If you were to ask Gloria, as a little girl, what she wanted to be when she grew up, she would have told you from her 8 year-old, not-so-little heart that her passion was to be the U.S. Women’s Soccer Goalie.
It wasn’t long after reaching this age that her belief in her dreams, goals, and the shape of her identity began to change, due to the harsh reality of verbal and physical abuse by her biological father. As a little girl, Gloria was told that because she was fat, she might as well forget her dreams of becoming a professional soccer goalie. She was told over and over that she wasn’t worth anything, and reminded constantly that she wasn’t good enough. As an 8-year-old little girl, she worried about things most little girls wouldn’t need to worry about. While, for most kids, getting ready for school is their only responsibility in the morning, Gloria’s life was a little different. She vividly remembers one morning getting ready for school, now in 7th grade, trying to put on make-up. Her Dad burst through the door, yelling, “Why aren’t the dishes done?” She distinctly remembers the fear that gripped her as her Dad fiercely ran toward her, palming her right across her face. It left a handprint that would lead to many questions from friends and teachers at school.
The summer before 8th grade, her parents separated. Though her biological father was out of the picture, the damage and wounds to her identity were left for years to come. “You’re not worth anything. Things will never change.” The hateful words and abuse spoken to her, as well as constant reminders that she wasn’t good enough created a void deep within her that craved affection and attention from men. This was only the beginning of Gloria’s journey to finding the one thing that would complete her.
Gloria began to try and find fulfillment in life. She obsessed over guys so much that it consumed every part of her. Her day was made or destroyed based on the relationships she had with guys and longing for their attention and approval. A new season of life began as Gloria entered high school. She made a turnaround as she got involved with better friends and her church and youth group. She sought to live on fire for God, and felt that, for once, she was actually doing something right. She filled her time with school and managing the football and basketball teams. However, her identity struggles and her longing for acceptance led to physically giving herself away during the sophomore year of high school. Up to this point, the rest of her life represented a normal, healthy teenage girl. She didn’t party or get in trouble, but she still struggled to find out who she was.
It wasn’t long before the ways of the world were tugging for Gloria’s attention and once again the acceptance, affection, and approval of men was so appealing. Trying to fill that void once again, Gloria decided to go to college. A new start. A place where no one knew her and she was free to find herself. Yet all along, the question, “Who am I?” resonated deep within.
Gloria went to college, needing a place to fit in, belong, and to find gratification in being needed. This desire led her down a path winding far away from the self-actualization she sought and toward an identity she never wanted. Gloria left for school three weeks early to be football manager. She found herself gaining attention in ways she never thought she could. It began as running errands for team members and quickly morphed into getting physically involved with many of them. She was tirelessly working to fill the vacancy in her heart.
The new chapter in her life led to deeper brokenness. One night of drinking turned into a vicious cycle of 5-6 nights a week of hardcore partying. When alcohol wasn’t enough, drugs were added to the mix, and her casual introduction to porn soon became an addiction. “I knew it was wrong, disgusting, and not something girls typically struggle with. But it was a thrill.” She began to enjoy what she was watching and realized it would get her attention from others.
In the beginning of 2009, she can remember thinking and feeling that she loved being drunk. But being drunk with alcohol turned to being “drunk with loneliness.” Once the drunkenness of partying, sex, drugs, and getting high wore off, she was back to that place with emptiness and disgust. But things continued just the same, and even became a normal routine for her, until her life took another turn.
“I felt sick. Sick from the partying and all that it entailed. Sick of what I was doing and how I was living. I felt the need to change, but was at a loss for how to begin. I didn’t know who I was.” She had bought into the lie that drinking was the only thing in life that gave her worth. In the midst of feeling emotionally sick, she began to feel physically sick.
More than once, the thought had crossed her mind, “What if I’m pregnant?” She and her roommate even joked about the possibility. But with the thought of actual pregnancy in the back of her mind, she quit drinking immediately. “I wasn’t sure of many things, but I knew if I ever became pregnant, abortion was never an option.” Without telling anyone her plans, she purchased a pregnancy test and took it one Saturday night. The test was positive.
As Gloria shared this news with her friends, she found herself sobbing, asking herself over and over, “What am I doing? I sit in my dorm room and drink my life away and now I have a little baby to take care of.” Knowing that things needed to change, Gloria permanently quit using drugs, and the alcohol and sex stopped for a little while. One of the hardest parts in all of this for Gloria was sharing this news with her Mother.
She called herself a Christian, she tried to quote scripture to make the situation okay. In her mind, she was a follower of Christ. She would defend God when people would talk about Him, she could quote scripture, and she had a prayer board in her room. That’s enough, right? “Looking back, the scariest part was that my salvation was not secure. I was living like the rest of the world, but I had convinced myself I was safe.”
Her Mom responded better than she hoped, but this was only the beginning of the long road to recovery. At the age of 19, about to be a new mom, she was still searching for her identity and trying to make life changes. Gloria now had to figure out what family dynamics would be for her and her soon-to-be precious daughter. This road contained many unexpected turns, outcomes, heartache, and at the end of it all, left her feeling abandoned once again, asking herself, “Am I not enough?” Then, adding the new dimension, “Are we enough?”
Photo credit: 535 Photo
While her childhood expectations for a family were turned upside down, the extended family of her daughter, Bella, showed Gloria a glimpse of God’s mercy and grace in the midst of an unexpected situation. “Despite the disappointment, hurt, and uncertainty in it all, I would not trade my daughter for anything.”
Even now with an infant in her care, Gloria had not completely given up drinking. The news of becoming a mother was huge in her life and served as motivation to try and start living right, but she hit another wall in her life that began to bring to light to all that was hiding in the darkness. As baby Bella was 1 year old, lying in her crib, Gloria drunkenly stumbled into her room from the party going on in her house, watching her daughter sound asleep, and began asking herself once again, “What am I doing?”
God, in all of His sovereignty, knew that Gloria and Bella needed a life change and this began with a move from Minnesota to Tennessee in 2012. This move would take Gloria far away from everything she had been doing and everyone she knew. Gloria truly believes that God moved her away physically so that He could begin to transform her heart. She didn’t know it yet, but it would force her to completely rely on God.
Photo credit: 535 Photo
In November 2012, on a Thursday night, Gloria reached a crisis point in her life. “I told the Lord I was done swimming in the lukewarm water and tired of straddling the fence.” In desperation, she cried out to God, telling Him that she had no idea what to do, then began to list before him all that she had done wrong. She asked the Lord to show her what to do with all these things she had placed before Him. As the Lord began to work in her life, He began to show her ways to make some of the wrong done right. She had stolen in the past and she found herself sending things back to old roommates, apologizing for what she had done.
It was in this moment that she made a declaration that she would live for Him and, while she didn’t have all the answers and didn’t know what it all looked like, would trust God with everything from that point on. After going to sleep, feeling more hope than she had in awhile, the Lord began to show Gloria something that changed her forever. He showed her His love in a glimpse of Her future. God began to work deep in Gloria’s heart and life, instilling within her His plan for a hope and a future. This was something for Gloria to hold onto as she now began to let go of her past.
Photo credit: 535 Photo
While the change was not overnight, Gloria saw the Lord working in her life daily. Through books, reading her Bible, and listening more intently to her pastor’s teachings, she began to grow more and more. In 2013, Gloria realized that, while she was on the right path, her desire to change could not be done simply in her own power. She described this change in her life as the Lord peeling away her heart, layer by layer. She began to find out who she truly was. Her identity as a girl who, from the age of eight, was never good enough, transformed into an identity of a woman who was powerful, loved, and truly satisfied.
In all of this, the Lord in was working to show her what love truly is. Back in 2008, Gloria’s mother remarried, and her stepfather became the father figure she never had. Gloria struggled her whole life to understand what it was like to be loved by a father, and through the tangible love of her stepdad, she began to see the Father’s heart for her. In coming to Tennessee and moving away from everything that she knew, Gloria found a church that truly showed her what true love is. She found unconditional, non-judgmental love that also strived to keep her accountable. While it took Gloria some time to receive and accept this love, God worked through this church and these new friendships to help tear down walls that were built in Gloria’s heart. Even in these times, Gloria’s father continued to try and contact her. He was still manipulative and hurtful, and his words would bring Gloria back to that place that she had been as a little girl, making it hard for her to hear the truth God wanted so badly for her to see and believe. Change was hard, as her biological father’s words resonated within her heart.
While never forgetting where she came from, and still bearing scars from her past, she has a heart that has been completely ravished by the Lord both inside and out. Gloria knows now what she was searching for all along. She is found. She is loved. For so long she had wanted to just be somebody’s because she wanted to simply belong somewhere. Finding Jesus and His life-changing love gave her the identity she craved. When Gloria finally surrendered her heart, life, past, present, and future to the Lord, He gave her a glimpse of her future, being faithful to His promise in Jeremiah 29:11 that says: “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 hope and a future.” Gloria has been swept up in the Father’s love, and in Him she is found.
Like everyone, Gloria still has her hard days, but each day, the Lord is revealing her true identity. With total confidence, Gloria knows that she is a daughter of the King, and while the world constantly tries to steal this truth and Satan is out to destroy, she claims the promises of the Lord out loud over herself daily in times of temptation and struggle. It is her heart’s desire for young girls to know how precious they are in the Lord’s eyes.
“I don’t have to search for attention anywhere else because the Father is enamored by me. I am found.”
Photo credit: 535 Photo
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