A Personal Testimony

“Story…I could have had a really different Story…”

All my life I’ve been told I belong at the end of the line with all the other not-quites…all the never it rights, but it turns out they’re the ones you were looking for all this time.

— Nobody, by Casting Crowns .

I was never supposed to amount to anything. That’s what society said. That’s what culture said. That’s what every sociological study indicated… the cards were stacked against me. Fortunately, God is bigger than society, culture or sociological influence.

Nobody, by Casting Crowns – https://youtu.be/1yBzIt_z8oY

I want to utilize this first blog post to introduce myself to all of you; to help you understand who I am and what has brought me to the place where I was called to write. I hope that the things I share are helpful to all of you. I hope you are drawn closer to the Lord. My heart is that you see with new, fresh eyes.

I was born to a teenage mother. My mom graduated high school pregnant with me- she married my father shortly after discovering she was pregnant and graduated high school with a new last name and baby on board. I was born a month after her 18th birthday. Next came two more babies, rapid fire, C2 was born 11 months after my birthday and C3 was born just 15 months after that. I cannot even imagine how stressful it must have been to be that young with three kids so small- for her or for my dad. He tried hard to provide and care for us, starting work at a local factory. He still works there today, over 30 years later.

My parents divorced when I was 5. I don’t even remember a time when they were together. My dad settled into his life, working at the factory. He eventually met my stepmom, and they were together all through my childhood and teen years. My mom got primary custody of us, and remarried- my first stepdad. From this marriage, my next sister, C4, was born. She was the tiniest little thing. I was old enough to understand that she was born too early, although I didn’t understand the word “premature.” I did know that she was little, fragile, and she needed to be protected.

There we were, this little ragtag bunch of C’s. My memories of the domestic violence began around this time. I also think that this may have been when the alcohol and drug use started, but I am honestly not entirely sure. I was so young, I just know that there was a lot of screaming, a lot of things breaking, and my mom crying a lot. I often felt scared, wondering why nobody was coming to help. I remember thinking, “Why doesn’t Papa (my grandpa) come make it stop?” but that never happened. It escalated, and at just 6-7 years old, I was on constant alert. When it got bad, I would herd everyone into the bedroom and lock the door. I learned to read at a very young age, and I would read to the little Cs, trying to keep them distracted from the violence and mayhem happening just outside the door.

I was always worried about my mom. I was afraid that she was going to get hurt, that something really awful was going to happen to her, but over time, I discovered that I had to protect the other children. They were little and they needed someone to look out for them. My first vivid memory is of an incident when I couldn’t have been older than 7, when my stepdad chased our car with a baseball bat. When he caught up to us, my mom was inside a gas station calling for help. He started hitting the car with the bat, so I pulled C2 and C3 into the floorboard. Then he started hitting the back windshield. I threw my little 7 year old body across my premature sister’s car seat just before it shattered. I reached down and pushed my brother and sister’s head low, trying to cover them with my arms while covering the baby with my own body. My mom and stepdad had completely forgotten that we were in the car, I think. They just kept fighting outside.

My identity was shaped from a young age. I was created to be a protector, to keep those who can’t keep themselves safe and give voice to those who cannot speak for themselves.

This trend continued all through my childhood. That relationship ended, but another one took it’s place. With each change of relationship came more heartbreak and trauma for her and more dysfunction and trauma for us. The violence increased and was often directed at us. I did all that I could to shelter the other children from the storm. When we moved locations and didn’t have bedroom doors with locks, I would shut the three little ones in the bedroom and stand guard outside of the door, trying to keep the storm from bursting through and touching them. That cost me dearly. I encountered a significant amount of violence myself because I did things like this.

