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My Testimony

Hi, my name is Debbie. I’m a grateful believer in Jesus Christ who struggles with: abandonment, anxiety, grief, hopelessness, and brokenness.

I’m the product of a dysfunctional family. Divorce has run rampant on both sides of my family devastating and destroying my family in many ways. I have every stepfamily member possible. The result is a fractured family that is not very close.

I was blessed to be born into a Sabbath-believing family. This special day begins at sundown Friday night and ends on Saturday evening at sundown. Sabbath was a time to stop working, relax, unwind from the week, spend time with God, and attend church. I grew to love Sabbath.

My parents were polar opposites and not a good match. My mom was organized to a T. Nothing in her life was out of order. She was a perfectionist and good with money. My father was a pastor who was irresponsible, impulsive, promiscuous, and terrible with money. These things created strife between my parents and this turmoil had a huge impact on me. I’d hear heated arguments when I was sleeping. To cope I covered my head with a pillow, trying desperately to drown out the sounds of their fighting. I did self-calming things to compose myself, turning to these things more and more as the stress of my life became too much to bear.

When I was about five my mom told my brothers and I that my father was leaving. I remember hugging my Dad, begging him not to leave. We say kids don’t understand things but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I knew even at that young age that my father would never live with us again, and it hurt. My parents divorced and my father never lived with us again.

After my parent’s divorce, my great aunt converted her garage into an apartment for us. During these years I enjoyed playing with my cousins, sliding down a laundry chute, riding horses, playing in the creek, visiting my great grandparents, climbing trees, and learning a secret language that my cousins, brothers and I learned to speak. My grandfather was a blessing. Often when we visited, he’d fly us home in his Cessna. I loved flying with my grandfather. Our time in California was a special time. I grew and thrived. I felt loved and nurtured during these special years. These were my happy years. I loved my great grandmother who lived down the road from us. She was always smiling despite her profound deafness and blindness from glaucoma. I loved her dearly. She inspired my dream for my future career in a caring profession. I was surrounded by many positive family members during our time in California and I flourished. These are the years that God used to anchor and nurture me. I had some hiccups but my time was happy then and these difficulties were softened by the love I received from my supportive, nurturing family. My lens during this time was rosy and happy. But these glasses would change. The next pair I wore was one of abandonment, isolation, loneliness, and pain.

When I envision my life, I think about the butterfly cycle. For much of my life, I’ve felt trapped in this cycle. I feel like I’m a caterpillar that is continually shedding its layers as one painful event after another about destroys me. Other times I feel like I’m hanging inside my chrysalis waiting to emerge and just when I do, I’m crushed by another trial and difficulty that causes me to retreat back into my chrysalis where I’m safe but I’m abandoned, isolated, and alone. So much of my life describes this pattern. It has become a cycle I’ve been unable to shake myself free of.

We visited my father on weekends but he was chaotic and disorganized. He always ran late. Sometimes he didn’t show up for his visitations. This hurt. But despite these things my father was an amazing teacher. I owe my ability to tell time to my father who patiently taught me. When I was in second grade my dad remarried. From that point on my brothers and I hated visiting him because he was more focused on his wife and stepchildren than on us. He became less involved in our lives as the years passed. This is when my feelings of abandonment, rejection, and insecurity began.

My life is divided into two time periods: the time I lived in California and the time when we moved away. My time after California was like the time after the hyphen on a tombstone. It symbolizes the part of me that died after we moved from California. Our life would never be the same. This is when I became stuck in the “caterpillar” stage.

When I was eight, my mom was reintroduced to the pastor who married my parents. He and my mom decided to marry. That summer my brothers and I stayed with different relatives in California while my mom organized our new home. I stayed with my grandfather and step-grandmother who had an out-of-control teen that shoved my step-grandmother into the kitchen cupboards. I remember feeling shocked by his behavior. When I told him to stop treating his mom that way he stopped. On another occasion, he was sexually inappropriate to me. I ignored him. He stormed off and left the room. God protected me but his behaviors caused me to become very insecure and anxious around guys.

