My mom was eighteen and my dad about twenty-four when they married. It was my mom’s first marriage and my dad’s third. They lived next door to my dad’s parents. My dad’s mother would have a list of chores for my mom to do everyday. If they weren’t completed, my grandmother would tell on her as if my mom were a child, and there would be hell to pay. My dad had been physically abusive to his previous wife (who he married twice), but he was not physically abusive to my mother until she became pregnant with me. My grandmother would ask my mom what she did to deserve the beating.
When I was around eighteen months old, my mom packed us up and left. Before the age of four I had a new stepmom, stepbrother, and a new sister on my dad’s side. On my mom’s side, I had a new stepdad and brother. When I was at my dad’s, we went to the Baptist Church, and when I was at my mom’s, I went to the Church of Christ. I had two lives.
My dad’s household was structured, and we had rules. We didn’t get to play video games until after chores and baths were done. We cleaned our rooms before we went to bed, we took our shoes off at the front door, and we turned the light switch off when we left the room. If it was pretty out, we had to be outside playing.
At my mom’s house we moved around a lot. We had rules and some structure, but it was totally different from my dad’s house. We didn’t have much money because my stepdad didn’t keep a job for long. So my mom’s parents had to buy us groceries and clothes and things like that. I remember my mom buying me a new outfit once, and she told me that if my stepdad asked, to tell him my grandmother bought it. When I was around eight or nine, my mom divorced my stepdad, and we moved in with my grandparents until our HUD house could be built. Once it was finished, we moved into it and that was the last of our moving around.
I went to a rural school in Tennessee. I had some friends, but my main group of friends was from the church I attended in the next county. They were from my youth group, and they were my best friends. All in all, I thought I had a pretty normal childhood. I wasn’t molested or beaten. I didn’t have an alcoholic mother or father. I had both parents in the picture, I even had extra parents and grandparents. Santa Clause came to see my twice, I had two birthday parties. My dad and stepmom made good money, so we always had just about everything we thought we wanted on that side. But soon I knew there was something wrong with me.
When I was around three years old, my stepmom was pushing my stepbrother on the swing outside. She was talking to him, laughing with him, and interacting with him like you would with a child. When it was my turn in the swing, there was no interaction at all. It was as if she did not know me. I asked her to talk to me like she had been talking to her son, and so she did. That was the first time I knew I was different. It only got worse from there.
My dad was hard on all of us and even harder on my stepbrother. Nothing we did was good enough. We lived in fear of him because you never knew what was going to get you in trouble. My father had a bad tractor accident, so we had a hospital bed set up in our living room while he recovered. One day my siblings and I were playing in our bedroom. I had my foot resting on the wheel of a doll stroller. My father saw me, and he whipped me while lying in that hospital bed because of that. My other siblings had the comfort of their mom when stuff like that happened, but I didn’t have any comfort from my stepmom. I tried to think of things I could say or do to make her love me or even like me. I hated the car rides home from my dads because it would be just my stepmom and me and silence. I would try to make conversation, but that takes two people.
I was always a momma’s girl. That’s where I felt most secure. There were times, though, that I didn’t, and those were the times when she wasn’t married or didn’t have a boyfriend. Sometimes I’d be woken up in the middle of the night by the sounds coming from my mother’s room. My door would be shut, but I was too scared to open the door to go to the bathroom. So I’d take a blanket off my bed and pee on it, and then hide it in the closet until I could wash it the next day. There were many times she chose men, friends, or partying over my brother and me. There were many times that my stepmom had to take me to my grandparents’ house on Sunday evening because my mom was not home.
All communication between my dad and mom went through me, and that was hard. (No child should ever have to do that.) My dad’s mom would feed me lies and some truth about my mom, but even so I was a child. It was like she tried to turn me against my mom.
For as long as I can remember, I have had this constant war going on inside of me. It was always about me, and I never felt I measured up in any circumstance or sitation. Did I mention that I was fat and had horrible acne, and red hair too? I had really good friends, but I can remember having no clue why they would choose to be friends with me. I was always a follower, never a leader. Never really took up for myself. The only thing I remember really doing on my own was band, and I’m sure God will tell me one day that I followed someone else there too.
At the end of my sophomore year in high shcool, I started losing weight. When I went back to school for my junior year after summer break, I was skinny. I thought that if I could just get this weight off then everything would be okay. But all that did was bring on a new hurt that I had never experienced before. I mentioned that I was a follower. All my friends were having sex with their boyfriends, so as soon as I got my first boyfriend, there was no time wasted. I followed in their footsteps. After that I became very promiscous. I thought if a boy or man wanted me physically, then they cared for me. I quickly learned that wasn’t all true. But I was filling a void in that moment I was wanted. I’ll deal with the hurt later, I thought. I also tried filling the void by shopping and accumulating an amazing wardrobe (and debt).
