What I once was.

I Am a Survivor

       What is a survivor? Most of us have our own definition of what this word may mean to us. It may even have several meanings to many of us. Surviving is a term we have all used at one time or another to describe something that happened, something we experienced, something we have seen, or details that happened to someone else. Being a survivor has a very passionate meaning to me; this is one word that has penetrated the meaning of who I am as a person, who it has made me become, and the person I hope to be in the future. Overcoming many of the events in my life, including decisions I made, and the hurts of my past have enabled me to overcome anything that life has thrown at me and is what makes me a survivor.

Some of the decisions we or others have made in the past can also make us survivors. Bad decisions can leave an aftermath effect on people’s lives, allowing the chance to “learn from ones mistake’s,” giving the understanding that an individual is in a state of mind to comprehend what he/she or someone else may have done. Decisions that he/she make are some of the hardest surviving experiences to ever have to work through. Knowing that something done by a loved one is a direct reason you are in the situation you may be in can be just as damaging. Having a father or mother neglect or abuse you as a child can seem to take forever to survive; answering, “Why did this happen to me?”and wanting to understand the “purpose of the whole thing” will for some people take a lifetime to get over, and yet some people never survive what happens to them or accept it and move on. Surviving means understanding that hurts and disappointments from loved ones do not define who you are as an individual, not labeling yourself as a damaged individual, but knowing that overcoming is what defines you as a person. A survivor learns that control is something you have and not something someone else has over you, which is something no one can take from you.

Ultimately, surviving for many of us is an attitude. A thing we do, an action of doing, it is not passive in nature but consciously a movement we make. It is a decision we make to overcome. It is a decision we make to achieve. It is a decision to fight when most will not and conquer whatever gets in our way. A survivor means having no fear, realizing they can, and never giving up. A survivor achieves the unachievable, lives outside the box of the labels which he/she is supposed to be, and finally understands that the sweetest revenge towards the ones who hurt him/her is living life well without any guilt, pain, or crazy life hang-ups.

Many events that some of us may have gone through in our past require surviving through them, not allowing the situation to “get the best of us.” We discover through events that, as painful as they may be in the present, in the future they will hold greater opportunity. We look at life different; we choose to make life what we want it to be. We do not live by the rule of the game; instead we right the rule for our own lives. We change every perception that has been made about us from our parents, ourselves, or whoever has told us that we would not succeed. Many of us have our own stories to tell. The story of my life has been a challenging one to overcome. For me, surviving my past can be almost a daily journey. Coping with certain fears, relying on gut instinct, and developing myself and my character into someone I can be proud of are some of the greatest challenges I face. Many people have looked at me as if something is wrong with me, determined that I needed rescuing from a fate of doom, or labeled me without even giving me a chance. I learn to appreciate their sense of feeling sorry for me; however, being the survivor that I am, I require no pity or rescuing from anyone. I have learned to embrace who I am and where I come from. I have viewed life as one of the greatest challenges to analyze and figure out. I have wanted to tell and share my story with people in the hopes of giving someone else the opportunity to take something from it. I do believe things in our lives happen for a reason, if anything in order to give each of us an individual perspective of how to relate to one another. Many would argue that some things in our lives we need not go through. I would disagree; everything we go through has a purpose or a plan or is related to give a purpose or a plan to someone else. My life, although some would find hard to bear, I embrace with passion and live it to the fullest. I hope my story can bring a perspective to someone’s life that he/she can use and take from it a learning experience that nothing in life is so hard that you cannot overcome it or embrace it.  Life is worth living, and you never give up. After all, if you did that, what would everyone say about you? See, I told you so.

I remember my childhood being one most would like to forget. My father had a very bad temper, a drinking problem, drug addictions, and sexual issues. He was physically violent towards my brother, sister, mother and stepmother. I cannot recall one person who at any time lived with him who he did not beat out of fear, anger, frustration, or drunkenness.

As a little girl, I grew up not knowing the love a father is supposed to have for his daughter; my “little girl” days were full of fear; the phrase, “Wait till your father gets home,” took on a whole new meaning at my house. The memories of my dad are very disturbing to most people – most all people.

One of my first childhood memories is my first day of school. I remember coming home from school that day; I rode the bus, so I considered myself a big girl. As I walked off the bus, I saw my father’s car in the driveway; I instantly got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. “Why was he home?” I thought, “It was not time for him to be here.” Will daddy be in a bad mood? At that point, I decided to be as good as I could and try to do whatever he asked me, so there would be peace in the house.

I carefully entered the house, so the door would not slam. After all, he could be asleep. I did not want to wake him.  He might get angry. In my house you did not want my father to get angry. As I walked in, I heard the television on. I thought, “He is up, good. I won’t wake him.” I found him in his recliner watching television and drinking. He was too busy drinking to hear about my day.  He was not going to remember anything I said anyway. Even at five, by the smell of his breath I could tell it meant it was going to be a rough night.

He called to me and asked me to make him some sandwiches. I remember bologna and mustard on white bread. (Is it not funny the odd details of my life I remember as a child?) So I went into the kitchen and made two sandwiches. I had the sandwiches on the counter and just thought, “How am I going to get them to him?” So I placed a napkin on the counter then placed each sandwich one on top of the other and covered them with another napkin. See, I had to be very careful. They had to be “just the way he liked them.” So I placed them in my hand and began my journey into the living room.

