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God's Amazing, Unconditional Love (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 10/11/2018

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Writer and speaker Kelly Stigliano shares her inspiring account of experiencing God's grace and healing following a turbulent past marked by drugs, promiscuity and physical abuse. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Excerpt:

Kelly Stigliano: So for two more years as a single mom, I made more extremely poor choices along the way. I hated men. Men were good for two things to me and that’s all: honey and money - and that was it. It was about this time I heard a voice in my head say, “You are Satan’s little princess.” Satan’s little princess - somehow that made me feel special.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: This is Focus on the Family and today you’re going to hear how Satan’s little princess became a daughter of the King. And your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, we often ask our listeners to send us personal testimonies that feature a life that has been changed by The Lord, and today’s message is a great example of exactly that. As you heard in that clip today’s guest, Kelly Stigliano, has dealt with some tough times. You won’t believe how tough, and you’ll hear how it all happened today and next time, and how God brought restoration and healing into her life. Let me just add um, you know, our testimonies belong to The Lord. He asks us to walk them out, but he paid the price with His blood for these testimonies, and that is a great way for all of us to view those difficult times. If you can’t stay with us to hear the entire message, request the CD or download or Daily Broadcast app on your smartphone so you don’t miss a word of this inspirational story and remember that this could be for a friend as well as for you.

 John: And we have free downloads now at the website, and you can download through the mobile app as well. Now let’s go ahead and hear from Kelly Stigliano speaking at Village View Community Church in Summerville, Florida, on Focus on the Family.

Body:

Kelly: Well, my earliest recollection of unconditional love was from my grandmother. I grew up in a little town in northeastern Ohio and for the first three years of my life, we lived in a house right beside my grandparents. And I remember very clearly at the age of 3, going over and telling my grandmother every cuss word I had ever heard. I mean, I cussed that poor woman up one side and down the other, but she loved me unconditionally anyway.

As a little girl, I was very keenly interested in the supernatural and the occult. And every occultic toy on the market in those days, I requested and I received. I mean, they’re toys; what harm could they do, right? Hm. Well, let me tell you, if you have any book, toy, puzzle, game, trading card or music in your house that you’re not sure is 100 percent God-honoring, get it out of your house, because it will have an effect on your child. It’s worth the fight you’re going to have with your kid to get it out of your house.

So it was through these occultic toys that some very harmful elements were introduced into my life. And by the time I was 13, I was very rebellious. You know, 1 Samuel 15:23 says that, “Rebellion is like the sin of divination.” And what is divination? It’s witchcraft. So it stands to reason that I was interested in witchcraft; I was rebellious.

So I was with my girlfriends. We had séances every time we got together. And I hated my parents. Like I said, I was smoking and drinking and doing drugs. I was involved in vandalism and stealing and sex. And I was also very suicidal. And you know, the glue that holds that whole lifestyle together - lies, lies, and more lies. And you know who the Father of Lies is, don’t you?

Did you know that often Satan will give you 99 percent truth, just to trick you with that one percent lie? Well, because of my lifestyle, I hated myself. I was 13, and I carried a razor blade in my wallet at all times and a little homemade will, bequeathing all my books and stuffed animals to people. And I would get really upset and I would be like, “Just make my day; just give me a reason to check outta of here. I’m ready to go.” And sometimes I would lay my little will out on the bed beside me, and I’d get my razor blade poised at my wrist and - but then I would hear this voice that would say, “But you will make your grandma cry.” And I couldn’t make my grandma cry. So I’d fold the will up and put it and the razor blade back in my wallet, and I’d hate myself even more for having chickened out.

 Well, when I was 13, Grandma and Grandpa took me to a family reunion at a public park in Pennsylvania. And I was sitting on the swings, smoking a cigarette, minding my own business, and this group of teenage boys came over and started to talk to me about Jesus Christ. And it all sounded very interesting to me, so I listened. I mean, after all, they were boys.And I listened to them. And they reached a point in their conversation where they asked me if I wanted to pray this prayer with them. And so I did. Did I mention they were boys? So I prayed this prayer with them, and I asked Jesus to come into my heart. But you know, at that time, I didn’t have anybody to help me read the Bible or help me understand the Bible, um, to nurture me spiritually. I was like, you know the parable of the sower and the seed? It’s spoken about in the Gospels. I was the seed that fell on the rock. I received the Word; it sprang up in my heart with joy, but I had no root. I uh - it withered. I had no nurture. I walked away from God.

