She’s spunky, fun, genuine, thoughtful, intentional, forgiving, kind, hilarious, and loving. Tracy has set an example for so many college students involved with College Heights Christian Church as she’s invited them into her home and family. She’s quick to offer her hands for service, but even quicker to sit down and point to Scripture. Anyone who has spent time with her knows she’s a good friend and one heck of a wife and mother. She didn’t start like this. Her story is a true testimony of the transformative power of obeying Jesus and having a repentant heart. Here is her story:
October 9, 2017
TRACY: I come from a large family. I am the fifth child of nine children. I also have a blended family. My mother and father were married and I was their fifth child and they divorced when I was six years old. We lived in St. Louis at the time. At the age of 7, 8, or 9, we moved from St. Louis to the small farm town in the middle of Missouri, which was a huge culture shock. My mom and stepdad were married at that point. They had four children together. Technically, my four younger siblings are half, but that’s a touchy subject because we grew up together, so we don’t say, “that’s my half brother or half sister.” Growing up, I remember my parents fighting. That was hard. The older I get, the more I realize I have more positive memories. I think the negative ones are a lot easier to remember because they make such a bigger impact on you. I do have good memories with my siblings like playing in the backyard.
Growing up, my dad was kind of a part of our lives. He would take us on special outings and trips. The jury is still out based on what my mom says and what my dad says. My dad says he would try to make efforts and then my mom says he would make no effort. I think what had happened was … they didn’t get along. It seems maybe us kids were leverage; whether it was my mom was withholding or whether it was my dad was kind of sulking or feeling like he couldn’t do anything. I do remember where my dad would forget, especially after we moved to that small Missouri town. It was about an hour and a half drive for him. He would say he would come and then he wouldn’t show. My mom said that was part of her motive for moving because even when he lived 15 or 20 minutes away, he was still negligent. She said when the job opportunity became available it was a no-brainer. Plus, she was remarried and kind of just wanted to start over. I’m not sure. I feel like they’re both right and they’re both wrong.
As far as personality goes … ever since I was a child, I actually prayed to God when I was 9 years old that I could be funny. I said God, “If you could just do one thing in my life, I just want to be funny. That’s all I want to be.” [laughs] I feel like He’s answered that prayer. I do like to joke around and be funny. I’m not always funny; there are some losses there. I would say growing up was a mixed bag, too. [My siblings and I] loved each other deeply, but we fought a lot. It wasn’t verbal. It was more physical fighting. My story is interesting because I remember good and bad snapshots, but the older I get, the more that pieces are coming together for me that were foggy for me. I think that God knows [what we can handle and when]. I have always been a sensitive person. That’s the one thing that my siblings have always teased me about: is how sensitive I am. I could cry or laugh. I was very sensitive to emotions. They make fun of me if I just start crying, but I can’t help it. Although, some of them are so jaded or calloused that I think that there are a lot of tears in there that they won’t allow themselves to feel it or let them come out.
Looking back, I realize now that my brother-in-law sexually abused me when I was young, but that piece didn’t really come together until later. He had abused me and my two other sisters. In my situation, he abused me from the age of 10 or 11 until 13. The only reason he had stopped was that I had spoken up and said something. Come to find out, he apologized to me. I told my best friend and her mom and they had confronted my mom and my sister. My sister who was married to him at the time never left him and stayed with him. She got pregnant shortly after which was really confusing to me. As a junior high student, he was still around. He apologized and didn’t touch me anymore. But come to find out, he started touching my – at the time, she would have been 4 or 5 year old – sister and that went on for 10 years. It was pretty horrific. I will say that God has completely healed me from the sexual abuse. I do have occasional flashbacks, not just of the abuse, but also of my own sin. In junior high and high school, I was very boy crazy and now I know all of this information. Now I realize, Oh, I was hurting and that’s how I responded. I get that now, but at the time, I couldn’t deduce at 12 years old: You’re hurting and so you want to go make out with a boy and you think that’s going to heal you. It’s interesting all of the things that make sense now. I would say that there are occasional moments of flashbacks. When I was first married to my husband, we were pure in our physical relationship in every way. The first couple years of marriage were really tough and there were moments of “stop, drop, and pray” because a pure touch or kiss or anything sexual was foreign to me. Even though I desired it and he’s very easy to trust, it was a lot of reprogramming. Counseling helped greatly with that.
Growing up, I was super popular. I was homecoming queen … which has gotten me nowhere in life. It’s a fun fact, though. My kids think it’s cool. Growing up, there were also lots of mouths to feed and so when there was any time you were old enough to earn money, it usually went to the community fund, so to speak. I have mixed feelings about that. I feel like my parents should be responsible, but I also feel like it wasn’t all bad for me to help. Some of the ways we were forced to help weren’t okay, but I do feel like some of that responsibility was okay.
