1 Samuel 17
I know I sometimes start off with a Bible verse, but this part of my testimony requires the story of David and Goliath, so I have listed the book and chapter of the Bible where their story takes place. If you have heard this story before, you know that David is a young shepherd boy who is brought out to fight a mammoth of a man that could not be defeated by the Israelite army. This man was so big and so trained in the tactics of war that the whole army was scared of him. The worst part was that he knew they feared him. When he called for someone to come and fight him, no one came. He laughed and mocked them. He laughed and mocked them when David came out to fight him also. He didn’t think someone so small could take him out. God had other plans. I’d like for you to keep this Bible story in the back of your minds as you read this next chapter.
Chaos surrounded the birth of my youngest son, Denver. He came into a world full of fear on a day that many Americans will never ever forget. He was born on September 11, 2001 at the same time the last plane, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field in Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania, the plane intended for Washington D.C. The passengers on that plane tried to overtake their hijackers and keep it from it’s original destination. While they did not live, they accomplished the mission of diversion. The world focused on the terror, but I was focused on the beauty of the little boy that God had given me.
I woke up to intense contractions that morning. I remember the time exactly. 8:46 a.m. I remember this time because it is burned into my memory. I woke up to labor pains but the timing and its ironic coincidence to my pain and the pain of the world did not escape me in my reflections over the course of Denver’s childhood. Denver was born into a world that knew nothing but fear. Denver was born to a woman who knew nothing but fear. Denver would become the most fearless of all my kids.
Denver was a sweet baby who never cried. I know a lot of people say that about their newborns, but it was as if he knew that the world was hurting and he just came in quietly and let the world focus on the way it was hurting, instead of requiring the world to pay attention to him. Denver would remain that quiet, shy, penetratingly watchful little boy in the years to come. Our home was madness, but somewhat of a beautiful sort. My four boys were into everything and in constant need of something. I managed to stay ahead of them for the most part and took my position as their mother with great resolve to raise good men instead of ones like the men who had used the bad in their hearts to attack my country.
I read everything I could get my hands on about how you parent. I will forever be grateful to Dr. James Dobson in this period of my life. His books on how to parent, how to parent boys, and how to instill good qualities in the children that God honored us with were the foundation I used to create a good life for my boys. We attended the Heart Hospital Church with them, and I taught them to pray, I sang them Bible songs, and I read them Bible stories. I was careful to include how very much God loved them, determined not to have them grow up with the mindset that I’d been given. I still didn’t think God loved me, but I knew he had to love my sons. They were not like me, broken and bleeding all over the place, but still innocent and I swore that I would give them everything to put into their arsenal to use against the evil in the world.
I prayed and studied the Bible in the bits of fragmented time I had that I wasn’t covered in children and could concentrate on the stories in the Bible. I tried to find God but I never really felt like he was finding me. I didn’t think that my boys had done anything to be abandoned and I was convinced that God would show them a different life than he had shown me because they weren’t bad like I was. I taught them love.
We were hosting a Bible study with my Dad and brothers and sisters at this point, although I don’t remember much about it except I was always nervous that my Dad would find out that I wasn’t living the life of someone that God believed in. He knew I smoked but out of respect I didn’t do it around him. I never felt like I could be myself for fear that he would leave again and so I didn’t contradict anything he said.
Due to the constant presence of infants in our home, we smoked outside. My sister lived with us during this time and when I brought Denver home from the hospital, she would spend hours singing goofy songs and talking to him like he was her age. She was funny and I found myself laughing at her stories from the other room when she began story time with my infant son. My sister and I had become best friends and we understood each other except that I was still the oldest and so she looked to me for a lot of advice. It never occurred to either one of us that that might not be in her best interest. One day she was singing a song about bucket seats and safety belts to Denver. He watched her with that super amused look infants get where you wonder if they are thinking the giant that is holding them has lost their mind. I love that look on babies. My sister, Joyce, looked up at me as I walked into the room and said, “I enlisted this morning.” My heart fell out through my feet. My baby sister was going to the Army. My best friend was leaving, and I would not be able to protect her from whatever dangers she was placed in front of there.
We moved to a bigger house around the time she left and graduated from boot camp. In the coming months I did nothing but worry. I was scared that she or my brother, Nick, who had also enlisted and went overseas on tour would not come home again. Nick would call my mom and talk to her whenever he found time, but then started writing letters saying that calling Mom was bad luck. Every time he called home, his camp got bombed so he decided to play it safe and write letters.
