Man #1: Well, well go on, Nancy. Tell us your big news. (Sound of utensil hitting a glass) I bet it’s a new job, isn’t it?
Man #2: Uh … you’re moving away, huh?
Woman #1: Oh, don’t say that.
Man #3: I think she’s lost weight.
Crowd: Yeah! (Laughter)
Nancy: No, no, no, it’s none of that. I … well, Mike and I just wanted to let you all know that we’re expecting.
Crowd: (Cheering) All right, okay.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: It is so exciting when you or someone you know shares good news like that. And most would-be moms would celebrate in that kind of a moment. But what if the incredible joy that was expected was going to be tarnished by feelings of guilt or shame from the past? This is Focus on the Family with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, today we’re gonna hear from a woman who uh … was not beyond God’s reach. What I love about God’s goodness and grace is that, not one of us is beyond His reach.
Jim: And uh … I want to turn to you right now and if you’ve had things in your past that have brought you down or that you struggle with, you need to listen to today’s program, because we have a woman who was brokenhearted and the Lord restored her after a real prodigal journey.
Jim: Our guest is Jennifer Polimino. She’s an author, health fitness instructor and mother of two. Jennifer, welcome to Focus on the Family.
Jennifer Polimino: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
Jim: Now with that uh … opening there, this was an interesting moment in your life when you found out you were pregnant. But it brought up some amazing emotions for you. Go back for us and tell us uh … what started your journey in a wrong direction.
Jennifer: Well, my childhood was great, but then when I was 12 is when everything changed. And I was with my older sister and she had gotten into the wrong crowd and she was 15 then. And I went with her with a group of boys into this apartment. And she was hangin’ out. She was dating one of the guys.
And she left with the boy and she left me with these five guys in this apartment. And they were all smoking pot and they were drinking. And um … they asked me to go try on a pair of jeans in the back bedroom. Now there was no electricity. They couldn’t pay their bills. There was no furniture. It was just this empty apartment.
And I was a scared little 12-year-old girl and I went in the back room. And I thought, do I try them on? Do I not? What do I do, you know. So, I pretended like I tried them on real quick. And when I came out of the bathroom, the boys threw me on the bed. There was a bed in there.
And then the one boy um … that my sister had been dating came in and he said, “No, leave her alone. She’s 12-years-old. Get off of her.” So, he really pulled me out of there and saved me.
Jennifer: So …
Jim: That though really changed your outlook about–
Jim: –men. Uh … here you are in a Christian home. It was probably terrifying for you.
Jennifer: It was.
Jim: How did you process those next few hours and days and what happened? Did you share this with anybody?
Jennifer: You know, I didn’t because I didn’t want to get my sister in trouble. So, I didn’t say anything. And I just bottled it up and thought, “Well, it happened and you know, life goes on,” type of thing.
Jim: Jennifer, when something like this happens to a person, it can be either a girl or a boy–
Jim: –but when this kind of exploitation occurs, this kind of abuse, it can steer you in a direction emotionally that is hard to recover from. Is that what happened in your case?
Jennifer: It really did. And unfortunately, I didn’t realize it, being 12-years-old. I just thought, okay well, you know, bad things happen and I don’t want to get my sister in trouble. That was the big thing. So, I just didn’t tell anybody.
But I … then I went on to really I guess bottle up those feelings. And I started looking for a boyfriend and stuff. And so, when I was 15, I started dating this older guy. He was 18, on his way to college. And we dated a little bit, but it was always about partying and going out and he would get me drunk and then wound up, I got date raped.
So, it was really difficult. And again, I didn’t tell anybody because I was so ashamed. You feel like it’s your fault, especially when you’re dating the person.
Jim: In that context, uh … the question in many people’s minds listening to your story–
Jim: –would have to be your mom and dad. How were they engaged or disengaged at this point? I mean, you’re 15, dating–
Jim: –an 18-year-old boy. As a father, I … I would try to be really–
Jim: –managing that.
Jennifer: Well, unfortunately, they didn’t even know who I was dating. My mom wound up having four more children after the first three, so she had seven. So, I think they were so busy, No. 1. No. 2, they trusted me and when I said I was with my girlfriends, they thought that’s where I was. But of course, I was lying and I was out with my boyfriend or drinking or something else. So, unfortunately, they trusted me and I broke that trust, you know.
Jim: Jennifer, when you look at that situation, being that 12-year-old little girl and having perhaps that normal development occur, where you wouldn’t have the self-esteem issues that would develop from that, do you look at that and say, you were seeking an affirmation from a male? Is that why then all this began to unravel for you in your teen years? You were seeking–
Jim: –male affirmation?
