This is the third article in our new 6-week series called “Her Story,” stories of ordinary women experiencing, overcoming, or choosing to do extraordinary things. This week’s story is from Carol Battista, whose abusive childhood led her from atheism to belief in God.

I was born in 1976 during a time when abuse was something that was not candidly discussed in society. Growing up in an abusive home, I somehow managed to gain abusive attention from both of my parents. The only type of abuse that was not present while growing up involved overly protective parenting — my parents didn’t care too much about protecting me — but I experienced physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse and witnessed alcohol, drug, and domestic abuse.

Like most children, my perspective was exceptionally limited and simple. My mother drank daily and could be counted on to be drunk most of the time. My dad was a trucker who would be gone for ten days at a time and then he would be home for three. He was typically drunk whenever he was home. Oftentimes, my drunken parents would argue and fight and my mom awoke the next morning with blackened eyes, a split lip, or both. I believed this was normal. I thought, in the infinite wisdom of a six-year-old, that all families functioned like this.

When I was seven years old, the neighbor girl asked if I could go to church with her. The pastor of the church was giving her a ride and she did not want to go alone. Oddly enough, my mom agreed to let me go along. Toward the end of the service, I remember being asked if I wanted to be saved, and I immediately said “Yes!” I remember people gathering around me and talking excitedly and then I was told to repeat what the man kneeling in front of me was saying. I asked Jesus to come into my heart and believed with every fiber of my being that he would save me.

But my ideas of what “saving” meant were limited to my perspective of what I needed saving from. One day while I was at the mercy of my mom’s wrath, I ran and hid behind the couch in our living room. I got down on my knees, folded my hands, and prayed for Jesus to save me. I opened my eyes expectantly and waited for Jesus to come around the corner and scoop me up. Imagine my surprise when my mom came around the corner instead. That was the moment that I began questioning God.

As the years went by, the abuse grew worse, and my wavering belief became extreme skepticism. I thought that if God really existed and loved me, then I would not be abused. When I brought these questions to people who I perceived as being closer to God, they typically told me that because people have free will God does not prevent abuse. As a result, I became very angry with God.

 During my teen years, when things became exceedingly difficult in my life, my skepticism changed into solid atheism. When I chose not to believe in God, the world made more sense to me. People were abused because sometimes their parents were jerks. It was easier not to believe in God during that time because I thought if he did exist, he did not love me. I became more and more filled with anger as years passed by.

As an atheist, part of me wanted to get back to a time when I could believe that someone was watching over me. I began reading materials on various religions and dabbled in many of them until I realized that they did not have what I was searching for: hope and for something I could truly believe in.

I struggled for many years and even attempted suicide because everything seemed so hopeless to me. Directly following my attempt, I recall waking up in an extremely bright white room. Everything seemed to shine. There were six or eight people gathered around me and the oldest one in the group said, “Welcome back from hell.” I thought that some mistake was made and I somehow made it into heaven, even though at that time I didn’t believe it existed. Then the oldest person informed me that he was my doctor and that I was in the ICU, and that the others gathered around were part of a team that worked through the night to keep me alive.

I had my son when I was 25 and most of the positive changes I have made in my life involved him as the catalyst. For example, I stopped smoking in November of 2007 because my son came home from kindergarten crying. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that smoking can kill people and he didn’t want me to die. I took the necessary steps and quit smoking within two months.

When I was 33 years old my perspective on God changed. Thinking about my life and all of the events that had unfolded, I realized that there were numerous times when I could have died and miraculously survived. After pondering these things for months, I came to the point where I believed God existed, but I hated him for allowing me to suffer. I was extremely bitter and my anger would arise any time someone mentioned God or religion. However, a part of me still wanted to believe in the loving God I knew briefly as a child.

A friend of mine advised me to talk to God even though I didn’t believe. She told me that if God did exist, then he would find a way to get through to me. I rolled my eyes at her and told her she was crazy, but began late that night while sitting on my bed. As I sat on my bed, I began yelling at God for everything horrible that had happened in my life. I went through this process for months.

Then, one day, my son was invited to VBS. I eventually allowed him to go, but was really uncomfortable with the idea. When I brought him to the church I spoke briefly to the pastor, and when he invited me to come inside, I told him in no uncertain terms that I was not going into the church.

At the end of the week my son told me that I had to come on Friday because all the parents were going to be there. I have always tried to be there for my son and so I went into the church. Following the program, the pastor invited everyone to come back on Sunday morning for service, followed by a 400-foot sundae. My son again asked me to go. I did, but sat in the very last pew, closest to the exit. After that my son continued to ask and I continued to go. I went to church for a while and then stopped going completely for two solid weeks. I thought I must have drank the punch and wasn’t in my right mind because I found myself wanting to be there. I began to go regularly.

Slowly, my life started to transform. I slowly stopped yelling at God and began talking to him. With the help of my church family, I grew closer to God than I ever imagined possible. Although my life is still a work in progress, I have realized that God can make anything good. People have free will and bad things happen to good people, but God can turn tragedy and pain into the most amazing works.

Carol Battista is the single parent of an eleven-year-old son who has a passion for science and loves nature. Carol, her son, and their chihuahua hunker down indoors during the winter months but become more active during the warm weather. Carol is involved in two Bible studies and volunteers within her church, while her son participates in their church youth group there. Carol is currently working on one book, with plans for a second book. It is her hope that her writing will bring glory to God and that it will help others who have struggled to grow closer to God as well.

 To read other articles in our “Her Story” series, click on these titles: The Best Lemonade Maker by Tabby Finton, Full Circle by Carol Battista, The Art Show by Shari Harris, and Rock Bottom Recovery by Kathy Banta