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I am sitting in the kitchen of my in-law’s home. The home where I, at 17 years of age, am living with my husband, our 6-month-old child, and his parents. A home that is completely quiet except for the occasional squeak of a floorboard that starts upstairs but slow and surely is moving towards the kitchen where I sit. I am not sure at what point I realize what is happening. I know my husband was upstairs, doing what I was uncertain. His parents left for the weekend and took my sweet baby with them. I assumed that my husband and I would be spending time together, maybe going to a movie or dinner, not that we had any money for activities like that. In reality, he would leave me at home by myself and go to a high school party somewhere, where he could drink and try to forget about his responsibilities.
As the floorboards and stair treads groan in quiet pursuit of me, I call out “Terry, what are you doing? Are you coming downstairs so we can figure out what we are doing this evening?” For a moment the movement down the stairs and towards me stops. I contemplate running out the patio door but surely, I am overreacting. The sun is setting, and I sit in the darkening kitchen and wait for my fate. I lose track of time but eventually he gains courage and bounds down the stairs and into the kitchen with a gun pointed directly at me. Of course, I started crying, I didn’t know what else to do. He loses his courage and lowers the weapon with disdain. He claims that he was just kidding, but I can see it in his eyes and feel it in my heart that he was not. I sit in the chair and sob, wanting my mother; wanting to just be able to go home.
Be strong and courageous. Joshua 1:9
Before this tumultuous season of my life, I lived an idyllic childhood. I was the second of four children born to high school sweethearts. My father fulfilled his military obligation in the U.S. Air Force and married my mother once he completed basic training. They were going to see the world and ended up being stationed 50 miles from their hometown. After four years of service, they moved home and bought a farmhouse right next door to my mom’s parents. I grew up with not a care in the world. Our parents provided for us perfectly, we wanted for nothing. Mom stayed home with us, and our dad faithfully provided for us. We attended church every Sunday and had the love and nurturing of our extended family.
As I grew into my teenage years I had very low self-esteem, was very shy and somewhat awkward. Not really a good mix for being popular. I was a very good athlete and that helped bring me out of my shell in high school, but I was never comfortable around new people. As I grew older, and my hormones took over I drew a lot of attention from “bad boys”. I never thought I was pretty enough or smart enough for the popular boys to be interested in me, so I was an easy target for the “bad boys” and what they wanted. I was continually in trouble with my parents because I wanted to and did spend time with these boys, even if that meant lying to my parents.
I met Terry when I was a sophomore in high school and that is where the story of my children begins…At first, we seemed very compatible as like me he was into basketball and quiet. He was the first boy that I officially ever went on a date with. He was the first boy to come to my house, meet my parents and take me to the movies. He was also the boy with whom I lost my virginity. With him I completely lost my identity, and what little focus I had before him was lost. He had complete control over me. If he asked me to do something, I did it. In the fairytale in my mind, we would be together forever.
It didn’t take long for my parents to determine that Terry was not good for me. He was arrested for minor consumption of alcohol at a high school party. After that I was not allowed to date him, although that didn’t stop me. I would sneak out of the house at night to spend time with him. I would lie to my parents saying that I was spending time with my friends when instead I was with him. I made one bad decision after another. I thought I was able to hide these mistakes as I was always the quiet child; able to slip by like a shadow, unnoticed. But the mistakes I made and lies I told started to weigh down my heart and showed up as proverbial white marks on my fingernails. I was starting to grow weary of the lies and was ready to put an end to the relationship when I realized I was pregnant.
Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Colossians 3:20
The Nightmare Begins
Honestly my recollection of this time is blurred, probably a combination of time and regret. It was my mom who finally asked me if I was pregnant, probably her greatest fear coming true. She bought me a pregnancy test and took me to the doctor. She also told my dad, which was heartbreaking for all of us. My mom called Terry’s mom and we had a family meeting. During this meeting it was decided that we would get married. No fanfare, no surprise engagement, no asking my dad for my hand, no fairytale. I am not even sure I was consulted, although surely, I was. You’re pregnant, you get married, it was just the “right” thing to do.
