I was never physically abused, but the psychological damage from my father’s alcoholism was deep and painful. Peace and security were feelings that belonged to others, but not me.
What I do remember, vividly, is the day I decided to shut down my feelings. It didn’t take a lot of effort, because I had already started ignoring them. I reasoned at a young age that neither I nor my feelings were of any great significance. Yet I always wanted someone to love me, to make me feel valued. I also looked for people to make me feel safe, but I struggled with allowing people to get too close. The few times I risked letting my guard down I was left wounded, disappointed, and alone. These experiences fed my belief that I had no real value.
Only as an adult did I understand that my father had learned to deaden his feelings and emotional pain through alcohol. As a result, he was unavailable to his family on many levels. I would spend years digging my way out of the pain this caused. For example, I believed if I gave people what they wanted or did the right thing, they would like me and think of me as important. I also reasoned that if I did the right thing, it would prevent or alleviate any need to confront difficult situations.
The decision to shut down my feelings was the result of fearing to trust what I was feeling and that what I was feeling was OK. But those feelings of not being safe and accepted by people would not go away, and they became the filters through which I viewed the world for years.
As far back as I can remember, I attended church with my family. I confessed hope in Christ at a young age; however, I had no idea what it meant to have a personal relationship with Christ. Accepting Christ seemed to be what was expected of me. Unfortunately, nothing in my life changed after that. I wasn’t given Bible studies, nor was I reading or studying the Bible on my own. I still attended church, but there were no significant changes in my life.
Time and life moved on, and at the age of 17 I graduated from high school and went on to college. By 1986 I was divorced from my first husband and had two children.
Although I was older, I was still seeking to validate my worth. I was restless, searching for something or someone to fill the emptiness in my life. I started going to clubs. I didn’t smoke or drink; I was into the music, and I enjoyed dancing. After a couple of years I still wanted more, but I didn’t know how to move forward. I felt trapped by my inability to make wise choices about relationships, often failing at engaging in healthy ones.
In 1988 the most beautiful thing happened: Jesus came into my life in such a gentle way. He brought peace and security, and told me my worth by pointing me to the cross.
Early in the year, the organization I was working for transferred me to a different work site. My new office was located in an Army hospital. I was meeting new people, and a few of them that stopped by my office told me about their relationship with Christ. I wasn’t turned off by this, but no one had ever engaged me in conversations about their religious experience. I always thought a person’s relationship with Christ was a private matter, not something to be discussed openly.
A couple of people started inviting me to their churches, and out of politeness and curiosity I would attend. I found the services interesting, but wasn’t motivated to explore the possibility of joining.
One day I received a call from a high school classmate. I hadn’t spoken to her in 10 years. How she found me, I do not know. She called to invite me to her baptism. I was amazed and excited for her, so I agreed to attend. By the end of the service I knew I had found what I longed for. I can’t tell you what the message was that day, but the presence of the Lord was in that place.
In 1988 the most beautiful thing happened: Jesus came into my life in such a gentle way.
I remember sitting in that church longing to belong, to feel, to know this God everyone around me seemed to know.
I immediately requested Bible studies, and my life started to change . . . finally. Why? Because the psalmist said, “The entrance of thy words giveth light; giveth understanding unto the simple” (Ps. 119:130, KJV).
I learned through those studies that Jesus loved me just the way I was, but He refused to leave me the way He found me. He planned to restore His image in me. I can’t tell you how excited and appealing this was to me, because I didn’t like the person I had become. I was tired of the emptiness, trying to fill it, often failing. I was tired of being afraid of relationships and avoiding them so I wouldn’t be hurt.
In those studies and conversations with individuals in my Bible study group, I learned that Jesus loved me simply because I existed, and He cared for and about me. I knew that I didn’t deserve His love, but praise God, He believed that I was worth dying for. The following year, on November 3, 1989, I was baptized in that same church and baptismal pool.
Although I’ve had many challenges since giving my heart to the Lord, through the grace of God I am not the same person who walked into that church 30 years ago. I have grown and continue to grow in Christ, and I have never regretted my decision to give my life to Him.
One such challenge came in the form of a learning disability. In 1993 I was officially diagnosed with a learning disability that affects my ability to read, write, and spell. For years, even after becoming a Christian, I was ashamed of my reading and writing skills.
Somehow (only God knows) I finished my bachelor’s degree and went on to receive my doctorate in educational psychology. God wasn’t finished—He wanted me to write for Him. Imagine that, a person who struggles with writing and spelling writing for God. I often say that God has an interesting sense of humor.
As has been said, He does not call those who are qualified, He qualifies those who respond to His call. It took some convincing from Him, but I finally said yes to Him.
Now I encourage others to say yes. Not just to work for Christ, but to live for Him. I can and do attest that living for and working with Christ is the greatest and most fulfilling relationship and experience you will ever have. I am daily humbled that God so loved me that He sent His Son to die for me, the ungodly, that I may live His righteous life. Oh, how great is His love, mercy, and grace toward me!
This testimony was first published in the ASI newsletter, November 2020.
Hope Beale is an education psychologist and author of Dyslexia: Dare to Be Restored to the Image of Christ; her White Raiment Publication ministry focuses on deepening relationships with Christ.