Graduation Day (and how I got here)

“Strength does not come from physical power, but from an indomitable will.”- Osho

Today I walk across the stage to receive my college diploma at 28 years old. I’d like to share my story with you of why and how I got here. My hope is that in sharing this story, those who choose to read it will be blessed, encouraged, and inspired in their own journey.

I graduated from high school in 2007 and moved from North Carolina to Wyoming, to a small Christian college. My plan was to go into full-time Christian ministry. I spent quite a bit of time overseas in high school and wanted to pursue working with orphans like my older brother had done. During this time, I was privileged to travel  all over the US and to Italy twice with an acapella singing group. These are some of the happiest memories of my life.

After graduation from the three-year program, I was married to a man I met at bible college. We both wanted to go into Christian ministry together, and began youth ministry immediately. I was heavily involved with leading youth group, teaching Sunday school and playing with the worship team. I did my best at 21 years old to be a good Christian wife and fulfill everything I believed a wife should be. What wasn’t evident from the outside was that my church-going, youth-group leading, firefighter husband who appeared to be an upstanding Christian man was, in fact,an abuser; and, I came to believe later after careful research, a sociopath.

Every aspect of my life was in some way controlled by him: how I dressed, how I did my hair and makeup, who I spent my time with, my finances, etc. This abuse and control was all-prevailing. He would call me a slut and a whore when I wore a tank top or shorts above my knees. When I bought my first bikini ever, he tore it in half and threw it in the trash.  A belted dress was “to draw attention to my body”. The money I worked hard for months to save would disappear with no explanation. Small disagreements turned into him flying into a white-hot rage, threatening me with violence, belittling me verbally, grabbing me forcefully, yelling and screaming, or jumping into his car with half of his wardrobe and threatening not to come back. Sex hurt. Always. I never knew good sex when I was married. It was painful and humiliating. I was shamed for my body, for my beauty, for my sexuality. I learned to look at the ground when men talked to me, because he would accuse me of flirting or being unfaithful to him. Although we could barely pay our bills and our relationship was in shambles, he constantly pushed for children, and would joke about me being a “baby factory”. I was less of a woman in his eyes because I wasn’t ready to have children at 21 years old.

Nothing I did was good enough, even though I was solely responsible for all housework, yardwork, upkeep of rundown vehicles I was regularly stranded on the side of remote country roads with, and attempting to make sense of constantly disappearing finances.

Abuse is hard to explain to someone who hasn’t lived it, but the best way I can describe it is that it is like being trapped within four walls that are closing in on you every day…. And you’re trapped inside with a monster.

We had two dogs during our short marriage. The first one, Mahler, peed on the floor as a tiny puppy, and my ex-husband flew into a rage, yanking him out from under the kitchen table and throwing him so hard he bounced off the wood kitchen floor. Later, he shot Mahler after he was hit by  car, without telling me. Our second dog, Daisy, was so scared of him she would pee on the floor when he came home.

After two years, one day he came home and told me that he told all his friends that I was a great wife, but that it was a lie, and he hated coming home to me.That day, after cowering and crying in the corner as he belittled and yelled at me, I woke up. I made a list of what I needed to take with me and began preparing my getaway. On the day I left, he grew manic and ran out into our dingy living room with a handgun pointed first at me, then at himself, threatening to shoot himself if I left. All I remember is throwing the front door open in hopes that someone would hear us screaming and come before he shot himself or me. I was miraculously able to talk him down and convince him to allow me to take the bullets from the gun with me. I called his family and calmly alerted them that he was suicidal, and drove to a friend’s home who had seen something dangerous coming and offered me a safe haven should I need it.

The grace of God allowed me to procure a permanent restraining order with no resistance from the judge, who in a no-nonsense manner inquired why I  had stayed with a man like this for a total of four years (dating and marriage). I wept quietly onto my blush-pink vintage blouse when I saw that my former pastor was a character witness for my ex-husband in the court of law. My entire church and almost every Christian I knew disappeared from my life. At this time, it was very hard for me to explain the abuse because I was still accepting the reality of what had happened, and because I walked away from the marriage, I was left with the blame for our marriage dissolving. I also had an early-term miscarriage during this same time frame, and spent several weeks in and out of clinics and one day at the hospital.

At twenty-four years old, I experienced the loss of nearly everything I held dear in the matter of a few months. My faith, my church, many so-called friends, my marriage, and the hope of children. I was blessed to have a handful of true friends who supported me during this time, and my family also supported me once they came to realize the horror I had been living in. I got on my feet as fast as I could and began school that same fall. My ex-husband did not believe women should receive higher education, so this was a dream I never imagined would come true.

Since the fall of 2013, I have worked nights and weekends waiting tables and bartending while taking full credit hours, first at Aims Community College and then at the University of Northern Colorado. Through financial aid, scholarships and grants, I am graduating with my bachelor’s degree in Sports and Exercise Science 100% debt free at the age of 28 (29 at the end of this month). This has been a long, arduous road. I have felt so different from my peers, and spent years beating myself up for my past mistakes, but have never once doubted this was the path I was meant to take after my divorce. I am so immensely grateful for the wisdom I have gained from my experiences, although I would never choose to walk that dark and lonely road again. I have seen such incredible grace and healing over the past few years, and have learned the value of forgiving others, accepting difficulties, and opening myself up to healing. The absolute hardest part of my journey has been forgiving myself for unwittingly marrying an abuser at such a young age, but finding that forgiveness and freedom has been utterly and completely freeing.  I am now happier than I ever remember being.

Early in my divorce journey, someone who at the time was a dear friend told me to be careful, because one day I would look in the mirror and not recognize myself. She was right. Today I look in the mirror and am astonished at the confident, courageous, powerful, assertive, determined, kind woman I see looking back at me. I am amazed at her physical strength, her ability to show empathy, and her wisdom.  I am humbled that God has healed her heart to be open to love and trust again after the deep betrayals of the past. I am brought to my knees in tears at the Love that has never given up on my wayward, once-shattered heart and has made me truly whole again. I am beyond honored to have this message to share with the world: God is still good, God is always good, and God will never abandon me or you, no matter how dark, devastating and impossible the circumstances may seem. God is good, all the time, even when circumstances and man are evil. His love has never failed me, and I undoubtedly know He was with me in my darkest hours.

Today I walk across the stage to receive my diploma, surrounded by true friends and a loving, supportive family. I have a safe home, an adorable (crazy) dog, a nice vehicle, money in the bank, my health, a fantastic band, one exercise certification and another on the way, a job lined up, and did I mention NO COLLEGE DEBT??!!

Thanks be to God who has brought me out of the darkness into the glorious light.

graddd

Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone be the Glory)

4 thoughts on “Graduation Day (and how I got here)”

  1. Thank you for sharing this inspiring story and for sharing your bright light with the world. Congratulations on all of your hard work, inner and outer!

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  2. I’m sitting on my bed in a puddle of tears! I went to junior high & high school with your mom, also FBC. I love her dearly!! I have always prayed for you, Will & Anna even though I only met you as children. I have felt very close to you in my spirit. I have 3 daughters and I understand the journeys of life. Thank you for your precious testimony and for your openness to share with others. You are beautiful! I see Anna’s smile, actually, when I look at you. I think it’s a Bernie smile, do you? God bless you, sweet girl, He has a plan for you & it is already wonderfully unfolding!! Love, Sally

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  3. Abby, I’m a friend of your mom and sister’s- you may or may not know me, but I’ve been a part of your journey through them, and I’m so, so proud of you!!!! I know your family is too. Domestic violence impacts so many people- not just the victim. Hurray to you for THRIVING!

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