I do not remember much after that. I woke up, and it seemed like there was blood everywhere, especially streaming from my nose. At five years of age and on my first day of school, my dad broke my nose. He, of course, said he was sorry, which was out of guilt, but I would get a reprieve for a couple of days until something set him off, and it would happen again.

A few years later I would discover that was also the incident that caused facial trauma to my bottom teeth. To this day I am missing three of my bottom teeth due to the traumatic impact to the face. Oh, but what a pretty face!

As I grew up in this household, I became a very angry little girl. During this time of my life when I lived with my father, fear, hatred, and self-destruction seemed to be a way of life. Every time I turned around, I could not figure out what I had done wrong. Why did I deserve all of this? It seemed to me, I was beat whenever the moment just seemed right. Maybe he was high, drunk, or just wanted something to do. After all, little girls and fathers were supposed to have a special relationship, right? Was this what a relationship was supposed to be like? Did all little girls cry themselves to sleep at night in pain? Did all little girls have so many bruises that you could not tell where the old ones were and where the new ones began? Does every little girl pray that she was someone else just so she did not have to fear being beat with a hammer or whatever just happened to be in the room when the beating begun?  Did all little girls’ fathers get high on PCP then pull all of their fingernails out with tweezers?  Did everyone else know where all the drugs were stashed in the house, just in case he asked you to get them?

While I was living with my father, I also was suffering from years of sexual abuse from two uncles in my family. I never even knew it was wrong I just thought that was what uncles did, just like my father did what fathers did. My memories of being sexually abused as a child are some of the hardest things for me to have to deal with. As an adult, I once suffered from extreme panic attacks. I had no idea why, thinking, “Maybe everyone is right; something is wrong with me.” I soon began to realize it was just my mind’s way of defending itself; I was trying cope with the fact I once was molested in the back seat of my father’s Bronco, right in from of him; I must have been five or six.

You may be asking yourself exactly what I was as a little girl; where was my mother? My mother was and is a very negligent parent. I have been told several stories over my life about how selfish she is and she never really cared for me. My mother was the only one she cared about.  Many people in my family have told me something about her; I just remember her not being there for me as a little girl, not protecting me, loving me, holding me, supporting me, and just not being there.

The one weekend she came down from Kansas City I began to tell her everything my father was doing to my little body, showing her all the marks and bruises, and pouring my little heart out to her. I must have been about eight years old then; why did she not ask where all the bruises came from? I never remember my mother asking such a question. After I told her all of this, I felt so let down. When our weekend was over, she dropped me off at my father’s work place. I had to go back and live with him. I was screaming inside. I remember crying and wanting to run after her as I watched her car pull away. All hope I had of the pain and abuse stopping died when her car finally drifted out of my sight. I remember once thinking, “Will she ever come back for me? Isn’t there someone out there who will love me? If my momma won’t, maybe my daddy’s right; I don’t deserve to be loved”

Then, when I was about ten, there was hope. My mom finally rescued me. I no longer had to suffer physical abuse from my father or the torment of sexual abuse I endured from my uncles. My mother, having the past she did and not having any coping skills, had no idea how to deal with me or how to handle my issues due to her broken past. As I began to get older, I reached out for attention from boys. I never did drugs then due to my convictions of seeing drugs ruin my father’s life. The feeling of wanting to be accepted and loved was driving me to seek attention, mostly the wrong kind.

During this time, I was pretty much raising myself. My mother’s lack of coping with her own issues of sexual abuse in her past damaged whatever mothering skills she had. I am sure it was very hard to listen to me tell my story of trauma. To have to hear that kind of story from your daughter I would imagine would be too hard to bear. All she could tell me was how she was raped by one of her cousins. She never held me, told me she was sorry, or wanted revenge for me. It just seemed no big deal to her. She called my grandfather’s house and spoke with my uncle’s mother, telling her what I told my mother. My grandmother immediately responded, saying none of it was true, I was making it all up, and I must be lying. Nothing ever happened after that; it became clear that I should not talk about the things that had happened to me. My sense of self-worth and the feeling of being accepted and loved by my mother did not exist, leaving me no other option but to find it somewhere else.

I soon began to enjoy doing things with other kids much older than me; hanging out with high school friends just seemed the thing to do.  By the time I was twelve, I was raped. I always hung out with older kids; it seemed okay to me. A girl who I thought was my friend invited me over to spend the night. She did, after all, have a cute older brother who had a friend who was supposed to spend the night as well. When I say older, I mean like twenty-one, older. Later on that evening, when I was getting ready for bed, I was pushed down a flight of stairs. That man took something from me that night I knew I would never get back. I had to come home and face dealing with telling my mother what happened to me. “What is even the point? It’s not even going to matter anyway,” I thought all the way home. I was tired and angry; I was starting to get fed up with all the things that kept happening to me. It took me three days to tell my mother and just as I assumed, nothing, ever happened. I was taken to the hospital and the hospital called the police. My mother was just worried that I might have become pregnant. She told me we needed to catch it in time, so something could be done about it. A rape kit was taken by the police as evidence. I told the police that I was raped. Nothing ever happened. Eventually, all charges were dropped because the young man was entering the Marines.