I wore my sister’s wedding gown and was married in the church fellowship hall. I remember waiting in the back room of the fellowship hall with my dad; it was not a happy time. I thought my dad might give me some words of encouragement or a kiss and a hug, but he didn’t. The time for lectures had passed, and I knew my dad was very disappointed in me; we waited in silence. Our honeymoon was a weekend spent at a local hotel with Terry’s friend and his girlfriend who had come from his hometown for the wedding. Saturday night Terry and his friend left us at the hotel so they could go “cruising” in a local town.
During this time was when the abuse started. I remember the alarms going off in my head as he twisted my arm behind my back and dug his fingers into my skin. Black and blue marks on my body were a constant reminder of how he was in control. He controlled what I did, who I saw, where I went, and what little money we had. While I was in his control, he was free to do whatever he wanted; see other girls, party, drink our money away. I was still going to high school and would try to hide my bruises and swollen pregnant belly. Kids would tease me and want to touch my belly; it was very uncomfortable. I eventually dropped out of school and got my GED.
Our first child was born in January 1985, a sweet little girl. Three more children followed; boy, boy, girl. My parents purchased a mobile home for us to live in so we could have our own space. This was a very generous thing for them to do, but in reality, we were babies who had babies and were struggling day by day to survive. We had no money; Terry would work menial jobs but would disappear on the weekends and drink his/our money away. He would usually come home on Sunday afternoons smelling of beer and other women. I eventually started working minimum wage jobs to pay our bills and provide food for our babies. I lost count of how many times our electricity and water were turned off because of failure to pay. During this time, I had no goals, only wishes and dreams that I could provide better for my children.
The Nightmare Continues
The abuse continued for years, mental abuse, physical abuse. I struggled to break free of Terry, kicking him out of our home on many occasions. But the guilt of wanting to provide my children with a loving, supporting family always eventually broke me and I would allow him to come back home. Of course, he would promise he had changed, things would be different; they never were. The walls of our mobile home were marked with drywall broken by bodies being slammed into walls (mine) and fists punched through walls (his). When the fighting was very bad, I would escape with the children, sometimes having to leave in the middle of the night or out of the window in a locked room to hide out in the homes of extended family and friends. My family grew weary of providing support for me, especially when I could not keep my promise to eliminate Terry from my life.
During this difficult time, the kids and I escaped to a shelter for abused women. We spent a month living/sleeping in one bedroom with no contact with family or friends. It was here that I was given information on an attorney for abused women who would help me with the cost of my divorce and help me to obtain court ordered child support.
Over time I had an awakening, my children needed a better life. I needed to provide that for them on my own. Eventually I moved out on my own, with the children, but I still was not safe. He continually stalked me. He would get drunk and break into my home during the middle of the night. The police were called, and restraining orders issued in a reoccurring pattern. It really was sad because he didn’t have much interest in spending time with his children, only in trying to control me. As I grew older and more mature my life, which before was completely unintentional, started to change.
I took a job at a local factory, where I worked third shift. The work was easy and the people I worked with were enjoyable, but the hours were horrible for a single parent. I had a babysitter who would come and sleep at the house to watch the kids while I worked. And a babysitter would watch the younger kids for several hours in the morning so I could sleep. I was continually sleep deprived and could sleep anytime/ anywhere, whenever there was someone willing to watch the kids for several hours.
When I think of this time in my life, I feel guilty that my bad choices were the cause and consequence of my children not having the idyllic childhood that I did. I was either working or sleeping to provide for my babies. And maybe that was enough? I imagine things could have been a lot worse. I could have stayed with their father, and they would have thought/learned that abuse was ok. Or I could have ended up dead and that would have been no good for any of us.
A New Beginning
When I wasn’t working or sleeping, I filled the hours with my kids. I coached t-ball with my sister and brother-in-law and tried to keep the kids involved in school and church. During this time, I felt very alone. Of course, I wanted companionship but who in their right mind would want to date a woman with four kids? My grandma used to say, “there is a lid for every pot” and it turns out God brought me my lid.
