Jessica’s Legacy

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I had the privilege of interviewing a special lady named Jessica recently. I met her at church when she was about nine or so, and I was always touched by her sincerity and quiet strength. Jessica was captured in my wedding video when she was a little girl. We have had a good relationship.

With Jessica, what you see is what you get. She is insightful and deep.

Troubled beginning

Jessica was a sickly baby. Her biological mother didn’t know how to take care of her, so her mother’s sister assumed her care. Her father was in and out of prison for many years and was feared by everyone in the “hood” he called home. The man was a career criminal, a walking nightmare.

By six months old, Jessica was malnourished, and the doctors did not think she would make it. Time after time, she was shuffled between her aunt and grandmother. Her aunt’s place was an unsafe environment. The abuse and trauma began there at a tender age.

Violence at home

At age five, Jessica was sent to live with her other grandmother, her father’s mother. She was physically safer there, joining her full sibling, an older sister.

Jessica adored her grandmother and always stayed in close proximity to her. However, her grandmother lived in fear of her biological son (Jessica’s father). He had beaten his mother severely in the past, taking an iron skillet to her head.

Every time he was out of prison, the family feared Jessica’s father would show up and terrorize them. The fear was so bad that her grandmother’s husband feared living with his wife. He had been threatened repeatedly and wasn’t interested in being assaulted, or worse. They stayed married until he died many years later, living together only when her son remained in prison for long periods.

Godly grandmother

After some time, Jessica became healthier. Her grandmother was known for making delicious authentic Mexican food from scratch. Though she had issues and a past of her own, she made sure to take care of Jessica’s physical needs.

Jessica’s grandmother took her and her sister to church consistently. She loved the positive attention she received from the church body. She enjoyed many activities and memorized Bible verses.

Church lady

One lady in particular from the church named Bertie lived a couple of blocks away. She wanted to see Jessica and her sister succeed in life, so she went out of her way to help them in any way she could.

She also stood up to Jessica’s biological father — a hardened criminal — and refused to fear him. Much to everyone’s surprise, he took whatever tongue-lashing she gave him.

Critical spirit

Although her grandmother’s house was so much better in many ways, it exhibited a critical spirit regularly. It seemed that no matter how hard Jessica tried to please everyone there, she was mocked often, and affection was held back from her.

This created angry feelings in her that eventually grew into rage. Her heart lost the ability to trust.

Sexual activity

When Jessica turned eleven, her grandmother went away for a while, leaving her and her sister with their teenage uncle in charge of them. He let them have people over to the house. During this time, Jessica became sexually active.

Acting out

She also started “acting out.”

Shortly after this time, Jessica began skipping school and spending time with her twenty-year-old boyfriend because she no longer wanted to stay in her grandmother’s home. In her rage and distrust and desire to be with her boyfriend, she ended up living in a group home after a reunification with her biological mother failed.

By age twelve, Jessica had a different boyfriend, who was 23. She lied about her age to him. Jessica did not look or act her age, so he thought he was in the clear.

New start

They decided to run away from Oklahoma to New Mexico because Jessica preferred to be with the new boyfriend, not with strangers at the group home. Struggling with drug addiction, he had become abusive.

At some point during this time, Jessica revealed her true age to the guy. Irate, he became more protective of his twelve-year-old lover.

His drug addiction started to dictate life for them. Jessica got used to the beatings he gave her, and she lost her self-respect. At some point, her boyfriend decided that he was going to steal some drug money from a local gang. They were living in a cheap motel, trying to stay hidden, but the gang discovered them.

Violet confrontation

When the gang came for Jessica’s boyfriend, they savagely beat him in her presence. She kept trying to run, but he wouldn’t let go of her. A gang member finally pulled her out of the place.

As they were getting ready to take her, her boyfriend made a mad dash from them. A guy pulled out a gun and was about to shoot him in the back, but they left quickly, leaving her behind. “They could have taken me and done Lord knows what to me,” Jessica recalls, “but God was watching out for me.”

After that near-death situation, Jessica and her boyfriend left Albuquerque and moved to Philadelphia, where he was from. One day he beat Jessica so bad that he broke the blood vessels in her face.

Back to Oklahoma

The two moved back to Tulsa, Oklahoma. Her boyfriend was arrested shortly after robbing a bank and was sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

Bertie, the church lady, took Jessica into her home with open arms. Jessica had been gone for one year and had seen more ugliness at the age of 13 than most people see in a lifetime.

Bertie took Jessica outside of her surroundings to see more than herself. She showed her that she had value. But the reality of her larger-than-life experiences hit her when she discovered she was pregnant. Though in shock, she knew she wanted to keep her child. Love was on the horizon, and it arose from a place deep inside of her.

When she gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Bertie became the best “grandma” and “mother” that Jessica could imagine. Bertie trained Jessica in many areas and was a rock — always there, always loving and extremely kind. Jessica began attending school and church again, and things seemed to be going well.

Setback and turnaround

Oftentimes, when people try to clean up their lives, they suffer setbacks. The same was true for fifteen-year-old Jessica. She became pregnant with her second child at this time and attempted to take her life.

As a result, Jessica was placed in a mental hospital for minors. Bertie took care of her son while she was trying to pull herself together. This woman had an unwavering faith in Jessica and did not want her son taken away from her.

When Jessica returned from the hospital, she felt renewed and started believing that she had value and that she was more than her current situation and traumatic history. She got an apartment and attended a high school for unwed mothers. She found a life-long outlet: singing and songwriting. Jessica wrote songs to express her deepest, most heartfelt thoughts, and her singing voice steadily improved.