After a period of time and not knowing how to handle my issues my mother  sent me to live with my grandparents. It was back to a place where I had suffered sexual abuse. I was still just twelve. When I arrived at my grandparent’s house, I learned my father was in ICU inKentucky. My grandparents told me that my dad’s third wife shot him in the head. (I remember thinking it would be like him to be able to live through something like that.) That stubborn streak my father had was something I learned very well, even as a child. As an adult, I had mastered it.

Now my grandparents, for reasons unknown to me, took me toKentuckyto see him. I think they thought him hearing me would shock him out of his coma. That was the last time I saw my father as a child. I thought he got what he deserved, and finally I would have peace because he would be dead soon. I remember once saying to myself, “I’m glad someone finally slowed him down; now maybe I will get some justice.” I thought all my pain would die with him, and all my anger would go away. I remember wanting him to die so bad, so everything would be all better. My father remained in a coma for three months; the doctors explained to the family if he recovered from this he would not be the same. He would not walk, would not be able to dress himself, and would never be able to hit anyone again.

After this, my grandparents could not handle the added stress of dealing with me. My father in his state was enough. I began seeking attention from boys. I was placed in foster care, and my life changed. I got to be a kid, and in state custody! How ironic is that?

During this time, my mother began to take an interest in me again. She would call me and tell me she would get me out of foster care. Out of where? I did not want to leave there. What I did not know was that the state was receiving money from Social Security since my father had been declared disabled. At that moment, I had fit it all together. My mother just wanted me back for the money. While in state custody, I tried to commit suicide. I was only fourteen and just been crowned barn warming queen.

The state ofMissourisent me to a mental health facility for teenagers to help me with my issues. A few weeks into treatment, my mother showed up on a Greyhound bus to “take me away from all of this.” I was fifteen now. I moved with her toColorado. Eventually, I began to realize that her issues were controlling her life; I could not stand being around her. So as some can assume, I found a way to get away from her; I married at sixteen.

About six months into being married, I became pregnant with my first child. A year after I married, my husband left me in the middle of the night. I immediately felt lost and abandoned again. It was familiar to the feelings of when I was younger when my mother would come visit me and leave me in the care of my father to endure hurts again. Thinking back to the morning after he left, our baby moved for the very first time; I felt heart sick and desperate. Desperate to breathe again; I felt like my whole life was in an old wooden barrel as if everything was closing in on me; I felt as if something was choking the life out of me. I was left dazed and confused; everything I knew was falling apart all around me. I did not know what to do. I had no job and no money. I was going to get kicked out of our home, the place we planned to bring our first baby home from the hospital to. There was no money to pay the rent or buy food, baby clothes, or even baby diapers. For emotional support, I would sleep at whatever friend’s house I could. I just did not want to be alone. I remember staying one night at my mother’s house -her placing her hand on my belly and feeling the baby move – hoping and praying maybe she would finally accept me; she might accept being a grandmother. She might finally love me seeing that I finally had a purpose, raising her first grandchild. I looked down at my swollen belly wondering what I was going to do next, a tiny foot or elbow streaked across my tummy as if to say, “Hello, I’m in here; it’s just you and me now.”  My mother looked up at me telling me to get rid of it before the baby grew much bigger. She wanted me to have an abortion. That was part of “the deal” with me being able to stay with her. I was devastated all over again.

I immediately placed a phone call to my brother,Randy, who lived inArkansas. I told him what was going on in my life, and how desperate I was, and what my mother wanted me to do. I explained to him I just could not bring myself to do that. To have an abortion would make me just like her. I hated hearing the stories she would tell me about all the abortions she had throughout her life. I did not want to be just like her. I lived my life with the philosophy that I would be the opposite of what she was. I would be a better person, daughter, wife, and one day mother. The realization of my parents teaching me by example of what not to be in life  made more sense now than ever.  My brother immediately sent me a bus ticket to come stay with him and his wife. My brother,Randy, was the only man in my life up to this point who never hurt me. I lived with him during my whole pregnancy, and even after the baby was born. That is whenJesuscame into my life. I started attending a Freewill Baptist church, accepted the Lord ,and  baptized, and eventually became one of the directors atVacationBibleSchool. Then the baby – my problem, as my mother referred to it – was born onMay 19, 1993, at about2:00 am. To this day, he is bigger than she ever imagined. He is 6’3,” weighs 230 pounds, and is only seventeen.

I raisedJonathanfor six months until I decided to join the US Army. I was just seventeen. I realized at this point in my life I needed stability, not just for myself but also for my child. I was just 17, how was I going to be able to raise a child all on my own? Child support was out of the question. My husband never set eyes on his first born son. Who was I to think he would help me after all he had put me through? I had dropped out of high school to get married, so finding a job that would support a family was going to be nearly impossible. One sure thing I knew I could do was to enlist in the military. Unfortunately for me, the U.S. Army had a policy that would not allow single parents, such as me, in training or in a combat zone. I cannot even begin to tell you all the things going on in my mind, about decisions I needed to make for my future and my baby’s. I decided my brother and sister-in-law could provide a much better life for him than I could. So my brother and sister-in-law adopted my baby ,which to this day I cannot even begin to tell you how much of a blessing that has meant to me over the years. Giving a baby up for adoption has to be one of the hardest decisions I have ever made, but getting the opportunity to see that child grow throughout his childhood and develop into a fine young man is more than anyone can ask for.