At the beginning of third grade, my mom remarried. We moved away from the place we loved in California all the way across the United States to Ohio. This move fractured my family destroying the closeness and love we’d had in California. In Ohio, I was introduced to a stepfather who was melancholy and distant. He got upset when water was left running in the sink or when lights were left on. He became irritable with the commotion and noise of my brothers and me. When my mom and stepfather married we literally became like the Brady Bunch except for the fact that there were four boys and two girls. But the Brady Bunch I experienced was not close and it wasn’t fun. I hated it. From this point on my mom became a very serious workaholic as she tried to provide for all of us. She lost the fun and happiness she had when we lived in California. She became more serious. Her eating disorder spiraled out of control as she managed the stress of a codependent relationship and the challenges of a blended family.

My time in California and Ohio were night and day different. This is when my abandonment and loneliness began. I became stuck in the process of becoming that beautiful “butterfly” God intended me to be. I felt isolated and alone. Our move caused me to slip from shyness to being painfully shy. I was disconnected from everyone I loved. Even my mom pulled away in her busy work life. My brothers became more serious and entertained themselves mainly with computers. I was isolated from everyone and everything I’d known. My life became very small after our move. There were few things I participated in. I was sheltered and my issues with abandonment escalated as did my self-calming tendencies, which turned into self-harm as I tried to manage my pain. I was miserable in Ohio! Every weekend I begged my parents to take me to church even though they seldom attended. They drove me to church, dropped me off, and returned a couple of hours later. Although I went to church, I never felt like I fit in. The church was huge. I was just a number in a church that was cold and distant. I felt insecure. My shyness didn’t help. I wasn’t good socially and I had very few friends.

During family holidays we enjoyed my mom’s amazing home-cooked food but outside of eating our family did separate activities on holidays. We never connected with our stepfamily like we had with our family in California. My mom became the glue that held our stepfamily together but it was a very dysfunctional, unhealthy family. My mom tried many things to make our family work but everything she tried failed. We were never close no matter what we did. My mom was the one entertaining and feeding everyone. When meals were over my stepfather wandered off by himself to read, watch television, or listen to music. She was left with the cleanup duty.

After our move, the long-distance from my relatives caused a distance in our relationships. My Grandfather and I were never close. His second wife and her family were his focus of attention. We were pushed to the back burner. But two times when I was in Ohio, I spent the entire summer with my grandparents. On both visits, my grandfather flew me from his home in Sacramento to the small town in California that I loved. For a week I reconnected with my great aunts, cousins, and great-grandmother that I loved so dearly. These were my happy times. My shyness melted away. I felt connected again with the family I had grown to love. I just wished I could have spent my entire summer with them. These times were the highlight of my childhood. They were the years that anchored and sustained me through the difficulties I faced.

My father became disconnected from my life after our move. Although he was a trained pastor he was scattered and disorganized. Chaos followed every aspect of his life. He was terrible with time and money and had a huge executive dysfunction. When he traveled to visit my brothers and I, he’d forget important things like his wallet or money. A trail of disaster followed him. My dad and my relationship was like air puffed plastic that is used for mailing packages. It only grew so far. Our relationship was sterile and never expanded. It was like a broken record. We had the same conversations over and over again. His phone calls were sporadic and inconsistent. Many birthdays passed without recognition. My father simply couldn’t be the father I so desperately needed. I felt abandoned and rejected and this caused me to become uncomfortable around men. I became self-sufficient and cared for myself because my father never could take care of me.

In school, I was painfully shy and had difficulty with males. I felt out of place and disconnected from my peers. My pain was huge and I struggled. My self-injuring tendencies were things I turned to more and more to keep myself sane. But thankfully God sent teachers with a passion and love for writing. Their enthusiasm lit a fire inside of me. I was introduced to writing. It became the first healthy outlet for my pain.

