November 24, 2010 by Stacy McDonald
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Every time I’ve shared portions of my life story with others, I’ve been told, “You should really write a book.” I guess in some ways it’s true. My life has seen a bit of drama. I was born to a 16-year-old unwed mother and, because of birth complications, spent months in the hospital before being placed in foster care. I wasn’t adopted until I was two years old because my birthmother refused to sign away her parental rights, hoping to find a way to keep me.
I was born with spina bifida, and because of complications from this, I spent my first 3 months alone in a hospital before being placed in foster care.
In God’s providence, my birthfather’s mother, who was a Christian, worked as a volunteer at the hospital I was in, so, according to what I’ve been told, she checked on me regularly and made sure I had good care. This was the same hospital where my late grandfather, Dr. Michael DeBakey, worked as a cardiovascular surgeon.
Finally, at 18 years old, after 2 years of refusing to sign over parental rights, she and her boyfriend (not my birthfather) approached her parents with the hope of marrying and getting me back from foster care. But my grandparents convinced her that it would be better to give me up and pursue nursing school. She signed the papers and I was adopted a few months later. Three years later, my birthmother died in a tragic accident.
Nineteen years later, I had the privilege of meeting my birth family…both sides: grandparents, great grandmother, aunts, uncles (my birthmother had six younger siblings), cousins, birth father, and half sister.
My adoptive parents saw my picture posted on their church bulletin board. Catholic Charities was letting people know about children who needed a home. I was a “special needs” child…a toddler who had been born with a severe spinal deformity which would require years of surgeries and medical treatments. God laid it on the hearts of my adoptive parents, a couple who had recently experienced the tragic still birth of their first daughter, to adopt me. In their minds they weren’t sure if they’d ever have anymore children. Despite my looming medical bills, they chose to take me in and call me their own.
My mother described months of wondering if I loved her. I was emotionally unresponsive and quiet. My father, having been raised by a strict military man, sought to instill discipline in my life early on. One of the rules he gave me was that after dinner, I was to put my booster chair in the corner—my very first “chore.” Once, however, unknown to my father, my mother had told me she had made dessert, so I should leave the booster in my chair until it was ready.
When my father walked into the room and discovered that I had not put away my booster, he told me I had disobeyed and needed a spanking. For whatever reason, I said nothing and took the spanking. My mother later shared how baffled she was that I hadn’t explained to him what she had instructed me to do. I’m sure he felt horrible when he discovered the whole story. I could detail many similar instances throughout my childhood–times when I sat in silence instead of speaking up (of course, I made up for it when I got older!).
There was the time when I was five, at home, recovering from back surgery—a surgery that had been required due to some sort of bone cutting through my spinal cord. Without the surgery, I would have been paralyzed. This particular morning, I woke up to find my bed, as well as my surgery dressing, drenched. My mother found me and thought I had wet my bed (I was five). Shortly after correcting me, she realized the liquid had come from another source—I was leaking spinal fluid from my incision. My mother felt horrible. Again, I had said nothing. Back to the hospital for another surgery.
Note: I have since been informed by various adoptive parents that, for some reason, this silence is common in young, adoptive children. So if you are an adoptive parent, please keep this in mind as you minister to your children.
There is no doubt that my early years were characterized by occasional harsh words and strict discipline. My parents tried very hard to raise me the way they thought best. In an effort to teach me gratefulness to God, I was often told how fortunate I was to be adopted, since older children with handicaps were sometimes forgotten. They were right, and I was thankful; yet, somehow, in my mind, it made me feel like I was nothing more than a “good deed.”
When I was about four years old, my mother gave birth to my little sister (my youngest sister was born when I was in my teens). I imagined that since they had their “own baby” now, they were simply “stuck” with me. I always viewed my sister as the beautiful and “perfect” one. I was the awkward, ugly, burdensome child. I owned that identity; and, for years, I allowed it to define me. I’m sure I was a hard child to figure out and I am grateful for my parents’ consistent selfless efforts to love, protect, and care for me.
In first grade, I began wearing a metal back brace. It was an awful device that fitted around my neck and went all the way down to the bottom of my hips. It had a plastic chin rest on which, for some reason, I was told to never rest my chin. I would wear this brace 24 hours a day for seven long years. I was allowed to take it off to bathe, to swim, and to go roller skating. I loved roller skating.
