I have been asked to tell my testimony a few times to various people and each time I have been humbled by the response to it, but I have always been to scared to say it on a blog because people might judge it or think I was making it up.
Today I am feeling brave.
Today I want to share my story with anyone who wants to read it.
I hope it brings hope to those who need it. It is all true and it is from my heart. Please feel free to share with anyone you think may need to hear it.
*Big breath in* and here we go:
I grew up in a Christian family. I went to church every Sunday, was baptized at age 10, and generally loved God. I was, in essence, the typical child you find at church. I appeared happy, sung the songs loudly, and got upset with anyone who swore.
Unfortunately things at school were a little different.
At school I was bullied relentlessly. I was called fat, ugly, cry baby. I was accused of stealing someone's lunch and was told off in front of the class. I was bullied for being a Christian and found myself alone most lunch times. Eventually I was labelled 'the loner" and would spend breaks alone in the library, reading, knitting, or playing with the younger kids. After discovering that people would get annoyed if I read the bible at school, I did it all the time. I was proud of my faith but I was miserable. I would cry at night and pray that God would send me a friend. I would daydream about a young girl coming to school and wanting to hang out with me. I found solace in my day dreams and fostered a healthy inner life that would keep me entertained while I was alone.
Unfortunately, my life was also affected by sexual assault - twice, once by a young male friend (age 5) and once by a strange old man (age 7 or 8). These events really shook my faith in people, and had the adverse affect of sending me into a guilt spiral. I believed that these events were my fault. This feeling was compounded by the fact that my parents did not talk to me about this - an action I misunderstood as them being angry at me but was in fact them trying to protect me from reliving a situation that I appeared not to be affected by. I began to hide my feelings from people, believing that they were disappointed in me, and guilt, helplessness, and fear got a stranglehold on my life.
At age 12 two things happened that had a major impact on who I was, what I believed, and how I developed. First, my eldest sister fell off a cliff while drunk at a party that she wasn't meant to be at. I was woken up at 2 am by repeated banging on the front door. As my bedroom was closest to the front door and, believing it to be my sister coming home and wanting to save her from getting in trouble, I answered the door and, consequently, I was the one who first saw the policemen on a front step. I had to wake up my parents and stood in the hallway as I listened to what happened. Though it was in no way my fault, I took on responsibility for this event, believing that I could have stopped it if I had tried, and the guilt of having failed my sister, my family, consumed me. I read in her every action afterwards disgust and anger, and in turn I began to hate her for the fear and guilt I carried with me.
Second, my home church, where my only friends were, fell apart due to some inconsistencies in the pastor's lifestyle. My parents were part of the group that brought it to light and as a result I was told that people I loved, who I had called 'aunty' and 'uncle', were no longer part of our lives. I didn't get to say goodbye to people I had grown up with. The worst part was that I watched my parents crumble and the passion that they had for church fade. No matter what church we went to after that, I never felt at home in a church again, or that I could trust church people again.
As I started high school I was desperate to be popular and I would have done anything to achieve it. Age 13 I started to smoke and hang out with girls that were influential and harmful. By age 14 I was sneaking out of home to get drunk with my friends and boys. I would sneak out, walk down our street in the middle of the night and then stay the night at boys houses. There were times that I was so drunk I have no idea what actually happened with the guy I was with, and I look back in horror at the people who I knew that passed out when drunk and were then left unattended to "sleep it off". At age 15 I was forcing myself to throw up in a vain attempt to control something in a world that made no sense to me. I was lying at school and to my parents about friends dying, being pregnant, and having sex with older boys.
Yet at the church we now attended I was a youth leader! I lived this crazy double life of trying to be 'cool' on one hand and on the other trying to be the perfect Christian, the perfect daughter and the perfect student. I lost weight and was praised by my father. I studied and was praised by my teachers. I lead youth group and was praised by my youth leader. I got drunk at parties and was praised by my peers. I felt like such a fraud and the guilt became overwhelming. Depression overtook me and I numbed my feelings anyway I could. I drank in secret, binged ate in secret, self harmed in secret...anything that would justify the pain I was feeling.
