If you’ve ever been on a trip with a child of almost any age, you are probably familiar with the questions: “Are we there yet?”, “Will we be there soon?”, and “How much longer until we get there?” Maybe you remember asking those questions yourself when you were a young. For some reason, even from an early age, we tend to develop an expectation that everything will be better when we arrive at our destination.
I carried this expectation into my everyday life thinking that my identity would be found in the next phase of life I arrived at. My first big expectation was that I would arrive at the place where I would fully be me when I was 18, but it wasn’t long before I realized that wasn’t the case. I went on to pin my hopes on my 21st birthday, then getting married, and finally on becoming a mom. None of these destinations brought me any closer to feeling like I knew who I was or that I had finally arrived at the destination of coming into my own and finding fulfillment.
You might wonder why I was so intent upon having my identity defined by something. Well, I grew up with a stepfather who was abusive in every way, physically, sexually and emotionally. He often told me “you are so stupid, you’ll never amount to anything.” I felt unable to control the other forms of abuse directed at my siblings and I, but I thought that one day I would definitely prove him wrong about who I was. I was desperate to not be defined by those words and I was also desperate to rescue my younger “half” sister, (“half” was never a term we used growing up so in the rest of this testimony she is just referred to as my sister), his biological daughter, from our haunting past.
She was just six years old the day she entered my room and sat down on my bed with what seemed like the weight of the world on her shoulders. The eleven years that separated us did nothing to lessen the unjust sense of responsibility she felt. As her words spilled out of her mouth with genuine grief and remorse, my heart broke in a way most seventeen year olds never experience. “I’m sorry for the things my daddy did to you,” she said. I thought “wasn’t I really the one who had failed her?” He had done the same things to her and worse. If I’d only known, maybe I could have protected her. It was a heavy burden to carry.
About seven combined years of abuse was condensed down to just five counts that my former step-father was criminally charged with. He was convicted on all five and sentenced to five years of prison for each one. However, he was allowed to serve his sentences concurrently meaning that instead of spending 25 years in jail, he only spent five. He never confessed, never admitted his guilt, never repented.
Even though I had professed a belief in Jesus as the Son of God at a much younger age, these things brought me to the conclusion that God had surely let both my sister and I down. Therefore, I decided that I would not acknowledge a god whom I felt had abandoned us. This is where my journey to rely on myself and define my own identity began, and where with each passing milestone I felt more and more disappointed.
A few years into my former step-father’s sentence, my mother decided that she and my siblings, (we also had a younger brother who was 14 years younger than me), along with my grandmother, would be moving 3000 miles away, here to Texas from Northern California. I thought I’d come for a few years and then go back. Instead I met a guy and got married. So here I am, still in Texas.
In the years leading up to becoming a mother, I had done enough reading and research to understand that abuse is often passed from one generation to the next. The abused is more likely to become an abuser. That was not a legacy I wanted to leave my own children. But having arrived in Texas just a few years before becoming a mom, and spending the time I did work, doing it outside of the town I lived in, I found myself without friends or any other kind of strong community around me. Although my mom did live next door, she was still busy raising my younger siblings and I still held some resentment towards her. I felt as if she were partly to blame for the things my sister and I had suffered. Even if she had tried to give me advice, I would not have trusted it.
So there I was, a mother with a nine-month old baby and another on the way. My husband was working full time and going to school full time. I felt isolated and alone without any help or resources. Nothing I had done to try and find fulfillment had worked and I was certain of only one thing; I was lost. I didn’t know what I was doing or how to find my way and there was no one there to show me. I wanted more for my children than I had growing up. I wanted a marriage that wasn’t dysfunctional. I wanted to feel like my life wasn’t a failure. However, I only knew all of the things not to do and none of the things I needed to do to get to where I wanted to be.
Even though I had spent about a decade walking away from God, He was always there, gently pursing me. I recognized that all of the times I had ever felt safe as a child were the ones where I had gone to church with my dad or various church activities with him. I decided that I had nothing to loose by redirecting my path back towards God. I wanted to live a transformed life and I was finally willing to change my course to do so. I admitted I needed to shed my sin of self-sufficiency and declare that God was my destination and Jesus was the only guide who could lead me to where I needed to be. By saying yes to following Jesus, I found peace, hope, direction, purpose and even the fulfillment I was so desperately seeking. I felt as if I had finally arrived.