After the adoption, I enlisted in the U.S. Army, hoping to start my life with stability and direction all on my own.  I went back toColoradoto visit with my mother before shipping out for basic training. I guess I needed to show her I was different; I was not like her. I wanted her to see that being a parent meant that you do the things that you do for your child’s best interest and not your own. I wanted her to see that sacrifice is something that a parent is supposed to do for his/her child, not something the parent expects the child to do for her. Ultimately, I wanted her to see that my love for my own child was unconditional, and that I choose what was best for him, which allowed him many more opportunities than I could have given him at that time. I figured she might see the purpose in what I did; she might get it, and things would be different between her and me. Maybe, just maybe, this time I would be accepted or make her feel proud to have me as her daughter. That was also the driving force in me making the decision to join the Army. See, I was starving still just like a little child. The little child I was inside wanted to be reached out to. I did not realize that, until this point in my life, I yearned to be accepted and loved my whole life from both of my parents. I wanted that so badly. I wanted my mother to see I was someone she could be proud of. While in airborne training, I injured my knee during a military exercise and was medically discharged from the Army. That honestly was one of the lowest points in my life. I gave up a baby and everything that I had planned for myself. It all began to fall apart. What was I going to do?  Why, after all I had been through, would God allow something like this? What did I do wrong now?

This was a turning point in my life. Finally, everything that had happened to me was someone else’s fault – God’s! Then my rebellious stage set in. The Army flew me back to my home of record, which wasColorado Springs,Colorado. At that point, I just gave up and gave in. My first job out of the military was an exotic dancer. Drinking and drugs started to come to light in my life. I was just eighteen by this time. I had figured out I could use my body to get what I wanted. What was boys, boys, boys in high school turned to men, men, men! Luckily my soon-to-be ex-husband found me.  Due to me being discharged from active duty, the Army contacted my soon-to-be ex-husband to let him know his dependant benefits were expiring. The Army also notified my husband to my current address and home of record.

He called my mother’s house one day, and we talked. When he found out what I was doing for a living, I thought he was going to come unglued. Three days later he showed up at my mother’s house, forced me to quit my job, and took me toMichigan, where we remained married for almost another five years. I had two more beautiful children.Anthonyis the youngest. We divorced after I could not put up with him being abusive towards our children. I made it a point to be exactly everything my mother and father were not.

I left and moved toKingston,Tennessee. I moved not having a driver’s license or a job. I remember being on the interstate inKnoxville, and there were cars everywhere. It was the dayUniversityofTennesseestudents tore the goal posts down at Neyland Stadium.UniversityofTennesseeplayedFloridathat day, which moved them into the bowl for the national championship (1998). I then realized that moving here was going to be an adjustment. I was going to have to learn to get over my fear of driving a car. I was going to have to deal with the extreme panic attacks I suffered from when behind the wheel of a car due to being sexually abused in a vehicle when I was a small child.

I remember praying one night to God to help me with this. I knew my success depended on it, and so did my children’s survival. God did help me. I was finally able to get behind the wheel of a car. Then I got my first job at Wal-Mart inLenoir City,Tennessee. I could not believe it; I was existing and all on my own.

I was still very angry at God. I could not for some reason figure out why. Why did all of those things happen to me? I never found any answers. So I just began existing, not caring about myself anymore, wanting to be numb and wanting it all to go away. My hurts and my past were always there behind me, leading the way. I used to tell people the only thing my parents taught me was what not to be. Talk about leading by example. I went through men like most women read a book or watch a movie. I was looking and searching for the hurts to be healed and the void to be filled. I was looking in all the wrong places. For some reason using men did not have the effect on me that it used to.

Brandon, my middle child, went  for a visit to see his father. It was only the third trip there for him. My ex-husband ran off with him.Brandonhas been missing since that last visit; sometimes, when I close my eyes, I can still see his face in my mind. By this time, I began dating a real winner. I was in a relationship with a man who for the most part resembled my father in attitude, drinking, and drug use. I dated him for five years and eventually began abusing alcohol and drugs myself.

One day I went into a routine doctor’s appointment and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I did everything the doctors told me to do except stop smoking and drinking and eventually it went away. I never knew how to take care of myself. Nobody ever cared enough to take care of me or showed me how to myself.

During this time I began making some decisions for myself. I decided to go to college. Nursing, I figured, was stable, and I would always have a job. Now I began another saga in my life. I attended college, and I met a classmate namedJuliewho at times talked to me about church. There was a brief moment in time when I went to church at Faith Promise. Those people were awesome to me. I remember struggling as a single mom. My mother, stepfather, and I had a falling out over me getting pregnant, and they kicked me and my youngest son out of the house right at Christmas time, leaving me with no other option but to have an abortion; I was beginning to feel like I was following in my mother’s footsteps. I just remember the stories she used to tell me about all the abortions she had. I began to hate myself. After all, how could I turn out to be just like her? With all of this at Christmas time and no place to go, I ended up homeless. I followed the shelter’s program, and I received a section 8 housing voucher. Then I found an apartment. The wonderful people at Faith Promise went right to work. They came over, decorated a tree, and brought food and presents for me and my son.TimandCherylStallings, I hope, get to see their fruit one day. This was the beginning of me allowing God to do work in my life. “Baby steps,”Timwould say, “baby steps.”

