It’s often the wounded who have the most to teach us about ourselves and God. That’s true of Dr. Toni Ginés-Rivera, whose amazing story of survival reminds us that Jesus is not merely interested in bringing us to heaven one day. He wants to transform us while we are still here on earth. Her story of emotional healing reveals a God who is able to use the very worst things in our lives to bring about the very best things for our future. I’m happy to welcome this honest, brave, and hope-filled story to the pages of the farm’s front porch today…
I am lying in my hospital bed after giving birth. The social worker seems kind and gentle, like you would hope your mother would be.
She doesn’t pressure me by saying “Who’s the father, Toni?” or “If you want help, you’ve got to tell us what happened.”
My mother asks these questions all the time, but I stonewall. “I don’t know,” I say.
No matter who questions me, the answer is always the same: I don’t know . . .
But now the social worker is asking me something else. “What would you like to name him, Toni?”
For the last several months I have been so focused on surviving that I haven’t even thought about naming my baby. Suddenly I hear an announcement over the intercom: “Dr. Ruben, please come to conference room four in the east wing.”
Turning to the social worker, I say, “What a beautiful name! Am I allowed to give my son that name?”
Assuring me that I can name my baby whatever I want, she writes his name on a piece of paper, spelling it out for me, R-u-b-e-n.
With my son cradled in my arms, I say it aloud several times. “Ruben, my little Ruben.” And the name on my lips tastes like love.
Though I was fifteen when Ruben came into the world, the chaos started long before that.
When my dad’s half brother (we called him Tió), moved in with us, I was only five.
Unlike my dad, my uncle wasn’t drunk all the time, which was enough to make him look like a knight in shining armor to my mom.
It didn’t take long for them to begin an affair.
After we moved to Brooklyn, my dad drifted away and Tió became a stand-in husband and father.
When I was ten, he began hugging me and telling me how much he loved me. “You’re like my daughter,” he would say. “I would never hurt you.”
Some part of me needed to hear what he was saying: that I was cherished, that I was important, that I was loved.
Then, when I was ten and he was forty-five, he began to molest me.
A few years later, shortly after my fourteenth birthday, his attitude suddenly shifted. He began beating me, threatening to throw me down the stairs, forcing me to wear a tight corset, and making me ingest various pills and concoctions.
I didn’t realize he was trying to kill the baby, because I didn’t even know I was pregnant.
On February 14, when I was seven months pregnant, Tió shoved a Valentine card into my hands and ordered me to write this note:
Dear Mom, I’m letting you know I don’t love you, and I’m running away. You’re not a good mother. Don’t look for me, because you’re not going to find me. It was all a big lie.
Then he abducted me, packing me into his car and dropping me off at a stranger’s apartment. When I finally opened up about what was happening, the people who lived there reached out to my mother.
Soon she was on the phone, crying hysterically.
I’d already been missing for two months. “Toni, where are you? Why did you run away?”
Finally she hit on it. “You’re pregnant, aren’t you? Don’t worry. We’ll work through this.”
As soon as I got home the interrogations began. “Who is the father?”
I don’t know.
“Where did you go with him?”
I don’t know.
How could I tell her the truth when my uncle was always there, listening to every word?
By then I was nine months pregnant and in shock about everything that was happening to me.
At least one thing was clear. As soon as I realized I was pregnant, I decided to love my child. Somehow the thought that I was going to have a baby strengthened my desire to live.
About a year after Ruben’s birth, Tió and I got into an argument. Dragging me into the house, he threw me to the floor and began pummeling me with clenched fists like I was another man.
Assuming we were alone in the house that day, Tió must have been shocked when my mother came running. “What’s going on?” she yelled.
“This girl is gonna learn some respect!” he roared.
But it was too late, and the truth finally came out.
That night, weighed down by everything that had happened to me, my mother surrendered her life to Christ.
The years that followed were both wonderful and difficult.
I began to go to church. I married, gave birth to two more children, and then fell apart because of trying to hide my difficult past.
But Christ came in and rescued me in the deepest way possible.
My healing has meant facing the pain and ugliness of my past head-on.
But incredibly, I no longer harbor hatred for Tió. And I have so much joy and freedom.
As I consider the future, I’ve come to realize that no life is easy.
I understand that there are two plans for every life.
There’s God’s plan and Satan’s plan.
But if you stretch out your small hand and take hold of God’s big hand, the plan He’s had for you since the beginning of time will gradually unfold.No matter how painful your story or how much shame you may feel, God is strong and loving enough to deal with it.
If you let Him, He will turn your life into a story that you will cherish and that will help others.
The only question you have to answer right now is this:
Who will you trust with the life you’ve been given?
What kind of story will you let your life tell?
No matter how much hurt is still buried in your heart, it’s not too late to ask for help.
As you let Jesus come closer, He will draw it out, exchanging it for the peace that only He can give.
A Wall Street broker, a party girl, a student, a homeless man, an addict, a teenage mom, a drug enforcer—all of them spiraling out of control. Each has a reason to despair and a wound that won’t heal. Until something unexpected happens—something that will change their lives forever.
It is perhaps no accident, given her remarkable story, that Toni Ginés-Rivera has dedicated her life to serving other wounded people. She now serves as director of the Alliance Graduate School of Counseling at Nyack College in New York City. Her healing journey advanced when she and her family began attending The Brooklyn Tabernacle, the church Jim Cymbala pastors. To help tell her story, Jim, enlisted his long time friend, author Ann Spangler.
Jim Cymbala has been the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle for more than thirty-five years. The bestselling author of Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, he lives in New York City with his wife, Carol Cymbala, who directs the Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Ann Spangler is an award-winning writer and the author of many bestselling books, including Women of the Bible. Ann’s fascination with and love of Scripture have resulted in books that have opened the Bible to a wide range of readers.
The Rescue tells powerful, true stories about God’s ability to help us when we need Him most. This inspirational book will not only buoy your spirits. It will also make a great gift for friends and family members who haven’t yet committed their lives to Christ.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]