I was blessed growing up. My parents loved my sisters and me unconditionally! When I was younger I loved what my parents did, but as I got older (around 11 or 12 years old), what they did was not enough for me anymore. Church was not enough. My parents’ love for me was not enough. I started taking for granted everything they had done for me. I told myself it was my fault—that I wasn’t good enough for my parents love and that I wasn’t good enough for church. I believed in this lie for a long time, and at some point in eighth grade, I was tired of feeling worthless. So as a way to deal with self-hate, I started using self-harm.
In junior year of high school I made the decision to try and believe in God. I still went to church, but I was never really there, you know? I didn’t really think I needed God to save me. I thought all I needed was myself. So I didn’t really try to believe in God. I was doing it to save face, to avoid questions about not being in church, and to make everybody think I was happy even though I wasn’t. My words were empty.
After graduation when I was 17, I met the man who helped shape me into the person I am today. His name is Paul. I have never really talked about Paul in depth before because you know the saying, “If you don’t talk about it, it didn’t happen?” I moved in with him when I was 18 and thought everything was okay. We both had good jobs, we had fun, and I loved him dearly. We had everything I thought I wanted. At first I gave him a list of things I would never do because I didn’t “agree” with them. And that’s how it happens and how the devil tricks us into believing we are doing fine, because we dabble here and there and think “oh just this once.” But it’s never just once, is it? So very subtly, I started to slip into drugs, alcohol, and more hatred.
I became more distant from my family because I didn’t want to be judged and hear what I already knew. I tried to drown out the noise of my conflicting thoughts with drugs and alcohol, because I thought that would help. But instead of getting better, I kept getting worse and hated myself more and more every day.
In April of 2012 I found out I was four months pregnant. Yeah you heard me, four months pregnant and I hadn’t the slightest clue because I thought, “Oh, that can’t happen to me”—and then it did. When I heard the words “you’re pregnant,” everything seemed to stop. The first thing I thought was, “What am I going to do?” I didn’t want to tell Paul I was pregnant because everything up to this point had been fine, or at least what I assumed to be fine. I didn’t want to lose him. But when I eventually told him, he looked me square in the face (I remember it so well because I couldn’t believe how easily it came out of his mouth) and said, “That’s okay. You’ll just get an abortion.” He said it like that was fact and that I didn’t have a say in the matter. That should’ve been my first clue that he didn’t want anything to do with this child. But I overlooked it because I was able to talk him into it, and I thought maybe he was just scared. I was justifying his words when I shouldn’t have been.
What was supposed to be a joyful time was awful. The closer I got to having my daughter, the more distant he became. I noticed changes in his behavior and attitude, as well as my own. I became uncomfortable and ashamed of who I had become, but still I couldn’t let go of that lifestyle. I let him rule over my life for two years, and despite all the pain and rejection, I stayed…and for what? I had my feelings overlooked; I was crushed and abandoned. My personality was fleeing more and more each day. My spirit was broken daily. My ideas and thoughts laughed at. Everything that defined me as a person was suppressed. And I let it happen because of fear, shame, and guilt.
When I had Winry, my family was able to be there and it was the happiest I had been in a long time. But shortly after they left, I fell into a very deep depression. I turned back to alcohol and drugs as a way to feel “okay” with things. I was in that depression for about a year. During that time I stopped eating, I stopped caring about what happened to me, and I wanted to die. I was raped by the man I thought I loved and never said anything to anyone because I didn’t want to think about what he did, or maybe I didn’t think he could, since we were in a relationship. But he could, and he did.
One night Paul’s brother was watching Winry and we went to hang out with friends. We smoked and drank a lot, and at some point I must have blacked out. I woke up the next morning on my living room floor in a pile of puke, having no idea how I made it home or any recollection of what happened the previous night. I realized I was being an idiot and a terrible mother. My daughter needed me, not just parts of me, but all of me all of the time. It wasn’t fair to her. I needed to find myself again.
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” – James 1:12 (NIV)
Paul had become more aggressive the older Winry got. He was emotionally, mentally, and at times even threatened to become physically abusive. Even though things were thrown at me, even though I was called worthless, a terrible mother, and the “b” word every day, I stayed…because of fear. I let fear rule my life for two years. Fear of what he would do to me or his daughter if we left. Fear of facing my family. Fear of facing God. Fear of facing myself.
The day after I woke up covered in puke not knowing what had happened, something in me kept saying, “Rachel, if you don’t get out now, you never will.” I had to grow up and face my fears head-on and punch them right in the nose. So I made a decision. It may have taken a week or two to make the decision, but I made it. I left. I wish I could say I never looked back, but I did frequently in the months to follow. And it wasn’t until Holiness Retreat in 2015 that I forgave myself. Sometimes I still find myself wondering why Winry and I weren’t enough. It was really hard in the beginning to ask myself those questions, but as time has gone by, it has gotten easier to answer those questions.
I was meant for so much more than that life. I didn’t need to be loved by Paul. God’s love is all that I need. I can’t speak for Winry, because I don’t know what it’s like to grow up without a father. When Winry gets older and can understand what happened, I don’t know how she is going to feel about her father or me for that matter. But what I do know is what I teach her every day—that God’s love is more than enough and that I am good enough for God. That she is good enough for God and that everyone is good enough for God.
I admit it, I still struggle with some of this. Still, I thank God for letting me go through this valley. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be able to share my story with you. At times I felt like I wasn’t going to make it, like I was losing my mind, like I was going to die—at times I wanted to die. But, by the love and grace of God, I made it.
The most amazing part about my story is that even though I turned my back on God, He stayed and walked through it with me! I walked through the furnace, through the valley of the shadow of death and God rescued me. He remade me. And now because of what I went through, I get to use it to help others, to lead people to the King of Kings, our Redeemer.
No matter what we do, He stays. He doesn’t leave if we hurt His feelings. He doesn’t leave if we do something we know we shouldn’t, because He loves each of us so much. If God can love me and still call me His precious daughter after everything I have done and said, just think about how He feels about you too!
Rachel Riley | Maryland-West Virginia Division| Southern Territory