I was a happy little blond-haired, blue-eyed child. I never gave my parents any trouble. I was hardly ever sick as an infant and toddler and didn't break any bones or many of my parent's rules. I was pretty much a parent's dream come true. While I don't remember much of my first seven or eight years on this earth, I have fleeting memories of playing in our backyard. Dandelions and sprinklers in the summer and snow forts and sledding in the winter. And of course the constant force in my life: our twice weekly visits to church--every Sunday and Wednesday.
My memories of church begin with moments of happiness while playing with other children in the front lawn after a long, Sunday morning service. Church was a funny place where the adults sang songs while lifting their hands in the air. Sometimes an adult would start speaking in a funny language and then fall over. This seemed to make the other adults very excited and the funny-talk and falling bodies would sweep over the whole auditorium. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I was old enough to leave my parent's side in the main service and join the big kids in Sunday school.
When I was around eight years old I was taught a chilling and pernicious lie: while good little boys go to heaven, bad little boys go to hell. Somehow my Sunday school teachers never gave equal time to the majesty of heaven; the limitless pain and suffering of hell was always given far more attention. In reality, my parents had taught me this dark fairy tale since I was a little child. But it wasn't until these weekly, Sunday lessons that I fully comprehended the implications. Burning lakes of fire, gnashing of teeth, sulfur and torment--forever.
Within a short period of time, my entire life was consumed with guilt. I prayed almost constantly for God to clean my dirty soul. In the afternoons after I had finished my studies I would slip off into the woods behind my house and beg for God to set me free. The sun would cast longer and longer shadows among the tall trees until it was finally time to come inside. The darkness crept in to replace the warm rays of sun. With the darkness came a heavy and unrelenting feeling of dread. The darkness reminded me of my own dark sin.
The nights were always the hardest. Without the reassuring light of the day and daytime activities to keep my mind occupied, my thoughts filled with images of torment and fire. The memories of my sins--big and small--would race through my mind in an unending stream. The weight on my chest threatened to halt any air from entering my lungs. My heart raced as adrenaline coursed through my body. Exhaustion finally took hold and pulled me under. Before long, night terrors would jolt me back into consciousness. The sweat would pour off my body as I sat up in bed, shaking all over. Unable to bear the pain any longer, I would creep from my room and slip out into the night.
And 'Know no answer,' and I know
No answer to the children's cry
Of echo's answer and the man of frost
And ghostly comets over the raised fists.
Why east wind chills
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