Tuesday, August 28, 2007

10 Years- Almost!

The 10 year anniversary of my salvation is approaching. I have been reflecting on my life since that day, and actually the years before, and God’s goodness throughout. I would like to share with you, but I warn you, this post is long and not for the faint of heart. I also want to add that I am going to share some ugly details of my past, so stop reading now if you think it will change your opinion of me. Finally, I want to add that although I am not proud of my past (I am dreadfully ashamed!), God is so amazing and forgiving, which is why I am sharing. If He can forgive me for my most horrific sins, He truly can forgive anyone (Psalm 103:12). I hope from this post you will better understand the God I serve. He is an amazing God, full of love, forgiveness, hope, compassion, strength, more than any man can know, and all that I am lacking. It is because of His love for me that I was saved 10 years ago and have changed to be a new person, conformed to the image of Christ His Son (2 Corinthians 5:17). I also encourage you to look up the verses I have referenced. Read for youself what an awesome, loving God I praise.

I did not grow up in a Christian home. My mom and dad divorced when I was 2 because my father was/is an alcoholic. When she divorced him, my mother and I moved to Texas from Ohio. There she met and married another man.

I lived with my mom and step-dad, and a few years later my sister Erin was added into the mix. I was 6 when Erin was born, and we did not share very much in common. My parents occasionally took us to church, and we prayed before supper, so I did know there was a God, but I knew nothing about Him. Because of my limited knowledge, I did not have the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7) and did not understand how having that fear should shape my life. I truly thought I controlled my life and all that happened, and when bad things happened (i.e. sexual abuse and an alcoholic father), I thought I was being punished by God for something I had done. This wrong thinking set the stage for my behavior all through my teenage years.

My home life was chaotic. I think that is the best way to describe it. My mom and step-dad fought often. He had an explosive temper, and I can remember fights where chairs would be thrown and furniture kicked. My mom separated from him a couple of times, moving my sister and I from Texas back to Ohio. She got back with him, and we moved again. By the time I reached 7th grade, I had attended 10 schools because we moved so many times. Each move caused me to feel more alone, and it was very traumatic for me. I was forced to become an out-going person or else I’d never have any friends! The older I became, the harder it was to adjust to a move because friendships and groups were already established and I never fit in any of them.

My step-dad sexually abused me when I was 11, although I can remember times as young as 6 or 7. However, being so young, I didn’t really think anything of it; I just didn’t know any better. At 11 though, it was much more overt and I knew what he was doing was wrong. I told my mom and she confronted him, but for whatever reason nothing changed. The abuse continued and became progressively more frequently and worse. I couldn’t take a shower without being watched! Where was God in all of this? Why did He allow this to happen?

Moving, feeling alone and like I didn’t belong, sexual abuse, an alcoholic father, a mother who worked a lot to support us, and a stepfather whom I despised all mixed together to create a hard, cold, bitter person (Titus 3:3). About the age of 12, I sought acceptance from boys. I couldn’t change anything about my home life, but I got the love I was so desperately seeking from boyfriends.

At 13 I became rebellious, sneaking out in the middle of the night to go meet boys. I was forced to go live with my alcoholic father. His girlfriend was nice, and she treated me kindly. But, I wasn’t her child to care for, and bitterness grew between her and my dad. They fought, he drank, and I watched. I remember an argument I had with my dad about me moving back to live with my mom. He told me he didn’t ask for me to be born, and if I hadn’t been born, his life wouldn’t have been this way. That was a heavy burden for me to carry on my shoulders, and what little of my heart remained was crushed. Where was God in all of this?

At this point in my life, my mom had divorced my step-dad and remarried another man. She had my brother when I was almost 15. The marriage was not going well, and both my mom and step-dad worked a lot. I was left to care for my siblings. I had a lot of responsibility and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Again I looked to boys, and I began to seriously date a boy 2 years older than me.

His name was Keith, and I adored him. We met in April of 1994 at the local YWCA in a lifeguard training class. He was a Boy Scout, working toward Eagle. My mom and his dad grew up together in the same neighborhood, so there were some family ties. We ended up working together at the same pool, so apart from school, we were always together.

In December 1995, almost 17 and a Junior in high school, I found out I was pregnant. I told Keith and my best friend Karrie. Keith was mortified. He was almost 19, working full-time for 7-UP as a merchandiser. It was okay pay, but not enough to support a child. He could not tell his parents; he didn’t want to let them down. I had horrible morning sickness, and everyday before school I would vomit up my breakfast. My mom figured it out on her own.

We met with my mom to talk about “options”. She told me the decision was mine, but that if I had the baby, I would be throwing away my life. Despite all the moves and all the *crap* I had dealt with in my life, I was a straight-A student. I had many, many options for college, and a baby would make them disappear fast. Pretty much, if I had the baby, I would not have any support from her (not just financial, but emotional). She basically told me that I made the adult decision to have sex, and I needed to make the adult decision on what to do.

I went to Planned Parenthood. I talked with a “counselor” about options. I got information on abortion, and Keith pushed for me to have one. Ohio law requires a 1-week waiting period before going through with it. That was the longest, most difficult week of my life. I would make the 40 minute drive to work crying because I wanted the baby so badly. I knew in my heart abortion was not the right decision, but I had no support from my family or my boyfriend. I couldn’t talk to friends at school because I didn’t want word to get out that I was a whore. I was so ashamed, isolated, and depressed. I went through with the murder, with my mom and Keith accompanying me to the clinic. Where was God through all of this?

