My Story: Asking

Thank you for taking time to review my story.  Please feel free to ask if you have any questions.  

I was born to a mom who was often times a self medicated mentally unstable drug addict and who many times used her own body as a means for trying to take care of her children and a dad who was also a drug addict/alcoholic who went to prison when I was a young girl for child sexual assault.  It is only understandable that this equation only equaled a rough start for any child.

I was never really supposed to finish college. It wasn’t in the cards for me. In fact, I wasn’t really supposed to be here at all. Although I obviously don’t remember it, my first experience in this world was the sound of a flat-lined heart monitor and NICU doctors rushing to revive my premature little body that was affected by the street drugs my mother used during her pregnancy. Revive me, they did…Here I am!  

College was simply not supposed to happen. From my earliest memories, school was not a place of learning, but rather, a place of refuge for me. A decent hot meal, a safe environment and a place to attempt to blend in as best I could in my smoke fragranced, unwashed clothing, knowing all the while that I would have to go home to whatever turmoil was waiting.  Most times HOME consisted of a shelter like the Salvation Army, trailers with no running water or electricity, government funded apartments, cars, a tent, the back of a truck, and couches of those who would take us in when the weather was bad.  I also lived in foster care through Buckner in the DFW area and I lived with several friends and distant relatives at different times in my life.   

College. Well, people in my immediate family didn’t even make it out of middle school, really. The impoverished street life got the best of most of them in that regard. Selling and using illegal and prescription drugs was far easier than algebra, I guess. That is what I saw happening around me anyway. My older brother was in lock-step with my mom and they had quite the dysfunctional bond. Think Breaking Bad, without the intelligent, scientific and disconnected approach. 

College. By the time I was in high school my home life became so uninhabitable that I had a decision to make. Stay and accept my life, as it should have been, drug infested, riddled with the violent drama of the street life only understood by those who have had to endure it. Or leave, disconnect, and try to find my own way. Leave I did, only after my last bout of physical abuse from my mother as she punched me in the face, choked me, and held me over the 2nd floor balcony of the government apartment complex we lived in at the time.

College. There I was, on my own as a 15 year old, hopeful but gullible young girl.  Actually, looking back as an adult now, I am encouraged about how I handled myself for the first year or so. Straight as an arrow, just like the judge told me. But, often times unsupervised young girls have a way of finding supervision in the worst places, and I found myself in a position where the filth was coming back into my world. The street is an open, accepting place, and the desire to be loved was a burden I couldn’t bear alone. I allowed an almost 20-year-old man to help destroy a part of my heart by trusting that I could protect myself from terrible schemes. When someone drugs you it is impossible to protect yourself so I found myself paralyzed with fear, vulnerable and broken and terrified to do anything about it due to fear of looking as if I could not make it on my own. I also feared what others would think about me and how they would judge me. So I kept that dark secret tucked away for years. It was not until years later that I reported that terrible crime against me in an attempt to fully recover and find peace.  

College. Working 3 jobs after my emancipation, to pay for food, a mode of transportation and a trailer to call home, school was fairly low on my list of priorities. Socially, I was falling apart. I eventually felt so alone and couldn't bare battling the dark on my own. Who can walk in darkness and not fail? Alcohol. In all that I experienced in life I actually never took any drugs, but alcohol was another story. It became a way to cope with failure and darkness. By the time redemption came in the form of a high school cheerleader, I couldn’t, or wouldn’t even recognize it at first. I even wished it away. SHE WAS NOT LIKE ME. “Come with me to my church!” “Come with me to meet my family?” Her pursuit of my friendship and heart was so encouraging and unbelievable. I felt so undeserving of her, her family and their church family. Salvation eventually came , at last, in more ways than one!

Back to the idea of college. I felt filthy, unloved and unlovable. But breakthrough was hiding right around the corner, awaiting yet another life-changing decision I would eventually make to move in with a REAL family in order to complete High School with focus instead of living on my own in the pit of dispair. Reluctantly at first, I set up shop in the home of a fireman, a school secretary, and 2 girls who seemed to have grown up on another planet than I did. Enter into the scene the very first mention of me going to college that I had ever heard in my life. The fireman, the public servant whom I now call dad, told me that I was going to college, and the secretary, who I now call mom, agreed. I had never considered this. Oh, Lord, I would actually have to look at my grades, my…what is it called…GPA! Too low, and too late. I was sure of that.

College. My freshman year began in academic probation over the summer break in an attempt to show the administration I could perform on an acceptable level for university study. 4.0! Unbelievable! I got in! And yes, I eventually finished after 5 years of constant deep struggle. “Why the struggle?” you might ask. Well, simply put, out of 18 years of living, I had only one hectic and hurried year to prepare me for the possibility of going to college, which wasn’t quite enough to dampen the effect of the other 17 years of survival. I felt like I knew nothing. I couldn’t even tell you the names and order of the planets, I couldn’t even remotely place a comma in the right spot, and I had to somehow pass a college algebra class. What most everyone else around me seemed to possess, I simply didn’t have, which presumably was years of peaceful learning in preparation for a bright future.

College. Although encouraged to go and supported beyond measure, financially, I was on my own. I worked full time and attended school full time.  My jobs in college included Wal-mart cashier, a vision center technician, photographer, care taker at a daycare, camp counselor, a secretary at a wonderful car dealership, and of course a student at school.  I am not bitter or upset about having to work by any means.  My (adopted) family gave me much more than I could have ever imagined or asked for. Honestly, it didn’t even register at the time that the money I was using to pay for college would be something that followed me, no, haunted me after graduation. Interest?  I was uneducated about what that was. There was a lot of ignorance on my behalf regarding financial decisions. $84,000 and change is what it cost. Would have been more if I didn’t have some help from some grants and some scholarships. I am so proud that I went all that way through and earned my Master’s degree?