The addiction issues increased over time as well. The first time I remember being alone, without an adult, for a prolonged period of time I was 11. I did the best that I could to take care of the kids and the house while she was gone, but we hit a point where I was digging in the couch cushions and hoping someone would drop a quarter at school so that we could get the food that we needed at home. DCFS and law enforcement were in and out of our home frequently, but we had learned that to say anything meant that we would be split up. I was constantly reminded that us older three may go to my dad (whom we still spent time with and visited with, but didn’t know the extent of the situation and had little power to address it due to the custodial situation) but the youngest, C4, would not. I knew that this sweet little girl needed me, and I could not abandon her- not even to protect myself. I said nothing. I lied, and I just did the best that I could within the circumstances.

My next sister, Baby D, was born when I was 14 years old. My mom had relocated to another community near us, and I had made the choice to continue living with my dad so that I wouldn’t have to leave my high school. I was active in athletics and it was important to me to stay with my team. It was probably half way through the school year before my mom was saying that she needed me. Her health had declined dramatically and she had an infant to care for. I made arrangements with my school, and I moved away to help my mother with the baby. Because of the circumstances, I was not actually attending school. I was taking classes via correspondence. My school was sending all of my work for the week to the local school, where I picked it up. I returned it by Thursday. This allowed me to stay at home with the baby and take care of the children while mom was not able. I was a sophomore in High School.

Shortly before moving to be with my mom, I had an experience that changed my life forever. I had gone through a bad breakup and was struggling with depression when a friend began to invite me to her church. She invited me to the youth group and all of their activities, over and over and over again. I said “no” so many times, until finally I said, “Yes.” I attended a Christian concert with her- a local band was performing and some of the members were from her youth group. I was in a dark place, and I figured that if I just went once she’d probably stop asking. I obviously hadn’t gotten to know her very well yet!

When I got there, everyone was so nice. Nobody saw me as the girl from the other side of the tracks, the drug addict’s daughter or as “trouble.” Nobody saw my mess. The people around me treated me like I was wonderful, and valuable. They were so happy that I was there with them. I remember looking around that group of people and thinking, “This is what love is supposed to look like. I want this. This is what I want my life to be like.”

I said “Yes” to Jesus that night. My friend…the persistent one…she made sure that I didn’t leave until I had heard the gospel. (Which I did. In the back of a minivan at 2:00 AM)

I didn’t really fully understand what I was saying “Yes” to. I knew that I was a sinner; that was a no-brainer. I knew I was lost. I knew I needed saving. I could see that I had spent my entire life trying to save other people, and I hadn’t ever given anyone an opportunity to save me. When she told me about Jesus, this wasn’t new. I had been in and out of church events my whole life-lots of church folks reach out to the poor kids- but I had never really understood what it all meant. Yes, I believed in Jesus…so what? Yes, I knew he died on the cross, and he rose again….but what did any of that have to do with me?

Suddenly, this one night, full of these loving people who embraced me for who I was, who didn’t condemn me or pass judgment on me, made it relevant. It did matter to me…because this was what Jesus gave people. I didn’t “get saved” because I wanted to avoid Hell. I wasn’t even thinking about Hell when I said “Yes.” I was thinking about love, acceptance and being truly seen for me and not for someone else’s choices, not as a product of my environment and not as trash. I was thinking about being adopted as a daughter of the King…me. This cast off. This not-quite. This barely-getting by, constantly striving, pasting on the smile and thinking of everyone else all the time young woman was a daughter of the King. That was baffling, and I wanted it. I wanted a family like THIS.

So I said “yes” to Jesus, and I became a part of that little youth group. Many of those young people are still integral parts of my tribe today. That young, persistent lady is now in ministry at a church, and she is on my volunteer team at the pregnancy center. The lead singer of the band is one of the people I trust most in leadership. When I am struggling to lead well, I can always count on him for wise counsel. That church is still my church and the pastor there is still my pastor. The couple who led the youth group are still my mentors, but they are also peers and friends. They became my family in a way that can only happen through Holy Adoption.

