Walking in Freedom: Detra's Story of Hope
Detra is a preacher’s daughter who was born and raised in Arkansas. She moved to New York City in May of 2015 to escape an abusive husband. Then she became homeless and found out about the New York City Rescue Mission, a Hope for New York affiliate that provides food, clothing, and shelter to New Yorkers in crisis.
Below, Detra shares her story of how God used the Rescue Mission to show her that she can be real about her pain and yet walk confidently in the freedom of who God created her to be.
I’m a preacher’s daughter who was born in Arkansas, and I’m the oldest of four. My mom and dad, they loved me, but they had a very dysfunctional marriage. My dad was pretty verbally and emotionally abusive, but he was a well-liked, charming person.
I met Jesus when I was 7 years old, and I went to a Christian college on a full scholarship for music. I got married after my third year. My husband’s a very well respected preacher. Unfortunately, he was emotionally abusive and very controlling.
My dad had told me that I needed to marry someone who could conquer me, because I was too strong. And my mom told me the week I got married that marriage is forever, and if there were any problems, they would welcome my husband but not me. So after three weeks when I knew I wanted out, I couldn’t call them. I thought I just needed to be conquered.
When I was 42, the memories of abuse I suffered as a child at the hands of my grandfather and other men started coming back to me. I realized that those horrific experiences set me up for a person who used the name of God to control and manipulate me.
But I stayed with my husband for 34 years. I had 7 children and no job. I thought if I was submissive and loved him that he’d realize how cruel he was being. But it got to the point where I was suicidal, and I begged God to take my life for over a year.
Then one night, my husband and I were driving and he pulled over to yell at me. He was in my face, and I thought, “This is it.” I grabbed my purse, got out of the car, and started walking. I felt free. When I looked up, I saw a woman walking toward me. She asked if I needed a ride. I told her, “Yes.” She said, “God said to stop and pick you up.” God has been taking care of me like that ever since.
That was on May 27, 2015. After that night, I moved to Brooklyn to be with my son for a while, but when he and his wife moved, I had no place to stay. I found out about New York City Relief, and they helped me apply for Medicaid and get a spot at the New York City Rescue Mission.
Up until that point, being homeless had been my biggest fear. But I felt God saying to me, “It’s time. Don’t be afraid.” Still, I felt like moving into a shelter meant that I was doomed, a failure.
But through my experience at the Rescue Mission, God has taught me to be real with my pain. It’s been hard. I lost everything I’ve ever known. Despite that, God is helping me understand his grace more and more each day.
One night I went to an AA meeting to get out of my room at the Mission. I listened to people share about their addiction, and God revealed something to me. I wasn’t addicted to alcohol, but my very strong addiction was to being good. I knew that God loved me, but my whole life I’d been taught that if you don’t obey your earthly authorities, you don’t have God’s full protection. So I worked very hard to please my authorities, mostly my dad and husband. When they were unhappy or blamed me for something, I assumed I had a spiritual problem. But that night, God really revealed that addiction of mine—and the truth that he does not shame me and there is no condemnation in Him. And he’s been teaching me to walk in that ever since.
After I’d been there a month, a lady at Starbucks, where I work, found out I was living in a homeless shelter. She was upset, but after she left, I felt freedom. I didn’t feel embarrassed. And in that moment, the Lord helped me realize why He had put me in this shelter.
Homelessness has its own stench, and God has tried to tell me for years that none of what has happened to me defines me. The abuse, my husband, being homeless—none of that defines me. That was a great moment, hearing God tell me, “Detra, you don’t let anything define you except what I’ve told you, that you’re my creation and your are covered in the blood of Jesus.” Now God is teaching me day by day to walk in that freedom and to be who He created me to be.