The year was 1970, and my mother was expecting her third child. My father, on the other hand, was awaiting the arrival of his first. The exact date was May 13, 1970, and I was on my way into this world. My father sat in the waiting room to hear news on the birth of his first child. You see, back then, fathers did not get to sit by their wife’s side, did not get to cut the cord, or take pictures during childbirth. This is where I make my grand entry. Born at 9:17 am on that Wednesday morning, and weighing in at 7 lbs. 7 oz, I drew my first breath. And thus begins my story.
I was born in Aurora, and spend the first 19 years in the same town. In fact I spent more than 18 of those years in the same apartment. My mother would tell you, if she were still here, that when she met my father he seemed like a nice guy. She was awkwardly introverted, and did not make friends easily. When this young man (He was a little more than 8 years younger than her) showed some interest in this divorced woman with two kids, she felt that it may be her only chance. She was heart-broken from her first marriage and struggling to be a single mom to two grade school aged children.
My mother was adopted by her Aunt. She was an only child to a couple who wanted children but could not have their own. She grew up in a home where there was love mixed with strict rules. She grew up with a bit of fear of her mother, who could be a bit harsh in her demands. My grandmother was not the warm and fuzzy kind of grandma. She had a mean, biting side and was always critical. Growing up, my mom towed the line. She didn’t drink or smoke. She studied hard, got good grades and followed the rules. That is until her last year of high school when she met her future first husband and became pregnant shortly before her graduation. She expected a storybook life together with what she would call her first, only and true love.
My father, on the other hand, was raised on a farm in southern Indiana, in extreme poverty. His father was a mean drunk. His mother died of cancer when he was just 10 years old. He is the youngest of 10 children. His oldest siblings left home as soon as they possibly could to get out of the house. My dad dropped out of school during 8th grade to help on the farm. He was beaten regularly, abused, ignored and left to fend for himself. There weren’t many good days in his home with very little money and very little food.
I always felt that my mother and father could not possibly have had much in common. My mother was raised in the north, very smart and educated. My father was from the south with only an 8th grade education. He was never a particularly good reader and my mother never stopped reading. So, here we were, my mom about to turn 30 with her third child just born, a 12 year-old son and 10 year-old daughter at home. My father found himself a step-father and dad to a newborn at the young age of 21.
This all sets the stage for my childhood. My mother struggled with depression, and she could be critical like her mother and was often difficult to please. My father had learned to abuse as he was abuse. My father was physically, emotionally and sexually abusive. From my earliest memories I mostly remember the fighting, the tears, and the abuse. I have very few good memories. The abuse escalated, my mother turning a blind eye, medicating with anti-depressants and heading off to work. My father stopped working, which made him angrier, and my mother more depressed. She now worked to support three children and a husband. Around my 7th birthday, my parents divorced, which left my mom and I alone for most of the rest of my younger years.
I was a broken child. My earliest memories are of pain, and fear; tears and heartache. These events shaped me in very unhealthy ways. I was constantly striving to be accepted. Although my mother and father were very different, they both sent the same message-you aren’t good enough. One did it through abuse, destroying my sense of who I was, and rocking me to the very core. The other, was critical of everything and was too deep in her own depression to notice mine. At the age of 7, I was a mess. Doctors put me on a strong barbiturate in first grade to help ease my “nervous stomach”. That is an understatement! I was sick a lot. I cried all the time. I was afraid of everything. I slept with the lights on (actually I did this until I married Chad!). I wanted to die, and spent many years contemplating this throughout my entire young life. I became obsessively controlling, trying hard to have some sort of control over what happened to me. My bedroom was spotlessly cleaned and organized, and I hated when anyone would come in there and move things around. It seems crazy now, but at the time it was the only “safe” little corner of my world.
Despite the abuse, I was “daddy’s little girl” and I was convinced that I have driven him off. I grew up believing that he did not love me; partly because he was too busy with his new family, and partly because my mother told me that he did not love me or he would visit me more. Initially, I was mad at myself, but as years went by with very little contact from him, I grew to hate him. I allowed myself to fantasize about hurting him if I ever saw him again. I heard from him off and on.