I missed Joyce terribly. I had nobody really without her. Ed and I started fighting more often and I realize now that this was the beginning of the end of our marriage. He had taken a job with the railroad that didn’t require him to travel out of state, due to my constant nagging about not wanting to raise our boys alone. While he was physically at home, he really wasn’t present in the raising and training of our boys and I resented him for always getting to be “the fun parent” instead of trying to help me figure out how to keep them safe and successful, productive members of our society. I didn’t know the words to describe it then, but I was responsible for the emotional workload of our family. I tried to talk Ed up into being the leader the Bible said he should be, but looking back on it now, I didn’t trust him to take that role. I didn’t trust God to make him into the man that he should have been either, and so I took over everything that had any sort of decision making involved. Finances, the way we raised our kids, the way our house was run was all my responsibility. Ed taught the boys how to have fun.
Our family grew again a few years later with the addition of my daughter, Aja. You might be asking yourself why I continued to have children when I knew my marriage was not what it should have been. My answer would be that I was very much trying, without trying, to encourage my husband in his decision making. I was lonely and still didn’t feel any love, especially since Ed’s actions had nothing to do with loving me but controlling me as a wife. He didn’t like something; we didn’t do it. I think many times, married couples misinterpret the meaning of the verses in the Bible that call for a wife to be submissive to her husband. We stop there and don’t take into account that the husband is supposed to be submissive to the church. Mine was not, but I didn’t feel like that eliminated my role as his wife just yet. I held onto the hope that God would change him. He changed a lot in the next few years, but that change didn’t come from God. The crazy thing about the way Satan uses evil to destroy is that many times, it looks like love because we are too broken of a people to realize what true love looks like.
I started to bother Ed about having friends. I was tired of always being cooped up in the house with the kids. We stopped going to the Heart Hospital church because I had become too rundown to get 5 kids ready for church alone every Sunday and Ed’s drinking had increased. I wish that I could tell you that I held onto my faith that God would change him, but I didn’t. I began to believe that God had deserted me again and I had had enough of watching everyone else find comfort and joy in his presence and no matter what I prayed or how much I read my Bible and journaled my thoughts I never felt anything even close to that. Ed and I began fighting more and more until he came home one day from work and said that a new guy had gotten transferred to his yard at the railroad and they had been discussing how annoyed their wives were at not having any friends.
We started to hang out with them and because my belief in God had shriveled to the point of almost nonexistence, I began drinking with Ed and this new couple. We started to fight even more as my irritation began to grow that Ed had sailed through parenting our kids. I needed a break and because I had pushed off anyone who’d tried to give me that for the previous 7 or 8 years, people just stopped asking. I wasn’t going to leave my kids with a sitter that often. Ed’s parents were often the only people I trusted to watch my kids, but there was always condemnation in their voices when they asked about something I was trying to do with my kids. Ed’s son began having a ton of problems in school and began lying to us about everything. We made the decision to homeschool because I wanted him to have more attention. It turned into a battle every day to get his son to do any work at all. His son didn’t feel loved and because of the misdirection of his other grandparents about how he belonged in our family, his little heart was suffering. I tried to give him as much love as I could, but I was very alone in that venture.
Because of the drinking Ed and I started fighting even more. Our marriage came to a crashing halt when I decided that I just could not have any more babies and I was too tired, and my body had been through too much growing 4 tiny people inside of it. I had my boys, I had my daughter. That was enough for me. At this point, Ed began to see how close I was to leaving and so he began doing off the wall things in order to impress me. He bought me a huge ring for absolutely no reason. I took it as a sign that he was trying to claim property and I was sick of being owned by someone due to a piece of paper. We got into a fight one night and the events that occurred were what I call the casket moment of my life. My already dying marriage became a cold and lifeless corpse and it took my heart and soul with it. I had no hope. I had no love. I had nothing.
A few weeks later, I was at a doctor’s appointment, trying to rectify some of the damage done to my body from my years of having babies. I have a very twisted, ugly vein that runs down my right leg. I didn’t care so much about the look, but the blood pooling on the inside of my knee whenever I stood up too long started to become too much of a pain to be able to keep up with my kids. I had been looking forward to having this procedure done for a long time. So much so, that my fear of hospitals came in second to how much I needed this problem to go away. I got the flu and had a temperature the day of my surgery, so the doctor sent me back home and they rescheduled. I came back three weeks later, and the doctor informed me that they couldn’t do the surgery on a pregnant woman. I remember being completely confused as to why he would say that to me, since I wasn’t pregnant. He informed me that when they had done my preliminary bloodwork that my pregnancy test had come back positive. I immediately burst into tears. I cried the whole way home from the doctor’s office and continued crying for the next 3 weeks straight. I just wasn’t strong enough to grow another baby.
