I was seven years old the night I sat huddled with my sisters on a 1980’s brown felt couch. My father was knelt in front of us preparing to drop the biggest bomb our family would ever endure. He was a preacher, the leader of our family, the only Dad I ever knew. He was loved, looked-up to, and cherished by his church members. In the late hours of that night as I watched my mom dissolve into tears, and heard my Dad barely able to get his words out, I knew it was bad. My sisters were crying, but none of us knew why. I only knew that I needed to protect them.
I wrapped my arms around my sisters and we held on to each other. I can still hear my mother’s voice in the background telling my father to look what he had done. This incident would forever imprint our family and lead us down a path that no family should travel.
We left our small suburban neighborhood and headed north to a city where my Mom grew up and all of her family lived. We rented a humble yellow house owned by my grandfather and my parents tried to save what was left of their shattered marriage. I remember a couple of Christian retreats that my parents attended together, but when the end drew near, it was pretty clear that a divorce was her only option. Lies, deception, and secrets riddled our family as long as he was around.
After a couple of years my parents began building their own house outside of the city limits. It was a gorgeous two story house with an open floor plan, textured tiled floors and a full walk-out basement. I had my own room for the very first time, one that was mine, mine and not rented or shared. It had a long closet, with sliding cherry wood doors, that I would sometimes put a bean bag in the back of and read in the quiet space. Some of my greatest memories were made at this house. Big parties for 11th and 12th birthdays. Laughter. Christmases where the house was so decorated you would think you visited the North Pole. Five Christmas trees would adorn the house during the Christmas season. (This is still true.)
I became a teenager in this house. A teenager that was now scarred by an absent father and a mother who was at times emotionally from the exhaustion of taking on the role of mother and father. To compensate, I sought attention from boys to fill the enormous void I had. I needed to feel loved, cherished and cared about. The ways I went about it were demeaning, vulgar and degrading.
Five years would pass in that new house before my mother finally made the decision to divorce. The summer I was 15, my parent’s divorce was final. This was the end of one hell and the beginning of another. My mom was remarried by the time I turned 16 in March of 2006. She was barely divorced for 7 months. Initially it was this Brady Bunch type situation that we all embraced, but it pretty quickly turned into the biggest nightmare any of us could imagine. There were ups and downs, screaming fights. There was an incident that would forever change extended family functions and create a rift so big that I often felt outcasted. There were incidents of violence between me and step-siblings and my sisters and step-siblings. We were a family divided. There was a constant feeling of danger.
When I went to college in the fall of 2008, I met new friends at the coffee shop where I was working. My manager had a brother who visited the coffee shop daily. As we began to talk, numbers were exchanged and a relationship began. I very quickly was staying Monday through Friday with him in his apartment and only returning to my house on the weekends. By the spring of 2009, I was fully moved in after a blow out fight between my mom and step-dad that left me wondering if I would have a home to come back to.
The relationship I was in provided a sense of stability. I was able to escape the constant feeling of anxiety and danger by living with him. As our relationship continued, we got a different apartment together, lived there for a year and got married in June of 2011. A couple of months after being married, we moved out of state. I entered a pretty low depression being far away from my family, and in an area that was difficult to make friends or find work. Demons from my childhood would haunt me and I found it VERY difficult to be my own best friend. The same coping mechanisms to find and feel love would revisit this time in my life and it would be some of the most unhappy times I’ve experienced.
After two years out of state, we moved home. After only being home a few months, I asked for a divorce. The process began in November of 2013 and was finalized two months later in January of 2014. My divorce would send me down path of uncertainty and the lowest of all lows. During this time, I was living back in my mom’s home. She and my step-dad had been separated for the better part of two years. He had his own apartment in a nearby town and she continued to live in her home.
The house her and my father had built 12 years prior was never the same. Rundown by the emotional turmoil and financial strain of two people being married with 8 children. The stained carpet was torn up and new wooden floors laid. The front door was missing its decorative glass pane and the framing around the door had chipped paint, exposing the wood that had been placed by family hands over a decade before. The landscaping was non-existent and the grass was often touching your shins. The roof had misplaced shingles. The house had broken faucets and a stove that only worked part of the time. It was not the house my mother built and I knew it.
It would be in the spring of 2014 that my mother would try to escape all of this. A night I will never forget. My sister and I returned home, after picking up Chinese food, to an empty house. It was eerily quiet, but it wouldn’t be until my youngest sister found my mom’s cell phones still at the house that we knew something was very wrong. Panicked phone calls revealed that no one knew where she was and that no one had heard from her for several hours. Hours later, my mom would be found driving in a town close by. She had taken at least 100 pills that she counted out, and several others that she didn’t.
The next year would be the worst of my entire life. I didn’t recognize my own mother. We went weeks without speaking at all. She was in and out of the hospital. My sisters and I drew on each other for strength as my mom made one last attempt to escape her horrible reality, the day before Thanksgiving of 2014. After this incident, my mom’s soon to be ex-husband would pick her up from the hospital, move back into the house and I would pack up all of my things in a matter of two days and be in my own apartment ten days before Christmas.
This was the start of my biggest downward spiral. With my own space came my own freedom. All the freedom in the world to mask the horrific pain I was in. My dad had been estranged for the better part of 14 years, and my only parent–my rock, was someone I had never met before. I began online dating, drinking more often that I ever had and making some of the poorest decisions I’ve ever made. I would have bouts of clarity where I could admit that I didn’t know who I was anymore. In these moments I would cry out to God. After suffering for the better part of two years, I knew I had hit my all time low when my sister picked me, and a group of people I had just met, up at a bar at 2:00am.
I. Was. A. Mess.
It was this low that lead me to seek counseling and jump-started my journey to self-discovery.
It would seem that the 7 year old little girl was pretty much doomed from the start. Her preacher-daddy destroyed a family bond with the demons of his own that he never overcame. The 14 year old little girl began seeking love and affection from men because she didn’t have a father to give it to her. The 21 year old adult was marrying out of pure stabilization instead of true, christian love. The 25 year old adult was resorting to childhood coping mechanisms just to mask the pain.
Here’s the thing.
I am NOT doomed, nor was I ever. I am a child of GOD! A child of the Most High. A child of a King. A child of the Master of the Universe. I am a child of the ultimate Healer, the All Mighty Comforter, the Miracle Worker. A child of the Holy Deliverer. A child to the one who knew my name before I was formed in my mother’s womb. A child to a God who sent his only son to die so that I may live.
I am surrounded by the arms of a father, by songs of deliverance!! I’ve been liberated from my bondage!! I am the DAUGHTER of a KING! I will sing my song of freedom!
I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.
God gives us all a story,
So we can give him
All the GLORY!
What I’ve heard God say this morning is “It’s Time”. It’s time that my story, my pain, my experiences give him the glory. He gave me this story, so that I can give him ALL the GLORY! When all things seemed lost, I clung to a God I knew would never fail me. I don’t remember asking why, but I do remember begging God to make it end. Just to make it all go away. I never want to revisit the places I’ve been, but I can tell you standing on the other side that God did works in me that He wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
This morning, I am four months into my 26th year. This is my year of freedom. I feel happy for the first time maybe in my entire life. The kind of happy where you catch yourself enjoying a moment so much that you don’t want it to end. The kind of happy where you feel like the puzzle has been coming together and you are the last piece that completed it. This is the kind of happy that only comes from a God who is the giver of all things, and the lover of his children. This is the year that I will give God all the glory for loving me, giving me grace, protecting me, hearing the desires of my heart and guiding me through my story.
This is my story.