Saturday, November 18, 2006

My Autobiography - Part One

During the process of being approved to be foster parents, my dear husband and I were required to write an autobiography of our lives sharing significant events and how they've shaped who we are today. We were asked to share the specifics of our spiritual life and also share why we want to become foster parents.

Other blog buddies have shared some details about their lives ---so I thought it was time that I did the same. This is going to take several posts. My prayer is that something I've experienced will in some way touch your heart and inspire you to be all that God wants you to be....

(please note - names have been changed to protect the identity of my friends.)

Where do I start? At the beginning, I guess. I was born in 1960, the oldest of four children. I have two brothers and a sister. My father was an elementary school teacher and my mother, a homemaker.

I spent most of my "growing up" years in New Castle, PA after having moved there from Pittsburgh when I was in first grade. My mother still lives in the home in which I grew up.

Girl Scouting was a big interest in my life. I was a Girl Scout at the earliest possible age (which at that time was 2nd grade) through my Senior year of high school. My mother was my leader and we had a very active Girl Scout troop; going on many camping trips and doing lots of extracurricular activities. Just as soon as I was old enough as a teen, my first paying job was that of a Girl Scout Counselor at Camp Elliot in Volant, PA. I continued to be a camp counselor every summer until I graduated from high school. Scouting played a huge role in helping me become the person I am today. The skills and values learned through Scouting have proven invaluable to me as an adult.

I also fell in love with Art at a very young age. My teachers encouraged me and eventually I went on to major in Fine Arts in college –then as a junior, I changed my major and went into medicine –wanting to become a medical technologist. I had a huge fear of being a "starving artist" and wanted something with a little bit more job stability. Since nothing transfers from Fine Arts to Medical Technology, it was as if I started school all over again and it took me seven years to earn my Bachelor’s degree. (I was a "professional" student!)

After working as a Medical Technologist for 13 years (most of those years at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in Pittsburgh), I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and eventually had to quit working. I went back to my first love - art. Now I’m a freelance artist - although my duties as a stay-at-home Mom have kept me from doing much creating lately. Perhaps when Olivia goes to school, I’ll be able to devote more time to my creative self. I am primarily a greeting card illustrator, however, I have also designed rubber stamps and CD covers.

One Christmas, when I was 16 years old, our church youth group "wrapped" up presents for the Lord. In my small, gift-wrapped box I had written, "My Art Ability". It has always been my desire to give back to the Lord what He has given to me –to use my talents for His glory. In fact, one of the most gratifying art projects that I have done is to simply do the lettering for "Damas" and "Caballeros" (Spanish: "Girls" and Boys") painted on the doors of the outside latrines at a Christian school in the Dominican Republic. Using my art –for God’s glory –no matter how small the task.

On the church side, I thought I had it all together. I grew up in a Christian home –sort of. My father, while being the most wonderful person in the world, didn’t attend church with us. He did not, however, prevent the rest of the family from attending. We were members of First Pentecostal Church in New Castle, Pa (which later changed its name to First Assembly of God).

One Sunday morning in Sunday school, at age nine, I asked the Lord to be my Savior. It was then that I began to fall in love with Jesus - growing in my knowledge of Him daily. My mother was the Missionette coordinator and I was very active in Missionettes - a group very similar to Girl Scouts with the added emphasis of instilling spiritual values in the hearts of girls. I was active in our youth group as well. I was on the Executive Youth Committee which was responsible for planning and facilitating a lot of our activities. Singing being one of my passions, I sang in the Youth Chorale and was a member of our church choir. The Lord and anything connected to Him was my life.

I had a wonderful family who loved and supported me, many great friends who were faithful and loyal. The only thing missing in the picture was my father. He was a great Dad, an awesome provider - but He wasn’t a Christian. I prayed for my Dad for years, literally. Wanting him to become a Christian and become involved in our church activities with us. It hurt me greatly to see other families worshiping together on Sundays, all the while knowing that my Dad was home reading the paper or puttering around the house - missing out on the abundant life that God had planned for him. I can remember shutting myself up in my bedroom and praying for him for hours at a time. I would put on some praise music and sing and worship and pray for my Dad and any other thing that may have been on my heart. It got to the point where my Mom would say, "Debbie, you’re spending too much time in your room - why don’t you go out and ride your bike or something." But spending time with the Lord was more important to me.

