It is sad enough when people judge others by they way they act in the moment, but even more sad when people judge when you are being genuine. It is true. I once had a student of mine call me on the carpet. I knew her life was difficult, but as her teacher I had to be firm with my boundaries for her own sake (I had been there myself to a certain degree). I pulled her out into the hall because she was screaming at me in front of my class, pointing her finger in my face and shouting..."You don't know what it is like to be me!! You sit there and you know nothing, you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you don't know pain!" I looked in to her eyes that were full of hate, and I put my hands on her shoulders and said, "You don't know my life either. My Dad left my Mom too, I was sexually abused, I lived on my own for two weeks when I was 6 years old, I watched my Mom endure pure violence to save me, I had to live among drug addicts and drug dealers, I lost my Mom when I was 11 and my Dad when I was 26 years old. I have lost 14 babies trying to get pregnant - and I have never had a silver spoon sweet girl! I have LOST a lot in my 30 years of life, however, I did find something along my sad journey....I found Jesus!" I told her my whole life store sitting on the ground in the hallway outside my Accounting class. Her mascara ran and mixed with her tears and ended up staining my blouse because she found hope as I held her in my arms. That young girl had more abortions than one could imagine by the time she was a senior in high school. She decided to keep the baby she was carrying, and I saw her through that whole pregnancy...all the while I was dreaming of having one myself. I loved her with the love of Jesus and she found hope!
Who might find hope in your Grace story?
A long time ago, I wrote a poem that told my story, but hid the details. I didn't want any glory going to the details...just the beauty that came from the ashes. You can read it by clicking on the title "My Rescuer" and it will bring you to that directly. However, after getting so many emails from my last post I knew I would have to fill in the gaps. So many questions, so many people who could see hope for themselves and others that they know. Thank you for your responses. May the gaps I am about to fill in help even more people in whatever circumstance they are in, may His story in me continue to bring HOPE!
A few years ago, my cousin who lives here in Florida told me about the years of my life prior to my Dad leaving my Mom. He didn't always live with my Mom. I guess it was an on and off kind of thing. She told me that she and her Mom (my Aunt) would take me on occasion and bring me to their house to visit. Apparently, I would be so dirty. She said at one point I had impetigo so badly. They would have to soak me and bathe me every time I would visit. I was so "unkempt". She and my aunt would teach me to be a "lady". They would take me out to dinner and taught me manners. My cousin (who is 70 years old today) told me that I had the foulest mouth as a small child. Would use words that were straight from the gutter. This shocked me so much when she told me. I actually wept. I wept for this little girl, under 5 years old who apparently was living in an environment that was conditioning her. I have no memory of these years at all. In fact it shocked me so much because I don't EVER curse. It just isn't a part of me at all. My high school students use to wait to hear me slip up and I would laugh at them because it just was going to be so disappointing because it wasn't natural for me at all to use foul language. They were never able to catch me slipping, because I would never slip. Again...the redeeming love of the Father.
I will not rewrite what was already written, so you might want to read "They Took My Place" first as I will pick up with after we fled from the violent alcoholic man, who somehow managed to work his way into our lives time and time again, and we made it all they way to California.
My mother had little to no money at all. I will write what I remember, some details I'm sure are gone, but what the Lord allows me to remember is what I will share. We ended up in the projects of Los Angeles. Now, this was the early 70s, I was in 1st grade. What I'm about to share will probably shock some of you because times are very different now. My Mom and I lived on the first floor of a high rise hotel like building. It was dirty, it was noisy and there were some serious characters that lived in that building. A woman named "Chocolate" who was a prostitute, lots of drug dealers, stabbings, theft, children, and even a Christmas Tree are all the things/kinds of people I remember living among. Oh and roaches - roaches in the toilet and in the Murphy bed where I slept with my Mom. Those of you who know me, can perhaps understand my extreme dislike of bugs. :)
My sister got pregnant and was having a baby and living with someone at this point, so it was just my Mom and I living here. Every day it was the same routine, I got up to the alarm clock beeping, got dressed, walked to school with all the other kids in the building. One day, something happened to my mother. They were rushing her to the hospital. I remember hiding among all the chaos, then they left and I was alone. I was 6/7 years old. She was gone for two weeks. I know it sounds horrible, but I did continue to go to school. I set my alarm and followed my routine every day. (I was a teacher for 10 years in the public school system as an adult. Taught how to see signs of abuse or neglect and required to report it. I'm sure I looked hideous every day, but perhaps coming from the projects in Los Angeles a girl like me was really no surprise.) People checked in on me, you know the people that I mentioned above. I can remember people walking by my open door. I remember eating pickles. I'm sure those same people gave me some food. I went to other rooms with other people. I ate cows tongue for the first time during this period. The same people who served me cows tongue for dinner, also educated me on human anatomy by showing me pornography. Yes. I was just in 1st grade.
