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Extravagant Love

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That promise of purity was long forgotten as I gave my one body to boys who whispered tight-lipped proclamations of love and who went out of their way to smile at me; boys and sex became the primary motivator behind everything I did.

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I was baptized in the 6th grade; I remember being immersed into the water - feet flailing and head resisting the going under. Looking back now I realize those seconds of baptism would come to define my relationship with God, or lack thereof, in the coming years. After being baptized I was given a promise ring by my parents; I promised to remain chaste until I was married. To say I was pure in the years to come would be an expansive understatement.

Shortly after being baptized and making a promise, I allowed a boy to go too far, too fast; but I was still technically a virgin - that's why I told myself over and over again. I got through Junior High and arrived on the front step of my freshman year with my technical virginity intact and a very passive belief of The Lord in my heart.

In January of 2003, the Lord caught my attention in a monumental way; He removed someone I loved deeply from this fragile life. My 15-year-old cousin was killed in a car accident. For a time, I threw myself into attending church and earnest prayer, convinced that the combination would remove the pain and questions.

Then not even a year later my handsome grandfather was called home and the fold of family strength still clinging by its hang nails crumbled beneath the weight of confusion, devastation and sorrow. I became enraged at a God who would step into the ring of my shaky existence and knock me off with these one, two punches. With the death of two of the finest men I will ever know, I flung myself at any man who would look my direction.

That promise of purity was long forgotten as I gave my one body to boys who whispered tight-lipped proclamations of love and who went out of their way to smile at me; boys and sex became the primary motivator behind everything I did; relationships with the only people who actually did love me, when the lights were up and the air wasn't thick with sweat, began to unravel. My early twenties were predominated by figuring out who wanted me, how much, and when.

I feel as if everything came to a really fine breaking point in September of 2012; I had just graduated and was online dating and, overall, feeling remarkably poor about myself.

Growing up in a farming town allows no room for encounters with strangers - just the boys starting varsity under the lights every Friday. But online dating brought a very new and very dangerous endeavor - the one night stand; I struggle to admit that far too many decorate my 25th year.

In the midst of my online dating escapades and then becoming serious with someone, I accepted a job. I began working at Ruskin Elementary and was quickly placed in an after school classroom with a beautiful woman named Emily - she was kind, gracious and smart. Shortly after we began teaching together, Em invited me to a night of prayer at Apex - I recall being emotional over the music, words spoken and the people I met – I could feel the pull of the Lord on my heart strings; He was showing me what a life could look like if I allowed Him back in. I left that Friday night feeling a new lightness.

But God needed my full attention. Saturday morning brought the realities of unfaithfulness from the man I was seeing and there is no chance of coincidence that Emily Riggs was the only phone call I could get to go through.

I know that Jesus Christ saved me - He died for my filthy sin and looks past the number of sheets I've allowed myself to get tangled in, but He worked through the Riggs’ that weekend, and continues to, to save me from myself.

Soon after the night of prayer and the subsequent breaking my spirit needed to cling to Jesus, I found out what being part of community truly meant. My house church and quad have come to be some of the best friends I could hope for and the Lord’s love, grace, and promises are clear and tangible through each of them in the ways they pray with, and for, me, love me, and remind me that He doesn’t change His mind about His children.

The idols of sex and male attention litter my past, along with loss, but my walk with the Lord has shown me that the beauty of this life is framed by grace, redemption, and accountability. So every day when I’m quick to forget that those moments don't define me, I try to remember that I'm not the author of this story - and the One who is doesn't require revision.

 

Author: Stephani Duff

 

A Diamond in the Making

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“God has restored me. I don’t want people to think this is a sad story…it’s what God used to liberate me.”

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When I first met Diamond, I noticed her peaceful, yet engaged poise punctuated by a big smile and a sparkle in her eye. As she began telling me her story, I soon learned that her growing up years were anything but tranquil.

