Past into Purpose Series, Post #7: This series is intended to introduce you to the women on the Your Life Still Counts Contributor Team whose inspiring stories of pain into purpose were selected for inclusion in the book. To read the full story of each contributor, click here to purchase your copy of Your Life Still Counts and be inspired to allow God to turn your past into your purpose too.
Please meet Debby Stephens
Debby Stephens lives in Cedarville, Ohio and is now a certified Life Coach. After experiencing emotional healing from sexual abuse, she spent seventeen years leading a support group for sexually abused women. After healing from her divorce, she started an online ministry blog. Debby has published several devotionals as well as an article on the importance of solitude. Her desire is to bring awareness to divorce prevention and recovery and help women find healing and hope through the message of Christ.
My Interview With Debby
What made you want to contribute your story to YLSC?
Debby: We live in a world filled with pain. We will not escape the grip of pain. Divorce rates continue to rise with the highest number occurring in middle age/long term marriages. Growing up with parents who were divorced the bond of marriage was very important to me. After 27 years of marriage, the last thing I expected or wanted to say about myself was, “I am divorced.” Yet that is exactly what happened. I found myself in the middle of an unwanted, unexpected divorce.
The journey was filled with fear, loss, betrayal, rejection and many tears. It was not easy but I clung to the promises that God would never leave me or forsake me no matter what, and I knew there are many women like me, finding themselves in a situation they never intended to be.
I knew that if it were not for my walk with Christ and His walking this journey with me, I would have never come through the other side. As a result, I really needed to share the hope and healing that I found through Christ with others. God made beauty from ashes and in sharing my story I hope it encourages others who may be walking the path of divorce. I latched onto this verse, found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in our troubles, SO THAT WE CAN COMFORT those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.”
My divorce was no surprise to God. He knew the day my former husband and I met that years down the road my husband would tell me he was leaving me. Sometimes I think these life changing circumstances catch us and God by surprise, but the truth is – they may catch us by surprise but never God. There was and continues to be comfort in this for me, just knowing that nothing comes as a surprise to God.
Thank you for your heart for women who are hurting from divorce. When we’re going through something tragic, like the end of a marriage, it’s so crucial to know other people have been in the same shoes and survived. How has God opened doors for you to do ministry or comfort others in His name since you stepped out in obedience to share your story?
Debby: I have had several events where I have shared my journey and was able to minister to other hurting women, and opportunities to walk this walk with other women, even as far as attending court hearings with them as a support person; as someone who has walked the journey.
Currently, I am ministering to a young mom with four children. Her circumstances and journey are parallel. Helping her navigate and understand the legal issues, which can be overwhelming when a spouse leaving is a complete surprise. I listen to her and affirm what she is going through. Listening is key, having someone to listen to the emotions, and the pain you are going through is invaluable. I know how much I needed that person in my life to listen. My heart hurts with her heart. I pray for her and encourage her weekly through cards. I talk through what lies ahead for her so she is ready for each step and she knows I am always a phone call away. Where it goes after this point in my life – I don’t yet know, but I am always open to what God has for me. Not a week goes by that I can’t encourage others who are walking this path.
Ministry always happens in seasons, based on where God has us at the moment. I’m sure He will guide your steps as you move forward in obedience. With respect to how you have already stepped out in obedience, how has God blessed you in a special since sharing your story and being part of YLSC?
Debby: Blessing always follows obedience. Many times we aren’t obedient out of fear of what others will think of us, judging us for our circumstances. Women have affirmed me, encouraged me, and shared with me their stories. When we are open with our hurts it gives other permission to share their struggles. They no longer feel alone. If my story helps one woman or one couple than it has been worth the journey.
That is such an incredible attitude to have. Ministry always starts with one, and then grows as God sees fit. So have you felt called to do anything new lately, such as a new project or ministry endeavor?
Debby: I have, and I’ve been praying through changing the focus of my ministry and I have a few ideas that I’m considering. One idea is the writing of a book on lessons learned through the painful circumstances of life. At some level, pain is pain and to live in this world is to live in a world filled with pain. No matter whose story you listen to, there is one common thread – pain and how they overcame the painful circumstances through Christ. I don’t know why God allows some of us to go through more pain than others, but I am reminded of the my life verse, Gen. 50:19-20, “…what man meant for evil, God meant for good…..”
That is so true Debby, and good luck on your writing efforts! What are you most passionate about right now?
Debby: Speaking and educating others what the journey of divorce really looks like. I help people ponder the thoughts of the future, such as “what if a couple knew what divorce looked like five years, ten years down the road. Would they reconsider their decision?” I am just really passionate about helping those on the brink of divorce get the help they need to put their marriages back together, have hope and work towards survival.
As part of your ministry, do you have anything special that you are working on right now to glorify Christ?
Debby: I have my card ministry that I have continued now for about 15 years. This entails sending cards out on a weekly basis to those who are hurting. Circumstances vary but in the last 15 years I have sent over 11,000 cards. I keep track of each family and make sure they never receive the same card. I follow them for one year. I currently have 30 families I am ministering to.
I am also helping an elderly woman who has been like family to me since my divorce. She and her husband took us in like family. When we were unloved they loved us, when we were rejected they took us in. Beginning in July I took the husband to chemo each week. In October he was hospitalized for one month. I stayed with her day and night during this time. It soon became apparent he wasn’t going to get better. A decision was made to bring him home with Hospice. I helped coordinate all the details for his arrival home. I stayed with them until his death. I have committed to stay with her two days and nights a week as she is 91.
Your heart to help others is a blessing to many. I’m sure your elderly friend would be lost without you and appreciates you more than you’ll ever know. I love your card ministry, and I can’t thank you enough for all the many cards you sent to me over the past few months with encouragement and scripture. Receiving a beautiful Hallmark card in the mail is an usual thing these days, and the fact that you take time to minister to people through the gift of mailing them a simple card is so precious! Thank you! They meant so much to me, and I can’t imagine how much they mean to people going through really hard times, especially divorce. Sometimes it’s the little unexpected things that mean the most to people. And we can all do something.
How might people pray for you at this time in your life?
Debby: I would appreciate prayers that my life will be grounded in Christ, and that no matter what happens I will always look to Him for my strength and guidance as to what is next for me in ministry. I also could use prayer that I will stay in the Word because I can’t give away what I don’t possess.
Thank you so much for sharing with us Debby, so to wrap up our interview, share with us what you are most excited about regarding how God has turned your past into your purpose?
As I mentioned before I have been through some painful circumstances growing up. I grew up with shame being my best friend. I never thought I would share my story with anyone. God has not only redeemed my past, He has given me a platform to tell my story. I have been able to speak to thousands sharing the pain and the hope in Christ. I never looked at myself as someone who would speak but God saw something else. Because I have watched him take prior pain and turn it into ministry I know he can and will do it again. I must be obedient and willing staying connected to the vine. (John 15) It is through God and GOD ALONE that my past can be turned into purpose.
Debby, a certified life coach, is active in her community, particularly working with causes benefiting women and higher education. She serves on the board of trustees at her alma mater, Cedarville University. As past president of Cedarville’s Women for Scholarship, she helped plan and execute fundraising events benefitting student scholarships. Debby is also president of the executive committee for the Safe Harbor House in Springfield, Ohio, a transition house that helps give vulnerable women a new beginning. Debby has published articles and spoken on a variety of topics including sexual abuse, the power of words, and the discipline of solitude. She is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.
To connect with Debby or share your story with her, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.