, I bless them and may their business go well, may they be in health’ – or any other blessing you can sincerely desire for them. At first, that might be hard to start with, but later on it will produce the great fruit of compassion for that person, if you persist.

My aunt asked my father soon after the burial if she could adopt me but he was totally against it. To him, I was the only thing left in life, the only reason to still exist, he was severely depressed. He kept on trying to work and keep earning a living for me, but he was struggling with grief and even saw him have a panic attack once.

The factory where he worked was full of men who were drunkards. He was proud until now that he never touched alchohol, but after my mother died, he wanted some relief for his grief, and since he was an introvert, could not release his emotions in a healthy way.  He instead started to drink his sorrows away. One drink led to more drinks and more drinks led to addiction.

I remember sitting in my grandmother’s living room, by the fireplace and looking at the clock. I knew my father should be home around 3.30 pm. If the time passed 3.30 pm, I knew he went to drink and I would just sit and worry. And worry, and worry, and worry … for hours on end, sometimes till really late at night.

From this I developed a habit of thinking worry and fear, that I can say even as I am writing I still struggle with it. This habit was reinforced over time again and again through horrible life circumstances that followed and I became rooted in fear and worry. Evil forebodings when I felt unsafe was the instant place I went in my mind. I would ask a lot of questions in my mind: Why is my father not home? When will he come? Will he fall down the street like he did yesterday? Will he cut himself again on the face – where this time, eyebrow, lip, nose or worse? Will he fall down and hurt himself to the point of death? At times he came home with some part of his face wounded from falling down the streets. Other times some people who knew him and us will find him and carry him home at 12 am.

The culture in Romania is based strongly on looking good to others, what others think about you matters a lot, pride and appearance ranks high. Therefore anything like a drunkard father or son was considered by us and by the neighbours a very shameful thing. My grandparents used to lament to each other about the shame my father is bringing on us and therefore I assimilated that shame as my own as well. Principles we live by are usually caught more than taught. Shame became part of me and who I thought I was. Over the years in life I struggled to look people in the eye because I felt something is wrong with me and I am less than them, so I carried this with me in life for quite some years until God challenged me in an emotional healing conference I went to 18 years later.

My grandparents didn’t know how to react to my father and they didn’t understand him – neither me – so we would judge and condemn him for his addiction. We did not understand that him, being an introvert, did not know how to deal with his own pain, so he made the unfortunate choice to bury it in alchohol.

Our reaction to him was adding more pain on top of his pain, all our critical and judgemental comments only did more damage to his confidence and manhood, especially that I, a child, was advising him and judging him about how he should live his life. I felt though, that if I don’t do it, and my father collapses totally, then I will go down and literally disintegrate on the inside. That’s how I felt inside. If I don’t get up and get strong and help my father, we will both go down and disintegrate and die. It was a matter of survival for me.

So many other times in life, I followed this pattern. If someone could not do something that really needed to be done, I would step in and do it, even if I was exhausted. I learned to neglect myself and step in and save the day where needed. This started to translate in God’s work, when I was in ministry. If I saw a need or someone in need, I would step in and try to help, even if I was very tired and spent myself. This kind of thinking has led me over time to have 2 severe burnouts that I survived purely by the grace of God.

I have learned since that we are not to be led by the need, but by the Spirit of God. Jesus did not heal all the people in Israel, that’s why there was still a blind beggar at the entrance of the temple in Jerusalem which was healed through apostle Peter in the end. At one time, where there was great need and the crowds pressed so much that the disciples did not even have time to eat, Jesus stopped the whole thing and sent the disciples away to rest. He was not led by need, but by the Holy Spirit. We need to take notice and not spend ourselves beyond what God leads or burnout is our only sad option. Believe me, you don’t want to go there. Just read later in this book or read in other posts online what pastors and others experienced when they burned out. It’s a very debilitating place to be and it’s to be avoided at all costs. In the end, the time you spent in pushing yourself to do more, you will spend double of that or more in recovery during the burnout.

At that time, I made an inner vow and said: ‘I must survive, life must go on and I need to be strong, help my father and move on’. Though this was somewhat helpful at the time, it was not the ideal way to handle the situation. At least it served as a cratch to get me from where I was, in absence of the ideal help I needed, and move on and live without totally falling apart.

I never said anything to my grandparents about how I felt inside. It’s amazing how being told not to cry by someone in authority made me feel that I did not have permission to talk about it, and once I locked my feeling inside, I never wanted to go there. It was the ‘Forbidden and to be forgotten zone’. My big loss and what was happening with my father forced me to grow beyond my years. I started to advice my father in what to do and why he should stop drinking and try to teach him deep life lessons from what I was thinking inside me. Everyone was praising me for how wise I was and how I was able to advice my father so well.

You might be tempted as you read this to think this was a good thing, but it was not, not for the short term anyway. I have learned from this experience that you NEVER should stop people from grieving, especially when the grief is really new and raw. The best thing for them at the time, be it a child or not, is to release their pain and feel the grief, face it and accept what happened to them. Without this, healing cannot happen. Of course, for a child, having an a loving and gentle adult supervising the process is absolutely necessary.

Avoiding the grief will only lodge it inside you like a cancer that sits there no matter how good life becomes later on. The only solution to full recovery from such a tragedy is to actually face and grieve the loss, with support from others if need be.

The way I was treated by my grandmother – even though she thought she was doing her best for me and it was well intended – led me to carry this pain inside till I was 25 and I had a mild form of depression for most of this time. Straight away I locked inside emotionally, I started to view life like a very serious matter and decided to study it and everything in it. I remember at 9 years old, my aunt tried to take a photo of me, but I was sitting still and kind of sad. She told me to jump to make the photo more dynamic and I remember jumping, trying to be excited, but I could not, sadness was just prevailing over me, I knew then something was wrong with me, but being a child, I left that thought behind pretty quickly.

May of the people that grieved around me, sincere Orthodox people, prayed for me to God. And God was to answer all those sincere heartfelt prayers many years later in beautiful ways. If only they could see me now, they would not say: Poor her, poor her anymore, but be amazed at what God did to rescue me, heal me, prosper me, gave me the priviledge to work with Him in many marvellous projects beyond my wildest dreams and beautify my life in so many ways. I think it was their prayers that started the move of God towards my salvation.

Being very deep and wise at such an early age was actually a forced survival growth, which is not healthy. God used the hunger to understand life and get wisdom later on, but it was not healthy for me. I struggled as I entered adulthood and beyond with an inability to take life lightly, to enjoy and have fun and I really struggled playing with my first child because of this intense serious outlook in life. I think this was also responsible for me overworking while in ministry and having 2 burnouts.

I did not know how to stop and just have some fun, or to even laugh at life and its twists and turns. I felt life was a serious matter and when I combined that with the imperative need and the urgency to see souls saved, which I viewed as a life and death matter for many, it was a recipe for disaster for me. I was far too serious and did not have balance in my life. In fact, I despised wasting time on such ‘trivial’ time wasters as just having fun. Till I burned out 2 times and Jesus appeared to me in a dream and taught me to have fun! I will come back to this subject later in the book.




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