I grew up in a very pious Catholic family. My parents were very religious but exceedingly strict. My dad was the sort of person who would take a bamboo stick to you if you violated the rules, or were disobedient or disrespectful. One day, when I was eight years old, he came home from work and said, "You come here and you kneel down." He got the maid to pour raw mung beans on the pavement out in the sun. Raw mung beans feel like sharp pebbles. He said, "Kneel on those beans". Then he went in and he grabbed his Florsheim shoes with wooden shoe trees inside them. Then he said, "Now you hold these shoes and hold them like you're crucified while you're kneeling on the beans. If you lower those shoes, you are going to get whipped." As soon as my arms went down, out came his bamboo cane and he whacked me.
If I had to imagine God as a Father, then the only picture I had of "father" was my dad, and if God was like my father, then it meant that He would hurt me to teach me a lesson. It meant that He would hurt me to discipline me and shape my character. It meant that He could not be trusted, and it meant that I was not safe with Him. If God was like my father, I would forever live in fear.
The change in the way I viewed God as a Father took place over decades, it took a really long time. It took me jumping into the New Age where I realised, as Shirley MacLaine said, "Striding up Malibu beach, I am god." I got into the New Age largely because I thought if I'm in the New Age I have access to resources and power, which I don't have to get from God. Which means I don't have to please anybody outside myself. I can just lay hold of it. I didn't realise that there was a side to the New Age which I had not seen. And that side revealed itself as quite evil.
Getting out of that then became my number one priority. I needed to get out of the New Age and I didn't know if God would have me back. At the same time, I was wondering, "Does my life have any purpose? Is there any reason for me being here? Or if I killed myself today, would anybody notice and would anybody care? Would I even leave a gap in the world?" So when it came to getting to know God, it actually took many different incremental steps over maybe two decades. Finally, I experienced the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola.
The spiritual exercises involve you getting into the Bible stories, really immersing yourself through creative visualization. I was able to interact with Jesus in the stories. I was able to talk to Him. Through a year and a half of doing this, I learned to trust this man called Jesus Christ. I grew to love Him so much. Then I began to think, "If He is love and He claims to be exactly like the Father, then the Father is exactly like Him. He represents the heart of the Father, then maybe everything that I believed about the Father was wrong." I can only really understand the Father's heart through Jesus.
One day, I was praying and it was like I sensed the presence of Jesus in the room. As He came to me, He said, "Cori, take my hand. There's somebody I want you to meet." So I put my hand in His, and He walked me into the throne room of God. God the Father stood up from His throne and He rushed towards me, and He swept me up in His arms and hugged me and said, "I've waited a long time for this." I just dissolved in tears because, for the first time in my life, I felt like I had a place at the table. I felt like I counted for something. I felt like I was seen, that He didn't just see me as something to punish or shape or discipline or mold but someone to love.
He poured His love and His vision and His care and His excellence and His craftsmanship into creating me. Into creating you. Therefore, the only one who can really tell me who I am, is my Creator. So then I said, "Who am I? Who am I to you?" and I found those answers in the Bible: "You are the apple of my eye. You are the one that I truly love."
I don't take that for granted. That's something so special. It means that He washed me clean, He made me right, and then He hid me in the Father's heart. The peace that I have today, comes purely from that. Knowing that no matter how volatile, angry, skeptical, disappointed or upset I am, He's always going to look at me with soft eyes. He's always going to say, "It's okay. I still love you. You're still mine. I'm never going to let go of you. You might let go of my hand, but I'm never going to let go of yours."