After high school, I attended a small private college in Michigan. During my sophomore year of college, I studied Spanish in Spain. That year I not only learned a language, I also began healing. Often, I’d sit on the mountain near my dorm and write and pray. God began to wash away the pain and hurt I felt from my father’s abandonment and my step father’s distance. In Spain, God began to heal me. I emerged from my chrysalis and began to fly.

When I returned to college my junior year, I met friends that became life-long friends. I studied Speech Pathology and met Larry, a Physical Therapy student I became very close friends with. He was sanguine by nature and loved to have fun. His outgoing spirit helped melt away my shyness and insecurities. We spent hours talking on the phone, sledding on cafeteria trays, taking walks, and going to the beach. He and I began formally dating in the fall of 1992. We had many wonderful days together that autumn. But just when I was beginning to fly like a butterfly, I was struck down again and crushed deeply. On October 17, 1992, Larry went out to the pier to jump waves with a friend. It was a stormy evening and a twelve-foot wave caught Larry, pulling him into the lake. He drowned. I was 22 years old, one month shy of 23 when Larry drowned. Suddenly, the joy and happiness in my life was gone. I was crushed and hurt. I was surrounded with grief so thick and heavy that I didn’t think I’d ever survive. Memories surrounded me everywhere I turned. I hurt deeply. Late one evening, I meandered through campus sobbing uncontrollably. The pain was so great I could hardly breathe. I backed into a pine tree, tears streaming down my face. I cried out to God and felt the arms of God comforting me.

Again, after the hyphen in this period of time a huge part of me died. I felt like a frozen Popsicle unable to move. Everyone my age was happy and excited about life. After Larry’s death, I lost my dreams, excitement for life, and my peer group. There was a gaping hole in my heart. His death caused my abandonment issues to escalate. Moving on was challenging. When the quarter was over my bachelor’s degree was finished but I had to leave. Memories surrounded me everywhere I turned. They plagued my mind. Healing happened at a boarding academy where I was a task force dean after Larry’s death. Pain consumed me but memories didn’t surround me everywhere I turned. I had trouble sleeping then and at a very dark moment I tried to kill myself but God intervened and helped me find a reason to live again. I found healthier ways to deal with my pain. I worked during the day and wrote until almost dawn when my grieving heart and mind finally allowed me to sleep. During this time, I began writing my book, Legacy of Love, a story about my friendship with Larry. Writing gave me a purpose for living. It kept me going. Without it I would have crumbled.

After Larry died the old feelings of abandonment, isolation and loneliness resurfaced. But on top of all these feelings was a robe of grief that continually plagued my mind. I’d be fine one minute and sobbing the next. Grief is something I still struggle with. You can’t lose someone you love and be the same ever again. It shaped me into a very different person. Forever after Larry’s death, I had a more serious nature to me and a gaping hole remained in my heart. But I limped my way through life and completed my master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology.

After my master’s degree, I rekindled a friendship with a former college student I knew. In 1996 we married. In January of 1999 my son was born. A year after my son’s birth, my husband began spiraling downhill. He was emotionally, verbally, and sexually abusive and was addicted to pornography. He stopped coming home at night and became more controlling. His mental health began spiraling out of control leading him to hospitalizations. In February of 2000, we separated. He began stalking me something he continued to do for years. This behavior was frightening. My son was eighteen months old when I moved back away. Pregnant, jobless, and filing for divorce I wasn’t sure what would happen with my life. A friend gave me the text Jeremiah 29:11 to lean on. It says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” My daughter was delivered in October of 2000. I was offered a job as a pediatric Speech Therapist, a position I’ve held for almost twenty years. Indeed, God had plans for my life.

My divorce was finalized in August of 2001. After jumping out of a dysfunctional, unhealthy marriage I faced more difficulties. For eight years I was in and out of court. Every hearing left me feeling like I had the flu but by the grace of God my daughter had supervised visitations. My son had unsupervised visitations and suffered deeply. The stress I lived with as I helped my son deal with his pain was tremendous. Sleep was interrupted many nights each week by his nightmares. The only support I had was my mom and stepdad. My parents watched my kids while I worked. Babysitters couldn’t handle my daughter’s hyperactivity or my son’s emotional issues.

