"When I knew that Jesus loved me and wanted me, everything changed."
Angel Ambrose’s home life became so unsafe when she was a teen that she testified against her mother in order to protect herself and her younger siblings from neglect and abuse. Angel shares her story and how God has redeemed her past and brought her healing, even to the point of having her own child—something she never thought she wanted.
Angel’s parents were both very young, only 17, when her mom became pregnant. It was an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, which Angel believes was the seed for her own abandonment issues. They stayed together, however, and had two more children together. Angel’s brother was born three years later, and her sister three years after that.
As she and her siblings grew up, life seemed pretty normal from their perspective, but looking back, Angel realizes that her parents suffered from chemical dependencies on drugs and alcohol, fought depression and struggled with jealousy and domestic violence.
When she was 13 years old, Angel’s father was laid off from his factory job for several months, which only exacerbated the problems at home. Her parents had too much time and not very much money, a combination that resulted in lots of parties at their home. Unfortunately, this added to the stress level and the violence increased.
A couple of years later, when Angel was 15, her dad was arrested for domestic violence and mother divorced him. Angel believes her dad knew things were getting out of control and tried to step back, but her mom’s addictions were too entrenched. He ended up relocating and dropping out of their lives.
Unfortunately, that didn’t end the partying. Even before her father left, kids from her high school would come to their house to party—her parents were “young, hip and cool” to them. These weren’t the kids that Angel would have chosen to be friends with, however.
She was often embarrassed and terrified of what was happening in her home. “There was a lot of alcohol, but no food,” she says. And the near-constant state of partying meant that their house was not cared for, so cockroaches were a common problem.
Thankfully, she had a core group of friends at school that “liked me for me”—definitely not the same group that partied with her parents. While she was embarrassed by her family, she wasn’t picked on or teased by the kids at school.
As the oldest child, she tried to parent her parents as well as her younger siblings. After her father left, the environment was even more unsafe as older men would come over and there were no locks on the bedroom doors—Angel was concerned for her brother and sister’s safety. She would often sleep in the basement by the other women who had passed out from partying to be safe from these men.
DCFS came to their home multiple times—even her mother’s mother had reported the unsafe conditions. Angel’s mother was given a two-week time period to get things straightened out so that she could continue to parent her children, and the boundary was that she had to stop drinking. “She didn’t even last two weeks,” says Angel. “She simply walked across the backyard to the tavern.” That was when Angel truly felt that her mother wanted alcohol more than she wanted her own children.
At this point, Angel talked to her dad’s mom—she no longer wanted to live in her own home. Her grandmother told her would have to talk with DCFS for that to happen—as well as for her siblings to be removed. She decided to proceed with DCFS and testified in court that her home was not safe. “When your passion is more than your fear, you will do something,” she says of this step.
She worried for her safety and the safety of her sister, because the men in their mother’s life were also violent. “God wired me to want to do the right thing,” she says. And the right thing at that time was to get herself and her siblings out of their mother’s home.
Her siblings went to live with an aunt and she lived with their grandmother, so they were separated but still with family. They were able to see each other at family gatherings, although these were not frequent—there didn’t seem like there were many opportunities to get together. “It felt like the whole family collectively was pulling their hair out because things were such a mess,” Angel remembers.
Unfortunately, this added to her feelings of being unwanted.
Angel knew she was safe at her grandmother’s home, but there were still huge adjustments. In her own home, she had been the “adult” more than her mother and had unlimited freedom. She was used to being responsible for everything and everyone. She took care of making meals and doing the laundry. At her grandmother’s, however, she wasn’t even allowed to touch the stove.
She spent two years with her grandmother, then left town to start college. She was excited for this opportunity to leave her little town and all the heartache she experienced. She felt that going to college was a chance to do better and leave the pain of her past behind her. “I couldn’t wait to get out of that little town and leave the heartache behind,” Angel says. While her college experience was good—she was a good student and excelled in art and made the dean’s list—the heartache and pain were still there.
The journey to healing
Once she had the space to process her childhood, the disparity between her experiences as a child and her roommate’s experiences caused her to fall into a depression. She knew her past was not normal, but until she interacted with her roommate’s family, she had never realized how not normal it was. The recognition of the ugliness of her past was what triggered the beginning of her healing journey.
The healing journey is ongoing. It started with counseling and attending Al Anon meetings and has continued with the help of great friends and a biblical filter. Angel believes the trauma she experienced as a child is still impacting her life, but God has done tremendous things with her abandonment issues, with her fear of men and with her relationships with her parents. Some of her greatest healing started when her own daughter turned 13—the age when things started going downhill for Angel.
The fact that Angel has a daughter is somewhat amazing in itself. She never wanted to be a parent; even the thought of being pregnant caused severe anxiety. When she and her husband, Tony, were going through pre-marital counseling, they found they were polar opposites in two ways: children and personality. He wanted a child; she didn’t. “I almost didn’t marry him because of my desire to not have children,” she says.
Since they were marrying a little later in life, she knew he wouldn’t resent it if they didn’t have a child. But God orchestrated a series of events that ended up wrecking both of them—she likens them to “birthing pains”—culminating with Angel experiencing an encounter with Jesus. “I was crying out, I was in so much emotional pain and Jesus met me. He was crying because I was an unwanted child. I felt the truth that Jesus loved and wanted me, and everything changed. I was sorry that I didn’t feel that children were a gift.” And her heart was changed.
As a result, she became pregnant at 40 and had a very “chill” pregnancy with no anxiety at all. One of the huge blessings is that Angel has been able to see what a loving father looks like, because her husband loves his daughter in a beautiful, godly way.
Restoration with her parents
Angel felt challenged about 20 years ago by a message from her pastor regarding honoring parents. She and her mother began talking by phone. Her mother had become a shut-in by this point, and Angel was able to talk with her about forgiveness and a relationship with Jesus. Her mother was concerned that Angel’s sister hated her for her lack of mothering skills—probably the closest they would get in the way of an apology, but Angel assured her this was not true. Shortly after, her mother had a massive brain aneurysm and passed away. Although her mother was never the model of motherhood, Angel says that God gave her a mom when she married her husband.
Angel’s father came back into her life when she was 31 years old. They have also talked through many things and she forgave him a long time ago. His health is declining, and she is working to care for him. She knows her father has deep regrets for all the things that happened, but she is thankful that he knows the Lord. Both her parents changed significantly over the years. “They are not the people they were, and thank God, neither am I,” Angels says.
“God is good—he helped me make good choices and protected me from making bad ones,” says Angel. “I’ve always sensed God’s protection, even as a little girl.”
Angel’s encouragement to others is this: “God is so much bigger than the circumstances. Sometimes we have to let go of how we think it should look like. God can truly give us back what the locusts have eaten.
Hopefully, this episode has helped you right where you are on your foster care journey. That’s the goal. If you enjoyed it, will you tell others?
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Meet Our Guest
Angel Ambrose is an artist, writer and speaker and owner of Angel Ambrose Fine Art Studio and Creative Space. She attended Illinois State University where she studied with Dr. Harold Gregor and Professor James Butler. She graduated in 1985 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting. She also received ISU’s “Best Undergraduate Painter” award in 1985. Angel paints contemporary, conceptual landscapes, often pointing to the marvelous, unseen things of God. She has had many exhibitions of her work and continues painting and creating in her studio in central Illinois where she lives with her husband, Tony, and their daughter.
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