I had the privilege of interviewing a handful of women who opened up and shared their stories with me on how Christianity has changed their lives. Before I move on to mormonism, I would like to share some of those stories with you. These ladies have given me permission to use their information and have allowed me to give them a voice to speak to the world about their relationship with God, for which I am very grateful. This is one of their stories, in her own words. Read more at http://www.jonikmartin.com
This is Jess's story.
I was born in a small town in the southeastern corner of Oklahoma. My mother was 15, and my father just 18 years old. My mother and father made a great team, they were only married a short time but remained friends and did the best they could to raise me. My mother worked long hours at Tyson’s hatchery sorting out baby chickens and my father for a local tire shop. I lived with my mother in a small apartment and had weekend visitations with my father. Some of my earliest memories are of that apartment. I spent a lot of time with people from our apartment complex that would babysit me while my mother worked. Around the age of four and five I was molested. This was a very confusing time for me. I believe I started internalizing my feelings around this time. I did not tell my mother about this until I was 26 years old. I was afraid of hurting her, or that she would blame herself. .. I do not blame her.
Shortly after this my mother met a man and remarried. It wasn’t much of a proposal. He was building a new house and my mother refused to move in with him unless they were married. He did not want to get married at first, but had a change of heart one day and said to her “Well, I guess if you want to get married then let’s get married!” They dropped me off at my great grandmother’s house one day and got married at the justice of peace. This marriage got us out of that apartment complex and into a brand new home in the country. The home was beautiful and came with endless acres of wood lands that I would spend the remainder of my childhood exploring. I was an only child till the age of 9 so I relied on my imagination to entertain myself. I played in the creek beds hidden under the towering pine trees and lost myself in make believe lands. On summer night the fireflies would come out and dance about magically putting on a magnificent light show.
It was wonderful, and being outside kept me out of the way. My father also lived in the country; I have many fond memories of my weekend visits with him. I remember picking my first fresh berry off of a bush at his place and eating it, we were supposed to be collecting them for grandma’s jelly but I couldn’t resist. It was so good. One morning I woke up to a loud sound outside of his window, I said “Dad!? What is that!?” He said, “Baby, it is a rooster!” I said, “What are they doing!?” He said, “They celebrate the rise of the sun, when it comes up they think the rest of us should know about it too!” He was a good man who always made me feel loved and special. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized what a truly wonderful man he was.
On the morning of May 9, 1990 I woke to my mother screaming and crying hysterically. I had never seen her like that before. My father had shot himself in the head. No note, no explanation, no closure… only contradicting stories and many assumptions. I will never forget the way I felt in that moment. I believe that day set the basis for how I dealt with pain for many years. My mother gave me the option that morning, “Jess, you don’t have to go to school today. You can stay home with me if you want.” All I wanted was to wake up from the nightmare. I wanted to vanish; I wanted to turn back time. I could not process it all. I ask my mother to take me to school. I was 7 years old and in the second grade. It was my very first track meet. I remember walking up to Mrs. Hannah’s desk twice. The first time she hastily told me to go have a seat, the second time I got the nerve up to utter the words, “My dad died last night.” I had never seen the soft side if this teacher before but she grabbed me up in her arms and cried like a baby right there with me in the middle of class. She took us to our track meet and I remember running as fast as I could around that dirt track. I ran so fast that it hurt.
I continued running for the next 16 years. We did not talk about it at home, I don’t think anyone knew how to. Our home life was chaotic enough. Luckily the year after my dad died we had a new girl in class. Her name is Saeresa. She became my best friend and was the only friend that I had every allowed to stay at our house. She saw everything that went on behind closed doors. Her family loved my mother and I and took me as one of their own. I spent as much time as I could at their house. At 9 my first baby brother was born. He brought so much joy to our household.
My mother, brother, step-father, and I began attending church on occasion at the Assembly of God in DeQueen Arkansas. My mother had met her biological father around this time and we started going to church with them. He and his family were in a gospel band. This was my first introduction to church and Christianity. I did not fully understand God: I always believed there was a God I just didn’t think he could hear me. I didn’t feel worthy.
Where had he been? Why didn’t he do something?
I yearned to be loved but I did not trust him. What if he abandoned me too?
...So I put God on the back burner for a few more years.