My last pregnancy was a time of horrendous turmoil. Ed and I bounced around from trying to work it out even though I know now that nothing he could have done in this time would have changed my mind. I was tired of living with a person that seemed to have no regard for how hard I worked, how much I loved my kids, and how shattered he had caused my heart to become. Looking back now, I see what God did for me in that moment of my life. I needed this baby. My other babies had any ounce of love that I could give and I just didn’t have any more. Or at least that is what I thought. I was so stressed out from my constant battling with Ed and my announcement that I would no longer live with a man that chose to live inside the bottom of a whiskey bottle that I started to bleed a few months before she was born. I had moved out of our house and into a trailer that my brother, Nick, had owned and was trying to sell. When the doctor put me on bedrest, I had no choice but to move back in with Ed.
I made it clear that the only reason I was there was because I was too sick to be able to take care of the other kids on my own. I was not interested in any resolutions of our marriage because Ed continued to stay married to his alcohol. We fought constantly and then one day I just stopped talking to him. I was done. My daughter was born and I acquired an infection from having my tubes tied. My health was in terrible shape. I lost a lot of weight and didn’t eat. My doctors were concerned about my mental health and to be fair so was I. I had begun trying to find answers through music and one of my brothers’ friends had begun messaging me and recommending new bands for me to listen to. We spent hours talking and I fell in love with the idea of being in love. I wallowed in my music and pretended that this guy was whatever I needed him to be. His online persona was nothing like his physical presence, so for the most part I kept him online. Ed found out and everything exploded. We separated for the last time that spring and Ed filed for divorce.
Our divorce was final in February of 2008. Ed held my hand through our divorce hearing and I cried. He asked me to remarry him after we signed the papers. I sorrowfully informed him that the wife he had known was dead. I was not that wife anymore. He’d killed her. I would not be coming back.
I wish I could tell you that this was the straw it took to break the camel’s back. It was not. The next ten years of my life do not need their own chapter in the same format that you have been reading my story. I can sum those years up in a passage I read in Dr. Allender’s book, “The Wounded Heart”. “Having a history of abuse created caverns in her heart that predisposed her to longing for men who harm sexually, verbally, emotionally, or harm by their absent heart. She found herself repeatedly falling in love with the same man. A different face, a different frame, but no less the same man and felt compelled by her desire for him. Anything different made her bored, disinterested, and even angry.”
I jumped right into another tumultuous and turbulent relationship that ended ten years later. The only things I learned from that relationship are things that taught me just how much abuse and evil that one can endure before they have finally had enough. When it was over, I collected my children, whatever pieces of my shattered heart that I could find out from under the feet of a man who was more broken than my husband had ever been and I began to walk. I had no idea where I was going, but I began to walk.
In the year that followed I drank a lot. My heart just couldn’t hold any more pain. I was broken and bleeding and there was no hope for me in sight. I was forced to live alone with my kids and my pain and while I am not proud of this section of my story, I understand why it took so much to break me. I am stubborn. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about people who have suffered from abuse is the insane amount of hell that they can endure before they totally break. Before you judge me, which you have every reason to, I want you to consider something. You cannot take on the entire world alone and stay unbroken. You cannot look evil in the eye every single day and stay strong enough to defeat it on your own. If I had known exactly what that meant maybe I wouldn’t have died so hard. But, when you don’t know you just don’t know. It doesn’t make you wrong, or a bad person. It makes you a human. Yes, I knew that my drinking was becoming a problem. What I did not know was what to do instead. I did not know how to find any comfort in a world that seemed intent on destroying me for no other reason than it just simply could. I couldn’t stand the waves of pain, the nightmares, the agony of what my life had become and the weight that crushed me during every single moment of every single day. What made it even worse was my guilt over becoming something I had detested just 12 short years before. What made it worse was that I was hurting people. I was hurting my kids and that killed me. I couldn’t explain anything to them and not fill them with hate. I couldn’t explain to them that the last 23 years of my life were filled with the people in my life that “loved” me yet did everything they could to destroy me. I couldn’t tell them about the abuse I suffered at the hands of those people under the disguise of love. What I could tell them was that I loved them. That was all I had.
