My Story of Redemption

There are memories that get etched onto our brain or our hearts and they stay there forever. Sometimes the memories are beautiful and sometimes the memories are ugly, but regardless they remain and are a part of your story.

Then there are times when an ugly memory is made beautiful. God takes a past hurt, or difficult circumstance, and uses it to make something much more beautiful than you could ever imagine. It’s in these such moments where I see the redemptive work of God in my life up close. I don’t think I would have believed it unless I saw it myself. I’m stubborn that way.

Let me start at the beginning: the ugly memory.

Growing up, until the age of 13, I lived in a home that didn’t feel safe. My step-dad was a raging alcoholic with a temper. My mother had her own addictions to deal with and anger problems stemming from a variety of sources including being married to an abusive alcoholic. Home was a battle ground as much as I’d do my best to tippy toe around the landmines, but it was only a matter of time until one was set off. I wasn’t sure when the explosion would happen…only that it would happen.

One of my earliest memories is of me running barefoot to my next door neighbors house late at night asking them to call the police. There were many, many nights like this.

At a very young age, my grandma started taking me to Sunday school and I learned how to pray. I was confident God heard my prayers, so each night I’d pray and ask Him to keep me safe. Many nights, I’d ask Him for a new family, which He ended up giving me. A family that would keep me safe and love me unconditionally. A family that would make me their own.

Even with my new family my nightly routine didn’t change much. I’d still talk to God while I was in bed and ask Him things like, “God, how can you make anything good out of my life?” For a long time, I struggled with that question (and still do). It seemed like maybe I just had to deal with the fact that my childhood was hard but that was the past and it would remain this ugly part of my story.

Everything I knew about God told me that wasn’t how He operated though. He is a God who redeems. He takes old things and makes them new. He takes broken people and makes them whole. He takes the lonely and gives them a family.

I wanted God to bring redemption to my story. 

This past week I served at a children’s camp where 111 kids got to experience the love of Jesus in a powerful way. If that wasn’t good enough, and it would have been, it was there where I saw God’s redemption first hand.

What I didn’t tell you is that at the age of 8, I started attending this very same camp as a camper. It was at this camp that I experienced Jesus and learned about Him and honestly just fell in love with Him. I remember responding to altar calls and having my counselor pray for me. I remember feeling the love of God around me like a warm blanket. I remember hearing His voice and knowing that He was going to take care of me….even if it meant living in a place that felt like hell.

Now 23 years later, I’m standing at the very same altar. There’s a line of children in front of me who are asking for prayer. As each one comes forward I ask them what they’d like prayer for and each one confesses a need and then we pray. It’s a powerful time that’s hard to put into words, because you see the depth of their faith and it’s overwhelming and inspiring.

As I’m praying, one little girls comes up to me for prayer and when I ask her what she needs prayer for she looks at me intently and says, “I’m afraid when I’m home. My parents fight.” My heart freezes for a moment and it’s as if I’m looking into little 8-year old Holly’s eyes. I see the fear and feel it deep down in my soul. I remember it vividly.

So, I do all that I know how to do and I pray. I pray desperately as the little girl wraps her fingers around my hands tightly. My heart aches as I pray and the tears trickle down my cheeks. There is sadness, but there is also hope.

If God could bring me peace in the midst of my chaos, God can certainly do the same for this little girl.

It was there in that moment where I heard God whisper, “I brought her to you because I knew you’d understand. You would have the words she needed to hear.” My story that had looked so ugly now looks more beautiful because God was able to use it to bring hope, and Light and peace to someone else.

That is my story of redemption. 

If you’re reading this, and you feel led, please pray for this little girl. I believe one day, she’ll be the one standing at the front of an altar praying for children who are afraid and in that moment she’ll see God redeeming her story as well.

May you be reminded that God is in the redemption business– for her, for me and for you.