One of the boys I walked to school with said his parents said I could come for dinner, they were going to have pancakes. (I know, I remember the smallest details - sometimes that happens when something traumatizing happens). I went to his house, had pancakes and his Mom had to go to work. She worked the night shift. We played with some of his toys, I remember having fun. His Dad said I could stay the night. I thought that would be great. I was all alone after all. We went to bed. I generally never really slept very well. The boy fell asleep so fast. Later his Dad came in to check on us and told me I could watch TV with him since I couldn't sleep. This ended up being the longest night of my life. Even now nausea waves over me. He proceeded to force me to do things that absolutely no little girl should EVER have to do. He did not take my virginity that night, but the things he made me do were horrific. He told me if I ever told anyone, he would "make sure my Mommy would die." Where I came from...I believed him. It went on for hours and hours...and he finally "zipped up" when his wife came through the door the next morning. I never told a soul..until I was around 17 years old.
Much of what happened in California after that is more of a blur. I remember being home in New Jersey in time to spend the summer before 2nd grade with my Dad. I was 7 years old and he and his wife both worked. So they sent me to Camp. They went through the phone book, found a "Christian Camp" and figured, it was Christian so it must be safe.
It was a day camp. I LOVED IT! Camp Shadyrest (sounds more like an old folks home). We played, sang songs, heard stories and swam the whole summer long! One day, as we sang the song Trust and Obey and they had the words on story boards (before the time of overhead transparencies) I remember how the picture of the little blonde girl praying for her Mama just moved me. "Trust and Obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey!" After the song, the leader said that we could have a personal relationship with God through His son Jesus. If we pray he would answer. He made blind people see, He healed the sick and he answered prayers. This little blonde 7 year old girl needed to know this Jesus! Perhaps He would hear my prayers and heal my mother as she was always sick and always going into the hospital. I remember running, not walking, not being shy...running to meet this Jesus. I also remember going home that day and telling EVERYONE I knew. I told my Dad and his wife, my friends! I was so happy. They told me that I should find a church. So my Dad's wife found me a church and she dropped me off and picked me up every Sunday. I learned memory verses and songs and just was the happiest little girl! I even held little Bible camp meetings in my own back yard. I would get extra papers from Sunday School and invite all my friends and we made a tent with a blanket and I would repeat the lesson to my friends every Sunday after church. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Before I knew it my Mom was planning a move to Arizona. I was on a plane with my mother, sister and niece - and we live together for the beginning of my 3rd grade. I went to two different schools in Arizona. That makes 6 schools in all and I was in 3rd grade. It's a good things I make friends pretty easily.
Arizona we lived in another roach infested apartment. My sister dabbled in witch craft at the time - I remember a coffin in our living room at one point. So scarey. Well, that is until the violent alcoholic, who we were constantly running from, found us. Until then, I didn't know scarey. This is when I lived in constant terror. You can read this part of my story in "They Took My Place."
