I spent my teen years secluded within a million-dollar house on Maui, surrounded by prominent neighbors, such as jazz musician George Benson. A pool in front, a jacuzzi in back, the house was only one mile from a popular, golden-sand, saltwater paradise.
Within the house, thousand-dollar paintings, jaw-dropping sculptures, and rare, ancient Hawaiian artifacts were displayed. My parents loved collecting things, for possessions were what made them feel important, valued, successful. “Shiny Object Syndrome” stole the spotlight, and I lived in its shadow. I envied those framed masterpieces, marbled statuettes, and Polynesian stones. They were benefactors of something I would never inherit: my mother and stepfather’s unadulterated attention, devotion, and love.
To outsiders, our house represented the American dream. As an insider, it was my recurring nightmare—where a blank-paged “rule book,” containing invisible ink only my mother could see, created shifting prison bars that continually hemmed me in no matter where I went.
Pushed to excel, at 17, I joined a female Christian ensemble. Anticipating weekly rehearsals was like a countdown to Christmas. But my mother, envying my success, demanded I quit. Anything creating positive threads of emotion were yanked, like a rug, from beneath my feet. Thus, I learned the best defense was to completely shut down. In my house, there were no such things as boundaries, privacy, freedom, or respect. I had to learn to survive living in a constant maddening war zone, where hope seemed as distant and intangible as reinforcement troops knocking on my door.
Early on, I learned that life was not fair. At the hands of my own mother, I endured merciless beatings with a belt, often for such trivialities as interrupting her nap. Every plane we boarded my brother held two comic books, whereas I clasped only one. And, although it was my bubble-gum-chewing grandma who ‘popped’ her bubble too loudly, my cheek felt the unsuspecting sting of my mother’s palm.
I had to learn to survive living in a constant maddening war zone, where hope seemed as distant and intangible as reinforcement troops knocking on my door.
Life was not only unfair, it rarely made sense: Why was I banned from entering two rooms in my own house? Why could I ride my bike miles to school and yet be carport-confined on weekends? Why, while lounging poolside on vacation, did my errand-running-mother order me to leave, even after locking her house? (Am I family or a thief?)
My childhood was as dizzying, backwards, and upside down as Alice spiraling down the rabbit hole. Always in fight-or-flight mode, I never found equilibrium. One therapist said, considering the constant stress I was exposed to day-in-and-day-out, I should be in a mental hospital. Praise God, I’m not!
As a little girl growing up in an overly dysfunctional family—the youngest child with three older brothers—I was viewed more as a sexual object than a person. When one of my siblings was only 10, my mother bought him a Playboy subscription, which he only read for the articles, I’m sure! As I grew, I assumed it was acceptable for preteen boys to glue pics of naked girls to poster board and sexually exploit their little sisters.
At eight, this little towheaded girl learned about Jesus. She lit a candle on her pink canopy bed and asked Him into her heart. Best decision she ever made. Next was remembering to snuff the forgotten flame out; then thanking God the house didn’t burn down!
At eight, this little towheaded girl learned about Jesus. She lit a candle on her pink canopy bed and asked Him into her heart. Best decision she ever made.
Many years later, I discovered a couple reasons my Mary Janes and stilettos were banned from my mother’s closet and stepfather’s bathroom: my mother stashed porn amongst her hanging wardrobe, and my stepfather’s medicine cabinet hid a peephole into the hall bathroom. This was where I—and all my attractive female relatives—showered. My stepfather treated me more like his trophy wife in public than his daughter. He once said, “If I were to leave your mother, I would want to marry a young, blonde, thin beauty like you.” (Sorry, I’m no Soon-Yi Previn!) Other times, he would berate me, saying things like I was the most boring person on earth. (Except, apparently, when he viewed me through a peephole.)
At 19, I flew the coop. Despite clipped wings, I learned to fly, and eventually landed back in San Diego, where I was born and felt most at home.
At 30, I reunited with my biological father, Dr. Ben Satterfield, whom I’d not seen in nearly 20 years. Although he’d always wanted a daughter, issues surrounding the divorce, combined with depression, had kept him away. We shared an uncanny bond, chatting hours-on-end about our passions for writing, music, and art. We once shared a 12-hour phone conversation!
But in 2002, 10 years after reuniting with him, I was awakened by a phone call. “They found Ben’s body in the front yard,” my mother explained, “shot to death.”
Three months prior, I started dating a man, named Bob, who became tangible Jesus to me. Bob stood beside me as they lowered my father’s no-frills casket into the ground. He witnessed my cousin tossing a red, long-stemmed rose on top before it disappeared under a mound of dirt. I lamented, “I don’t have a rose to toss.” He whispered, “You were his rose.”
Bob revealed his love for me before my dad’s burial; I confessed after. Bittersweet day: burying my heart while granting it permission to beat again.
Bob and I were married exactly a year later at PLNU’s Brown Chapel. Although, I asked my stepfather to walk me down the aisle, he and my mother did not attend my wedding. Instead, Bob met me in the middle, wrapped his arm around mine, and escorted me to the altar.
Bob was always there for me – except, for one awful day in July 2012.
