Testimony Tuesday: Amanda SJ

Jan 28, 2020 | Faith, Testimony Tuesdays

Happy Tuesday Friends! Today’s testimony comes to us from a new friend of mine, Amanda! I met her through our church and I am just SO impressed with her and her FIRE for Jesus! After hearing bits of her story through her children, I KNEW that you needed to meet her too. Amanda is a remarkable woman of God whose story is going to get a lot of you right in the feels.

{PS. If you would like to share your testimony, let me know! I would love to have you join us!}

In my early childhood, I was the middle child of 3 and the only girl at the time. My parents divorced the summer before 2nd grade. Initially, my brothers and I lived with my dad. By the time my mom had settled somewhere and was ready for us to come and live with her, she was with someone new and pregnant with my sister. My dad had moved on as well, although he had moved on during their marriage if I’m being honest. So we moved in with our Mom and soon-to-be stepdad in Pekin, IL. We weren’t too far from my dad at that time, but we still didn’t see him often. Mostly during the holidays and for a few weeks in the summertime. During this time, when we would visit, I was sexually molested by one of my new stepbrothers. This continued from 3rd grade until the summer before 7th grade, when I had had enough and was old enough/brave enough to finally say something. That was a big mess. My stepmom hated me. She made it clear that she felt I was a liar, and she was very cold and distant toward me after that. I never saw my stepbrothers again, not until several years later. They timed visits with opposite parents so when I was there, they were not. And we just never talked about it ever again. It was swept under the rug and it was as if it had never happened. For everyone else but me, anyway. 

In 9th grade, my dad moved to Phoenix, AZ. We visited him there once the summer before my sophomore year. I will treasure that summer, as it was the last time I saw my dad. Well, not the last time. The last time was May 29, 1999. He was hooked up to tubes and machines to keep him alive while we said our goodbyes. Motorcycle versus a car, no helmet…the car won. I remember laying my head on his chest, the conflicting emotions that went through me knowing he was gone yet feeling the rise and fall of his chest beneath my cheek. I will never forget that moment. My dad was awesome…he was fun, artistic and creative, charming, laid back. He marched to the beat of his own drum, and it truly was a sweet, sweet sound. But he wasn’t exactly responsible, and he was never the Dad that I needed. Not really. He was largely absent for the majority of my childhood. I can say this now. For a long time, I put my dad on a pedestal. Especially after he died. It’s only been recently that I have been able to really admit that I loved the heck out of that man….but I also spent a good portion of my life trying to fill the void he left in me. Combine that with the effects of abuse that was never properly dealt with, and family members who struggled with addiction and mental illness, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I have landed where I am today. It was not a soft landing though. It was years and years of crash, burn, repeat. 

First, let’s address the elephant in the room. I have 4 children, and they all have different dads. I never used to be able to say those words out loud, and I have spent so much time and energy going out of my way to try to hide it from people. Eventually, someone would figure it out and I would die a little inside as I imagined all of the ways in which they were judging me. I dreaded things like making dentist appointments. “I need to schedule a check-up for my kids.” “Names?” “Bryant Weston, Landon Stone, Paige Wilson, and Rowan Janssen.” Silence. Maybe imagined. Probably not. What if they knew that I had also had an abortion along the way? Different dad too, if we’re being honest. Some people with childhoods like mine end up using drugs, drinking, partying, etc. I just wanted to be loved, and I looked for that the only way that I knew how, in the way that was introduced to me at such a young, vulnerable age. Men, relationships…sex. 

I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant with Bryant, barely 17 when he was born. My family wasn’t supportive, not initially. My mom and I fought constantly, so I moved out on my own while I was a pregnant high school senior. When I was 7 months pregnant, I was diagnosed with a (curable) STD, and as a result, found out that Bryant’s father had been cheating on me. So that was the end of that. 

By 19, I was married. That was a whirlwind of a relationship that ended badly. We were awful together, but I was so desperate for my “happily ever after” that I made every excuse I could for him and his behavior. Until I couldn’t anymore. We had actually been trying to have a baby (again, the whole desperate to be loved thing), but when things got really bad I decided to go back on birth control. I went to the doctor to get put on the pill only to find out that I was already pregnant with Landon. Landon’s dad never hit me, but he raised his fist to me one day and I knew it was only a matter of time. So I left. I moved in with my mom, but she was in the deep end of her addiction at that point (I should point out here that she has been sober for years now and is such an amazing mom). By the time I was 7 months pregnant with Landon, I had moved in with someone new. I called my ex-husband the day that Landon was born and told him that he would either be in Landon’s life 100% or not at all. He chose not at all (Landon, who is 18 now, met his dad when he was 5 years old, and they have developed and maintained a great relationship since. That’s a whole other story in itself, but it did have a happy ending). Two years after Landon, along came Paige. Life was good then. I got engaged. We bought an acreage. I thought I had found the elusive “the one.” Paige was a year and a half when I found him in bed with someone else.

I really struggled for the next couple of years. I moved around from apartment to apartment, relationship to relationship. It was all merely survival at this point. It was during this time that I found out I was pregnant again. Only this time I chose to have an abortion. I was living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment making minimum wage and barely making ends meet. I couldn’t even tell you for sure who the father was. How did I get here? Why was life so damn hard for me? What was wrong with me? I just want someone to LOVE ME. Love me. Love. Me. Never alone but always lonely. This was my rock bottom. 