At age 16 I was sexually assaulted again, this time by a youth group boy. I was on a youth group camp as a leader and he was friends with my ex-boyfriend. I remember the fear I felt when it happened. I had been kissing him privately earlier in the day, and then later, in a fairly public manner, he decided to take more. He then spread it round school that I was a 'slut', and that I had given him what I had refused my ex - namely sex. I was pushed down stairs at school and into the mud as a result. I said nothing to anyone about how I hadn't willingly participated in the event until years later. I was ashamed and felt like I was to blame. I even told my sister that it was consensual - though I think at the time she found it suspicious. It also triggered a struggle with my own sexuality and all that meant, an issue that even now can raise it's ugly little head when I am not paying attention.
In my last year of high school I was determined to 'act right' and to leave behind all the people who had hurt me. So I began to study hard, all hours of the day, and I went to the gym for hours at a time, but my drinking had become a private, secret thing and I would perform sexual favours to guys at the gym who would buy me alcohol and keep it for me. Even writing those words makes me grimace with shame, but this was the sad reality of my life.
At age 18 I left school and went to Bible College in order to 'find' God. My teachers told me not to, told me I should pursue a different career, but I felt my life had gone so far off track that I didn't know who God was, didn't know who I was, and needed to find that again. Instead I found a husband. We were going out within the first week of the school year and engaged only 3 months later. My depression, instead of decreasing with joy, became worse and worse and I began to self harm and hear voices telling me to do things that I won't even begin to describe. I would see things that weren't real and I ballooned from a size 10 to a size 26 in three years. I argued that I didn't have an eating disorder if I wasn't vomiting it all back up again, but the binging increased and so did my weight.
I am ashamed of how my relationship started. It was mainly physical, with many elements of mental and emotional manipulation on both sides. We were both young and broken and unable to see that we were mutually destructive. My parents, perhaps seeing something we couldn't, begged us not to get married, but unfortunately we believed that they were saying that was that I wasn't good enough for him, which just made us even more determined.
He thought he could handle my mental illness. He was wrong. Soon after our marriage began, it fell apart. I won't go into details because it is unfair for me to talk about him without him being able to give a defense. Let's just say that we both couldn't deal with what was happening to me in appropriate ways, and we couldn't deal with the baggage each of us had, and our marriage became destructive.
During our short three years together I was in and out of psych wards as well as intensive care for suicide attempts. My medication dose went up to 12 pills a day, I smoked two packs a day, drank copiously, and I spent most of my time in my own little world talking to figments of my imagination. I was eventually diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia; an illness with no cure and no hope of recovery.
After three years I walked out of the hell we were both living in. I can only say that God gave me the strength to leave as there was no conceivable way that I could have done it by myself. It was one of the most harrowing times of my life, and yet also the most freeing. I ended up back at my parents, suicidal, depressed, schizophrenic, divorced. My mum chose to quit her job to look after me full time, a sacrifice that I am still humbled by. I was told later by someone that they were considering changing their wills so that I would be able to go into a home if they died because I was unable to look after myself.
8 months went by as my parents cajoled, argued and forced me out of bed each day. My mum made me go walking with her every morning and I began to lose weight, I just didn't care that I was. I was waiting to die. All I wanted was an opportunity to be alone so I could kill myself. They never gave it to me. I owe them my life. Finally my mum reached out to the church asking them to do something, anything, for the daughter she was watching self destruct.
Enter the little old ladies of the prayer team.
The funny thing was they didn't pray for healing, they prayed only for the peace of God to still my mind.
I wanted them to shut up and go away.
They kept praying.
And in less time than it takes to write this, I was healed.
I can't really explain how. All I can say is that one minute I felt like I was drowning and the next I knew with absolute certainty that I was going to be ok. It was like a really heavy wool blanket, one soaked in water, had been on me so long that I didn't realise it was there until it was lifted off. I knew in that moment that I was loved, I was healed, I was cherished by God! I knew I was forgiven and that he had cried for me and with me. I knew what it was to be free. My whole life changed in that second and I began to laugh. I was sane! I was healed! The little old ladies were shocked to say the least, and my mother wasn't sure what to make of it. I guess laughing and telling people you are healed when you have had issues like mine is more worrying to them than anything.