That morning, my husband drove me and our 7-year-old son, Austin, to the Indianapolis airport. Austin was invited to Houston, Texas, to compete in the Junior Olympics for the newly-inducted sport of cup stacking, in which he has been a world record-setting champion since the age of 5.
Bob exchanged minimal words during the two-hour drive. Depression, which had started nearly six months earlier when he found out his department was closing, had deepened. He’d spent weeks on our screened-in porch, oversleeping, and complaining about constant burning sensations in his neck. He endured the roller coaster ride of test-driving numerous antidepressants, yet only a few offered temporary relief. Most left him feeling worse. I suggested counseling; he declined.
After practice, as Austin and I headed to our hotel, my cell phone rang. My mother-in-law asked if I was sitting down. “They found Bob’s body in the pool this morning,” she muttered. My heart sank, as if I were drowning with him. It sank deeper telling little Austin his daddy was gone forever. Austin’s only perception of death was roadkill: a disemboweled black feline with a dangling eyeball. We hugged and sobbed. He escaped into cartoons; I threw up.
The next day, my husband’s brother, Steve, and wife Marcie, arrived from Ohio to comfort us and guide us home to Indiana.
I dreaded the return. Our home-sweet-home of three, now two. My bed of two, now one. Approaching, I noticed my Schwinn. It was the bike my husband rode to our cul-de-sac pool to end his life after swallowing prescription pills and alcohol. A thoughtful neighbor had returned it. I wondered if I’d ever ride that bike again, or any bike for that matter.
A few days after the funeral, two females from church arrived carrying a warm casserole. After introducing themselves, we sat and chatted. Upon leaving, one asked to share a Bible verse. She turned to Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Encouraged, I looked up and said, “That’s the exact verse I read during my daily devotional the morning of Bob’s funeral and the exact verse the pastor read during it.”
About a year later, my world turned topsy-turvy again as death claimed another loved one. I found out Mike, Bob’s oldest brother, was dead. Hit by a repeat DUI offender, Mike’s body was catapulted through his car windshield, only ten minutes from home. Another sister-in-law, an instant widow.
Mike, who always greeted me open-armed, held a special place in my heart. Following his funeral, my heart felt overwhelmed. It was as if the blindfold of Bob’s death was being ripped, allowing all of life’s losses to flood my soul without warning or invitation. I collapsed against the elevator wall, wailing uncontrollably.
Afterward, numb and still in an emotional fog, I sat alone with the others upstairs. Staring into carpet, once again life became unfair and nothing made sense. “Why do all the men I love so deeply, die so tragically?” And, more importantly, “Where is God in all this?” Pondering these thoughts, I walked into the hallway and spotted Romans 8:28 written on the wall. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” It felt like Mike: a much-needed hug at a much-needed time.
Following the loss of Mike, both my stepfather and then my father-in-law passed. But the next death was the one I had dreaded most.
Estranged from my mother for approximately four years, I was unaware she had been battling cancer. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” I’d always held onto hope that one day my mother’s heart would soften toward me—that I’d be her Golden Child, receiving love and affection, rather than serving as her scapegoat. But that door slammed permanently when my sweet aunt sent me an email last October stating, “Your mother died last night.” I burst into sobs. With her loss, the little girl who’d clutched that dream like the world’s last colorful balloon had to let go. And although I’d learned to emotionally detach, I found myself blindsided by tears, feelings of guilt, empathy, and remorse.
The Holy Spirit made everything clear: I was loved, I am loved, and I always will be loved because I am God’s dependent, doting, and dutiful daughter.
At this point, I realized I needed what only God could provide. I begged God to restore hope, heal my broken heart, and assure me I wasn’t alone, rejected, abandoned, and orphaned.
The next day, I received a wonderful seed of hope from a relative who emailed me Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
A few days later, seeking additional encouragement for my battered heart, I browsed a bookstore and opened a spiritual warfare devotional. At the end of one chapter the author penned an “Untruth”: “I will never amount to anything” and afterward a “Truth”: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.’”
Standing in that aisle, with swelling tears, a peace that surpasses all understanding flooded my heart and soul. The Holy Spirit made everything clear: I was loved, I am loved, and I always will be loved because I am God’s dependent, doting, and dutiful daughter. What God showed me is that my mother’s inability to love did not make me unlovable, unworthy, or undeserving of love. In HIS eyes, I am “beloved, chosen, a precious jewel, fearfully and wonderfully made.” I am never alone, rejected, abandoned, or orphaned.
Now, whenever lies invade my mind and I lose sight of hope, I continue focusing on the Truth, His Truth. When life becomes overwhelming and I want to give up, what I choose to do instead is hold onto His promises and never let go, white knuckles and all.
As long as I maintain a flicker of hope, God has good plans for this little towhead.
The Bible tells me so.
PLNU alumna Karen (Kay) Naber (88) is an award-winning writer and artist who obtained her B.A. in literature and art, was features editor of The Point, and was editor of The Driftwood. Additionally, she was a reporter and freelance writer for several national and international magazines and newspapers, including the San Diego Union Tribune and the La Jolla Light; was editor and columnist of a bi-weekly women’s ministry newsletter; and was a contributing author for several blogs, including her own, MyHeartsHome. Currently, she is a commissioned artist and is writing her memoir.
Photos accompanying this story were taken by Jiwon Lee.