When I ended up moving in with my mom, I had my church family in my corner. I thank God for that all the time. They drove 1 hour round trip to make sure that I made it to both Youth Group and Sunday Service every week. That was an incredibly difficult season. I was caring for these little ones essentially on my own. C2 and C3 were preteens, C4 was in elementary school and Baby D was so little. The people in Mom’s community did not know us, so most assumed I was a teen mom and she was mine. Even when Mom’s health improved, the circumstances did not. The drugs in the home were stifling, it was difficult to navigate and function. There was constant pressure to become a part of that lifestyle, but by the grace of God, I refrained. I had already experienced sexual assault in these drug riddled situations, so my anxieties were high and I was firing on all cylinders.

One night, my mom was at work. Her boyfriend, who was only 6-7 years older than me, was at the house. He was high on who knows what and causing all sorts of chaos. He started slamming things, putting holes in the walls and the kids were all scared. I’d had enough, so I told him that if he was going to act like that he needed to leave. He laughed at me, then he shoved me into the wall. This wasn’t new; I was used to violence, but I asked him to come outside and talk to me since he was scaring the kids and he did. Once outside, I told him again that he needed to leave, stating this time that he was to “never touch me like that again.” I will never forget his response. He looked me up and down, like a sexual object to be used as he pleased, his eyes lingering on my hips and my chest, before responding, “I will touch you ANY TIME and ANY PLACE that I want to.” I was shocked. I remember stumbling over some version of “leave now before I call the cops” and he walked off, laughing. I was 15.

I moved out of my mother’s home for good that day. I called one of my church friends. I told him what happened, and bless his heart, he did not hesitate. He did not stutter. He never once made me feel like I could possibly be making the wrong choice. He never made me feel selfish or like I was abandoning my siblings- a guilt that has haunted me my entire adult life. He said, “That’s it. This has gone on long enough. Get the important things together, I will be there in an hour.” And he was. He picked me up that night and not only did he deliver me safely to my dad’s home, he stayed to help explain to my dad what had happened. His support may well have saved my life, changing the entire trajectory of it forever.

I never lived with my mom again after that. It was not only her choices that impacted my siblings and I, but also the choices of those around her that created the storm that was our upbringing. All of my adult siblings have struggled in some way with drugs. I am so thankful that God has protected me from that. My life has been, and continues to be, a giant, grace-filled journey back to the one who has never left me, never abandoned me and loved me when I was unlovable- because there have been seasons of my life where my own choices led me down paths I’m not proud of. I sometimes sit and reflect, and I am reminded of what my story could have been. My life has gone a much different direction because of Jesus. Because I said “yes” to Jesus, I gained more family, more love, more grace and such freedom.

I am no longer trash. I never really was. I am, and always have been, a daughter of the King. I just had to realize that.

My mother has her own story, and it is not my story to tell. I want to do my very best to honor her as I’m sharing my own story with all of you, but it is important for me to share that she has experienced trauma of her own. Her journey has not been an easy one, and hurting people hurt people. She began the process of pursuing health and healing in Christ almost 5 years ago, but anyone who has walked with an addict pursuing health and healing can tell you that the journey is a roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and downs, twists and turns. She takes 3 steps forward and then 2 steps back…but then 3 forward again. Progress is progress, healing is healing and it’s often not as neatly packaged and wrapped in a bow as we would like it to be. I ask you all to extend grace to her. Please remember that she is a daughter of the King, beloved by the Creator of Heaven and Earth. She too, was perfectly knit together in her mother’s womb. God has a design for her life, and even when she is outside of that, He is always reaching, always seeking, and always pursuing her broken heart. Love her, in her brokenness, the same way that Christ loves you in yours.

There is so much more to share with all of you about my adult life, but this is titled “my first testimony” for a reason. The truth is that Jesus set me free- free from a life that culture assumed I was doomed to. So many people thought that my life was set to just be a repeat of these same cycles, and I completely understand why they thought that..all the evidence points to that. But God. BUT GOD. He is SO much bigger than your circumstance. He’s bigger than your obstacle, your roadblock, your diagnosis. He didn’t just come to earth to save you from Hell.

Salvation is just the tip of the iceberg.

No Matter What, by Ryan Stevenson https://youtu.be/CPeY_RK7akk

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