The next day I went to the psychiatrist and was met by the line "what's wrong with you, you're smiling!" I told her I was healed and that I was happy. She was skeptical to say the least! But by the end of that session she was crying to me about her worries for her cousin, even apologising and telling me that she never did this. I ended up counselling my counsellor! After several more sessions and one mental health class over the period of a month, I was taken off all drugs and was in full time work for the first time in my life. Three months after that I was living by myself in Wellington and working. Four months after that prayer I was an independent, clinically sane, employed women.
But God wasn't done with me yet.
I still had a lot of anger and hate towards the people that had hurt me so badly in my past. I was angry at God despite what he had done for me and I was still drinking heavily. I was messed up in my head and heart and I tried to find love in all the wrong places, sleeping with men and drinking away the nights. I became so dependent on alcohol that if I slept longer than four hours I would wake with the shakes, so I slept with a bottle under my bed.
I was so angry at God that when my boyfriend of the time became a Christian and started going to church, I dumped him because I didn't want to have all that 'crap' in my life anymore. And yet God STILL wasn't done with me.
I moved back up to Auckland to be with my boyfriend (a different one this time) and was dumped by him the day I arrived (welcome home!). In my despair I went on a bender only to have a very good mate of mine, a youth pastor no less, confront me about my drinking. While he was talking to me I realised that I didn't need alcohol any more. All my reasons for drinking, all the anger and guilt and pain, had slowly been being healed over the last year. It was a crutch I no longer wanted and so I decided to sober up that night on his couch. A week of withdrawal left me shaken and weak but I haven't touched a drop since.
This same friend then invited me to his church to met his vicar, and I went, but only in order to applying for a job working with the music group. God had other plans. As soon as I saw the minister I felt the overwhelming desire to rip his throat out with my teeth and watch him die. I felt like a wolf. Little did I know that this man had a ministry in setting people free from demon possession. Before this moment I didn't even realise I had an issue in this area, but it became apparent as I physically reacted in ways that I had no control over. Three weeks, four prayer sessions and 7 deliverance's later I finally felt free. I was washed clean by God and he had given me my life back completely.
It was 3 months after getting sober and being delivered God told me to go back to Bible College to finish my degree. I was terrified. All the old professors were still there, people who knew me and my ex-husband, who had been at our wedding! I felt the old shame and guilt well up inside me again, but this time I did not let it conquer me. I went, kicking a screaming all the way, but I still went. On my first day, in my first lecture, my professor was asked what the worldview of a person with schizophrenia was like. He responded that no one knew because all the people who knew what happened in a schizophrenic's mind were in no shape to explain it. In the break I went up to him and told him that I was a healed schizophrenic and that I could tell him what the worldview was. He said "great, tell the class after the break is over." So on my first day I stood in front of a class of 200 people and told them about my struggle with mental illness. I discovered my love of teaching and preaching that day and also discovered a passion for God's word and for ministry that I never knew I had.
3 years went by with many highs and lows (mostly highs) and then I met Luke. After all the men who had used and abused me I finally met someone who loved me completely, who was funny and kind, and who would listen to me cry about all these memories I have that still haunt me. He was, and still is, the most Christlike man I have ever met. He always loves others, cares for me unconditionally, and always puts God before everything else. I am so blessed to know him and to have him in my life and he is a constant reminder to me of the blessing and love that God has poured out on my life.
After a rough start I have found joy through suffering. I have been changed. I am a new person. I can love and know love. I have been forgiven and have learnt to forgive. And all because of Jesus. He met me where I was at; he didn't expect me to reach a certain standard of character before he loved me. He met me as a drunk, demon possessed, angry, hurting woman and turned me into a loving, caring, happy woman.
And the cool thing is is that he is just waiting to do it for you too.