At a very young age, Diamond’s world was filled with confusion. She was born to an abused, crack-addict teen mom who had been kicked out of the home. Diamond felt the tension of being bi-racial in an all-white family. At the age of five, she was taken from her mother to live with her grandmother until her mom could come clean. About a year later, Diamond was reunited with her mother (now married) and her family moved out to the country.

But this was just the beginning of Diamond’s story. Before Diamond was even old enough to go to school, she learned life could become even more turbulent after being repeatedly sexually abused by a sibling.

“We lived on a five-acre farm with a barn in the back. One of my stepbrothers (who was 6 months younger than me) always wanted to play away from our other siblings. I didn’t feel right about it, but I played along,” she said. “He told me it was just a touching game.”  That touching game went on for a year, and then her stepbrother continued making advances on her. She felt guilt in her heart and knew it wasn’t okay, but didn’t know where to turn. By the time Diamond hit puberty, she was angry. Very angry. From the age of twelve to twenty, her life began to spiral out of control.

“I was angry because my biological dad wasn’t in my life. I was angry because I was being abused and I felt so bottled up with emotion—I knew I had the voice to tell on my stepbrother, but I felt it would be looked down upon if I would be the one to bring it up, because I’m always the loud kid. It would be like, ‘Oh, here she goes again; she’s always creating drama.’ Also, I didn’t want to get my stepbrother into trouble because, out of all the kids, he took the brunt of abuse from his own mother. I kinda felt sorry for him.”

Diamond twirled a strand of hair around her index finger as she thought about her next words to me. Embarrassment, pain, and confusion had filled her life, and she felt there was nowhere to turn. Her parents were strict and legalistic, and problems were swept under the rug when Sunday rolled around. So Diamond escaped through her scholastic work, graduating 6th in her class and winning a full ride scholarship to the University of Toledo.

“But rules without reason made me rebellious. At college I was exposed to things that I had been sheltered from at home. It was a whole new world,” she admitted. “Instead of drowning myself in my schoolwork, I drowned myself in alcohol, partying, and men – things uncharacteristic of me. I became a person I never thought I would become. At the end of the year, I received a letter from the University saying that, due to my grades, I flunked out and my scholarship had been revoked. It was probably one of the most devastating letters I’ve ever received.”

“Just because I was kicked out of school didn’t mean I couldn’t keep up my lifestyle and I became sexually involved with a man for two years who gave me nothing but an STD.  At that moment in my life, I felt completely broken,” she admitted, “everything that was ever good about me was lost.  I was empty. I had been looking for reassurance in people. Sex with this guy, but never feeling fulfilled. I was basically filling myself with poison.”

Diamond reflected how her scholarship was revoked, her relationship was a betrayal, and her parents were disappointed. Even though that was the lowest point in her life, as she looks back she is thankful to God for it. “This happened to wake me up,” she said. “I didn’t just come to God as a result, I ran to Him. God has restored me. I don’t want people to think this is a sad story…it’s what God used to liberate me.” She added, “If just one person can be delivered from hearing my story, I would be overjoyed. God is a jealous God and will do whatever it takes to turn your life around.”

When I asked Diamond about steps of deliverance for people who find themselves in a story similar to hers, she replied about the importance of owning what you’re going through. “You can’t get healed from something you aren’t willing to admit. You need to be completely raw and naked with God -- which is hard, but very necessary. God and I knew I had been sexually abused, but I didn’t want to talk to Him about it.” She also emphasized the importance of reaching out to someone, being unashamed of the things you’ve been through, and to “Pray, pray, pray!”

“Knowing you don’t have to have it all together to come to God is the biggest thing for me,” Diamond offered in a moment of transparency.  “I think people put on a big façade that you have to do all these steps to come to God -- but really, I came to God messed up, and in my worst days. And He restored me.”

Diamond has since written her step-brother a letter extending forgiveness and has reached out to family. She clings to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

Even with her rough beginnings, her life is a true diamond in the making.

 

Author: Jackie Perseghetti

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