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Returning to Hope

Ed Heath - 700 Club Producer

“When I first started dancing, it did feel empowering, because I felt so worthless, that it was nice to have a dollar amount attached to my worth.” As a single mom dancing in strip clubs for a living, Stefanie was far from her idyllic childhood. She remembers, “I grew up in a very Christian home.  My dad was a preacher. My relationship with my dad when we lived in South Carolina was good. Living in South Carolina was the happiest time of my childhood.” She felt safe, loved, and enjoyed being in church. “We would go to the church and we would play and really just being in the church was-was like our second home.  And I grew up without a doubt loving Jesus.”

But when her father took a new pastor’s job and moved the family to Indiana, his temperament started to change. She says, “He had a short fuse. And we always knew when we disappointed him. He became less involved in our lives, and less accepting of us growing up and me being in cheerleading and my sister having a boyfriend. And it was really lonely, and it made me feel unworthy.” In JR high Stefanie started smoking and drinking. Soon, she was smoking pot. She believes, “I think I was always trying to get my dad's attention. Because he was really attentive to some of the girls in our church who were known to be rebellious.”

Her father grew angrier at Stefanie until one night, he flew into a violent rage breaking things and kicking her. He left home and never returned. She recalls, “I felt relief, but I felt really abandoned. And traumatized, and shocked and ‘Why wasn't I worth staying for?’ If my dad would walk away, who taught me about faith, who was a pastor, who raised me in the church, if he would walk away, then maybe all of it was a lie.”

Soon after college, Stefanie married her high school sweetheart. Two years later she had a little girl and enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom. But the marriage eroded and after five years, Stefanie ended up a single mom. “I mean, it hurt, and it left me like feeling abandoned again, but I didn't fight for our marriage.” Stefanie got a job as a paralegal and started dating someone who seemed like a great guy.  But when they started living together, he quickly became abusive.  She believes, “I was like the perfect victim. Because I wanted love so much that I took whatever it was that I needed to take to keep him there.” Then Stefanie got pregnant.  But when she miscarried at four months, her boyfriend walked out and left her to deal with it alone. She recalls,
“And I was empty of everything else, of hope for a future and dreams and promises and joy and all of the things, all of that died in me.”

She pushed aside her grief and loss, but it caught up with her months later, the day the baby she lost, would have been born.  “I was done trying and I was done fighting, and I was done doing all the things. And I walked into my job and I gathered up my things, and I just left. I drove to a cemetery, and I grieved for the first time in a really long time.”

With no job prospects, Stefanie remembered a co-worker once told her she could make good money dancing in clubs.  She recalls, “And I said, ‘Well, that's crazy, that's disgusting, I would never do that.’  But I felt like I belonged in the darkness.  And I got up from that space and the next day I walked into a strip club for the first time.”

Over the next few years, Stefanie sank deeper into that world.  She strived to be a good mother but when her daughter chose to go live with her ex-husband and his new wife, Stefanie knew she had failed again. She remembers, “I wanted to die.  There was no joy left in me. I had to walk into that house and sprawl across that child's bed and knew that I had failed in the biggest way I could possibly fail. I truly had become nothing. And that was the lowest my life had ever been. That is when I turned to prostitution.” Three years of dancing and prostituting her body took a heavy toll on her physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  She says, “My mom said of me that I looked like the walking dead. And I was thinking, ‘Where did she go? Where did the girl go who once loved Jesus?’ I had nothing left to give.  I had nothing left to sell. I had no piece of me that resembled who I had been, and I just couldn't take it anymore. It just hurt too much”.

Finally, Stefanie left that lifestyle for good she remembered the joy she felt as a little girl in church and realized her only hope was turning back to God. She remembers, “I just cried out and asked for Jesus.  I felt undeserving of it, and I felt a little scared of believing in it. But there was nowhere else to go.” As Stefanie began attending church and a Bible study, she found her way back to trusting God. She says, “It took a really long time to understand who I was in Jesus again. Because there had been a lot of hurt that had happened along the way. And every step that I would take on this new path, led me closer to Jesus. And it led me away from who I was.”

Today, Stefanie is remarried with a child and has restored her relationship with her daughter. She uses her past to help women who are struggling to discover the unconditional love of Jesus. She believes, “There is nobody like Jesus to me. And He has saved me and redeemed me and restored every single piece of my life. All of the loss and all of the heartache, and all of the distance and the sin, it is not too much for God's grace and for His mercy. That is there for everybody. And all it takes is just the tiniest, tiniest bit of faith, and God can do great big things.”   

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