Share Your Story-Be Generous!

Sunday at Freedom House Church we learned to be generous with our story. We all have an amazing story to tell. Here is one of those. It will blow you away. It is a little longer than most of my blogs but please read it to the end, you will be amazed.

Where God Has Brought Me From by Rachel Tanis


My mom was 16 when she found out she was pregnant with me. Her parents, who were Catholic, were devastated when they found out and made her get an abortion. Months later she found out she was still pregnant. She and my dad got married (she was 17 at the time, he was 16) and I was born a few months later, preterm and less than 5 lbs. Despite offers from both sets of grandparents, my mom was determined to raise me. My brother was born 2 1/2 years later, and we moved out to California from Massachusetts, to be close to my dad’s family. My dad’s family were Christians and we spent a lot of time with them (so I’m told – I don’t remember.) My grandparents were Baptist missionaries, and very passionate about missions in Central America. I was told recently that as a 3 year old I said to my grandmother, “When I grow up I want to teach the bible like Poppi.”

When I was 3 my parents were divorced. My mom moved us back to New England to live with her parents and my dad stayed in California for a while. I’m not really sure where he went from there… I don’t remember ever seeing my dad when I was a child. He was in the military and traveled a lot, quickly got remarried to someone that was apparently very much like my mom. He was divorced again a couple years later. His parents made such an effort to stay in contact with us, and I remember my mom being scared to allow us to be alone with them because my dad had apparently threatened her that he would use his parents to steal us from her. Eventually she developed a level of trust with them, and we were allowed to be alone with them and even travel in an RV across country.

The majority of my childhood we lived in Massachusetts. My mom was single and worked very hard to provide for me and my brother. We lived on ramen noodles and cans of tuna fish. We moved in and out of her parents’ house several times, always when she had to get back on her feet. The only constant male figure we had was my grandfather. Both he and my grandmother were alcoholics. I remember riding in the car with my grandmother across state lines to New Hampshire to buy alcohol and cigarettes – something about taxes. There was a cigarette drawer in the kitchen, an ashtray in every room, and a liquor cabinet in the dining room. My grandfather was a mean drunk, and I believe my grandmother drank to deal with him. He would daily blackout in the green wing-back chair that was in the den.

I don’t remember my mom drinking, but I do remember her when she was newly sober. That was when she starting seeing Mike. He was a recovering alcoholic too who had come from a rough childhood. He tried very hard to be a father figure to me and my brother, and he and my mom were together for several years. We lived in an apartment in Bernardston, the four of us. They were very strict with us, and tried to provide us with a stable home environment. We were disciplined a lot when we misbehaved. Their relationship was very explosive. They never hit eachother or us, but I remember when they fought they used to yell and scream and throw pots and pans in the kitchen.

My grandmother got sick when I was 11. She died very quickly, a few weeks before Christmas. My world felt like it crumbled. My mom grieved so deeply. And one day she and my brother left to go shopping and I was alone with Mike.

The molestation only happened on two separate occasions. I thank God that it was not worse than that. Of course, I was threatened so I would not tell my mother. I kept quiet about it. We eventually moved back in with my grandfather, who took a second mortgage out on the house to remodel after my grandmother’s death and never paid it. I remember as a child screening phone calls from debt collecters.

My mom and Mike finally split. My mom dated a few more guys, always hoping that each was “the one”. My grandfather’s health began to fail, and he went into a nursing home. We had to sell his house to pay the bank and we moved to SC along with one of my mom’s boyfriends because she hoped we could have a better life here.

I had grown up in the country, and gone to a very small school. Fort Mill was a shock to me – both culturally and size-wise. I was not part of the cool crowd. I played some sports and took dance, so that helped me to make friends, but I was still pretty much a dork. I was a good girl, never messed around with drugs or alcohol, always made good grades. My brother was the one who got in trouble. I started working and worked a lot of hours at Wendy’s, and went to church some with a friend from there. I hated it, always felt so uncomfortable, like the people were judging me or something for being there by myself. I stopped going when that friend moved away. My mom frequently accused me of lying about being at work, afraid that I was going to repeat her mistakes.

