My childhood was filled with good memories of tree house forts and chicken coop play houses, weekends in a gym or at the ball field or rides on the parkway with picnics and afternoon naps. There was a lot of good. My mom took us to church regularly and my parents really gave us all they had. At the age of 10, I gave my heart to Jesus and was baptized, but never knew what to do with it and it was just what you did. From the outside looking in we were your average southern family, we didn’t have everything but had enough. My parents had friends and family over and we visited regularly. They were social, and loved people. It would have been great except my dad was an alcoholic. There were seasons he would work and provide and then there were times he never left our home. My mom tried hard to keep things normal and keep it together. Everyone knew but no one ever talked about it. Everyone loved my parents, his stories and moms shenanigans.
I have an older sister and younger brother. Being the middle child, I wanted to please everyone and was performance driven, I was starving for attention. If I did well in school or sports, my parents were proud and loved me. (This is how I perceived it) I quickly developed people pleasing skills and thought love came from giving or what you did for someone else. I also learned how to walk on eggshells because I never knew if my dad was going to be the funny alcoholic or the angry/depressed one. He would yell and was easily irritated. I didn’t want to be anything like him. My days were filled with anxiousness. I worried about my home life and worried about what others thought of me, if I was good enough, pretty enough, smart enough and had enough. I realized soon that I wasn’t and so I was desperate to be and would do anything to be liked. Never being true to myself. I had horrible nightmares and irrational fears. During my teen years, I became angry and exhausted, realizing I couldn’t be perfect. I had a horrible attitude and was mean with my words. I didn’t want to focus on my flaws so I pointed out others. I stopped trying. I did what was necessary to make it through school and sports. My perfection and OCD tendencies wouldn’t allow me to quit. But I became really good at faking it. I was whoever you wanted me to be.
I asked my mom repeatedly to leave my dad. But she would say, “God has promised he would deliver him.” I said, ” God doesn’t expect us to live like this.” She quoted 1 Peter 3:1 to me saying, “Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.” I thought Whatever! Mom never left dad’s side and always took care of him.
I met my future husband in high school when I was 16. We dated for four years before getting married in 1995. I was determined to have a better life. Todd and I struggled at first because I didn’t know how to let him love me and I trusted no one. Todd endured verbal abuse because I didn’t know how else to communicate except through yelling and name calling. Todd taught me about unconditional love, he proved time and time again that he was not going to leave me and how to remain calm and not react out of emotions. It’s true love has the power to set one free. I stand in awe to this day why he loved such a horrible broken person. In 1998, Todd & I found out we were pregnant with our first child, he was due August 24. We were so excited. Everything was perfect from the birthing class to my health. We did everything right. I ate clean, and exercised. We were birthing naturally without medical intervention. Then I went into labor on September 9…everything went wrong and our baby boy, Dylan, was born barely breathing. The doctor held him up and said congrats it’s a boy. Then he was quickly taken to Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I didn’t get to hold him and wasn’t sure what was going on. 16 days Dylan spent in intensive care, he had four seizures his first night of life. He was eventually diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy. Dylan had loss of oxygen to his right brain affecting his left side. My mom prayed over him day and night. She told me he would be fine, God is in control. Again I thought whatever! I didn’t trust God and I sure didn’t trust her. I couldn’t understand why a loving God would allow this to happen to an innocent baby. Todd and I were told Dylan would not walk and would be deaf. We were crushed. We began our journey of seeing several specialist and tons of therapy. Our first miracle came in a couple of months when we took Dylan for a special test and they discovered he had Meconium in his ears from Meconium Staining during birth. He wasn’t deaf but only had mild hearing loss in his left ear. Our second miracle came when Dylan was almost 2 years old, he had been going to physical therapy and struggled walking due to low muscle mass on his left side. One day while playing, Dylan fell and broke his good right leg. We thought, “what a setback!” But because he broke his right leg it forced him to use his left leg. It strengthen his left leg which corrected his walking issue. Our orthopedist looked at us and said, ” what was meant for bad, God made good!”
