I am 23 years old with a very busy life. Currently, I am pursuing a double major in Secondary Education and English at Marshall University. I attend Fellowship Baptist Church and participate in their inner-city Baltimore mission ministry, work with the youth group, co-lead a high school girls small group, disciple a few young ladies outside of church time, and am helping raise my two nieces. Sometimes, I find time to sleep. Life is busy, but God is good and full of grace. Always. I find so much joy in each of these amazing opportunities and most certainly see the Lord has brought me to where I am for a purpose. Though I work (and stumble) to pursue Christ as the focus of my life now, I did not always seek Him as my refuge.
I grew up in a home with my mother, father, and little sister. Although my family was always financially stable and well known in our small town, others knew nothing of what took place behind the walls of the yellow, brick home. The earliest memory I have of the chaos in my home takes place when I was between two and three – I know this because my mother was pregnant with my younger sister. I recall the vivid images of my father beating my mother when she was pregnant. Once my sister was born, the physical abuse to my mother ceased until we grew older.
As I grew older, I began to see and understand more of the abuse in the house I had grown up in: mental and physical abuse. My father was a foreman electrician who always put the best of his time and effort into work and held his pride as close to him as he did his hardhat. Though his job allowed us to be financially stable and we never did without, my father had no emotional connection and was not the affectionate father I desperately craved. My father’s morning “lectures” before he left for work every day began to make more sense to me as he would label my mother and me with hurtful names and verbally express every flaw that we had…and even ones that we didn’t. We would just sit there and listen; that was our only option.
It was during these “lectures” that my father started to bring attention to the fact that I would “be a knock out if I would lose 20 pounds. This was the start to the struggle of my self-worth and the destruction of what remained of it. When the tears no longer came and the morning “lectures” became custom to us, my father became physically abusive again. Though my relationship with my father was pretty much nonexistent, my mother and I had a bond made of steel, and we always found comfort in one another in situations with my father. I remember taking up for my mother one day and begging my father to stop pushing her as they quarreled at the top of our staircase. As a result, my father pushed me down that flight of stairs – my body breaking several rails on the banister on my way down. A few scars still linger.
Though life at home was chaotic, I stayed the weekends with my Aunt Kay who always made the time to take me to the very small country church down the road. When I was around 10, my mother, sister and I started going to a church that I remember very well. Mom even taught Sunday school after a while. It was at this church that I accepted Christ at the annual revival the same night as my little sister; I was 11 years old. I vividly remember the excitement I felt, calling Kay and telling her the good news, and hearing her cheerful giggles of pure joy. I also recall reading Psalms daily as I had a new, sincere longing to read the Word. It truly was a happy time of life. I loved the exciting feeling of the Holy Spirit within me. I was young, but I felt it. I felt Him. The following Sunday, my sister and I were baptized. That day became one that I would always look back on. After listening to much whining and begging, my father agreed to come watch us get baptized that Sunday. The feeling of anxious anticipation for him to go with us quickly transitioned into feelings of regret that day. I don’t remember what the issue was, but I do remember my father making a scene after the baptism and we left. Still soaking wet, I couldn’t see the tears, but I could feel them. A day that should have been a joyous, savored memory became just another painful memory that served as a perfect addition to a very long list.
When I was 12, a school friend invited me to her church for revival. After that visit, I began attending church with her regularly. I would ride the church van every single time the church doors were open, but I always returned to the same broken home. My friends at youth group all came from families that also attended the church and never would have understood anything I could have told them about my home life. Home life was separate…from everything. I enjoyed church, but always felt like damaged goods. I knew I was saved, but never felt good enough because of what I came from. How could God ever use someone who came from such a dysfunctional source? Would people still accept me if they knew what went on behind the French doors of that yellow, brick home? I still held onto the hope I was being taught at church. I knew that God had a bigger plan and the Holy Spirit was always the small reminder of hope that I needed to make it through many long days. Though He was a reminder, I only responded when I wanted to. What little bit of a relationship I had with Christ hinged on my daily decisions and desires.
When I was 16, my mother confided in me that she could no longer take the mental and physical abuse from my father, and she pursued what instantly became a turbulent divorce. My younger sister and I chose to live with my mother, and that only made the biological connection I had to my father worse. Not only did my father refuse to fully claim me, he blamed me for their divorce. After the divorce, I picked up a part time job in case we would ever need the extra money. My mother always worked hard and long enough at her job, and even went to school, so that we would never have to rely on my small income.
During and after the divorce, my life became even more self-destructive. Though my mother and I were still close, she had to work endless hours to provide and wasn’t able to be a part of a lot taking place in my life at the time. She gave me endless trust that I abused to the max. Sometime around 15, I began playing scenarios of suicide through my mind. For a while, these thoughts seemed like the answer. I felt that I was the problem. Was the divorce my fault? You name a scenario; it probably crossed my mind multiple times. It seemed to be the solution to a lifetime of feeling abused, worthless, unattractive, and constant failure. Through this time, God was still present, even when I didn’t want Him to be, and luckily I never acted on any of the scenarios I had thought and planned.
Early in my teenage years, I started making decisions that did not reflect a young lady claiming to be a Christian. I began living my own secret life. I fell into the temptation of pornography and what would become a rapid downhill battle – a losing battle for far too long. Pornography was by far the hardest struggle that I would have to overcome. It was the one struggle that had lasted for so long and it totally engulfed me. I was a girl. I was addicted to porn. I was dirty. All because an inappropriate picture popped up when I was doing my homework in middle school. That one pop-up changed so much. As I got older in my teen years, the addiction of pornography became worse and started reflecting on how I viewed relationships; making them seem solely sexual.