While in high school, Jessica enrolled in the Job Corps and was taught marketable skills for the workforce so she could support her two boys. Bertie stayed close by her side through this season of growth.

Life-changing conversation

When Jessica became pregnant a third time, from a new boyfriend, Bertie had a conversation with her that changed her life forever. “Jessica, I cannot do this anymore,” she said. “I cannot keep watching you make these self-destructive decisions.”

Jessica’s heart sank. The only person who had ever believed in her, with a healthy and unconditional love, was fed up with her behavior. Jessica could hear it in her voice, and she felt the weight of disappointment in this wonderful, kind “mother.” Then, true to her word, Bertie put distance between them.

Turning to God

Jessica started to feel extreme loneliness that she had never known. She prayed continually, and scriptures she had heard and memorized as a child flooded her mind and heart. She felt the presence of God.

One day while she was praying and pouring out her heart before God, Jessica physically felt the arms of her Father in heaven enfold her, removing the loneliness and bringing comfort and love.

Transformation

Suddenly, Jessica got it. “He’s real! He’s real!” she said out loud. She was reminded of a scripture: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11, KJV).

The song “As the Deer” held new meaning for Jessica, with her heart panting after the real, living, risen Savior. God was transforming her heart. She could feel the presence of the One living inside of her.

Big changes

As she began in this new walk with the Lord, big changes happened. Her music moved to the forefront of her life, with her praising God through it. Her three precious boys were healthy and growing well, and Bertie had come back into her life. She became actively involved in church and got an internship at a radio station, shadowing a DJ.

One day, as the DJ interviewed a new local artist, Jessica met another man there who had a discipleship program that he and his wife sponsored. They provided Christian mentorship and safety for young people who were singers. The man invited Jessica to meet with them and see if she was interested in joining the program.

Jessica wasn’t sure about it but decided to give it a try. She actually knew some of the young ladies in the program.

The leader introduced her to a young man named Dee, who worked the sound equipment. Jessica wasn’t impressed. She considered him a guy who was handsome and knew it.

Contemplating marriage

But the Lord began to work on Jessica. She realized her sons needed a father. Still talking to her youngest son’s father, they had discussed the possibility of getting married. But something wasn’t right.

This weighed heavily on her mind. While Jessica was in quiet contemplation one day, Dee felt compelled to ask if he could pray with her. She was taken aback; she had never been around a young man who wanted to pray for her.

She agreed, and the Lord started to unfold His will to Jessica. He showed her that if she married her son’s father, she would be miserable. He was not the one God had for her.

Romantic connection

Those in the discipleship program went on a trip to Nashville, and excitement was in the air for the young musicians. During the trip, Jessica got to know Dee more.

Dee had grown up in a strong Christian family. He was personable and helpful. He had been home schooled, along with his seven siblings, and his grandmother was well known in the city of Tulsa for her care of the poor and downtrodden.

As the trip continued, Jessica realized she had misjudged Dee and that he was a humble and kind Christian young man. They spent a lot of time getting to know each other on the trip and continued after they returned home.

Lies

Jessica started to grow feelings for Dee, but the Enemy planted lies in her mind: She wasn’t good enough for a guy like that. He could never love someone like her, much less become the father to three boys who were not his. She didn’t deserve anything good. She had no value.

But the truth was, Dee showed true concern for her welfare and her spiritual life.

Flawed emotions

As Jessica continued to draw closer to God, He revealed Himself to her and spoke to her in significant ways.

For example, when she was 21 and Dee was 25 or so, he got on the floor and played with her children. Because of her brokenness, she struggled with his displays of love and care toward her and her children.

Marriage

Eventually, Dee shared with Jessica the depths of his affections for her. He said he wanted to marry her and become a father to her children. He said he had always known in his heart that he would marry a lady who had children.

The Lord had put this desire in him, so he wasn’t afraid. Jessica said yes, and the two were united in holy matrimony.

Two years later, Jessica and Dee welcomed a baby girl, followed by another little girl! After marriage, Jessica felt loved, but still struggled for quite some time with receiving this healthy love.

God’s goodness

Jessica and Dee have been married for almost two decades. Their adult children were brought up in a Christian home, as was one daughter-in-law.

Their family is a testament of God’s goodness and how He can take our brokenness and bring about restoration if we put our trust in Him. This couple continues to trust God, fully aware that to depend on the works of their own hands doesn’t end well.

Jessica admits that marriage is hard and is always a work in progress. She and Dee want to leave a godly legacy for their children, that they don’t give up but continue growing and holding on even through difficult times.

Renewal

Jessica and Dee in a suburb of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Jessica is primarily a homemaker. She works as a hairdresser part-time, while homeschooling their last two school-aged children. Dee makes his living as a professional graphics designer.

If you happen to pass Jessica somewhere, you would never guess what this classy looking young lady has been through. But she has been renewed! She serves as a beacon of hope to anyone who will hear her testimony of God’s faithfulness toward her. May the Almighty be with her and Dee and their children as they continue to fight the good fight of faith.

Photos: Dalitia S Photography

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Heidi (Weekes) Khalil and her husband, Ash, currently serve as missionaries in Canada. She is the mother of five mostly grown children and grandmother of four. Heidi enjoys artistic hobbies, including music. She has a blog called Mighty Hand Publishing, where she publishes testimonies (among other topics) for people unable to pen their own stories. Check out her site at http://mightyhandpublishing.com/.