Like I said, I thought I had it all together. I remember being shocked when I discovered that some of my girlfriends in high school were sleeping with their boyfriends. Because, I was ‘saving myself for marriage’, I thought everyone else would be doing the same. I can recall as clearly as if it were yesterday, listening to friends on a Sunday evening as they shared their testimonies in church. They were thankful that the Lord had delivered them from drugs and alcohol, rescued them from lives of promiscuity, etc. I, on the other hand, sat with tears in my eyes as I listened and then stood and thanked God that He had kept me from all of that.

There’s a verse (I Corinthians 10:12) which says, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."...

One month after giving my testimony, thanking God for keeping me from all the things that I considered to be "horrendous" sins, I went off to college at Edinboro University.. I was in heaven! This was awesome, being out on my own, meeting new friends, expanding my brain! My college roommate, Ann happened to be a close friend from home –we had been friends since age nine. She and I had decided to make a go of it as roommates, even though our high school art teachers and everyone we knew advised us not to be roommates, telling us it would destroy our friendship. (We are still friends to this day, by the way.)

Ann and I were very affectionate with one another, giving hugs freely when we would see each other. Another good friend, Kim, asked me why my roomate and I were so affectionate. I explained that we had known each other ‘forever’ and besides, I was from an Italian family and Italians are very affectionate people. Kim asked me if she could have a hug now and then too. I said sure, why not...and one thing led to another until one day we found ourselves in bed together. Kim was also a Christian and was just as mortified by this development as I was. We got down on our knees, begged for forgiveness and asked the Lord to help us so it would never happen again. It happened again. And it kept happening.

One month after Kim and I got together, My roommate confided in me that she too, was involved in a lesbian relationship. Her partner, was someone I had introduced to my roommate. Being a Christian, I thought she would be a good influence on my roommate who had yet to make a commitment to Christ. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that Ann and Jill were caught up in the same sin that Kim and I were involved with.

After a year of being together, Kim finally had the good sense to end our lesbian relationship. She was under such conviction and couldn’t continue to live the way we were living. We remained friends, but I was devastated. About the same time, my father had suffered a heart attack and my Mom called to tell me that earlier in the day, the doctor had told my Dad that he was going to die –it could be today –it could be tomorrow, it could be next week, it could be next year...but he was going to die. (Guess what?- we all are going to die someday. But I wasn’t looking at it that way at all.) I was, as you may imagine, extremely upset thinking that my Dad had only days to live. I turned to a friend to console me. Lynne helped me get through that tough time by buying me plenty of cheap blueberry wine to numb all the ‘stuff’ that was going on in my head. I actually have a photograph of ten empty bottles of wine. I had consumed every drop of that wine - by myself - in a period of 48 hours. At the end of the 48 hours, I was not only drunk, but hysterical, knowing that my Dad was going to be dead any minute. Kim and Lynne called my Mom and explained what was going on. Mom told me that what I had heard had been a misunderstanding and that the doctor was advising Dad to quit smoking because since he had had a heart attack, the cigarettes would only contribute to the disease process and could end his life prematurely. The doctor wasn’t telling Dad that he was going to die the next day.

I was relieved –and cried myself to sleep –in my friend Lynne’s arms. The next day, we were an official couple. We spent four years together. All of this time, I struggled with my decision to live as a lesbian. I knew that God’s Word taught that it is not a lifestyle that is pleasing to God. Yet the level of emotional intimacy that I felt was something that I wasn’t willing to give up.

Another friend had been praying for me and convinced me to attend a campus Christian Ministry meeting run by the Christian Coalition. I went to this meeting and it was there that I met Becca. Becca and I became great friends. I confided in her regarding my struggle with homosexuality and she became my prayer partner - committing to pray for me. Eventually, I did leave Lynne –but not because I had surrendered myself to the Lord...but rather because I had fallen in love with my prayer partner, Becca.

I believe that my insistence and determination to "save myself for marriage" was so intense and knowing that I couldn’t be tempted in that way, Satan took my emotional friendships with women and turned them into something perverse –and I allowed it. I have always had deep regrets about living life as a lesbian. I know that God had better plans for my life and I chose to walk away from His plan.

Becca and I had been together twelve years when my mother telephoned to ask if I had noticed someone’s blood work come through our laboratory. (At this point, I was a Medical Technologist at UPMC - Presby in Pittsburgh.) Yes, I had seen the blood work - for Pastor Hatchner - the associate pastor of my mom’s church. Pastor Hatchner had been in a car accident while transporting a church member to a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh. The car hit some ice and skidded under a tractor trailer. Pastor Hatchner wasn’t expected to live through the night. Mom asked me to pray for him. Okay. I would pray, although I didn’t think that God would hear my prayers because I was so far from Him. That next morning, Pastor Hatchner went home to be with the Lord.

