Raised in a family of alcoholic men. Tortured and raped as a teenager by a stranger. Boyfriends who cheated. A pastor who made a pass at her. Stalked by an unknown man. And finally, an abusive relationship that left her alone with a small child and fearing for her -- and her child's -- life.
And, even though she had some background in church, she didn't think she could turn to Jesus: He was a man.
"I've had a lot of reasons to think every man who came into my life was going to hurt me," Nicole* said.
She didn't understand that Jesus was a man like no other. "Satan was working overtime to keep me from Christ, saying I was worthless after how the men in my life treated me," she said. "Finally, though, things got so bad in the legal case involving my child that it brought me to my knees with God. I poured out my heart, and everything I had buried so long I let myself feel, and I felt the Holy Spirit asking me to forgive and that was the start of the healing."
She started attending a church where she felt safe with the pastor and the people, and she started understanding how much God loves her. "I heard on the radio one day a story from a woman who had bad experiences with men and how that had kept her from having a relationship with Jesus, but once she made her peace with Jesus and forgave the men who had hurt her, then she began to heal."
That woman's story on the radio resonated deep inside Nicole. "I believed in God, but Jesus was a man, and that road block to me was huge. I was scared to death of men."
She began asking God to help her have a relationship with Jesus. "I couldn't do it in my own strength, but as I got to know him more as he led me little by little by reading the Bible, I began to pray to Jesus, and I realized in time that I love Jesus so much.
"With all the things these other men had done, it was so hard for me to accept that a man had died for me," she said. "Once I really accepted that in my heart, that's when Jesus really healed me."
She had been through years of counseling, and while that was helpful in her recovery, she said, real healing didn't occur until Jesus came into her life. "I've had true peace," Nicole said. "I've actually ministered to men, and I don't flinch. I can sleep through the night because I'm not worried about someone coming in and raping, stabbing or killing me."
Today, Nicole ministers to other women who have had similar experiences. One way she has served the most is helping them navigate and understand the legal system. She has served with shelters and with those she meets as she goes about her daily life. She currently is seeking God's will for how she may one day be able to open a shelter of her own to serve women and children -- and men -- who are trying to escape abusive situations.
"Part of God's plan to help heal me was my child," she said. "It helped me to see that even the meanest, most abusive people were children at some point, and they had bad things happen to them, and they need God's love, too. That went a long way in helping me forgive those men and seeing them the way Jesus sees them. He died for them, too."
Stacey Hamby serves as communications director at Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, Liberty.