Growing up in the blazing heat of Miami, Florida, was nothing short of a nightmare for Gina Gomez, who said her clearest memory is being forced to wear hot long-sleeve clothing to grade school every day to hide bruises given to her by her abusive stepmother.
On a daily basis throughout her childhood and teenage years, Gomez said her stepmother repetitively forced her to place her hands on the scorching-hot stove and even beat her with belts, hangers and cords. Gomez remembers being slammed into things and having her face shoved violently into the walls of her home on too many occasions to count.
Those were just a few of the many ways that Gomez remembers being abused from the time she was 5 and into her early 20s.
Gomez, now a 36-year-old devout Christian living in Fairfax, Virginia, told The Christian Post in an interview that she is often haunted by vivid memories of what she endured for over two decades at the hands of her stepmother.
But looking back on her past has helped Gomez to put into perspective the goodness of God for rescuing her from the depths of despair. She credits Christ for healing and guiding her toward a life of grace, which has helped her to forgive her stepmother.
"In the beginning, I couldn't understand why God wanted me to forgive my stepmother. I questioned Him, and I said, 'why? She hurt me.' But I was hurting myself by holding onto all the unforgiveness inside. I wouldn't have been fully happy if I had not forgiven," Gomez said.
"God also gave me the understanding that my stepmother is a victim herself. She probably went through some kind of abuse that triggered her. And not only that, God showed me that if I forgive her, it's going to heal me in a lot of internal areas that I didn't know I had baggage holding me hostage spiritually and emotionally."
Although she has forgiven her stepmother, Gomez stressed that "forgiveness does not mean 'to forget."
"Forgiveness means letting go of the emotional and physical grudges and letting God heal pain," she said.
Gomez recently shared her testimony with the world through the YouTube ministry Delafé Testimonies, a global project with over 200,000 subscribers that aims "to create the world's largest archive of Jesus testimonies."
Gomez said that by retelling her story, she can help others to heal by introducing them to the healing power that saved her — which comes from Jesus alone.
No 'freedom in childhood'
Gomez always had a dysfunctional family, even before her stepmother came into the picture. Her biological mother and her father were both alcoholics. Her biological mother died when she was 4 due to complications with liver failure caused by her alcoholism.
After her mother's death, Gomez said her father became romantically involved with their downstairs neighbor, who eventually moved into their home and became her stepmother. Her stepmother already had one son who moved into the home with her. And a few years later, Gomez's stepmother and her father had two children together.
"I'll never forget the first time my stepmother ever abused me. I was around 5 years old. And I remember I had to go to school for my second day of kindergarten. And my stepmother said, 'If you don't have the house cleaned by the time school starts, you will not go,'" Gomez recounted.
"It was going to be my second day of school, and I was so excited. So, I remember I woke up early the next day, and I cleaned everything. But my stepmother said she wasn't satisfied. But, since I finished doing everything, I went upstairs to try to go outside in the hopes of catching the school bus. But, she came upstairs and pulled me back down the stairs," Gomez continued.
"And my stepmother said, 'The house is not clean, so you're staying home.' And I remember that day because I was so sad. And I cried because I wanted to go to school. After that, I still couldn't go, and I got a beating."
Gomez said she developed an intense fear of her stepmother — whom she described as a heavier-set, strong-armed woman with intense facial features.
"My stepmother continued to force me to clean the house daily: wiping surfaces that were already clean, cleaning the bathroom and doing laundry," Gomez recalled. "She would often look for something wrong with the cleaning I did, even if there was nothing wrong with it. This was her way of finding a reason to give me more beatings and to push me or burn me on the stove."
Since her father worked two jobs, Gomez said he was not home for most of the daytime and evening. Her stepmother frequently ensured that Gomez was in bed before her father arrived home from work.
