A Sunday Story

November 09, 2014

My friend Tiffany has so graciously allowed me to share her story with you.  Our Sunday morning small group has spent the last several weeks looking at the seasons of the year and how, as believers, we also experience seasons in our faith.  We wrapped up our look at specific scriptures that correspond with the seasons a couple of weeks ago and now those of us who regularly attend are taking turns being responsible for the lesson each week.  The purpose is to share our own stories and our growth through the various seasons in our lives.  This week our sweet Tiffany shared more of her story with us and we were so blessed.  I am so glad she has given me permission to type this up and post because I know many of you will be blessed as well.

"First off,   I do wish to say that I do not share these details of my life for sympathy, pity or attention.  I do not want this to be about me.  I share these things simply to give a deeper understanding of what God has done in my life and what he has brought me through.  Some of these are things I still struggle with, but I have a hope and faith in God that I did not have before.

Many people I know have some early childhood memories.  Vague things that they remember even from ages as young as 2 and 3 years old.  I do not have such memories.  I don't remember much before the age of 8.  My earliest memory is from when I was 5.  I was living in a car with my family.  I remember our family only having a half loaf of moldy bread to eat.  Mom would peel off the green parts and that's what we ate.  My dad had quit another job and my mom had just started a job and was waiting on her first paycheck.  I remember one night us parking in the back of a parking lot (which I now recognize as the Quarry Shopping Center in Fort Smith).  It was nighttime and we were going to sleep.  I was in the back seat with Teresa and my mom and dad were in the front seat.  Mom was holding Tonya since she was still a baby.  I was clutching my stuffed Santa Clause doll, the one thing I was able to keep through our various moves.  The thing I remember most is a feeling of fear and insecurity.  These are feelings that would dog me for years to come.  Eventually a police officer came and told us we couldn't stay there, so we left.  I don't remember where we went after that.

A week of so later, my mom received her first check.  By that time we had been without bread, or any food, for a few days.  I got sick and threw up in the office where she picked up her check.  She took us to KFC to eat, but I felt too sick to eat much.  To this day my mom complains about how "stupid" I was saying things like, "If you had just eaten something you would have felt better."

Not long after that we moved in with my grandparents and things were good.  I felt safe and secure for the first time in my life.  I was enrolled in school (a few months late).  I was wearing nice clothes and eating good meals.  This lasted about a year.  Eventually my dad got a job and rented us a house, but things didn't get better.

My dad is an alcoholic.  Eventually utilities like gas and water would get shut off, if they were even on to begin with.  Gas was usually not turned on at all which meant cold baths and showers or microwaving water and sponge bathing.  When we didn't have water on at all, my parents would get jugs of water from neighbors or coworkers.  My dad never bought enough food for a family of six.  The very first things he did ever week was buy a suitcase of beer.  If he ran out of beer, he would pawn our belongings to buy more.  We rarely saw him sober.  When he came home from work he would get drunk and pass out.  He would go to work the next day with a hangover.  We moved at least once a year and we always lived in squalor.

My mom is an animal hoarder, so we lived in animal filth.  We always had roaches.  A lot of roaches.  If you opened a cupboard they would rain down on you.

We always had head lice that were never taken care of.  I missed nearly my entire 6th grade year for lice.  At 15 years old I developed a severe staph infection of the scalp.  My mom never took us to the doctor, so her solution was to put witch hazel on it and it will get better.  It never did.  My scalp was covered with inflamed, pus-filled bumps and I lost about half of my hair.  Absolutely devastating for a 15 year that already suffered from deep insecurities.  I could not cry about it as I had learned from earlier experiences like the death of my grandfather, that I would be punished and called names.  I also had no friends to confide in  which presented a new struggle in addition to the fear and insecurity.  Loneliness.  I eventually did see a dermatologist that put me on medication to clear up the infection.  He made it clear that I was lucky it didn't spread to my brain.  I know now this was not "luck."  God protected me then as he had through countless times in my life.  I did not know nor would I have understood that at the time.  I was raised with little to no knowledge of God.

The feeling of loneliness, while there had always been a nugget of it, became unbearable in my teen years.  I had very few friends, even before I was homeschooled.  The friends I did have, I only saw in school.  I could not call them as we rarely had a phone.  I was not allowed to see them outside of school.  These friends never referred to me as a "best friend."  Their other friends held that honor.  Even my sisters had "best friends," but I never did.  For me, that hurt a lot.  I began spending most of my time reading books and playing video games.  Things I could do alone that would distract me from the loneliness.  I was never bullied or treated poorly in school, but I was also never included in things.  I was always on the sidelines.

Even in my own family, I was left out.  When I began going to church, it was the same.  I felt alone and separated from everyone around me.  People rarely spoke to me or sat with me.  Even my fiance at the time often left me to sit by myself.

