To lay eyes on Gatha Crawson is to behold a southern belle in all her glory. With a sweet southern drawl, easy smile, and gracious mannerisms, she epitomizes warmth and grace in her handshake, forming immediate and close-knit kinship with whomever she comes in contact. Behind the Southern charm and signature accessory of an audaciously beautiful wide-brimmed hat, you might assume that this woman has led a charmed life. But you would be wrong — grievously wrong. What is so refreshing about this amazing and inspiring woman is that she’s not afraid to tell you what her real story is. After all, according to her, she’s the only one who knows it and it’s all she really has to help her share God’s greatness.

Underneath the bubbly, warm surface, there lies a history riddled with stories regaling a multitude of painful experiences. The excruciating things she endured would leave many bitter, but Gatha understands the bigger picture — the perspective of our lives against the vast universe and all of eternity. She understands the glory of God is found in our stories and she wants nothing more than for her story to be used to bring about healing in other people’s lives — for them to understand the glory of God in their own stories. So, she shares her story with a transparency that takes true courage. caught in a secret life of fear After living a childhood filled with fear, bearing the responsibility for her mother’s sanity, trying desperately to please everyone, and learning from example that maintaining the appearance of happiness and success was much more important than the truth, Gatha thought she had done well by marrying her husband — after all, her mother approved.

Secrets surrounded Gatha’s upbringing. She didn’t know her mom’s story. She didn’t know that her mama had been sexually abused at the hands of her mother’s father. She didn’t know why her daddy walked on egg shells around her mama. She didn’t understand a lot of things, but she knew that her mama was sad. She knew that her daddy had put her in charge of her mom, telling her that it was her job to make sure her mama stayed happy.

Not knowing the freedom that truth brings, Gatha was sheltered growing up under the overbearing presence of a mother who only knew hurt in the world and wanted to prevent her kids from knowing the same. Afraid to rebel against the pressure of her parents, afraid of the effects it would have on her fragile mama, Gatha succumbed to their rule, ultimately leaving her ill-prepared for the realities of the world outside her parents’ home — a stark reality that would come crashing in around her, leaving her desolate, alone, and hopeless.

Afraid of losing her daughter to the life of a military wife, Gatha’s mom succeeded in steering Gatha away from her first love – a navy man who adored her and desperately wanted her to be his wife. As time passed, Gatha met another young man whom her mom considered to be a more favorable choice, and they married. Her husband didn’t take long to reveal his true nature. Sexual promiscuity, deep anger issues, and unresolved family problems caused this bitter man to injure Gatha very deeply during their years together. He was an alcoholic who unloaded his rage onto Gatha.

Finding the Way to Freedom

One of the images that stands out in my mind after hearing Gatha’s story is of her then husband standing over her trying to abort her baby with a wire clothes hanger — twice. That image will never leave me. Her other pregnancies, also unwanted by him but desperately prayed for by her, bore children despite the constant beatings. She gave birth to five children through her marriage with her first husband.

The horrors of life with a rage-a-holic and alcoholic continued with standout moments such as his bragging that he would have sex with their daughter and his efforts on several attempts to take her life. Gatha’s strict religious upbringing shamed her for wanting a divorce, her family shamed her for needing to escape, and the lack of a support system left her feeling helpless. Over the years her husband had multiple affairs. He regularly abused Gatha both physically and emotionally. She became severely depressed, even to the point of attempting suicide multiple times. Her main priority was protecting her children and she believed that if she died, her kids would be sent to live a peaceful life with her parents. It seemed the only way out for all of them. She just wanted her children to be okay. What she didn’t realize at the time was that the Lord wanted her to be okay. God intervened during each suicide attempt through the few friends around her.

Ultimately, He stepped in and gave her a new life. Despite all of the horror and the misunderstanding of what God had actually called her to do, spurred on by a misguided mother and misinformed pastors, she knew that God was good. She knew deep down that He had a plan for her life and for her story.

Finally, after a previously failed attempt to escape her abusive husband, she left for good, no longer willing to cave in to the social and religious pressures against the stigma of divorce. She trusted God to take her to a place to which only He knew how to get to her. She stayed strong. In spite of the threatening phone calls, midnight drive-bys of the house she and her children were staying in, and the constant threat of the family going hungry, Gatha stuck it out. She knew that she couldn’t go back; it would be death if she did.

