I had a massive fight with my mom, just before leaving for a 4-day weekend trip in Ohio with my school. I was 16, a junior in high school, and it was Valentine’s Day weekend 1999 and my life was about to change forever.
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My life was a wreck. I had so much pain, so much hurt, so much confusion over why my life was the way it was. Anger was my default mode when I was home, while at school it was exhaustion. After-school is when I had fun and could be adventurous and comical as I traversed the streets of my city Pittsburgh or put my energy into acting on the stage with my school theatre group.
But at home, I was another person, one who felt like a trapped animal, the daughter who just couldn’t get it together. My older sister was a shining example of a good kid who worked hard in school, had a boyfriend, had a job after school, and just seemed to succeed everywhere she went. And my younger sister had her own struggles, dealing with the crime my father did to her as a young child. She mostly was reserved and quiet, struggling to make it through school for different reasons than me.
My mom was a survivor and a fighter, a person who clawed her way out of the pit of hell my father created. My mom, working the jobs she could get with a high school education, was raising three girls who were separated by 5 years altogether.
It had been years since my father was around, not because he didn’t want to be, but because of court orders and the threat he was to all of us.
But it was me that everyone prayed for and was worried about.
Me who caused all the problems.
It was I who was the loudest and most volcanic.
Years of disruptive angry behavior led to being kicked out of the house when I was 13 to live with my grandmother. After that, it took a full year of hard work to gain a spot back in my house.
But my changed behavior didn’t last. In fact, no real changes ever actually stuck. As much as I wanted to change, I just couldn’t. I was too angry, too lost.
It’s funny how God works in ways we can never predict.
I was at a Catholic all-girls high school with my tuition being paid by the generosity of my childhood priest. Everyone thought that maybe getting back into Catholic education would help – and it did help, but not in the way anyone anticipated.
One morning in January of 1999, I heard a school announcement for a four-day retreat in Akron Ohio, and no joke I thought “4-day retreat…hmmm.. that means some days off of school right? Count me in!”
There were only two spots available and luckily nobody was interested in going on this venture. I was chosen not because I was qualified (I was practically failing school), but because God had a plan.
Oh…and talk about awkward, I was attending with my class president, my school’s principal, and our campus minister. God is funny, because there I was just a poor girl sitting in the car with three very prominent females feeling like a fish out of water.
But before leaving on this trip, like I mentioned at the beginning of the story, my mom and I had a horrific fight and her last statement was, “I’m done Alexis, I don’t know what to do anymore, you’re on your own.” But to me it was just another fight, another problem that I wouldn’t have to face until I got home 4 days later.
Have you ever longed for something that you didn’t know how to articulate?
It’s been twenty plus years since that weekend and I can still feel the feelings of that powerful retreat.
Again, my life back then, predominantly at home, was one filled with anger. I’m not quite sure when the anger began, probably sometime earlier than I can recall, when little seeds of disappointment were planted over and over again until they finally one day began to sprout into anger.
And angry I was, but I couldn’t put my finger on why exactly I was angry. My therapist would ask periodically why I was angry and I honestly didn’t know how to answer. I just was so mad. Mad at it all. Mad that my dad was the person he was. Mad that my mom couldn’t understand me. Mad at my sisters for being better than me and angry that the three of them often coalesced against me. I always felt so alone at home.
I would pray, along with the countless others who prayed for me, but I would feel nothing. I believed in God, but God seemed to be nowhere in the mess of my life.
I just wanted to be rescued from the pain. I wanted to have a normal family, one where I had a place and was welcomed and celebrated for who I was.
My family (my mom, and sisters) they weren’t monsters, they were all just trying to survive the chaos my father unleashed on us. We were all victims of abuse and all survived in the best ways we could. I just didn’t get the love I needed, and honestly because the love and understanding I needed could only come from a Savior.
Like I said earlier in this story, my whole life changed during Valentine’s weekend of ’99. I left for that retreat while still in the middle of a fight with my mom and as a sixteen-year-old trying her best to deal with the very intense and powerful feelings of anger and abandonment.
When I went to the retreat, which was at a different high school in a different state, I didn’t know what waited for me. I had no idea what to expect, actually, I’m not even sure I had any expectations other than to meet new people. But God had other plans, He had the plan to claim my heart and start me on the journey of healing from my deep and lasting pain.
That’s the thing about God, His timing is perfect and right.