Mind you, following after Jesus hasn’t always been easy or meant that life was without challenges; but it has always been worth it. God has shown up in each and every difficulty I have faced. He has preserved my relationship with my husband when it was about to fail, and we are about to celebrate 23 years of marriage. Our family life has been far less dysfunctional than it could have been because we look to Jesus to guide us. God has blessed us with four fabulous children who have never known what is was like to have divorced parents or experience the debilitating abuse my sister and I did. They are healthy and fairly well adjusted and I am trusting that they will all one day find themselves chasing after God.
In fact, not long ago during a worship and prayer night for the youth mission trip, God gave me a glimpse of His power at work in my children’s lives. Adult after adult got up to speak inspiring words over the youth. After awhile, my 17-year-old daughter got up and passionately spoke words of encouragement over her peers. I was reminded that my 17-year-old self was running away from God as fast as I could, and here she is, running towards Him as fast as she can. God’s own word speaks of the baggage of parents being passed down three or four generations but, that for those who choose to love Him, then His blessings are poured out on a thousand generations. When we are on God’s path, it makes a difference not just in our own lives but in the lives of those around us also.
It took my sister almost her entire life to find her freedom and identity. She had tried to bury her pain in drugs, promiscuity, and a string of bad relationships. She struggled with bipolar depression and even multiple personality disorder brought on by the abuse she endured as a young child. She had always longed for a reconciliation with her father. She had hoped that one day he would admit his guilt and apologize. In October of 2015, her father died and she never got that apology. To add insult to injury, many members of our family said things like, “the world is a better place without him” or “good, I hope he rots in hell”.
My heart broke for her once again. If anyone in my family had a right to say those things, surely it was me? Instead, I experienced a grief which lingered in my heart for days that I really didn’t comprehend. I prayed and prayed about it and finally came to understand my sorrow. You see, God loves everyone and His desire was that my former step-father would have repented. God would have forgiven him of His sins in a moment because he was God’s child. Not to excuse his behavior or minimize the effects of abuse in any way but I truly believe he acted out of his own woundedness & brokenness. The truth is, my former step-father is eternally separated from God, from peace, from healing. I believe this grieves the heart of God as much it would grieve any parent’s heart if they were forever parted from their children.
I had the privilege of walking out my faith in front of my sister year after year. Eventually, in the spring of 2016, she agreed to go to a three-day retreat where she finally experienced what it meant to have a loving father in God. Her life was radically changed by Jesus that weekend and she came away from it healed from her multiple personality disorder. She experienced a freedom, a joy, and a peace she had never known before.
The reason I share my sister’s story with mine is twofold; first is just because our faith journeys were so clearly impacted by the same events. In May of 2017, I had the opportunity to speak to a women’s group about our story and my sister went with me. The night before, I stayed with her and my mother where God orchestrated this amazing time of healing for the three of us. After the meeting the next morning, my sister expressed her desire to begin speaking hope and encouragement into the lives of others who were abused as well. She even commented that she hoped we could do it together someday.
The second reason is that just nine days after that morning, she passed away very suddenly and very unexpectedly. While I still grieve losing her just before her 36th birthday, I also rejoice at the thought that she is now in the presence of God, fully healed and made whole, just as He created her to be. I also have joy in knowing that I will see her again in heaven because God has promised that those who turn from going their own way and commit to following after His son Jesus, who died on a cross for our forgiveness and rose again, will have eternal life with Him. I can’t think of a better destination to arrive at.
Do you ever wonder “when will I get there?” or “how much longer will this take?” Have you ever found yourself completely lost and in need of directions to get back on track? If so, may I submit to you that if you would just yield your right of way today, if you would ask God for direction, you could find yourself right where you were always meant to be? If you admit that you have gotten off track trying to go your own way and by relying on your own knowledge, then ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and to guide you on the path you want to be on. God will be faithful to give you a new identity and transform your life as you pursue Him so that you might spend eternity with Him. It is as simple as “trust[ing] in the Lord with all your heart…lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
If Jesus has been speaking to you today through my testimony, I want to encourage you now, please do not ignore His prompting because we are never promised another day. Just as my sister was called home suddenly, we do not know what tomorrow holds for us. If you would like to follow after Jesus, please pray this prayer:
Jesus, Lord of Lords and precious Son of God, I have sinned and I am tired of trying to find my own way. I need you to come and be my guide. I believe that you died for my sins and that you rose from the dead so that I might be forgiven and have eternal life with you. I choose today to follow You as my Lord and Savior. Thank you for loving me and guiding me into all truth. In Jesus Name, Amen.
If you prayed that prayer and meant it, 2 Corinthians 5:17 give us this assurance. “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”
If you have made a decision for the Lord today, please leave me a comment so I can be praying for you. And if you have any questions about living you life for God, please let me know that as well and I will do my best to point you to an answer and encourage you.