Now as a mother, wife and small business owner (www.simplyencourage.com), I look back in awe of my college experience, still in debt, but thankful for all of the things I have learned throughout those vital years in my life. The accomplishment of walking across that stage twice is enough to heal some very deep emotional wounds. It is through the kindness and generosity of others that I have emerged from my former life to a life of abundant blessings in the form of my beautiful children, a husband whom I love dearly and a place that I can finally call home, for real. Homelessness to having a HOME! It is seriously an amazing feeling.  I am thankful everyday. 

Long ago the Lord helped me understand that all I needed to do was ask regarding my financial burden. I have battled this over and over.   I have tried to ignore all it all and to do it on my own due to pride and He has continuously reminded me that He really wants to do something bigger than me with my story, because it is really His Story for His glory! It is humiliating to share the deep dark burdens of life but in the grand scheme of things I realize that we must humble ourselves and put our own reputation and selfishness aside to watch Him move mountains on our behalf and for His glory. I have worried about all of the criticism and judgments but nothing is worse than living in the dark. It is time I let the Lord have this for real! I have realized if you never ask...no one will ever know how to help.

So now is where I ask for your help. This mountain of debt is a giant in my life. I call it the Goliath in my life because it is something I have often feared and felt afraid to battle just as Saul and the Israelites were afraid to fight the philistine champion Goliath. David was a man who was simply serving the Lord while overhearing information regarding the need to fight Goliath and answered the call with a slingshot and a stone. He rescued the Israelites. In parallel fashion I feel like God is calling the body of Christ, David, the instrument used in my story to rescue me from the turmoil of this debt.  My husband and I are fighting this as well and working hard to contribute as much as we are able at this time. We follow a financial plan called Dave Ramsey envelope plan and have over the past year realized that we needed to tithe even though we were very nervous about it due to having a young family and a very tight budget.   We are encouraged by the faithfulness of the LORD to provide as we step out in faith.  We have enough every month to care for our family young family and for that we are grateful.  

I do want you all to know that I am on a government payment plan called IBR.  With this plan my student debt grows by $300 each month due to interest.  If we continue on this same plan the debt (MAY) be forgiven after 25 years but is not a guarantee.  Also in calculating this interest we will have an extra $150,000 in debt after the total years.  If we were to go off of this assistance plan my payment will be almost $1000 a month.  Although I would love to be able to eventually contribute this and watch it go away I am not able to do so at this time.   I consider myself a stay at home mother but I do work very hard from home and when my husband is able to be home with the children I work in a studio.   

Any amount is of great value and is appreciated. I was in Israel in 2006 on a mission trip and I met a wonderful Jewish man who shared a bit of wisdom with me. He said, “one of the things that perplexes me about Americans is their lack of appreciation for their pennies. They throw them on the ground as if they are dirty and worthless. We must learn to appreciate the pennies because they all have great value and add up. If invested wisely they could make a huge difference in our lives. All people should learn to value the small things in life before being responsible for the big things.” Sounds like an important message that resembles the words of Jesus. Since then I have always picked up pennies and put them in a jar and prayed for the Lord to use them to invest in the lives of my children, family, and all that I meet. I am teaching my children to value them as well. They love collecting them for their old fashioned piggy banks.  They also each have been able to start their own savings account and they love taking their coins to the bank and seeing their small blessings grow.  One of our prayers is that we can teach our children to be financially free and wise with their decisions in their future.  Most importantly we pray for them to be free in Christ.

Thank you in advance for praying about fighting this battle along with me and my family.  

HOPE FOR THE FUTURE:

I have learned many valuable lessons from my biological parents just not the way that one would hope to learn from them.  I do not consider them monsters, I see them as broken people in a broken world.  I also know that I cannot escape the reality of my life but I will not live in bitterness towards them for the choices they have made.  The purpose of sharing my story is not to make people hate them but to hopefully show them that God can do great things in spite of our weakest moments in life.   

I am currently writing a devotional about many of these situations in my life and how God has turned ashes into beauty and allowed me to see light in the darkest times! I plan to use this devotional and the music that I have written as a tool to continue to sow into the lives of the men, women, and youth the Lord leads me to share my story with through speaking.  

Just as kindness has, and continues to be shown to me by others who have helped me in inconceivable ways, my hope is to be debt free and establish a way to help give other people with stories similar and dissimilar to mine a boost of real encouragement. I hope to one day have a foundation, managed by creative investors, whose purpose is to come alongside past-graduates and help them bear this burden of student debt as they enthusiastically and freely pursue a calling God has on their life. What kind of post-graduates?  Those ones whose aim it is to make a difference in the world. Missionaries both domestic and international, those with a passion for working with kids with similar backgrounds as mine in an effort to give hope where none exists, people who are overtly making a difference and would make an even greater impact without the full burden of student debt on their shoulders, people with diminishing hope that they will have the youth and enthusiasm to actually make that difference in the end because of the insurmountable mountain of extreme student debt. 

It is not easy to ask but the LORD promises if we do He will provide according to His plan. Here I am asking for your financial gifts as a way of fulfilling a miracle in my life and others. Blessings!

Stephanie Ellison
Psalm 40:1-3
James 1

Organizer

Stephanie Ellison 
Organizer
Abilene, TX

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