Advertisements

What My Dad Has Taught Me

dad

My dad is an amazing man and I’m not just saying that because Father’s Day is a few days away either.

I mean, the man has got more hobbies than people half his age (myself included). Within the past 5 years, he’s picked up new ones including Bee Keeping and Maple Syrup making. Add those to what he’s already been doing as long as I can remember: hunting, fishing, gardening, wood splitting…and just about anything and everything else.

In typical dad fashion, he’s done his very best to teach me everything he knows. Including how to filet a fish, kill a woodchuck, use a chainsaw and weed the garden. I haven’t always appreciated my “free lessons”, but I’ve learned, with time, to love them.

I still remember the night my dad needed my sister and me to help him hang a deer he got that day while hunting. My brother was unable to help him, so we suited up (in my dad’s camo overalls and hunting gear) and learned a new skill, while erupting into fits of laughter. The deer got hung, and no one ralphed– so I went ahead and added it to my list of skill sets.

dad2

He also taught me how to use a chainsaw and has lovingly nicknamed me Chainsaw #2 when we’re out working. This has been one of my favorite lessons so far because now I have lifetime bragging rights. I mean, a woman who is good looking AND knows how to use a chainsaw– what a catch!

There’s skills that I hadn’t been particularly happy about learning. Like the Saturdays he’d enlist us to weed his garden. But now, I’ll gladly spend a few hours pulling weeds for him. He usually pays me in veggies, which just so happens to be one of the perks of the job.

All this stuff is great, and I’m extremely grateful for the skills my dad has taught me, but there’s nothing like the lessons I’ve learned that go beyond a new talent.

The greatest lesson my dad has taught me is: love.

At the age of 13, I needed a home and he gave me one. Even more than I needed a roof over my head, I needed a dad.

You see, up until then, I had been living in a house that didn’t feel very safe or very loving. I lived with a lot of fear and anxiety and not a whole lot of positive male interaction, to say the least.

I’m grateful that God answered the nightly prayers of a broken little girl when she prayed: “Jesus, please save me from this” by using this man as rescuer.

It’s been 17 years since my dad chose to call me his daughter and that will always be one of the greatest gifts God has ever given me. As Christians, we talk a lot about how God IS love and all of that, but I think sometimes we forget that He shows us that love (much of the time) through other people. In my life, there is no one who has shown me more of that love than my dad. When he took me in, I was a wounded little girl. My heart a broken heap within my chest, and he loved me through all the pain.

He’s prayed me through every crisis, been a voice of wisdom in the midst of hard life decisions and he’s been there to share in my triumphs.

I’ve got many more lessons to learn from my dad, but am thankful for what I’ve learned: that river swings don’t have age limits, bonfires should always include s’mores, you “can’t hurt steel”….

….and love.

You never know the impact that love will have or the life it will save.

 

 

 

 

 

The Uncovering: A Memoir (Part 2)

Memoir Part 2

His body was silhouetted by the street lamp on the corner. I couldn’t see his face, but I could see the outlines of his tensed jaw. His voice eerily calm and seeping with rage. His clenched hands remained at his side.

“HOLLY!!! Get. Back. Here.” he yelled.

I stood barefoot in the middle of an unpaved road. My body covered by a thin night gown. Ruffles around the neck and wrist. I stood frozen for a moment. Silent. Shaking.

I turned and ran for the neighbors house. It was late and their house was dark, but my tiny fists pounded heavily upon their door. My mouth could barely form the word “help”, so I kept pounding until I noticed a light come on through the window. The door opened, and I scurried onto the front porch looking for sanctuary.

Moments earlier, I had been laying in my twin bed. Baby dolls and stuffed animals encircling my stiff little body. With each moment their voices got louder and words clearer. The thin adjoining walls did not mask the disagreement. I strained to listen as my heartbeat echoed in my ears. I held my breath to get a better listen. Would they kill each other tonight, I wondered. I repeated the name “Jesus” rapidly, almost inaudibly. It’s all I could get out before I bolted out of bed.