My relationship with the Lord is interesting. My family went to churches of all sorts of different denominations. My father is Catholic and my mother is Protestant. We went to all different kinds of churches, though. When we visited my dad, we would go to Mass or sometimes we would be in a Pentecostal church, a Baptist church or a Christian church. My grandparents were Presbyterian. Now, that’s a win for my faith. At the time, it was confusing. The behaviors at home were not consistent with what we were learning at church. Being exposed to all different kinds of faith in Christ is now awesome. I feel like I can step into any kind of church. When I went to Spain in college, I went to a straight Roman Catholic service that was done completely in Latin. It was gorgeous. I sat by these two older women and we were just laughing. They were trying to help me along and I was just looking at everyone speaking Spanish like, “What are we doing now?” I thought my Spanish was broken, but my Latin is non-existent! [laughs] I feel like I can step into any kind of church and feel the presence of the Lord. It makes me sad that as followers of Jesus, we can’t do that more. We just like to critique a service rather than just be a part of something that’s different.
Like I was telling you earlier, there are wins and losses from my whole life. Being poor, I feel very comfortable around poor people. They don’t make me nervous. I don’t feel like they’re going to take from me. Just because someone is poor, doesn’t make him or her dangerous. That bothers me deeply. Some dangerous people are poor, but it’s not always [interchangeable.] In junior high and high school, I was popular and so a lot of my friends and their families were well off and took great care of me. They would buy me clothes, give me hand-me-downs, and take me out to eat. When I played sports, they would make sure that I had money for food. I was always well taken care of by the people around me – many of whom did not follow Christ, which is interesting to me. But the goodness of God has always been around me without me recognizing it or understanding it. Being at all those churches, I felt God calling me at age 7, age 9, age 13, age 15 … there were all of these knocks on the door. I was even baptized at age 9, which I didn’t know what I was doing. Then, I was baptized, for real, at age 17. I feel like I did know what was I was doing, but I slipped right back into my old ways. This actually follows Scripture: When I slipped back at age 17, ages 17 to 19 were my largest sin failure years. It was like I had opened this door to the Lord and then I had let the darkness back in and it came back with a vengeance. That’s when a lot of my brokenness happened. The boys got worse. The partying got higher. My depravity, my jadedness, my tongue, my anger was all at its worse. Every sin that I wrestled and struggled with them and even sometimes wrestle with now, was magnified times 100. That’s interesting to think about … when people start following Christ and start to regress.
TAYLOR: I would say that’s true for my story, too.
TRACY: Oh, isn’t that crazy? … So, I had been at Missouri Southern [State University] and I had been dating this guy back home, which kind of goes against my rules. He had started talking about marrying me and I thought I loved him. We were kind of following God, but not really. We were still partying, but we wanted to follow God. It was weird. Two days before I came back to Joplin, he said, “I don’t know what I was thinking, this was never going to work” and he broke up with me. I was heartbroken. I came back to Joplin. I played soccer at Southern, which my mom pushed me to do. She told me I should try it, so I walked on the team. I was the ringleader of all the bad things we did. During my sophomore year, when I came back after that boy broke my heart, I came back for preseason and was hanging out with some buddies. This friend, who had been a lifelong lesbian, started going to College Heights Christian Church. Our friend, Katie Garris [Marsh] … her dad was the pastor of College Heights. She even invited us over for a meal when I wasn’t following God. I was always curious what was going on over there. I just look back now and I see God so clearly. My freshman year, the resident director of my dorm was a Christian and would always invite me to church and I never really understood. I ended up going to church one time at the end of my freshman year and she wasn’t even there. I remember weeping and feeling like the Lord was drawing me back in. I remember: during my freshman year (even as bad as it was) I told myself I was going to stop drinking and I just stopped. Then, I told myself I was done smoking weed and then I would just be done. So I remember coming back after freshman year and that boy breaking my heart and my lesbian friend had gotten baptized and started going to College Heights. She had completely changed her life around. Two or three days after I had been there, I remember I was just miserable and yet filled. I remember I opened my bible and read Psalm 29 and got down on my knees and said, “Lord, if you will have me and if she can change, then I can change. If you will have me, I will never stop following you for the rest of my life.” (I’m kind of all or nothing.) That’s what happened … for 16 years now. I joke around with my husband and I’m like, “I’m just a teenager in my faith. I’m just confused and jaded sometimes, but I’m learning, I’m learning, I’m trying!” [laughs] I’m almost to the point where I’ve been a Christian longer than I haven’t. That’s going to be a celebration for me, personally.
