When my youngest son, Jake, died in a tragic car wreck just before his third birthday, I had two choices. I could grieve as one who had no hope or I could grieve as one who had hope. I chose the later. For me, there was no other option. I had lived in the land of despair before, caught in the wilderness of toxic relationships and later an emotionally abusive marriage.
I had spent my entire life looking for love, affirmation and identity from relationships, and by the time God untangled me from the bitterness that held me in bondage, I found freedom I never knew. I found Christ at the end of me.
I didn’t want to go back to my chains. When Jake died, I became keenly aware of one thing: The only way to ensure my own freedom was to go back for the captives. Every woman who finds Christ through my message brings purpose to Jake’s life.
My Addiction to Love
I spent most of my life in bondage to the opinions of others. I struggled with a low self-esteem and lots of perceived rejection. So…I went looking for love to heal the pain. Men were my drug of choice. In romance and relationships I was able to escape issues and reality. And what a great hiding place they were. No one even suspected I was running for cover.
I learned when I was a kid: the best hiding place is where no one would ever look. After all relationships are a good thing. How could that be wrong? The truth is, however, that anything we put above God becomes an idol. My source of hope, confidence and trust was not in God. I built my identity on a faulty foundation, on the approval and affection I received from relationships.
And then I got married.
I expected my husband to be my source of contentment, but what I didn’t know is that wounded people attract wounded people, and wounded people hurt each other. Stuck on a merry-go-round of constant chaos caused by verbal abuse and my husband’s drug addiction, my bitterness grew beyond control. I eventually sought pain relieve in the arms of another man. And then a couple more.
Suspicions came. Then a confrontation. And finally my confession. That’s when I hit bottom. Hard. It was a twisted combination of the worst day of my life and a blessing in disguise.
It wasn’t until I hit bottom and had nowhere else to go, that I cried out to God. Little by little He began to restore my life. I began my recovery from what I call relationship addiction. The bondage of bitterness that once held me captive began to lose its hold. I wish I could say that as soon as I repented God changed my situation. But He didn’t. God is more concerned about our character than our contentment and my character had some major flaws.
God didn’t change my circumstances. Rather he trained me by adversity and used my circumstances to change me. The freedom I found over the next several years was exhilarating. But this freedom was not just for me. Freedom is no good if we can’t give it away.
Today, I want to be like David—I long to show other women how to fight their way to freedom. There is a way out of the wilderness. I want to slay the menacing giant that is taunting the women in the army of God and be one that removes the reproach from Israel—one who brings hope to the women who are smothered by issues and perhaps their own addiction to relationships.
As a single mother with three children, Brittany, Garrett and Jake, life wasn’t easy, but freedom I felt after my divorce was liberating. The daily agony of living with verbal abuse, deceit, drug addiction and manipulation was over. A couple of years after our divorce, however, tragedy struck. It was June 13, 1998, the weekend of my 20th High School reunion. My ex-husband had our two boys, Garrett (5) and Jake (2) for his weekend visitation. On Saturday morning in route to his brothers house to go fishing he hit another vehicle head on. Toxicology results confirmed that he was under the influence of several narcotics. My ex-husband and Garrett survived, but Jake died at the scene.
Losing Jake was the hardest blow life could throw. When I heard the news, I literally fell apart and buried my face in a towel sobbing. How was I going to endure the death of my son? Screaming my prayers out to God on the way to the hospital to see Garrett, a transformation began. The adversity of my ten-year marriage had taught me a couple of things. One: I can choose joy even in the midst of difficulties. Even in hardship, God is still God. Two: No matter how deep the wound, unforgiveness only multiplies misery. Unforgiveness would put me right back in the jaws of bondage and I didn’t want to go back.
The difficulties I endured through my marriage had strengthened me to the point that I had learned to trust God all the time, not just when my circumstances were going my way. On the way to the hospital, I surrendered my pain to God and His supernatural grace gave me the strength to forgive. Then His peace began to comfort me in a way I had never felt before.