I recall the day I was first fitted for this horrible contraption. I was six years old. The doctor put my head in a harness that was attached to a strap hanging from a metal frame several feet above my head. I was allowed to hold on to the side bars, while he raised the strap so that I was forced to stand on my tip toes. Then, as I stood in my underwear, covered only by a long piece of cloth tubing, he wrapped hot plaster around my torso. I cried. My mother cried too, as she watched.
Of all the physical and emotional pain I endured: surgeries; humiliating medical procedures; embarrassing medical “photo shoots”; sleepless nights with a brace that left bloody sores on my hips and back; back pain; suffering from the heat of the Texas sun under all that metal and plastic …none of it compared to the pain of being an outcast. I recall crying myself to sleep at night, asking God to just make me “normal.” I didn’t need to be smart or beautiful or popular; I just wanted to be normal.
I remember asking my mother why my brace made people so angry. I don’t recall her answer, but I remember from that point forward trying to avoid notice. I always tried to leave for the bus stop in just enough time for the bus to arrive. Otherwise, as soon as I got close enough to see my classmates waiting at the bus stop, the jeering would begin…so I would walk slower. “Here comes brace butt!” “Look, it’s an Erector Set!” “Do you have a metal bra to go with your metal body?”
I remember wondering why people were so mean. Looking in the mirror, I decided it was because I was so ugly and worthless. Twisted and deformed. Pitiful. Everyone seemed to agree. I recall lying in bed at night naming off all the things that were “wrong” with me. I mentally listed all the reasons I thought my parents had for hating me (for years, I truly believed they hated me); then I would add to that list all the reasons I hated myself. And it was confirmed each day by children at school.
As I got older, the cruelty at school became more painful…and personal. Puberty and public school can be a horrific combination—especially when you’re ugly and worthless. I was followed home from the bus stop, cornered in school hallways, and harassed at play grounds. Once, my dad found me lying on the ground at a park where two boys were getting ready to run me over with their bikes.
I recall once, how a kindly old bus driver, after overhearing the plans several kids had for me when I got off the bus, drove me all the way to my doorstep. Sobbing hysterically, I ran to my back yard.
When I think back, my parents must have felt so ill-equipped to handle all my problems. My father had no patience for tears, so I desperately tried to hide them. One day, after having been followed home from school by some older children who had walked behind me poking me with their umbrellas, threatening me, and calling me all sorts of horrible names, my father found me in the back yard crying. I had stayed there trying to control myself before going inside the house, fearing that my tears would make my father angry.
However, he wasn’t angry with me. He was angry with the kids who had harassed me. Still, despite my pleas, he (rightly) called their parents. Of course, this made things worse for me the next day at school when no parents were around.
Two month prior to my thirteenth birthday, I had my final major surgery, which would mean a two-week-stay in the hospital and a 3 month recovery. My spine would be fused and my brace would finally come off for good! I began to think that perhaps all my problems would be over once the “brace that made everyone angry” was gone. After the surgery, I would need to wear a body cast for nine long months, but then I would be free!
Yet, just before “freedom” came, I experienced another emotional trauma. Though I had many negative hospital experiences, some of the worst for me were the “photo sessions.” When I was younger, it wasn’t so bad (at least not that I remember).
Sometime before the surgery, I was taken into a section of the hospital where some sort of teaching was going on. At the peak of puberty, I was led to the middle of the room in my underwear and a hospital gown before a group of doctors or medical students (I’m not sure which), while they discussed my medical condition. I felt like a specimen. I suppose, in a way, I was.
At some point, I was told to untie my hospital gown and hold it in front of me because they needed to take pictures of the (82 degree “S”) curve in my spine. While a panel of men watched, I was asked to bend over in various positions for each photo. Especially in light of my insecurities, it was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.
X-rays, photo shoots, surgeries, braces…all this would finally be behind me! However, I needed to get through the next nine months. My body cast was heavy and thick. In some ways, it was much worse than my brace. Picture a really, really long tube top made of thick plaster. It was awfully hot—and it didn’t come off for roller skating or other special events the way the brace did. And, of course, it still drew attention—attention I hated. Couldn’t I just hide under a rock for nine months?
