I walked in these doors a little over two years ago.. Not really sure where to begin, I knew there were countless areas of my past hurts, habits, and hang-ups needing to be addressed.. But where to start?? My story starts out marked by repeated abandonment and a whole string of destructive behaviors and choices… let me explain.
I have an amazing family beginning with a mom that chose to give me life when she became a pregnant teen, despite pressure to have an abortion.. The fact that I am alive is a miracle. I wish I had realized that a long time ago. Maybe I would have known my worth – I might have felt more like I mattered. Instead I let lies shape my thoughts. I’ve been telling myself for ages that ‘men have been leaving me since before I was born’ It’s all I’ve ever known. My bio-dad was never in the picture. I’ve never even seen a picture of him. His absence and my mom’s quest for love resulting in many failed relationships somehow told me that I wasn’t worth staying for. This lie was confirmed at age 12. I had a new step-dad and he was the first man to actually included me, protected me, and made me feel special. The day he and my mom asked me if I’d like to have his last name finally gave me a glimpse of what it felt like to be a daughter loved by a father. Although he was a good man with a good heart… He was also an ex -marine whose greatest hurt and injury was never visible but always present. The wounding he kept deep inside his heart was the type of hurt that he believed could only be numbed by drugs. Unfortunately when you numb yourself it doesn’t just affect you, it creates emotional distance and collateral damage to those close to you who desperately need your love. HE was in my life for just one year and a few weeks before Christmas he committed suicide. I remember almost every detail of that night – it haunted me for years. I was sure that 12 year old Steph could have said something to change his mind. But I was silenced by my fear. I wish I had said to him – “I love you, I need you, I forgive you, please don’t leave me… ANYTHING that might have stopped him. But in the end he left me too.
I grew up way too fast. I was always taking care of everyone... As the oldest of 5 kids I helped my mom raise them – I cooked, cleaned and babysat, I helped with homework and bath-time, I co-parented my family – while my mom was always working to provide for us. In some ways I had no idea I was missing out on childhood.
In my teens I was determined that no one would hurt me again. So determined that I never wanted to become attached to anyone. From that point on I would be the first to leave… whether it was family, relationships, or friendships I would initiate leaving first before they had a chance to leave me. To feel that rejection – to feel that I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t bear, so to cope I acted like nothing bothered me. But truthfully I only did it because – how do you cope with always feeling like you’re not good enough to be loved?
My disconnect started with cigarettes, then alcohol, then parties where I was introduced to opiates, then older men – several that were even married… I was out of control (it disgusts me that I was so low to not care that I could ruin a marriage or destroy a family) – I allowed men to use me while I was busy trying to prove to the world that nothing could hurt me.
Those teenage years were destructive, not just to me.. but I also see how I was a terrible example I was to my siblings. I was absent a lot... I hid my double life from them the best I could, but I wasn’t the kind of sister that should be looked up to. My sisters and brother mean everything to me and I let them down.
Just after graduating high school I found myself in my first actual relationship. We partied together for several months until my actions finally caught up with me.
