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 2 of 2)
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Kelly Stigliano: 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.
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John Fuller: That’s Kelly Stigliano, and today, on Focus on the Family with Jim Daly, you’re going to hear how God’s amazing, unconditional love changed her - inside and out. I’m John Fuller and thank you for joining us today.
Jim Daly: John, Kelly has been giving us a very honest picture of what her life was like before she met the Lord. And man, what a difference He has made in her life. If you know someone who needs to hear Kelly’s story, please get in touch with us. We can send you the entire message on CD or audio download. Or you can get the Focus on the Family Broadcast App for your smartphone, and share the program that way.
John: Yeah, and you can do so at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or when you 800-232-6459. And in case you missed any of the broadcast last time, we have a full recap for you today, so you can get a feel for what Kelly’s life was like before she became a believer in Jesus Christ. Right here is Kelly Stigliano speaking at Village View Community Church in Summerville, Florida on today’s Focus on the Family.
Kelly: 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. 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.
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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.”
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.
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. 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 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 one day and who was sittin’ on my doorstep with everything he owned? 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.
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. And on that day, I lashed out like never before. On that day, I learned why some women kill their husbands.
I fought back. And surely God was guiding my actions. 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.
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.
So being a single mom was really hard. I wasn’t very good at it. 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.
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.
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. 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.”
During that time, um, I - I regained a closeness that I had lost with Angel. She had been at the mercy of her caregivers. I wasn’t there for her, but she learned to trust me again. And during that time, I got to know Alex. I really didn’t even know Alex really. I mean, he was a humorous little kid. He liked to make people laugh. I liked him. And I also learned during that time, that he and Angel had become best friends, with him keeping her laughing during the tough times.
Well, to make some money, when I could drive again, I went back to a nightclub in Cleveland, Ohio to enter yet another contest to try - try to earn quick money. And when I was there, I met a man named Mark. Turns out, Mark was a fence-walking Christian - meaning that he walked the fence between serving God and really not serving God.
So we started talking and come to find out, his sister was my next-door neighbor. That was really God, because I lived 32 miles out in the country in a little mobile home park and she was in the trailer right beside me.
So we started going out and Mark introduced me to his family. And once again, I came face to face with that unconditional love. I couldn’t figure it out. Here’s their son, Mark, 26-years-old, never been married, going out with this 23-year-old, promiscuous divorcee, who dressed very provocatively and had two bratty little kids. And they just loved us. 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.
So, Mark started taking me to a big church in Cleveland, Ohio and my neighbors, his sister and brother-in-law, started taking Angel and Alex to a little church out in the country. Mark came over one day and said to me, “I’m babysitting Angel and Alex. My brother-in-law is paying for you to go to a retreat with my mom and my sisters.” So basically, I was shanghaied into a Christian women’s retreat in Columbus, Ohio.
But when I was there, I watched those other women very carefully. They weren’t at all like me. They didn’t look like me. They didn’t dress like me. They didn’t act like me. They most certainly did not talk like me. And yet, they were having fun! Go figure. And I knew I wanted to be like them.
So I left one of the sessions during the day, and I went up into my hotel room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Columbus, Ohio and I knelt down on the bathroom floor all by myself and quietly asked Jesus to come into my heart. I found unconditional love in that hotel bathroom that day. Jesus answered my prayers and I’ve been perfect ever since. Thanks for having me.
No way, sister. You know that’s not true. Trials and tribulations come, right? But He’s always there with us, isn’t He? We cannot fix everything. Luke 12:25 and 26 says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” We have our limitations, but God has no limitations. He won’t always do what we want, but He will always do what’s best, because He can see from the beginning to the end and everything in the middle and we can’t. So we really need to just trust Him.
