as told to Ron Bolt
I entered this world as the result of a 16 year-old girl’s one-night stand. The 18 year-old father was engaged to someone else and had a child on the way with her. He denied having sex with my mom, but I look just like him.
Mom sure could have opted for adoption or abortion, but she decided to keep me:-)
My mom moved out of her parent’s home when I was one and-a-half. She hooked up with a man in a notorious motorcycle gang. They married and gave birth to a baby boy before he went to prison.
After divorcing him, Mom took on her ex-husband’s younger brother for a lover. They married eventually and produced two baby girls in their 17+ years together. The responsibility of mothering the younger ones fell to me—I dressed, fed and entertained them from the time they were newborns.
My step-dad played in a band some nights. While he banged on drums and Mom partied at the bar, I took care of my little brother and sisters in the car.
You wouldn’t have wanted to live next door to us. A constant parade of bikers, druggies and hoodlums—all with guns—bought and sold drugs in our home. A steady stream of foul language and smoke flowed through the air, polluting my young ears and lungs.
Nobody worked. We lived off welfare and my step-dad’s disability checks. We were poor but my step-dad always carried a wad of cash in his pocket for buying dope or whatever.
Our family moved continually. The first couple of years, we were on the run from my step-dad’s older brother. Remember him? We lived in 32 different places by the time I reached seventh grade and frequently found ourselves homeless. We lived in cars, parks, tents—sometimes in autoparks, where people can park a car and pitch a tent.
Living in such environments makes for odd, happy times. One of my best childhood memories came from the time one of my uncles busted a pay telephone and let each of us kids take 50 cents and go to the store. Another time, my mom and a sister-in-law walked to the store to steal cigarettes. We didn’t have any food, so while they were gone, my step-dad caught a blue jay for our meal. My mom returned just in time from the store with hot dogs she stole and we didn’t need to eat the bird.
School provided the only stable activity in my life. I loved school! I got a free hot lunch and teachers praised me. I never received any praise at home and I got punished for no reason. That didn’t happen at school.
In spite of my mom’s failings, I loved her. I thought she was the best mom ever. However, my step-dad tore Mom down continuously. He rarely gave her gifts for any occasion so I filled in the gaps, trying to make her happy. At school, I made cards for her birthday, Christmas and Valentine’s Day. I remember folding laundry for neighbors to earn money to buy ice cream for her birthday so she always had a gift from me.
Some of my memories developed from more painful experiences. I was sexually abused by various family members since I was five. I never told anyone—my mom didn’t need more pain in her life. As it turns out, she had been molested as a child and kept it to herself. Men in the family also abused my little sisters.
When I was 17, I met Tim. He helped in the high school cafeteria and we soon became best friends. The first time Tim came over to see me, a group of guys were smoking pot with guns, scales and bags of marijuana all over the dining room table. It was normal to me but Tim’s jaw dropped and he stood there speechless. He shook hands with my step-dad and I hustled him out of there.
I really hoped to spend time with Tim on weekends but he was always busy with his family. At my house, the adults slept in and I had to take care of all the kids. Sundays were the worst. I had a hard time keeping the kids quiet because our television antenna didn’t receive cartoon shows on Sunday mornings.
One time I asked Tim, “Can’t I go somewhere with you on Sunday? Where do you go?” He told me they went to church.
“Church?” I questioned, “What do you do there? Is it all weekend?” I didn’t know.
Tim asked if I wanted to go to church with him and his family. I said, “Sure!”
I joined them on Sunday and sang along with them. One catchy tune stuck with me. The chorus went like this:
We’ve got the power in the name of Jesus
We’ve got the power in the name of the Lord
Tho’ Satan rages, we cannot be defeated
We’ve got the power in the name of the Lord.*
One time Tim brought his Bible when he came to see me. Mom chased him out of the house with a broom. She told him, “Tim, I like you but you can’t bring that thing in here. I know I’m going to hell and I don’t need you reminding me of it!”
When I visited Tim, I needed to walk through our dark neighborhood without sidewalks, or streetlights. As soon as I lost sight of my house I’d get really scared. After memorizing that song from church, I sang it as I walked. I recalled hearing the pastor talk about the perfect peace Jesus brings, but I didn’t understand it until that night. As I sang, fear left and peace flowed over me—that’s what had been missing from my life!
I wanted to get a job but my family discouraged me, saying it could mess up their welfare payments. After graduating from high school, Burger King hired me. At 18, I collected my first check and moved into an apartment with a girl friend.
Tim showed up at my door after a beating with a rubber hose from his mom. She had verbally and physically abused him throughout his childhood and that time he told her, “That’s it. I’m leaving.”
His mom admitted she didn’t love him. Tim had been born five and one-half months into his mother’s pregnancy and his palsy required multiple operations. His step-dad worked most of the time to support the family and wasn’t around much.
