My Story

By Teresa Burgess

My story may look a lot like yours. There are definitely differences, but woven into both our tapestries are the joys and heartaches, threads of shame and celebration, pride and humility, tangled threads of regret, and beautiful, cherished moments.

Some of my earliest memories are of carefree games of “Red light-Green light” or “Leprechaun” (which mostly consisted of running sneakily around the neighborhood from yard to yard and drinking out of water hoses with the nozzle upright so the water bubbled over). I was always with a posse of little friends, and I was usually the self-appointed leader. I think some of my tendency to be bossy arises from my God-given temperament, my knack for organizing things and people, and my ability to come up with creative ideas.

As a kid, I seemed to fall down and skin my knees a lot, but I think I was just considered clumsy. I don’t remember exactly when I started feeling inferior, but I think it started in 5th grade. I had my first male teacher, and he was strict. He had a habit of slamming his yardstick on student desks, and because I sat in the front of the class, I often got the heart-stopping adrenaline rush of his sudden outbursts. We were also required to sit boy-girl-boy-girl, and the class bully sat beside me. It was during that year that we got the “menstruation talk,” and I was angry and embarrassed when the bully grabbed my “Girl to Woman” book and started teasing me. I had a humiliating pants-wetting incident that year that traumatized me for years.

When I entered junior high school, I started noticing that the breast fairy was visiting other girls, but I saw no sign of her. Having to shower after Physical Education class (P.E.) was terrifying. I uncovered as little of myself as possible and tried to make fun of other girls to deflect attention from myself. I learned a valuable tool through this to deflect criticism. It was of being witty and funny to redirect attention from myself. During these years, I noticed that I was one of the last chosen for sports teams, and I began to be teased about not only my flat chest but for walking on my toes. I wasn’t aware that I walked any differently than anyone else, but I knew I couldn’t run as fast as everyone else. I also could not do a single pull-up. I had a good throwing arm and could exceed the physical fitness goals in sit-ups, but anything requiring lower body strength was extremely difficult. Even though I was thin I was always at the back of the pack on the track along with the slow, chubby girls.

Of course, as fate would have it, my sister was good at everything I was poor at. She was popular, athletic, and graceful. She even took charm school lessons. That was not even offered to me. Sometime during my school aged years I learned that my mother’s pregnancy with me was an accident and that my parents had wanted me to be a boy. I became a tom-boy. That was easier than trying to compete with my sister.

By high school, I was a pretty introverted girl with few friends. My best friend was very different from me. She was sexually provocative, having liaisons with older men (including one of our high school teachers, I learned later), and I was drawn to her independent and rebellious ways. I, on the other hand, didn’t even really know anything about sex and had little interest in boys. I did enjoy the forbidden fruit of smoking cigarettes and hanging out with this friend who exposed me to what it meant to be raised poor by a single mother with little supervision. Sadly, my friend ended up infertile from gonorrhoea and married a much older, wealthy man who was abusive. She repeated the broken marriage cycle that she was role-modeled for twenty-three years until she escaped and started a new life.

My parents were married young. My mother was 18 and eager to leave home. The fact that they raised my brother, sister, and me, as well as they did, is a testament to their commitment to marriage and faith.

As I approached my senior year of high school, I had not really thought much about my future. My best friend took a vocational training class, and I followed her example and took a nurse’s aide training class. There, I fell in love with nursing and found my calling. I was captivated by the idea of being a registered nurse. It suddenly felt like the perfect fit. I had never considered nursing before that time.

At age 17, I had surgery on my left Achilles’ tendon to try to lengthen it. I had developed foot drop and remember my parents pestering me to do heel stretches. I finally had the surgery, which was not successful (since my bones had fused into a foot drop position). The surgery did leave me with a big ugly scar on my heel, though.

My parents did not save money for their daughters to go to college. They were less than thrilled at my enthusiasm for becoming a nurse. I remember discussing possibly joining the Navy to fund my education, and my father strongly discouraged it. He felt that women didn’t belong in the military and that military nurses were loose women since they performed the “lewd” act of bathing men’s bodies.
I shrugged that off but did listen to my father’s concerns about being isolated with so many men. I entered junior college and took pre-requisite nursing classes. I think my parents expected me to quit, but I didn’t. It took me 2 years to be accepted and another 2 years to finish the associate degree program, but I did. It was wonderful for my self-esteem.

I took my first job seriously and began as a night shift nurse in the post-cardiac care unit at Pomona Valley Hospital (where I was born). It was through a co-worker that I happened to meet the first man to pay attention to me and treat me as a woman. I was woefully unprepared for the realities of a male-female relationship and saw only what I chose to see. I ignored the fact that he was divorced, had 2 young daughters, was uncommitted, and, most of all, that he was not a follower of Christ. I was swept off my feet into a physical infatuation-based liaison. When it culminated in intercourse, I was left unfulfilled, empty, and shame-filled.