John: Kelly Stigliano on Focus on the Family. And you can get a CD of this entire presentation for a gift of any amount to the ministry. Just call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459 - or donate online and request that. Our website is focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
And let’s return to Kelly’s story on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
End of Program Note
Kelly: So, as a matter of fact, it was very hard for me. I almost took my second job back. I reached a point where I said, “God, fly this plane or I’m crashin’,” because in my mind, suicide was still an option. But fly it, He did. Because I had lived for Grandma and then I lived for baby Angel. And now I wa - and then I lived for Angel and Alex and then, now I wanted to live for Jesus Christ.
I was seeing three different guys at that time in my life and after I asked Jesus to come into my heart, I wrote down all the pros and cons of each guy on a piece paper. I’m a list kinda gal, okay. I’m like that. And so, I wrote down all the pros and cons of each guy on a piece of paper. And then I turned the paper over and I wrote down all of the qualifications of “Mr. Just Right for Me.” And I said, “He doesn’t have to be perfect. He can have flaws. He can have drawbacks.” So I wrote down every drawback I felt I could handle. And I laid it before the Lord and I said, “God, if he’s out there, please let me have him.” I folded the paper up, put it in a drawer. Told all three guys to just get lost and I concentrated 100 percent on serving God. Well, I lost my job at that time, but that was a blessing, too. I got laid off and I was able to spend the summer home with Angel and Alex. It was the um, summer before Angel went to kindergarten.
And during that summer, God slowly cleaned up my act. We went to church and Sunday school. We read the Bible. My kids were like little sponges, you know, soaking up the Bible stories and the love of Jesus Christ. We grew closer together as a family that summer. God taught me to be a good mommy that summer.
On Sunday evenings, we would crawl into my bed and we’d go over their little Sunday school papers again and they’d tell me what they learned in Sunday school that morning again. And we would take turns praying and asking God to take care of us and thanking God for every little thing. You know how kids are. They even thank God for their boogers, you know.
Thanking God for every little thing and asking Him to take care of us. God showed me how disgusting it was when I screamed and cussed at my kids. He made those words taste terrible in my mouth. He made my heart hurt every time I hurt their little hearts. Basically, He taught me compassion and unconditional love. But did you catch that? God loved me unconditionally first, and then I got saved and then He cleaned up my act. I did not have to be perfect for Him to love me or for Him to come into my heart.
Well by the end of that summer, I had decided I wanted Angel to go to Christian school kindergarten. Oh, I couldn’t afford that. I was on unemployment and welfare. But in my newfound faith, I enrolled her in Christian school kindergarten. It was a Christian school that was in that little country church the neighbors had been taking Angel and Alex to.
I had been reading in the Bible about tithing - about how when you give 10 percent, that God redeems the 90 percent. And I cannot explain to you how it works. It never worked on paper, but we always had everything that we needed. He always took care of us. And we didn’t have a lot, but we had everything that we needed. We were happy.
Mark’s family was still very precious to me. I loved them and they loved me. And one day the kids and I were at his mom’s house. We were in the backyard. They were playing on her swing set and she and I were talking. And - and she said, “You know what you need, Kelly? You need an older man - someone who can take care of you, someone who can handle your children.” I said, “Well, actually, I have had my eye on Angel’s principal, Mr. Stigliano.” I could finally pronounce it by then. It took me three tries, but I could say it, “Jerry Stigliano.”
She said, “Oh, he’s available! He’s been single for six years.” I said, “You know what? But he doesn’t even notice me.” I had gone to his church, wearing a bright red and white striped dress. I looked like a huge walking candy cane.
He didn’t even notice me. I said, “No, no, it won’t work.” Well little did I know, she had her own little “phone-a-friend” system going on. And I didn’t have a phone, so a couple days later, my neighbor came over and said, “Mr. Stigliano wants to see you tomorrow morning in his office at 10.” Uh! I was so scared, ‘cause I knew what it was about. See, my first tuition payment had been late, but I had made it. My second tuition payment was late, but I was gonna make it.
So I practiced all night long. I was gonna go in there very seriously, very gravely the next morning and - and say, “Mr. Stigliano, I understand my first tuition payment was late and I apologize. I know my second tuition payment is late, but I get my unemployment check in two weeks and I promise I will pay you then.” I was gonna say it. I was - had it all prepared. And you know, I don’t care how old you get, it never gets any easier goin’ to the principal’s office.
