When I was 4 years old, my father became disabled and lost his job. Instead of turning to God he turned to alcohol, became a very angry man and an alcoholic. I remember vividly the nights when he would drink and become physically and emotionally abusive towards my mother. As a little girl, I was afraid of him and although he never abused me, I found myself hiding in the closet to get away from the yelling and fighting. The closet became a safe place for me. Thinking back, this is when I started running away emotionally, seeking unconditional love and approval.
It was during this time that my best friend’s mother made us both a matching little black dress. This little dress would play a major role in my life. When I put this dress on it made me feel pretty. It made me feel happy and I would dance around the room like a princess. You may be asking, what is the significance of the little black dress and how does it play such a vital role in my story? I believe God had a purpose in this gift. Somewhere deep inside of me the passion for little black dresses would converge with my own life experiences and ignite into God’s calling. My mother knew how much this little black dress meant to me because she kept it and gave it to me when I was in my twenties.
Growing up with an alcoholic father, and a mother who worked nights and long hours I sought approval from my father and tried desperately to fill the emptiness of my home life. At an early age, I was learning how a man treats a woman from the example of my father. So, guess who I was attracted to? I was attracted to boys who treated me with no respect. What I experienced at home became “normal” for me.
We moved twice during my grammar school years and once during high school. Even though my home life was falling apart I would hide behind the façade of popularity, activities, and my school life. No one knew that inside I was a broken little girl.
I started attending a new high school my sophomore year. I immediately became best friends with another new girl. Little did I know how significant Daye’s role in my life would play out. I became like a daughter to her family and even today call her parents Mom and Dad O’Neal. Daye grew up in a Christian home and attended church on a regular basis. I knew Jesus loved me but only from singing Jesus Love Me in church the few times I visited as a little girl with my grandmother or friends. But I didn’t know how much He loved me. I began attending church and youth activities and I accepted Christ at a youth conference that year.
My home life however remained the same and I still felt empty inside and continued seeking the love I desperately craved. I soon met and began dating a boy who was a senior. How quickly life can change! It was in the darkness of the night during my junior year, that my boyfriend raped me. He took me against my will and left me like a piece of trash, discarded, used, and abused. I wanted so badly to cry out for help and remember praying for it to be over. I lay afterwards with tears streaming down my face as he walked out the door taking with him my virginity and my self-esteem. The filth seemed to engulf me like a black cloud covering my whole body. No matter how hard I scrubbed, somehow, I couldn’t come clean. I felt dirty inside and out. So many thoughts ran through my mind…the one that disturbed me the most… “Jesus will never love me again!” I felt like a filthy rag, and unworthy of His love. There wasn’t one person I would confide in, not even my best friend because I was too ashamed. I ran to my hiding place wearing a mask of shame. I wore this mask for years believing the lies of the enemy that I was unworthy of love.
My senior year I let go of all my dreams of college or becoming a flight attendant because my abuser continued to manipulate me into believing that I was no good and too stupid to attend college. Before graduation my parents moved so I lived with my best friend and her family. That summer I met a man whom I would marry only six months later. I knew that this was part of my running away but I thought if I could just leave and start over then the pain would go away. What I didn’t realize is that deep hurt requires deep healing and when you have been hurt deeply and do not get help, the bruises don’t heal and you carry the baggage wherever you go and into all relationships.
I was a broken young woman who still had an innocence about her toward the world. What I didn’t know was that the man I was marrying was addicted to pornography. At the age of 19, I was introduced to a whole new world that would continue to take me deeper into a pit of feelings of unworthiness. My self-esteem was already lost and now I was married to a man who looked at other women in pornographic magazines. I began comparing myself to the women in these magazines and asking, “why doesn’t he love me?” Soon I found myself lost in a world of pornography, strip clubs and a very unhealthy sexual relationship in my marriage. Feelings of guilt, shame, unworthiness, and regret filled every part of my body, soul, and spirit.
After the marriage ended I wondered if I would ever find my way back to God. I so longed for a man to love me for who I was inside, not what I looked like or what I could give. I began receiving counseling and a year later I got married to a 32-year old bachelor who got what I call a “package deal”; a very broken wife and two sons, 6 and 4. Randy was baptized before we got married and I was beginning a journey of healing.
I started attending my first women’s Bible study group early in our marriage and discovered who I was in Christ. I began to understand that I had a purpose and that God created me with gifts and talents and most of all that He loved me unconditionally, something I had been searching for all my life! The women in my Bible study group surrounded me with love despite what I thought of myself.
In 2006, I began writing my story. I’ve always journaled but on one particular morning with pen and paper, God drew from me the deepest feelings from my heart and my past and my book, The Little Black Dress, a memoir was captured. I knew that God used the months it took to complete this book as a healing journey for me. Often as the words poured out over the pages, tears mixed with the ink leaving an imprint of redemption in my heart.
I have made it my mission in life to help those who are hurting. I believe God can heal our past and restore our brokenness. My passion is speaking to women and sharing my testimony so that I can encourage those who have experienced abuse to learn to face their future with purpose and an understanding of who they are in Christ. In 2010, I started a non-profit, The Little Black Dress Society whose mission is to educate the community on domestic violence and abuse and empower and embrace survivors. Through this ministry, we have helped numerous women move from victim to victorious and find the healing balm of Jesus. Our motto is, Abuse is Never in Fashion!
The greatest blessing of all is being married to my husband, Randy for almost 32 years. We are a testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness. God can take the brokenness of our heart and mend it back together; restore relationships, and give hope to the hopeless; all because He is our Redeemer and a God of grace and mercy.
Randy and I own a bed and breakfast in Sisterdale, Texas called Rock Harbor Hill Country Lodge. He is our rock and our fortress, our ever-present help in time of need. Every guest that comes through our doors is greeted with the love of Christ. Our plans are to host intimate retreats for women to experience God’s creation in an atmosphere of healing.
Perhaps you too have a story. If so, whatever your story is, God can use it to impact the lives of others if you allow Him to. I looked for love in all the wrong places for way too many years. I wore the mask of shame, fear, unworthiness, and low self-esteem and was lost in a world of self-hatred, abuse, and ungodliness. But God took this broken vessel and made me a beautiful tapestry of His amazing grace. And He can do that for you too.
God listens to your cries, He hears your heart, and He is there to pick you up from even the deepest darkest place in your life. God loves you with an everlasting, wide-open love!
130 SISTERDALE RD | BOERNE, TX