When he first moved out, he was living with my uncle just a few miles away. I went there every other weekend to spend the night with my cousins. This was a difficult time for me. My father seemed too busy to notice me. Mostly he picked me up out of duty because it was ‘his weekend’. On top of everything else, my cousin who was a year older than me, continued to molest me. By this time in my life, I had learned to NEVER say no. You do what you are told. Period. I never told anyone. Too ashamed and afraid that I would forever lose my dad, I kept silent. This set me up for a pattern of abuse; from a teacher at school, and an older worker at a hospital where I was a junior volunteer. I think that there is something that abusers can see in the face of a child who has learned to keep quiet and never say no, as it seems that the same children are frequently abused by multiple people.
I would later learn that many of my cousins had been sexually abused. It seemed to be rampant in my father’s family and many went on to be abusers themselves. This was a constant fear in my life, as I never wanted to become the monster I had grown to hate. For many years, I was scared to death to have children for fear I would hurt them. I had imagined that being an abuser was some kind of sickness or disease that one couldn’t escape. I now believe that abuse is a choice.
The apartment I mentioned earlier that I spent more than 18 years living in was section 8 housing. By my middle school years, my mom and I were in the minority in that complex. I hung out with the teens in my neighborhood. By junior high we had all learned from the older teens about life on the streets and in the gangs. Though it seems cliché, the gangs offered me acceptance, or it seemed so at the time. I would later learn that none of them were true friends, but they were only there while there was something in it for them.
I want to use caution here to say that I do NOT want to glorify any of what I have already said or what I am about to say. I give this detailed background information to show in the next post the transforming power of Christ. I was broken, shattered, and past being able to put the pieces back together on my own. It is not something that could have been done in my own strength. I want to stress that it is ALL God and NONE of me that is responsible for getting me to where I find myself today. I grew up not hearing about God, or at least not in a good way. His name was familiar as a curse word. My mother was an atheist, or at least she would say that when asked. I was taught there was no god. I never went to church, not once, until I attended a wedding in a Catholic church when I was about 12. I had no hope and thought I had no one to answer to for any of my choices.
My 8th grade year is when my life started really unraveling. I was allowed to do whatever I wanted. My mom was not good at setting rules. She didn’t want to be strict like her mother, and in an effort to avoid being harsh, she took a completely hands off approach. My ever hardening heart perceived this as weakness, and took advantage every chance I got. I went where I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted, and she didn’t question me. I lied, stole and yelled at her regularly. I was regularly doing drugs, drinking, stealing, having sex and hanging out with all the local gang members. This continued to spiral downward until I was arrested at age 16. Thankfully I had to meet with the police officer that was assigned to our high school. This was the beginning of a slight turn around for me. This police officer became like a father to me. He talked with me, got me involved with Tae-Kwon-Do and got me out of the gangs and off drugs. I wish I could say that I stopped all of my bad behaviors at that point, but I didn't, I still was unable to say no to young men. Even when I tried, it didn’t work, and I blamed myself for being somewhere I shouldn’t have been, or being dressed inappropriately. Then I drank to dull the pain in my soul. He had a huge impact on my life, so that at age 17, I joined the US Coast Guard and started on a path to becoming a law enforcement officer.
In an effort to keep this short (don’t laugh!) I will skip ahead to 1989. I had been out of high school for a year, and we moved to St. Charles to live with my sister. In November of that year I met Chad. I wish I had a wonderfully romantic story to tell. Unfortunately, I do not. We met at work, and like most of my other relationships, I felt that if I could just get someone to love me, life would be ok. I would be ok. I would know real happiness. In all my twisted years of upbringing, I learned that sex equals love, and although I wondered why I never felt loved, I kept doing the same thing hoping for different results.
Chad and I met in November 1989, went on our first date in March and I was pregnant by May 1990. This is not a good way to start a relationship! We were young, stupid and selfish. We didn’t know how to really love someone else, and we struggled. We struggled a lot. The first few years there was a lot of fighting, tears, anger and all the things that were familiar to me as a child. The one thing we both had was an overwhelming desire to stay together, and not have our kids feel the hurt of divorce as we both did. We would both willingly admit that we had broken every marriage vow, and were headed for divorce when we separated in 1994. By the grace of God, we started marriage counseling in the fall of 1994 and started getting things back on track in 1995. Just three short years later, with all things seemingly going well, our entire life was about to change…. (to be continued).