I was still dating the man who had an alcohol and drug problem. I started to feel like some of the things I had been doing were wrong, but I still was holding on to the past I was clinging to it as if it were part of me and feeling as if I would lose who I was. I wonder looking back now if I hung on so tight, thinking that I would save him somehow would make up for me not being able to save my father. For a very long, time I held on to so many hurts because I identified myself with a cycle. I identified myself with being labeled as abused. The boyfriend and I started to have a very off-and-on relationship. This made me feel like God was not there. I pulled myself out of church. I had not seen or talked toTimandCherylStallingsfor about a year.Timcalled me one evening telling me that he had been praying for me.PastorTimasked me what I was doing. I told him I was getting ready to go get drunk. I told him there was nothing he could say or do to change my mind. I hung up on him. I look back at this now, and I cannot believe I was so brazen. I was going to show God.  I was going to pay God back for all the things he did to hurt me. I believed I could pay God back for all the years of childhood sexual abuse I received at the hands of my uncles and pain I received from my father’s fists. Finally, someone was going to pay for everything that happened to me. By this time, I had slipped into a state of abusing alcohol. I then moved to using harder drugs. Marijuana did not seem to have, the kick it needed to have so I started using cocaine. I remember once staying out all night and returning to the boyfriend’s place at five in the morning; I went to sleep but had to be up and at work at Ft. Sanders Regional in the morning at seven. I woke up still drunk and went to work that day. I thank God I did not kill or hurt anybody. I realized at that point if I did not do something about my lifestyle, I was going to wind up having a problem. What I did not know was that I already did have a problem.

Shortly after that I was hurt transferring a patient of mine and was forced into changing careers. Again I blamed God, for losing something I had worked so hard for. So I began selling cars; I hopped around like most car salesmen do from job to job, thinking something out there was going to change or searching for something better. I was still drinking, but not as much. Drugs became a recreation for me, enabling myself to fall into the pattern of addiction, while rationalizing out my behavior to myself and others; “Weekends only,” I would tell myself.

The man who I had been dating on and off again finally became a crack addict. Ultimately, I knew deep down inside our partying and weekend alcohol and drug binges had him. I knew that if I did not do something to change the path I was on, I was headed right down the tubes with him. There is a reason crack is called the “devil’s candy” on the street… because that is exactly what it is: the devil’s candy.

I had to watch my boyfriend, another person just like my father I care for, loose his respect, loose his dignity and ultimately lose his life over crack cocaine, which scared me to death. I knew I cared for him, but I ultimately knew I had to separate myself from him. Then I came up with a wonderful plan. I was going to save him. He would love me enough to stop. We would get married and live happily ever after… I look back on it now and wonder what planet I was from then. After all, my family, my son, and my friends could not stand him. Even an old manager of mine,Jason, had a run in with him.

Soon I began making excuses for him, telling everyone where he was at I lied about why he had problems keeping a job and making excuses to tell everyone why I was allowing him to live with me. “He will get clean,” I prayed, “He will stop using.” I knew he could because I was willing to do it for him. That was when I began to discover just how much of my father I had in me. I had his temper. I began showing up at crack houses threatening drug dealers. I told them that I now knew where they were. I would wear a wire, if I had to; to get them busted. After all, I had a mission to save my original plan on him getting clean and us living happily ever after. I remember one night after my car and purse had been stolen. I walked right up to him, looking him square in the face, and said to him, “You’re doing it again.” Then I remember doubling up my fist and hitting him as hard as I could and knocking him out cold. You would not believe how good that felt. I liked it. I liked standing up for myself. I liked the feelings I had when I went into a physical rage. It made me feel powerful. Every time I threw a punch at someone, a little piece of my past did not hurt so badly. My temper definitely started to get the best of me. By that time I had started a couple of bar fights and ended a few as well.

Then one day I went back in for another routine health exam. The cervical cancer was back but this time worse. It had spread to my vaginal wall, and small tumors were forming. The doctors decided this time to remove everything. To remove that much tissue out of the vaginal wall meant I had to be completely reconstructed, to even include repairing my bladder. Now God really hated me! Not long after that, I was involved in a car accident, which broke my neck and required me to be in a neck brace until the doctors could decide on what surgery I needed to have first. They finally decided to do the cancer surgery first, then three weeks later perform the spinal fusion and fuse C-5, C-6, and C-7, add titanium rods, a locking mechanism, and screws in my neck.

I remember wondering what I was going to do. How was I going to be able to pay my bills and take care of my son? Luckily, I had saved up $8,000. I guess I finally realized I was going to be out of commission for a while. I made the decision to move back into my mother’s home, so I could make the money stretch as far as possible. For the first time I began to start thinking about my life and knew that this person I was, was going to need to lot more than the pain pills I was being prescribed by the doctor. The Demerol,  Hydrocodone, and Oxycontin just did not seem to help the pain in my neck. I had to function with a broken neck for two months until I had surgery. It took one month to schedule the cancer surgery. Then the doctors wanted to wait a minimum of one month between the surgeries. I remember crying out to God several times to help stop the pain. My arms would shake so bad that I needed help getting in and out of bed

I began to ask God why I was going through all of this. I could not go into the crack houses and save this boyfriend, and eventually I did not have the strength anymore. Some days it took everything I had to get out of bed and wake my son up to get him to the school bus.