My physical body reacting to the turmoil and chaos in the next room. I’ve got to get help. I’ve got to find safety.

I may have been 5 or 6 years old.

photo (1)

My neighbors had called the police. By time they arrived, my biological mother had made her way to us. I remember hearing the policeman ask what happened. I don’t remember responding. I sat in the dimly lit kitchen, watching her as she gave the report. I could tell she was angry with me. Her voice nonchalant, as if we’d just had a lovely evening.

We spent the next few days at my grandparents house who lived a few minutes away. We’d be back though. She always went back. The 10-minute car ride from my grandparents’ house to “home” were always done in silence. I’d watch as the familiar scenery passed before my eyes, and I’d whisper this prayer:

“God, I’ll do anything, please don’t make us go back. Please.”

Each return trip, stripped me of more hope. This was going to be the perpetual cycle. A few days, weeks, months of walking on egg shells before someone stepped on a land mine.

I know some of the disputes were my fault, or rather, they were because of me. Knowing this, left me feeling like a burden. I often wondered if I wasn’t there that maybe they’d be happy. Maybe they’d be less stressed about money. Maybe the drinking or partying wouldn’t cause so much strife.

The last fight I was present for was on Christmas Eve. I was 12 years old. I had been making comments about Christmas morning and opening presents and wondering about what I’d be getting from “Santa”. I knew full well there was no Santa (sorry kids!), but was just excited and full of anticipation.

I could tell she was tense.

I took notice, so I went to my room to play Nintendo. I still hadn’t saved Princess Peach, so I thought that might distract me and give my mother some peace. In the kitchen, I could hear my mother talking to my step-father.

“We don’t have any presents for her, J. What are we going to tell her?!”

I knew, even at my young age, that our family had financial troubles. For many reasons, my step-fathers drinking problem was only one of them, there just wasn’t a lot of money. I don’t remember that bothering me much. I always had clothes and food and things like that. Even the expensive FILA basketball sneakers that I needed to have even though I only played basketball in 8th grade and scored a total of 2 points. The only reason I scored those 2 points, is because the other team, realizing they would never win because we were ahead by so many points would toss me the ball. That’s another story though. I just knew that money caused a lot of conflict.

As their conversation got louder and angrier, I began mentally attacking myself. “You’re such an idiot, Holly. Why’d you even bring it up? You’re such a selfish kid. You don’t need presents anyway.”

As my internal dialogue continued, my step father walked into the doorway of my bedroom. I could see he had a cut on his forehead, and was bleeding slightly.

“Look what your mother did to me, Holly.”

The knife now in his hands. My mother still screaming in the kitchen. I didn’t say anything, my face obviously showing shock. As he walked away, I knew I needed to run. Again. The snow was deep that night, reaching my knees. I don’t remember putting on shoes, or boots for that matter, but I do remember how dark and cold it was as I ran down the hill.

At this time, we had been living in the unfinished house my step-father had been building for us. It sat on top of a hill that he had cleared, with his parents house sitting below.

My grandfather was the only one home at the time. We was awake, sitting in his electric recliner. He suffered from MS and was unable to get to me. I yelled in to the living room, letting him know I was there as I called my other grandparents for help.

The rest of the night is a blur, except for a conversation I had with my mother’s father. I was in his living room, only the light of the TV shone as I stared at it replaying the evening in my mind. There was a wooden TV tray table next to the chair I sat in, and my grandfather threw down 6 crisp hundred dollar bills.

“I hope you’re happy,” he said.

My eyes clung to the TV screen. A tear running down my face.

It wasn’t about money. Or presents. Or any of that. More than anything, I longed for some peace. Some silence.

“Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is bright.”

Ya. Right.

This was my hell. I fell asleep praying, asking God for a miracle. I guess I got it, because a year later, I was living in a new house with a new family and things were very much full of peace and love.