Jennifer: I believe I was. I really do. I believe that when I was 12, that really changed my whole outlook. So then, I think I realized that men really wanted one thing. That was definitely a changing point in my life, is when that happened to me with those four boys.
But then after that, I really did seek that affirmation. And then I started ninth grade, went into high school and met I thought, the love of my life.
Jennifer: So, dated this guy for over a year and then I became pregnant. And I didn’t want to tell anybody. Again, I was like, oh, my goodness, what am I gonna do? Now growing up in a Christian home, I knew that abortion was wrong. My sister had just had her baby, but I saw what it did to my family, too and they supported her 100 percent, my parents did and financially and everything. But I saw how hard it was, too on them, even in the church, people looking at the Christian family and you know, there’s the teenage girl who got pregnant. And so, I think, you know, 30-somethin’ years ago it was still a little different. People weren’t as accepting–
Jennifer: –so, I didn’t want to embarrass them, I think again, too.
Jim: So, what happened? What steps did you–
Jennifer: So …
Jennifer: Well, my boyfriend and … and his older sister really pushed me to get the abortion. And I fought it for months and I didn’t do it till I was 4 1/2 months along. They finally convinced me and I got on a plane. I flew to Honolulu. My parents never knew I cut school that day. And I went to the clinic and I had the abortion done and the whole time I cried and I thought, “Oh, if I just had somebody. If somebody had been there to say, ‘Don’t do it,’ I probably wouldn’t have.” So … (Weeping)
John: Hm. But there was nobody.
Jennifer: No. No, there was nobody there. So, I got back on the plane, came home. My parents never knew a thing, never knew I cut school or got off the island for that matter. And I just hid it. Nobody knew. Nobody knew except for you know, my boyfriend and his sister. But um …
Jim: Jennifer, I mean, that pain is still so raw–
Jim: –for you. And I think most women and men who go through something like that, they can feel that ache in your heart–
Jim: –with the decision that you made. If you could roll that clock back, what do you wish you would’ve heard somebody say?
Jennifer: Oh, wow. Well, if one person would’ve said, “Hey, you don’t have to do this. I can help you.” Or um … you know, “You can put your baby up for adoption,” or something instead, that would’ve been great. But unfortunately, I wasn’t around that kind of a group of teenagers or friends or … or people at that point.
And I had really shut my parents out, because I didn’t want to embarrass them for what I’ve done, you know, in the past. So, I couldn’t go to them either.
Jim: The thought of suicide, did you ever think of taking your life? Was that–
Jim: –because again, everything emotionally is imploding on you. You can’t–
Jim: –live up to the standard that your mom and dad were raising you by. I’m sure you–
Jim: –felt enormous guilt. How did you manage that? Did you have feelings of maybe–
Jennifer: I did.
Jim: –getting out of this life?
Jennifer: Oh, definitely, I did. When I was actually … it was a few months after the abortion, so I’ll take you back to when I was probably 16, maybe 17, and in Hawaii, the subdivisions are pretty spread out, but they were building a new subdivision down our road. And I walked down there with a little razor blade and I thought, okay, this is it. I can’t take this anymore.
And I started scratching my wrists and stuff, but I couldn’t do it because my father had taught me that if you take your life, you’ll go to hell. And being raised in a Catholic first and then Christian home, I thought, “Okay, if I die, I’m gonna go to hell and I don’t want to burn in hell.” So, that was really what saved my life, ‘cause I was so scared of that.
Jennifer: So, my twisted, you know, mentality actually saved my life.
Jim: And you’re 16 at this point, 17?
Jennifer: I was 16.
Jennifer: Yes, 16-years-old.
Jim: And now you’re bottled up. I mean, now–
Jim: –you have all these secrets, Jennifer.
Jim: Which again, I think as you begin to think of someday being married, this begins to play into the long-term issues that you face over the next 10, 15 years, right?
Jim: Tell us about those emotions, not sharing what happened at 12, the date rape and then this situation of having an abortion. That had to be imploding in on you, because you knew what was right as a Christian being–
Jim: –raised in a Christian home.
Jim: How did you process all this?
Jennifer: Not in a good way unfortunately. Instead, I just continued down that spiral path and just got farther and farther away from God. And I wound up um … just dating different guys, going from one bad relationship to the next, to the next.
And I graduated high school finally and I decided to take a trip with a couple of my friends all through the South Pacific. I took my own little journey and we went to Fiji, Tonga and then back to Hawaii. And I was on the boat for probably 5 1/2 months. And it was a good trip for me actually. But it was a very … time for me to just party and that type of thing, too. But it was kind of a good time to get away.