When I was in high school, I met a man named Ben. He was gorgeous. He was tall and had blond curly hair and big blue eyes. He was a guitar-playing philosopher, and he was four years older than me and he liked me - me! I mean, I didn’t even like me, and he liked me. He was also interested in the supernatural, but I’ll tell you more about Ben later.

Four days after graduation, I got moved out of my parent’s house and I got an apartment in a little neighboring town called Mesopotamia. I lived with my girlfriend Cheryl, and we called “Mespo,” Ohio. Our apartment became Party Central. We had a party every night of the week. Before I knew it, three or four other people had moved in with us. I didn’t know who they were. They didn’t buy groceries. They didn’t pay rent, but they lived there.

Cheryl was selling LSD at the time. She was actually taking more than she was selling. And by then, I had created quite a serious drinking problem for myself. So after a couple months of that, I said, “I’m tired of this mess,” and I just moved out. I moved into a little two-room apartment that was built off of my grandparents’ garage. It had originally been built for my great-grandparents way back in the day, so it had no bathroom. So it was a chilly walk through the garage to use my grandparents’ bathroom.

I was working in a grocery store at that time, and I really only lived alone for two weeks, because Ben kind of just unofficially moved in. I didn’t ask him to. I asked him to leave, but he didn’t. So one day, at my job at the grocery store in the deli, I had this attack of sorts. So um, I drove myself to the emergency room, where they did invasive tests. And the doctor came back with a diagnosis of stomach ulcers, excessive acids in my gallbladder, colitis. And then, as he’s walkin’ out the door, he goes, “Oh, and by the way, you do know you’re pregnant, don’t you?” No, I didn’t know I was pregnant. So, at the ripe old age of 18, I was already reaping what I had sown.

The next month, my grandmother, with her unconditional love, put together a lovely little wedding outside for Ben and I. I don’t know what I would’ve done if she didn’t because Mom and I still weren’t talking. I never told Grandma I was expecting, but she must have suspected it.

Two weeks after we were married, I said something to Ben that upset him, and this started a cycle of abuse. And I was thinkin’ about what I had said to him. I knew I had a smart mouth. And I thought, “Well, you know what? I probably really shouldn’t have said that to him. I probably deserved to get slapped,” and surely it would never happen again - or so I thought.

Well, about that time, my grandpa got sick and went into the hospital. And then the worst thing of all happened. My unconditionally loving grandma died, right there at home in her bed. And so I didn’t just lose my grandma; I lost my na - my landlady, my neighbor, my best friend, my confidant, my reason to live. But I didn’t feel like I could kill myself now, because I had this little tiny person growing inside of me. And something inside of me just felt like that would be wrong.

I used to lay on the bed right where we found Grandma, in the same position we found her in, and I used to beg God to please, just take me; take the baby. Well, of course, He didn’t.

Two weeks later, Grandpa died in the hospital and the attorneys asked Ben and I to move into the house until the estate was settled. And the abuse continued. The violence escalated. I learned to live with Ben’s rages. We never had any money. When Grandma and Grandpa’s heating oil was gone, we had no heat. When Grandma and Grandpa’s food was gone, we had no food.

Exactly one month before my 19th birthday, I had a beautiful, healthy baby girl. I thought she was an angel sent from heaven, because now again on earth, I had someone to love me unconditionally. We named her Angelica and I call her “Angel.”

Well, the house eventually sold and I - we did have to move. Like I said, we never had any money. I couldn’t figure it out. We always had new guitar strings and - and marijuana, but we never had any money. When Mom and Dad went to work, I would go to their house and steal food out of their pantry and do my laundry in their basement.

Our marriage was very violent. I used to beg him to please just kill me and get it over with and he would say, “Yeah, you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Well, I’m not gonna kill you; I’m just gonna make you wish you were dead,” and he did.

When Angel was 8-months old, I had a familiar sensation, so I took myself to Birthright for a pre - a free pregnancy test and they said, “You’re pregnant.” And I stood there in my 19-year-old shock and naïveté with my 8-month-old baby on my hip and I said, “But I already have a baby.” And they said, “Well, you’re gonna have another one,” and I cried, because at that point, I had decided that I would stay with Ben until Angel turned 5 and went to kindergarten. And then, I would get a full-time job and - and leave him. And this just meant I had to start the five years over again at the beginning.

