Danielle’s smile spreads across her face, her hands wrapped around the Keto coffee just delivered to the table. She shares that she isn’t always good at verbalizing her story, but likes to write things down so she’s a little nervous. However, with a brave breath, Danielle begins sharing. Her biological dad hasn’t been in her life for many, many years. He suffered an injury after playing a season for the New York Jets, and after that, he spiraled downhill until his depression, addictions, and abuse were too much for Danielle’s mom to handle. They separated when Danielle and her little sister were quite small and they rarely saw their dad after that.
“You would think I would be angry, but when I was little I would say my prayers with my mom then she’d leave the room and I’d thank God for being my Dad. It didn’t all matter because He was my real Dad and one day I’d live with my real Dad. I would pray: ‘Thank You for being my real Father. Thank You.’”
Growing up, Danielle regularly went to church with her mom and little sister and attended a private Christian school. Danielle’s mom remarried, and while loving, they were very strict.
When Danielle turned twelve, much of her world turned upside down.
“In sixth grade I changed from a Christian education to a public education and that was a hard change – not a good change. I also stopped seeing my biological father and it was the first time I realized I don’t look like everyone else. My biological father is black and my mom is white, and she remarried a Hispanic man, my step-father who raised me. It was hard because I stood out – I didn’t look like my parents or friends. I had my first anxiety attack that year at school, too. I became a chameleon. I’m good at that and can blend well into my surroundings. I just didn’t choose a good background to mold into. There was a lot of anger and confusion at that time, and it spilled over into years and years of rebellion and doubt and anxiety.”
In high school, Danielle continued to make poor decisions that left her full of guilt and shame.
“Minus all the crazy stuff, I thought my life was pretty easy. It wasn’t traumatic and I did feel close to Christ as a child. I was saturated with Jesus and didn’t know anything else. But I stopped going to youth group in high school because I felt so guilty. In college I was invited to go to the campus church but couldn’t show my face because I was a sorority girl who partied.”
Danielle still desperately wanted to know Jesus more and wanted to change.
“I always let guilt get in the way of a true transformation.”
Danielle met Ben her freshman year at K-State where he played baseball.
“He was with me during my chaotic college years. He was, however, grounded and focused on his goal: professional ball. He was drafted our junior year and left K-State. By the time I graduated college and moved to Tulsa to teach, he was playing minor-league baseball in California.”
Danielle used the move to Tulsa as a way to break free from the party scenes she frequented.
“[In Kansas City] I was partying too hard and needed to get away. [In Tulsa] I didn’t know anyone, got a one bedroom apartment and was teaching. I was only there for six months because Ben blew out his shoulder.”
However, during those six months, Danielle found a church and began getting plugged in, and Ben gave his life to the Lord. After Ben’s injury, he decided to join the railroad. They quickly married in Kansas City and moved together to Lincoln, Nebraska, for Ben’s new job. Any transformation that had begun to take place in Danielle’s life quickly deteriorated after their move. Ben was gone often for work, and Danielle filled the time without him by working hard and partying with co-workers and new friends.
“I was bar hopping and drinking and blacking out every single time I drank. I remember being drunk sometimes and going out and looking at the stars. I would talk to God drunk, but I’d feel so much shame the next day, and I’d be sick all day. Every weekend I was recovering from the partying, and I didn’t even think about God then. I couldn’t let my mind go there. Did I think God loved me? Yes. But I couldn’t think about that. I kept thinking, ‘How am I going to love myself better?’ and I’d vow to make better decisions and be the best at my job.”
She and Ben weren’t unhappy, but they weren’t connected and seemed more like ships passing in the night. Then one day everything changed.
“It continued like that until I got pregnant with Hart. I had changed career paths and managed a kickboxing gym. Ben and I were just in and out, passing each other all the time. But the minute I got pregnant, it brought me to my knees. I realized how selfish and self-serving I was and now I have a little person. I desperately wanted more for them. I felt like God was telling me, ‘It’s your life that just changed, not your skin.’”
In an instant, Danielle recognized that she wanted more for herself and for her future children.
“I wanted my child to know Christ early on. I didn’t think we could be the parents that I wanted to be without a relationship with Christ.”
Danielle began sharing her heart with her mom, and they chose to work through a Proverbs 31 Bible study together.
“That was me making another first step. I was never someone who didn’t believe then had a radical transformation. I’ve just left God so many times and slammed the door so many times. He’s given me many opportunities…but I’d slam the door.”
Danielle knew that if the transformation was going to continue, she needed to surround herself with Godly influences. She began praying for the Lord to provide her with friends that will make her closer to the Lord and graciously allow friendships that weren’t honoring or uplifting to Him to dissolve.
“I started changing the music I was listening to. I love music, I’m very driven by music. I easily take in what’s around me and who I’m with. I soak in a mood in the room, even if it’s not my own mood, I just soak it in because I never had a clear identity growing up. I just wanted to be like everyone else around me. I changed what I watched on TV too. We couldn’t find a church we really liked so my main focus was doing Bible studies with my mom and praying with her.”
As Danielle continued to radically change, her friends began asking questions, and she felt like she didn’t belong with them, but she wasn’t a perfect Christian, either.
“I felt a lot of guilt. I wasted a lot of years just doing my own thing. One thing my mom said on the phone that stuck out to me was: ‘There’s no such thing as a perfect Christian, so if you’re looking to be one, you’re going to fail. You just have to take the steps, and you have to try.’ I like to be perfect at everything I do, so I really struggled with that.”
It wasn’t long before Ben and Danielle decided to move to Kansas City to be closer to family and so Danielle could be a stay-at-home mom. On a walk in their new neighborhood, they met a couple who encouraged them to try out Pleasant Valley.
Being a new mama in a new part of Kansas City, Danielle joined PV’s moms ministry, she and Ben joined a community group, and eventually they were baptized together.
“Finding Christ as an adult, I just feel it so differently. I’m more mature and aware. I don’t think some of my old friends understand even the language I use now. I don’t curse and don’t like to be around it. I’ve had questions about why I don’t curse or curse in front of my kids.”
Danielle sometimes still feels like she’s in the middle – not like her old friends she partied with but not like her new friends she has Christian community with.
“I get around my small group, and I’m the ‘The Ex-Partier’ and that feels like my identity. I feel like I’m not ‘Christian’ enough for them. There seems to always be something holding me back at times and I need to get over it because I know God’s over it. He’s over me always thinking about it, too. I need to just move on. Move on!”
Danielle’s laugh fills the air. Her honesty in her journey is palpable and relatable. There’s no pretending with Danielle. She is who she is and she is still growing, still deepening her roots, still becoming more confident in her identity in Jesus. She is continuing to fall more and more in love with Him.
“Some people think a relationship with Christ is a lot of rules and checking off the list. When you just don’t worry about that, if you believe your story is written and God loves you, you don’t have to worry so much. It has always been more about a relationship with God. God is my real Father. My focus has always been a relationship more than how many times in a month I am going to church. How am I going to build my relationship with Him? People will use that [God is loving] to condone some lifestyles, and I don’t condone behaviors or lifestyles that aren’t biblical, but He has always shown me so much love. I don’t deserve anything I have. I don’t deserve my children, my husband, to stay at home and raise my kids. I get nothing but love no matter what I do. Jesus is love.”