I went to work everyday and it was the only place that I felt anything. I watched my school kids and talked to them about their lives. I never combined the two…my home life and my school life. I was two completely different people. I was very aware that I didn’t fit in with the adults at school, but the kids were a different story. I heard them. I felt their pain. I understood them.
One day my daughter, Aja wrote a quote on my mirror so that I would see it when I got ready for work in the morning. It said, “Yesterday, the devil whispered in my ear and said, “You are not strong enough to withstand the storm.” Today I whispered back, “I am the storm.” I had no idea what those words would become to me, but I held onto that quote like a life raft in a raging sea of brokenness. I was tired. I was broken. I was breaking other people. Something had to change.
I’m often asked why I am so good with children. My response is always the same. “I understand the war that rages inside of them.” Nobody really knows why I say that, but in my school kids and the work that we did everyday my sad and broken heart began to beat again. They struggled the same way I had without any guidance, without any knowledge of why they were thrown into the mess that surrounded them. I began to become what I had needed. I began to become their voice and their protector, even when that idealism required me to protect them from themselves. I began to love them with everything I could find inside myself. I started to research and develop new ways of dealing with them and the issues they faced every day. I began to let them show me their hearts and the broken with which they so bravely lived every single day. I allowed them to show me their hopelessness, their anger, and their despair. I allowed them to show it to me by shutting my mouth and letting them get out whatever pain they needed to release in whatever way they chose to give it to me. They would cuss at me, try to hit me, kick me, and scream all sorts of vile things. When they were done, I would hug them and just let them be angry in that space of love. I didn’t try to correct them. I didn’t try to save them. I just sat with them in their pain and anger at the world. We sat together, many times in silence, my pain resonating with theirs. We sat.
God would show me after a few years that this giant that the school kids and I faced together was my job to bring down. I was David up against the Goliath my school kids faced. Their Goliath and my Goliath was the same. The Goliath that beats kids to a pulp on the inside before they are old enough to know they have to fight it. The Goliath that kills the hope inside of their little bodies before their bodies are even ready to understand they have hope. The Goliath that killed their spirit and their soul and their ability to see anything but their own pain.
I was watching a Youtube video of Sarah Jakes Roberts a few months ago when I realized this connection. I’d always known that I had been placed in this world to become a steppingstone for someone else to achieve greatness. What I did not know was that I was placed in front of this Goliath because God would use my experiences, my pain, my complete loss of hope and the death of the person that I was because he knew that I could take Goliath down. In all those times where I was alone and scared and being drowned and beaten by the events of my life, God was showing me how powerful I was. He was showing me that if I could just align myself with him, that if I could just get my head on straight and my ears and heart to hear his voice instead of the voice of my pain that I would see that he had placed me in front of Goliath for my kids. He allowed me to feel the terror that they felt so that I would know how to stand tall against the things my kids fear. He used all that time and all of those people to show me that I lived through it because in order to dismantle something you have to find it’s weakness.
My favorite part of the video “Restructuring” from Sarah Jakes Roberts is where she says, “ God told me to tell you when he gets done restructuring, he’s gonna take that generational curse and turn into a generational blessing. He’s going to pour out a blessing that you don’t have room enough to receive. I hear God saying “Wholeness” is coming for your family. The devil picked the wrong one. He messed around and pushed you over the edge. When he pushed you over the edge you broke open the promises. I came here to restructure somebody’s belief system. I came here to go to war with hell and hold a funeral for disbelief.”
What I realized in her message was how right my daughter was. For the last 40 years the devil has been whispering in my ear, “You are not strong enough to withstand the storm.” I finally found my power in God that allows me to look the devil straight in his lying face and say to him with my signature smirk, fiery eyes, and sarcastic tone, “Guess what? You messed around with the wrong one. I already know that I can defeat you and you used all this time to try to keep me down. But, what you didn’t realize, baby, is that all that evil you put on my head, all those generational curses and abuse I suffered through; all you did was show me how strong I am and how scared you are of me. Because here’s the real truth and I want you and your lies to hear me loud and clear when I say this. BE AFRAID. BECAUSE EVERYTHING YOU DID TO ME WASN’T ENOUGH TO KILL ME. IT WASN’T ENOUGH BECAUSE MY GOD TOLD ME SOME THING HE DID NOT TELL YOU. HE USED YOU TO TELL ME WHO I AM. I AM THE STORM.”
Sarah Jakes Roberts: Restructuring