I never told my parents what was going on with Ben and me. We were finally getting along now, you know, because of baby Angel. Well, Ben got mad and quit yet another job. And um, he went out west to look for work. And Angel and I moved in with my parents. And while we lived there, I had baby Number Two - a healthy, beautiful, fat little baby boy named Alexander. And when Alex was 4-months-old and Angel was 20-months-old, Ben sent for us to live with him in Phoenix, Arizona, and the abuse continued. We lived in Phoenix for seven and a half very violent months. Proverbs 29:11 says that “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.” Well I was not married to one of the wise men. I was not privy to our household finances. I didn’t even know how much money Ben made. And when he gave me money for food, I knew how to get from - we had one car and if he would leave me the car, I knew how to get from our house to the grocery store and there was a bank in the middle in case I had to - had to stop at the bank.

Well, one - we were there for Christmas and I wanted - my parents still lived in Ohio and I wanted to make them Christmas cookies and banana nut bread for their Christmas present. And so somehow I ended up with enough money to buy the ingredients for that. And I made them those Christmas goodies, but I didn’t have the money to mail it to them. I didn’t have money for the postage, so I put it in the freezer. And like the Israelites were supposed to make more bricks with no straw, somehow I was supposed to make meals with no money and no food. I mean, I had baby food and I had enough food for him for dinner, but I never had any food for me. I was hungry all the time. And my mother-in-law had given me one of those red and white uh, gingham, Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks. And every day I would go through that and I’d look at it, and I’d look at those pictures of food. And sometimes I’d close my eyes and just lick the picture and try to imagine what the food tasted like, because I was so hungry. Think of that next time you buy a second-hand cookbook.

(LAUGHTER)

I eventually took my parents’ Christmas goodies out of the freezer, and I ate them. In my torment, I may have cried out to God, but it was never personally because at that time, I believed in reincarnation and Karmic balance. I believed that I had made my parents’ life a hell for 18 years. I had 18 years of hell coming. And it was during this time that I saw Ben pray to Satan and that really scared me. I was no longer interested in overtly Satanic things.

Program Note:

John: This is Focus on the Family, and today we’re listening to the incredible story of Kelly Stigliano. If you need help, if you wanna talk to one of our counselors, they’re available. The starting point is to call 800-A-FAMILY. Let’s go ahead and return now to Kelly’s story.

End of Program Note

Kelly: One night after the biggest fits of rage ever, Ben did something that I’d never, ever thought he would do. He struck one of our babies. And I did something that I had never done before. I attacked him. I jumped on his back, trying to pull him off the baby. Well, he told me to put the babies in their cribs, put them down for the night and come back out and “get mine,” to get what I had coming to me. And I knew that I knew that I knew that that was gonna be the night that he killed me.

Well, the next morning, I woke up. I was alive. He went to work. I watched my toddler running around with a big black eye and I said, “That’s enough. I can’t do this anymore.” So I went to one of our more shady neighbors and I asked him how I could have Ben killed. I was serious. And he told me, “Oh, no, no, no. The neighbors know you fight. It will get back to you. You will go to prison. You won’t get to be with your babies. You need to go to Ohio, where you belong.”

So, I called my dad at his job - his new job - and 20 minutes later, the airplane tickets were waiting for us at the airport. And I guess that’s because my parents really did love us unconditionally, too.

In Ohio, my parents helped me get an apartment and a car and the State of Ohio sent me to business school so I could learn to better support my little trio. Well, I came home from business school and who was sittin’ on my doorstep with everything he owned - which meant a guitar and a guitar case and a duffle bag full of clothes? Ben. That’s right. He said he’d changed again, and I believed him again, and took him back again. I wanted so badly to believe that he had changed. I wanted so badly the “happily ever after fairy tale” that every little girl dreams of. We were like the yo-yo family, you know? Up and down - together again, not together again.

After we had gotten together again, one night, in this huge fit of rage, we were fighting and - and he took my great-grandmother’s dresser mirror and threw it across the room, and it smashed into the wall. And at some point, somehow I was on the floor in the hallway and he was kicking me. And the smash brought the children’s attention to us. And little Alex, at two and a half years old, came running down the hall screaming, “You kick on my mamma! You kick on my mamma!” And at that point, I had stayed with Ben because I said, you know, “He’s the father of my babies and - and for them I need to stay with him.” But after I saw little Alex fall apart like that - that I - I knew that for those kids, I had to get out of there. On the day we moved, I believe he tried to kill me. He strangled me with more fervor than ever. And on that day, I lashed out like never before. On that day, I learned why some women kill their husbands.