My roommate and I allowed 16 year-old Tim to move in with us. Our friendship evolved and two years later we had a son.
At that point Tim told me, “We need to make this right. We need to get right with God.”
I wondered what he was talking about. I said, “I don’t drink or smoke. What do I need to get right?”
Tim convinced me marriage was the right thing to do. When he turned 18 and his mother could no longer prevent it, we asked our pastor to marry us. He told us, “No, You’re living in sin.”
I was stunned. I wondered Aren’t we trying to get right with God—so how do we DO that?
Tim’s former youth pastor invited us to a Bible study he conducted in his home. The people in our Bible study opened their arms to us and accepted us. Instead of judging us, they mentored us, sharing wisdom on how to love a spouse and how to make family life work. They loved us and made us feel like part of their family.
During counseling, we gave our lives over to Jesus, asking him to be Lord of our lives. From that day we have strived to always keep him at the center of our marriage, family and decisions we make. Even though life was still hard I always had joy and peace like never before—they come only from God.
The former youth pastor married us in a little park—nothing fancy, just perfect for us.
Both Tim and I brought a ton of baggage into our relationship. Our families had damaged us severely and provided models of dysfunction. How would it be possible for our family to work?
We committed to loving the Lord and each other. We studied God’s word in church and Bible study groups and focused on doing right in the eyes of the Lord. People prayed for us and the Lord held us together.
We saw glimpses of positive family interaction through Christian friends. I’d never seen mealtimes where families sat around chatting and the moms and dads cared about what the kids said. I grew up with mealtime conversations dominated by a step-dad putting people down and giving orders of what he wanted how he wanted it done.
I needed to see how families should act when nobody else was present. I learned some of that by watching TV programs which showed how we wanted family life to work for us.
During our son’s teenage years, dark times came upon our family. He made bad choices, getting caught up in drugs. We’d never taken drugs and I lived through the hell of growing up in a family with drug problems. We weren’t going to have it. We told him, “You need to live by our house rules or live elsewhere.” Our 16 year-old son grabbed his back pack and totally disappeared from our lives.
Once children reach a certain age, we can’t make decisions for them. Ephesians 6:12 tells us For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. So we battled for our son through prayer.
We hadn’t heard from our son for two years when someone invited me to a women’s retreat. I’d been to retreats before and always had a good time. I could meet with the Lord without everyday distractions, hang out with other women—and get fed! But at the time, I was so miserable and hurting, I didn’t want to interact with anyone.
I reluctantly attended and what I found astonished me.
I really dreaded the time of the retreat when we would sit with other women and talk about what was going on in our lives. The time came and I sat at a table with seven women listening as they shared what they were going through. Each of them were dealing with various stages of the same problems as me: children running away and/or taking drugs. I thought I was the only one suffering with my particular issue, but God led me to the group I needed. One of them had a 19 year-old daughter who recently returned to her family after years on the streets. That gave us hope. We joined together to battle for our children in prayer.
My son returned home. He told us, “I’ve given my life to the Lord.” He thanked us for tough love and asked us to do it again if it ever came to it. We threw a prodigal son party to welcome him home.
Other family members have come around to a better life. My mom turned her life over to the Lord and finally found peace and love. Even my step-dad accepted new life in Christ while in prison.
I experienced mixed emotions how to react toward my step-dad. He deserved a terrible life and then to go to Hell, but Jesus offers forgiveness and new life. After a struggle within myself, I penned a letter encouraging him in the faith.
So how can I experience pain and peace at the same time? I have lived through many painful and fearful events. Only after I accepted the one, true, living God did I feel an amazing, soothing, loving peace. Before, I never even imagined such a thing could exist. I don’t know exactly how it works—I just know I’ve had peace since I’ve known the Lord Jesus. I don’t know how electricity works either, but how futile it would be to remain in darkness until I figure out the mystery.
Ginger’s Advice for Kids
●Understand you are not alone. Many horrible things in this life happen to all kinds of people.
●Know that you are not a bad person. You just happened to be there.
●Know that you are not a bad person. You just happened to be there.
●You don’t deserve the blame or to carry the shame of what’s happened to you, so don’t take it.
●Use your painful experiences to help others.
●Let your experiences make you better, not bitter.
●Make good choices. They affect everyone around you.
●Give people a chance. Not everyone is like the awful person who hurt you.
Ginger’s Advice for Adults
●Realize you can’t fix yourself, but the one who created you can.
●If you’re having trouble breaking free from the chains of shame, pain and scars—accept Jesus into your life.
●Allow Jesus to rescue you from all that keeps you angry and hurt.
●Post notes around your house to keep you focused on your priorities. I put Bible verses on index cards that address what I’m dealing with at that particular time.
*Lyrics by LaVerne Tripp
Ginger ended a generational pattern of welfare dependence. She and Tim recently bought Granny’s Mini Hut, a small restaurant in Roseburg, Oregon.