God’s been calling me for a while to work for Him, but I’ve been resisting. I have been so afraid of my past and all those horrible skeletons lurking in my closet that I just couldn’t give in and do as God was asking for fear that someone would FIND OUT the things from my past and use them in a way that would hurt my kids or me.
Right now — this very minute — He helped me understand that He has wonderful plans for me, but He can do nothing until I surrender. It comes down to trust. Do I trust God enough to believe that He wants every good thing for me and will not allow anything to touch me or my family that will bring anything but glory to Him? Yes. Yes, I do. So I give in. I surrender. I don’t care anymore what anyone thinks of me or my past. My story now belongs to the LORD and He can use it any way He chooses.
Sometimes a transaction between two people requires a show of good faith to prove the earnestness of one or both parties. My show of good faith is to right now fling open the closet doors and let the Sonlight dissolve the shadows and skeletons lurking inside. So I’d like to share my testimony with you.
I didn’t start out in a Christian home. I can’t even honestly say that I was seeking God in any way. The truth is that God was seeking me — and He found me. I was enrolled in a Christian school in fifth grade, not because my parents were of any particular faith, but because my older sisters were living troubled lives and making bad choices and my folks hoped a private school might keep me out of the same troubles in which my sisters found themselves. I met Jesus one day in chapel and He changed my life and my desires. He filled me with a passion to see my family come to know the LORD. Eventually they did.
I never went back to public school and my spiritual walk experienced the typical highs and lows through high school. I remember sitting in a chapel service in tenth grade and hearing the powerful testimony of a visiting preacher and I thought about how easy it was for him to witness and grab the attention of his audience because he had such an incredible story to tell. I kind of got sassy with God that day and said if I had some incredible story, of course I’d be a witness for Christ, but who was going to listen to some average girl from nowhere?
Let’s pause a second right here because I want to caution you, seriously. Never say something like that to God if you aren’t prepared for Him to give you one heck of a testimony. Okay, resume…
I graduated from a Christian school and I was a believer, but I wasn’t honestly living for Him or serving Him. I was doing my own thing and pursuing my own goals, but there is one thing I know looking back on my life. God never left me. He always had His protective hand over me, even at the lowest times when I was doing nothing for Him. He has always loved me.
I met my first husband, Chuck, while I was a freshman in college. We went to church together and worked across from each other in the mall. From the moment we first met we were inseparable. We knew from the very beginning that we were going to marry eventually. I have no doubt that I loved him and he loved me, but we were very young and didn’t have much experience with relationships. We thought love was enough. Everything we did was romantic. He made sure when he proposed that it was an unforgettable moment. Our wedding was a fairy tale. Even now I can’t think of it without smiling.
Not long into the marriage we realized we weren’t very well-equipped for some of the tougher stuff life started throwing at us. We were still believing in the fairy tale and didn’t know how to deal with reality. Then a few months into the marriage we learned we were expecting a baby. I was scared to death and I cried until he finally hugged me and said, “Why are you crying? We’re having a baby!” At that moment, I thought if he could be so excited about it, I could find a way, also…and we began to prepare.
Our baby was due October 22, 1990. The day came, but no baby. The next day was cold and blustery and it stormed all day long. I worried about Chuck’s commute home – he didn’t like driving in bad weather. His arrival time came and went and there was no sign of him. An hour went by and I began to worry. I called his mother to see if he had stopped to visit her on the way home, but she hadn’t heard from him. I sat by the front window — watching and waiting. Eventually, I couldn’t sit there any longer, so I called his mom and we decided to start calling around to emergency rooms.
It was a few hours later when a State trooper came to my door and told me Chuck had been killed in a car accident.
I buried my beloved on a bitterly cold day at the end of October. So many people loved and respected him that the funeral home could not contain all the people. They packed the halls, overflowed onto the patio, filled the driveway, and lined the sidewalk. It was dark and sleeting all day long and I remember thinking that even God was grieving the loss of such a wonderful man. Everyone told me how remarkably strong I was and that I was showing such grace through it all. Really, I wanted to crawl down into the grave that day. It would be a very long time before that feeling left me.
Four days later I was admitted to the hospital and labor was induced because our baby was in duress. I was still in shock and I slept through the majority of the labor. When my doctor finally told me to start pushing, I could feel Chuck’s presence. He was standing at my right shoulder and at one point I actually reached up to grab his hand…then remembered he wasn’t able to hold it any more. I can never explain the feelings that were born the same moment our daughter, Melody, was ushered into the world. I’d never seen such a beautiful creature as she…and my heart broke even more knowing we were going to have to walk through life without her daddy.
There has never been a time in my life where I was angry at God, but after losing Chuck, I was bitter and angry about being alone — and having single parenthood foisted on me, regardless of what I wanted. I truly believe God gave me Melody to keep me breathing. I can’t use the word ‘alive’ in this context, because the majority of me died the same day Chuck did. I lost sight of everything — who I was, where I was going, what I wanted to do with my life. I drifted along doing what everyone expected of me or needed of me. I was always the good, dependable girl, even in my overwhelming grief.