Eventually, the cast came off, but to my disappointment, many of my same problems remained. I had grown up as the “Erector Set,” so the fact that my brace and cast were gone physically didn’t change much of anything. I decided that perhaps it wasn’t the brace that made people angry; it was something that was inherently wrong with me—it really was my own worthlessness that made people hate me. So, I spent my time trying to desperately hide my worthlessness.
I entered high school insecure and anxious. Desperate for acceptance, terrified of rejection, and loathing my twisted self image, I got caught up with the misfits—the drug crowd. I learned their language, adopted their “look,” and joined them in the smoking area at school. I learned to curse; I learned to flirt; I learned what it took to attract boys; and I learned how to be “cool.” However, my parents were too strict for me to actually get too involved in their lifestyle. Most of these kids had (cool) parents who smoked pot with them, who allowed them complete freedom to roam, and who lived a life absolutely foreign to what I knew. I still had a 9:30 p.m. bedtime.
In their own desolation and despondency, my new friends seemed to accept me. Misery really does love company. However, I didn’t care why they accepted me; I finally fit in somewhere. For a short while I enjoyed the illusion that I was loved.
One day, it all came to a screeching halt. My parents found a stash of letters to and from my new friends. I had pretended to be “one of them,” so the written evidence against me was pretty incriminating. “Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll,” after all. Conscientious parents that they were, they delved deeper and discovered the new beginnings of my secret life of rebellion. The most painful part was the fact that I had lost my parents’ trust. However, to me, even this was “their fault.” In my mind, they didn’t love me, and now they didn’t want anyone else to love me either.
At this point, a strange and deep rebellion began to take root in my heart. My parents were keeping me from the only people who in my mind had ever truly accepted me. The unhealthy comradery I shared with those whose names I now can’t even recall seemed to me a healing balm; though, in reality, their friendship only deadened the sense of emptiness I felt. It was a false “fill” to a real void.
Ironically, as my parents kept me from my friends (I was “grounded” for a year), these same friends who had so readily accepted me, and seemed so loyal, quickly turned on me. A false rumor was spread about me and believed; so, almost immediately, I was once again an outcast.
Looking back, this was actually a mercy. I can see, even then, God’s hand was on my life. He was restraining my sin and protecting me…from myself. I was on autopilot for total destruction. In fact, many nights I cried out for God to please just kill me. I learned to cry silently in case anyone might hear me. I recall, on more than one occasion, being grilled on why I was crying. I always refused to admit anything was wrong. Pride, fear, hopelessness, and anger ruled my soul.
Many nights I contemplated different ways of suicide, but I was convinced by my Roman Catholic upbringing that suicide would send me straight to Hell. While to me, life was a close second, I was still terrified that Hell would be worse. So, I was afraid to live and afraid to die. I was in total despair.
In the years that followed, I seemed to temporarily come out of my despair. Graduation was coming and a new life would begin. If only I could get out on my own, away from the restraints of my parents, and the stigmas of my past, maybe then I would finally be “normal.”
Though my parents had expected me to go to college, I couldn’t wait to be on my own – free from their rules and their criticism. In rapid succession, I graduated from high school, moved out of my parents’ house, got a job as a hair dresser, and went crazy. With no one to restrain my sin, I sunk deep into a destructive life style that on more than one occasion nearly cost me my life. I became entangled in abusive relationships, harmed my own body, rejected my upbringing, and pursued sin full force. Within months I was nearly unrecognizable.
But God. In 1988, my precious Savior called me into His Kingdom. I was a bloodied, bruised, and broken soul. God’s Hand had been on my life all along, but as I shared in the book I co-authored with Jennie Chancey, he used one faithful family to reveal to me His love:
A simple family living a quiet life in the heart of Virginia noticed me in the midst of their everyday living. No fanfare, no sales pitch—just real-life Gospel-living. God providentially placed me in the path of Jack and Brenda at just the right moment—and I discovered the hands and feet of Christ living out the day to day.
This faithful wife revealed to me her true King, Jesus, by esteeming her earthly husband as “lord,” in the way she lived out her days (1 Peter 3:6). She did not live her life as if it was her own, and as I watched her, I was utterly amazed. The joy that permeated her every nurturing act of service to her family confounded my selfish heart—and melted it. Not only was I ready to listen, but I begged for answers!