I started dating my first husband at twenty-one. I wasn’t sure about him. He was nineteen years older than me, but he was good to me. He was the first guy I’d had that I didn’t have to pay for everything, and he wasn’t just trying to get in my pants. (Did I mention he had money?) I had his attention, and I liked that. He quickly asked me to marry him, and within eleven months we were married. I never asked God if he was the right man or if it was okay for me to marry him because I was afraid of the answer, and I was determined to marry this man. I could see a way out with this man. He could get me out of that small town, and everything would be better.
After we married, God started dealing with me about it. I ignored it. I pushed it down for a long time. My husband and I moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he took a new job. I was finally out of my small town, but I was still the same. Nothing changed. After a couple of years we bought in on a new condo in Hawaii and started planning a new life there. So I had something to look forward to again. See, that’s what I had been doing all my adult life. Waiting for the next big thing. And thinking it would fix me or somehow make everything okay. When we moved to Hawaii, I was circumstantially happy for awhile, but still on the inside, nothing had changed for the better. If anything, it was worse.
I told myself, “You are this fat girl, living in this beautiful place with all these beautiful people.” I didn’t feel like I belonged or deserved to be there. I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that I had to see sites unless I had company or was with my husband. I used the excuse that he didn’t want me to be places where there was no cell service. I always said, when I lose weight I’m gonna do this or that, or volunteer here or there. I used that excuse my entire life. I’ve been overweight my entire life except for about two-and-a-half years in high school. I have done a lot of stuff, but there was a lot I didn’t do because of my weight.
We were married for eight-and-one-half years. During that time I was selfish and demanding and very needy. For the most part, our relationship was good but more like friends than anything else. My husband had unknowingly said some things to me early on that broke me all over again, just like that day on the swing when I was three years old.
In my mind, I never measured up. I would cringe if someone asked me to tell them something about myself. I immediately thought of the negative things about me and all the bad stuff. It never occured to me to just simply tell them something I like or enjoyed doing. If I were to say something positive about me, such as something I liked about myself, it felt fake, as if it were a lie, like there was really nothing good about me. I always thought that, no matter what, I would never be good enough.
One Christmas I took a trip home to visit my family. While visiting my brother, I met a new man. He was eight years younger than me. He told me everything I had been wanting to hear from my husband. He made me feel things that may husband had never made me feel. I had been craving the things this man gave me. So I left my husband for this foul-mouthed college kid that lived in a dorm. We had an amazing relationship, and for the first time ever, the war inside me was somewhat silent. He filled every void I had. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I had never loved anyone like this before, and no one had ever made me feel like this before.
The war inside me didn’t stay silent for long, though. I had been told some things about this man that shatterend my trust in him and in our relationship. I should have left right then, but I didn’t know what to believe. I told myself that if my new man was ever unfaithful to me, I deserved it because of what I had done to my first husband. So I chose to stay because I loved this man, and I had left my first husband for this man. I was going to make it work! So at thirty-one years old, I lived in a dorm room with him until we rented a house together. After a little over a year, we got married. A lot of the time the relationship was good, but I had my battle raging inside of me all the time. He could be very shady with his phone, and that started a lot of fights. He made excuses for his behavior. Part of me thought it was just me, but something kept nagging at me that it wasn’t right. I was very jealous, very controlling. I thought if I could control him, I wouldn’t get hurt.
On our first anniversary, my new husband and I relocated and moved in with his family—his grandmother, aunt, and cousin. We planned to live with them until we could get established. We were in such debt, and it was stressful going from our home to living with family. We fought a lot. I hated our circumstances, but I felt so guilty. The thought crossed my mind, “I wish I could run away and start over.” I felt even guiltier. Had I not left an eight-and-a-half-year marriage for this man? I asked myself, Is that not what you wanted? I had told my new husband that I choose him, even if we had to live in a cardboard box. Well, here we were in the cardboard box—and all I wanted to do was bail! These feelings shocked me so badly because of how much I loved my husband. To make matters worse, I kissed another man when I made another trip home to visit my family. Then I was even more confused and didn’t know what to do.