Finally, I settled into a little trailer, just myself and my children. It was a pivotal time for me. I didn’t want to live the way I had been. This was when I really started to feel a stir within me for something MORE. This couldn’t be all that life had to offer. I was so tired. And sad. I honestly didn’t feel worthy of anyone’s love at that point in my life, so for the first time in a long time, I wasn’t seeking out a relationship. It was a huge blow, but it was also my turning point. For the first time in my adult life, I wasn’t living with a man, being supported by a man, or trying to find my worth in a man. Something had changed within me and I knew what I was looking for wasn’t what I had spent my life chasing. I just didn’t quite know what that was just yet. It was during this time that I learned to love myself. I developed a sense of independence and self-worth. I focused on being the best mom I could be. You could say I found myself within the walls of that little mobile home. 

Fast forward to 2009. Jon added me on Facebook, which was relatively new at the time. We had gone to high school together, having dated briefly in 10th grade. We went on a date, and that was that. We married in 2010, had our beautiful little boy Rowan in 2011. I traded the cozy trailer that I had grown to love for a house with 4 bedrooms and a fenced in yard and a minivan. Everything was different. I loved this man. I truly loved him with all of my damaged, scarred, and a broken heart. The fact that he loves me the way that he does and found beauty in my brokenness still amazes me. We have been together for 10 years now, married for 9, and it has been by far the best 10 years of my life. Not only am I married to this wonderful man, but I married into such a loving, accepting, and genuine family that loves my kids and have treated them as their own grandkids from day one. Now don’t get me wrong, it has been far from easy and our marriage is far from perfect. We hit some pretty big rough patches early on and it was touch and go there for a while. Our marriage is the solid, steady, and awesome marriage it is now because it isn’t just Jon and I anymore. It’s God, Jon, and I. 

My first experience with church was riding a church bus to First Baptist Church in Pekin, IL, both on Sundays and Wednesday nights for Awana. I LOVED Awana! That was where I first heard the gospel and I raised my little hand to accept Jesus into my heart. I didn’t really know what that meant then, but it did plant a seed in me. It may have been the world’s slowest-growing seed, but it was there nonetheless. We also went to church for a couple of years after moving to Iowa, where I had a great youth group and was able to go to camp at Twin Lakes. More seeds. As an adult, even though I made so many reckless choices, I considered myself to be a Christian. I prayed. I thanked God for my children and for all that I had been blessed with. Yet I longed for MORE. I told Jon that I really felt strongly about finding a church, that I wanted that for my kids, for us. We started attending the Church of Christ in Rockwell City. It was the only church we could find to marry us on the day we wanted, so it was the only church we really knew. We loved the pastor there and became friends with him and his wife. Jon and Landon were baptized in that church, and it was where we dedicated Rowan. I was still struggling then, with my past and my life choices. It didn’t help that this little old lady would take attendance at the door and I felt so ashamed as I would name off all of my kids with their different last names. I also had 2 stepdaughters at that point, and my niece and nephew had been placed in our home by the DHS….2 mixed race kids with yet another last name. Again, that brief pause. Not long, but enough. I never got that feeling of true acceptance and belonging there, and I didn’t feel like it was nurturing my personal relationship with Jesus. After our pastor left the church wasn’t the same, so we eventually stopped going.

In 2014, I was invited by Amy Seward (who has since passed away…I wish she knew that she truly changed my life) to the Christmas Eve launch service at Prairie Lakes in Fort Dodge. I had seen her posts on Facebook leading up to it and something tugged at me, urging me to go. That night, we were given an ornament of a key with a ribbon and a tag that said “welcome home” and the date. I treasure that ornament above all others because it reminds me of the night that my life, and my family, were forever changed. We didn’t go again for a couple of months…Jon just wasn’t in the same place as me. Finally, I told him I was going to go back, with or without him. My first time back, I went alone. The next week he went with, and we have been going ever since. 

The first time I heard the words “it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you’ve done, or what’s been done to you, you can look for God here” I felt this tremendous weight lift from my shoulders. You don’t have to check your baggage at the door here. There’s room!!! For the first time in my life, I truly felt like I was HOME. I grew confident in God’s love for me. I know in my heart and in the depths of my soul that I AM worthy, I AM good enough, and that I AM loved by Jesus, the only man whose love ever really mattered. I may be a sinner, but I am not my sin!!! Prairie Lakes is so much more than a church. It’s our home. It’s family. It’s friends. It’s such a huge part of our life and we are incredibly blessed to be a part of it.  I’m no longer afraid to share my story because it’s all part of who I am and how I rose above, and I hope it inspires others to see that God’s love is truly unconditional. 15 years ago, I never would have thought I would be leading worship, sharing the love of God with those He puts in my path, teaching bible studies, or putting God first in my marriage, my life, and in our home. These past 5 years have given me new life in more ways than one and I am so incredibly blessed and grateful. Because of His great love for us, we don’t have to be ashamed of our pasts and we can be secure in our future with Him. God loves you no matter who you are, where you have been, what you have done, and what’s been done to you. Knowing that is incredibly freeing, and it is such good, good news.  

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