Part 3 - the rest of the story

My Life In The Fishbowl

My Life In The Fishbowl

I had only been a Seventh-Day Adventist for one short year when my husband and I, along with our one-year-old daughter, were called to our very first mission.

It was a city mission at a special and unique Seventh-Day Adventist Church. A health center, bakery, cooking school, Bible school, and active congregation existed. Within a year, I became the Pathfinder Director, the Cradle Roll Leader, and served on the church board. I was barely 20 years old. It was a good experience in so many ways and gave me a rich learning ground. I felt very free and had good support.

I remember it as a time when I felt very connected to God. My experience was fresh, and the church allowed me to create my own lessons and adventures for those I was serving. Cooperating with God in teaching the young people around me was a beautiful experience and so simple, though not always easy. There were some failures as well as successes, which, of course, sprouted a lot of growth in my own experience.

After three years, we moved back up north to be near my family and care for my elderly grandmother. We attended the church where I was first baptized. It was here that my beautiful, pristine religious bubble began to pop!

It started when they asked me to lead Cradle Roll but promptly gave me lesson plans done for me. I told them I had been teaching for three years with great success and had dozens of ideas. They were uninterested and told me to follow the plans they assigned. I let them know I was happy to have them sit in or provide my materials to them, but again. No. Not happening. This felt a bit controlling. For the first time in this religious environment, I felt unseen, unheard, misunderstood, and unsupported, but I chose to carry on with a good spirit “for the kids.”

At some point, my mother-in-law, a lifetime Adventist, gave me a little white book. It was called “Child Guidance” by E.G. White. I was so happy to receive this book as a young mother and had so many questions. But, she also promptly burst my bubble by telling me I was to read it with a “grain of salt.” She told me that no mother could do the things inside the book but that I might find some good if I read between the lines. “Please don’t take it too seriously, dear.”

You’d think that would have discouraged me, but no. It didn’t. It made me want to read it more, and so I did.

I was thrilled as I learned things I’d never heard before and began dreaming of creating a “true” Christian home. I spent hours reading and applying the principles I learned with great success.

I noticed the whispered comments, “Debbie is getting a little fanatical and overly passionate. She believes these things.” And they were right. I did.

The years passed by, and my children grew. And so did our trials.

My husband came to our marriage with serious trauma patterns from his severe childhood abuse before he was adopted into an Adventist home at six years old. He suffered greatly, and through self-medication, he became addicted to one thing after another, including other women. The betrayals increased through the years until I became aware he’d been living a double life and involved in underground crime. Yep, you heard me right!

All the while these things were taking place, I was trying desperately to create the true Christian home I so much wanted and read about in that “book,” but it always eluded me. So, I would try harder, fixing this and then that, running after my own shadow most of the time, thinking that if I did enough, loved enough, and became enough, things would improve, and I’d eventually acquire a little heaven on earth in my home.

After 12 years, the marriage ended when I realized we were no longer safe because of my husband’s activities. As I stared at the impending violence and uncertainty, I realized my number one priority was the safety of my three young children. We were whisked away to a safe place of hiding with the bare necessities of life. I never saw him again.

One day, I was living a life (primarily based on fantasy and falsehoods), and the next, I left that life, all our belongings, and all of our people behind.

It wasn’t long till we began to feel safe again and free. We had been delivered miraculously, and we knew it. We had our lives, a few basic things, a place to live, and a small, beneficial support system.

It was through this experience that my trust and love for God deepened.

I knew God was with us, leading us and directing us. He was meeting our actual needs in remarkable ways.

I began to know Him as a Providential God, overseeing our every step.

He poured out His love and protection over us and provided abundantly.

I Am Not An Egg

The Great Contradiction

During this period of tremendous grief and loss, not only for me but for my three growing children, God gave us a complete family.

I was welcomed into this family at the age of 31. A family whose deeply spiritual orientation, rooted in “present truth,” would not only shape my life for the next 20 years but also give me a deep sense of belonging.