But when I came home, I found myself again, looking for that man who was gonna fill that void in my life. And I met my first husband, which I thought, okay, I’m gonna do it God’s way. And my father said, you know, “You really should get married and not live with the person,” and which I do believe as a Christian. So, I thought, okay.
So, within only six months after meeting this person, we got married. And he was much older than me and had already been divorced and had a son from a previous marriage. And I really didn’t know him at all, ‘cause it was like we met and planned the wedding and got married and that was it. And he was very abusive and within a few years we were divorced, too. So, it was just on to the next bad relationship, again.
Jim: How does a woman who’s had that kind of experience with boys and then men, how do you find a healthy relationship with a man?
Jennifer: Well, I didn’t for a long time. It continued to go on a downward path. And I wound up moving to Denver with the next guy. And I got into the whole fitness arena and I started competing in these fitness contests, which were actually not very good–
Jim: Not a–
Jennifer: –at all.
Jim: –healthy environment.
Jennifer: Not a healthy environment, because it’s very … how you look is how you’re judged. And it’s a very perfectionistic type of arena and very sexual and they want you to look a certain way. If you’re gonna get in the magazines, this is what you have to do and what you have to look like.
So, I wound up doing pretty well. I won a couple of the Hawaii competitions and Miss Fitness Colorado. But then, I wound up doing pictures I wish I wouldn’t have done, you know. They’re in little bikinis and things that it just wasn’t right. It definitely wasn’t right.
So, I’m in these fitness competitions and the … the guy I was dating said, “You know, you really should start working maybe at a gentleman’s club, because you’d make a lot of money there.
Jennifer: That was the really … the low. That’s … was the worst thing. So, I wound up working at a gentleman’s club for about year and talk about … (Sigh) just … you meet the worst of the worst there. And it’s really sad. Actually, you meet a lot of different people. A lot of married men are in there. A lot of guys just, you know, looking for a girl to talk to and stuff. And it just put even a worst taste in my mouth, that just all men are just terrible. Sorry. But it just really … I never want to get married, I said. I will never have children. I will never get married. And co … this is what I see every day.
Jim: And how old are you at this point?
Jennifer: So, at this point, I was in my 20s, middle 20s. And God knew at that point that I probably couldn’t take much more. And that’s when I finally met my husband, my current husband.
Jim: And what happened?
Jim: What was special about that–
Jennifer: Well …
Jim: –that he wasn’t just another one of them.
Jennifer: I know. I think I was … yeah. I was at like I said, the bottom and I was trying to get out of the club. I kept trying to somehow quit, but the money is what really draws you back in, because you just sit there and people pay you to talk to them basically.
And I was out with the girls one night, just going out to eat with … at a nice restaurant. And um … a couple guys came up to our table and said, “Hey, Ladies, how are you?” But my husband, Dan came up and he asked the waitress if he could come over and talk to us. And I thought, oh, he’s kinda polite. I thought that was nice. So, I said, “Sure, he can come over when we’re done.” Well, it took us like four hours to eat dinner, and he stood by the bar the whole time. He doesn’t drink, he had iced tea for four hours. And we were just about to leave and he was still there, and I thought, “Wow, okay he’s kind of a nice guy.” So I said, ‘Well, we’re going next door to the club if you wanna come with us, and we went over there and we started talking. And he said, “Oh, you want to go up to the mountains tomorrow and we’ll have a look at the leaves?” It was um … September.
And I said, “Okay, let’s go for a ride.” And that was the best first date. We drove up to the mountains. You’re in the car with someone for six hours and we talked the whole time. And he said, “I want to get married. I want to have kids.” I’m like, “Ah!” (Laughing) But that was great. At least I knew where he was coming from.
Jennifer: And he was a Christian. He was going to church. So, I’m like, okay. (Chuckling)
Jim: What did that feel like when he suggested that having kids would be in his plan? Did that make you feel, uh-oh?
Jennifer: Yes. (Chuckling) At first, I was like, oh, boy, Well, we can talk about that later, but at least he’s a nice guy and he’s going to church. And he was … I just knew there was something different about him.
But just going to church at first was so hard for me. I would sit in the service and just cry the whole two hours or whatever it was, ‘cause there was so much guilt and you just … oh! I would pray, “God, please take this feeling away from me. Please take this guilt away from me.” But I didn’t understand the whole healing process that, you know, people need to go through. And grieving the loss of the abortion and stuff … my baby.
And so, there was alot of different things that you have to be healed from. It’s not just a one-time thing. And I think God brings up certain hurts and sins in your life that need to be healed as we progress in our relationship with Him, too.
