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Meet Tonya

Speaker and Mentor

A picture is worth a thousand words.”—Napoleon Bonaparte


When I look at this picture, I see hope.  Of course, I remember the heaviness and oppression.  I can feel the struggle that once controlled me.  I recognize the scars from my attempts to escape the pain.  I can recall the swirling confusion that invaded my mind and carried me through the numbness, robbing me of any joy or pursuit of life. I never want to forget that place.


But this picture was taken in 1996 when my transformation began.  It was for my admission file at Mercy Multiplied.  I remember the desperation I had for something more. I can feel the hope that began rising within me because someone believed beyond what seemed impossible.  I recall holding on to their faith as I searched for my own foundation. I recognize the invitation to encounter God in a personal way and discover everything I had been searching for.


I’m not gonna lie…I was also terrified! I had never known unconditional love to keep its promises.  I had only been hurt by trusting others.  My expectations were filtered by distorted thinking and abusive relationships.  But I was desperate and out of options.  I could either make the choice to press in and fight for my life or give up and live out my days in an institution.


Throughout a life of abuse and trauma, I believed the lies that I was unworthy of love and deserved to be punished.  I began harming myself around age 7 and found the induced physical pain to provide a release from the emotional torment.  It was a temporary distraction but my first discovery of escape and refuge. Escape became a way of survival for me.


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When I was 12 years old, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  It was a genuine encounter with the love of God and I believed with all my heart that He was with me.  Without further healing or discipleship, my only hope was escaping to heaven. 


Between age 12 and 24, I had 13 suicide attempts and was committed to 15 mental institutions. Diagnosed with major depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and dissociative identity disorder with multiple personalities.  I was heavily medicated and would sleep up to 18 hours a day.  In this picture I weighed 270 pounds as the heaviness in my soul was manifested in my body.


I continued to escape with alcohol, prescription drugs, pornography, food, exercise, and even ministry.  Did you know even good things can become an escape?  I was a true lover of Jesus and I was at the church every time the doors opened. That’s not a bad thing, but I was also caught up in the motions and requirements of religious effort until I just couldn’t keep up.


My inability to meet unrealistic expectations only reinforced the lies that I was a failure.  I was broken and nothing could fix me. I was legally declared totally incompetent and permanently mentally disabled.  Psychiatrists said there was no hope for me to ever live alone, hold a job, finish school or function at a normal level in society.  Plans were being made to have me court committed to the state mental institution for the rest of my life at age 24.


In the process of waiting, I discovered hope at Mercy Multiplied.  I began to realize beyond personal salvation, I was given authority in Christ. I learned my true identity was not as a mental patient or a voiceless victim, but I was a child of God created with a purpose and destiny.  I knew that I could choose life and I learned to take my thoughts captive.


Finding the possibility of real change, I was determined to fight for my life. I began to devour the scriptures in search of tools for freedom. Romans 12:2 promises we can be transformed by renewing our minds.  In the Passion Translation it says, “be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.”


I chose to question every thought and belief I recognized.  Why do I believe this?  Where did that come from? Why do I feel this way? I decided not to be ruled by my emotions but understand them to be indicators of a deeper belief often rooted in hurt. As I grew in a safe relationship with God, I learned to pour my heart out and trust Him as my counselor. No matter what I encountered or struggled with, Holy Spirit spoke His truth to replace the lies and bring healing.


It wasn’t an easy process, but I am confident in His ability to bring freedom in anything concerning you! Tell me one thing God cannot do?! He is greater than anything we will ever face! I am honored to testify of God’s faithfulness and how His mercy triumphs over judgment. Nothing is impossible with God!

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