"My stepmother prevented me from having a closer relationship with my father because she would put me to bed before he got home," Gomez said. "So he wouldn't see my swollen face and bruises. And when my dad was home over the weekend, she told me not to hug my father and to be very quiet around him. She threatened me with beatings if I talked."
Entering early adolescence, Gomez said she tried to talk back to her stepmother and tried to escape the abuse. The attempts to protect herself were often unsuccessful.
"I would try to resist when she would slap me into the walls, or I would scream louder, so maybe the neighbors could hear me. But she would always cover my mouth so I wouldn't scream. She was a very strong woman, and I was very petite," Gomez said.
"She could take hold of me very quickly. ... And sometimes I was lucky when I could run away and sneak past her. But eventually, it would come back to me later on because she would find a way to get me. So, if I didn't get the beating in the morning, I would get a double beating at night."
Although three other children lived in the home, Gomez said her stepmother only physically abused her. She treated the other children in the house with special treatment and never abused them.
"I didn't have freedom in childhood or adolescence. I didn't have any liberty to do anything. I couldn't enjoy any sport after school. I couldn't do anything that I wanted to do as a teenager. But, then my step-brother and my half-brother and my half-sister were able to go out after school, and they were able to join school sports, but I wasn't," Gomez said.
"I was never able to dress as the stylish kids did. Because my stepmother always paid for my clothes. I wasn't a cool kid. I wasn't able to straighten my hair. I didn't know how to fix myself. So I was always the one that dressed badly with long sleeves to hide my abuse. But, then, my stepmother would allow her sons and daughter to wear stylish clothing. She would always save money to buy them nice clothes and gadgets."
As she grew older into her teenage years, Gomez continued to wear long sleeves to school to hide her bruises and scars because her stepmother continued to give her daily beatings. Her stepmother would threaten her with "double-beatings" if she did otherwise.
Gomez said her stepmother also prevented her from doing homework and studying for any exams for school. As a result, her academic performance in school was always poor.
The teachers, she said, never questioned if she was abused because she was a very quiet student who would always skip classes.
From witchcraft to church
At age 25, Gomez said she snuck out of the home and moved out. Soon after, she began exploring the New Age movement and practicing witchcraft with a roommate that she lived with.
However, she moved out shortly after learning her roommate had stolen her credit card.
After falling out with her roommate, Gomez called a friend from high school who invited her to church. Gomez said she felt captivated by the Gospel's message and continued attending the church services every week.
As time passed, Gomez said she stopped practicing witchcraft because she knew God was calling her to only serve Him as the Savior of her life.
Despite enduring pain and trauma for many years, Gomez said surrendering her life to Christ for the past nine years has been the best decision she could have ever made. Finding Christ, she said, helped her make peace with her past trauma in a way that she never thought possible.
"I know that God made a way for me. I explained to God how I was afraid to approach my stepmother to reconcile and forgive her. But, God made a way because she ended up approaching me first one day to apologize to me," Gomez said. "So, that gave me peace, and that's where the full forgiveness came from because God did it, and I wasn't afraid."
For those who have endured physical abuse, Gomez said forgiveness is critical. Forgiveness is not to help the abusers, she said, but to help the survivors.
Gomez said she could forgive "by trying to put herself in her stepmother's shoes through compassion and grace that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit."
She believes her stepmother probably faced abuse as a child and that the abuse she endured resulted from a "generational curse that resulted in cycles of abuse passed down over generations."
"We have to look at these people as victims too. We cannot point the finger because we don't know their life story. We don't know what they've been through. And we have to look at them from that perspective. Jesus loves everyone. Jesus forgives. And you don't know how Jesus is going to work with that person," Gomez said. "That person might be stuck right now, but Jesus is going to help them to repent if you pray for them."
According to Gomez, its painful for survivors to live with the trauma from their past.
"We waste so much time in unforgiveness," she said. "It's much easier for you not to carry that burden around. And you'll be able to enjoy your life without thinking of the past too obsessively or with too much anger."
Nicole Alcindor is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.