Our journey began with the warm embrace of attentive and loving grandparents, a true blessing for our children. I discovered my soulmate and life’s companion, and our beautiful love story unfolded with a deep spiritual connection, promising a meaningful future and a successful home.

Our family, now a harmonious and complete unit, overflowed with love and joy, especially after the arrival of our baby girl, the sweetest “topping on the cake.”

My life in this family became the greatest blessing I could ever receive.

But it also brought me my deepest sorrow, a dichotomy of emotions that I grappled with, a struggle that was as intense as it was inevitable.

Therefore, articulating this extreme (👉 contradiction 👈)the simultaneous presence of love and trauma in my spiritual journey—may leave many perplexed. Yet it is a narrative that demands to be shared, a story of resilience, growth, and the complexities of religious family and faith.

Human language cannot express how the next 25 years would create the most notable culmination of religious trauma I’d ever endure, yet at the same time, give me the love I so much needed, provide the lessons I must learn, and give me a skill-set with essential tools that would qualify me for living a full and practical life.

It may seem hard to believe that ALL of the blessings AND sorrows happened for me 👉🙋🏻‍♀️ and not to me 👉🤦🏻‍♀️, with the full intention of serving me for the rest of my life.

But they did.

I’m not a victim here.

Sure, it’s a very painful and complex story, but it brought me to where I am today.

God uses life circumstances such as these as perfect lesson books.  The story of our lives is our education, for now and for eternity.

When I came into this family, I was completely unaware that I was bringing with me fully developed generational trauma patterns of my own. I had no idea how they would play a significant role in the trials ahead and eventually in the implosion of my marriage.

I also didn’t have any idea how the religious trauma patterns my husband had experienced from birth would dictate the future of our entire family, immediate and far-reaching.

We lived a quiet but very isolated life on every level. We worshiped God at home and did not attend any local churches. As I entered my new life, I was counseled to forever leave my old one behind, including my blood family and all past associations.

This separation encompassed everyone from our past and present lives in addition to stretching 25 years into the future. All relationships that did not align with our beliefs were not approved leaving my children without friends and companions seriously limited my children’s opportunities to develop healthy social and interpersonal skills.

The structure of our family was dictated by the patriarch (Grandfather). It was never expressed, but everyone knew it. Because of the lovely appearances and joyful hearts, everyone believed we had freedom, but we didn’t. Our ONE leader stated publicly, “God had ordained him to make judgments for us.”

⚠️  Religious trauma here at work.

Under this generational patriarchal structure, where there was never a voice raised or an unkind look given, a subtle controlling factor created shame, guilt, and indecisiveness—all in the name of God and for His ultimate cause. Sound parental decisions were overridden, and we were made to feel we couldn’t make decisions on our own for our own family, nor were we prepared to reach out and help others around us until we understood “all the truth.”

This far-reaching influence encompassed suggested and structured family time. It dictated our education, work, projects, home activities, business, financial decisions, associations, recreation, and even our leisure time. 

Eventually, this went as far as creating a document that put the care of our youngest daughter in the Grandparents’ hands, completely separating her from her mother.

I ignorantly signed this document under the most subtle coercion. We and the entire family were led to believe that she would be a happier, more cared for, more balanced child in a superior spiritual environment (the one her parents could not provide, we were told).

In reality, I would later learn that this experience caused confusion, trauma, and fearfulness. At one point, she hid in a clothes hamper, trembling as she listened to the Grandparents recite the inabilities of her parents and other members of the extended family from the next room.

Although she wasn’t physically mistreated, and the harm wasn’t consciously intentional, she was subjected to many underlying suggestions, some spoken, some not spoken, which created a kind of trauma that has taken years to understand and unravel.

The separation between mother and daughter was excruciating and so unnecessary. I was not abusive, neglectful, or unloving, but somehow, she grew up thinking differently. She couldn’t quite pinpoint exactly what was wrong with her mother. Still, her mind and heart were implanted with the thought that it was something terrible, something surrounding her religious experience and possibly other moral issues. This fear, distrust, and confusion interfered with the ability of mother and daughter to connect fully as they had in earlier years until later healing was allowed to take place.