Garrett spent five days in Children’s Hospital. He suffered multiple lacerations and a hairline fracture to his jaw. My ex spent two weeks in the hospital and was then transferred to the psychiatric ward for another two weeks. He eventually received a deferred sentence for involuntary manslaughter. Although he never spent any time in prison, not all prisons are made of metal. Almost eighteen years later, I’m still believing for his restoration.
Freedom is free but still so many refuse to embrace it. The pull back to bondage was too great for some of my other family members. In 2006 tragedy struck again. Two of my nephews overdosed on drugs within nine months of each other. I can’t even describe the devastation. Several years later, their father died in a collision on the way to a methadone clinic. It’s too late for their recovery, but I’ll do whatever I can to reach those who will listen. Will you?
Garrett’s Trip to Heaven
Garrett spent five days in Children’s Hospital recuperating from his injuries. I fed him juices with a baby eyedropper because his jaw was so swollen he couldn’t get his lips around a straw. The night before he was released he told me an amazing story about his trip to heaven. Chicken Soup for the Soul published his story, An Escort to Heaven, in their Messages from Heaven series in 2012.
The hope that God poured into me when Jake died was too much to contain. Despite the urging from our children’s pastor, Bo Parrish, who dedicated both Garrett and Jake, I knew I had to speak at his funeral. In a way, Jake’s funeral was my first speaking engagement. Garrett even took the mic and shared about his trip to heaven.
Today, Garrett is 22. He speaks little of his trip to heaven, but his matter-of-fact countenance has never left. I know God has a strong purpose for the deposit of peace He left with Garrett that day. As much as I long to understand more, one thing I know for sure…heaven is flowing with peace and joy and Garrett came back with a lifetime supply.
God has Numbered our Days
Jake was 33 months old when he died, just short of his third birthday. Months after his death, I noticed this prophetic picture of Jake wearing a hand-me-down shirt from Garrett. The applique had fallen off but it was easy to see what was previously on the shirt since it wasn’t faded underneath. The 3 was gone. Ironically, this picture was actually taken on the day of Jake’s second birthday before his party. He never made it to his third birthday.
To me, this was a kiss from God. It was as if God was showing me, “Christy, I knew from the foundation of the earth the number of Jake’s days. I knew long ago this day was coming. And even though Jake’s life was short, I have prepared you and my grace is sufficient. The day He went to heaven did not surprise me. I have plans for his life and they have not failed.”
As a mother, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of bearing unnecessary guilt from the relentless “if-onlys”. If only I had not let Jake go that weekend with his dad. If only I had prayed harder. If only … I could waste my life away pondering the if-onlys. But scripture says that God has numbered our days, and honestly, who am I to question God’s plans? He is still able to cause all things to work together for His good.
If you have lost a loved one, may I encourage you? Even in the midst of death and sorrow, God still has a plan and…
His grace is sufficient.
His grace is also a refuge. Psalm 91 says that he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High shall rest in the shadow of the Almighty. My friend, please take His grace. It’s the only way we can make it through this journey of life.
True Love Finally Came
A few years after my divorce, I met John. After all I had been through relationship-wise, I knew to tread slowly, but even though I had a guard over my heart, my picker was still warped. In my own wisdom I would never have picked John. He was too nice.
Dating John wasn’t like my other relationships. Instead of fireworks, it felt more like a friendship. Instead of the angst I usually felt in the beginning of a relationship, I instead felt a strange peace. Then a few months into our relationship, a peculiar thing happened. God knit my heart together with John. I know that sounds cheesy and seriously, I’m not really the mushy type, but somehow I just knew John was the man God had picked out for me. It was as if the Holy Spirit reached out of heaven, consumed me with his presence and supernaturally inserted his wisdom into my soul. It’s what I call my Romans 8:16 moment: His spirit testified with my spirit.
People ask me all the time how we met. If they don’t know my back story, they assume we met at church since we practically have our names carved on a pew. Well, we probably would if our church had pews. Right now we just have stackable chairs…maybe someday we’ll get those initials etched. Not that meeting John wasn’t a spiritual experience, but God has other creative ways of bringing two people together. Like the Twister Love Line. If it wasn’t for country music and 101.9 The Twister, I would never have met John.