I first noticed Travis at a wedding reception for one of my friends. Who was this funny guy whom everyone was flocking around? It seemed to me that he had his eye on another lady who was at the party, so I didn’t give it much more thought. These same friends worked where I did and invited me to dinner in the lunchroom one night for pizza; our pizza delivery man was Travis. When dinner was over, he asked for my number and if he could call me. We talked on the phone for quite a while before he asked me out on our first official date. On our first date we stopped over at his parents’ home. I am sure his mom was not impressed with me. I can only imagine that she was worried that her son was dating a woman with four kids.
The first time Travis met the kids was overwhelming. The kids were excited, and I am sure Travis was nervous. When he went home that night, I wasn’t confident that he would ever call me again. When information about Travis trickled down to Terry, you can imagine that this revelation did not go over well. In the beginning he tried sabotaging our relationship by telling Travis lies or sending me flowers. Even refusing to watch the kids on his weekend because he knew we would be going on a date. In God’s great plan, he sent me Travis, who just happened to be police officer, to be my guardian. I am so thankful that he was patient with the kids and with me and put Terry on notice that his sabotage and abuse would not be tolerated. We started spending more and more time together and dated for 18 months before we were married.
Once Travis and I were married our life became much more intentional. We worked hard and saved money to pay our bills and purchase a home. We both went to college and received our bachelor’s degrees. We supported our kids by coaching basketball and soccer and sitting in the stands during cold, cold football games. Travis was much more of a disciplinarian than I was. I was always trying to keep the peace and had so much guilt over the first few years of their lives that it was difficult for me to discipline them. I regretted this as the kids became teenagers and became more difficult to control.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
I don’t want to paint the picture of myself that I was perfect or that Travis swooped in to save me, and we lived happily ever after. Like any marriage we had our ups and downs. This was compounded by learning how to combine our little family together. There was the unending dance of trying to spread myself evenly between the attention that the kids desired/needed and the attention that a new marriage needed. We did our best with what we were given, and I think we did pretty well.
Time seemed to slip through the hourglass faster and faster as the kids grew up, birthday parties, vacations, graduations. A big day for me was when our baby turned 18. I no longer had any reason to have to speak with Terry. He could not try to manipulate me by holding the pittance of child support he paid over my head. Even though I did not like him, I tried not to talk badly about him in front of the kids. I also decided that I needed to forgive him. I had to pray over and over again that I could let go of the anger that I held inside me. I was able to forgive him but will never forget the abuse.
From oppression and violence, he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalms 72:14
When I look back upon my life to this point, I sometimes daydream about how things could have worked out differently for me. I guess that is all it is or can be, daydreaming, because there is no changing the past. I am very content with my life as it is now. I have the love of a wonderful man and the joy of having my children and grandchildren close by. I have a great job that provides me with financial stability. We live in a modest home and can pay our bills and travel occasionally.
I still wonder how I could have lived my life more intentionally in the beginning. What makes a child rebel and not listen to the advice of their parents? I guess only when you are faced with the consequences of your bad choices do you begin to wonder what you could have done differently. I want to be able to pass along what I have learned along the way to my grandchildren to hopefully save them some tears and regrets.
Through this journey of life, I discovered strengths I didn’t know I possessed, I learned to appreciate the gifts of life and have empathy for others who were themselves on their own journey. I stopped worrying what people thought about me and began to realize that the only person standing in the way of reaching my goals was me. I learned to be brave enough to trust my intuition, get help when I needed it, find allies and live life with great expectations.
I find it strange when people are ostracized for being different; say for example a pregnant teenager. As if by shunning the teenager they are saying, that would never happen to them. Wouldn’t it be better to help that teenager, to draw them up in a big hug and say, “how can I help you to”? We were not put in the world to judge others but to spread God’s love. In my experience the people who judge so harshly are the ones who are hiding the biggest sins inside their hearts.
Life would be so boring if we were all the same!
Some key advice for my children and grandchildren
Trust God’s plan for you and pray unceasingly.
Get an education; you need to be able to provide for yourself.
Expect great things from yourself; set goals and the work to achieve them.
Be honest in all aspects of your life.
Don’t quit one job unless you have another job already lined up.
Don’t spend money you don’t have; be careful with credit cards.
Don’t drink to excess or smoke.
Don’t use your past as an excuse.
Love your family!