I couldn't figure out what was so wrong with me that others couldn't stand to be around me.  Things came to a head when I was 17.  I had begun having suicidal thoughts and had contemplated cutting myself with the knives from my own collection.  "No one will miss me," I thought.  It would be better if I were no longer a burden.  My grandmother grew concerned when I confided in her.  She took me to a psychologist and I was diagnosed with moderate/severe depression, social anxiety, and, insomnia.  I was put on medication.

Things continued in a downward spiral.  My family was, for the third time in my life, under CPS investigation.  My mom had moved beyond verbal abuse towards physical abuse.  My fiance began verbally abusing me, calling things like crazy. Telling me that all our problems were my fault and he couldn't marry me until I "grew up."   My dad began buying even less food for us.  A loaf of bread and a package of bologna for the entire week.  He bought more food for himself that he separated from ours and we were not allowed to touch.  To top everything off, I called my fiance one night, crying and broken, only to have a woman answer.  He had been living with her for several months unknown to me.  He broke up with me over the phone as his new girlfriend began calling and harassing me for several weeks.

During that time my hands had begun to shake uncontrollably, and I couldn't keep food down.  I lost six pounds in a week.  I ended up staying with my grandmother for a few weeks.  That first night, after my grandmother had gone to bed, I broke down and started crying.  For the first time in my life, I cried out to God.  I had been in church for over a year, but only because my fiance had made me go.  I never could bring myself to come to God.  I felt worthless and there was so much fear in me, so much I didn't understand, like love.

As I was crying out to God, that is what I asked for.  A sign.  Show me what love is.  I could not grasp the concept of unconditional love.

From my experience, love was selfish, love was angry, love was hurtful, love was deceitful, love was judgmental.  That was all I had ever known.  I felt a peace come over me and I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in a long time.  The next night, I received my sign.

I was about to go to sleep when I received a phone call.  It was Arnie.  I had known him for a little over a year.  He was one of the few in our church that had tried to make me feel included.  He called me without ulterior motives.  He just wanted to see if I was okay.  He didn't speak much English, but I could understand him perfectly.  He spoke to me for about an hour and promised to pray for me.  He also promised to call me again.  He kept his promises.  He called me daily just to encourage and pray for me.

When I returned to church, I no longer sat alone.  Arnie sat with me every Saturday, answering my questions about the Bible and encouraging my new walk with God.  I was baptized in October of 2007.  I was eager to serve but struggled with finding my place in the body of Christ.  Nothing I did ever seemed good enough, and I struggled to connect emotionally with others.  Even with God.  Old insecurities came creeping back and I began distancing myself from everything and everyone.  Marcia Ford sums up how I felt so perfectly in her book, Memoir of a Misfit:  Finding My Place in the Body of Christ.  (Tiffany shared a passage from the book, but this quote from Ford was the main idea:  "It's always been fear that kept me from God.")  It's a funny things to look back and recall the irrational fears I had and sometimes still have.

Knowing one thing but feeling another -- knowing that God loves me unconditionally and with a perfect love, but thinking, "If imperfect people couldn't even stand me, how can the perfect God?"  I felt worthless and unworthy of that love.  I was afraid I wasn't doing things the "right" way.  Everyone else seemed to have it together, pushing forward at a steady pace while I stumbled, stalled, and backtracked.  Feeling like I was even holding Arnie back.  I now know this was the enemy and I was giving him too much sway in my life.  It took a long time for me to realize that I was not the only one struggling.

1 Peter 5:8-11

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
Satan attacks each and every on of us, but with God we can overcome.  I still struggle with fear and insecurities, but I now have hope and the unfailing love of God to carry me.
Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a] have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we[b] boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we[c] also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
A life of fear is not his will for my life.
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  
He delivers me from those fears.

Psalm 34:4

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
    he delivered me from all my fears.

In Him, I am made complete.

If Tiffany's story didn't touch your heart, you might check for a pulse.  As a teacher, my first thought is, "Who are these kids in my classroom this year?"  As a mother, I have all the thoughts.  And, as a friend, my first thought is, "Tiffany is an overcomer."  As I was typing this, I realize that so much of what blessed me this morning can't be recreated on the page.  You really needed to be in that room, across the table from a very poised Tiffany who shared what the Lord had laid on her heart.  She and Arnie are precious to me and to our body of believers.  

On another note, this group of women who I spend almost every Sunday morning with have become my lifeline.  We don't play "church lady" in our class.  I just can't do that.  I suppose I feel so connected to these women because we are very real and authentic and we can trust each other to keep our most private "realness" to ourselves.  There is power in prayer and power in bringing things that have been hidden in darkness to light.  That's what we do for each other -- we carry burdens and we grow in our understanding of each other and of God and we pray for miracles.  And, believe me, we've seen a few miracles already, one example is another part of Tiffany and Arnie's story as they sought to relocate from a mold-infested house on the tightest possible budget.  It all worked out.  We joined them in asking for provision and their need was met.

I could go on and on about my friends, and maybe I will another time.  For tonight, in this season of Thanksgiving, I hope their story inspires some reflection and a welling up of gratitude for the blessings you've been given (and the trials).  It all works together for God for those who love the Lord.

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