My son constantly woke up at night screaming. Many nights his vomiting led us to the emergency room. When I told him his dad was coming, his vomiting escalated. He began telling me things that concerned me but it took eight long years of court battles before I could stop visitations. In the meantime, I watched my son suffer and it hurt. I’ll never forget the morning I walked down the hallway to make breakfast. I smelled the most horrific odor. The scene I saw when I entered my son’s room brought tears to my eyes. My son was ashen white. He was lying on the floor surrounded by patches of vomit. Poop and vomit were everywhere in his room. This was the scene of a child that was hurting deeply. It broke my heart!

My son was seven when his situation changed. I attribute these changes to our prayers. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Changes began happening. One evening, my son drew pictures of the bad things occurring at his dad’s home. I brought these pictures to the police. A forensic interview was conducted but my son refused to talk because the cameras were pointed out to him so his father wasn’t prosecuted.

In March of 2008, my son became aggressive and agitated. He lost touch with where he was and who we were, a condition known as dissociation so he was hospitalized. His doctor began stabilizing him. A week later he was released from the hospital only to return a few hours later. His second hospitalization occurred when our court hearing was continued in March of 2008. My son’s doctor recommended no contact with his father. The magistrate agreed. Visits were suspended. Our court case was dismissed from court. Just when we couldn’t handle anymore, God intervened. I Corinthians 10:13 says, “No suffering or pain that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God is compassionate and trustworthy. He will never let you be pushed past your limit. He will provide a way out so you can stand up under it.” This is exactly what God did for us.

During this time, Sabbaths were the only break I had. They were days where we escaped into nature to reprieve from the stress and strain of life. I survived these years by the grace of God. But the pain I felt when I went to bed at night was intense. I often cried myself to sleep wishing I could die. Church didn’t help. At church I felt like a black sheep. I was going through so much stress but there was little support for me. Frequently, I left the church in tears knowing the small support I had would disappear the minute I entered the parking lot. I had a few friends I talked to but most lived far away. God, Sabbath, writing, and rollerblading were the things that kept me sane.

When my son was hospitalized life became challenging. It was clear he was in no shape to attend school. He was abused emotionally, sexually, physically, and through what I now know is ritualistic satanic abuse. He was hardly handling life. In the fall of 2008, I began homeschooling my children on top of working and being a single mom. It seemed the best solution to help them with their tremendous issues.

In January of 2009, we attended a non-denominational church for the first time. My children were loved and nurtured by the children’s pastors. It was the first time in nine years that I had a break from my children for a few hours each week. It was a blessing for all of us. I could listen to the sermon uninterrupted by my wiggly, inattentive child, and undistracted by my son’s emotional issues. My children grew and thrived. I was spiritually fed but support for me was limited because of our situation. Exhaustion consumed me. Worries about my kids plagued me. I continued to remind myself of my motto. “With God and a single parent, miracles happen.” Isaiah 41:10 gave me encouragement. It says, “So do not fear, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” God sustained me day after a difficult day and gave me strength and power to make it through each challenging day. He also opened doors to help with my children’s needs. Slowly, our home life improved. But underneath this peace were hidden secrets I had no knowledge of. The peace we had was being shaken by the undermining of Satan. As the saying goes, “Hurt people hurt people.” I discovered that when my back was turned my son began abusing his sister. Regrets consumed me when I learned about this deep dark past of abuse and manipulation that was the undercurrent in our home. A friend told me when she was praying for me that, “God saw everything that took place.” He is involved in our lives and somehow, He will work good out of even this horrible thing.