I started following Christ and went to this college age group once a week. I couldn’t really go to church a lot on Sundays because of soccer and being out of town. We would try to go on Tuesday nights. It was crazy because I was still going out with my friends to the club, but I was being the designated driver, trying to be helpful, and trying to show them Christ. One night, I got my butt kicked at the bar and all my friends were in the bathroom. I didn’t just get my butt kicked … I got my butt kicked. I didn’t fight back because I was underage, at a bar, a student-athlete and didn’t want to get kicked off my team. I didn’t have any backup. I just put my hands up and just let the girl do her thing. All my friends came out of the bathroom and they were drunk. They were like, “What happened?” Everybody ended up getting kicked out because this girl was not having it. There was a guy from Tuesday night college age at the bar and he kind of helped me, which was crazy. The girl wouldn’t stop and they pulled her off and then she sucker punched me. He held me back and was like, “It’s not worth it.” We all left and I was like, “That’s it. I’m done with the club. I’m not going out. It’s not worth it. I’m sorry, but where were you guys? Like, what is happening?” That’s when I realized, Who are my real friends? Not that I’m not still friends with these people, but I knew I needed Christian friends and I just didn’t have a lot. I was friends with these basketball guys and this family from College Heights and they would invite us to church and invite us to lunch. They would keep baiting us in and we would keep taking it. Eventually, I got to know my husband, Nathan. We became friends and we went on this mission trip. I kind of liked him and had noticed him. I had seen him at the Tuesday night group because he had led worship, the music part. I kept running into him. At first, it wasn’t attraction, it was intrigue and then it turned into attraction. Then I was like, I’m not doing that. I’m not going boy crazy and I’m taking time off from boys. I highly encourage girls to take breaks from guys because it’s very helpful and healthy. You figure out yourself a little bit and it’s not a selfish thing. You just need to figure out what you like, who you really care for, and what your preferences are – not to be brat, but to figure it out a little bit. I ended up telling some of our mutual friends that I liked Nathan and they helped me out a little bit. [laughs] He didn’t think it could work because we were so different. We ended up hanging out and started to date. We dated for a year, got engaged, and were married six months later and here we are. Tomorrow (October 10) is our anniversary and it’s 14 years. He’s a part of my personal reformation, but what I love is he wasn’t the beginning. I love that it was Christ and no other. He was definitely a piece of it and has been a large part of my journey, but he didn’t convince me to start running the marathon. I didn’t meet him outside the gate. I was in the gate and I met him inside the gate … and I was like, Ooo.. Mile one, okay! [laughs] He was definitely mile one of my true faith. I would say that my children and I are learning together. My husband and I are learning together. My kids are starting to recognize the huge contract between our families, but we answer them with grace and with truth. “Yes, they do drink too much, but we love them and we’re going to go visit them” … “Yes, we are going to leave early, but we are still going to be a part of this.” I don’t want to throw Nathan’s family under the bus, but our kids will also discover in time that no family is actually perfect. That will come in time. My deal with my kids is that I never lie to them – even if the questions are really hard. About two months ago, Owen and I were on a bike ride and he said, “I’ve never had the courage to ask you, but I’ve been wanting to ask you this so much…” He likes girls and he’s starting to enter that. He’s almost ten and thinks girls are so cute. He asked, “Do you ever think about other men besides daddy?” I was like, That’s a big question from a little guy. I was like, “Oh okay, let’s cross the street here and then I’m going to answer your question.” I had to pray and gather myself a little bit.
They’re going to find out about my shortcomings, but I’m not ashamed. I hope that if they decide to marry someone like their mom that they’ll have a whole lot more grace for that person and to say that, “My mom changed and so anybody can change.” We don’t need more little Pharisees running around. We need kids who walk in grace and truth and who see people. I want them to go to Watered Gardens [Homeless Shelter] and to be comfortable sitting with someone who hasn’t showered in days and to sit with them and to not feel better or worse than them. I want them to go down the street to their wealthy friend’s house and to not think, I’m not better and I’m not worse than them. That’s kind of my M.O. for my kids … to love people for who they are. I would say I’m learning more than ever that my piece in the journey of faith is to keep on keeping on … to not go to that old lifestyle. I also have watched my kids and how they have to deal with sins from my parents and their parents and I’ve had to work to break the cycle of sin. I have some responsibility in that. I have to make sure that the doors and the eyes of my heart are at a good level so that we don’t let sin just freely roam. I have to change some pop music stations because we can’t listen to that and we love pop music. It sounds so silly and small, but we have to keep a good gate. Just like this whole area back here. [Points out the window to their fenced in backyard.] We need to fix that hole in the fence back there because a lot of groundhogs come through here, which sounds adorable, but they tear up my yard. It’s just enough room for them to come in. Even though I’m protected from so much, I still can’t let that little part of my fence stay open. It’s to shield them, but it’s not to make them more naïve. You can still see over the fence. You can look through and see all the groundhogs, but they can’t come inside. There’s a big difference.
I would say, my current state is I’m still learning and growing. I’ve learned a lot and I still have so far to go. I’m craving the Word of God, which is awesome because I go through times where I don’t. I go through times where I roll my eyes. I go through times where I’m just cussing, mad, and kind of regressing. I do feel like I’m very connected to the Vine [John 15:1-8]. I am connected to the Vine. I will always be connected to the Vine. If I’m disconnected, it’s from my own hands. It’s not from the Lord saying, “It’s whatever until you figure it out, you can’t come back.” It’s from me going, “I don’t want this right now.” My kids are starting to ask questions about my past and that’s okay. I knew this day would come. They can receive the information and they have a choice to become critical, judgmental, and mad at me. They can go through those emotions. I’m not scared of that, but they will have to wrestle with that. They’ll have to decide, Am I going to keep that door closed that my mom bolted shut or am I curiously going to open it? I’m praying that they don’t. I’m making sure that they don’t as much as I’m able, but it’s still their choice. So to know that is sometimes hard because I know they’ll have their battles and I can’t protect them from everything, but that’s my story.