At that point, I began thinking about why all of this had happened to me. I began wondering why. I was not out of control like my father was when he had his accident.  What was God trying to tell me? Was God trying to slow me down? Did he know something about me I did not? I was risking everything to save the life of my boyfriend. I did not understand you cannot save someone who is not ready to be saved. I was being taught a great life lesson. If God understood you cannot save someone unless he wants saving, why could I not accept that fact? God was teaching me a lesson about my salvation. Just as an addict cries out for help, but is not interested in becoming clean, I was doing the same but with my life and salvation. God wanted to get my attention. For several years, I refused to listen; I knew what was best for me. I began to wonder  if I knew what was best for me, why did I continue to do the things I was doing?  Why did it take something as drastic as God breaking my neck to slow me down to save my life?

I look back at this and wonder who would do something so crazy as to break someone’s neck in order to save his or her life? At that point, I rededicated my life toChrist. My small group at church loved me like never before. I began witnessing to my mother and stepfather. I went in for surgery number one. I worked as much as I could, considering I had just had cancer surgery and a broken neck. I have no idea how I managed that one. All the pain pills in the world were not enough to make the pain go away. I was too scared to take the pills; my previous issue with cocaine made me the perfect little addict in the making. I prayed to God to just take the pain away  almost on an hourly basis. God and I talked all the time; although I hurt very much, I was not at a crack house anymore. I was not risking my life. I had to take care of myself; the outcome of my situation depended on it. My son and I were becoming so close. We both were safe. I finally realized my life was passing me by; the drugs and drinking was not what I needed. Yes, I needed a fix, but not just for a moment or to make all the heartaches go away. I needed fixed. I realized that I could not fix myself; there were not enough drugs or therapists in the world who could fix me. I needed a supernatural experience to fix me. I also knew that my life needed to change forever. See, I thought it was my life that needed changing. It was not my life that needed changing; it was me who needed changing. My life is what it is; how I choose to live it is my decision. I am still going to wake up every morning and have to decide to live my day. Do I let the emotions of my past haunt me forever? Or do I turn them over to God? After all, my past has been a problem for me. If it is still a problem, why can I not fix it? My past is not going anywhere; the only problem was me allowing it to get the best of me.

At that point, I decide to ask God to walk with me through this. I then underwent the spinal surgery. Walk with me, God did; God carried me. The moment I woke up after surgery, I was completely pain free. My arms were no longer trembling. My body no longer hurt. After that, I made the decision to stop using drugs completely. I thought it would be hard after surgery. While in the hospital, I refused even pain medication. I remember the nurse walking in with a pain shot of morphine. I told her I did not want it. I was not hurting anywhere. I did not have to go through rehab or detoxify my body because of all the chemicals I put in it.

Before I came home from the hospital, the neurosurgeon explained to me it needed to be a month before I drove. I needed more time to heal. I was not supposed to not even ride in a car. If I got into another wreck, the doctors told me it would kill me. I remember thinking, “What do they know? They are just doctors!” Friends from my small group would come by and pick me up for church. I have no idea why, but one day I drove to the now ex-boyfriend’s crack infested apartment to see how he was doing. We ended up in a horrible fight, and he stole $100 from me.

I remember getting very mad at God again and just throwing my hands up and just giving up on ever finding someone to spend the rest of my life with. By this time, I had snapped, but it was not my neck. I could not handle being alone anymore; I still desired attention, affection and acceptance, but I was just no longer willing to just settle. That snap was something in me finally letting it all go. I cried and screamed about how life was unfair. I was mad and just decided God could deal with all of it. I would show Him. It was now all His problem. Realizing I had been divorced for almost nine years, I never seemed to understand why I always picked the wrong man to have a relationship with. I remember telling God, out of frustration, if He wanted me to have a husband, he was just going to have to pick one for me. I did not want to try and figure it out anymore. It was just too hard. I was over it. I did not have a whole lot of examples to go by; the men in my past all hurt me. My picker was broken. I had no idea what I had just done or what I was in for. I encourage everyone to let it all go; give it to God and see what happens.

About a month, later my pastor, my husband, and my friend walked into my life. I had no idea. All I knew was this guy had a job, a car, and an education. I also was very much attracted to him. Those legs, that smile, and that Advent Electric shirt he used to wear. OH, OH! Thank God for Advent Electric.

Our first date was Pelancho’s, it was winter, cold and dreary like any typicalTennesseeNovember. I remember him being such a gentleman. He parked his truck and got out and came around to help me out of the truck. (The lady I was not jumped right out.)  He stopped and he was surprised, and I was like, what? He looked at me and said, “I was going to help you out of the truck.” I replied, “Oh; you have got to be kidding me, you’re one of those.”  I got out and we walked inside together, him having his arm around me and offering me his jacket. I was freezing but I did not care about the jacket. I just wanted that arm around me. Our first date was the start of a good work God was doing, and neither one of us had any idea.