At 17, I started experiencing my tolerance with alcohol. Drinking gave me control over something that I didn’t have to forfeit or answer for: control over myself. At the time, it didn’t seem like a “horrible” thing that I would have consequences for, and drinking became a temptation I gave into more often than not. I enjoyed the numb feeling that seemed to take all the chaos away from my life, but reality would always sit back in the next day.
When I was allowing these struggles to surround and take me over, I still attended church, youth group, church camps and acted like I had my story straight. I acted like the picture-perfect Christian young lady, even though I was as far from this as I could imagine. I knew what a relationship with Christ was supposed to be for the most part, but didn’t wholeheartedly commit to trusting Christ with all of my battles. I would get close to Him in high points of life like church camps, retreats, and sometimes would even get super emotional during worship. I’d even forfeit pornography and alcohol for a few weeks. These high times never lasted long.
I always wanted the acceptance of a guy and wanted to be the center of their attention, but was always the girl without a boyfriend and always felt discontent and flawed because of this. Singleness was always an internal battle that I also rarely exposed. When I was 18, a guy asked me to “hang out” for the first time. His plan of a fun evening was asking me to come to his apartment to watch a scary movie, and that is what happened the first time we hung out. Naïve me went, not knowing the dangers that could have taken place – or knowing them and simply ignoring them. Our scary movie hangouts continued for a short while. One night when I went over, I knew something wasn’t right. He was acting strange and much more touchy than normal – not allowing me to leave in any easy way. Quickly, I realized he was high from some form of drugs and that I was not going to be in control of my own decisions for very long. I knew I had to get out immediately.
When I finally found the opportunity, I left the apartment. As I drove home, I trembled with tears and thanked God that I was safe and that I got out before being forced to do anything that I did not want. Praise the Lord for his shield of mercy and protection that night! As I drove home, I prayed out loud the entire way. As I sobbed inaudible words, my life changed. I knew this was it. I knew that God was drawing me out of the temptations that Satan was pulling me into on a daily basis. I started to pray that God would bring me back to His safety net of acceptance, and also that God would allow me to trust Him with my life. My whole life.
What amazes me looking back now is that I knew my temptations and battles stemmed from Satan and I ALWAYS felt the Holy Spirit pulling me at the same time. Temptation always won until that night as my eyes began to open to Christ’s constant fighting for my love and attention. I wanted what I had always been taught in church; I wanted to be the lady after God’s heart first and foremost. Jackie Kendall’s books about being a Godly young woman became a comfort that taught me so much about being this Christ-like lady I sincerely desired and prayed to be. I longed to be close to Him. I began seeking God’s will and knew that I needed to find a place that I could be spiritually fed as I was getting ready to enter college and would be surrounded by more temptations than I had before.
In the summer of 2012 (age 18), a friend from church camp invited me to a nearby church for a Thursday night college Bible study called the Shelter. I went and knew immediately that God had me where I was meant to be. This discipleship-based bible study at Fellowship Baptist church (my current church) changed my life. I was introduced to church members who took me in and treated me as if I had attended the church my entire life: a serious surrounding of love and acceptance. The sibling-like friends I have now are the very friends I grew close to in Shelter.
The couple, Joey and Christi Stevens, who led Shelter were the first true example I had witnessed up-close of a Godly marriage. I had heard Christi’s testimony of her singleness before marriage and her true faith in God’s goodness and was so encouraged by her example. I knew that I wanted to be like Christi, even if it meant to wait a little longer for a lifelong companion. I admired Joey’s example in his love for Christi as Christ’s love for the church.
Since that commitment with Christ, He has revealed much of Himself to me, allowing me to know Him and His intentions for my life. Praise the Lord for the friends and Godly examples that entered my life at 18! I am now 23, and the struggles that consumed me as a teenager are still temptations, but Christ has covered me with His grace and strength to withstand those temptations – which is no easy feat and a daily battle against the enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy all that brings honor to the Kingdom of God.
There are also new battles that Satan tries his best to deceive me into. I still struggle with singleness as most of my friends are engaged, married, and even starting families of their own. I withdrew from college after two years of not pursuing my future with my full attention. Through singleness and a failed attempt at college, Satan still throws the comparison curveball that sometimes hits me square in the face. I have to pray daily and remind myself that I am now first and foremost Christ’s and that He is pursuing me and my life through His will; not my own. Through Christ’s strength, I want to please Him in my daily actions with the morals that a true Godly woman should have.
Through my parents’ divorce, I now have few family connections and relationships, even after searching for reconciliation and openly giving forgiveness. Though this is sometimes a struggle of loneliness and comparison, I know that the brothers and sisters in Christ that He has placed in my life are the true friends and “siblings” that I will eternally have in His Kingdom. Not having a connection with my father has been one of the most difficult struggles I still deal with, but I know that Christ is my heavenly Father who has always pursued a loving relationship with me. How thankful I am to have this connection with Him!
One of the most important things that Christ has revealed to me is that family is indeed completely based on blood type and genetics. This is true, but only through Christ’s blood and genetics. Brothers and sisters through Christ’s blood are the relationships that last, encourage, inspire, hold accountable, forgive, and display love like Christ. Christ has blessed me with an overly abundant “family” of fellow believers in my church, my friends, and younger children who I now have the opportunity to pour into and disciple. I also know now that though I come from a dysfunctional family, Christ has used that all along to shape me and bring me to the place I am at now. I realize now the example my family set for me is not the example I have to go by, but it is the example to avoid. I choose to look at this as a blessing. I am thankful for the knowledge that Christ MUST be the center of my life, relationships, thoughts, temptations, battles, actions, and all that I do. I can’t do anything without Him. Most of all, I’m thankful that I am a child of God. Satan looks at sin to define me, but Christ defines me through His blood, His affection, and His constant pursuit of me. I am a daughter to the King, and that is who I am!