Like so many people I know, I was raised by broken people, who were raised by broken people. My parents had a broken marriage, and my childhood home grew to be filled with emotional chaos, abuse, divisiveness, and deep manipulative deceit. In the middle of it all, I was a little girl with a profound desire to be loved.
We did attend a Catholic church when I was young, but I knew nothing of a personal relationship with Jesus. Church was something we did in my family because we were supposed to. I remember enjoying the Sunday school classes, but they were nothing more than making crafts and singing songs. I learned the recited prayers, the list of things I shouldn’t do, and some of the stories from the bible; but I never opened a one, and no one ever taught me what Jesus did for me.
My parents’ volatile marriage finally came to a crashing end when I was 11, as did our attendance at church. Just before the divorce, my father discovered his real father was the family priest he had known and loved his whole life, and the betrayal destroyed any faith he might have had. He walked away from the church in anger, never to return. He was betrayed by a man he loved, and he heaped all his anger and blame on the church. He saw the church as nothing more than a group of hypocritical liars. At that time, my mother walked away from the church as well, angry and bitter at the ending of her marriage. The divorce only brought more emotional chaos, divisiveness, and deceit into my life; and during those very tumultuous adolescent years, I adopted the same angry view of the church as my parents. I was still a girl who was desperate to be loved, but I had such a broken sense of what love looked like.
As a young adult, I was determined to create a stable, peaceful life for myself that was absent from my childhood. I gave myself away in relationship after relationship, looking for the man who could fill my need for love and stability.
At 22, I met my husband, and at 25, we were married. Our relationship struggled in those early years, punctuated with many of the same emotionally chaotic moments I grew up with. My husband was a good man, but my expectations for him were unrealistic and often resulted in explosive arguments. I worked hard to control our lives and make it into the perfect life I desired, and each time he fell short of my expectations, I punished him with hateful, hurtful words and regularly threatened divorce. If he wasn’t going to meet my expectations of the perfect life, then I was going to find someone who would.
I gave birth to our first son in 1994 and was overwhelmed with feelings of sacrificial love for the first time in my life. It was in those first few moments as a new mom that I began to feel God’s presence in my life in a personal way. It came as an undeniable urge to raise my children to know Him. I remember looking at my newborn son and being flooded with the understanding of what it must have meant for God to sacrifice His only Son. I couldn’t help but think about how much God must have loved the world to give up his baby so that we might be saved. What love He must have felt for His people. Considering I had never felt a love deeper than the love for my son, the thought of how much He must love us just overwhelmed me.
I didn’t understand where those thoughts were coming from at the time, so I stuffed them away, attributing them to postpartum hormones. After all, I believed the church was a place of hypocrites and the whole thing was a joke. God didn’t let up on me, though. He continued to show up, and I continued to feel the sense that I needed to raise my children to know Him. Still not understanding, but drawing on my Catholic background, I thought I must just need to get my son baptized and suggested this to my husband when my son was about 6 months old. My husband was raised in a Catholic home as well, and had his own struggles with hypocrisy and theology. We both had already agreed religion would not have any part in our home. My husband was adamantly opposed to the idea and dismissed my request in anger. Feeling ridiculous, I let it go and stuffed the thoughts away again.
My second son was born in 1995, and the urging returned with greater intensity. This time, I just felt an overwhelming need to go to church. Eventually, I approached my husband again but was met with the same opposition. He angrily responded by reminding me that the person asking to go to church was not who he had married. He wanted nothing to do with church. The arguments continued until one Sunday morning, I left our home in tears, without my children, and found myself in a church. I didn’t know what I was doing, or why I needed to be there, but I couldn’t stop it. I remember crying as I was sitting in the pew confused and alone, but feeling an undeniable sense of peace. As I walked out of the church that morning, I grabbed a tract hoping it would provide answers to the questions swimming around in my head. On the back of the tract was the sinner’s prayer – I took it home and prayed that prayer alone in my bathroom, and my life was forever changed.
I didn’t know a single Christian at that time. No one shared the Gospel with me, and no one led me to Christ. God called me. He pursued me with a relentless love, and He alone saved me.
The changes in my life didn’t come suddenly, but slowly God began to erode the strongholds in my heart—the bitterness, the anxiety, the negative, critical, complaining attitude, and the need for control in my life; and He replaced it with a deep sense love and belonging, and a supernatural peace that calmed the emotional chaos that once defined my thoughts. He walked me through forgiveness for unforgiveable sins, he taught me how to show grace for the broken people in my life, he showed me what love looked like, what marriage looked like, and what parenting looked like. My life was blessed in such abundant ways—my husband gave his life to Jesus on the Amazon River five years after I was saved, and I have been blessed to know the love and stability of a God-centered family.
The transformation in my life over the past 25 years of loving, serving, and learning about my Savior has been filled with remarkable moments. My story is a story of Hope—of countless moments of God showing up in faithfulness. He gently changed me by removing many of the weeds in my heart, but it took time for Him to untangle the deepest roots of idol worship that came from generational strongholds.
More on that another time…