The decision was quickly made for me anyway. Suspicious of the normal shadiness from my husband, I decided to check our phone records. The information I discovered spanned almost our entire relationship. I had always known that day would come. I begged him to stay with me. Word’s can’t express how I felt. I was again begging to be loved, just like I did as a child at the swing. His family wanted me to stay. My family wanted me to come home. I told them I couldn’t come home because if I did, I would lose him forever. Someone smart told me that if we were meant to be, he would find me now matter where I was. So I moved back to Tennessee.
I moved in with my family and quickly found a job. I was so hurt, lost, and broken. I planned to end my life. I thought that if I could just make it ninety days, until my life insurance kicked in, I could end it all. I owed my dad money, so I made him the beneficiary of my life insurance because I didn’t want to leave and owe him money.
The relatives I lived with attended a great church in nearby Jackson. I started attending with them. I knew that if I could be fixed, God was going to have to do it. I knew I couldn’t put a bandaid over my life anymore, that I had to feel the pain and let God heal me. Getting into another relationship wasn’t the answer because I could not trust anyone. I had deep trust issues. I had given my life to Jesus Christ when I was twelve, but because of the constant battle I had inside me, I questioned everything. I had been to the altar so many times, baptised in the Baptist Church twice and in the Church of Christ once—but nothing ever fixed it. I thought maybe it just didn’t work on me. There was a time I actually convinced myself that hell wouldn’t be so bad.
Through the new church, I was invited to a ladies group. I was looking for new friends because all I had was my family, and they had their own ideas about what I should do with my life. I needed something that wasn’t them. I needed some unbiased support and wisdom. Little did I know that God would save my life through these ladies in the group and their testimonies.
It was at the ladies’ group that I met Debbie Miller. She was talking about a heart bondage. Soon I started reading the Freedom Class material on my own. One night after church, Ms Debbie and I were talking, and I told her I didn’t think I had a heart bondage. She asked why I thought that. (She told me later that she could tell by my my life that I had a heart bondage.) I was under the impression that because I was not raped or molested or abused—and I couldn’t think of a traumatic event that happened to me as a child—I thought I didn’t have a heart bondage. I knew I had something wrong with me, but I didn’t think it was that.
According to what I had learned, I knew both my parents had heart bondages. And I confessed to Ms Debbie that I had very low self-esteem. Suddenly I realized that what was wrong with me was the very thing she was describing, a heart bondage. Once I identified the problem, and I knew what it was, God really started working on me. The Lord had already started working on me because of the changes I had made in my life, but after that day, He started showing me all those little traumatic events that broke me, the first being when I was on the swing. Sometimes when He would show me things, I felt like something would loosen or come off of me. The process was just so beautiful. Toward the end of my journey I became very emotional.
The time came when some of the other girls began to be set free. Hearing each experience was amazing. It was so beautiful and gave me such hope. I kept telling God that I needed a big freedom experience so that I would know that I know that He had set me free. The class was over at this point. Ms Debbie would check in with me to see how things were progressing. I felt it was so close. I realized there had been a change in my thoughts toward myself. They weren’t the same critical thoughts I used to have. I told Ms Debbie that I had had thoughts that looked like the thoughts of a free woman. When one of the negative old thoughts should have popped up, it didn’t—but a positive one did, and I thought, “Heather! That was the thought of a free woman!” But I still would not say that I was free because I had not had my big experience that I’d told God I needed.
Then during a Good Friday Service, our pastor talked about 1 Peter 2:24: “By his stripes you are healed.” He was talking to the whole congregation, but it seemed he was talking just to me. He said, “You may not have accepted it, but He as already healed you.” My heart started pounding in my chest, and I knew that God had already set me free, I just hadn’t accepted it. That night, I accepted my freedom.
Today I can say that I love myself. Before being set free, loving myself was just such a foreign concept, that I thought I could never attain. The thing about loving myself is that I didn’t make it happen. God did it through this process called The Freedom Class. I was just obedient.
That war that went on inside me, the one that was about me, that’s over now. All my shame about who I thought I was and the things I had done, that’s over too. I’m finally figuring out who I am, and it’s amazing! It’s God showing me, and not some man.
I used to look at the day I left my second husband as the day I lost my world. But today I look at it as the day I lost the world I created without God. It has been the most powerful time of my life, and it has also been the most beautiful. It took all that brokenness to get me to the place where God could set me free and heal me. God’s process is just so beautiful, you just have to be faithful and obedient to the process and to God. He will do the rest.
Someone once said to me, “Take a chance on you!!!” I’m going to challenge you to take a chance on you because you are the only one who can do it. God can do it, but He wants a partnership with you.
THE FREEDOM CLASS
with Debbie Wallace