Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Flower from Ashes: My personal testimony
I initially started this blog as a sort of self-examination...a platform to chronicle my own journey towards healing, and the things that God has taught me along the way. Thus far, though, I have not posted too many blogs of this nature. Most of my blogs have been short devotionals and personal commentaries, but from this point on, I plan on posting blogs of a more intimate nature.
To be honest, I am not sure why I deviated from the original intent of my blog. I do know that it is not an easy task to lay out the things that are in my heart. I suppose fear was one of the main contributing factors – not so much fear of confronting the things in my heart, but more a fear that I will not be able to adequately express myself, or articulate the color and shape of my emotions.
Well, friends, this is the moment where I drop my guard and lay out my heart. From here on out, I plan to blog about my life’s experiences, and the things that the Lord has taught me – lessons about intimacy, loneliness, abuse, and love; lessons about His faithfulness in the face of my own inadequacies, and love in the midst of adversity. One singer said it best: “Life’s a journey, not a destination.” In this blog, I plan on chronicling much of this journey, and reflecting on the abundant mercy and grace of Jesus Christ, who has brought me through the peaks and valleys and held the compass, even when I was unable to read it. Not only did He know the journey that I would take, but He also knew the destination. I only hope that I can adequately do this. I figure that the best place to start is by sharing a brief testimony of my life.
I was raised in a Christian home by a single mother. She was a very devout woman who loved the Lord with as much heart and soul as any person could, but she also struggled with depression. Although she never sought counselling, it was evident that she carried some very deep emotional scars. When you are a child, you can sense when a parent is troubled and unhappy.
Being raised without a father had a very significant impact on me. I was always very lonely, and uncomfortable in my own skin. Deep inside, I craved the love of a father, but my relationship with my own dad never went beyond occasional summer visits until I was 13 years old. That is when I stopped visiting him altogether. My mother was my family.
Socially, I always felt like an outcast, and had trouble connecting with people. I was a loner, and pretty much absorbed myself in my schoolwork. I managed to get good grades and even won national awards for my scholastic achievements, but I was always unhappy and insecure, and saw myself as inadequate, ugly, and worthless.
When I was 14 years old, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She would go into the hospital for weeks at a time, and I was left alone in the house. I became anorexic and pretty much shut myself off emotionally, not wanting to confront the fear and pain. Having no family to turn to made it very difficult to cope, and even more confusing. I managed to keep my focus enough to continue getting good grades. Because of this, I graduated high school early, looking forward to college and a future that I assumed would be a lot brighter than my past.
Scholastically, I fared well in college, but was socially inept. I never really fit in anywhere. My first year in college, I was introduced to crystal meth, or “speed.” I was instantly hooked. By the grace of God, I never became addicted, but even so, there were periods in my life when I became utterly consumed with the drug. It gave me a feeling of euphoria and self-esteem that I never felt before. I would continue using on and off for the next 19 years.
During my junior year in college, I began dating the man who would become my husband. It was at this time that my mother was very ill, and I knew that she hadn’t much longer to live. A few months after we started dating, he asked me to marry him. It seemed like perfect timing. I knew that in my mother’s deteriorating condition, she would soon be gone, and I also knew that it was her dream to see me get married. I was young, naive, and desperately afraid of being alone. So I said yes. I wanted my dear mother to see me get married so that she could die in peace. He was a very intelligent man with a strong personality, and I saw him as good husband material, although we only dated for a short time and I didn’t really know him.
The marriage started off alright, but soon became physically and emotionally abusive. As a married couple, we lacked real intimacy, both emotionally and physically. We never connected at that deep level that a husband and wife are supposed to connect, and neither of us really knew one another. Sexually, I always felt inadequate, and as a woman, I never felt loved.
A few months into the marriage, we were already facing financial problems – problems which would continue throughout our marriage. Neither of us could hold a steady job for very long. Due to our financial situation, I decided to join the military. It was during my time in the service that, regretfully, I had an affair. It was the worst thing I could have done, although I had my reasons, but even still, to this day, I deeply regret it.
We stayed together, but the marriage would never recover. As the years went by, I felt more inadequate as a wife. He began looking at pornography behind my back, and one day I caught him. He told me that it meant nothing to him, but that he looked at it because I was not fulfilling him sexually. I believed him, and figured that it was my fault. I still harboured a lot of guilt over the affair, and I suppose I felt a necessity to “make it up to him.” In my warped mentality, I thought that I was being a good wife, but looking back, I realize that I was enabling him. At his request, we began incorporating it into the bedroom. Eventually, he became addicted.
I would hold down several jobs during our marriage. I worked in sales, customer service, and even cocktail waitressing. Some of them were lucrative, but due to his poor management of money, we were always struggling . We had a mutual friend who worked in a high-end strip club in San Francisco, and she said that I could make good money dancing part-time. He was ecstatic about the idea. I was unemployed at the time, and my feelings of inadequacy led me to agree to it. I had to completely shut myself off and discard every ounce of integrity, just to make it work. I hated being there, hated myself, and hated the customers who came into the club – even so, I wanted to feel desired by these men. It was a twisted and evil mentality. Inside, I felt dirty and deeply ashamed. I only lasted a few months before I quit.
Even so, he continued to look at pornography, and before long, suggested that we get into the biz together. By this time, I had absolutely no integrity or scruples left. He was persistent, and I was weak and wanted to please him, so I said yes. It was the lowest, darkest point in my life. Although he and I were only involved in the mainstream industry for approximately 6 months, I saw and experienced things that brought me into a profoundly dark place. He completely controlled my career, and I felt like a slave -- a filthy, used-up sex slave. Within those few months, I absorbed myself in the lifestyle and lost my core identity. By the end of those few months, I was so wrecked that I was institutionalized and diagnosed as manic depressive. Soon after I left the hospital, he filed for divorce.
