Choosing to Live Unashamed

All of our stories are really every woman's story. The details may be different. The degree of tragedy may fluctuate. But the feelings of shame are deeply imbedded. Sometimes we soar, sometimes we limp, but let's stick together on this journey and propel forward into freedom so others can be free. We are meant to live--truly live--unashamed of whom God made us to be---today. {Unashamed by Christine Caine}

Meet our beloved sister, Holly. We all have a history, roads that make up our past, some harder than others and Holly's is one story full of many, dark roads. BUT, Holly has overcome her past and the shame that comes with all these painful roads and we praise Jesus for that.  HALLELUJAH!

"Little by little I will drive them out before you, until you have increased enough to take possession of the land." {Exodus 23:30}

Little by little, Holly has moved into her promised land. 

I grew up in church (kinda).  In that super-small country, church, our family had seasons of faithful attendance and seasons of unfaithful attendance.  I accepted Jesus into my life and was baptized at the age of 10, but I was never discipled from that point on.  Our church didn't have a middle school or youth group, nor did any of the other churches in town.  Local teenagers of the 80's were just left to figure it out ourselves...or not.  I don't blame my parents for not guiding me better, because they really didn't know better themselves, I don't believe. They weren't taught stellar parenting skills. They were taught how to make a living and love their children. Those were simply the times back in their day.

I grew up in a loving home.  My basic needs were met.  I knew how to work hard, how to treat others with respect, and I knew I was loved.  I enjoyed life outside of the normal preteen and teenage anxieties. I was a cheerleader, prom queen, and always had a boyfriend (problem #1).  My entire identity was wrapped up in what others thought of me.  I wasn't complete unless I had approval from everybody else, but I was completely weak when it came to self-worth and self-esteem.  I'm not even sure why that was exactly.  From the outside, I'm sure it looked like I was the total package.  Inside, however, I never felt good enough.  I sought love and affection from the boyfriends I had.  That's how I thought the natural order of things went.  I never knew any different... In fact, all of us “good girls” typically behaved the exact same way in that respect.  None of us had role models or mentors pouring into us anything that would have told us any different.  Breaks my heart to look back at that now.

I wish I had truly known who I am in Christ way back then. The God-given crown I had been given at salvation was so far away from me during these years. 

I attended my first year of college on a dance team scholarship.  I cruised through the year doing my thing, enjoying college life, and not having a stinking clue what my direction should be.  I believe this made me restless and vulnerable, which led to a series of horrible and life changing decisions.  During that year, I met a man who was several years older than me. He was overwhelmingly charming, and I allowed him to influence me in all the wrong ways.  I quit college under the “I need to find myself” excuse, and ended up (oh Lord I hate even stepping back into this area of my life) quickly marrying this man.  What in the WORLD?!?!  So many of my high school friends graduated high school and immediately got married, so to me, this didn't seem odd. Now...this is appalling.  His charm and promise of an exciting life of travel blinded me to common sense (insert eye-roll).  His job was in sales for time-share condos, so he immediately moved us to Ft Lauderdale, Florida. That's when the nightmare began....

This charming man suddenly became a monster.  How did I not know he was mean?  How did I not know he had to drink at LEAST a fifth of vodka a day or DT's would set in?  How did I not know he really didn't know what love was?  How did I end up in this position?  I was pretty smart, right?  I. Felt. SO Stupid.  Literally overnight, my life became a daily barrage of verbal assaults, physical beatings, sexual abuse, and unrelenting fear.  I was routinely forced to snort cocaine and be used for sex by his friends.  I was so ashamed of myself for getting into this situation.  I understood, for the first time, how battered women can't just simply leave.  There are so many ways that the mind is betrayed, it's just not that easy. The self-esteem, self-worth, guts, bravery, physical strength, emotional strength, doesn't exist initially for us.  It takes a long time to muster up those things to get away, and I understood that I had zero.

Too drugged up and afraid to fight, this scenario played out from Ft Lauderdale to Virginia Beach. He moved us frequently so I wouldn't have friends.  But in Virginia Beach, I found a friend in a co-worker, whose husband was a Navy Seal (this will be important in a bit).  I never told anyone of my situation at home.  On the outside, we looked like the perfect couple.  He knew where to strategically place the blows to keep me pretty.  I knew how to hide the bruises and tears.  I also became masterful at looking so very happy.  I was good at this my entire life.  It's a skill that doesn't leave us.  It was in Virginia that I started to understand that I NEEDED to escape somehow if I had any hope of living to see my 25th birthday.  But he controlled everything...the money, the mileage on the car, everything.  I decided to take a second job as a waitress, so I could hide half my tips for whenever I COULD find the guts to leave. My boss hid them for me...

The night that became pivotal for me..... he downed an unusual amount of vodka and drugs, and he boiled a pot of water.  He came to the bedroom where I was pretending to be asleep (sleep was an elusive thing for me anyway, between the violence and the lifestyle). He got in bed beside me and grabbed a handful of my hair with one hand and held the pan of scorching water in the other....”move b**** and you will wear this water on your pretty little face”.   That was the most scared I had ever been...because I was sober and there was nothing on board to numb my senses.  I was terrified and was afraid this would be the night I would either die or would be forced to defend myself to the point of...I didn't even want to think about it.  I. Didn't. Budge.  It seemed like forever, but he eventually passed out, and the pan hit the floor.  I ran....with only a torn t-shirt and underwear. I ran down the streets of Virginia Beach at 2:00 am.  God certainly had his hands on me. I'm lucky some other freak didn't pick me up.  I would duck behind shrubs or garbage cans when I saw headlights coming...I was afraid it was him.  I ended up at my friend's apartment, and that's when they learned what life was like for me. They sat stunned and in tears because of the shock I just revealed to them.  Her husband was the kind of anger that would have been dangerous for my abuser.  And because her husband was a Navy Seal, I felt SAFE.  For the first time in SO LONG, I actually slept for longer than a couple hours at a time.  The next morning, they went with me to get my things and my hidden tips from my boss, and I left Virginia and came home to Tennessee.  Navy Seals have a special place in my heart, and I still keep up with Lynn and AJ to this day!

