Sunday, November 5, 2023

GOD Kiss Series - Earth Angels



We all have our “life stories” the ones that got us to where we are now.  The roads we have had to travel, whether chosen or not, we walked that path and learned so many lessons along the way.  Sometimes the lessons inflicted were brutal that no one should ever have to experience.  And then by the grace of God, we met beautiful souls who were nothing short of being “earth angels” sent to shape us and provide gentle guidance to help us step into what we were destined to be.  Once again, I am privileged to hear and share the incredible story of Bethany Bertsch. A courageous, beautiful young woman who is the living testimony of being the recipient of the beauty of God’s love and how simple acts of kindness helped shape a tender young girl.  And as you read her story,  you may find as I did that she has so many similar components to Tara Westover who wrote about her life titled, “Educated”.

When I first met Bethany, it was over coffee after she had extended the invite based on the contact card I had filled out after attending the Venture Church.  I had emailed her my God Kiss blog posts and one day she asked if she could share her story with me. And so…..

I arrived, pen & paper in hand and had no idea of what a journey she has been on.  Sitting in Bethany’s comfortable home and seeing the young kiddos energetically popping in and out of the kitchen, it was a normal setting that could be anywhere in any town of a young mom with little kids. It was a home filled with a little bit of chaos and a whole lot of love.

Bethany begins by telling me that no one would have recognized her when she was an 18-year-old.  She was beyond withdrawn and scared of the world at large.  However, at the legal age of emancipation, she gathered up courage and moved out to live on her own.  Bethany explains that when her parents married, they had 6 children between them from their first marriages, and then they had 4 of their own, of which Bethany was the oldest.  Her childhood was filled with neglect and abuse.  She & her family lived rurally in Northeast Oregon with no running water and no conveniences. She explained that her mother suffered from severe mental illness to the extent she burned down a historical school building. Her workaholic father was a conspiracist political activist who was rarely home. If trauma had a recipe, this would be it.

The only picture that shows my entire family, taken in 1997. I'm in the front in pink. 

Me on a truck in Promise. You can see the generator to the right. We turned on the generator a couple of times a week to do laundry and watch a show on TV. We got 3 or 4 channels with a big antenna.

My brother Nathan and I washing potatoes in Promise. There were times when potatoes were all we had to eat. Guess I was destined to be an Idaho girl.

Bethany and her siblings were all home schooled after finishing 6th grade. Her father felt that anything after that level of education in the public educational system was ripe for poisoning the minds of the children.  Her dad had tried to convince her that her role was to stay home and take care of him. However, when she turned 18, she left to try to navigate the scary world her father had warned her about. Being on her own, certain people began to show up in her life to become her “earth angels” to give her the guidance she so desperately needed. The first earth angel was the woman who gave Bethany a job as a dishwasher in a small café, and gave her a place to live above the café.  Bethany said her coworkers thought she was a “mute” as she was painfully shy, rarely speaking to anyone.  She says she often confused the manager and assistant manager with each other as they both wore similar shoes, noting she was unable to make eye contact with anyone.

-The Zollman girls, my sister, and me. Brenda Zollman is at the bottom. Charity Zollman, my dishwasher buddy, is above me.

Life might have gone on like that for months, maybe years…. but little did she know that God had a plan for Bethany’s life.  The second earth angel was the chatty young female dishwasher who was hired to work alongside of Bethany.  It was through their discussion that they learned they were distantly related as cousins.  And then the cousin took Bethany home and it was there that she was taken in by this Christian family who began showing her what a normal family life entailed.  They lavished love and wisdom on her and taught her basic common-sense things such as how to dress, how to relate to others and in this nurturing environment, Bethany flourished. While attending church services with them, the church prayed over her to release her demons and to help her heal.  Bethany recalls it was a turning point wherein she realized how horrendous her childhood had been. When I asked Bethany if she wanted to give an example, she opened up that life had been filled with emotional & sexual abuse from her older sadistic brother.  He was removed from the home, and it was then Bethany finally found the courage to come forward with the abuse to her mom. However even though her mom acknowledged that she had suspected it, that she failed to protect Bethany and allowed the brother to come home for visits.