Just as I was growing wings, we faced another challenge. My mom’s health spiraled downward. I watched her slowly slip away to a fragment of the strong, healthy, vibrant person she’d once been. In the summer of 2014, her illness left her bedridden. In August of 2014, she called begging for help. I met her in the hospital and knew she was dying. She was so weak and in so much pain. I became her Power of Attorney, trying my best to make good decisions regarding her care. She was moved to Hospice but every step of the way my family attacked me. When I was at work my stepfamily transferred my mom who was in a coma to the hospital hoping to save her. I spent days alone working with doctors but it was clear that no heroic efforts would save her. She was transferred back to Hospice where we celebrated her 69th birthday. She died three days later. The stress of that time took its toll on me. I was exhausted and angry with my family. The one person who’d been my cheerleader was gone. I was left holding an empty bag, trying desperately to manage my life, deal with my grief, support my children and not fall apart when I began receiving phone calls from policemen as my brother’s mental health deteriorated. To top this off my step-family rifled through my mom’s belongings selling many of her things without my consent. When I asked for her belongings my stepdad became angry. This hurt deeply. I’d lost a supportive, loving person in my life. All that remained were my kids and I. Again, I felt alone and abandoned.

During this time, we attended denominational churches I’d grown up in. This supplemented the non-denominational church programs but I went only because my kids dragged me there. I felt like a black sheep aching to run away and never return. But a new pastor came. There was peace and support for a period of time. But in 2017 it was clear that our involvement was turning sour. The only positive was that we loved our pastor’s parents. They accepted us as if we were part of their family which was a blessing after my mom’s passing. But I was asked to stop helping with the children’s ministry and to find a new ministry. This hurt deeply as my passion is with children. Devastated, I told them I’d never felt loved or accepted. I’d find a new door. I would never return. I cried for days. God scooped me out and lovingly carried me away placing me in a church where I found healing, love and support. It was time to think about myself and what I needed. My self-harming tendencies were escalating. What I’d been doing wasn’t enough. I had to do more and more to stop my internal pain. My life was spiraling out of control. My daughter often passed out because of diabetes. My son was rebellious and spiraling downward. I desperately needed help.

In April after attending church, I asked for prayers. I was in tears as my son was out of control and my life had become difficult and painful. I spoke with a man who asked what I was doing for myself. I said, “Nothing.” He suggested I open the doors to Celebrate Recovery on Monday night.

April 17, 2017, (exactly 25 and a half years after my boyfriend drowned) I began attending Celebrate Recovery. At that time my self-harming tendencies were escalating. There was a heaviness and hopelessness to my life. I didn’t want to get up in the morning. The only reason I did was because I had to work. I was stressed out, worried, hurting deeply and felt my hope had slipped into a black abyss. My life was out of control. In CR I finally had support. This was a blessing! Things slowly began changing. My self-injuring tendencies disappeared two months after I began CR. I found healthier ways to cope. There was a peace and hope I hadn’t had for years. I was smiling more and felt like life was more manageable. Slowly, the broken pieces in my life began to fit together. I began blogging, a friend began editing my book, I joined Grief Share, God answered a prayer confirming His calling for me to do public speaking and God taught me the importance of fasting and praying. Currently, I'm involved in a prayer group, I lead out in a step study, I joined a writing group, I blog and I write books. I’m hoping to finish editing the book I started 27 years and eventually publish it. I’m also working on my second book about my journey as a single parent. God has helped me understand that His purpose is for me to be a voice that speaks encouragement and hope to broken and hurting people.

I Corinthians 2:9 says, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” I’m thankful God scooped me out of where I was and carried me to CR in April 2017. He had a plan for me, one I could never envision.

When I grew stronger Satan tempted me. Dark thoughts enveloped me, filling me with pain so profound it overwhelmed my entire mind. The darkness was so thick I could slice it with a knife. It covered me like a blanket, almost suffocating me. These thoughts plagued my mind, filling me with intense pain. Visions of self-destruction and taking my life consumed me. I fought against them. The peace was gone. All that remained was blackness and anguish. I sat trying everything I could to push through this difficult moment as Satan tried everything in his power to discourage and oppress me, encouraging me to rely on the unhelpful strategies I'd used in the past. But I fought back determined I wasn’t returning to those old useless habits. I hadn’t done them for months. Why would I turn to them again? I sat on my bed listening to hymns, praying, and crying. It seemed like an eternity that I sat there crying, consumed by the darkest thoughts imaginable, doing everything in my power to refrain from the temptations that tormented me. When I cried out to God a peace immediately filled me. The oppression was gone, the darkness was pushed away, the evil left and I could breathe again.