Jim: That’s absolutely true. And your sanctification is a process.
Jim: And once you become a Christian, hopefully you’re improving in those areas of your life that are in the closet, that are dark spots, that uh … don’t please the Lord. That’s the goal for the Christian.
Jim: And you read the Prodigal story for example as a woman, although that is a … a young man in that case, do you identify with that, what that young man went through? He lived eventually in a pig sty–
Jim: –eating the things that pigs would eat, yet he was the son of a very wealthy man. How did you feel when you came into contact with that kind of a story that Jesus was telling?
Jennifer: Well, that was a … that was a beautiful story and the fact that no matter what, you know, your Father, your heavenly Father will always be there for you. And I think I finally, going back to church realized, you know, what … God completely forgives me of everything I’ve done. And He’s always there for me.
So, just now looking back, you know, having been in that pig sty, having been with just the worst of the worst, but really it was such a low dark place and now where I am today, it’s just only by God’s grace definitely that I’m here today.
Jim: Uh … Jennifer, when you married Dan–
Jim: –um … and the topic of children came up again, help us with the emotions of that, when you really started to talk to Dan about having children, given your background. You didn’t want to be a mother, right? Because you didn’t–
Jim: –feel worthy.
Jennifer: Well, after I had, had the abortion, I said, “I will never be a mom.” I said, “No way. I don’t deserve children. I killed my first baby. I’m, you know … I don’t deserve ever to have children.” And Dan knew. He knew about my abortion and stuff, too. And um … our first year of marriage was so difficult. Oh!
Jennifer: Well, he has a lot from his past, too. So, with his baggage and … and my truckload, it was really difficult. And we’re both very hard-headed people and very set in our ways I think. And marriage is hard just (Laughing) with you know, having two great Christian people. But having tons of baggage in the past, I think it was really difficult.
And we were both struggling with a lot of past issues. And it took years to go to counseling together and separately. And you know, we’re still working on it after 11 years now. There’s still.
Jim: But you made–
Jim: –that commitment–
Jim: –and you–
Jim: –were serious about your marriage obviously.
Jim: You didn’t want another failure–
Jim: –it sounds like.
Jennifer: We said, we will never get divorced. He has come from a divorced family and that … he could see as a child what it did to him. And we said, “We will never get divorced. We will work it out.” And when he brought up the subject of children again, it took us five years. So, we were married five years before I even said, “Okay,” you know.
Jennifer: And it was more of a body issue thing for me, too, because I had been so into the fitness industry. And everything was how you look. And I was scared that being pregnant was gonna make me fat, which you know, in my mind … now I know it’s not. It’s the most beautiful thing. It’s the most beautiful gift from God. And I hope if there’s any [sic] any listeners out there that believe, you know, when you get pregnant, your body’s gonna be ruined or something, it’s not. If you take care of yourself while you’re pregnant and you eat healthy and you exercise, you will be just fine. It’s gonna be different, no doubt about it, but that’s okay. It’s a good difference.
Jim: Jennifer, a lot of women struggle with several of these issues again.
Jim: As you and your husband, Dan worked on your marriage, had children–
Jim: –and now you’ve written a book, Praying Through Your Pregnancy, what prompted you to uh … put down your thoughts about your fears of being a mother and to help women understand the beauty of being a mom?
Jennifer: What really changed for me is when I was pregnant. While I was pregnant, I had so much fear, like I just said, of being pregnant, of getting fat, of just not knowing the unknown. I guess the first time you’re pregnant, there’s so many unknowns that happen.
And I just started praying every single day, which I had never done really in my life. And so, every day I would pray for my baby mostly and it was like, “Oh, dear Lord, please don’t let my child, you know, go through my past. You know, give him – I always said it was a boy, I knew it was a boy, everyone always thought it was a girl, but obviously –
Jim: You were right.
Jennifer: Yeah, I was right. I said please you know, “give him wisdom above anything else. Give him discernment. Give him love and joy in his little heart and … and peace for me, just to be a good mom,” because I was so afraid that I was not gonna be a good mom, even though I had a great example. My mom is definitely the best mom in the world, one of the best um, having raised seven children and stuff, and she’s the most caring, loving, you know so I had a great example. So, I would pray for my child every day. And I would research as to what was developing in my baby.
Jennifer: And I found out like in Week 5, your baby’s heart begins beating. Oh, my gosh! I can’t believe that. So, then I would pray for my baby’s heart and I would pray, “Lord, give him, you know, a loving, caring heart. And also a strong heart, you know, a strong heart for You, God.”
