Once upon a time, a five year old girl ran to her mother. She held up her stained underwear, confused and scared. She knew something was terribly wrong.

A quick trip to the family physician was revealing. The doctor said, “Lola, someone is hurting your little girl, and it has to stop.” It didn’t. The little girl emotionally retreated, feeling she must have done something terribly wrong. Since most everyone the little girl loved was hurting her, her heart pondered why she was so unworthy of love. Without love, the little girl could never live happily ever after.

A home riddled with abuse can leave a soul shattered. All eight children in my family would wrangle with the emotional ambush of a highly dysfunctional household. The undue farm labor nor the excessive abuse handed down by my alcoholic, son-of-a-preacher man father would evoke intervention by local law enforcement. The community turned a deaf ear and blind eye to our home life.

Days were difficult and nights horrific. My mother was too consumed with her own abuse to worry about what was happening with mine. I had become a bed-wetter, which frustrated my mother even more. Denied the much-needed bath, I was sent to school after having my nose rubbed in the urine-soaked sheets and receiving a beating with a round curtain rod.

School was my refuge, but it brought other rejection. Hot Southern days exacerbated my odor of urine. Teachers rubbed my proverbial nose in my urine dilemma by relegating me to a corner in the back of the classroom to keep down the offense of my presence.

The Rescue

A school-day chapel time brought promise as a Gideon representative spoke words of hope. He recited verses like John 3:16 that felt like a balm upon a battlefield of hurts and grievances. The small Bible he gave us wasn’t enough for the excitement of learning someone actually loved me. My bold request for his big Bible was met with a kind and willing spirit.

I read my Gideon’s Bible by flashlight underneath my covers each night. As I grew, I hung onto every word, each collective promise, and all individual assurances offered on its pages. My heart was being prepared for a journey I could not envision beyond a South Georgia tobacco farm, but I believed Psalm 139:16 that, “[He] saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in [His] book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”

The Prayer

A Saturday afternoon found this Cinderella babysitting siblings and cleaning cinders from our only source of heat. Traumatic nights consumed my thoughts of anatomy class and how babies were made. Dejected and fearful, I fell to my knees and wailed.

“Dear Lord, Help me! Please send someone to teach me how to love because I don’t know how. Protect me, God. I don’t want to get pregnant. If You will, I promise to serve You forever!”

A strong presence surrounded me, hovering over my shaking body, and resting upon my shoulders. A peace swept over me, and I knew I had encountered God in a very special way.

It would be years and much more abuse before I came to understand the significance of my prayer that day. I wouldn’t experience my first menstrual cycle until I was seventeen years old. The certain knowledge of protection was there, but the full appreciation for how the Lord had delivered me would awaken my senses as I matured in my faith. I was blessed. Was I set apart? You bet I was! I prayed and abdicated my will to God.

The Teacher

“I don’t want to go to your church. I’m happy with mine.”

I had told my boyfriend that many times before.

“Please come with me tonight,” he begged. “We have a new youth minister in town, and I’m supposed to bring a friend. If you will, I promise I won’t ever ask you again.”

“Deal!” I got dressed and we headed to church.

There he was—128 pounds of head-turning magnificence, strumming his guitar, singing “A Time for Us,” and stealing my heart in a skinny second! The following week, I did what any red-blooded American woman would do—I dumped my boyfriend and pursued the man of my dreams.

From the chase to the catch, the adventure was a divine appointment. My teacher husband would not only show me how to love, but also expand my heart to embrace love in ways I never dreamed possible. Our tapestry of love manifested itself through parenting, grand-parenting, and serving in full-time ministries.

My Teacher Jesus instilled in me the capacity to accept being loved in order to return it. I defied the odds of not only overcoming but overriding obstacles of abuse that could have kept me trapped in an emotional prison forever.

My career as a court reporter exposed me to domestic love-hate relationships resulting in marriage dissolution. As a pastor’s wife, I joined my husband in advising troubled couples. Having witnessed firsthand the damage a dysfunctional family can render equipped me with empathy for those shackled to a daunting past. This triad of experience developed within me a passion for saving marriages and preserving the family unit.

The Promise

Walking in obedience isn’t always easy. I had ideas for fulfilling my promise to serve. God had others. My plans did not include writing marriage/family/self-help books, or fiction novels, becoming an international speaker, TV personality, magazine columnist, radio talk-show host, and definitely not a Family-Life Fitness Pro™. The Just Ask Joyce™ show has empowered me to mentor hundreds of couples, individuals, and family units presenting godly wisdom extracted from my life’s experiences.

God kept His promises. I’m keeping mine. Believing wholeheartedly in Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose,” I wouldn’t change one second of my childhood experiences. Regardless of our circumstances, whether a result of our poor choices or the choices others make for us, God never leaves us nor forsakes us. Consequences may follow even after deliverance, but with Him all things are possible, forgivable, and pardonable.

It’s a promise standing the test of time.

[Image via Erich Ferdinand/Flickr]