I went to college close by at Winthrop and got into my first serious relationship. It was such a mess. I craved male attention, and after he and I broke up, there was a string of guys that I dated, hoping to find “the one”. I started working in a restaurant and started partying with everyone at work. We had a different bar that we went to every night of the week. Either that or we were at somebody’s house or apartment drinking. There were several nights that I do not remember how I got home, but woke up in my bed with my car outside.

Then Dirk started working at the restaurant with me. I was so hateful to Dirk. I was intimidated by him – he was so attractive, and I was trying to guard myself from him. We ended up hanging out one night and really hit it off. Against my better judgement, I kept going out with him, hanging out with him… The majority of the time we spent together was in some sort of altered state, either on drugs or alcohol. I figured he’d just get tired of me eventually and move on. I graduated from Winthrop and decided to go to nursing school. I wanted out of the cycle I was in working in the restaurant – work, party, sleep a couple hours, go into work hungover – work, party, sleep, go in hungover…

As it turns out, when we weren’t partying together, Dirk and I were still good together. After some prodding from his mom, he asked me to marry him, and we were married in 2005, right when I finished nursing school. I was on cloud 9, married, got a perfect job in labor and delivery, had essentially stopped the partying… It was about a year later that I really started to feel a pull from God. Looking back now, i can see how He had tried so many times to reach me. My best friend was pregnant with twins, a very complicated pregnancy. I was so distraught for her, and felt completely powerless. My mom encouraged me to pray. So I did, not really knowing what I was doing. And then I took care of her when she came in to labor and delivery in preterm labor and delivered her twins at 24 weeks. One of the twins died and I just fell to pieces. But that event was what ultimately led me to say to Dirk, “I think we need to find a church.”

I didn’t push it, just let him warm up to the idea. The supplement business that he had started crumbled, and he finally agreed with me that it was time. It was a couple months later that I had seen Freedom House Church in University City Magazine and overheard Megan talking about it at work. We came to church the following week. I was so nervous when we pulled in. I wanted to badly not to be disappointed. I knew this was what I needed, and I was so afraid that it was somehow not going to work out. The minute we walked in, I just relaxed. I knew I had found my home. We stood listening to worship, and Dirk leaned over and said, “This is like a rock concert.” Lesley sang, and tears just poured down my cheeks. I very timidly told Jesus I needed Him that morning. Wasn’t sure exactly what to do next – but what I got from that day on was a fire for God.

I look back over my life and am so thankful for God’s plan for me. I thank Him that my childhood was not more abusive. I thank Him that we moved down here to the Carolinas. I thank Him that his plan was not for my life to end as a result of drugs or alcohol. I thank Him that he brought Dirk and me together. I thank Him that I went to nursing school on what seemed to be a whim. I thank Him for my job in labor and delivery, so I got to take care of my best friend during one of the most painful experiences of her life. I thank Him for never giving up on me, always reaching out to me even when I pushed Him away. I thank Him that the generational curse of alcohol is broken – I have not had a drop of alcohol in almost a year. I thank Him that I have a solid, stable marriage with a man who loves God. I thank Him that my children will grow up in a peaceful home, with two loving parents. I thank Him that the generational curse of debt is broken. I thank Him that He’s led me to forgiveness for Mike. I thank Him for the many ways that he has blessed me – I never would’ve imagined that this kind of life was possible for me. I thank Him for bringing us to a wonderful church, and that I am serving Him, leading a Life Development Group, and pouring His love into the hearts of babies. I thank Him that He loves me where I’ve been, where I’m at, and loves me so much that He doesn’t want to leave me the same.

My life was such a mess. And I’m so thankful that God can, and will continue to use my testimony for His glory.

What’s your story? Do you share it with people?


~ by pennymaxwell on April 21, 2009.

11 Responses to “Share Your Story-Be Generous!”

  1. Rachel is the beautiful blond in the picture above. I am so glad that God saved her in the early moments of conception and now she is around to share her AMAZING story with the rest of us. There is hope in God, no matter what you have been through. God wants to heal you and restore you!