And once my baby was born, there were some difficult times, but overall, God answered every single prayer. And I could really see that when he was 2-years-old. But I thought, “Oh, my gosh, You heard me.” And … and God really said, “Jennifer, you need to share this with other moms.”
Now I’m not the writer of the family. My husband was. We’ve written health and fitness books and things together. So, he was the writer, but God clearly told me, “You need to do this.”
Jennifer, again, hearing your story, it feels like a tidal wave of emotion landed right on you. And here you find yourself married, pregnant, the emotions you must have felt, whether you could do all of this. The doubt had to be overwhelming. How did you connect with Go in that moment to where He reassured you that He was with you.
Jennifer: You know, I really … there was so much stress and fear that I was feeling while I was pregnant. And I found this Scripture and it’s 1 Peter 5:7. And it says, “Cast all of your care upon Him, because He cares about you.” And I would say that verse and I would pray it all the time. And I thought, “God, I’m just gonna give You all my fear and all my stress.” And I encourage you out there to do the same thing. If you’ve had a miscarriage maybe and you’re worried that, “Oh, gosh, I’m pregnant again and I don’t want to lose this baby,” or you were like me and maybe you had an abortion and you are just feeling that anxiety that I felt, too, you know, just cast your fears to God, because He will give you that peace that surpasses all understanding, that you definitely need.
Jim: Jennifer, with the heavy hearts that might be listening, those that have suffered, I love the Scripture says that He is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit. You were crushed in spirit. It seems appropriate that I would ask you to pray. Can you pray for the women who have suffered? Pray for their souls, for their well-being and for their confidence in the One Who will never let them down.
Jennifer: Definitely. Thank you. Dear heavenly Father, we come to You right now, Lord. I ask that You lift up all of these women and men out there, Lord, who have maybe been abused or just have some past hurt, God, that You just heal them right now.
You touch them, Lord with Your blood, Lord. We pray that You wash them white as snow. Cleanse them, God and we pray that you, like it says in a Psalm, that You are my hiding place and You protect me from trouble. Lord, I pray that You give them peace, Lord, that they just cast all their anxiety and their stress to You, Lord and that You take it all away.
We know that You bury all of our sins in the deepest part of the ocean, Lord and we believe that, Jesus. So, I just ask for healing for them and peace and joy, Lord. Thank You so much, God, for Your grace and Your mercy. Amen.
Jim: Amen. Uh … Jennifer Polimino, author of the book, Praying Through Your Pregnancy, you have come through a prodigal journey as a young girl and a teenager and a 20-something, who had a broken marriage, yet God was always nearby.
I just want to remind you, if you do not know the Lord, if part of Jennifer’s story is your story, call Focus on the Family. We have counselors to talk with you, to help you better understand what it means to become a Christian, to put your heart and your hand in that of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And Jennifer, you are living proof that God never grows weary of being there for you. And I want to thank you for being here at Focus on the Family.
Jennifer: Thank you. Thank you.
John: Well, we hope that this conversation with Jennifer Polimino has reminded you that God will never leave you or forsake you.. And as Jim just mentioned, if you would like to find out more about knowing Christ, accepting Jesus as your savior, give us a call. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. or, you can find out more about becoming a Christian an walking that journey at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: John, it’s an incredible privilege to be a part of a ministry that is living out Galations 6:2, carrying each other’s burdens to fulfill the law of Christ. Man, I heard one story from a listener who called us several years ago when she was 12 years old. Uh, she was full of questions and guilt, and someone from our counseling team called her back and wrote her letters, and she says she’ll never forget the loving and respectful way we spoke to her, and it warms my heart when we get kinda testimony. And let me emphasize, if you have a passion for ministry, for hurting people like that young girl who called us, please consider joining our team and supporting Focus on the Family. You can do that in several ways, through prayer, telling your friends about us, or giving to the ministry financially. Whether you can give monthly, or a one time donation, your support helps so much to achieve the mission. If you can give a gift of any amount to Focus today, I wanna send you a complimentary copy of Jennifer’s book, Praying Through Your Pregnancy as our way of saying thank you for that financial gift. It would make a wonderful resource for that expectant mom in your life.
John: It really would, so donate to get the book when you call 800, A, Family. Or. stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Well, next time on this broadcast, youth pastor Doug Fields shares insight for parents.
Pastor Doug Fields: Some of your kids are gonna strike out, experience strikeouts in life. All of ‘em will, and they’re also gonna experience home runs in life. And what they need to hear from the most important person in their life is, ‘I love you and I believe in you.”
End of Teaser