So what made me fight back? What made me so bold? Was it the sheer will to live? Was it self-preservation? Was it temporary insanity? Call it what you want, but fight back I did. And surely God was guiding my actions. With one cloudy decision that for once finally stuck, I grabbed my babies and I ran.

That is how I fought back. You don’t kill your husband. You fight back and get - you leave. That’s how you fight back. You leave and get to safety. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrong.” Proverbs 29:22 says, “An angry man stirs up dissension and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” By now, my parents knew what was going on and in their unconditional love, they bought my kids and I a brand-new mobile home out in the country. Ben flew back to Phoenix. Having him 2,000 miles away made us feel a little bit safer and the marriage did eventually end, but not before leaving scars on all of us.

When Ben flew back to Ohio to - for the divorce, which he was contesting, I was determined that this time he was gonna end up in the courtroom. So the kids and I met him at the airport. And Alex was sitting on a chair in the airport that had arms on it. And Ben was sitting on the arm of the chair. And Alex, who was always so jovial and happy and always smilin’, was very serious and he looked up at him and said, “Are you my daddy?” And he was proud. He kneeled down in front of him and puffed his chest out and stuck his chin up and said, “Why yes, son, I am.” And Alex, with his little deadpan face, leaned forward and said, “You broke the glass and kicked my mommy.” And he leaned forward even closer and repeated, “You broke the glass and kicked my mommy.” Ben’s face turned white as a sheet. He got up and silently walked away. I never dreamed - nobody had ever confronted Ben before for his actions. And I never dreamed that my knight in shining armor would come in such a small package.

The divorce was made final and Ben left for good, leaving scars on all of us. Because of my loss of self-esteem, I lived a very promiscuous lifestyle. I don’t know uh, if I was looking for male reaffirmation or what. To support my kids and myself, I had two full-time jobs. I never saw my kids. And when I did see them, I just spent a lot of money on them out of my own guilt. I didn’t ever talk to my children. I screamed at them. And when that no longer controlled them, I screamed cuss words at them. I was a bad mom. I was an angry mom. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Most of us can throw words like knives, can’t we ladies? Proverbs 12:18 says, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Psalm 17:3b says, “I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.” Let’s resolve right now that our mouths will not sin, that our words will lift up and not tear down, especially when it comes to children.

So being a single mom was really hard. I wasn’t very good at it. I was tired, so the discipline of my children was inconsistent at best. I was tired, so my patience was short. I was tired, so my house was a disaster area all the time. I was tired, so I did not exercise, which just made me more tired. I hadn’t learned any money management skills. When I was married, we never had any money that I knew of. When I was pregnant, I had to wear my deceased grandmother’s bras and underpants. Thank God I had ‘em. When I was married, I remember one year we had an income tax check. It’s pro - the only one I ever remember seeing. It was quite large and I said, “All I want out of this check is a fuzzy toilet seat cover.” That’s all I want - frills, frivolous, unnecessary. So, I went from not even having a fuzzy toilet seat cover to being single and having credit cards in my own name, which I quickly maxed out because I bought myself a whole new wardrobe and I bought everything I thought my children needed. I ended up declaring bankruptcy. I had very poor decision-making skills. I often put men before my children. I was financially and morally bankrupt.

So for two more years as a single mom, I made more extremely poor choices along the way. I hated men. Men were good for two things to me and that’s all: honey and money. And that was it. It was about this time I heard a voice in my head say, “You are Satan’s little princess.” Satan’s little princess - somehow that made me feel special.

Well, God finally stepped in to save me from my self-destructive behavior. One night, I partied all night long after my second job with coworkers and then the next night, I was really sick all night long. And by the morning, I couldn’t even stand up straight. I screamed the kids into the car and took ‘em to the babysitter’s. I found out later, poor little Alex only had one shoe on. And I took myself to the emergency room, where they did an emergency appendectomy. And that turned out to be a real gift in my life, because I went from working two full-time jobs to missing five weeks of work because of it. And for the first two weeks, I just laid on the couch and I watched my children play. And I very clearly heard the voice of God say, “Now observe. Appreciate the gifts I have given you.”

Closing:

John: We’ve been hearing from Kelly Stigliano on today’s episode of Focus on the Family, and next time we’ll hear the rest of her story.