Keith and I remained together another 10 months after the abortion. I just could not get over the guilt of having the abortion, and Keith wanted to put it behind him. We fought constantly because I blamed him for making me do it, although it was ultimately my decision. I just couldn’t bring myself to face the ugly truth, though.

Where was God through all of the abuse, divorce, abortion, loneliness? I’ll tell you.

During this time, when I was probably at the lowest point in my life that I had ever been, God was working. In my lifeguard class a few years back (the same one with Keith) was a girl named Chelsea. I hated her. She was pretty, beautiful actually, and seemed to have a great life. Everything seemed to come so easy for her, unlike me, and I couldn’t stand to see it. I was consumed with hatred and jealousy (Titus 3:3).

We ended up getting a job at the same pool and working together. A lot. Our boss thought it was funny to torture me (she had a strange personality!). It was really God working, though. Chelsea was a Christian, and once I got past my pride and began to talk to her, I found that I really had a lot in common with her and that I really liked her. One day we were sitting at the guard table talking. She knew I didn’t go to church, but she asked if I was saved (John 3:16).

“Saved from what?” I asked. She explained that I was going to hell unless I put my trust in Christ. I didn’t really understand, but looking back, I see that God was using Chelsea to draw me to Him (John 6:44).

After Keith and I broke up, I was very depressed. I couldn't go anywhere without crying because there were memories everywhere I went. We lived in a small town, so there weren’t too many places we hadn’t been together. I was offered a college scholarship my senior year of high school to the University of Akron.

In October of my Senior year, My mom and step-dad separated, and we moved once again. We stayed in the same town, just moved down the street. I was a senior in high school, and I worked 3 jobs (2 during the week and 1 on the weekend) to pay for a car, gas, clothes, spending money, etc. When my mom divorced again, she picked up another job at night in addition to her full-time job during the day. I picked up the responsibility at home, cooking, cleaning, and caring for my siblings. In the mornings I would get my 2 year old brother up and ready, drop him off at daycare, go to school, go to work, then pick him up at 6. Once at home, I’d cook dinner and get my sister going on her homework. My mom would come home for a few hours to eat, nap, and get my brother in bed, and then she’d be off to work her second job. We’d repeat the same routine everyday.

By spring, I’d had enough. I had no time for friends, and was tired of all the responsibility. I decided to enlist in the Air Force. I did, and I didn’t tell anyone. My guidance counselor called my mom one day to ask why I declined my scholarship- it was pretty much a full ride! My mom thought she was joking. When I told her I joined the Air Force, she thought I was joking. We went to the recruiter together. I was 18, there was nothing she could do. To say she was mad is an understatement! I just needed to get away from Tallmadge, Ohio!

Through all of this, Chelsea remained a close friend. I worked with her at 2 of my 3 jobs, and when we became friends, we purposely worked the same shifts. She brought me to church a few times, but I still was not at a point in my life of understanding salvation. I just cherished her friendship and enjoyed being with her. She knew about my abortion, yet was still committed to being my friend. We worked the entire summer after my high school graduation together, and spent time together outside of work. We even went on vacation to the Outer Banks together! We were going our separate ways in the fall and wanted to spend as much time together as possible. I was leaving for Boot Camp in September, and she was returning to college.

Wednesday, September 3, 1997 is the day I left for Basic Training in San Antonio, Texas.

After enduring 3 days of torture (not really!), the reality of my situation hit me. I was a soldier, and I had no idea what the future held for me. I could die during times of war, and that scared me terribly. Sunday I had an opportunity to attend church services, and I gladly went to escape my TI (Training Instructor). It was there I first heard a true salvation message preached, and Sunday, September 7, 1997, at the ripe age of 18, the Lord forgave me of my sins (even murder!- James 2:10) and my name was added to the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 3:5; Revelation 20:15).

My story doesn’t end there. This is just the beginning. For now, though, I am leaving it as it is. I’ll continue another day, another time.

In the meantime, think long and hard about your standing before the Lord. We will all one day die and appear before Him, and when He asks why He should open the gates to Heaven, what will you say? Before September 7, 1997, I would have been speechless. Or perhaps I would have mentioned all the good works I did to help support my family. Or maybe even all the good works I did when I coached Special Olympics. Regardless, the Bible tells of one true way to get into Heaven, and that is through faith in Jesus Christ alone (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; Romans 6:23; 1 Timothy 2: 4-6; 1 Corinthians 15:3-5; Titus 3:4-7). As you read above, I have done some horrible, terrible things, but I was willing to put aside my pride and ask for forgiveness. If God can forgive me, He can forgive anyone! Now that I’m saved, I am still a sinner, only now I can rest easy because I know if I confess those sins, the Lord is faithful and will forgive me (1 John 1:9). Rather than dreading the day I die and appear before the Lord, I look forward to meeting my Savior face-to-face. Heaven promises to be everything I can ever imagine and more, and I am ready whenever the Lord decides to take me. It is there I will meet my precious baby, who, if s/he had lived, would have been 11 this past July.

Thank you, Lord, for sending ME a Savior in the form of Your only Son. I pray You will continue to work in my life and convict me in areas You know I am sinning against You. I pray that through this testimony of Your greatness, many would realize their standings before You. I pray You would use me and the testimony of my life to draw others to You. I ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.