The God Who Sees Me - Annette Morales' Testimony
I have always felt invisible. I am the oldest of five children. I have a sister and brother from my mom and dad and a sister and brother from my dad and stepmom. My parents divorced when I was five. I didn’t know what had happened to make my dad leave. We were led to believe that he no longer wanted to be in our lives. I had always felt like I was his favorite, so this devastated me. Mom remarried when I was about seven and it was good for quite a while. Then, when I was about 13, my stepdad began to molest me. This followed years of strong physical abuse. This sexual abuse continued for a couple of years. I tried to tell anyone who would listen about what was going on at home, but no one believed me! I felt unheard and unseen. Mom was also not able to help me. When I told her about the abuse, she said that we needed to keep quiet about it because if we told anyone, my stepdad would be put in jail and there would be no one to take care of her or us. Mom had come through some difficult things as she was growing up and felt unable to take care of herself. She really had a lot of fears that affected us all.
One day I went to school and told a counselor. She believed me. She called the authorities and they came to the school. I was put in the back of a police car and was taken to the station. Their questioning made me feel like I was to blame for the abuse I was receiving at home. I was taken from my family and put in a group home. I was asked several times if I just wanted to go back home. My answer was always “no” because I was afraid to go home. I was at the group home for over a year and felt safe and cared for. I had some great support during that time and received good structure and counseling.
One day I got a call from Dad. He wanted me to come live with him and his family in Iowa. I agreed to go and moved to live with my dad and stepmother. It felt like a perfect family at first, and it was totally different than living with Mom, but I guess they were having some troubles of their own. They divorced about a year later and my stepmother got custody of me. She would take me partying with her. I had lots of freedom to do whatever I wanted. As I approached graduation, my dad and stepmom had a meeting with me. They suggested I go into the Army because they were concerned that I could not take care of myself when I was out on my own. After I graduated high school, I headed off to the Army.
This was very comfortable for me—not too different from living in the group home. The structure was good for work and stability, but I partied a lot and had lots of freedom in my time off. There were also some difficulties being a woman in the Army world. At one time, I was assaulted as I was walking between buildings. I screamed so loudly that people came out of the buildings to help me.
Because I wanted a good inspection, I once used an illegal method to wax the floors of the barracks. I was high from partying, and caused the wax can, that I lit on fire, to explode which set me on fire. Even though a brave soldier rescued me by putting out the fire, I was severely burned and hospitalized for almost two months. I am still badly scarred.
However, I served the remainder of my time and was honorably discharged. I went back to live with Mom in California. My aunt arranged for me to work at the hospital where she worked. While there, my aunt introduced me to my future husband, Rudy, while subbing on her hospital bowling team. I thought this guy was arrogant and cocky, but he pursued me. I wasn’t all that interested, but he grew on me. He had a boyish mischief about him, but he was 15 years older than me. We went out for a while, and then I moved in with him.
We lived together for two years. I wanted more from our relationship and got tired of his unwillingness to commit, so I decided to move to Oklahoma to live with my stepmom. We had remained close even after her divorce from Dad. She was really my best friend. I was sleeping around and working as a waitress at a strip club. I had an abortion and too many relationships to keep track of. My stepmother was keeping Rudy informed about me. A year or so later, Rudy moved to Oklahoma, pursued me, and we were married. He also got a job at the club and worked as a bartender.
He loved me and was not going to leave. He could take care of me. I felt safe with him. He was like my knight in shining armor. He dealt with my family, so I didn’t have to. I had a hard time dealing with family in a mature way. I felt that I could “hide” with him, and let him deal with the hard things of my life. I began to give him control of every aspect of my life to the point I made him my god. Looking back on it now, I realize that he didn’t want that role, or maybe he did. I think he took on the role because he loved me and that was his way of showing his love. The point is, in my brokenness, I wanted him to control my life so I gave him that power.
Rudy and I moved together to another club for a time, and our marriage was really struggling. Rudy moved to another job, but I stayed. I was really tempted by one guy at the club. His attention brought me close to having an affair. I threatened Rudy with divorce. Rudy got scared that he was going to lose me, and he started praying. I looked at the Bible to see if there was a justification for the divorce. I wanted one, but I found none, so I gave my notice at the club and left.
Rudy and I began to attend church together and sought marriage counseling. Rudy really led the way. We began to form relationships with good people. It was during this time, that I began to be introduced to the good stories from the Bible and about God. Rudy and I worked together in children’s ministry and were really impacted by the simple stories. Through marriage counseling, we learned about communication and about trust. God really grew me. Although I had prayed to receive Christ when I was five through the ministry of a lovely neighborhood woman, I had never really had a relationship with God. I didn’t get the purity thing. I didn’t get the relationship thing. Normal was defined by my personal history.
My life changed forever on Valentine's Day of 2003. My husband, Rudy, was diagnosed with cancer. This reversed our roles. The treatments were so hard on him and so aggressive. It changed both of our lives. I had to do everything for him. To cope with the new pressures, I began to go online to chat rooms. In chat rooms, I felt that I had control that I did not have in my own life. I could escape reality at least for a little while with these online relationships, and I could pretend to be someone else.
About a year later we got a call from the doctor who asked to meet with us. We were told that we needed to consider calling in hospice. At that point, I saw the light go out in Rudy’s eyes, he had given up. After that meeting, he wanted to go visit with my dad. In my mind, I felt like it was my job to get ready for hospice to come. We got into the biggest fight we ever had. I even made him cry. I was determined to take control of the situation. I was going to fight it, even if Rudy wasn’t.
