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Stories Of Impact

Stacey Paden

RESIDENT OF HOME FOR CHILDREN IN THE ‘80s

I remember it like it was yesterday.

I was nervous — but I was also excited.

It was a Wednesday.

I remember crawling in the back seat of the gold van with brown vinyl seats to go to church that night. I remember Mom Ross turning and asking me a question. I was stunned in that moment because I had seen that exact same event unfold weeks before in a dream.

I knew I was safe.

At church that night we had fellowship dinner. I remember I was allowed to eat at the table with the other girls in the home. I a cucumber, tomato, and onion salad with Italian Dressing. I also ate strawberry shortcake for dessert.

It was so good. I went back for seconds without being shamed or told I shouldn’t eat something.

I was SAFE.

I can’t remember how old I was when I arrived at Christian City. In my mind I was an eleven-year-old little girl, but that doesn’t add up correctly with my school years. My counselor explained that PTSD will do that to people . . . time doesn’t add up and some things are forgotten.

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Several months before my arrival at the children’s home I had experienced severe trauma.

Prior to going to live with my dad and stepmom, while living with my biological mother, I began sneaking out, drinking, and smoking with older boys. Things went downhill quickly in one relationship. I said, “Stop. I don’t want to do this.” He said, “I’m almost done.”

I left to live with my dad and stepmom shortly after that. It was then I began to see their true colors. I learned it wasn’t my mom’s fault my parents had divorced. I learned my dad was an unfaithful abuser with an alcohol problem. My stepmother took all the anger and resentment she felt towards my dad out on me. My stepmother told me I was fat. She wouldn’t let me eat. During my time with them I was never given lunch money at school. Cabinet doors were locked so I couldn’t eat. When I was allowed to eat, I had to eat in my bedroom, away from the family. Unless, of course, there was company. Then I always had a place at the table.

On my birthday I was asked what I wanted for dinner that night. I responded, “Pizza.” As I took my first bite I was told to go to my room to eat.

I cried that night.

I started begging for food at school, stealing from the convenience store, and eating out of my own outside trash can.

And then I got caught.

I was beaten every morning and every night by my dad and/or stepmom. They used my dad’s leather belt with his heavy brass Marine Corps belt buckle.

I could barely walk from the pain of the beatings and sitting down in the chairs at school took my breath away.

I didn’t dress out for PE for weeks. One day we had running evaluations for a timed grade. Coach Hess yelled at me, “go dress out!” I could barely take off my blue jeans more less bend over to put on those cute gray running shorts and tennis shoes.

How was I going to run?

I can still see the moments unfolding . . .

I could hear the door clang shut behind me as I walked out the gym door towards the field. I could hear all the kids talking and playing as I approached them.

Then I heard the eeriness of silence as I walked passed each group.

Seconds later Coach Hass walked up behind me, put her arm around my shoulders, and said, “It’s going to be okay.”

And I sobbed.

Before we even got in the locker room the curly, red haired dean was in there waiting on me.

Someone drove me home that night. And as we turned into Clovewood Place I saw the street lined with police cars. As I walked in the house, my dad jumped up out of the chair and started coming at me screaming, “This is all your fault!” The police officers shifted in front of him, and I was escorted to my room. It was then I was asked to take off my clothes, pull my underwear down to my ankles, and hold my ankles so the police could take pictures of the extensive bruising. Shortly after I went to live in the Christian City Children’s home and I stayed there until I graduated from high school.

During my time there I was allowed to be a kid. I was allowed to swing on the swing sets, shoot hoops, play sports in high school, get a job, go on dates and to proms. I was allowed to form friendships for the first time in my life. Dad Ross even taught me to drive! I was also able to make stupid mistakes. I even ran away – once.

I made severely poor choices after I left the children’s home and lost contact for many years with the Ross’s, but I have always treasured them for not getting rid me when I was at my worst.

During my time in the children’s home, we attended church EVERY Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night. I believe — even though I wanted nothing to do with God — it was those practices that drew me in to the church after ten years of alcohol abuse that led to my homelessness. During those hard years I drank excessively, got high frequently, and was never faithful to anyone. I hurt many people by lying, cheating, stealing, and being unfaithful in relationships.

I knew I needed help on the morning of July 7, 1998, when I woke up in a rage and beat my then  six-year old daughter.

I had become my dad.

I attended my first Most Excellent Way meeting that night. And just over ninety days later, on October 19, 1998, I surrendered my life to Lord, asking Him to forgive me, to save me, and to help me break the cycle of addiction and abuse. He’s been holding my hand, guiding me every step of the way these twenty-three years and now uses my stories of abuse and addiction to help other women.

When I left the children’s home I was torn. Part of me wanted to stay with the Ross’s, but there was no place for me to go. After graduation or turning eighteen, I had to leave.

That was hard.

I loved the Ross’. I never felt like I wasn’t one of their own. I always felt like I was family. I will never forget them, or their children, for the sacrifices they made in life, to give a wounded, broken girl the chance to have a normal childhood.

Today

My family lives in the panhandle of Florida. I have a 16-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter at home. My oldest daughter, who lived through some rough days with her momma, lives in Virginia with her husband and my two precious grandbabies.

Today, I am active in my church where I lead a ladies Sunday School Class, volunteer with the Charis House ministry (a home for women coming out of addiction), and I am part of the ministry team for the Most Excellent Way, sharing my story of hope to those hurting through addiction.  My life goal is to let others know they are not alone, and as long as there is breath . . . there is hope.

My favorite pastime is capturing moments in time through a lens. I currently volunteer with AHERO (America’s Heroes Enjoying Recreation Outdoors – serving Veterans with PTSD to reduce the suicide rates among Veterans), photographing and documenting events for their quarterly magazine. I am also working on a book sharing my life story, as well as compiling images of my photographs for publication.

Website: StaceyPaden.com

Photographs: StaceyPaden.smugmug.com