My period was due two weeks later, and when it didn’t start, I sought out birth control at Planned Parenthood because I was too embarrassed to see my parent’s family doctor or to tell a co-worker. I learned that I was pregnant and, out of shame and humiliation, immediately decided that abortion was the only answer. It was the only option presented to me at Planned Parenthood.

Accompanied by my current roommate (who had gone through several abortions) I had the abortion. I sobbed through the whole thing and immediately knew I had made a huge mistake and had committed murder. I felt that I didn’t deserve to live. I finally poured out my heart to an older former Christian classmate. She loved me and helped me see that God could forgive even this. I remember confiding all this to my sister and not feeling the same sense of forgiveness. I regretted telling her, and she has never mentioned it since. Years later, I found healing and peace through a post-abortion Bible study group. I have gone on to share my testimony of healing with thousands through my participation in the crisis pregnancy ministry and with a ministry called Silent No More.

When I was getting over my abortion, I came to the place where I decided to trust God with my future. It was a process, but I told God I was prepared to be single if He so willed it. Two weeks later, I met my husband, Roane, through a Christian pen-pal club. Nine months later, we were married.
We had many adjustments to make to be molded into one. The physical attraction was no problem. However, there were 13 ½ years of age difference between us and many unfulfilled expectations as we entered our marriage. After about eight months of marriage, one night, Roane laid back with his hands behind his head and said, “These last eight months have been great, haven’t they?” I said, “No.” I remember he was shocked. We then discussed marriage counseling, and he said, “Only crazy people see counselors; you go, I don’t need it.” He finally agreed to go see a counselor after I asked if our marriage was worth it.

Boy, have we come a long way since then. We both learned a lot about ourselves from counseling. I was holding in a lot of small annoyances and disappointments. When it built up, I couldn’t hold it any longer. I was exploding and pouring out all the vileness I had collected; it’s called “passive aggression.” We began to adjust our expectations and started learning how to communicate better, which helped a lot. One revelation I had was that my husband was tough on the outside, but inside, he was as soft and vulnerable as I was. He needed affirmation just like I did.

One episode of note during our adjustment years was what I call “the water incident.” Roane made a comment about the poor way I arranged silverware in the kitchen drawer. I was at one of those little things that brought about “an exploding point.” I took a glass that had about 4 ounces of water in it and poured it over his head. Pause. He didn’t say anything.

Later that night, while I was asleep, he snuck downstairs. We happened to have a leaky kitchen sink pipe and a bucket collecting the drips. It had a gallon or two of rusty water in it. He brought it back upstairs, pulled the covers off me, and dowsed me good. I flew out of the bed like a raging bear.
When things settled, he had to dry the bed with a hair dryer because the plastic mattress cover had a huge rip. We ended up going to the waterbed in the other room to sleep. It had not been heated and was very cold. He got to talk out his side of the issues he was dealing with while we lay in bed. When he finished, I started talking about my side of things. That’s when I noticed he was fast asleep. I pushed him out of the bed.

We agreed the next day to avoid water fights in the future.

We learned during this time that I had congenital hip dysplasia (shallow hip sockets). I was advised to put off hip surgery as long as I could.

Well, just as we were adjusting to this marriage, our firstborn, Brian, came along. Roane didn’t seem to take pregnancy too seriously. He goofed off during childbirth training, and when I told him I needed to go to the hospital, he wanted to wait around and went to tell the neighbors. Well, when Roane goes to talk to anyone, it is not a quick thing. I had to lay on the car horn to get him moving. I was six centimeters when we arrived at the hospital and was in labor for a few more hours. I had to push for two hours. Roane was with me for the births of both of our children. He wasn’t much help, but I didn’t really want any. I pretty much turn inward when in pain or labor. Our son was born after about six hours, and we were concerned because he had the umbilical cord around his neck twice, and there was meconium (poop) in the amniotic fluid. Luckily, he did not inhale any.

We were excited and inexperienced parents. We tried “Teach Your Baby to Read,” thinking we might raise the next president. It was a resounding failure. Brian was slow to walk but was a loving, sweet, easy baby who slept great. I quickly dropped out of a new mother group when I saw that it was about comparing babies. Brian was not what you would call “quick” to meet developmental milestones.
When Brian was 12 months old, I had my first hip replacement surgery. It was a resounding success, and I was able to ride a bike and jump on a trampoline within weeks. I got pregnant six weeks after the surgery on my left hip and couldn’t have any follow-up X-rays. Nine months later, Lisa was born. I stayed home during the pregnancy. When they told us it was a girl, my first thought was, “Oh no, I’m horrible at fixing hair.” Roane cried because he was so excited to have a daughter. She was a whopping 9 lbs. 10 oz (4.2 kg). I pushed for three hours, and they used a vacuum to get her out. I had never been so tired in my life. Lisa was a good baby, but she wanted to breastfeed all the time and I had a hard time caring for a toddler and baby, so after two weeks I started her on formula. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had sought out support and stuck with breastfeeding. Lisa was a sweet baby like Brian, but she didn’t sleep like him. She was much more wakeful (she liked 4 am especially).