Her faithful husband, by mirroring the sacrificial love of a King for His Bride, revealed to me in living color Christ’s sacrifice for the church. I was able to understand, at least in part, the mysterious love of the Gospel from this man living it out in his home with his wife and children. Love never fails! (1 Corinthians 13:8)!
No one handed me a tract or told me I was going to hell if I didn’t repent. No one stopped me in the street to point to the burden of sin I carried and of which I was already painfully aware. All those things could have been said; they were certainly true enough. Yet, I was shown the gospel by the winsome scent of hearth and home—and one true-to-life family living it out in all of its “everydayness.”
I was finally free from the powerful chains of sin and death that had defined my life up to this point (Romans 6:18). He who had known no sin had become sin on my behalf; He died the death I deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21). He took my punishment and ransomed my soul (1 Timothy 2:5-6). It took me a few more years, and finding a solid church, before my life truly began to heal and move forward; but He who had began a good work in me, proved Himself faithful (Philippians 1:6).
I have given you only a very tiny glimpse into some of the painful parts of my past. And, my struggles certainly didn’t abruptly end when I became a Christian! There is much more I could share that would show that, perhaps like you, I have known deep hurt, rejection, and even abuse. But my goal is not to dwell on the past; it is to give you hope…to testify to you that you don’t have to allow past hurts to identify you – to own you. There is freedom in Christ, and part of that freedom comes from acknowledging that God is in control.
These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
As difficult as it is to understand, those painful parts are all part of His orchestrated plan. While God is not the author of sin, He uses even sinful situations for our ultimate good and for His glory because we’re told in His word that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
This excerpt from my personal journey, part 2 of His Bottle of Tears, demonstrates our need to walk in the only Truth that sets us free:
Fear torments—fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of being hated, fear of being unwanted, unloved…even just being tolerated. Those who have known deep rejection know how difficult it is to articulate the irrational fears that plague you—that chase you down in the dead of night—and sometimes in the day. There is One who knows better than any other—He knows it all.
Rejection was my foe. He stood over me with a gleaming dagger, mocking me—imminent victory gleaming in his eyes. My heart pounded. I closed my eyes and turned my head to the fate I knew I deserved. “I wouldn’t want me either,” I thought.
Yet, suddenly, with each beat of my heart, the footsteps of my Beloved pounded in my head. Could it be?
A voice charged with passion and authority thundered through the air, “She is Mine.” It is all He said.
From where I lay, I could see the nail marks in His feet.
I looked up and realized my foe was gone. All that remained of him was the dagger in my own hand.
Lord, save me from myself. You rescued me from Your own wrath and from the tormentors who had laid claim to my soul. Why then do I secretly struggle to live in victory over the very bondage I loathed—even when I see and know the truth? Why do I so often see myself with worldly eyes? “Oh God, I believe; help my unbelief!”
“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (Galatians 4:9)
Lord, help us all to see ourselves the way You see us—to know and remember that You have orchestrated our steps. You have walked in and experienced our pain. You have loved us in our ugliness, and washed us clean. Remind us that regardless of who lets us down, You never will. Regardless of who may forget us, you will never forget.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
We may not be able to understand all the reasons for the trials and tragedies in our lives, but we can be assured that none of it is “wasted.” If you feel you “just can’t get past” your trials; if you struggle to forgive; and if your past seems to haunt you even during the day, throw yourself at the mercy of the Savior. Confess that you can’t do it alone. Lay it all down at the foot of the cross—the offenses, the verbal tirades, the physical attacks, the sexual assaults, the humiliation—all of it. Let it all go. Don’t hold anything back. If you are a Christian, remember to Whom you belong and look in hope to the lover of your soul.
If you are not a Christian – if you know who Jesus is, but, you do not “know” Jesus, cry out to God now (Romans 10:9–13; 1 Tim. 2:5; John 3:16-18). Jesus is your only hope. Without Him, your eternal future will be filled with misery, death, emptiness, and despair.
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:2–3
To read more of my spiritual journey and the hope God gave me visit the following links:
I shared my heart here in the hopes that it will help someone who is hurting to move forward and not to allow their past hurts, abuse, or trauma to define them. I pray that if you have been hurt by others, that you will learn as I am still learning to view those times as part of the intricate design of an amazing God – a God who loves you and has for you a future and a hope!