⚠️  Again, religious trauma at work.

There was also peace and love and expressions of the greatest joy.

Our quiet country life allowed us to focus on the simple things of life, learn practical living skills, meditate in deep thinking and study, enter into unusually interesting and productive spiritual conversations, and open our hearts to insights and wisdom from above that are almost impossible to find in this over-complicated and busy world.

Again, (👉 the contradiction 👈).

Amidst the abundance of good, truth, and joy that defined my family, I found myself bound, and every level of my faithful commitment was tested. The desire for freedom, especially in shaping my children’s activities, education, and social needs, imperceptibly tormented me from within, a conflict as intense as it was silent. 

While this family and religious structure, in many ways, saved my life, it also stole it. While I received a tremendous amount of help, support, and so much love, I also lost myself as a person.

Over the years, I became the “scapegoat” for every trouble; an invisible label was placed on me for not conforming to the “right spirit” (as I was told when I dared to ask difficult questions). My children were subtly turned from my influence; their loyalty eroded in ways that were so insidious that no one could see, let alone challenge. The price to pay would be too high—namely, exclusion. Not just from the family but from what was considered “God’s Will,” I was told.

Orion Nebula Where Are You, God?

I Cannot Hear You, God

Through the years, I slowly disconnected from God and "the still small voice behind me."

Instead, listening to the “voice of a man,” and what a lovely voice it was, I thought. Strangely, this voice began to replace the Holy Spirit’s influence I had previously been so in tune with in my early days. This completed my dependency on others.

Approval and acceptance are at the top of the list now.

This is where my early religious trauma matured. Remember the confession? By the time I reached my mid-40s, I was looking to please those around me, especially the “one religious leader,” my father-in-law, because I loved him and believed it was what God wanted.

I cared for my parents and family painstakingly but never quite measured up. The feeling of being lost was always looming in the background. I lost all integrity to myself and what I truly knew and believed. A powerful case of Stockholm Syndrome developed inside of me.

For many years, I felt like I had no voice, unknowingly giving my power to others. It took me a long time to realize how important it was to stand up for what I believed, make choices in the best interest of myself and my children, and stop protecting the guilty while ignoring the needs of the innocent.

Eventually, I was able to find the courage to see and tell the whole story, including the part my trauma patterns, my fears and insecurities, and my over-dependence played, and to ask each of my children for forgiveness for not using my voice to protect them as their mother.

My husband had never known anything but this experience from birth. His own basic life needs were not fully met, which became the root cause of years of secret-dependent addictions.

“But while education, training, and the counsel of experience are all essential, the workers should be taught that they are not to rely wholly upon any man’s judgment. As God’s free agents, all should ask wisdom of Him.”

“When the learner depends wholly upon another’s thoughts and goes no further than to accept his plans, he sees only through that man’s eyes and is, so far, only an echo of another.”

“God designs that each shall use his mind and conscience for himself. He does not intend that one man shall become the shadow of another, uttering only another’s sentiments.”

Mind, Character, and Personality, vol. 2, p. 785 E.G. White

Towards the end of my journey in this family, I became very sick. First, the cancer, then a deadly jaw infection, and various other ailments. I was told it was because of my “spiritual unfaithfulness.” Meetings were held to discuss these things behind closed doors.

Outwardly, my family supported and cared for me, but my role as mother, wife, and daughter was undermined, making it harder and harder for me to succeed. Because of my background in natural therapies, I decided to avoid “conventional treatments” and choose available natural alternatives. My family supported my decision.

This commenced my travel away from home. First, I went to a treatment center offering raw foods, juicing, and other natural therapies, then back home under the supervision of a well-known “Medical Missionary” doctor. Next, I flew across the country for surgery on my jaw as I continued on my natural healing journey.

Our daughter (then 15) chose to travel with me even though her grandparents strongly advised against it. They offered to let her and my husband move in with them so they could create the educational environment they said she needed. She saw the picture, took her stand, and decided to go with me. It was immediately implied that not only would her mother be lost, but she would be, too, if she followed me and didn’t complete her education under their supervision.

