Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting to some and introducing to others the phenomenal Crystal Brown. Her life of having to overcome domestic abuse was definitely inspirational to me and so many others who have had the privilege of reading her book, “The Burning Rose”. It was literally a page-turner and I could not put it down! I felt like I was literally in the book with her walking beside her through some of the crazy experiences that she encountered. I felt myself standing there saying, “Chick, you better run!” – when she was in the parking lot or leaving the church or at the police station or at the mental hospital. I’ll stop right there – read the book. Lol
We are going to continue my journey of some phenomenal women I know. Today, I will talk about the closest female in my world. She is the only one that I have no doubt will forever be there. Her name is Stephanie Stephens. Most of you who know me and have seen me in ministry have probably seen her as well. I am her musical director but she is also my dearest friend. We sometimes frustrate each other to no end but we are joined at the hip and committed to each other’s success.
Most people see Stephanie as a minister, a psalmist, a mother and a phenomenal singer. She is all of those things. The girl can preach, she can flow, she loves her daughter and she can sing! Most people don’t know her true story and I will not rob her by sharing her painful story. I will say this though. I’ve known Stephanie in passing since 2003. She sang on the label that I worked for and every time I saw her she was always smiling. It only goes to show that you can smile over your pain and as long as people see a smile they won’t look any deeper. I have no clue what she was going through because me and her weren’t close. All of our interactions were, “Hello!, Great Job! You’re Awesome!” And “bye”.
In 2013, she and I worked on a Christmas play together. We’ve basically been inseparable ever since. It was during this season that I learned who Stephanie really was behind the scenes, outside of church, when cameras weren’t flashing or video taping and there were no mics around.
I found out about vulnerable Stephanie. The Stephanie who battled unimaginable physical and verbal abuse. Stephanie, who struggled to find truth and authenticity in the friendships and relationships around her. The Stephanie who was never publicly celebrated or appreciated. The Stephanie who fought to become okay with the Phenomenal Woman inside of her. Now those of you who know her will probably say, “Stephanie, with all of the great talents that you have, how could you possibly be insecure? How could you possibly think you’re not attractive (and she is fine), not anointed or effective at what you do? The Stephanie Stephens I know is amazing on so many levels I could not begin to tell you. If I began, some people would become exhausted and throw up. I was talking about her to some people just recently and someone said, “Damn, just marry her already!” LOL I love her that much. She is one of my sheroes. When her book is complete, you will clearly see why. I’ll let her tell a portion of her story.
When you finally believe in you, no one can stop you. But how do you get to the place where you believe in you? I present to you, the Phenomenal Stephanie Colleen Stephens…
Wow! Words can’t express my gratitude for being spoken of so highly by a man that I truly respect! Adam, thank you sincerely from my heart for being my best friend, my music/ministry partner and the voice of truth (even when I don’t want to hear it) in my world. I appreciate you! And regarding what comes next…well as you always say, “Father knows all things.”
Adam has given me a tremendous opportunity to speak openly about the story behind my smile. So many times I’ve had the chance to minister one-on-one to women that were struggling with some of the issues from my past that tried to choke the physical, spiritual and mental life out of me. I’ve always believed that God would allow me to share my experiences with those He placed in my path. Now I realize that the path God has placed me on is filled with women and men who I may never have a one-on-one encounter with. But…by allowing transparency to be my portion, the time has come to help and encourage those who try to wear the fragrance of peace but may still be enduring great, unspoken pain.
Although I’ve been privileged to be raised in the church, that definitely doesn’t mean that the church was always in me. At a young age, I endured molestation at the hands of close family members with images that remained etched in my psyche for many, many years. During my teenage years, God allowed me to be surrounded by some very powerful youth leaders who helped pray me through the challenging years that face most adolescents attempting to find their identity. Nonetheless, the real identity search didn’t happen until I was 18 and was sent to California for military training.
What I didn’t realize is that I needed to find my TRUE identity in God, but instead I started ‘feeling myself’. For the first time I was viewed as a woman and it felt real good! What I didn’t realize is that being a real woman came with real responsibilities. Decisions that had to be made which would shape my future. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the right choices back then, but in the end God worked it ALL out for my good!
With such a new found acceptance in the eyes of men, I ultimately caught the eyes of a man who wanted to make me his wife. Wow! Me? So of course I said yes, but when you say “yes” to a man’s request to marry you, I realize that it means “yes” to the totality of who he is. Sure he had a past as we all do. He told me that he was married previously and had been physically abusive because of how she was. So I thought, “surely you married the wrong woman.”