I never fully disclosed my experiences to my parents. The shame was unbearable. I knew they would blame themselves to some extent, and they don't deserve that.  I still don't want them to feel responsible, for my stupid decisions and the horrible venom in other people's souls.  So I've kept it inside. It wasn't long after I returned home from Virginia that I learned that I was pregnant.  Why wasn't I on birth control?  I don't even know!  He probably controlled that too.  So many drugs and so much trauma. I can't remember much of that part of my life.  Anyway, by then I was in Memphis, working, sharing an apartment with friends, getting back on track, and about to start back to college.  I had already filed for divorce from this man, and I had heard that he was back in the area again. I still lived in constant fear and was constantly looking over my shoulder and in my rear-view mirror.  I could not FATHOM the thought of having his baby or the baby of one of his friend's conceived out of abuse and drugs and fear.  

The decision was made quickly.  My best friend from high school accompanied me to the abortion clinic, and it was an absolutely HORRID experience, burned into my psyche forever.  I KNOW I am a murderer, and I have very strong feelings about abortion now. I cannot justify what I did, but I absolutely understand why women feel like they have no other choice when they are coming from absolutely crappy situations with no support and nobody whispering the love of Jesus into their spirit. I get it.  I totally get it.  

Fast forward a few months. I'm settled in college, and again, I made stupid decisions. I'm still not independent enough to take care of myself.  I STILL think I need a man to take care of me. So I jump right into another quick relationship, and we end up married a year later.  Sure, we stood in a church in front of a pastor and said some vows, but never, not once, did we seek God's input or His will in our relationship. That lack of judgment played itself out over the course of 16 years.  Our marriage was more like a business venture with children. There were no loving or nurturing aspects to it, and I became bitter for that.  We were in church and raising our children in church, but we still didn't have God in the middle of our marriage.  I resented the fact that everybody thought my husband was SO great, while at home he was totally different towards me.  I didn't know how to crawl out of the pit of never being good enough, valued, or cherished.  I sought God for real on this one, but didn't really know if I was doing it right, because again...I had never been discipled. I didn't have a CLUE about a true relationship with my savior, even though I identified myself as being saved.  I felt alone in a room full of people. I felt alone in a 16 year marriage.  I was smothering. Where was God? I was praying and trying to find Him. Where WAS He???

I know God can do anything He wants, but does He hold together something He didn't even PUT together?  I don't know.  So there was divorce #2...and it was was hard because I had children who were affected.  My husband and I BOTH did things that made it difficult and personal to each other.  I made stupid decisions at the end of our marriage like trying to fill voids with alcohol and with inappropriate friendships seeking encouragement and support that dangerously skirted emotional affairs.  He retaliated with embellished public humiliation.  This was the lowest of my lows, but it's also when I became the closest to my God.

During my ugly divorce, I changed churches and began attending with my attorney and her family.  This church was a completely different atmosphere and it was like somebody took the lid off my worship jar! What in the WORLD had I been missing all these years???  Suddenly I found what I had searched for. It was like The Lord was in that building, and in that Life Group, just waiting for me to show up!  It was there that I learned that God actually HAD been with me all those years and through all the stupid decisions I made. Likely He shook His head and rolled His eyes more than a few times, but He protected me.  I learned that He NEVER LEFT!!!  I learned that Jesus KNEW I was going to do all that stupid stuff, and He went to the cross anyway!  I learned He WILL avenge all the wrongs done against me.  He kept me alive all those times I was drugged up, abused, beaten, and emotionally spent. He guided me through ALL the pain and honestly...He made me WAY stronger than I thought I was. 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  Isaiah 41:10

I had SO MANY conversations with The Lord and asked for forgiveness for my stupidity and sins during that difficult season.  That's when this absolutely BEAUTIFUL walk with Him began. I learned how to love and respect myself and seek HIM first.  Who knew I would end up walking this life with an absolutely AMAZING husband who loves The Lord and treats me like a princess...God's princess?! Who knew I would end up with such a heart and passion for missions and to help the oppressed (because I was oppressed one time too)?!  Who knew I would end up with such a DEEP LONGING to fight human/sex trafficking (because I was used for sex too)?!  Who KNEW?!  God did....GOD KNEW!!!!!  And I KNOW I am a forgiven, redeemed daughter of the KING!!!

I walk through life now, and I think about how incredibly HARD life was for me for a LONG LONG time. How different would it have been if the words of Whimsy had been spoken into ME at a young age???  I know the roads I traveled are the way they were because of my own stupidity and incredibly quick and dumb decisions...but I have actually grown to appreciate my course, my rocky roads, and the winding paths I have walked.  The most amazing thing about it all is that I appreciate my relationship with Jesus more BECAUSE of them and not in spite of them.

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”  Isaiah 52:7

Oh thank you, Holly, for sharing the pain AND the beautiful healing and the love you have for your Savior now.  We are thankful He brought your darkness into His glorious light to heal you and help heal others. Press on are doing glorious work in the Name of Jesus Christ because of where you have been! We are your biggest fans! xo

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul." Psalm 66:16