I know I wasn’t an easy child, and caused my mom a lot of worry and frustration. But she prayed and tried to find a way forward for me, but how difficult is it to wait on solutions for yet-to-be answered prayers?
I know even more now the stress and trials of having children with unique needs, as I am now a mom of two special needs kids. Oh, how I’ve prayed for my autistic son to stop tantruming. Or when the health of my baby Lucy was in peril, the prayers for healing were abundant, and yet those prayers weren’t immediately answered. We almost always have to wait for answers to our prayer.
I imagine the frustration my mom felt, the feelings of hopelessness when all efforts for helping me failed. I feel twinges of those same feelings as I’ve walked with my son through his trials and his struggles. But sometimes, in the midst of a screaming tantrum, I prayed for it to stop, and it didn’t. In those moments, the feelings of frustration and isolation surround you like a densely foggy night.
Yes, my family situation as a teenager was less than ideal, because we were all struggling to survive. But even just surviving comes at a cost, a cost that can only be remedied by our King.
The retreat I went on is called a Kairos retreat, and the purpose of the retreat is to set aside a specific amount of time to focus on self and knowing God. It was led by a team of student leaders who previously attended a Karios retreat and teachers from the school hosting the retreat.
Through many ways over the weekend God began to speak to my weary and battered soul. He began putting pieces into place so that eventually it would all click and I would see what He wanted me to see.
That all happened when I was surprised on the third night of the retreat, when surprise letters from loved ones were read aloud in front of the whole group. My mom had written me a letter, and I’m still amazed at my mom’s letter and how God put the words together and orchestrated its message. Here’s an excerpt.
“This is your time, to go inside of yourself and remember who you are. Look deep inside Alexis, that’s where the magic is, you’ll find even more if you open yourself up to the love that is waiting to be touched again. You’ll find God, he’s been there all this time waiting for you so he can wrap you up and give you the greatest gift of all, his love, that you knew when you allowed yourself to be a child. I want you to come away from this weekend, knowing that you are a special person, and that you are loved very much. Connect with yourself, and let go of all the past hurts that have come your way, begin to shine again, begin to laugh again, but most of all begin to allow God to love you again. I love you with all of my heart, and I am so very proud of your efforts, know that I am always here for you. Love Mom.”
And cue the waterworks! But not just any cry, but a monsoon of healing tears that came forth.
God orchestrated it all and laid it out in a way that would have the most lasting and impactful effect.
All the prayers, years of prayers from the countless people my mother enlisted to pray over me, worked. No, not immediately, but in God’s timing and His way. He had bigger plans than just helping His beloved daughter find healing, He had also placed a powerful calling on her life that began this weekend in 1999.
Life, of course, wasn’t at all easy when I returned from the retreat. I was a new creation, but my old way of life had consequences and brokenness that needed time to be fixed and healed. My mom didn’t show up at the end of the retreat-like the other parents of the participants. Again, as I mentioned before, as I was leaving to go on this retreat, she told me she was done and out of solutions.
She had reached her limit, the end of her rope, but just when she thought she was done, God showed up and answered those long-awaited prayers.
And that’s the thing about long-awaited prayers, they can seem hopeless as the years roll on and things don’t change.
But God is faithful and remains true to His word, as we read about in the Gospel of Matthew:
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:7-12 NIV
It took years of healing for my mom and I to have a good relationship. We still have things we need to work on, but all in all, grace and healing have been found. My older sister and I are best friends and my younger sister and I are always sending funny texts back and forth to each other.
God has and continues to restore what was broken within my family and has brought me to new levels that I never would have reached if it were not for His love and guidance in my life. When trauma strikes, especially when you are a child, it changes and impacts you in ways that are profound. But God always can heal, even if it takes a whole lifetime. He will lead anyone who is willing to heal through His love.
My life wasn’t easy after my Karios retreat in 1999, I have suffered many trials, from miscarriages to lost dreams, to hard and even traumatic ministry endeavors, to carrying a diagnosed as terminal pregnancy, to being a mom of two special needs kids.
And if I have one message for you through my abbreviated testimony, it is this: God is the only answer to the problems we face. He never causes the pain, but He is the only one who can restore and redeem. No matter how hard life may become, God is good and the circumstances you face never should be tackled alone.
God loves you. He went to the grave and back for you. You are worthy of His love.
To God be the glory.
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