Pastor Hatchner was an extraordinary man. One thing he was "famous" for was handing out quarters. If it was your wedding day, he’d press a quarter into your hand. Your birthday - you got a quarter. If he visited you in the hospital -he always left a quarter on the night stand. His family estimates that he gave away thousands of dollars in quarters over the course of many years. My sister still has the quarter he gave her and her husband on their wedding day. And my mother has the quarter that he gave to my grandmother when she lay sick in the hospital.

At Pastor Hatchner’s funeral the church (which seats well over 600 people) was "standing room only". As each person walked by to pay their last respects, they placed a quarter on the casket. There were hundreds of quarters! I didn’t travel back to New Castle to attend his funeral, but when my mother telephoned to tell me about the tribute of quarters, I started sobbing uncontrollably. This man had touched so many lives. I was moved so deeply –but didn’t know why because I hadn’t really known him personally, in fact, had only seen him on a few occasions because I didn’t attend church very often when I went home to visit. Nevertheless, I couldn’t stop crying.

I hung up the phone, took my Bible off the shelf - literally dusted it off and said to God, "God, why am I so broken apart by hearing this man’s story?" I then opened my Bible at random and looked down at a verse in Jeremiah –"For I have loved you with an everlasting love and it is by my Spirit that I have drawn you." wow. At this point, I completely fell apart. I got down on my knees and told the Lord - "I surrender". I cried out to Him and asked for forgiveness. I asked for His help. I told my partner, Becca, that I was going to attend church at the next service - which happened to be a Wednesday night. I was done with this lesbian lifestyle.

We got involved in Walnut Grove Assembly of God Church in the south hills of Pittsburgh and attended faithfully for several years. Throughout that time, we continued to struggle, even though we both had recommitted our lives to the Lord. We neglected to sleep in separate bedrooms and every once in a great while would find ourselves engaged in inappropriate activity. It’s also important to note that Becca was treated just like a member of my family. She called my Mom, "MomLea" and my Dad, "DaddyBob". She attended every family reunion, holiday, etc. We even went on vacations together with my family. We had never lived openly as lesbians and my family had no idea that we were living a double life.

About this time, my father began to have more serious heart problems. He had two double bypass surgeries before they told us that there was nothing more they could do for him and he would need a heart transplant. After over a year of waiting for a heart, his condition had deteriorated to the point that he needed to be hospitalized permanently. We knew that if he did not get an organ, he wasn’t going to survive more than a couple of weeks. Two weeks into his hospital stay, he called me shortly after Becca and I had returned home after visiting him said that they had found a heart for him. We were elated –but with very mixed emotions too, knowing that another family had lost a loved one in order for my Dad to have a second chance at life.

Dad was wheeled into the operating room and when he was wheeled out, it was amazing how wonderful he looked after surgery! He was pink –his formerly gray appearance due to lack of oxygen was completely turned around and we rejoiced when we saw him in the recovery room. But the most important thing was that Dad not only had a physical heart transplant that day –but a spiritual one as well. After his recovery, he began attending church and became "sold out" for the Lord! Dad had an incredible testimony to share of how the Lord changed his life by giving him a second chance to live. He was forever grateful and served the Lord with all of his heart.

Six years after his transplant, he began to cough. It was discovered that he had developed lung cancer–more than likely from the years of cigarette smoking, complicated by the anti-rejection medication he was taking; causing him to have a compromised immune system. On November 7, 1995, he was once again wheeled into the operating room. This time to remove the lower right lobe of his lung. While in surgery, the surgeon knicked his pulmonary artery and Dad bled to death on the operating table. He was Home. No more suffering. No more pain. My family, of course, was completely devastated and leaned heavily on the Lord to get us through that time.


Margie said...

WOW! I am amazed that no matter how far you got from the Lord, as always, His hand was outstretched waiting for you, and it is so prevelant in your autobiography!

Birmingham Girl said...

I don't even know what to comment. I'm crying as much while reading this as I did the first time you shared your testimony with me. All I can see in my minds eye is Gods outstretched hands.
You didn't have to share this with blog world, yet you did in the hope and belief that one person may be touched and come to Christ because of it. I know that God will honor that and MANY will have a life changing moment because of your obedience. God bless you my friend, and I can't wait to read the rest ~ again!!

Sara said...

you honor us with your life. your epistle is going to change lives. your story is His story. thank you.