When my mother sent me back to New Jersey, I knew my Dad was trying to get in touch with me. He always tried to stay in touch, write me letters, want to send me things. We lived in so much fear, the man we lived with had guns, he threatened to kill my mother, my father. The threat was very real, as I never knew if my Mom would live through another beating. I mentioned that sometimes I remember such minute details. Oddly enough at this point in my life 8/9 years old I was able to mix drinks for this man first thing in the morning or whenever he would ask. He taught me, and I learned...if he didn't like it, my Mother could very well get beaten. I was an incredible bar tender in 3rd grade. This however, is one of the things I cannot recall. I couldn't tell you the name of an alcoholic drink for the life of me. Seriously. NOT a clue as to the names of any alcohol. Crazy right? I'm thankful. :)
My Mom did send me back to live with my oldest sister and I was to be allowed to see my Dad on weekends. I did just that. I won't go into too much detail about this time in my life. Out of respect for those I love who really were just part of the Enemy's plan to mess up this little girl. His plan was foiled so I will not share some of my pain during this time. I do remember wanting to stay with my Dad more often. I also remember when 4 grade was rolling around, no one was sending me back to my Mom. My Mom was not sending for me either. I ended up staying with my sister and her family and attending the local catholic school. I absolutely have always loved school, no matter the circumstances in my life. School was my sanctuary, my safe place. I'm quite sure that is the number one reason I became a teacher.
I would be able to continue to visit my Dad and that made me happy. In his house, I had a bed time, there were rules and discipline with love. It is very true what they say. Children may fight the boundaries you put out there for their benefit, they may push the lines that were drawn, but in the end...as children, they crave boundaries. I can promise you, children feel safe and more secure when they are kept within loving boundaries.
One day while I was in line at school waiting to go to chapel, I saw my Dad. It was very exciting because he never came to my school before. That day would set a course in my life that, while it was so difficult for a 4th grader to deal with, it was God's plan to set this child on a path of healing. My father took me out of school that day and I never returned to my sister's home. He proceeded with plans to adopt me. While he was my birth father, remember my parents were never married, so he had to go to court to get legal rights for me to live with him on a permanent basis. I would be going to court a lot. The nuns from my school would volunteer to sit with me in the sequestered area of the court room and play with me until it was my time to speak. Our lawyer was amazing. She seemed to really love me and want what was best for me. It was my day to speak in court. "Who do you want to live with?" So so difficult for a little girl who loved her Mommy and her Daddy so much. I felt deeply loved by both of my parents. Even though I was young, I was very aware of the sacrifices that my Mother had made to keep me safe. I know this was absolute agony for her. As a mother today I cannot imagine possibly losing my baby! I had to look at all those grown ups and say who I wanted to live with, yet still wanted to make sure that they all knew my LOVE was EQUAL! I told the judge I wanted to live with my Dad, because I was "afraid my Mom might die, then what would happen to me"? The judge ruled in favor of my father and by the time I was 11, I was adopted and I took on his last name.
My mother had visitation rights. I would visit with her every other weekend at her brother's farm in NJ. I loved it there too. My Uncle and Aunt loved me very much. On one visit I remember so clear as if it were yesterday. Mom and I were sitting in the living room of my Uncle's home and we were doing a jigsaw puzzle, she looked at me, deep into my soul, with eyes of such great love and said..."Are you happy sweetheart? I just want to be sure you are happy!" As I type those words, tears are streaming down my face and I'm sitting here sobbing, because I know the deep love she had for me. "Oh yes Mommy. I get to go to the same school for 2 years in a row. I'm so happy." These would be the last words my mother ever spoke to me. Right before my next weekend, my mother had a brain aneurism and slipped into a coma and died. My Uncle and Aunt told me that her very last words to them were..."Please, just make sure my baby is ok!" I'm ok Mama!
Her death would cause a great divide in my family. My sisters were hurt, devastated, and in fact blamed me for her death. I was told that because of what I said in court my mother's heart could not bear it, that was what did her in. I carried that with me for a long time.
Many years pass. I lived a normal life (estranged from my mother's side of the family for much of my school life). I went back to the church that we had found when I got saved. I was discipled by the children's pastors, Elaine and Joe Gibilisco. They walked me through a difficult recovery time when my Mom passed away. Then my youth pastor was an incredible man. He taught me to study the word, to pray, to rely on God, to strengthen my relationship with Him. I had friends and we were serious about growing in our faith. Those years in youth group were pivotal to who I am today. I was taught early how to evangelize. I witnessed to my Dad. I wanted to see him saved. My step mother finally got saved and started to go to church with me. My Dad was a bit more stubborn.
