Beauty from Ashes

Beauty from Ashes

I had the opportunity and priviledge of interviewing a very inspiring young lady who is wise and brave beyond her years. I believe that her story will touch many lives and help others find the healing, peace and courage that they need in order to move forward from their own traumatic experiences. Here is an iconic “lemons to lemonade” story.

Tabitha is a 17 year old junior at Liberty North High School in Liberty, Missouri. Her life seems like that of a typical teen. She was involved in cheerleading and enjoys art. She takes pottery/sculpting classes and has an after-school job. The majority of her time is spent focusing on academics so that she can meet her future college and career goals. In meeting Tabitha, you would never guess that her past holds such a dark experience. 

Around the age of five years old, Tabitha began going to her Great Grandfather’s house to be cared for while her mother went to work. She would go there about four to five days per week. Her Great Grandfather lived in a cabin in the woods, a long distance from town. When he began taking care of her, he would talk to her about sex; explicitly describing the concept to her which led to him performing the act with her each time she went to his house. He told her that it was their little secret and not to tell anyone about it. He also brain-washed her into thinking that this was a normal relationship between children and adults and that all kids did this, it was just never talked about. This routine continued on for five years. 

Tabitha’s mother fully trusted her grandfather and never imagined him performing such horrific actions towards her daughter. She noticed behaviors in Tabitha that raised concerns and qued her into asking questions of her daughter. This led to the secret becoming exposed. Tabitha said that the initial concerning behaviors her mother witnessed were that Tabitha was much more mature acting than other kids her age. Also, when Tabitha was around her great grandfather, their relationship dynamic was more like that of a girlfriend/boyfriend. Once the secret was out, Tabitha’s mother notified authorities immediately. When her great grandfather realized that his actions of five years had been found out, he shot and instantly killed himself.

Once Tabitha was enlightened to the fact that what her great grandfather had been doing to her was wrong and that he was dead, she became a very angry person. What angered her most of all was that, in her words, “he took the easy way out. He never had to pay for what he did to me and I wouldn’t get my justice.”

This is a clay sculpture that Tabitha created, depicting her molester and the innocence that was stolen from her as a little girl.

Processing such a life-altering event spilled over into everything in Tabitha’s life. Her thoughts were consumed by the events of her past. She became a very emotional and angry individual. She became a loner and didn’t want to spend much time with other kids her age. She felt that other kids were living “perfect” lives and could not relate to what she had been through. It was easier for her to keep to herself and escape into reading books. Tabitha suffered from severe depression, anxiety, and PTSD. She had difficulty sleeping. Counseling didn’t seem to help her either. She just wanted to be alone all of the time to process her thoughts. Her mom was always open to talking with Tabitha whenever she needed someone to simply listen. She used art as an outlet for her feelings as well.

At the age of 14, Tabitha recalls a conversation that she had with a special father-figure in her life. He asked her what she wanted to become when she grew up. She said that she wanted to pursue becoming a nurse and ultimately a nurse practitioner and work in the Obstetrician or ER department. This conversation brought about the realization to her that she had her whole life ahead of her. That “that man” had stolen five years of her innocense and childhood. The anger and emotions that his actions caused, stole another four years on top of that. She wasn’t going to allow him to control and manipulate any more years of her life. “Your past traumas don’t have to define you and rule over the rest of your life. People don’t have to let things (from their past) control them.” What a profound statement coming from a seventeen year old! Such wisdom and courage! That new mindset at the age of 14 was a turning point for Tabitha and that is where healing began for her. 

Tabitha, with her little brother.

At the present time, Tabitha feels that she has healed and is moving forward. She no longer struggles with any depression, anxiety or sleep difficulties. She has normal, healthy relationships with her peers. Telling others about what she went through has been a major step towards her healing. She said that the only “trigger” she sometimes has is when she hears someone’s story that is similar to her own but with a different outcome. Such as the child being killed or taking his/her own life. It makes her sad because they never got the opportunity that she did; to heal, move on, and live their life. Tabitha’s future goal of becoming a nurse practitioner will enable her to take her own experience and in turn help, educate, protect, and empower others. In essense, make “lemonade out of lemons.” When I asked Tabitha to summarize her traumatic life event, she concluded, “I’m stronger because of it!”

Tabitha’s story is one that, sadly, rings true to too many individuals. Her courage to speak out, not only brings freedom and healing in her own life, but also to other victims. I asked Tabitha what she would say to someone who has been sexually abused, or who is currently in an abusive situation. She said, “Don’t let them (the perpetrator) win. Don’t let them consume your life. Talk to someone you trust or go to authorities.”

I also asked Tabitha what she would say to parents or loved ones of someone who has been victimized. She said that you need to be a listening ear. Whenever the child needs to talk, always be open and willing to listen. She said that you should not push counseling if the child does not want to do it. Some kids want it and find it helpful, others do not. Let the child decide. Finally, she said that if the victim asks questions, then answer with truth and always be empathetic. Lastly, her words to parents: “Parents, look after your children, and other children, anywhere you are at. Listen to kids. Don’t be afraid to teach them the real terms for body parts and what good and bad touches are. If anything is suspected then ask questions. Molesters want parents to keep kids in the dark.”

I love Tabitha’s perspective and attitude towards life and her past! We can all learn and grow from her. I think everyone has been through some type of past hurt that has left a wound or scar. For some, it carries on for years, keeping them from fully living and enjoying their life. Take Tabitha’s mindset and break free from the bondage of your past that is holding you back! Today is a gift! Today is your day to start anew!

“Don’t let one experience ruin the rest of your life. We only get one life.”- Tabitha Michelle

If you would like to contact Tabitha with questions or comments regarding this article, you can reach her at: [email protected]  

“Watching Tabi grow and develop into not only a better sculptor over the past 3 years has been certainly wonderful. However, being witness to Tabi working on her piece, communicating about her sexual abuse as a child, had to of brought up much emotion again for her. I hope the experience was therapeutic and brought her more healing. I applaud Tabi for being so vulnerable, to not only me in sharing her story and idea for the work, but knowing she had the inner strength to make the work and also display it in school among her peers is rather amazing for someone her age.” -Chablis Sanchez Martin, Art Teacher, Liberty North High School

Hello New Year!

2019 was a whopper of a year…very tough to say the least. Lots of losses in so many ways. Many deaths and good-byes, broken relationships, mental/emotional battles…depression, anxiety like I’ve never experienced in my life. Health battles of both old and new, attacks from others, major fear, brokenness…completely at the end of myself, on my knees, no will to fight- brokenness. That is hard for me to admit. I’m often the person smiling and cracking jokes, it’s just easier that way. Smiling on the outside because I don’t want to face what’s on the inside.

That’s when God stepped in more real and ready to save me than ever before. I don’t mean salvation as in from my sins…he has already taken care of that, but I mean salvation from myself. From misery, hopelessness, a black cloud that wouldn’t budge, fear that was paralyzing, chaos, confusion, others treating me outright ugly. Exhaustion. Complete exhaustion because I was trying to do everything and make it all work, on my own strength. It was like being stuck in this horrible dream that I couldn’t wake up from. I felt so helpless
But God…

Yep…but God, in all of his glory, infinite wisdom and overwhelming, reckless Love, reached down and grabbed my hand. He pulled me out of the mirk and quick-sand, like that of a drowning victim and he set my feet on a rock. He reminded me not only WHO I am, but WHOSE I am. He showed me that I am worthy of love. Worthy of happiness. Worthy of kindness and good things. He blew the dust off of me, like an old item that has been up on a shelf. He woke me up from a state of numbness and sleeping because it was just more comfortable and easier to be in that state than to have to feel. He gave my heart a new song.  He breathed new life into me and filled me with the new light of hope and joy. Joy to give me a new strength. Hope and expectancy that I don’t have to stay stuck in despair. That hearts can heal from loss. He has and continues to use others to do this. He used every source possible because he is God and he has every resource at his fingertips to use and he just does things like that because he loves us so much. He wants us!

He set my feet on a new path. One that shows promise and good up ahead. One that makes me want to get out of bed and see what he has for me that day. One that makes me feel like I have purpose and value and worth again. He showed me how to DREAM once again. Like truly, child-like dreaming about the future!
Is it perfect? Nope. Do I still have days when I struggle? Yep. It takes time. I’m not fully there yet. Are we ever? I still have hard days. I just know that I am seeing the light at the end of the tunnel; like I’m coming out of the fire. Refiner’s fire. It hurt while being in the fire. It is not a place that I would want to return to, yet looking back with hindsight, it is not a place that I would avoid if I had to do it all over again. Refiner’s fire makes us more like Jesus. It cuts off the dead branches and chisels away at the muck, destroys the infestations and polishes us up so that we can be like new again; whole, prepared and ready for the next step that God has for us.
So again, I ask my self…would I do it all over again? The answer is “yes.” A thousand times, “yes.”

But…um…for now God, for now, please lead me to green pastures where I can sit beside still waters. Let me be refreshed and renewed. Give me peace and rest so that I can be ready for whatever waits up ahead.
Hello 2020. I’m ready to see what God has in store for this year. For all of us, may it be a year of blessing and peace!

Blindsided: Keep on Running!

Blindsided: Keep on Running!

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. (1 Cor. 9:24)

In May 2011 I trained for a 10k race called the Bolder Boulder, held in Boulder, Colorado. Being the last minute person that I am, I decided 8 weeks before the race, that I was going to do it. “Couch to 10k” is the name that I gave to the training program that I put together.  I would not recommend such a short training period to anyone. It’s probably a miracle that I didn’t gain an injury from this attempt. I made the decision and set this goal because 8 years prior from this date (2003), at the age of 22, I was told by a rheumatologist that I would no longer be able to run. I wanted to prove that statement wrong. Not to give myself the credit, but to give God the glory. (Also, I’m kind of stubborn and don’t like to be told the words: can’t, won’t or never).

Let me explain by first giving a little of my history:

Growing up in a Christ-centered home, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior at the age of four years old. I grew up knowing and loving the Lord. As I matured in my walk with Christ, my relationship with Him became more of my own and less of my parents’ influence. At the age of 15, I recall fully and completely dedicating my life to Christ, to follow him no matter the cost. I claimed for myself:

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”

At the age of 22, I was completing my second to last semester of college with plans to become an elementary teacher. I was dating Jeff, who is now my husband. Life was good! My whole future was ahead of me! Jeff and I loved to hike, bike, run and just be active together. Running had become one of my hobbies while in college. I averaged around 24 miles per week just because I enjoyed pushing myself and reaching new goals. An hour-long 10k (6.2 miles) was an average workout for me that I would do about 4 days per week, just because I liked to do it. One beautiful, spring day in April 2003 I decided to go for my usual run. Little did I know that when I went out for a run that day, my life would never be the same. That run marked an event that changed the course of the rest of my life.

Upon returning back to the college house where I was living with roommates, I noticed a itchy, red rash on my face, neck, and arms. It felt much like a sun or wind burn. I thought that it probably was just that, and it would go away in a day or two.  It didn’t disappear. Instead, the rash continued to spread and eventually went from my scalp to my toes. It was painful (causing open sores all over my body) and a deep itch to which no creams or lotions could bring relief. Days later, I finally saught medical attention. I was put on oral steroid medication and still my skin condition did not change. I was referred to a dermatologist who took one look at me and said, “you either have lupus or dermatomyositis or both.” The doctor said that it is common for the sun to trigger these diseases. Onset is commonly seen in the springtime, when people are just getting back out into the sun again (photo-sensitive diseases). She said that I would have to see a rheumatologist for further testing and a final diagnosis.

The doctor proceeded to explain the symptoms and inform me about each disease. Scary descriptions of symptoms began to fill the exam room, many of which sounded foreign to me at the time. Phrases such as: severe fatigue; muscular weakness, stiffness, pain and atrophy; lesions, ulcerations and scarring of the skin, difficulty swallowing, digestive issues, shortness of breath, calcinosis, kidney, heart, lung and pancreatic problems; glandular (endocrine) disfunction. I thought that surely the doctor was mistaken. I was young and healthy. How could I be sick?

Two months later, in July 2003, I was finally seen by a rheumatologist. By this time I was experiencing a lot of debilitating symptoms. I was too weak to sit-up from a lying down position or roll over in bed; too stiff to reach my feet to tie my own shoes. Simple daily tasks like turning the keys in the ignition of my car required two hands for strength and a lot of focused effort.

I was experiencing debilitating pain in my skin and muscles throughout my body. A pain that I could best describe as how a person would feel if he or she ran a marathon and then lifted heavy weights afterwards. I was also constantly fatigued. A fatigue where lying down in a dark, quiet room was the only rest I could find. Watching TV felt like too much “work.”  I experienced trouble bathing and dressing myself. I was so tired that I had to lay down and rest after doing simple tasks such as taking a shower, getting dressed or simple housework such as doing the dishes. Even holding my head up or picking up my feet to walk took concentrated effort; my extremeties felt so heavy. I would easily trip and fall. My body could not do what my mind was telling it to do.  It was so frustrating and scary! I also faced a lot of mental fog and difficulty thinking clearly. I struggled with thought processing, internal tremors and episodes where I felt like I was going to pass out.  There are just so many areas I could touch on. These are the main ones, in order to paint of picture of what I was going through.

The rheumatologist told me that tests confirmed a diagnosis of dermatomyositis (also known as DM or the juvenille dermatomyosits form also called JDM). Dermatomyositis is a rare and debilitating, chronic autoimmune disease. The diagnosis ratio at the time was 1 in a million.  Without treatment the disease would be fatal. Some people experience remission, while others battle dermatomyositis their entire lives. There is no cure and…I would no longer be able to run.

I immediately began oral chemotherapy and steroid medications to help alleviate the symptoms. Less than a month later, Jeff and I got engaged. Symptoms began to lessen, I started my last semester of college. Other than being concerned about how much hair I would have remaining for my wedding day, and having limited energy, things were going well overall. I graduated from college in December 2003 and Jeff and I got married a week later. Little did we know the challenges that waited ahead of us. When a person’s health is compromised, the impact isn’t just in the physical. Every area of that person’s life is affected including their closest relationships.

Over the past 16 years I have endured many ups and downs with my health. Flare-ups of symptoms, followed by periods of calm, and then more flare-ups. Besides the on-going physical difficulties I have experienced from the broad range of symptoms from this disease, the emotional impact has been extreme as well. To live with a condition that is chronic requires a lot of mental strength. One feels much like a prisoner trapped inside of their own body to which there is no escape. Establishing a healthy mindset and perspective has taken me years of hard work and determination. I still struggle and experience seasons of depression, especially when faced with physical set-backs, chronic stress, or difficult life events that affect me emotionally, such as loss and grief.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve endured countless hours of doctor exams and medical tests including: skin & lymph node biopsies, colonoscopy, CT scans, x-rays, pulmonary function tests, echocardiograms, bone density tests, a variety of cancer screenings, and the never-ending array of blood work. Traveling to see specialists throughout the country, nearly 2000 hours of expensive introvaneous medicine treatments (currently $45K/month…thank God for health insurance), pills, medication side-effects, all-night stays in the ER, endless sleepless nights, the list goes on. The financial and relational strains that have resulted throughout this journey carry a weight of their own. It can be so lonely. Most people my age can’t relate to what I go through and therefore, don’t understand me or my life; how my family and I have to navigate in order to function along this life’s path.

Different facets of my personality and life have been forever changed from the constant enduring of a battle that has gone on for almost half of my life now. My quality of life has been drastically affected to say the least! I have had to grieve much loss. Loss of dreams and goals and plans. Loss of once close relationships because someone just didn’t understand and therefore distanced themselves.

Everything in my life that I once held dear, I have learned to hold loosely; with open hands to my God. To learn to trust Him again and again with my life. To trust that the One who holds tomorrow, also holds my hand. That he is a good, good Father. That my suffering and trials have a purpose and He is working them out to be a part of His good plan.

This is a path that I would not have chosen for myself, but God is turning it around for good and ultimately for His glory! Faith, trust, hope and perseverance: these are all on-going qualities that God is deepening and instilling in me over and over again (James 1:2-4).

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I give you a glimpse at the depth of this valley so that you can understand why today I’m in humble admiration of my God. The physical, emotional, financial, and relational struggles that my health problems have produced over the past 16 years have seemed at many times relentless. But, I could also go on for a long time about God’s abundant blessings, grace, provision, and goodness that he has poured out upon me and my family. How he has made a path where there was none. How He has not only met our needs but, often, greatly exceeded them, meeting many desires.