Before Melody turned one, God led me to move to the state in which I now reside. I left behind my in-laws to be geographically closer to my own family. It was a difficult decision to make, because Melody was all Chuck’s family had left of him — but I needed a fresh start and I was hoping the move would help bring me out of my depression. Something happened to my self-respect and self-worth during this time. They took a nose dive and I found myself not caring about who I was. My life had no direction and I didn’t care. I pursued whatever I wanted then sat in church on Sunday and pretended everything was just fine. My life was empty and I wanted God to fill it, but I didn’t know how to go about it. There, in the midst of my family, I still felt completely alone.
When Melody was two I met a man who changed everything. He seemed stable and confident. He knew what he wanted from life and was working to pursue his goals. He was practical and down-to-earth, serious, and knew how to speak the right words. He said he was a Christian, but didn’t attend church. He didn’t believe going to church made him a Christian anymore than standing in a garage made him a car.
So there I was, a young widow with a toddler — floundering around with no direction, low morals, and a negative self image. I should have just painted a target on my forehead, but hindsight is 20/20. Tony moved quickly, gaining my trust and slowly filling all of my nothing with his own beliefs and desires. It didn’t take long for him to wedge himself between my family and me. He caused constant strife, but when my dad would say something to me, Tony would say they had no respect for him because they didn’t go directly to him…and I would take his side because by then Tony was controlling everything about me..although I didn’t see it that way. I thought he was just helping me — loving me — wanting to heal me.
Nineteen years later and I’m ashamed to admit that it was a relief to have Tony step in and take charge. I wasn’t alone anymore and someone else was willing to take responsibility and run the show. All I had to do was follow and do as I was told. I wasn’t always comfortable with his decisions, or with the way he treated Melody and me, but my prevailing thought was that with Tony, I never had to be alone again.
Had I been whole, healed, and seeking God, I don’t believe I would have ever continued in the relationship with Tony. But I was empty, broken, bitter, and in no way truly looking for God’s guidance. The day I stood in church and pledged myself to Tony was the day I sold out my daughter, myself, and my God, but that wasn’t something I knew at the time. I believed I was committing to a life with a man I loved, who loved me, too. Unfortunately, love wasn’t something I understood anymore…maybe I never really had.
I’ve shared in other posts about my abusive marriage, so I don’t need to do it again. But for anyone reading who hasn’t seen those posts, I spent 16 years in a union that started out not quite right and eventually deteriorated into hell on earth. For several years before we escaped, we lived in complete isolation. Tony only allowed a certain few people to be around us, and eventually those few were cut off, as well. He took the Word of God and manipulated it to form his own religion and used it to torture his family. We lived in constant — but very real — fear for our lives. I know how it feels to have a gun held to my head and know I’m going to die. I also know how it feels to live in such hopelessness and despair that death became my only hope.
We were slated to die the day God saved us. I’ve shared that story, too. It was truly a miracle and I could see God’s hand in every moment of that day. That was the defining moment for me — the first time I truly understood the depths of God’s love for me. You see, I stayed in that union because I believed it was my duty. I had made a commitment, and I wasn’t going to walk away from it. Granted, I also believed that the failures in the relationship were all my fault and that I deserved the abuse. So as bad as things were, I believed I was supposed to stick it out because an intact family was best for the children. I never asked God to remove me from it because I thought He wanted me there. When I cried out to Him that day to save us, He immediately stepped in and ransomed seven captives. He had just been waiting for me to be ready and willing.
It’s been over two years since we escaped. I’ve spent this time getting to really know God and trust Him. He has become Abba Father…Daddy…The One who holds me up when the pain and the memories flood my mind and try to drown me. When I need to hide from the world, He’s always there reminding me I can make it. When I fall, He helps me stand up and keep walking. He’s my Protector, my Savior, my Hero, my Everything.
We haven’t walked an easy path, my children and I, since we left our abuser. We lived in hiding to stay alive, we fought to put him in prison, and that fight put our story not just into the local and national news, but it went international. My boys were taunted and bullied at school because of what their father did. We left a church we’d been attending when they became aware of who we were because they began saying negative things about us. We were the victims of a very depraved and evil man, but people, in their ignorance, blamed us. Mostly they blamed me. So out of the need for self-preservation and healing, I told God I would never discuss with anyone what I survived.
Let’s pause again for a moment. I want to seriously stress that we should never tell God how things are going to be. It doesn’t work. I think when we tell Him we won’t do something it’s a sure sign that He’s going to eventually require that of us. Okay, resume…
This brings us into the now. I’ve had the opportunity to help a few women leave abusive situations without having to really say much about my past. It’s been a blessing to see these women into safety and watch them heal. They are like beautiful flower buds slowly unfolding into a remarkable new creation. God has placed it on my heart to keep working with victims and I’ve finally surrendered. I’m ready to see what He’s going to do — and I’m actually excited to learn where He’s going to lead me and my family.
I’m glad I’ve finally opened the closets and let those skeletons turn to dust in the light of day. My past could only hold me captive for as long as I allowed it. So now you know. And you know what? I don’t care.