I Peter 5:8 says, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." When we cry out to God and rebuke Satan and ask God for help, God promises to help us. He pushes back the devil and causes the oppression to leave.

The year I began writing my testimony, Satan attacked me yet again through one trial after another, determined to make me regress and tailspin so I’d return to the self-harming coping strategies that I’d been free of for almost one year but God and CR’s recovery program sustained me. I can write a book about the events of last year but I will highlight the big issues that happened: my home was robbed and my computer and many sentimental items were taken, my car overheated and the engine froze, my daughter’s car hydroplaned and was totaled in a collision, a thirty-year friendship went up in smoke, and my daughter was brutally raped and traumatized.

Physical, emotional, and sexual abuse destroyed my life and my children’s lives in many ways. Control, manipulation, addictions, perversion, and secrecy drive abuse. God made sex to be pure but Satan has destroyed and undermined its purity. The result is devastation to many lives. I can’t control people’s actions. All I can do is control my response. With God’s strength and power, this is what I’m trying to do.

For those who’ve been abused, know that it wasn’t your fault. People are not property to be used, abused, trampled on, controlled, or manipulated. Boundaries are set to keep us safe. For those who haven’t been abused please keep in mind that many suffer deeply from trauma and even casual touch can cause flashbacks, fear, and anxiety. For those of you who are grieving don’t be afraid to cry. It’s part of the healing process. I also encourage you to find an activity or hobby to fill your mind with, something that will help you find an anchor to manage the pain and darkness of grief. For those who are struggling with mental health issues don’t be afraid to seek help.

God gives us peace, joy, assurance, love, and hope. It’s this positive voice we need to listen to each and every day. When we feel like a failure, discouraged, unworthy, alone, hopeless, tormented by the past, anxiety, and gloominess overcoming us, we can be assured these things come from Satan. These are the voices that push us into our addictions and habits. But we can ask God to rebuke Satan in the name of Jesus Christ. We can also ask God to surround us with His presence. God hears these prayers and is eager to help us. My hope is that all of us will learn to listen to God’s voice. If we don’t fill our void with God, we will fill it with something else. My prayer is that we will all choose to reach out to God to fill us with His love, hope, and peace so we can heal from our hurts, habits, hang-ups, and addictions.

Picture the image of broken china fastened together with threads of gold. The finished product is gorgeous. The cracks are masked by the beauty of gold. Recently, God reminded me that just like shattered porcelain; brokenness has described so much of my life. In many ways I’ve been just like the fragments of china I’ve smashed over the years. Putting these pieces back together takes the work of an artist. Yet, God is that artist. He’s working on each of us to put these pieces of brokenness back together in a way that only He can do. No hurt, sorrow, or disappointment is too hard for Him to handle. God does not waste our hurts. Our life in God's hands is just like the artwork of fragmented china that’s masterfully woven together with threads of gold. This is the work God wants to do in each of our lives. All we have to do is ask Him to heal us. One day at a time He will mend us. In time good will come out of the pain and suffering in our lives. God's artwork will become something beautiful in His perfect time. Good will come out of our trials. We will become ornaments of elegance and charm. He will use our brokenness to bring out beauty. This is the vision we all must hold onto.

Maybe you feel like I have broken, too broken, hurt, imperfect, and damaged for God to use or for God to create beauty from. But this is the voice of Satan speaking. God doesn’t make junk. He doesn’t see us as broken china or as dismal caterpillars. He sees us as His finished product, His masterpiece. Little by little, He changes us from a boring, insignificant caterpillar into a magnificent butterfly. Our job is to focus on the finished product just as God does. We are beautiful creations of God. We are His masterpieces that He’s forming inside the chrysalis from the broken fragments of our lives. In His time, we will become changed. We will emerge as exquisite and stunning butterflies.

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