My hands were so sweaty. I sat in that chair across from his desk, you know, the bad girl’s chair?
Yeah, some of you are actin’ like you don’t know what chair I’m talkin’ about and I know you do, ‘cause you sat in that chair yourselves.
So I sat in that bad girl chair across from his desk and my knees were literally hitting together. I felt like I was in junior high again. Well, this man says to me, “Someone has anonymously donated $800 toward Angel’s tuition. Can you pay $15 a month?” Yeah, even I could scrape up $15 a month. And then, to my complete shock, he turns around and says, “Are you seeing anyone?” I said, “No,” and he asked me out!
Two prayers answered in five minutes!
I said, “This God is good. This Christianity thing’s workin’ out for me!”
So we started goin’ out and a few months later, I found that piece of paper I had folded up and put in the drawer. I’d forgotten I’d had it, and I read it. And he had every qualification of “Mr. Just Right for Me.” He even had every drawback I’d written down.
So we had our first date in November, and we were married the following November. And Mark’s mom made all of our dresses, because she loves me unconditionally.
You know, it takes a very special man to love another man’s children as his own, but Jerry has done that. He’s really the only daddy Angel and Alex have ever known. As a matter of fact, he did adopt them. All statistics say that a second marriage like ours should not work, but I’m happy to tell you that this past November, we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, so somethin’s workin’ out.
Grandmas, how many grandmas do we have here? Raise your hand if you are a grandma. Oh, grandmas, you are so important. You don’t even know. You have such an influence on your grandchildren’s lives. My grandma saved my life. She didn’t even know it. I encourage you to keep open communication going with your grandchildren, so that you can know if there’s ever anything going wrong in their lives. You know, in Titus 2 when it says the women are to train the younger women? That is not a casual suggestion. That’s a mandate that we all must take very seriously.
Because of the unconditional love of God, He has given me a - a life worth living that I never could’ve dreamed possible. If someone had told me when my kids were little that someday I would have a husband who not only treats me like a human being, but treats me like a lady, I would’ve said, “Do not torment me with unattainable fantasies - not in my lifetime.”
In His great love, God went to great lengths to reach me through the unconditional love of my grandma, my parents, Mark’s family, and Jerry. With God’s help and the guidance that I received through going to church and Sunday school and reading the Bible, I became an attentive and loving mother to my kids.
You know, I realized that I actually treated their little friends better than I treated them. So I started to show them respect. I started to say, “Please” and “Thank you” and be patient with them. I learned to be kind in my words and actions and they are adults today, and we are enjoying our adult relationships immensely.
I’ve also learned to be the kind of wife God wants me to be um, most of the time - I’m trying!
I’ve learned that disputes are to resolve an issue, not to win. And I’ve learned that it’s really important to just forgive and let it go. But still, I thank God for a patient husband. This isn’t to say that when - when we come to ask Jesus into our hearts and into our lives, that we won’t have problems any more. No, of course not - that’s crazy. But we don’t have to face them alone anymore and that’s huge.
A couple of years ago, I felt like everything was going wrong, one thing after another. Been there, done that, right? And I was crying out to God and I said, “God, when it rains, it pours and I’m gettin’ all wet here.” And I heard Him in a real still voice in my spirit say, “Yes, but just wet enough to slip and crawl to your knees.” He is there for us. Inviting Jesus to come into our hearts and into our lives is the first step toward learning to love unconditionally. Think of all the good we could all do if we would all just love each other unconditionally the way God loves us. When we show unconditional love, we not only improve someone else’s life, but then our lives are blessed in turn.