My Dad finally did accept Christ as his Savior 9 months before he died of esophageal cancer. His story is a part of my Apple of His Eye series.
I went to college. The only one in my family at that point to ever go finish high school let alone go to college. I got an associates degree and moved away to obtain my bachelors. I was 20 years old when I met Mike Engel. I remember telling my Dad I wanted to marry someone just like Mike Engel. His heart for God was the most beautiful thing I have ever beheld. His love for Jesus and the lost were so incredibly attractive to the spirit within me. I knew that if I were to ever marry...I would want a husband like him. Never thought that he would "pick me" and we would start to date in February of 1990, get engaged 4 months later and be married 6 months after that. If interested you can read that love story here: Step Into The Time Machine.
We were married and I completed my education to become a teacher. We tried to have a babies for 10 years and I kept having miscarriage after miscarriage. We struggled with infertility for all those years, trying to get pregnant. There are many places I talk about this experience in this blog...There Is A Time for Everything is one place you can read about it. We have 14 babies in Heaven waiting for us someday. Today, married for 24 years to Mr. Incredible (Mike Engel), I have the privilege of homeschooling my 3 sons. One son, who was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (an autism spectrum disorder) and who is showing improvements. I am blessed and honored as my boys continue to show me Jesus every day. They are my priceless gifts from God.
My story is long, (I apologize) and it was difficult to write not because the memories are too painful to bear, but because by God's grace in my own life, I have forgiven some very special people for the events that occurred that were not within my control as a child. I don't want them ever to feel like I'm removing their scabs. You see, me, I have no scars. When the blood of Jesus covers you and you let Him have every single part of your story...all the parts, even the secret parts...He heals! Oh, He doesn't just put a bandage on the wounds, He heals them completely, no scabs to peel off again and again, no scars left behind no matter how deep the wounds. He really makes you whole, you really are a NEW creation. Sometimes all it takes is taking your hand off the wounds and letting Him at it.
In the first paragraph I mentioned a verse, 2 Corinthians 1:4 "He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us." It is my greatest desire and hope that if you are reading this, my story can bring you Hope. Please, do not feel sorry for me. I am fully aware that my story was written by the very Hand of God. He knew me before I was even born the Bible tells me. My life was in His Hands. He literally had me in His palm of His hands. How can that be you ask? Yes, I was still abused sexually, mentally, this was no life anyone would want for a child. You could say I was a victim of several horrible things. HOWEVER, this is not where my focus is, nor should yours be for me. You see, I could have chosen a long time ago to be a victim of my circumstances. I could have chosen to try to get retribution for what happened to me. I could blame the adults in my life for making bad choices. I could be bitter today. I could have made really bad choices growing up and you would say...."well, it's not her fault...I mean look at the life she had." HOWEVER. I CHOSE to be victorious instead. I CHOSE to give Christ a chance to heal my wounds, to redeem me by His great love. After all, that is why He came to earth to begin with. I have lived a life full of miracles and wonder. My children are able to grow up seeing the hand of God in our everyday lives. He continues to provide for our needs. Do bad things still happen? Absolutely. There has been much pain even in my life as an adult. But I am safe under the wings of my Savior. He is my Protector, He is my Rescuer. I'm whole! I'm Healed! I'm Free. Memories do not haunt me. I no longer live in fear. I know who I am in Christ and I believe every word He says about me!
Today, if you have children who have made bad choices and have gone on a path you would never have chosen for them. Don't give up. Pray for them. If you are struggling today as a single Mom and worry that your children will never be what you hoped them to be because your life, or the life you are giving them is less than ideal. Please, remember my story. He is our Redeemer. He loves your children more than you do. No matter what the circumstances of our lives are...His Word remains true. It is NEVER too late to CHOOSE LIFE! We most certainly can have joy in our journey. I'm a living testimony to that very truth. I heard it once said that the Lord never wastes pain. He has written my story (and continues to do so)...and it is all for His Glory.
This is legacy my Jesus leaves for His children: