Friday, January 11, 2013

Just When You Thought You Had It All Figured Out...

Something strange has happened to me over the last few years. I know what it is, it's just that it's hard to explain to everyone else. How do you explain that your entire way of knowing yourself and this world has shifted? Something that I thought was so concrete - me and my beliefs - were in fact, very fluid and changeable. A few years ago, I believed in God. I thought He existed but that He was kind of impersonal. It didn't matter whether or not I was particularly good or bad, believed in Jesus or another God because He loved us all and I was always going to heaven. Actually, I thought that people who really devoted their lives to God were of the weaker variety, that they needed a crutch, something to fill in the obvious holes in their intellect and strength. In the meantime, I found myself searching for the truth. I read The Secret, How To Heal Your Life, A New Earth and anything else Oprah recommended. Sometimes, I would stumble upon some principle that would impact me for a while, like positive affirmations, but nothing lasted, I was never permanently changed or radically more peaceful. Then I realised that the problem with all of these books is that they make me god, I'm the one who controls my reality. But how can I be god, I'm imperfect, I can't rely on myself, I often get things wrong, I have nasty and mean tendencies and I have no ability to do anything supernatural like create life. I was always left wanting more. The truth was elusive but I was still searching.

Years ago, I served two years in prison. I was 24 when I was sentenced to four years for supplying drugs with two years before parole. I deserved it too. I was out of control, a drug addict who was selling party drugs in nightclubs. I was breaking the law and in fact, was a law unto myself.  It wasn't big time. I wasn't raking it in or storing away bags of money like Gina Rinehart. I was using all my profits maintaining my addiction, while I slowly moved closer and closer to death. I'd had a tough life and started taking drugs at 13 and 11 years later, I was 42kg, overdosing regularly, going into psychosis often and had no control over myself and my actions. I wanted to stop but I couldn't. I was a spiritual prisoner long before I became a physical prisoner.

From the very first day in prison, I kept a diary. It's on display right now at the Museum of Contemporary Art at Circular Quay in Sydney as part of a show called Taboo, curated by Brook Andrew. I didn't realise it at the time but the diary tells the story of me meeting God. From the moment the first cell door was locked in front of me, God was with me. Now how does someone with a rational mind explain this away? I can't. I can only tell you of the experiential things that occurred to me. Every time I was put into a cell, there was something there that was just for me - a bible, a cross, a scratching on the wall telling me that Jesus loves me. There was a knowing - that I was not alone, that it was over, that I could stop running, stop being in charge, stop trying to stop the pain. And I was comforted. All by myself, in tiny cell after tiny cell, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace, comfort and love. Somehow in the core of me I knew that it had been the action of God to put me there. That this was His way of saving me. Then Betty and Anita showed up, visiting me over and over again. Two Christian volunteers who gave of their time, life and love, listening to my pain, comforting me and introducing me the bible. They were like a light from heaven in a dark place where no one really cared at all. They told me how God was not impersonal but in fact knew me by name, knew exactly how many hairs were on my head, had collected all my tears in a bottle and had sent His son Jesus to earth as a human to live a life where He did nothing wrong only to be punished and die so that He might take my punishment for me. Within a short time, I had decided to ask Jesus to take the reins of my life as I was making a mess of it and believed that He was the way.

The problem was that I didn't turn wholeheartedly to God. I just kind of said, yep, I'll have you but only when I need you and I'll still keep doing many of the things that I want even though I know they are not right and that they lead to pain. I must admit that I was also afraid of what people would think about me, having spent so many years trying to be validated by others to be ok within myself. I didn't want to be one of those people who was weak and needed a crutch. So I kind of secretly believed in Jesus for many years but still kept searching for an answer that was easier, required nothing of me and way more cooler, like Buddhism. But none of that worked either.

So a couple of years ago, I turned back to Jesus. I started praying regularly and reading the bible everyday. I got baptised in water and over the course of the next few months, something supernatural happened. The entire way that I viewed myself and the world changed. No one told me how to see things in this new way, it came from within. I started to see from an eternal perspective. I started to see from a spiritual perspective. Destructive, habitual behaviours that had been entrenched in me for years just disappeared. Things that I had invested so much of myself into no longer held the same importance. People who I had superficial relationships with began to fall away. I was no longer the same. I remember trying to explain it to a friend who is not a Christian and she remarked 'You are being born-again'. It blew my mind. It wasn't just some catch phrase that you attribute to a set of decisions but an actual spiritual process that you go through because of a decision. It was real. God was real and He is huge. The bible is real. Jesus lived, died and was resurrected. The supernatural power of God is real. The spiritual dimension is real. God's Truth is real. This changed everything.

With that revelation, I could no longer go back to living the way I was. I was forever changed into something new and it was both amazing and terrifying. When everything you know and thought you knew no longer makes sense and this whole new world of truth, life, love and sacrifice opens up to you, it takes a little while to get a grip on it all. Becoming the thing that you ridiculed, that you thought was weak and inferior can be hard to accept. Learning that it is in fact the opposite, the hard road, that you need more strength than most to go down it, that it requires more thought than the way I was living before has been a radically life changing experience.

So here I am, a girl who thought she had it all figured out, then God comes into my life and turns it completely on it's head. How do you begin to explain this? I'm still trying to figure it out. One thing I know for sure. This is my life's journey now. I will never go back. You can't experience the sacrificial love, compassion, mercy and heart of God and remain the same. You can't receive the miracle of being set free from bondage and keep the news of that freedom to yourself. My life and my art can only reflect this as I give all that I have back in gratitude to the one who created me and loves me.

Bindi Cole, in prison, 2001.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gosh, what an incredibly open, humble, inspiring piece of writing. I really hope you stay true to yourself and that your life and art are strengthened as a result. So few people come to such an honest insight into their own lives, and can accept themselves warts and all.

- Karen Z.

anna robinson said...

Hi Bindi, I am in my final year of a photography degree at PSC and writing a research paper on the Seven Acts of Mercy inspired by the 'Light bearers' in our modern day community, people like you who open their heart and energy and share their experiences to shine a light on the path for others. Your story here has done that for me. I would love to send you a really brief question by email that will help support my paper but am struggling to find contact details. The visual component is a short 5 minute film on Clare Bowditch's Big Hearted Business conference, which inspired this whole project. Thank you, Anna Robinson :) arphotos@live.com

Rhonda said...

Congratulations Bindi! Strength to you sister! It was great to meet you with my husband Stephen in Darwin last year at rye Telstra Indifenous Arts Awards. Cheers Rhonda Hagan, First Nations Telegraph www.firstnationstelegraph.com

Adam Gowen said...

What an amazing testimony thanks for sharing! It's always encouraging to hear about how God is at work, what he's done and what he's doing. I also wanted to say that your art is inspiring, a wolf in sheeps clothing particularly captures the essence of what i know many people feel, Thanks for standing up and speaking out.

from a brother in Christ, a cousin in the mob & colleague in the arts.


-Adam Gowen.