This is the part of my story that will always be hard to talk about. It’s the main source of all my shame and regret. I remember feeling sick at the thought… I had hatred for myself for the first time because I took a pregnancy test and found out I had created another life... growing in my womb was an innocent baby – and I was sure of only 2 things. My drug use had probably “damaged” the child and my boyfriend was definitely going to leave us. I would have a child with no father. In my warped mind I thought that was the worst thing I could do to a baby because I knew so well what it was like to not have a dad. I was completely devastated. My natural and strong nurturing instincts warred against my mind that insisted abortion was the only choice possible. I held my tummy and wept for days wishing for another way but again my fear kept me silent. I told no one but my boyfriend and he too was young and scared. I can’t explain the prison feeling of having no way out. I did the only thing I thought was possible. I called Planned Parenthood and ended up there for an abortion. I won’t describe the thoughts I had screaming inside my mind while I waited for name to be called in the waiting room. I can’t go into detail of the sounds or pain experienced. I don’t know how to express the profound brokenness and emptiness that followed that day. I crawled willingly into a pit of despair – I hated everything about who I had become, I didn’t care if I lived, I felt nothing but shame and guilt. I looked in a mirror and told myself ‘you are filthy, cheap, stupid, gross.. the worst.. no one will ever want you.. no one could ever love you.. God wouldn’t even want you.’ The weight of all these lies matched the weight I gained from turning to food as comfort. Depression sunk it’s teeth in me – I hid – locked myself away – shut down and isolated for days or even weeks at a time, wallowing in my pain for 5 years.. until the day I met Jesus!! And that story is the coolest but first I have to say:
Years have passed since my pregnancy. I’ve now had so much healing and forgiveness and redemption. But one thing that will never go away, that I will always know is that – my arms are empty. I am not a mother. This role that millions of women my age identify with isn’t something I have… instead I chose to end my baby’s life. I will always regret my choice. Despite my own experience I truly believe that women should never be manipulated into making a particular choice when it comes to unplanned pregnancy. I think every woman should be fully aware of the consequences of each choice – whether that’s parenting, placing for adoption or abortion – none of these are an easy choice, but every woman must choose an option they can have peace with for the rest of their life. In my heart I know that God creates each one of us special with purpose and value and I believe the best and only choice is LIFE! Please learn from my mistake. We talk about confidentiality in CR, but I am giving you permission to share my story and if you need to talk or have a friend facing unplanned pregnancy I would be so honored to meet with you…. No judgements.
Okay!! Deep breath!! My favorite part is coming next!!
10 years ago on Easter my mom guilted me into going to church to see my baby sister sing in the Easter musical. Seriously you guys, I walked into that church positive that everyone would see the red letters on my forehead TRASH! And I was sure God wanted nothing to do with me!
I couldn’t be more wrong. I was welcomed and accepted and forgiven in one transforming night! Jesus washed my stains away and gave me a brand new chance at living an abundant life! I felt real joy for the first time, in… maybe ever. Psalm 34:5 says, “Those who look to him are radiant, their faces are never covered with shame.” Since that day my smile shines because of JESUS – He is my redeemer.
For the first couple years I was this baby Christian learning the ropes… who is Jesus, What does the Bible have to say, Who am I in Christ, who is the Holy Spirit, What is grace, How do I live a free and redeemed life? I also processed my abortion with my pastor, mentor, family, and friends – I surrounded myself with people that were seeking God the way I was. Which eventually gave me a hunger to serve people, learn more about God, and how to make the name of Jesus famous.
When I was 26 I gave away all my belongings, packed everything I needed for life in a 50lb backpack and left the country. I became a missionary with YWAM – which stands for Youth With A Mission. I shared the story of Jesus in villages in the Philippines, built homes in the mountains of Guatemala, cared for pregnant women in mud huts, government hospitals and sometimes under mango trees in countries like India, Tanzania, and Uganda, I befriended people experiencing homelessness in Australia, Denver and here in Tacoma, I gave options counseling to women experiencing unplanned pregnancy, volunteered on crisis hotlines, and as a house mom at New Beginnings Homes for pregnant women in Puyallup and I’ve been a part of almost 300 births…. my whole existence has been about God using me to help others in their time of need. I experienced some of the highest highs as a missionary. I grew in my faith exponentially… but I also worked on the front lines of heartache, poverty, death, and injustice for about 5 years with no break. That type of serving left me feeling emotionally exhausted and struggling with depression again.
This was then when I came to my first night at CR. I decided to go into the insecurities group – where I worked on my depression and abandonment issues that fueled the lies of being unworthy of love. The friendships I developed that year are still my best friends. The freedom I found from depression is astonishing! I still have tendency to sink low quickly BUT I recognize it much faster and my turn around time is usually minutes or hours, instead of days or weeks. I reach out for prayer from my friends, stay connected to accountability, meet with my mentor, journal more and above all I read my Bible and study it. When my mind and heart are filled with truth, it’s so much easier to overcome the lies.
