I must admit that I am a horrible singer but despite that fact, when Kelly Clarkson’s song “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” comes on I am singing at the top of my lungs and feeling the emotions. You see, life hasn’t always been easy, but through it all God has always been faithfully by my side.
My first memories as a child was peering through the slats of my crib and seeing my dad screaming at my mom. I was probably two years old and I was screaming back at the top of my lungs trying to protect my mom. My dad was a physically abusive man who beat my mom and harmed me. Worst of all was the emotional abuse and fear that lived inside me. My mom needed to get out of the situation but couldn’t by herself. She met a man at her job named Jay who fought to get us out of my dad’s grip and though there was shooting involved we got free. What mom and I didn’t know was that Jay, who she fell in love with, was a full-on alcoholic. Mom married Jay and we moved from Ohio to Florida when I was 5. But things still weren’t so wonderful. You see Jay drank so badly that he couldn’t seem to keep a job. So we lived in a poverty stricken area in south Orlando and again I was exposed to constant screaming in the house. The saving grace was that my mom was a Christian, and though we didn’t attend church regularly, she had exposed me to church. And my grandfather on my mom’s side was a pastor. So as young as I can remember I knew God was always with me. My dads, biological and step, weren’t the version of the father that you would hope for, but I knew in my heart that God was my father. He was always there when things at home were hard. Living in that rough area of town, I always looked forward to Sundays because that is when a Sunday school bus would travel down my street and pick me up for church. I loved going to church and Sunday school. I asked Jesus into my heart at this sweet church in Taft, Florida during vacation bible school. I even won an award at that church for the highest Sunday school attendance.
During my childhood we were very poor, which can happen easily when your step-dad spends most of the time on the couch drunk and your mom, who only has a year of college, works as a bookkeeper to try to pay the bills. Our electric would get shut off and a church would bring us food, because we didn’t have any. We moved so much that I ended up going to 12 different schools, which as you might imagine, was no fun. I was constantly having to start over and make new friends. But I knew that God was with me and I always seemed to find a church to attend.
We ended up moving to Myrtle Beach, SC when I was about eleven and we sat down roots there. But home life did not get any better. Though my mom was my best friend, and I had a much younger brother and sister that I loved dearly, living in the same house with my step-dad was so difficult. Having a drunk step-father was very difficult. He had a Jekyll-Hyde personality. When he was sober he was mean and nasty and when he drank he was playful and funny. In addition to the pain at home a new dynamic was added in Myrtle Beach, as it was a wealthy town, and we were not wealthy. Making friends at this new school was horribly difficult. I didn’t have money to wear Izod shirts and Calvin Klein jeans like everyone else. This just added to the pain of life. As a teen I met a neighbor boy who was a Christian and who I started spending lots of time with. And guess what?? He loved me. Like really loved me! No other man had ever really shown me love, but he did. His older brother would drive us forty five minutes each way to a Baptist church and we would be there Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. In the midst of the pain at home and at school, I felt God’s presence always with me. And now looking back I think he brought that boy into my life to let me feel true love from a Christian man.
I dreamed of getting out of the house and marrying my boyfriend. That goal fueled all my decisions. I ended up graduating a year early from high school and sped through college in 3 ½ years, while working a full-time job. After graduating college my family ended up moving back to Florida and things weren’t working out with my high school sweetheart. So with a broken heart I left South Carolina and headed to Florida to put my degree to work by finding a professional job.
Back in Florida, I sat down roots once again. I found a job that I loved, my own apartment and a great church that I got plugged into. I really started seeking God and told him to use me however he saw fit. In June of 1991 He put on my heart that I needed to move to Dallas, TX. This was hard for me to comprehend, as my life was going great in Orlando and I had absolutely no desire to go to Texas! I told God if he wanted that to happen He would need to make it happen.. And a week or so later, to my absolute surprise and amazement my boss at work walked into my office with a paper in his hand and said “I just got a fax saying there is a position with your qualifications open with our company Dallas. You wouldn’t have any interest in that. Would you?” My mouth hit the floor. No, I didn’t want to go to Dallas! No part of me wanted to leave what I had going on. But it was evident that God had other plans for me. I flew to Dallas for an interview and prayed all the way back home that I wouldn’t get the job. But of course I did! I moved to Dallas and found a great church. I was of the marrying age but hoped and prayed the whole time I was there that I wouldn’t fall in love with a Texan and have to live apart from my family back in Florida. Well God moved again, and the position that I moved there for was done away with and my company in Orlando offered me a promotion to come back to them.
Once back in Orlando things had changed and instead of going back to my old church I decided to go to a new one. I got very involved there and finally felt I had a group of friends who loved and accepted me. I also met a guy at church who had lived a very wild life but was now walking with God and was on fire to serve Him. I fell in love with him and we got married. The first weeks of married life turned out to be very hard, and was a foretelling of what the next 12 years would be like. You see this man I married had a horrible childhood, had been badly abused and before coming to Christ had abused drugs and alcohol. Come to find out he thought a wife, if she did everything he wanted, how he wanted it, would finally make him happy in life and heal his wounds. He provided well for me, though I was unable to jump through all the hoops to make him happy. We had two precious children together whom he looked to for his healing and happiness. We went to church together and went to counseling in an attempt to repair our marriage. But I still couldn’t fill the hole in my husband’s heart that was empty, and he often reminded me of that. Deep inside he had a good heart, but he needed healing, and I couldn’t be his healer and he didn’t seem to be able to walk through the healing process himself. About 10 years into our marriage he went back to his old ways of drinking and he decided he didn’t want to be married anymore so we decided to separate and eventually divorced.
As I was going through hard times with my husband, my precious mother, who was my best friend, was being ravaged by cancer. It was horrific to watch her fade away. I clung to God through the journey, at the same time screaming at Him as to why. She went to be with Jesus on a June morning in 2005 and that same morning I was awakened to the song “I Can Only Imagine”, which is a song about being in heaven. Once again, God was assuring me that he was there for me.
My mom suffering and dying from cancer and my divorce. But I was marching on with God by my side raising two children as a single mother. However, there were several more twists and turns during the next 5 years including my 33 year old brother dying from a drug overdose. He was living with my stepdad, Jay, who was on a drinking binge and it took my stepdad two days to figure out my brother hadn’t come out of his room because he was dead. I also developed a close relationship with a Christian man who had five children, only for that to end in more heartache with him passing away at the age of 42 with a blood clot.
But God helped me pick myself up again. Because all the loss in life was hard to understand, to make some sense of it I sought counseling. Why did I have to go through all these losses? Why would God allow this path for me? The wise counselor said something that would put things into perspective. He said “Now you can relate to people in all types of situations. You know what it is like to suffer with someone who had a terminal illness, you know how to comfort someone who loses someone tragically, and you know how to relate to those who have had the heartache of divorce.” He was so right! What didn’t kill me had been making me stronger!
At the end of 2011 I met an amazing man, who I immediately knew was the one. I married him in June 2012. He shows me Jesus’ love every day and loves me like I never knew that I could be loved. In my wedding vows I knew that I had to acknowledge not just the good that I was experiencing but also the hard times that I had been through because that is what got me to where I was. The end of my vows said “I thank God for the hard journey that I’ve been through because it brought me to you. It was all worth it because now I have you.”
Not only did I get through the hard things, but I am now stronger from God helping me get through them. This reminds me of the verses in Romans 5 that say: “but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”