Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography
I grew up in America’s white middle class. I was raised Catholic, and I am grateful I grew up in a home where God was important. I went to Catholic schools for 12 years and then went to college. I have always been active in sports. I played a lot of soccer, including playing during college.
I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and got a couple of really good jobs after college. In my mid-20s, I got involved in a bad relationship with a lot of domestic violence. I was stuck in this relationship for about three years. The person I was with was involved in illegal activities, including drugs. I knew what he was doing, but there was so much violence. I was just focused on surviving.
When the police came to our house, my abuser said to me, “If I’m in trouble, you are in trouble, too.” He testified against me in court and said things that weren’t true. I had drug charges, but I wasn’t involved in drug deals. We shared a home and a bank account, which was a problem. I never sold drugs and never had a drug addiction. But addiction definitely could have been part of my story as a way to escape. I think I was headed in that direction.
I was sent to prison with a five-year sentence in Marysville, Ohio. I served four of the five years. Going to prison actually saved me. The violence had gotten really bad and more frequent. I believe I would have either been killed or would have killed him to protect myself. While I was incarcerated, I was free from all that, and it was such a relief. As crazy as it sounds, I can honestly say I am glad it happened.
I believed in God before I went to prison. Before I got involved in the bad relationship, I had really begun to pursue a relationship with God. But that was put on hiatus through the relationship problems. While I was involved in the relationship, we went to church together. It was a matter of show for him. For me, it was a way to convince myself and everyone else that I was fine. It was very difficult to accept and admit that someone had taken every part of my life away.
My journey with God in prison began when one of my friends sent me a picture of Jesus walking on the beach. It said, “You never realize God is all you need, until He is all you have.” I remember sitting on my bed and reading that. It was the beginning of me starting over. It was the beginning of me letting God tell me who I was again. Because of the relationship, I had no idea who I was as a person anymore. I had been listening to the voice of the man who was abusing me. I had let him tell me who I was.
In prison, I began to dive into scripture, trying to find out who God believes I am. I wanted Him to teach me to be the person He originally created me to be. I was excited to learn who that was. I also went through the process of discovering love again. I had become very jaded about “love.” For three years, I had someone tell me they loved me while they were abusing me. I had to go through the process of believing that God loved me, that others could still love me, and that I still had the ability to love others. God taught me how to love again and what love means.
I read the book Redeeming Loveby Francine Rivers. I cried so many times during that book. I put myself in that book — as someone who had run away and didn’t feel like God loved me, yet someone who God kept pursuing and loving. I felt like God was saying to me, “I’m still right here. I’m still right here. No matter what, I’m still here.” I hung on to that.
I went through scripture and read about the Proverbs 31 woman. These were all the things I wanted to be. I felt like God was telling me I could still be that person. When I went to prison, my confidence had been destroyed. I went through the process of regaining confidence, but it wasn’t coming from me. It was a different confidence. Before my confidence was dependent on something that I did to earn it. Now my confidence comes from God. Even when I am weak, He is strong. I have learned that God has it. Now I just see myself as a willing vessel for His plan in my life. I have confidence that He will unfold that plan and guide me to become the woman He created me to be.
Until the COVID-19 shutdown, I was working for an optometrist and enjoying sports and going to the gym. I still attend the same church that I attended prior to going to prison. I am involved in their prison ministry. When I first heard about their prison ministry, I thought, “There is no way I am going back to a prison,” but God kept nudging me. Diving into that has been really awesome. I walked into the same prison in Marysville where I was for four years. I walked in and walked out on my own accord. It was a total redemption story. God brought it full circle in that moment. I thought, “God, You got me here and saved my life, and now You have brought me back to the same place to be a source of hope.” I am also a board member with a nonprofit that helps people affected by domestic violence. This has been very healing, too. God already had the whole thing planned out. Everything that was a struggle — everything that was a negative in my life — has become a positive. I have wonderful people in my life that I would have never known. God worked so much good in what Satan meant for evil.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
I have learned that God is so loving. He knows so much about me. He knows everything I struggle with and everything I am good at. The unconditional love of God is something you will never experience anywhere else. It’s always there. It’s never-ending. It’s the best relationship you will ever be in.
No matter what it looks like or what people are telling you right now — there is hope. You might not believe it every day; there were definitely days I didn’t, but there is a story that is already written for you. It is an amazing thing to be on a journey with God. Having an open heart and spending time talking to God and listening to God is so important. The more time you spend with someone, the better the relationship. It’s the same with God. I never wanted my time in prison to be for nothing. Don’t walk out of prison without the relationship with God. Don’t waste the time. Don’t waste the time.
For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 2 Corinthians 4:17
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.