A year later in November, dad called me and said, “he got saved”. I thought great… he’s turned from beer to liquor! Dad said, “he was mowing the lawn and God came down and touched him and delivered him from alcohol.” Dad said, “he thought about if my son Dylan had died, then he would have never saw him again because he couldn’t go to heaven.” He said, “he cried out to God to help him and that he no longer wanted to be a drunk.” My mom said instantly dad was sober and he quit smoking cigarettes as a bonus. I didn’t believe it. Months passed though and I noticed my dad changing.
Todd and I had our second child Olivia in August 2000. She was healthy and unstoppable from day one. We moved to Gastonia with Todd’s job. I found myself with a 2-year-old and a 2 week old, all by myself. This began my fight with depression which I suffered alone and without medical help. I had no friends and my family lived two hours away. Just another reason why there was no God, I was alone.
During this time, Todd’s grandmother was dying of cancer. I loved her. She took me in and loved me like her own grandchild. All my grandparents had died when I was young and so she was my grandmother. Sunday afternoons at her house or Christmas were so special. Mawmaw Fender was everything, and she got sick. I was so angry at God. I went to visit her in the hospital and couldn’t stop crying. She looked at me and said, ” Amy, don’t cry or worry about me, I know where I am going, and I am looking forward to it.” And I want to know that one day I will see you there. Please you and Todd find a church, and take those precious babies and give your lives to Jesus.” All I could do was cry. She died in January 2001. Her funeral was a beautiful display of her life as loved ones and friends rejoiced and praised God with arms lifted high, I was amazed and did not understand any of it.
Dad called and invited Todd and I to church for Easter in 2001. I reluctantly said yes, really it was so he would stop asking. As service was closing my dad asked if he could say something. This is a man who was a hermit for years, he stood in front of the congregation, and apologized for all the years of drinking, for bad behavior, for not being the dad he was supposed to be. He cried and begged for our forgiveness. I never saw my dad cry before. Dad said, “he would spend the rest of his life letting me and my siblings know he loved us.” At that moment my heart softened toward him, and for the first time in my life I wanted to be like him. I wanted what he had, I wanted what my Mawmaw Fender knew, I wanted to know this God who made my son whole, I wanted to know this God my mom trusted and prayed to relentlessly. I understood what it meant to be forgiven in my dad’s eyes and I saw my self-righteousness and anger. I surrendered to Christ that day. At that moment, every Bible story I ever heard came alive in me. The scales were off. I began to see the fullness of my salvation. Amazing things began to happen~Todd surrender to Christ a few months later, and he was promoted at his job. But the most amazing miracle was Dylan could walk and he could hear. He only has mild cerebral palsy on his left side but you wouldn’t even notice. His hearing is only slightly flawed. He is a healthy young boy, who can ride his bike and play the drums.
Within me this truth resonated loud and clear, that I don’t have to do or give to be loved, that God’s gift of salvation is free. God gives because He is God. I don’t have to earn it. God found me when I hated him, when I did not like or trust His ways. When I was consumed with darkness and without hope, He calmed me and gave me Hope. He pursued me for years, never giving up. He is pursuing you!
These are the highlights of my life, there were many other moments God made himself known to me, many people who prayed for me. Like my Aunt Thelma, who told me time and time again about God when I would stay with her, and filled my pillow case with prayer cloths. I never knew what they were for but she would place one in my pillow case every night. Or the Bible my mom kept under my pillow to ward off the nightmares. My friend Karen who would remind me of who God was when I questioned His existence. I am sure if you are honest with yourself, you see Him.
My life is not perfect and the struggles I face daily are very real. But I serve a very present God who will never leave me or forsake me. I praise God for the adversity in my life because it has brought me to this place. A place of when I go home my dad hugs me and tells me he loves me who is sober and set free. A place of where there is unconditional love and trust in our marriage. A place where family grows~we have 4 healthy beautiful children. A place where I find peace in the midst of anxiety and depression. A place where my mother’s prayers carry you to very place you need to be ~the foot of the cross.