Editor in Chief- Hannah’s Story
Tears streamed down my face as I looked in the mirror, I hated what I saw…I hated myself. As I peered through my tear filled eyes I told myself I was going to do whatever it took to lose weight. I felt a lump in my throat, swallowed, wiped the tears from my eyes “fake” smiled and walked back into the church service where I led. I wanted to so bad to feel beautiful and to feel valuable.
I’ll take you back to where it all started.
I was born in Manchester, England but raised in Vancouver, Canada. I had what looked to be the “perfect” childhood, with a mom, a dad, four siblings and a house with a white picket fence. However, my family life was difficult because my father wasn’t around much due to work. I always felt a longing for more time with and attention from him. Then my parents got a divorce.
My life wasn’t only difficult at home. When I got into elementary school I began to get bullied. My mom then decided to move me into a Christian school, but the bullying continued. I often found myself alone all the time, crying over what the kids would say to me.
As the years went on I remained the outcast. Then one day in eighth grade things changed. I was at work and a guy gave me attention. He walked by and whistled. He turned around and asked me for my number. It felt amazing; I couldn’t believe that someone like him would like me. I could only describe it as a rush, a rush of self-esteem that I had never felt before. After that I got more and more attention from guys, and I would do just about anything to get them to notice me. I began dating many guys at this time anywhere between the ages of 16-35. It was like a drug to me, to get them to “love” me. I felt like they helped me with my insecurities. I had occasional serious relationships, but my goal was to be accepted. One night at youth group one of the older guys sexually assaulted me during the service. I hated it and felt extremely ashamed, but I continued trying to find that high I felt through male attention. Throughout these days I thought about suicide and cried almost every night.
Then one day I met a guy his name was Tony (name changed.) He was everything I thought I was looking for; he gave me all the attention I wanted and made me feel good about myself. This relationship quickly became the most destructive relationship I had ever had. He would control my every move. He checked my phone, my e-mails, you name it he had the password. He would isolate me from my best friends and family. He then began abusing me sexually. He took my first sexual encounter from me. I told him “no”, and he didn’t listen. This became the pattern of our relationship. This happened every day and I would cry through it most times. I felt so wrong, so dirty, and so violated. I wondered if this was how it was supposed to feel. The relationship then progressed to physical abuse. If I made him mad he would hit me and kick me. I constantly had bruises on my arms and legs.
During this time I developed depression and couldn’t get myself out of bed in the mornings. I then developed a complete double life. My mom worked in Ministry as the women’s pastor and I was always under the constant eyes of the Church. On the surface I was a role model at my church. I was a Youth group leader and I taught a Hip-Hop class as outreach. I always had a passion to help young girls through their pain, but never admitted, faced or dealt with my own. I was in a beauty pageant program as an ambassador doing hours of community service a week. At this time I also began getting involved in the fashion industry, doing runway and choreography for many fashion shows. I was an ambassador for Mercy Ministries Canada with my mother as well.
But the reality was that I began starving myself. Some weeks I would only have one or two meals. The most I ever ate was one meal a day and it had to be small. I began cutting to cope with the intense pain I didn’t understand or know how to deal with. I had to cover the bruises on my body given to me by my boyfriend as well as the self harm I inflicted on my arms. I had zero self-confidence and felt like I was worthless. Two strangers assaulted me sexually in one day on a family vacation. I began drinking on weekends to forget and numb my pain. I also began experimenting with drugs.
as things were about to get worse. I was setting up to deal drugs with one of my girlfriends and was just weeks away from graduating. Tony was planning on proposing the day of my graduation.
My agency set me up to be in a fashion show at a Church conference. Mercy Ministries was there and a girl was giving her testimony. She spoke about how the program transformed her life. I cried, wishing I could go to a place like that.
The speaker spoke about a time when she didn’t know what to do and God led three people to her aid. While listening, I prayed for God to speak to me in the same way he had her. Within five minutes, the conference ended and a graduate from Mercy walked up to me and told me that God was guiding her to come speak to me to invite me to her church the following day.
It was my old church, so I went. There, I spoke to the women’s pastor, Helen Burns, who was a family friend. When I told her how down I was, she asked me if I was in a relationship. I told her I was. She advised me to get out of my relationship immediately. After the service I prayed a very quick prayer: “God if you want me out of this relationship, show me. Help me find a way out if you do.” I didn’t fully mean the prayer, I just said it because I felt like I had to. That Friday I got a phone call from a friend who I hadn’t spoken to in a while. She told me that a friend of hers had gone out on a date with Tony the previous week. I couldn’t believe it. I immediately called him and told him what I had found out and told him that it was over. The following two days I stayed in bed, unable to stop crying. At the end of those two days though, God spoke to me and told me that I had Him and that he would get me through what seemed to be an impossible situation. In that moment my depression was lifted off of me and I felt free.
I made a decision that I was going to get my life back together. God moved my family and me to California. My mom met an amazing man and married him and we all moved to his home there.
Shortly after that, I got involved at Saddleback Church volunteering for a number of different things. I started working with a program call “Life Hurts God Heals” which is for teens in pain. I began to fill my days with as many things as possible and tried hard not to think too much about what I had been through. My past hurt too badly, and I couldn’t make sense of it all.
In the midst of all of that, I began a relationship with a guy whom I had met at the college ministry. He was a worship leader at a church not too far away. I assumed he was a safe person and one day after about a month of dating things got heated and I asked him to stop, he kept going and didn’t listen to me so I threw him off me and started to cry hysterically. He told me to stop crying because my mom would see that I was upset.
After that I met my husband to be, Jon. He worked at Saddleback Church at the time on the Tech team and I saw him all the time. He was the only man in my life that I had ever felt safe with. I was on a dating sabbatical and had no intentions of dating him, but then one day I fell in love with him. After my dating sabbatical ended, he asked me out and we began to date.
Talking to Jon about my past made it real and my pain came back with a vengeance. I prayed and felt like I needed to stop working in the Church for a while and one week later had a complete break down and the next year was a blur. My eating disorder came back worse than it ever had. I had depression and severe anxiety. I was cutting more than I ever had. I was drinking and trying to numb my feelings. One day in the midst of all my pain, God brought Mercy Ministries to my mind. I immediately looked them up online. I told my mom right away that I needed help and I wanted to go to Mercy.
The next day I applied and a couple of months later was accepted into the program. I arrived at Mercy and was a wreck. I didn’t think it was possible for God to transform me like He did all the others. After all, so many counselors, teachers, and people had given up on me. I thought I was a hopeless cause. During my time at Mercy, God completely turned my life around. The program helped change the way I looked at life and the way I felt about myself. I woke up every morning excited about what God was going to do, and when I thought about my future I felt excited. Mercy taught me independence from others but dependence on God. By the end of the program, when I told the girls I struggled with depression and at one time had social anxiety, they didn’t believe me.
After leaving Mercy, my life was brand new! I had a new outlook on life and freedom that didn’t come easy. As soon as I got off the flight, Jon proposed to me and shortly thereafter we got married. I now live in Orange County, California. I am blessed with an amazing family, lots of friends, and a beautiful home. I am passionate about helping young girls find and fight for the same freedom and healing I found in my own life through God’s unconditional love and acceptance.