Well…that was the furthest thing from the truth! For a period of 4 years I experienced the same type of treatment. I was beaten, yelled at, cussed at continuously, treated as a dog (literally) and other acts that are too unbearable to disclose. All while he was a respected licensed minister. All the while thinking that this is the life God wanted for me and He will make it better in time. I felt God surely would because I was singing on the praise team, in the choir and going faithfully to church service.
But I realized it definitely takes two for it to work. The marriage ultimately ended, but not without leaving me broken, wounded and suicidal. The day the divorce was final, I found myself in the house alone. Just me and a 9mm gun. I stepped out onto the balcony of my apartment, placed the gun to my head, and set myself to pull the trigger. At that very moment, I heard the Lord say, “Don’t do it! I have more for your life.” And so…I am still here today, but little did I know, the journey had only just begun.
For the sake of time, I will keep the remainder of my journey brief as I realize the half has not been told and must be, as the book must be penned. Throughout the years I have experienced relationship after relationship with men that have left me scarred and exhausted. I have even been at the point of leaving God and just finding love in my own gender. I remember thinking it has to be better than this foolishness! I’ve been the public princess on the arms of many men, but was the private verbal punching bag behind closed doors.
Through it all I still had to smile. And yes, I have never termed myself as a victim. Why? Because I had a part to play too. I knowingly, and sometimes unknowingly, engaged in affairs and relationships with presumed ‘men of God’ thinking they had my spiritual interest at heart too. But once again…I was wrong. On so many occasions, I was wrong.
Separate from my personal relationships came the wounds from those within the church. The women who claimed to be my friends and have my back, but just wanted me around for their own selfish intentions. The pastoral leadership of some of the churches I sat under who led me to believe that they went to God on my behalf only to find out that they didn’t even go to God on their own behalf. I’ve been lied on by church leadership so many times because they wanted to believe the more ‘loyal’ members more than me. I felt left out, unwanted, and used.
But the lining to the short introduction to my REAL life is this: BUT GOD! Through the seasons of abuse, pornography, the abortion, miscarriages, lies, jealously…BUT GOD! In the midst of God allowing me to see the deceit and intentions of men and women, left to feel unattractive, insecure…BUT GOD! I’ve always been the one to give the benefit-of-the-doubt to people understanding that we all have a past. I never wanted to be angry. I just wanted to be loved, FOR REAL, and seen as the phenomenal woman God created me to be.
But before the rest of the world could believe that, I had to. And even though there are days where I still battle with the opinions of people and how they affect my life, I have the security of knowing that God sees me for who I truly am: PHENOMENALLY HIS! Fearfully and wonderfully made! And yes…I have been anointed by God with many giftings, some that people have yet to see! Oh yes…I’m somebody special to God and so are you!
The biggest question that may be asked by those who read this is, “How did you REALLY get over the pain?” Well…I’m glad you asked! The answer to that is this: I had to forgive those who hurt me and release them from the debt of an owed apology. Yes I deserve an apology, but that day may never come. Only through the love of God, many hours in prayer asking God to search my heart was I truly able to forgive. In order not to live a life of bitterness, you have to choose to forgive.
Holding those in your past accountable for the actions they may never truly confess to places YOU behind bars. You will remain imprisoned by your past, and those in it, if you don’t use the key of forgiveness to release your future. FREE YOURSELF! Do not allow anger, bitterness, and hate to settle in the precious soil of your heart. You deserve to be debt free! So release people and move on with your life! God’s best is waiting for you! God has greater waiting for you! Through it all, I’ve always known that God had better for me because He told me so. Knowing that made me chase after God in order to experience the great life He had in store for me. And guess what? I’m still in pursuit of the amazing life God has planned for me. I truly believe that through all of the pain, the best is yet to come!
So I end this with a…to be continued. I also leave you with encouragement. Instead of becoming bitter because of the struggles you’ve endured, recognize this- YOU ENDURED! Your perseverance means that your experiences have purpose. I lost myself in God, the Word of God, prayer and worship. My relationship with God was strengthened so much in those trying times that I can stand today, look in the face of any adversity and smile knowing that God has never failed me because He knows my heart even when people choose to NOT see truth. My prayer for you, as I continue to pray for myself, is that you will find the faith to trust in the Lord through every struggle. That in the words of the Jonathan Nelson song, we will all have A STRONG FINISH!
We sure will!
A.W.W. & S.C.S.