Our third date was definitely one for the record books for me. That was the night I had been toldBradwas in the ministry. I remember once during my rebellious stage as an adult  going to Carrabba’s and having a few too many drinks and flirting with a Catholic priest. I am sure it was very funny watching me making a fool of myself. (Lord, please forgive me for that one!) This one had to be one for the books. I was told I dating a minister. After all, ministers do not date, do they? I had kissed him good night. I remember thinking, “God is surely going to send me to hell for this one.” What have I done now? Let me just say a girl like me dating a minister gave me a complex even after we married. While I had this issue, I always remember thinking, “But he is so cute!” God is just messing with my head now. Needless to say, we had a very short courtship. We dated for about six weeks.

I remember the nightBradasked me to marry him. I laughed it off and jokingly replied, “Sure, I’ll marry you.” I had no idea he was serious. Plus by now,Bradhad heard my story and I did not think he was serious. Why would a minister want to be married to someone like me? What wasBradthinking? Then the ring came. A ring, for me, now this was serious. Now I was nervous. During this time I had really been working on my relationship with God. I had asked for forgiveness but yet had not forgiven myself or other people in my life. This was very obvious.

Then came the marriage license and the wedding; one thing I learned that day was to never tell a minister you cannot just go get married. I realized ministers know other ministers and have other ministers completely at their disposal. At that point, I think I completely forgotBrad’s dad was a full time ordained pastor with his own church and thatBradeven had a key to the church. Then I began thinking, “Are we really getting married?” Mind you, we were on the interstate headed to his dad’s church. Honestly, I did not know how fast that truck could go. When we got there, his mom was there with his dad and two witnesses, as if I needed more than one? Then we were husband and wife. Then the shock set in that I was a minister’s wife. That led to my favorite phrase for the next six months: “I cannot believe I got married.”

I remember a Sunday school teacher I had inArkansas,Mrs.JudyFortner, looking at me one day and telling me I would make a good minister’s wife.Mrs.Fortnerwas the bulldog with lipstick that sat behind us “older kids” keeping us from getting into trouble. Everything seemed so great forBradand me. For him, I finally stopped saying, “I can’t believe I got married.” For me, I was more successful working part time than I ever was. I paid more in taxes in a week than most people make in a month. I began to develop an issue with writing out our tithe checks.  Ten percent, right? Sometimes, I really struggled with this. I mean, do the math. If I made $4,000 this week, then my tithe would be $400 this week. I thought, “Isn’t that enough? Do I really have to tithe on the other three weeks?” Believe you me, I heard if fromBrad. The first time I tithed on one week when I had made $4,000; I toldBradto write the check because I could not do it.  Eventually, I discovered it did not really hurt that much.

At work one day, I answered the phone, and it was Palm Harbor Homes asking questions about government financing for modular homes. I began to develop a business relationship I nursed for months. God was trying to bless me, and I messing that up. I started working way too much. I said it was all me; I was just so awesome they called me. I even changed the ringer on my cell phone to “How Do You Like Me Now?” by Toby Keith. I was starting to get drawn back into the world. As you can imagine I lost that National FHA lending contract with Palm Harbor Homes.

Now talk about angry,Bradtried talking to me and telling me we needed to start tithing again. Oh, I did not think so. I was not giving God any more of “my” money. I was very angry at God. I said some things I had never said before. I refused to go to church. IfBraddid not stop with his, “I need to just submit to God’s will” thing, I was going to leave him. I remember driving down Middlebrook Pike with him, and he started in again; to be honest the state of mind I was in at the time, there was no telling what was going to come out of my mouth. I looked at my “minister” husband right in the face and told him I would submit to God on my death bed. The look on his face at this point was disturbing, not to mention he had brought the car to a complete dead stop in the middle of traffic. He told me to stop it and to never say that again, that I did not realize what I was saying. He immediately started praying. (He was right.) I had no idea what I said or what I was doing.  Did I honestly think I would win this one? What was I going to prove to God? So I decided I would just stop praying.

About three weeks after that, I started having lower abdominal pain. I had gone to the hospital on the ninth of April because the pain was very bad. I was referred back toDr.O’Kelly, who did my cancer surgery. By five in the afternoon, I was prepped for emergency surgery. By seven I stopped breathing, and my body had gone into respiratory failure. I felt forBradas he had to watch some of this, watching until the code team whisked me out of there to get me stabilized. The next three months it seemed like everything that could happen to me did. I cannot think of a better way for God to get my attention than to take my very breath away just so he could breathe his life back into me again. I was shown that God really is the most powerful force in the entire universe – wait, God created that too!  God is even much bigger than the universe.

April to July of 2008 I was finally broken to the point when Brad’s parents laid hands on me and prayed for me, my father–in-law told me I had a problem with unforgiveness; and I knew immediately what I had to do.Bradand I had made some travel plans on two different occasions. I was very disappointed every time the plans fell through. Then an unexpected emergency arose inArkansas, and we had to go to a funeral. The money was there, and both of us were able to get off work.  God had started to do a work in me like never before; then the miracle happened. After the funeral we drove two hours to a little town inMissouricalled West Plains. The closer we got, I started to get sick to my stomach. Then we were there,Bradprayed over his family. I did not know what to say or how to say it, and yes that did come out of my mouth, “But give me the words to say. Let me be able to let him see you …God.”