I eventually became homeless and started using meth very heavily. It provided an escape from the bitter reality of having lost my marriage and my daughter, and everything dear to me. I ended up getting into another relationship, this time with an alcoholic who was extremely physically abusive. He would beat me on a regular basis, giving me black eyes, and even breaking my finger. I was in complete bondage to the relationship, and lived in constant fear. I was the typical battered woman, blaming myself for the abuse, and living with the delusion that he would eventually stop. Of course, that never happened.
He was aware of my porn past, and used it against me. He told me that I was damaged goods, and that I would never be able to find another man to love me. I believed him. I endured the abuse because I had very strong feelings for him, and thought that I would never find another man to love me, because of my past involvement in the sex industry. For a year and a half, I endured this abuse, until the day that he tried to kill me. He was drunk, and had no idea what he was doing. It was at that moment that I cried out to God to save me, and He did. It was truly a miracle that I survived. It took the fear of dying to make me finally leave him, and I literally had to escape with nothing.
Even though God intervened to save my life, in my foolishness, I continued to run from Him. Having no place to go, I went to stay with a friend of mine, and started doing hardcore drugs again. Life consisted of work and partying, and I lived to get high. A few months later, we had a falling-out, and I ended up homeless again. It wasn’t long before I secured an apartment, but I continued using and having no regard for myself or God. I missed my daughter terribly, and drugs helped to numb the pain.
The many months of constant drug use began taking their toll on me. I became depressed and exhausted. I knew that I could no longer go on the way I was living, and desperately needed hope. I felt suicidal, and had no desire to live. That is when God revealed Himself to me so beautifully. He spoke to me through the teachings on Christian radio, and opened my eyes up to His infinite love and grace. I knew that God loved me, but I had no idea of the depth of His love. I knew that He would forgive me, but I had no idea how He would restore and renew me.
When I invited God’s Spirit back into my life, it was as though I was wakened from the dead. He gave me a hope, and flooded my soul with joy and peace, like I had never known before. He showed me that all of the things that I did, all of my sin, all of my pain, was insignificant in the light of His mercy and grace. God was so much greater than any of it, and He truly revealed Himself to me. I knew that there was no turning back. For so many years, I had turned by back on God, on my precious Lord Jesus – but through it all, He held me together, and spared my life so that I could one day return to Him.
I know that I do not have much to show for the life I lived, aside from years of brokenness and failure. I spent so many years in sin and rebellion that I had all but forgotten about the love and grace of Jesus, but the Bible also promises that God will restore to me the years that the locust has eaten. That is exactly what He did. Soon after coming back to Christ, He took away my drug habit and my smoking habit. He also began repairing my relationship with my daughter, although that would be a significantly more challenging road.
In the years following the separation, my relationship with my daughter was strained. Due to my living situation, I was unable to provide a home for her, and my husband gained custody. I tried to rebuild my life and looked forward to eventually gaining custody myself, but my financial situation, and the difficulty coming to an agreement with my husband, made that impossible. Visitations became fewer and fewer, and my husband did everything in his power to have her removed from my life, even to the point of going to court without my knowledge and attempting to have a restraining order placed upon me.
Eventually, I was able to get visitations re-instated, shortly after which my husband left the country with her, and did not leave me any contact information. For almost 2 years, I had no idea where they were, and I thought I had lost her forever. It was during this time that I was forced to surrender every fear that I had to the Lord, and trust Him entirely with her well-being. Many days were almost unbearable, and it took all I had to fight off going into a deep depression, and continue moving forward. It was during this time that my relationship with the Lord deepened, and my utter dependence on Him for my emotional well-being reached its peak. I did not know if I would ever see her again. I did not know what she thought of me – I was deathly afraid that she thought that I had abandoned her. I wondered if she was happy or sad, if she was having a good day or if she was hurting and needed the love of her mother. I experienced many days of deep discouragement and confusion, wondering what God’s plan was – or if He even HAD a plan.
Then, one day, my prayers were answered. I was contacted by a third party who told me exactly where they were and how she was doing. I about fell out if my chair. I was shocked and utterly grateful at the same time. I knew the Lord was getting ready to restore our relationship, and I immediately began the legal paperwork to have visitation re-instated. It still hurts to know that I lost so many years with her, but I also know that the Lord works all things together for good to those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose.
Today, I have the awesome privilege of being a mother again. Naturally, the years of separation and lack of contact have strained the relationship, and we are not as close as I wish we were. Even so, I know that God is bringing something beautiful out of this, just as He makes all things beautiful in their time. This is a promise that has carried me through so many times. In fact, it’s the promises of God that have brought me through the valleys of loneliness and despair.
I am still in the process of rebuilding my life, as the Lord rebuilds my heart and transforms me into the woman that He wants me to be. I still fall short in so many ways. There are times when I get glimpses into the very depths of my heart, and I see the sin and blackness there, and I cry out “O. Lord, help me,” but I praise God that His grace gives me a reason to continue moving forward. I know that He is sanctifying me, and rebuilding my life that I may glorify Him...and what a privilege that is.
God has given me a platform and enabled me to reach out to others who struggle with porn addiction, and other women who have been traumatized and abused by the sex industry. For 3 years, I volunteered with the Pink Cross Foundation, a non-profit foundation reaching out to those trapped in the porn industry. Since then, God has moved me in a different direction, and at the moment I am priviledged to be a part of Women's Bible Study Jerusalem, a ministry reaching out to prostitutes and sex trafficking victims in the Holy Land. My dream, should the Lord tarry, is to one day serve in India, reaching out to prostituted women and children, innocent victims of the sex trade, and sharing the awesome love of Christ -- the only one with the keys to true freedom, and the power to save and heal.