One of the great blessings that the Lord has given to us is our healthy children. All children are miracles, but my two biological children have beat a few extra odds in order to become a part of our family (technically, so did our adopted daughter, but that is a whole other story)! We lost a pregnancy to a miscarriage (in 2007) before my oldest child, Aaron was born. It was a painful and devastating loss, but it made me appreciate the gift of being a mother that much more. My kids give purpose to each day and provide extra motivation for me to not just survive, but to thrive!

I recall when my son was an infant and weighed around 12 lbs. My health conditions were majorly flared due to all of the stress and complications that came from his delivery. Plus the added stressor of him spending 8 days in the NICU. I endured three major cases of mastitis within his first 6 weeks of his life. My doctor wanted to admit me into the hospital. I pleaded to first try oral antibiotics at home. I did not want to have to re-enter the hospital after just spending over a week going back and forth, with a baby in NICU. I was exhausted and physically broken down; complete survival mode!

God helped me to get over the on-going infections. I felt like such a failure at the time, having to stop nursing my baby, as I had hoped and planned to do. The choice came down to him having a mom who could care for him or not. I could barely lift or carry my infant son. I remember being so weak that I was concerned of dropping him when I would carry him around in my home. I had a large quilt that I would often lay him on and gently pull him on in order to get him from room to room (a stroller was too large for the home we lived in at the time). I could hardly take care of myself, let alone my child. I was determined to improve so that I could not just exist, but be all that God called me to be…that included being a mom!

Fast forward to recent years, my health has improved to heighths that I haven’t experienced since pre-diagnosis. I currently undergo on-going medical care and treatments, but a lot of the symptoms have been greatly reduced compared to my previous state of health. I am under the constant monitoring of specialists and daily have to balance my activities with rest to ensure that I don’t overdo myself. Having a busy family of five members (counting me), this nearly feels impossible.

I have seen God’s hand at work in my life and it builds my faith. In 2008, I was having continual, severe digestive problems and through blood tests was diagnosed with a second chronic autoimmune disease called Celiac Disease, where the body can’t digest gluten. The treatment is to eat a gluten-free diet. For 2 years I followed this special diet. I was then retested after reintroducing gluten back into my diet and the blood tests revealed no sign of this disease in my body. My Mayo Clinic specialist was baffled and I was given the green light to add gluten containing foods back into my diet. I have not experienced digestive problems in previous years. To God be the glory!

I still daily swallow several pills and bi-monthly get hooked up to an IV machine…but my God is the Great Physician- Jehovah-Rapha: the Lord that healeth thee. From the physical difficulties I have endured, I have decided that if God can get me through this than God can get me through anything!!

No matter what I experience on this earth, according to Rom 8:39, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I will continue to press onward and move forward because I have nothing to lose and everything to gain for the Kingdom of God.

I do not always feel hopeful, peaceful, or joyful in the midst of these circumstances. It has been the slow, patient, and steady work of God in my life that has brought about fruit. The fruit of perseverance and a deeper faith as well as a broader understanding of who God is.

I stand on God’s word, his promises. My Bible says that “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) And “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). No matter what my situation looks like in the natural, I can be sure “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his good purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We all have to endure obstacles and trials in our lives. Mine may look different from yours, but the outcome can still be the same. James 1:12 says, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Whether or not you ever decide to run a physical race, we all have a spiritual race to run. I encourage you to “keep fighting the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

(Bolder Boulder 10k ran on 5/30/11)

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When I chose to follow Christ, I counted the cost. I said “yes” to following Him no matter how my life panned out or how I felt; if it would be easy or what other people might think. The following is a statement that I had posted on the inside of my locker throughout my high school years. I hope it will spur you on…may we be faithful!

Creed of a Bold Jesus Follower

My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, my future is secure! I’m finished and done with the low-living, sight-walking, small-planning, smooth-knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap- living, worldly talk, and dwarfed goals. The decision has been made;             I am a disciple of Christ!

Of course, we are a minority, but armed with the promise of God we can have a spiritual impact that is greater than our numbers might suggest. It may come down to a simple question: “Are we willing to pay the price?” or perhaps even reverse it. Stored up, and prayed up for the cause of Jesus Christ.

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