I met another girl named Nina around my freshman year of high school. She had the picture perfect family and they were very religious. I started attending church with them at an Assembly of God in Broken Bow, OK. I enjoyed the activities and have wonderful memories from this church. We were constantly going to church camps, to concerts, adventure parks, etc. One particular night at a church camp in Turner Falls State Park, OK; they were having an outdoor revival. The preacher stood underneath a wooden tabernacle and asked if we believed that Jesus gave his life for our sins. He was shouting and people were crying all over the place, he said to come forth and declare it and we would be saved! I made my way to him. This was it! God would save me and remove all of the shame and torment inside! The preacher put his hand on my forehead and started praying loudly. I prayed along with him though I can’t remember what I said. Afterwards we made our way to the top of a nearby mountain. It was dark and all we had were flashlights. When we made it to the top there stood a huge cross all lit up. Some started singing and it was absolutely beautiful. There must have been a million stars in the sky that night. Though this experience did bring some peace to my soul it did not last.
I still struggled to maintain a relationship with God; I had been driven by fear not love.
At 15 I found out that my father was not my biological father. Just as my mother had found out that her father was not her father and so on and so on. ((Ironically the women in my family all share a similar pattern of abuse, secrets, shame, etc. The beautiful thing is it makes them strong old women in the end!)) Though this revelation completely swept the rug out from under me and all that I ever knew, I am grateful my mother no longer has to carry that secret around. I believe that healing comes from honesty. For a long time I was torn between wanting a relationship with my biological family because I felt like I would be betraying the Caudle family. I did not want to hurt anyone, but I needed closure.
I found that I have two younger half brothers that were rescued from foster care and are doing well today. I also got to know my biological father and family. They had always known that I belonged to them. My biological grandmother would attend every event in my life as a “family friend” and stood silently, respecting my mother’s wishes that I not know about my relationship to them. I got to know my father through hand-written letters while he served time in the Indiana State Penitentiary. Though it is hard for me to call him father, I am grateful to have a friendship with him today.
When I graduated high school at 17, my step father kicked me out of the house. He told me to pack my stuff and to get out. That is exactly what I did. A good friend of mine came over to help me pack and his family took me in. I worked for them and got to travel with them to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. From there I did what I do best, I RAN! I ended up traveling to New York City and that was too much for me. From there I traveled much of the United States before driving solo to settle in Los Angeles, CA.
I met people I thought were like me, and began to find myself and explore my sexuality. I also started drinking heavily and using drugs at this time. I became addicted to crystal meth and grew increasingly self destructive. ((This was yet another secret I kept to myself; no one knew the extent of what I was doing to myself. I did not communicate with my family very much through these years, if I did it was only to fill them in on the exciting things happening in my life.)) I wanted to make them proud.
I worked on a couple of television shows while in Los Angeles, and that opened the door to a wide variety of opportunities. By the third year In Los Angeles I was extremely depressed and had become suicidal. I locked myself in my bathroom one day with a bottle of vodka and screamed to God, “If I have a fucking reason to be on this earth, please show me one!” Two months later I was pregnant. God blessed me with a beautiful son on April 8, 2005. I named him Jace.
I moved back to Oklahoma and began putting the pieces back together. My mother was a big help throughout my pregnancy and even after his birth. I have no doubt that Jace is my “reason”. He has brought our family closer together and I am a better person today because of him. He has given me the opportunity to break the cycle and try to add something positive to his life. Not a day goes by that I don’t hug him tight and tell him that I love him.
I was also blessed with an amazing partner named Chacey who happens to be a recovering addict/alcoholic (clean and sober for 7 years now). Jace and I moved to Arlington TX in 2008 to be with her. We have been together for almost 5 years now. A little over a year ago we started searching for a church. Though our relationship had grown and life was going good for us, something was still missing: I wanted a relationship with God. I wanted to be able to answer questions about God and provide my son with a foundation to grow on.
One day by fate, we had attended a church in Dallas and went for lunch afterwards with a friend of ours. The restaurant we had in mind had over an hour wait for seating so we settled for Café Express on Mckinney Ave. We sat next to a lively group of people. Our friend knew a girl named Jessica from this group who came over and started telling us about their church called “Whosoever Dallas” and told us how to find it online. For weeks, I replayed that conversation in my head. I had to go. So one day I went out on a limb and went.
That day changed my life. For the first time in my life I feel at home. My perception of God has changed drastically over this past year. God is not random and he knew exactly what he was doing that day when he crossed our paths.
For the first time in my life I am not afraid of being still, I have stopped running.
The congregation is filled with beautiful, fallible, colorful, inspirational souls who carry stories of their own. Pastor Dawn continues to help break down the filters that block us from growth and sheds new light on the same bible that use to paralyze me with fear. All I know is it feels right to me and I do feel worthy today. God has been there all along and I am so grateful he never gave up on me. I am amazed by his grace and unconditional love.
By the way… If Jace had been born a girl… his name would have been Grace.
Jess, thank you for being so vulnerable and honest about your life. I know you touched more than just me with your story.
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