PUBLISHED Sunday, January 20th, 2013

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A Tender Heart 0

      “Hello?”
      “Let me speak to your dad.”
      It was September 17, 1997. The sun had already gone down, streetlights were turning on, and Dyanne Wheat had just gotten home from school. Handing off the telephone, she slowly sat down on the couch as her dad, Mike, spoke to Dyanne’s grandmother on the phone.
      Sitting on the couch, Dyanne felt the pieces of her 12-year-old heart emptied onto the floor in front of her. A weight of hopelessness that no child should bear fell into her lap with such a heaviness, she thought she’d just about break. Because she knew. She just knew. Her mom was dead.
      Moments later, her dad hung up the phone and told Dyanne and her younger sister, Marilyn, “Girls, your mom is dead. She killed herself.”
      And it was in that moment that whatever was left in Dyanne shattered. The already fading light within her went out, leaving a dark, empty, disheveled mess. As her dad tried to hug her, she pushed him away and ran upstairs to her room. She took all of her mom’s things, put it in a plastic Tupperware container, and slid it under her bed. Then, she turned on the shower, stepped in, and started crying.
      That would be the last time she cried for five years.

***
      Dyanne remembers her early childhood as pleasant, albeit complicated. Her mother, Deborah, and biological father, Perry, divorced shortly after she was born in Victoria, Texas. Deborah married Mike a couple years later, whom Dyanne calls “Dad.” Younger sister Marilyn was born shortly after, and Mike adopted Dyanne as his legal daughter when she was six years old.

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Mike adopted Dyanne as his legal daughter when she was six years old.
      Mike loved Dyanne as his own. In fact, when she had called him “Dad” for the first time, he called his mom in tears. Dyanne fondly remembers how he’d hold her in his arms while playing the guitar. She laughs as she reminisces.
      When she was eight years old, her mom found religion, so Dyanne got baptized and prayed the sinner’s prayer. Yet, she lacked an understanding of what a personal relationship with God looked like. In her mind, God was very far away. But He would also take pictures every once in awhile that came in the form of lightning and rain. So when lightning hit, Dyanne could almost always be found striking a pose.
      Then, things changed rapidly for the entire family. When Dyanne was in third grade, her mom checked into a mental institution. Adults would talk about Deborah’s mental illness in front of her, but up until this point, Dyanne had no grid for what it was. Her mom had always been moody, but she thought this was normal.
      “When you’re a kid, you don’t have a framework for anything else than what is in your home, so you can’t really judge or weigh what you’re experiencing very well,” she explains.
      Her mom’s moodiness, however, turned into four distinct Deborah’s. Normal Deborah was the mom Dyanne remembers as a young child. But then, there was depressed Deborah, who became very dark and slept a lot, forcing Dyanne to become the adult and take care of her sister. Manic Deborah became super religious and zealous, passing out religious pamphlets for hours in downtown Houston, while Dyanne and Marilyn were locked in the car under a bridge as strange men tapped on their window. Then, there was prescription-drugged Deborah, who would walk around zombie-like, always having dry mouth and always drinking Diet Coke.

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having dry mouth and always drinking Diet Coke.
      “I never knew what mom I was going to get,” Dyanne says.
      Over the next couple of years, her parents began fighting a lot. And Dyanne hated it. Whenever they’d start, she’d grab her sister and dogs and hide in the bedroom, waiting until it was all over.
      Then, Mike began smoking marijuana in the garage. And because Deborah was angry with him, she plotted to have Dyanne discover him in the act. Dyanne remembers the day she walked in on him. Her mom told her that Dad was in the garage, so she opened the door. When she realized what her dad was doing, she immediately shut the door, feeling embarrassed by what she just saw. Her mom, however, used it as leverage to move to their Aunt Penny’s for the summer.
      For Mike, this was the worst possible situation.
      Deborah had been sharing visions of bullets going through the girls’ heads and driving them off of a bridge. If he didn’t act quickly, he could lose his family.
      Dyanne remembers hearing about those visions, too.
      “When I was a kid, I would make sure to always sit in the front when she was driving, so I could grab the wheel if I needed to,” Dyanne says. “Knowing that information made me feel really unsafe with my mom, and I harbored lots of anger toward her for not being normal.”
      So, in the summer of 1995, Mike filed for divorce.
      When the divorce papers arrived in the mail, Deborah went back to the house to take whatever she could. As she ripped off the curtains and scoured the house for belongings, Dyanne ran upstairs to protect the stained-glass butterfly in the bathroom that she absolutely adored. She grabbed it and hid it under her bed.
      Her mom ended up taking everything else, including a $20,000 college fund they had set up for the girls.
      The divorce, her mom’s mental illness, the volatile life at home. It changed Dyanne. Anger and bitterness overcame her. When she’d get in trouble, Dyanne would go to her room, throw everything around, and scream and stomp. Once during art class, her teacher told the students to color “anger” in whatever way it meant for them. Dyanne remembers grabbing the reddest marker and scribbling all over her paper. When the teacher held up her classmate’s neat and orderly interpretation of anger, Dyanne immediately became embarrassed of her own drawing, trying to hide it under her arms.
      This anger only intensified as she watched her mom slip into a deep depression, unable to maintain a job and forced to move back in with her mother.
      “I was 11 years old, and I was visiting my mom,” Dyanne remembers. “I had bought Chicken Soup for the Soul, thinking that it would help her. But when I came back two weeks later, I found the book unopened. And as a kid, not really understanding all of it, I remember becoming so angry with her because I felt like she wasn’t even trying.”
      The depression quickly worsened, and Deborah began attempting to take her life through pills. But it never worked.
      In September 1997, when Dyanne was 12 years old, she and Marilyn had gone to their mom’s house for Marilyn’s birthday. They thought it’d be a regular celebration but instead, their mom gave them a ton of old family photos and cards. It was as if she was trying to get rid of everything. That’s weird, Dyanne thought. But she shrugged it off anyway.