I returned to work after Lisa’s birth but had my right hip replaced while she was a baby. Soon after surgery, I was watching Lisa in her playpen while Roane ran to the store with Brian. I sat on the arm of the couch, and my hip dislocated. It was realigned but easily dislocated again a few days later. I ended up in the hospital for 21 out of 29 days and had to have my right hip revised. My mother came and helped care for me and the family after each of my surgeries.

When Brian was in kindergarten, his teacher approached us and said she thought Brian had Attention Deficit Disorder. We had him tested, and he was officially diagnosed with ADD. He was kept back a year in school, and by 4th grade, we were getting him outside tutoring.

By 6th grade, he was put in a special education program at a secular school. He started having big self-esteem issues and, unbeknownst to us, began to struggle with same-sex attraction.

We transferred him to a Christian school for kids with special needs. He did well there but continued to struggle with self-esteem and gender identification issues.

Brian put us through lots of stress during his teens and twenties, having tried to commit suicide several times. He was a “failure-to-launch” for many years and moved home several times, causing stress and disharmony each time.

During our first five years of marriage, Roane went through nine job changes. He worked hard to provide but usually lost his temper or quit his job due to personality clashes with his managers. We ended up in counseling after the birth of each child and after all those job changes.
I have had numerous hip revisions when the plastic liners have worn out in my hips. The latest count is ten hip surgeries.
I started having permanent hearing loss in my 40’s and had several bad episodes of vertigo. By 50, I needed a hearing aid.
My father developed Alzheimer’s disease and, over a period of 1 ½ years, declined to where he was belligerent and confused most of the time. He died of malnutrition and dementia in 2009.

My mother developed breast cancer twice and recovered after lumpectomies and radiation. In about 2012, she developed malignant myeloma in her spine and legs. She underwent oral chemotherapy, which lasted several years.

In 2015, I noticed that my left ankle was weak. I went to a podiatrist to see if I could get an orthotic and was told I needed a lower leg brace. After referrals to physical medicine and then neurology, I was diagnosed with hereditary Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder (which is a neuromuscular disease- a bit like Muscular Dystrophy). Finally, all the physical maladies and symptoms I had since childhood made sense. The clumsiness, toe walking, lack of dexterity, foot drop, hip problems, weak grip, high arches, hearing loss, and inability to run well were all related to the disease process. Unfortunately, it is incurable at this time and can be passed to children 50% of the time. My son has been diagnosed with it. He has high arches and tight heels, and he is beginning to have back and foot problems. My brother has since been diagnosed with it (but it is milder). My mother probably had a mild case of it as well.
My mother’s cancer worsened, and she was placed in hospice in April 2015. My sister and I had the privilege to care for her for the last few weeks of her life. She died in her home on May 19th 2015.

Over the last few years, Roane and I have had to adjust to waning energy levels, Roane’s retirement, changes in our bodies and sexuality, menopause, a debilitating disease that is affecting my ability to function and be mobile, hip revision surgeries with unexpected complications and lasting effects, a daughter who is struggling in her marriage at age 37, and a son who has continually struggled with keeping steadily employed, his sexual orientation, housing, transportation, and finances. And yet we know that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purposes.

Roane and I have had wonderful vacations over the years. We traveled to Belize, Ecuador, Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Idaho, Arizona, Oregon, and the East Coast. Roane has been able to volunteer on over a dozen short-term mission trips all over the world.

We’ve enjoyed gardening, animals, and home improvement projects. God has provided for all our financial needs and allowed us to be generous. Our children both know and love God. We have a shared love of God and are active in our church. My nursing career has been fulfilling and has provided variety and learning. I believe it has contributed to good in the world. I returned to school for a bachelor’s and then a master’s degree. I’m privileged to be the first person in my family to have a master’s degree. I retired after a 38-year-long career as a registered nurse. Probably the most important legacy Roane and I will leave is our faithfulness to each other and the fact that our children are Christ followers.
We continue looking for opportunities to serve God. We both studied the Bible through Global University and may become certified in ministers someday. At age 67, I started writing. Who knows what else God has for us to do. But I do know I will never retire from serving Christ or from being a Christ-follower. My relationship with Him has been the most valuable thing in my life and the best is yet to come!

1 Comment
  • Angela
    Posted at 22:35h, 10 April Reply

    Thank you for sharing your story with so much honesty and vulnerability. Your unwavering faith in Jesus and His grace is truly inspiring. I’ve felt truly moved reading your story.

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