Life on her own as a single mom of five kids was hard, but filled with happiness. The kids thrived and she felt so good about that. The children no longer cowered in the fear of their father coming home. They started to come out of their shells — like little butterflies flying out of their cocoons, destined for greatness. Gatha’s heart soared at the knowledge that God was taking care of her children and guiding their hearts to a deeper love for Him and a desire to serve Him. Joy filled their lives — Gatha’s and her children.

Our History as a Means of Control

Gatha uses the analogy of a hook when describing how Satan plays on painful events from our past. She explains that, “The way Satan gets to us is by the emotional stuff that we go through that we do not have the opportunity to address at the time. And he gets what I call a hook in you at that point and he doesn’t yank it that day, he just yanks on it as you go through life. When you have another life experience that feels like this one he yanks (that hook) and that is how he gains greater control over us.”

That’s how he kept Gatha in an abusive marriage — through the hooks of her childhood and other hooks he planted in her along the way.

But the good news is that Satan does not have to win — in Gatha’s story or in our story. As children of God, we are already victorious because of the victory of our Savior. Sometimes, the lies that the devil tells us keep us from realizing the power that we actually have over him in the name of Christ. Healing from the hooks that Satan has in your life can begin when we acknowledge them, realize that they have no place in our life, make the choice to listen to the Voice of Truth, and ask God to remove them and replace it with what is pure and good.

When describing what this looked like in her own life she explains, “I ask God to fill me with a greater measure of the Holy Spirit and with wisdom and discernment and love. When we lay something down at the cross, we must fill that emptiness with something pure… fruits of the Spirit.”

Healing Comes in the Morning

At the turning point in her story, after the dissolution of her marriage and upon receiving the hope given to her by her Savior, Gatha knew that she needed to deal with the anger in her heart before she could truly move forward in the purpose that God had for her life. Going away for a week, she took only a pen and paper. In isolation, just her and God, she prompted herself, “Why am I angry?” She knew that she was the only one who could answer that question and after pouring out her heart onto those pages, she could see the answer — she hadn’t forgiven her ex-husband. Forgiveness — it is something we must be willing to offer if we want true healing.

During her time away, God moved in Gatha’s heart — softening it toward the one who had hurt her. She began to see her ex-husband as a man in desperate need of God. She began to see him from a more eternal perspective of love, one which only God could give her — a love for sinners that brought God the Son down from heaven to die for men and women in need of grace and forgiveness. Although true forgiveness of sins can only happen when the sinner himself appeals to God, Gatha began to ask God to forgive her ex-husband for his sins because she believed that he had no true understanding of the depravity of his own actions in light of the cross; he didn’t know Christ, and for that, she felt sorry. Through this softening of her heart, Christ began to truly heal Gatha and she was finally able to forgive her ex-husband. Forgiveness freed her; the burden of anger was completely removed.

God Blesses the Broken Road

When reflecting on her life Gatha says with all certainty, “I will tell you that the entire journey was worth it and this is why. I have never been in front of an audience — whether it’s eight, one hundred, or ten-thousand — where someone hasn’t come up to me and said, ‘You have changed my life. I can do this.’”  As Gatha has boldly shared her story over eight thousand times in the US alone, she is quick to point out that our history is our testimony and it should always be used for the purpose of glorifying God.

Gatha sums up how she got through the many trials in a rather simple yet profound way. She says each night she prayed and after that she allowed herself to dream. She would dream that she was a Southern belle and her husband was a knight in shining armor. During her first marriage, she thought that God would bring about the transformation that she so desperately wanted in her husband. Sadly that never happened, but after the divorce she eventually met an extraordinary man — a man who knew that the job of cracking her hardened exterior would be well worth the reward. He pursued her and her children. He was a Godly man and he was the right man, the one intended for her. Upon winning her heart, they married and he adopted all five children. That first night with him home, she felt safe. For the first time in her life, she felt like she could sleep. And it’s been that way for thirty-seven years. God provided a man who knew the value of her story; who vowed to support her in all things; and who never stood in the way of her sharing her story. He has been Gatha’s biggest supporter in her speaking ministry. With her beautiful eyes brimming with tears, this beaming Southern belle says lovingly of her husband, “God gave me my dream.” What a powerful testimony to the goodness and provision of our Lord!

New beginnings can happen every day. Ultimately, it depends on our decision to listen to the Voice of Truth in our lives. The lies that the devil tells us to keep us down — held captive in prisons of fear — have no power over us when we can find our true identity as a child of the one true God. We pray for you that Gatha’s story would encourage you to see the truth in your life. The truth that God has a dream — a purpose — for you and your story.