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Gloria Newton – Live Deeply

I’m Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) at UT Intern Gloria Newton, and my family attends CSPC. Here’s how I’m living deeply. 

“My father would say he was doing ministry, but he was abusing our family. Every Saturday, we had to pray for one to two hours. In theory, that sounds so good. But in practice, it was an event we were all required to be at and do things for. You would get in trouble if you were dozing off during prayer or didn’t come when it was time to start. That’s just one example of the unpredictability of our lives. My father didn’t hold down jobs well, so there was always money stress. And he often came home from work angry. If something was slightly burned or the house wasn’t clean enough, someone was going to get in trouble, potentially to the point of physical hitting- usually my mom or whichever of me or my six siblings were around at the time. Heightened emotion out of nowhere was common. When you’re growing up in that, you need peace at some point. So whatever you can do to bring things back to a predictable level, you’re going to do. I didn’t even think about the motives behind what was happening- I was just so consumed with, ‘Okay, how do I make it better?’ My mom was treated as subservient. My father would bring up mistakes she’d made in the past again and again, and in front of us kids, too. Not only inappropriate- but damaging to the family system. You cannot say you love your kids well if you don’t love your spouse well. My father did not love my mother. He would even say that he hated her, and it was always tied to something she did or said or that he inferred. Sometimes it would just be, ‘You don’t bring this home up to the standard I want.’ I also think he never got over the fact that she’d dated other people in the past, stuff like that. And in our fundamentalist Christian home, he had a tendency of saying things to back up his points as though they were in the Bible. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized people can use the Bible to say the wrong things. God is love- what He says is true. Whatever we extrapolate beyond that is very often wrong, especially if it’s being used for personal ends.

One outburst that stands out sharply, all these years later, happened when I was 7 or 8. We took music lessons from friends who had rabbits. I was like, ‘Oh, that’d be so fun, I want a rabbit.’ So I called my father and asked if I could have one, and he said no. I was disappointed, and hung up. That, to him, was a cardinal sin of disrespect because I didn’t accept his decision and politely say, ‘Okay, you’re right. Goodbye.’ When I got home, he doled out the common punishment of making me kneel for hours at a time on the steps. You just kneel and think about what you’ve done until your spirit is so crushed, you’re ready to apologize. It was usually either that or a belting. And even if you’re ready to apologize, it’s still not enough. That time I was probably kneeling for three hours. Then I got one of my siblings to ask if I could get up and go back to normal. But my father was like, ‘No, I don’t think you’ve learned your lesson well enough.’ From that point on, he branded me: ‘Oh, you’re a disrespectful one.’ Anything I did from that point was basically seen through that lens. My father built a culture of shame. Often it was implied because he would say things about other people. He would see someone walking down the street wearing something he found wrong and say: ‘Oh, they’re headed to Hell.’ So I got those messages from a lot of different things he’d say. And even though we were always involved in church, no one really knew us. We had grown up in this system, and we covered for him, in a sense. It took me a long time to parse out that it was wrong. I knew it was painful and hard, but I attributed it to, ‘My parents are stressed out. My father should deal with his stress in other ways.’  I wasn’t fully like, ‘This is wrong’ until I was 16. We’d landed at this church that was so gospel-centric, and I thought, ‘If God is love, and that is what is supposed to inspire us to do everything, why don’t I see that in my supposedly Christian home?’ We grew up in a Christianity that was so shame-based, like, ‘You are a horrible person and because of the things you do, you need God to not go to Hell’- that kind of messaging only.

We were living in California, and my mom’s mom -my grandmother, in Knoxville- wanted to gather all her kids for a visit in 2017. Shockingly, my dad let my mom go visit her by herself, which had never happened before and that he expressed would never happen again. So she was there with my grandmother, and my mom’s sister came as well. The three of them were together for a month and a half or so. My mom came back to California from Knoxville and soon after told her sister about the abuse. With the support she had from her family, my mom started to get a plan into motion to confront my father and separate from him. Mom had our pastor book a meeting with my dad- my father, mother, pastor, and oldest sister all ended up being there. They brought up my father’s behavior in front of the pastor to see if he would change or admit he was wrong in any way. But he didn’t say anything during the whole meeting- he just was not going to change, felt attacked, and left with no apologies. Before he could get back to our house, my pastor’s wife picked all of us kids up and drove us to the airport to catch our flight to Knoxville. We got on a plane and left. I was 16. Again, it had just been that year that I’d finally come to the conclusion that there was something wrong going on. It wasn’t my choice to leave, but after that, it was my choice to stay away and never talk to my father. Eventually it got to court, and my parents divorced. That might seem hard, but I knew it was God’s protection.

The first couple years after we moved here, my father would sometimes just show up at CSPC because he knew that was the church we were going to. He would try to talk to us and tell us our mom was evil and poisoning our minds, and so on. We didn’t create big scenes or anything because, at that point, we were in public and the truth was out. He had so little power because, in the past, all his power over us had been that it was a secret he thought we would never tell. I generally did not talk to him during these surprise encounters, but the couple times when I did, I was very direct: ‘Do you see that we don’t agree with you? Everything you did was wrong- not Christian and not of God. We agree with Mom that you are the one who did the wrong things. So stop asking us to talk to you until you prove that you’ve changed.’ That was my consistent response to him. He’d respond, ‘You don’t understand. You were never married.’ Well, that wasn’t the issue, so at that point I would just walk away. He would also walk away. And then he would just leave for a while. I think he always tried to find whichever of us siblings would talk to him, just cycle through everybody and see. He’ll still send us emails every so often, trying to make the same case for himself and against our mother. There has been no heart change. I processed through a lot of this time with my community at RUF at MTSU, and it was a good taste of seeing what people who are actually influenced by God do. Even seeing how consistently kind and honest my campus minister was to his family and us students made a difference after living a double life for so long in my home.

In the middle of all the emotional fallout, the main thing God is showing me is how good of a Father He is, how He provides for us. He’s a good Father who wants to give me good things, and I’m coming to a greater understanding of what that looks like in my life. If there’s one thing that produced good results from my upbringing, it’s that it was a rule to read the Bible. So I would read that God is a God of comfort in our afflictions. I knew there could be bad things in life, but God is still good, and so in that time, I was comforted with those verses. Once I got out of that situation (all of a sudden, someone wasn’t telling me how bad a person I was all the time over trivial things!), I started to see, ‘Okay, God did end that eventually. And even if I can’t fully understand that suffering, I can still know He loves me and He WILL come for me.’ I’ve actually felt that from God and experienced Him more the last few years- and not just through the Holy Spirit and my own walk with God, but through the people He’s put around me. CSPC was a big part of that. I found friends there. People did seek out my family and try to show some level of care in that transition period. He’s kept putting people like that in my path during college, and now with RUF at UT- I know I can trust what I hear from my campus ministers and pastors, because I can see their lives are lived out of love, walking with the Spirit, and pursuing truth. God has shown me that what I saw and was taught growing up wasn’t true love. He’s revealed that through Himself, His word, and through all the people I’ve met along the way who actually let their faith inform their lives. Having worked in ministry for a year now, I’ve experienced God more and more as the Comforter and Source of everything I’m doing- my good Father who will always lead me to what’s beautiful and best.” 

 NOTE: Gloria will share another way God is at work helping her live deeply next week. 

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