While I was away, one of the “few followers” and my best friend of 35 years moved into my place. No, not all at once. Slowly, however, she took over my duties under the “guidance” of the Grandparents. She was enlisted to make my husband’s meals and pack his lunches.

At the same time, Grandfather informed me that my husband wasn’t living up to what he should have been. Because he wasn’t able to be the “priest” of our family at the time, he (Grandfather) would be “standing in the place” of my husband, and all communication was now going to take place between himself and me. I wasn’t told what was happening, and I wasn’t allowed to talk with my husband without Grandfather being in the loop.

So, the wondering, separation, extreme hurt, and betrayals began.

⚠️  Right.  More religious trauma here.

What took place over the next period was no different than high-control fundamental religious groups of all kinds used as tactics to control. My shunning and replacement were orchestrated in secret, in such a cunning way, that no one was aware of the deception, not even the deceivers who, under a strong delusion, believed it was “God’s Will” to carry on a secret relationship even if it destroyed an entire family.

I was never informed of anything that took place, but the “one leader” told us not to come back home after numerous attempts. He reassured me that our family would be reunited at another location and we would all be together again soon. But that’s not what happened.

Everyone who knew my husband and his kind, gentle, loving spirit was in shock, including our children and me, as he divorced me and married “her.” This “act of adultery” was condoned because it was “God’s Will,” and apparently, I was “spiritually unfaithful.” I will never know how, why, when, or for what reason that conclusion was made.

Later, the “one leader” recited to me the story of Jacob and how he had to endure his marriage to Leah as he waited to marry Rachel, the one he really loved and that God had planned to give him at a later time.

The fictitious application of this story to our personal experience and marriage was created and presented to me to appease “the one leader’s” conscience for the part he played in the destruction of our family, which he later confessed to me.

As he held his head in anguish, he said, “Not letting my right hand know what my left hand was doing, I made huge mistakes. Oh God, what have I done?”

Because of this, all parties were in the dark as the “one great leader” made decisions and controlled the narrative, ultimately interpreting “God’s Will” for each of us.

During this time, I discovered some serious falsehoods coming out of his mouth and spreading to the family. I put all my fears aside and confronted him for the first time. I had overheard these lies personally, so he couldn’t deny them. He told me he had to create a false narrative to “protect” everyone. He said the falsehoods he reported about me and our daughter were ultimately to protect us all. The falsehoods he recited to me were also to protect us all.

By this time, I was in total shock and could no longer hear “the lovely voice” that stood in the place of God.

I couldn’t hear anything.

I was completely numb.

Every time the story of “Jacob and his wives” came into my mind, I would physically gag and vomit. I became weaker and weaker.

⚠️  Again, extreme interpretations here, by an individual, causing severe religious trauma.

So, this great love story bowed down to generational religious trauma, and our marriage imploded before either of us knew what was happening.

To this day, there has never been the respect of a conversation or explanation given to me, even from the man I was married to for almost 25 years. When asked for a reason for the divorce, there was only silence.

This experience was so jolting to me that I had a nervous breakdown and almost took my own life. It felt like an axe had cut down to the core and foundation of who I was, what I had known, and what I believed.

I no longer recognized the family and the leadership I had trusted and served for 25 years. Everything that I had worked and lived for was gone.

My life’s companion.

My home.

My worldly belongings.

My financial support.

And my moral support.

But that waned palely, compared to the fact I lost the only spiritual support I knew and had to conclude…


This left “the sacred parts of my soul” wailing inside of me.

The Library Of My Life

The Library Of My Life

I could write volumes, books really, about this story I now call, “The Great Contradiction.”

The love, the happiness, the sweet home I got to create.

The exclusivity that separated us from family, friends, and other loved ones meant years, even decades, without their presence.

The deep spiritual wealth of Christian history and knowledge.

The command was that we were never ready to give the message, so our gifts and talents were kept in check and not allowed to develop.

The happy family trips and excursions that filled our Sabbath Days.