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      Days later, Dyanne would find out why her mom did that. Deborah shot herself in the heart with a gun.

***
      Six months later, Mike remarried to Michella and adopted her son. To the outside world, they appeared as one happy family, but without any counseling, Dyanne buried the pain of her mother’s death deep, deep down. So deep, in fact, that the pain didn’t resurface until years later.
      Meanwhile, without Dyanne knowing it, God began to pursue her.
      During her freshman year of high school, she started dating Corey, which she now recognizes as God’s way of reaching out to her. Corey and his family showed Dyanne what a healthy family looked like, and they truly loved her. For years, she couldn’t receive love from anyone, but from Corey and his family, she could.
      The following year, when she was a sophomore, her friend Amanda invited her to a church retreat in Florida. While there, Dyanne began feeling convicted about the things she was doing with Corey. They weren’t having sex, but they weren’t completely pure either.
      When she returned to Texas, Dyanne began pulling away from Corey. With low self-esteem, self-hatred, and never properly dealing with her mom’s death, the root of her pain created a rift in their relationship. And Corey began to realize that no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t change her.
      In addition, during her junior year, a classmate committed suicide, causing everything that Dyanne had buried so well to resurface and slap her in the face.

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      Then, in August 2002, when Dyanne was a senior in high school, Corey broke up with her and started dating one of their close friends.
      “Aside from mom’s death, that was the most painful thing I experienced,” Dyanne says. “I was absolutely devastated.”
      Corey had been her best friend, her everything, so when he removed himself, a huge part of her identity also went missing. The week after they broke up, she stopped eating, losing ten pounds as a result.
      “My biggest fear was being abandoned and losing someone close to me—after the divorce and death of my mom—so losing him, I felt abandoned again,” Dyanne says. “At the same time, I knew that I had to change. I knew that I was deeply broken and messed up. And our break-up is what launched me into my journey for truth.”
      In a desperate attempt for help, Dyanne looked to self-help books as her refuge. Self-help then led her to New Age philosophies, marking the beginning of her spiritual journey.
      Dyanne also coped by playing flute for hours on end. She devoted at least four hours a day to the flute, which eventually landed her a highly-coveted spot in Texas All-State, a concert of the most musically talented students in the state. For every band member who made it to All-State, her teacher hired a clinician, or a specialist, to train with.
      Dyanne’s clinician happened to be into New Age philosophy as well. Talking about energy channels and her own spirit guide, Dyanne, while engrossed by all of this, remembers being turned off and afraid of her clinician’s noticeably dark eyes. The clinician further encouraged Dyanne’s spiritual journey, suggesting that she read the book The Power of Now. And even though she started it, she never finished. Her interest waned.

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      “Ironically, the self-help wasn’t helping,” she says. “It wasn’t bringing any real healing. I was still bitter and hurt from the break-up, the divorce, and my mom’s death.”
      Then, on the bus to All-State, in San Antonio, Texas, Dyanne began chatting with a student from another school, named Patrick. She discussed her beliefs as well as the new things she was learning from all of her books. She was surprised by his attentiveness—no one had ever been so interested in hearing about her beliefs—but she just kept going. When she finished, he said that everything she shared was very interesting. He then asked if she wanted to hear what he believed in. She answered “yes.” So Patrick pulled out his very tattered Bible and shared what he believed: that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for the sins of man, so that man could have eternal life with God.
      “God knew exactly how to hook me,” Dyanne says. “He knows I’m a sucker for quotes and wisdom.”
      As soon as she returned from All-State, she pulled out her student Bible from seventh grade, and started reading the book of Proverbs. A book filled with quotable wisdom.
      After finishing Proverbs, she read Romans. Then, she tossed all of her New Age books.
      The next summer, the same friend that invited Dyanne to the church camp two years prior, invited her again. After one of the services, the worship leader continued playing songs, inviting anyone to stay if they wanted to.
      In that moment, Dyanne got on her knees, and for the first time in five years, she wept. Whispering to God, she said, “If You’re real, I want to follow You. If not, I just want to die.”
      Though she didn’t quite know it at the time, Dyanne gave her life to Jesus.