Jim: John, I’m so glad we’re able to air Kelly’s story today because it gives us an opportunity to address domestic abuse, which is happening in far too many homes around the world. Research indicates that 25% of men and 33% of women have experienced violence in an intimate relationship. That’s 1 in 3 women and 1 out of every 4 men. And part of the problem is that for Christians, we believe in the sanctity of marriage. We know that it’s a covenant, and we want to make our marriages work, but if you’re in an abusive relationship, please here me right now. If you want to save your marriage, the violence must end first. Then there is a chance your marriage can heal. Of course the danger is very real in cases like this as our guest Kelly experienced, so you need to make a plan.

Find a supportive friend and let them know what’s goin’ on in your home, and ask if you can stay with them for a few days if you need to. Or contact the nearest domestic violence shelter and find out where they’re located so that when you need them, you can get there quickly. Especially if you have children, you need to be prepared in this way. Make your plans and line up your resources before you pack your bags and walk out the door. Once you’re in a safe, undisclosed location, you can contact your spouse and explain in clear and certain terms that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and insist that he or she seek professional help. This type of physical separation may be what it takes to open the abusers’ eyes to the severity of the situation and the need for change. Do not tell your spouse where you are. Your safety at this very moment is most important.

While you’re apart, we strongly suggest you seek help from a professional counselor. Make sure the therapist you choose is trained in the area of marital conflict, so that they can help you understand why you’ve put up with this behavior for so long. Many abusers are very manipulative and can actually convince their partner they are unworthy of better treatment. A good counselor can help you overcome that manipulation and overcome it, and that’s just one reason why it is better for your counseling to remain separate from your spouse’s - at least for a while. This can be a lengthy process, and your counselor can help guide you on the right timing to reconnect with your spouse and receive further counseling as a couple.

And remember this, we’re here to help you. Our counselors are available to spend some time with you on the phone and then refer you to a caring Christian therapist in your community who has experience in dealing with domestic abuse. Recently, we received this letter from a listener named Kate. She said, “Several years ago, I married a very abusive man. He claimed to be a Christian but was quite manipulative and cunning. During this time, I reached out to Focus on the Family counselors for advice and really appreciated their unbiased feedback. Eventually, I realized I had tried my best but needed to seek safety for myself and my children. It was not easy, but God is doing miraculous things in my life and in the lives of my children. My ex-husband has not repented, but he is growing, and we are praying for him. I am forever grateful to your counselors and the honest advice they gave me. Hearing a friendly voice when I needed sensible counsel was so helpful in a time when I was completely alone. Thank you.”

John: Wow, that is a remarkable privilege for our team to be a part of that journey. It doesn’t always end well. It’s a messy process, but the counseling team we have here is so good at walking people through things like that.

Jim: So good and remember this everybody, God is in the business of messy. He’s there with us in both the good outcomes and the not-so-good outcomes. We also receive calls and letters from men whose wives are both verbally and physically abusive too, so we know that this problem cuts both ways. Let me just say, if you support Focus on the Family, thank you for helping us provide counseling and resources to victims of domestic violence. We couldn’t do it without you! And if you haven’t made a donation to Focus on the Family in the past, can I encourage you to partner with us in this work? Our research shows that we’re helping to save about 500 marriages in crisis every day, and that’s something to really get excited about. A large part of that work is taking place at our Hope Restored marriage intensives in Branson, Missouri. In fact, four out of five couples who attend say their marriage is thriving two years later. So if saving marriages is important to you - I know it is to God - make a donation today. And when you make a generous gift of any amount, we’ll send you this complete message from Kelly Stigliano. And I know you won’t wanna miss the positive side of her story. 

John: You can reach us by calling 800-A-FAMILY or stop by and uh, donate, and request the CD at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And if you enjoyed today’s program, please, tell a friend to tune in next time as Kelly continues her story and shares her impressions of a Christian family who reached out and befriended her.

Teaser:

Kelly: They did not judge us. They did not judge me or my lax parenting skills. They did not judge my bratty little kids. They just loved us unconditionally.

End of Teaser

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Guest

Kelly J. Stigliano

View Bio
Kelly J. Stigliano is a reporter for a weekly newspaper, a published writer and a popular public speaker. She has written articles for numerous publications, and she is a blogger for Mentoring Moments for Christian Women. Kelly's stories are included in 11 compilation books including Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable. She and her husband, Jerry, have five grown children. Learn more about Kelly at her website, kellystigliano.com.