  2. Wow. Simply amazing. I was reading this and thinking someone should collect these stories and put them into a book. That’s when I realized they already have and it’s called The Lamb’s Book of Life.
    Thank you Rachel for sharing your story and thank you Pastor Penny.You are an inspiration to everyone.

  3. You are so sweet Pastor Penny! Love you!

  4. I guess you are right Penny, by sharing your story it helps others cope and deal with their own story. I hope one day I can share my story too. I think my “horrible” story is on its way out and Im hoping I am now working on the “bright side” of the story. My story is so painful just listening to yours (Penny) on Sunday I almost had to walk out of church. I dont know how you got to the point where you could stand up and say it with out a complete melt down. I want to be there, I want it all behind me. But right now I cant even think about my story with out intense pain muchless try and share it with someone. I pray that day is close by…and then I will share my story.

  5. Well I certainly cannot talk about it sometimes without crying but it is from tears of joy. Thinking about how much God loves me (and you) just brings tears to my eyes.

    Like I was saying on Sunday, being able to share your story without pain is often tied to being healed on the inside. Allowing God in to deal with those areas is very painful at first because when people have been so untrustworthy at times you naturally assume that God is too. He is trustworthy and wants to heal us! We just have to trust that He will heal us and has our best interest in mind.

    We have all had pain to deal with in life, we just have to decide if we want to heal or hide. I just decided hiding took way more effort than letting Him have his way in my heart. It was not without some trepidation but so worth it!

    You know seeing a counselor might help you too. It can get you at least talking. Not sure who you are but if you call the office they can give you a contact for some Christian counseling. I believe you can get to the place where you can share it. If not right now, soon. I am sure of it!

  6. I wrote mine today and posted it on facebook. I have wanted to write my story for years, but just never sat down to do it. When I started today, I had no clue it would bring all the emotions that it has. I wrote almost six pages typed and left out SO much more of the story! I honestly think I could write a book if it all came out. I had to stop writing several times because I was about to start crying. I have to say I’ve been weepy all afternoon and night. But, it’s a good cleansing kind of cry. Thank you SO much Pastor Penny for being obedient when you heard God tell you to share your story.

  7. Pastor Penny,
    I remembered when you shared your testimony in youth group when Jamie and Ferrell were doing it. I guess it was about the time when you had your encounter w/God at 18. I remember when Troy did come to church just cause he liked you but how quickly he fell for Jesus. It’s funny I have been feeling sad but there was a word given to me when we moved here and it was the scripture you used on Sunday, And they will know you by the blood of the lamb and the word of your testimony. I repented on Sunday for not coming to FHC sooner, it was awesome for Todd to hear your testimony too. It was like God said look, here I am. I am carrying you right now. Thanks for being the vessel that he used to talk to me!

  8. KWW, I love you and you are just gonna have to move closer if the drive is too hard. We just love you too darn much now. You are stuck with us!

    I look forward to hearing your story soon. I know you have an amazing one! I bet Todd does too!

    Karen, I would love to post your story too if you don’t mind. It is so beautiful!

  9. I would be honored Pastor Penny….especially if you think people will READ all of it. LOL! Believe or not, that was the EDITED version.

  10. Rachel, beautiful story of God’s grace in your life in leading you to this point. I share alot of common themes with you. My mom was 18 when we had me and was tempted with abortion. The abuse, the alcohol, the drugs, the neglect, etc…is all common to my story too. We can all take comfort knowing that each of us have been received by God as sons and daughters, healed, restored, and given a great mission in this life…to pass it on.

  11. thank you Penny… Sunday I was on my way to church and see usually I come to the 10:00 service but this sunday I came to the last service… i was on my way and realized I was going to be late I almost turned around and went home… but I didn’t and I want you to know your testimony had me and My 10 year old crying… we came to the alter together and just cried and was prayed over. I know that day God changed both me and my son.. I could really go on and on but I just want you to know that you are just amazing

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