As I walked in, I ran smack into my grandmother. Her smile was radiant. I asked, “How is he doing?” She said, “Still the same. You know how he is.”Brad, my son, my grandmother, and I walked through a cafeteria. Everyone seemed to know who I was, but I knew no one. Then all of us walked into a room, and there was my father who I had not seen in over seventeen years lying in a hospital bed. When I walked in, his face lit up, and then he started to cry and told me that he thought he would never see me again. After all these years of laying in a bed thinking about everything he had ever done, all he wanted to do was say he was sorry. My father never died after being shot in the head.  I tried to change the subject, which did not work, so I asked my grandmother if she would not mind to step out withAnthony.

I knew what I needed to say for all of these years. So I sat next to him on his bed and told him why I was here, that God had changed me and I was a different person. I told him it was God who brought me there. I told him I wanted him to know that I forgave him for everything, and I wanted him to be able to have peace that surpasses all understanding. I said I was sorry for not doing this sooner. He began to cry again, and  I wiped my daddy’s cheeks and told him what God had done in my life, and he listened and said he was sorry. I told him he was totally forgiven.

At that point, this broken man began confessing everything out loud. I mean everything. I told him it was not his fault. I told him I wanted to know who had hurt him when he was a child and  that he was not born that way ;he then began to tell me how my grandfather used to beat him with his fists, belts, and  horse bridles, and I realized this was probably the first time in his whole life had he said this to anybody. I told him that was not right what happened to him, was sorry that happened to him. After 55 years I thought it was about time someone told him that they were sorry.  I told him he needed to be able one day to forgive his dad.  God would give him the strength to be able to do that, like God had brought me to him.Bradand I laid hands on my father and prayed with him.  His mind was the only working thing left on his body. That was the only thing he had left. The body he used to have was gone.

I believe for the first time, he was not angry. And I believe the healing process started for him right then and there.

What I did not realize was that God also gave me a peace that day. I got to do something that God told me to do, and for the first time I saw God’s plan in my life. It all made sense.

That weekend was the deliverance both my father and I needed. That weekend my father got to see his grandson for the first time. They arm wrestled, and even after being shot in the head and going through two strokes,Anthonycould not beat him. I saw the fight for life come back to him. One of the last things I remember doing while I was there was telling my father that it was a miracle he lived through being shot in the head because if he would have died, then he would have gone to hell.Jesusdied for him, and God allowed mercy on him and was breaking him so he would not have to go to hell. He just had to accept that. I believe one day he will.

As we leftMissouri, I remember looking at my husband and telling him some awesome things happened that weekend and that the devil was not going to like that. I realized myself that strongholds were broken, but in that there was now a line the devil could not cross with me.

As we started to make it home, we finally received cell phone coverage, andTonya, a girlfriend of mine who had been dog sitting, left a message telling me someone had burnt down our mailbox. Our mail box?

Then we pulled up to the house, and there was that poor little mailbox melted to the ground. Out of that I could see proof that there was now a line the devil could not cross with me. That mail box was very close to an azalea bush that should have caught fire, and the azalea bush was right up against the house. Our house probably should have burnt to the ground, but it did not. There was just enough space between that azalea bush and our house, and that space wasJesus. He bridged that gap and protected us. I look at that mailbox and smile from time to time and thank God for bridging that gap in my life and sendingJesusto fill it. At this point, I became so on fire for God. I rememberBradtelling me he had never before gotten to witness a spiritual break through like that.

I made a promise to God after we got home that I might fall and I might stumble, but I no longer would be moved. The devil cannot have me anymore. For God paid for me already. And I do not have to look back now. If that was not enough, God answered a prayer that week. I received a phone call from my mother, and she told me about a conversation that she said she had with a man in her church. He told her that she and her husband were perfect examples of Christians. Mom began to tell me how this had made her sick to her stomach, and she then at that point knew she had some changes to make. For the first time in her life she started to understand what I had been telling her since, I was a very young girl.

I could not believe my ears. I thought I was going to get up right then and there and start shouting. I closed my eyes for a brief moment and thanked God for everything, the good and the bad. For, if it had not been for the bad times, I would have no victories; at that moment I realized that my Redeemer lives and, “Why am I here?”

I look back at my life and see what a horrible mess I made of it and hope that if I am able to share my life, someday somewhere someone will decided to make better choices than I; ultimately Jesus wants the best for us. I now know that God has a plan and a purpose for my life, and some of the things I have gone through in my life were not about me at all, but about other people. The Bible shows us that all things come together for the glory of God for those who believe in Him. He has given me a powerful testimony, and he wants me to tell everyone I know …everyone.

 

I am who I am today because ofJesus Christ, who has redeemed me and allowed me to grow and be the better person I am today. I am no longer shameful and no longer angry with God or myself.

I can stand here today and say I am no longer a person of my past. The chains of my past no longer have a hold of me or my future.Christis now why I have a purpose for my broken past and hope for my future. For I  know that the same God who divided the sea and brought his children out of the wilderness lives in me, and His light brought me out of my own darkness. I just hope I can be a light and testimony ofChrist. I hope that my past failures have become a victory inJesusand that the world can see thatJesusis alive.Jesusis just as powerful as the day he raised Lazareth from the dead. I know that my Redeemer lives and I will stand up and say so, for I am no longer ashamed.

 

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