Bethany brought her brokenness to God to heal her, and it was where she committed her life to Our Savior.  One night Bethany had a vision. Even though as she puts it, she was a baby Christian, she knew God was speaking to her and that in her vision she saw a roadmap with streets and pathways on it.  And as it unfolded, the map showed roads crisscrossing each other and that the pathway was highlighted denoting where she had been and where she was going.

With the newfound faith along with the warmth of her cousin’s family, Bethany began to see the world in a new light and began to branch out.  At work she became a line cook followed by being a manager.  The owner of the café eventually shut down the business and the building was sold. That meant that Bethany was now out of a job and a place to live.  However, her former boss offered her a place to live in her basement.  When she went to look for a job with the unemployment office, she took a job placement test and it was there the third earth angel, a staff member said to her, “you are really intelligent, you should go to college!”  College had never entered Bethany’s mind as an option; however, this wonderful staff member helped her apply to 2 colleges, one in Central Oregon and the other was the University of Idaho.  Bethany chose the UI based on the financial grants offered.  She recalls arriving in Moscow with no money, no support and yet she felt she was exactly where she was meant to be.  Not long after, Bethany connected with Chi Alpha, the Christian student group on campus. It was there she met Clark, who later became her husband.   

Showing off my name on the outstanding senior board in the JAMM Department at UI with my major professor Becky Tallent and admin assistant friend Diane McGarry. I was accepted to UI on a provisional status because of my SAT score and lack of educational records. But I loved college and did well there.

One day while attending the Palousafest, she collected church literature of area churches and chose the one that was close to campus.  Currently it was called Christan Life Center on Jackson Street and she attended while working on her degree.   Fast forward, Bethany graduated from the UI in Public Relations, married Clark and blissfully settled into a life that she never imagined was available to her.  

In 2014, Pastor Scott Underwood took over as paster for the Christan Life Center which then turned into Venture Church.  During this time Clark and Bethany gave birth in 2017 to their son and she recalls his parents had gifted them with an expensive flannel craft biblical children’s story board for the baby.  And one day Pastor Scott asked if they would lead the children’s ministry when a vacancy occurred, of which they said yes!  After all they had this amazing story board and were excited to serve.  Not long after that Bethany took the lead and has been in charge of overseeing the care and education of the youth in Venture Church ever since. Last year Bethany stepped up to serve in a paid role as the Connections Pastor along with her duties in the Children’s ministry.  Today, Bethany says she feels like she is living in a “Hallmark movie” where life is full, joyful and beautiful. And Bethany feels blessed to be living a God-centered life with a wonderful husband and their three precious children.  As a bonus, Clark’s mom came to live with them a year ago, and again, a blessing to have her sweet mother-in-law’s presence and help. And even with great strides, love and support Bethany confided that she occasionally suffers from PTSD and that certain things will trigger childhood memories that she has to work through.

When I asked Bethany if she had any other visions, the answer was yes. Bethany recalls that she was in God’s Throne room and desperately wanting to go in, but she knew she couldn’t as she wasn’t clean. She was sobbing and then she noticed drops of wetness on her from above. She says it was the blood of Jesus dripping on her and everywhere it landed, she became clean.

There's a recent one of Clark and me and the kids. 

In hearing the story of this brave young woman’s story of survival and faith. I was awestruck by all the events that occurred to change the trajectory of this tender soul. So many things went right.  Just the right person at the right time to be a lifeline, a safe haven and a guide post. Each person doing their own little part that came together to make a truly beautiful story of success.  And unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky or blessed. “Child sexual abuse can have lifetime impacts on survivors—especially without support. It can impact educational outcomes, lead to heightened symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, higher suicidality, drug abuse, higher likelihood of teen pregnancy and chronic health issues.” (as reported by  YWCA)

It’s hard to understand the evil in the world, however, we all have free will and the ability to make choices.  Bethany could have chosen to not accept the help of the earth angels sent to help her.  And thankfully she did.   The road Bethany had to travel as a young child was beyond horrific, however sometimes you have to know the story of where a person came from to understand how far a person has moved forward.  Bethany is a living witness to the greatness of Jesus who helped her overcome hurt & sorrow and become a cornerstone of what a beautiful life can be when you are a Child of God.  

Look to the lord and his strength; seek his face always. 1 Chronicles 16:11 NIV


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