Our first date was on November 14, 1997 at Iceland Skating Rink in Bethany for a Saturday afternoon skate session. I had learned the hard way that first dates are better when it’s short and sweet and an easy escape route is available. Turns out, I didn’t need one, but you never know.
Since John was competing as a semi-professional ice skater at the time, we spent a lot of dates at the rink. Shortly after he proposed, we were skating on a date when the Lord gave us both a vision of our wedding at the rink. I was not happy about exchanging vows in a meat locker. I’ve prayed for a lot of things, but not this. I’m rather fond of elegance and glamour and an ice cathedral was not my idea of opulence. Ever tried to decorate a ginormous ice cube? Plus I like to dress up and blades do not qualify as pumps!
But God not only has a sense of humor, He is the best wedding planner. We were married a little over a year later on New Year’s Eve of 98 at the stroke of midnight…at Iceland Skating Rink in Bethany with Pastor Mark Crow performing the honors.
on ice skates!
Here’s the rest of the story about how we met on the Twister Love Line, a country radio station that had a dating service. Believe it or not, before Match.com and E-Harmony there were telephone love lines. I always say that John and I paved the way for web mating. We were the brave (desperate) souls looking for love on a phone match making service.
The following story, Male Order Delivery, was a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Red Heart Black Heart contest in February 2009 and later appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul.
I remember the first time I thought about ordering a date. A decade ago, the prevalent mindset was that there must be something seriously wrong with someone who would resort to electronic remedies to locate love. That pretty much described me. I had been single for two years and as far as I could tell, the supply of men was shut up tighter than the city of Jericho. “I’ll take the Christian low-fat combo and super-sized the bank account, please.”
Outside of work, my daily haunts included La Petite Academy and Wal-Mart. Even though the selection of bachelors at La Petite was enormous, most of the boys were still being bottle-fed. So in desperation, I brushed up on my Bambi-eyed routine and hung out in the automotive section at Wal-Mart, asking cute guys for advice on which oil grade to select. The first guy I approached had fantastic hair, fabulous shoes and most importantly—no ring. How was I supposed to know he was married and his wife was looking at light bulbs on the next row? Her cart came squealing around the corner so fast she accidentally knocked over the end cap display of wood-grained toilet seats. I calmly strolled off, waited for the clean up on Aisle 10 and promptly came back for my second victim.
I was just about to casually smile at my next unsuspecting prey when the exasperated associate at the counter who had just reconstructed lavatory lane pointed to the “No Solicitation” sign. “I guess I’ll just have to find another Wal-Mart.” I muttered as I sauntered off with my cart full of 5W-30 Pennzoil.
It was about this time that I noticed Julie at work. This perky little anorexic thing had a lunch date nearly every day. Of course it probably had a lot to do with the fact that she was young, blonde and perfect.
“Julie, where are you meeting all these guys?”
“I joined a Christian dating service,” she gushed. “You should try it. It’s very affordable and they even have men your age, too.”
Turned out, Julie’s definition of affordable amounted to $159 for a monthly membership fee.
“Try The Gazette,” whispered my eavesdropping co-worker. “You can place an ad for only $29.95.”
What have I got to lose? I thought as I dialed the number.
“I’m sure you will be very happy with the results.” The rep assured me. “Most professionals today are too busy to meet other singles.”
It was probably just a canned speech designed to help me justify my departure from normal dating venues, but she did have a point.
Good-bye Wal-Mart and La Petite. I’m moving on! Male order delivery took on a whole new meaning to me that day.
I couldn’t wait until The Single’s Gazette came out. Although its target market was a trendy young crowd who frequented cigar lounges and sushi bars, I had installed spyware: The “official initial” for Christian in SWCF was sure to block any malicious tarot card enthusiasts.
Well, apparently, the “C” was extremely effective. I didn’t get one call. Meanwhile, the men waiting in line for Julie had to take a number. That’s when I heard a radio commercial advertising the Twister Love Line. They say it’s darkest before the dawn.