***
      After starting college at Texas A&M University in the fall of 2003, Dyanne found Fellowship Church in Bryan, Texas, where she experienced deep healing and forgiveness for the first time.
      Dyanne credits most of her healing to the weekly meetings that took place at a church member’s home, known as “homegroup”, as well as her roommates—Macie, Nicole, Mary, Alyn, Sarah, Kara, and Michelle—who all lived, at some time or another, in a house they coined “The Lighthouse.”
      Homegroup provided a safe environment for Dyanne to be herself as well as strengthen her faith. Now away from home, she had the opportunity to process everything from her childhood.
      “Being in a family atmosphere with people that were involved with my life and cared deeply about me set the framework for my healing,” she says. “My community was a bedrock of love.”
      And her roommates simply loved her, which slowly taught Dyanne how to receive love again.
      “I remember one time when I was going through some deep healing and was grieving and crying a lot. My dear roommate, Macie, came home and she just sat with me, held me and cried with me. It was one of those moments where her very presence was like Jesus holding me, and I was healing through her love.”
      Even now, as Dyanne speaks of her time in college and at Fellowship Church, appreciation overwhelms her. When thinking of how sweet and precious that time was with God, tears fall freely down her cheeks.

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      “One characteristic of God that I’ve truly come to know and experience is His kindness,” Dyanne shares. “He was just...just so kind to me during that time.”
      When her dad cut her off financially during her sophomore year of college, God provided the funds for her faithfully. When her heart had hardened from her past pain, He provided her with roommates who loved her unconditionally and opened her heart to receive love again. When her idea of family was distorted by the divorce of her parents and the death of her mother, God gave her a safe community that redefined and restored her definition of family.
      And just when Dyanne didn’t think her God could romance her anymore, He proposed to her.

***
      In 2008, Dyanne attended a three-day Jesus Culture conference, where thousands of people gathered for worship as well as preaching and activation seminars. At one point, everyone had broken up for different seminars throughout the day. Dyanne’s seminar finished early, so she walked into another one, where a man stood onstage, sharing a vision he just had: a train was coming out of the clouds with the word “Freedom” written on it. And in the train was a woman.
      The woman’s name was Dyanne, the man said.
      “I knew that was for me,” Dyanne says. “It was like God was proposing to me, very publicly, in front of everyone there.”

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***
      Just a couple months later, Dyanne flew to South Korea, ready to embark on a new adventure. She always knew that teaching would be her passport, so when she was offered a teaching position in Seoul, she knew she couldn’t say “no.”
      Upon arriving, one of her main priorities was to find a church community. A friend of a friend recommended Jeil Sungdo English Ministry, or JSEM, which later became New Philadelphia Church. The night before she checked it out, she listened to one of John Piper’s sermons on prophecy. The next morning, the pastor of JSEM, Christian Lee, preached on the same thing. Confirmation #1, she thought.
      Her second time at JSEM, John-Michael, a core leader of the church, encouraged Dyanne to get involved. That evening, she went bowling with them. When she got home, Dyanne saw that her friend had commented on her Facebook about a person she should meet. He was a part of an orphanage ministry. And his name was John-Michael. Confirmation #2.
      But after two years in South Korea, when the honeymoon phase and excitement of living in a foreign country wore off, Dyanne went through another process of refinement. By 2010, she was fed up with South Korea. God, on the other hand, had other plans.
      That summer, just as Dyanne was about to call it quits, she went on a cruise to Alaska with her grandma. One morning, she sat in a secluded corner of the ship, drinking her coffee, watching the large, magnificent glaciers float by. Out of nowhere, a woman asked if she could take the seat next to her.

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“Sure,” Dyanne answered. They started talking, and before long, Dyanne realized that the woman she was speaking to was Laurel Underwood Brundage, the great granddaughter of the Horace Grant Underwood. Horace Grant Underwood was one of the first missionaries to then-united Korea. As they continued talking, Laurel spoke fondly of the country and Dyanne’s heart sank. She knew God didn’t want her to leave South Korea just yet. But she had no idea why.
      “Honestly, if that’s not confirmation, I don’t know what is,” Dyanne laughs.
      When she returned, she considered enrolling in Simpson University’s masters program in education, which took place in South Korea. When the morning came to discuss the program with a professor, Dyanne began drafting an email to say she would not be enrolling. Just then, however, a new email arrived in her inbox. She stopped typing and checked it. It was from the professor, and he was excited to meet with her. Dyanne deleted her draft. And after the meeting, she enrolled, completing the program in June 2012.
      John-Michael, who counseled Dyanne over the years and has become good friends with her, can see just how much she’s grown since they met in 2008.
      “She has really confronted her fears, submitting her desires to God,” John-Michael says. “I know that the desires of her heart are not for Korea, but she’s stuck it through and I’m so proud of her. God brought her to Korea because He wasn’t done with her. He’s taken her so much deeper, and for that, she’s so much stronger.”
      Then, in September 2011, despite almost leaving twice, Dyanne made a ten-year commitment to partner with New Philadelphia Church.

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      Because, if there’s one thing Dyanne has learned, it’s to just trust.
      “Korea has been a time of dying to myself, surrendering to God, and learning to keep a tender heart towards God,” Dyanne says. “I know that Korea is a training ground. I’m finally at a place where I love my life in Korea. And I know Korea is preparing me for whatever’s next.”
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