So when I got saved, I didn’t clean up my act immediately, but I was always trying. And more importantly, I was listening to God. And when He told me to do something, I did it. And sometimes that was very hard. I learned that God loves us so unconditionally, that He sent His only Son to be born as a human being baby, so we could relate to Him. You know, that’s what we celebrate at Christmas. And then, He grew to be a man and was crucified, died and - and buried and He rose three days later. That’s what we celebrate at Easter. And He lives now in heaven and in the hearts of everyone who asks Him to come into their hearts to live.
The Bible says that we have all sinned and fall short of God’s glory. And you know, when Jesus died on the cross, it was His choice. He did it on His own. No one forced Him. The Bible says that that’s how God demonstrated His love for us - that while we were still sinners, Christ did choose to die for us. And the Bible also says that if we’ll just confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts, we’ll be saved. It really is just that simple.
So was it a long rough road to salvation for me? Oh, yes, but all by my own stupid choices. But you know, we all have the freedom of choice. I know you don’t like that term, because of what the world has done to it, but it’s true. We all have a freedom of choice. God gave it to us. It’s called “free will.” But did it make me a survivor? Oh, you betcha, ‘cause I may have started out being Satan’s little princess, praise God, I am a daughter of the King.
John: Wow, what a story from Kelly Stigliano on today’s Focus on the Family.
Jim: John, I want to underline something Kelly said several minutes ago because it is that important. She said, “God loved me unconditionally first, and then I got saved, and then He cleaned up my act. I did not have to be perfect for Him to love me or for Him to come into my heart.” People must hear that. That’s the way it works.
John: There’s such a wrong understanding that we have to be all clean for Jesus to accept us. But He says, “No, I want you just as you are, then we’ll work on your issues.”
Jim: Right, and I know so many people who say, “I’ll come to Christ after I get my act together.” But the Bible gives us a different perspective. Do you remember the uh, thief on the cross who was being executed right alongside Jesus? He rebuked the people who were taunting Christ and said, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” And Jesus Himself said, “Today, you will be with Me in Paradise.” That’s right there in Luke chapter 23 if you wanna look it up. That thief didn’t have to change his life in any way. He was dying, but his heart was in the right place, and God sees the heart.
So if you’ve been on the fence about becoming a Christian, why don’t you pray with me right now? Get off the fence. Lord Jesus, thank you for dying on the cross for me. I confess my sins. Forgive me. Based upon what You did on the cross, I place my trust in You as my Savior and Lord. I accept Your forgiveness. Come into my life, today. Amen.
John: Amen. And I hope that you, in the listening audience, were among many thousands who prayed with Jim right there.
Jim: If you prayed that prayer, call us. We’d love to hear your story and have a chance to congratulate you on the best decision of your life. And let me say, well done. And as a follow-up resource, we have a free eBooklet that we would like to have you download at our website. It’s called,. And it’ll give you more information about what to do next. Please, come get it. There’s no obligation on your part.
Let me tell you also, we really get excited when we hear that someone accepted the Lord after hearing the program. Recently, we got this note from Ken, who said, “I had never accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior, but had to call after I heard your message from Dr. Adrian Rogers about who we truly are in Christ. A member of your staff prayed with me and even sent me a Bible, and then called me a few days later. What you people do there at Focus on the Family is truly amazing. Thank you for being there for the most important decision of my life.”
John: That is such a great story to hear, and we get letters and emails and phone calls from people like that every day.
Jim: Well, let me say thank you to that phone operator on our end who did everything so well in representing Jesus Christ. Our research shows that over 200,000 people per year accept Jesus Christ through the work of Focus on the Family. And Ken is just one example of that impact. And since he was so motivated by that message from Dr. Rogers, we’ll post that at our webpage so you can come back and check it out.
If you’d like to get a CD copy of this 2-day broadcast featuring Kelly Stigliano, please let us know and we’ll get it to you at no cost. We are listener-supported, and we’ll trust our friends to help us make that happen.
John: Yeah, reach out to us by calling 800-A-FAMILY - 800-232-6459 - for that complimentary copy of the CD. If you’d like to donate, you can also do so and request that CD online at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening today. Have a great weekend and be sure to join us on Monday as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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