Before computer dating services evolved, telephone dating services were a marvel of technological advancement. By selecting one, two, or three on my telephone keypad, I could indicate my preference for a variety of features. This was a regular Build-a-Date workshop. I ordered a Christian low-fat combo and super-sized the bank account.
I couldn’t get home fast enough the next day. I dialed the Twister Love Line and entered my pin number. The cheery voice announced that I had “two new dates.”
Halleluiah, it’s raining men!
After I listened to each potential date give his personal sales pitch in a prerecorded voice introduction, I was advised that if I was interested, I could leave a call- back number. Unfortunately, the bios sounded more enticing than the intros. A month went by and still no catch of the day. I was growing weary in well doing and was just about to delete the entire campaign when finally I got a bite. He was 6’2”, with blond hair and blue eyes. My only reservation was that his favorite hobby was ice skating.
Was I expected to participate? Sure, waltzing on the ice sounded romantic, but for someone with about as much grace as a hippo on a high wire, anything involving balance on a razor thin blade could be nothing short of humiliating. At this point, however, all remaining logic had evaporated and I left a message. “John” called a few days later. Naturally, he insisted that we meet at Iceland for an afternoon skating session.
As I entered the rink on Saturday, I thought I must have completely lost it. The teen scene was complete with the Spice Girls jamming over the jukebox.
What had I gotten myself into? I thought. This is so high school. Was I really meeting a guy at the rink? Is this the only place I can find a date? I felt more awkward than a cat in a swimming pool, but I scanned the crowd trying to appear like I belonged. Hmm, was that him over there? I gave a slight smile and nod in case it was John.
“And now it’s time for couple’s skate,” blasted the voice over the intercom.
The mystery man started his approach. As he drew closer, I felt as frozen as the ice on the rink. Oh, my gosh. Please, no!
His exuberant smile flashed a missing front tooth and his unbuttoned coat revealed a never-ending sea of denim. The loose fitting jeans that I had assumed were Lucky brand were actually overalls.
John had described himself as being “semi”-fashion conscious and he certainly didn’t say anything about being dentally challenged. By now I was internally scolding myself. You know better than to trust a guy’s description of himself. They always exaggerate! What were you thinking? How did he get matched with me? I selected Caucasian, not Redneck.
All of a sudden, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Relieved at the opportunity to purposely avoid the “oncoming traffic”, I whirled around.
My gaze locked with the chisel-cheeked, blue-eyed wonder towering before me. “Is your name Christy?”
“Yes…,” I stammered, trying to conceal my delight. “Are you…John?”
His eyes twinkled as he nodded his head and extended his hand to shake mine.
Bingo. My male order delivery had finally arrived. Maybe there is a FedEx in heaven after all. And hopefully, they packed the bubble wrap. I may need some padding for my behind.
The Beauty Beyond the Pain
Your greatest struggle can be transformed into a platform of strength. I know from experience.
As a young woman desperate to escape the chaos and rejection that were my constant companions, I searched for love and approval. Instead of the safe haven that I longed for, however, I was drawn to a string of unhealthy relationships that disturbingly mimicked what was familiar. Surrounded by loved ones tangled in addiction to drugs, pornography and abusive behavior, my despair grew out of control.
Held captive by my insecurities, my constant cellmates were fear and bitterness in a prison that held me tighter than Alcatraz. I didn’t know that there was a way out until I saw someone else escape. But their escape gave me hope for my own freedom.
I’ve learned a couple of things about freedom. The journey out of bondage is often a long and winding road. But time and effort well spent. So don’t give up. None of us ever fully arrive. We also have to maintain our freedom. If we take it for granted, it gets stale. The only way to revive it is to give it away. That’s why I’m so persuaded to promote Christ’s hope and healing to others.
I’m passionate about setting the captives free and showing others the way to live a life of exhilarating promise. I could never say it at the time, but in retrospect, I’m actually grateful for the adversity I’ve experienced in my life. My difficulties stripped me of my counterfeit comforters and caused me to look to the only one who can give me hope.
Today I am pouring out to other women the hope that I have received. I long to encourage others to see the beauty beyond their own pain.