The hours-long late-night ride from hell Grandfather took me on threatening to take me back to my mother’s family forever after expressing through tears my longing to see them and talk about them.

The years of practical knowledge we put to use together in so many unique, fun, and productive projects.

The undermining and questioning of every decision, suggestion, or presented idea, and that we were not allowed to learn from our own mistakes.

The wisdom and patience that taught me so much about life.

The secret meetings that took place behind closed doors.

Do you see how the story goes?

It is a story that is almost IMPOSSIBLE to tell and write. But again, I make this feeble attempt in hopes that someone will see themselves in my story or part of it and know one thing.


And He can do it with “grace” and “mercy” for all.

Healing Religious Trauma

He Is Enough

While seeing and unraveling the trauma story is essential, please note that the real story is not in the “messy middle” of life.

It is in the deliverance of such things. It is in the submission to the complete transformation available to each of us as individual created beings.

This is the story I want to tell now and through eternity.

The one where we are delivered from the complications and deceitful lies the enemy, who often disguises himself as “an angel of light,” brings into our lives.

This is the story of how God sorts it all out for us, gives us necessary discernment, and opens our eyes.

The one where He turns our sorrows into 👉 BLESSINGS.

Where we find solace and security in becoming the whole human beings He created us to be, directly under His loving wings.

The one where we realize that we find all we need in Him.


Where he is MORE than enough.

So that is where we go next. It’s where the story truly begins! 


God uses our difficult life circumstances, as our greatest lesson books, and the story of our lives is our education, for now, and for eternity.


The (👉 Great Contradiction 👈) of religious trauma can be very difficult to explain and hard to understand unless you’ve experienced such things. But if you have, then you can see how there is so much good mixed in with so much not-so-good. It can be very difficult to unravel and recover because it requires becoming aware and looking at the “whole” picture. The good and the harmful experiences.


While it’s important to seek education, training, and counsel from others and to be open to being taught by those who are wise and have life experience, we are never to rely wholly on any man’s judgment. We are to ask God for wisdom directly.


When we depend on another’s thoughts and just accept their plans, we see only through that person’s eyes, and we become merely an echo of another person. 


God designs that each person uses his own mind and conscience. We are not to become a shadow of another person, uttering only their sentiments. 


While it’s important to see and unravel the trauma story, please note, that the real story is not here, in the “messy middle” of life.

It is in the deliverance from such things, and in submission to the complete transformation that is available to each one of us as individual created beings.



And He can do it with “grace” and “mercy” for all.

He can sort it all out for us, give us discernment, and open our eyes.

He can turn our sorrows into 👉 blessings.


1. Faith & Adversity

Debra’s faith deepened through her trials. Reflect on how your faith or core beliefs have been tested and strengthened through difficult times. How did these experiences shape your current understanding of faith or resilience?

2. Love & Trauma

Reflect on a time when you experienced both profound joy and deep trauma within the same context, such as a family, community, or organization. How did you navigate these conflicting emotions, and what insights did you gain about the complexity of human relationships and experiences? What lessons have emerged from living through such paradoxes?

3. Identify The Trauma

Looking at Debra’s story, can you identify the different aspects, signs, and symptoms (mentioned in Part 2) she experienced throughout her life? Although your story is likely very different, can you identify these things in your experience?

4. Influence & Intuition

Consider a time when you felt your own thoughts and decisions were overshadowed by someone else’s influence. How did this impact your sense of self and your ability to trust your own judgment? Reflect on what steps you can take to reconnect with your own inner voice (intuition) and wisdom.

5. Healing & Trust

Reflect on your journey of understanding and unraveling your trauma. How do you feel about the possibility of finding solace and security in a higher power, even if trusting God feels difficult right now? Consider small steps you can take towards healing and finding hope in the idea that deliverance and transformation are possible.

6. Sorrows Into Blessings

Think about moments in your life when you have experienced unexpected blessings or moments of clarity amidst your struggles. How does the idea that God can turn sorrows into blessings resonate with you? Reflect on how this perspective might offer hope and a sense of security as you continue to navigate your healing journey, even if you are still grappling with trust and faith.