We spent the next week getting ready for hospice. When Sunday came, Rudy got up early and beat me in getting dressed and ready to go to church. We had dinner at my brother's house, and all seemed well. We had a great time. After we got home, he made a turn for the worse. He was up all night. Morning came, but I didn’t realize how bad things were for him. I was only aware of how much effort it was taking for me. I felt that he had given up, but I wasn’t ready to. I begged. I cried. I pleaded, but he was done with the fight. That evening hospice came, and so did a great support system, our church. God began to work out the details for me. I was so overwhelmed because I couldn’t take care of us. People came and went through the week. We had good support.
On Saturday, almost two weeks after the doctor told us to call hospice, we had a quiet moment in the house when no one else was around. Everything seemed okay, so I went into the kitchen to get ready for our next wave of visitors. I heard this voice telling me to go to Rudy. I ignored it because I thought I was losing my mind. Again I heard it, only this time it was louder. I went to get my bible to find something to read over Rudy, but the voice told me to put it down. I went into the room with my husband and told him it was okay to go, and that we all loved him. It’s going to be okay. It’s okay to go. He struggled to breathe and then let out a gasp and was gone. I was instantly full of anguish and began to scream so loudly that my neighbor heard my cries. I was alone and unprepared. That was February 27, 2004.
Over the next months, I chose to deal with my pain and grief by leading a double life. I was going to church and acting like I was okay, but I was continuing to go to chat rooms forming new sexual friendships online. I needed my church friends, but I was more real with the chat friends.
In the Summer of 2004, I flew out of state to secretly meet with a man I met online. When I got back home, I began hinting around to my Sunday School class about needing prayer. I wanted them to know I was struggling with my thought life. One lady in my class caught-on to the real situation. She shared her story of Jesus’ help with her sexual struggles, and she recommended First Stone Ministries. I called and talked to Laura Leigh Stanlake and began to attend a Living Waters group. It was there that I began to learn the value of honesty and my deep need for help.
By October of 2004, I asked for advice because I had decided to meet up with this man and his wife. Laura Leigh had warned me of the dangers and challenged me not to go, but I decided to go anyway. He had nicknamed me Angel, and I was hooked. I was doing things I had never thought I would do because of this man’s manipulation. I thought I needed him so much. I was looking to him to meet my needs, and I just couldn’t resist. My soul was tied to him. God told me not to go in every way that He could through caring friends. I did not want to hear this because, at the time, deep down inside, I didn’t trust God to take care of me and help me with my needs. I traveled once again to their state to hook-up.
Once I arrived, I realized how dark and dangerous the situation was with this group of online “friends.” There were many distorted shadowy, illegal and sexual things happenings around the situation. I wasn’t aware until I went back a second time. Children were involved and people were getting hurt. The wife showed me pictures and gave me details. She used her eyes to plead with me, “Are you going to do something about this?” His wife had felt so powerless over the horrible things going on around her. Now, she was making sure that I knew, too.
That night, I lay in bed hiding under the covers and thinking about the things that were happening around me. Memories and feelings from my childhood came flooding back. I remember God saying, “Is this what you want for your life?” I began to realize that God does see me even though I am hiding. He does care. God showed me His care like He showed his care to Hagar when she had been rejected by Sarah, “She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’” (Gen 16:13 NIV)
When I got back home, I began to reach out for help. I knew the answer. This was not what I wanted for my life. I got serious about getting help. I shared what had happened with this online community and about my trip to see them. As I shared with my little sister about what had happened, she reminded me that if I did not turn him in, I was no better than my mom who did not report the abuses when she became aware of them. God gave me the courage to turn in this man and the others who were involved in this evil. Strangely, I learned that the authorities had already been aware and my call moved their process forward. The process of investigation over several months really made me feel seen and heard. The man was arrested and jailed, but committed suicide before going to trial. Others involved were arrested and went through a trial and imprisoned. Later, I called this man’s wife to tell her that I was sorry for her hurt, as I told her that I was the one who had turned him in. She said that she knew that I would act when she showed me the pictures. That’s why she showed them to me. She needed help in her darkness.
I ended up having to go before a grand jury because I was a witness to their activities. The justice system acted to punish child pornographers, and help the abused children involved. The children are getting the help they need for all they have suffered. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20 NIV) This included the saving of my life. Unlike my childhood experience, I felt heard and believed. I now know that even though my choices in life have not been good choices, God uses all things for my good. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8:28 NIV) My life and these situations were used by God to turn me toward Him.
I began to really grow now. I came clean about everything in my life. I broke away from these hidden lifestyles and began to develop healthier boundaries. I spiritually dealt with all the sexually broken relationships I had entered into. I began to deal with the shame of my past. I repented of my sinful choices. I began to turn to God for His answers and to submit myself to Him. My life began to change. I found some good counselors who have helped me work through grief and sexual abuse. The abuse, the pain, the distortions, the soul ties, the manipulation, and the fears were finally being healed. I was hiding God’s Word in my heart and mind. My relationship with God became the center of my life.
In the years since, other really hard challenges have come to my life such as a terrible battle with stage four breast cancer. The cruel abuse of cancer challenged my sense of femininity and sexuality. I chose a radical mastectomy to help save my life. It challenged my fears about my identity—who I am. A 10-year cancer survivor now, who has been involved with Living Waters and my church, I have learned to find my sexual and personal identity through a devoted relationship with Jesus Christ. Again, I found out that God is the God who Sees (Gen 16:13). He sees me even in my struggles. I know this because whenever I cry out to God, He shows me where He is, and I am comforted. He is after my whole heart and continues to heal me and to show me what it really means to be a woman. Being a woman isn’t about my physical appearance or who I am in a man’s eyes. My definition comes from knowing that I am loved and honored, and I am helped and protected by God. He sees me!