Tania’s story

My earliest memories are of living with my mum, my older brother and sister in a house in Auckland. In those days she had to work several jobs to support us, so wasn’t able to be around much. 

My dad lived away from us, but would visit and take us out for fun trips. He was also pretty strict! My mother would say that she was sending us for corrective training when we would go to stay with him. When I was five, my mother moved us into her boyfriend’s house. He had also been divorced, with three kids of his own. Neither of them wanted to marry again and they agreed to keep their things and finances separate. He wasn’t really interested in us kids – we were hers and I grew up thinking I was tolerated but not wanted.

My dad moved to the South Island a few years later and then we would see him only once or twice a year. I remember the year he picked us up at the airport and introduced us to his new wife…we didn’t even know he was seeing anyone, so it was a bit of a shock. The same thing happened when their first child, my half sister was born. We didn’t know until we arrived at the airport to be greeted with the news. At least with my younger half brother, we were pre-warned by my aunt.  Each time, I felt I had been replaced, and that we didn’t really matter. I did love my younger sister and brother though, so was glad they were a part of our lives.

Because my dad was absent, and mum had to work to support us, I got to roam pretty freely as a kid. I have some great memories but they are also mixed with bad ones. I have a life-long friend from that time, which I grateful for. But I also had some interactions in the neighborhood, that led to being abused. I also made some pretty bad choices along the way that led to an increased low sense of self-worth. 

Also early on, my dad got involved with a religious sect, that had a bible based origin, but went off on a tangent. Many of the people lived communally on the property the group owned and there were a lot of rules. The woman covered their heads and wore long skirts. The men wore little skull caps. They were all renamed with biblical names – mostly from the Old Testament. They would have long meetings every night. When we were with my dad in the school holidays, we would be immersed in this community. When we were with my mother, we would live a normal kiwi life of school and play. I became used to adapting myself to where I was, and who I was with. I felt like a chameleon, always changing my colours to fit in, and yet never being known. As a result I started to loose a sense of who I really was.

I believed in God from a young age, but he was an absent God. Although I believed he loved people, I couldn’t see how he could love me, as he was the only one who really knew what I was on the inside. I didn’t believe anyone (except maybe my mum) could actually love me. Rejection, not being good enough and fear of failure were big things in my life. I started to go to a friend’s church when I was a teenager. It was at this small church, that I started a long journey of learning who God was and sorting out bible truths, from the false things I had learned at my dad’s faith community.

A week before my 18th birthday my father died. I had a lot of unresolved issues with him, so it took me a long time to actually grieve him. I just felt kind of numb – in the end I grieved all that I didn’t have in a dad. A year later, the leader of his faith community died and the group fell apart without a charismatic leader in place. The stories then started to come out of the abuse that had been prevalent and hidden within that group. I still have grief for the people hurt and damaged in that group because of lies, deceit and evil behaviour.

I had many great moments at the small church I went to. The youth group was vibrant, and we had great times together. We played sports, went camping, or to the beach, sang worship songs and had some great God talks. I was also blessed by one woman, who took me under her wing and did bible studies with me – we went through the entire bible together, which provided a great foundation. However, despite all of this, I eventually stopped going to church. The people in my church were good people, living decent lives, its just that I felt broken and unable to measure up. Although I had learnt lots about God, I hadn’t fully understood his love and grace for me. I  still believed that people wouldn’t love me if they actually knew me. This had been cemented in my mind through different experiences, one being a friend I had trusted to share about the childhood abuse, who betrayed that trust, so it was a pretty tough blow.

Basically, I was looking for freedom, love and acceptance. I just wanted to be free to be me…but I found that I still couldn’t be me. If I was hiding what I thought was the ugly me from people in the church, I was also hiding my desire and belief in God from people not in church. So I found that at heart I was still unhappy doing life, working and hanging out with friends in pursuit of good times. In my more real moments I knew my life was pretty empty and although I could do what I wanted, I still wasn’t free. I really wanted to come back to God and church, but I didn’t know how. 

It was at this time my mum became a Christian. I went to church with her on the flimsy excuse I needed to make sure it was a good church and not like the one my dad went to. The first couple of years in that church were a bit lonely, as I had no strong connections at the church. I am grateful for those years though, as my focus was on God and not distracted by friendships. The pastor invited me to get involved in ministry, and this is where I was surprised to find acceptance. Through ministering to others, I began to who I was becoming, as I knew God more. God challenged me to be authentic as I ministered to people, not to put on a nice christian act. This is because there are many people who need to know that none of us are perfect. That is why we need Jesus. They need to know God sees them just as they are and loves them anyway. That Jesus made a way to come into God’s presence through his perfection.

After a couple of years of being a Christian, my mums relationship with her partner ended. As a result, my sister and I brought a house with her so that she had a home. This house was a blessing as we learnt to live together as a family and my sister also became a Christian. God restored us and united us. He taught us a lot about sacrificial love. We were then able to use the house God provided, to give others a safe place to come to, and be part of our family. And it has been wonderful to see people who were lost and lonely like us, discover love and acceptance.

The next difficult journey for us as a family, was when my older brother took his life, this also happened a week before my birthday. He had been living in the South Island, in the small town my father had lived and died in. We didn’t know he was suicidal, as he always presented a positive side when talking with us. He didn’t know God and I still feel sad that he didn’t know how loved he was, by God or by us. Like most of us, he hadn’t always made great choices and he struggled with addiction and other things. It was his death that made me start to think about why hope is so important to life.

I started my theological studies a few months after he died. It was during this time of deep grief that I finally realized how much I am loved. I still remember the moment vividly. I was driving to class, crying about my brother, when this voice whispered “you are loved”. It repeated over and over again, and my tears of grief became tears of unbelievable joy. It was an amazing revelation! I would love all people to know this kind of deep rooted love.

Well since then, I have experienced many wonderful things, met some great people, suffered some more, and grown richer in who I am, by knowing God. Out of my own pain and journey to wholeness, God has grown my compassion and love for others. I now have a heart to see people set free from things that take life from them. Things like too many distractions, addictions, abuse, mental and physical illness, and poor self-esteem. I know God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love… and he wants to meet YOU and share life with you. He will meet you just where you are and take you on a wonderful journey, if you will just reach out to him through Jesus.

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