Shanesta Stratton's Testimony
“Who am I, that the Lord of Heaven's armies would look upon me?” Who am I, that the son of God would trade his life for mine? Who am I, that the Holy Spirit would come and dwell with me? I want to tell briefly about how God has changed my life, and how He continues to do so. He is healing my heart from deep brokenness, anxiety, fear, shame, and a loss of self-worth and identity. One of my first memories is before I was two years old. I experienced a time of separation from my family, this traumatized me and caused me to believe I was rejected and not wanted by those who held my heart.
Over the years, our home was not a happy one. It was unkempt with my mom working a lot, food and money were scarce, with my father regularly drinking. Fighting between my parents happened regularly with screaming, throwing and breaking things, name-calling, and narcissistic control and manipulation were the norms. Countless times, we eight children were the targets of this behavior and severe and even abusive, “discipline.” These events worked to shape my lack of “value and identity” at an early age. I withdrew deep into myself as a turtle retracted into its shell-deeper and deeper, building walls higher and higher as the years went by. It hurt my heart so much to see my younger siblings going through this much hurt and abuse as well, and I knew I couldn’t help them! Oh, how my heart hurt. I just wanted peace, to love people, and to know true love. This has truly been my heart throughout my life. I always searched for love and acceptance wherever I went. I had loving Christian grandparents in my life that loved us children and took us to church, but they were not enough to fill the void I had inside.
I remember starting school at the age of five. I was so shy, and I could hardly speak to people. I would squirm inside. This caused so much anxiety that I would have physical pain in my chest as my heart raced. Fear gripped my life in every area and controlled me completely. As a teen, I believed that to be loved and accepted you needed to be thin, have beauty, brains, money, nice clothes, and an outgoing personality. None of these described how I felt about myself and my body image plummeted as I became more self-conscious and attached my value to these things. I became a people pleaser, trying to measure up and be what I thought everyone else expected me to be and to do. I quickly buried MY dreams by believing I didn’t have the ability to accomplish them. I dreamed repeatedly at night of
being able to fly. It gave the feeling of weightlessness and freedom! I would wake up realizing that I was in my bed and still trapped inside the prison of my home, mind, and body.
I moved out of my parents’ home when I turned eighteen. As a young adult, I began to experience levels of freedom. I met my husband, who showed me that I was worthy of love, even as I revealed all my brokenness. He accepted me for who I was. I had my children and experienced love once again. It appeared on the outside that my life was finally on the right path having a loving husband and a young family. We were attending church every Sunday and even served in the church in various positions. I was striving to meet the standards I believed God had for me and to meet the expectations that the world had placed on me. I became increasingly aware of my failure to “measure up.” I was causing damage to my marriage and failing to be the mother I knew my children needed me to be. I was allowing my emotions pride, anger, jealousy, hurt feelings, and “identity” to rule how I was living my life. On the inside I still had this deep longing and empty void for more. I began to doubt if God even existed this led to some of the most hopeless thoughts and darkness I had ever felt.
Was God to be found and truly known? Did He genuinely loved me so much as to send his only son to die in my place? If God even existed, then I needed him to change me on the inside! I wanted to know this freedom in Jesus which I had heard so much about, but never experienced. Luke 11:10 says, “For everyone who asks, receives, everyone who seeks, finds and to everyone who knocks the door will be open.” My heart began to burn to know God. I determined I would find and know Him personally, or I was going to forget believing in God all together I began to seek Him daily, by reading the Bible, praying, and repenting of sin in my life. As I did this, my faith was being built up. For others, this may not be such a process, but I had so much wrong thinking and baggage to work through that this took me a while. One spring day, while praying God broke through and like a bolt of electricity through my mind, I heard Him speak clearly to me. At that moment I knew what I needed to do. I must completely surrender all of me that I was holding onto, all this pride I carried. I totally surrendered all my heart to God, all the walls I had built to protect myself, the emotional baggage, everything. The Holy Spirit entered me in that moment, I sensed a warmth and a bright light entering my body even though my eyes were closed. I felt the washing away of my sins and the heavy burden I carried lifted from me. In its place I now had inner peace, and joy, and lightness like I had never experienced before. This is the love and forgiveness of God! I no longer feel the weight of my failures, condemnation, or shame! The Holy Spirit has filled me and come to reside in my heart He is my constant companion and guide, God is my loving Father and Jesus my Savior, my deliverer.
It has been several years since my salvation took place. As I walk with the Lord, He is continuing to heal my heart from the past. Enveloping me in His love, He is restoring my identity I am His child, and He is my loving Father and in Him I can trust. He is showing me that my life has a purpose, that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13.) He has taught me His love is freely given. There is no amount of good I can do to earn it. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18.) He is delivering me from the effects of trauma, abuse, and the fear of man that had stolen my identity and my voice. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18A.) God is giving me confidence that I never had before! I now have the same freedom I felt in my flying dreams as a child. The weight and heaviness of my sin is gone. “But those who trust in the LORD will find new strength, they will soar high on wings like Eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31.) Now I will use this voice He's given me to praise Him and tell others of His amazing love, healing, and deliverance. He is restoring me to who he created me to be, and I have now found my identity in HIM. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20.)
I want to tell my story because I know I am not the only one to go through hurt, trauma, and a loss of identity. I want to offer you hope and you can truly find the peace and love of God! Please know how valuable you are to HIM! Scriptures say, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, the very hairs on your head are numbered by Him, He knows your thoughts, when you sit or stand, that He is familiar with all of your ways.” Nothing can separate you from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. I am so excited for what he has in store for you and me in the next chapter our lives. I know we will face trouble and hardship as we all do but now, I am not facing this life alone but with God in me. I have now emerged from that shell of darkness I had retreated to and into his glorious light! I am free, Hallelujah!
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