In January last year I accepted a job at a local homeless shelter. I loved my work, this was the kind of job that I felt made to do. But there were problems- the program wasn’t sustainable and I didn’t have the coping skills needed to stay strong. For just 10 months I worked in the dark corners of Tacoma, under bridges, along the river banks, and in vacant fields - meeting over 400 street friends providing encouragement, prayer, and connection to community resources… but it didn’t stop there for me. This became more than a job. Somewhere along the way I crossed emotional boundaries. I gave each of them part of my heart. I would look in their eyes and see possibility, I saw a soul that needed to be loved and valued. How could they see themselves as worthy if all they were ever told was that they’re worthless? And after each funeral I attended as 4 friends I loved passed away on the streets… my heart would break more and the burden would become heavier. It started to feel like it was my singular responsibility to show every individual that they mattered… HELLO… God-complex! I was confused, I thought that because God called me there that I had to be everything to everyone. Ministry leaders, service providers, heck even parents… this is a slippery slope. And it’s the reason I spiraled downhill so quickly. Within 6 months I was beyond tired. I let my job consume all my free time, it began to steal my sleep as I had terrible nightmares. I would find myself sitting alone in my cold car for hours crying. I was constantly sick and I would forget to eat all the time. I struggled with terrible migraines. I lost parts of my personality, like my joy. I wasn’t silly or carefree anymore - I didn’t laugh. I felt like I was walking along the edge of cliff and at any moment I could fall over. So I did the only thing that I could think to do. I left – that was October 15, 2016… I haven’t been on the streets since – and I truly miss it, but I had to get away! My heart was so broken from the trauma I had witnessed on the streets, so many people I cared about had accepted rock bottom and figured out how to survive there… their new rock bottom was simply death and that wrecked me.
Literally the day after my last day of working at the Mission I started a relationship with a guy who swept in and made me feel not alone. I welcomed the distraction. But I needed more. I needed someone who would direct me to God, encourage me with truth, support me while my emotional wounds healed. I needed Jesus but instead I chose a man, admittedly the wrong man for me. I wish it wasn’t so easy to give in to the physical presence of a man instead of leaning in to the shelter of a spiritual Savior. That said, I don’t regret everything that happened in those few weeks because I learned a lot about myself and it did make me stronger for the next time I consider a relationship. Although brief it was my first in 10 years. Yes… I saw your eyes get a little bigger… I’ve been single for 10 years. It’s been just me and Jesus and lots of adventure. I’m on a journey to a truly healthy place right now, finding healing from the trauma I witnessed on the streets and I’m finally able to trust that someday when the right God-fearing man pursues me nothing from my past will be a gaping open wound to steer me in the wrong direction. The right man will see me as a woman worth pursuing and worth honoring in every way.
Thankfully throughout 2016 I was able to stay committed to recovery. I never missed a Tuesday and participated in step studies every Wednesday. God used CR and I think it was a life line holding me together!
It was just before Christmas when my mind began to clear and I finally felt ready for Principle 5 which says: Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and humbly ask Him to remove my character defects. I’ve come around for the second time to this principle in my recovery. Each time I’ve found another layer of healing and this last season has been one of the most freeing! This ministry changed everything for me.
I just turned 33 a couple weeks ago – that’s the same age Jesus was when he died for our sins. My mind is still blown by that! I feel closer to him in just the last couple weeks than I ever have before! Even with a desire for a family someday, I want Jesus to be enough. I want his active presence in my life to fill me and sustain me. I want to have peace knowing that if solo is my relationship status forever – that’s okay! I’m coming closer every day to this mindset - So I say yes to opportunities, yes to serving, yes to healthy boundaries, yes to an abundant life! I’m involved in a handful of serving teams here at CR and Champions Centre, but I protect my time better so I can give from a place of fullness. I’m developing a lifestyle of daily quiet time and devotion. I even pray with hope for my future family.
I do not have life figured out, I struggle regularly with the temptation to doubt my identity. But by the work of Jesus and the ministry of CR I am not who I used to be. To the newcomer: you have a so much possibility… Pastor Kevin puts it this way - You are currently living in the time of your greatest potential. And I believe that having great courage is being truly vulnerable... If you can choose to allow God into your world, every part of it - greatness awaits you. I know the feeling of that careful control where the weight of the world is resting on your shoulders and the idea of disrupting your delicately balanced life with health, healing, hope… recovery is terrifying because what if everything comes crashing down? What if your entire life changes? I get that. The fears are valid to a tiny degree because recovery is hard BUT the reward and life ahead of you far outweighs the temporary fear - the freedom is astounding and beautiful and the promises of Jesus are for YOU.
My story isn’t over and neither is yours- this is just the beginning.
Thank you for listening.