(To be continued.)

The Uncovering: A Memoir (Part 1)

The Uncovering Part 1

Your story is the key that can unlock a person’s prison. Share your testimony.

-Unknown

Most people don’t know much about my childhood. That has been by design. Very few people have been allowed into that darkness because I have locked it up and buried it away. It’s not a pretty sight. People, in general, don’t like things that are ugly or awkward or difficult. They will quickly avert their eyes and keep walking. I’m no different. Pain comes with remembering and I don’t like to hurt.

I’ve been tight lipped for years fearing that if I voiced my disappointments, struggles, memories that someone would come along and tell me that I didn’t have a right to feel the way I did. That fear materialized a few weeks ago, on an early Saturday morning. After 7 years of silence, I heard my biological mother’s voice on the other end of the phone telling me how I “over-dramatized” my childhood. That things really weren’t that bad and that I was just a selfish kid.

I’m not trying to make myself out to be a martyr, or her a villain. I just want the freedom to express in hopes that in these words there will be freedom for my own soul and possibly for yours too. There are more prison cells to unlock, more memories to shine light on and it is my intention to do just that.

Many of my memories are triggered by an event, a smell, a voice. This past week, the bible school I attended, held its graduation ceremony. Looking at pictures of cap and gowned friends, instantly transported me back to that same event, 9 years earlier. The morning of I got ready with friends while my heart raced with anxiety knowing both my biological mother, her boyfriend and my step-dad would be in the same room at the same time.

The last time this group gathered was at my high school graduation. At one point it had me escaping from my own party to hide in my sister’s room to cry. My step-father had arrived at the ceremony with the stench of beer on his breath. This should have been no surprise since he drank all day, everyday for as long as I had known him. He refused to stay for my party because of others who would be in attendance. The others, included his ex-wife and her boyfriend. Things would have turned explosive if he hadn’t retreated. He not only drank, but without warning would transform from the life of the party into an angry, abusive, scary man. My biological mother lavished me with expensive gifts in an attempt to make up for our lack in relationship. At 17, I remember feeling sorry for her. She thought my love could be bought. At this moment, I was her shining achievement. Those feelings were book ended with me being the shittiest most ungrateful daughter– so it was difficult to enjoy “the moment”.

I had been determined that my college graduation would be different. That there was something amazing to celebrate. Three years of working two jobs and endless nights of studying now behind me and exciting new adventures on the horizon.

My class gathered in the hallway of the church where our ceremony would take place. Just us, together, one last time. My eyes filled to the brim with tears, not because of joy and excited anticipation, but because I was afraid. My heart was frail and I feared the conversations and conflict I knew were going to take place. My mom (the woman who took me in at 13 to raise as her own) came and found me. Somehow she just knew I was in turmoil and that at that very moment I needed her love and her hug. I was standing in a small huddle of friends, taking pictures when I saw her walk through the closed double doors. My heart gave a heavy sigh of relief, as the tears flowed. For the moment, I was at peace.

She hugged and kissed me, whispering in my ear about how proud she was of me and how much she loved me. We snapped a picture and she went back to the auditorium and I went back to my friends.

photo

The day progressed the way I knew it would. My step-father showed up late and watched the graduation ceremony from the sanctuary doorway. He hugged me as the class processional passed him. After which, he retreated to his girlfriend, his truck and a nearby steak restaurant. My biological mother played her usual part as manipulator and gave the day a familiar shade of shame. This accomplishment of mine seemed like a waste to her and my next-step plans didn’t sit well with her, either. Her slyly veiled jabs winded me, but I was able to endure like I had so many times before– with a tightly shut lip and a look of resignation.

I’ve journeyed on in silence. Resolved that maybe my silence would make me a better daughter. That silence would make me less of a disappointment. That silence would make me less disgusting in their eyes. Less repulsive. But my silence has kept the poison bottled in side of me and its time to flush it out.

(To be continued.)