Claudia Stephens - Captivating
By Phillis Hand
Imagine that you can hear the echo of success bouncing off of a garage door in the back of a house.
That is one of the beauties of Claudia Stephen’s story. It brings forth the inspiration and hope that Claudia has experienced. Claudia came from living in a garage, to owning a home with a garage. Claudia says “I think in acronyms a lot. ‘I say that regardless of what we have been through, there is hope.’ Healing Overcoming and Purpose and Empowerment… there is HOPE.”
Claudia is the youngest of seven children in her family. She relocated to Ohio from California 20 plus years ago. Claudia came from a challenged childhood that included abuse among the traumas that she experienced. Counselors would ask her how she got herself out of bad situations and her answer is that she just wanted to be loved and that is the mindset that helped free her.
Claudia was young and married the guy that showed her attention and she thought loved her. She accepted living in subpar conditions for many years. Claudia never had her own address for twelve years while she was on her journey. As a national advocate, she learned that if you do not have an address, you are considered homeless. That was a really big pill to swallow when she realized that she and her family technically were homeless.
Claudia was born a citizen of the United States and her family was born in Mexico. She always knew that she was able to endure hardships because of the God in her. Her ex-husband had a best friend here in Ohio and that is why they moved here. Her ex-husband got them an apartment and she told him that if he acts out, she was going to leave him. It wasn’t just him holding her down; it was that mindset and the culture and the people around her. Because of her culture and unspoken family values, the psychological manipulation that she grew up with and endured was ingrained in her behaviors and influenced the choices that she made when she was going through the dark times. Claudia stated, “I started to believe that I had the problem for wanting things to change. I was made to feel that you should support your husband and be that submissive wife. You stick by him.” But when her mindset changed, “I became like ‘She-Ra’ the warrior” she says. “Like with the lady at the well, God has traveled miles and miles to meet her, because I am worthy.” A year passed after she left her ex-husband and she started to get promoted at her job, and started to get better opportunities and became a supervisor. She had a friend here who helped and inspired her. “God just placed me with the right people to be able to do this” she says.
She remembers a moment, when she was at a low point, that a woman told her, “With that smile, there has to be more to you.” It helped her to understand that the abuse she had endured throughout her life was not normal.
She had been on her healing journey for a while when she was diagnosed with congenital heart disease in 2016. So, she had gained a lot of weight and in the process an artery abnormality was discovered. God has spared her life, but her coping mechanism was food. She’s glad that people are now realizing that eating disorders are signs and symptoms of trauma.
Tears are flowing from Claudia’s face as she describes knowing that there are others who need to know that there is help for past trauma and hurts. They need to know that there is hope and there is a purpose, and that God brings healing internally so that people can become who God intended them to be. She says, “You know, it’s like that butterfly that you are wearing. I like butterflies too. They represent transformation and change” relating to her writer, Ms. Phillis. Claudia says, “I’m really bless, and my tears and sensitivity are because I have been through so much and I know what God has done for me. I don’t want to minimize or take away from people who are born into the faith, but there is a pureness in having gone through so much and now being able to help others who are going through.”
The reason why she is sharing her story is because she wants people to see her experience of transformation and know that it could be them too. Now she is a Pastor’s wife. God called them forward. She shared that to say that people have told her that she disarms them, and they are able to share with her their hurts and pains. She prays for God to break her heart for what breaks His. She asks him to help her see people the way that He sees them. She shares the emotions because if it matters to God then it matters to her.
Claudia has learned how to love. She didn’t know what that was in her previous relationship, with love, there was always a question, there was always a condition, and there was always an “if”. She wants to share about coming from a garage as my home, to having a home with a garage. Real change happened for her when she looked at her first-born son and realized that she has an unconditional love for him and realized that her children needed more, they deserved more. That was the turning point. When she thinks of it, for her, what changed was her seeing her kids with lack. Her kids gave her motivation to change and make things better.
When you are in a domestic situation, you are used to two incomes, and when you leave the relationship, you lose one income. So, when you are trying to change and heal and keep everything afloat, you need resources. You need that extra help. It is not that there aren’t resources. Most people can access resources, but you are able to get the help in your hand and have someone walk along side to get you that job and get you connected and empower your confidence. That is what we offer for the people we serve at our support group called “H.O.P.E.” She started the H.O.P.E. support group in 2018. That is when she met Ms. McQuetta Williams. Since then, God has continued to help her peel back those layers. She finds that being vulnerable is so hard. It is really hard. We have people who come to our peer support group in order to “Healing Our Past Experiences”. The support group has now branched off into ‘Steps of HOPE”. The mission of Steps of HOPE is all about peer empowerment. It is like a hand up. When you come and you experience healing in the group setting, you can get mentoring in order to further your personal growth. Then from there if there are other needs that someone has, we help. If you need a job, we help you.
The theme of Claudia’s life is one of empowerment and resilience. Despite experiencing childhood abuse and domestic abuse, she has been able to overcome the adversity and create a space for others to heal. Her life is a testament to the human capacity for strength courage and compassion when you believe in God, or someone greater than us. Her experience has given her a unique perspective on the world, and she has been able to use this to help others who may be going through a similar struggle. She’s able to help by creating a space of healing in a supportive environment, where individuals can work through their trauma and begin to rebuild their lives. Her story is a powerful example of how it is possible to turn hardship into something positive. Thru her own perspective and determination, she has been able to transform her experience into a force of good by helping others who may be struggling to find hope and healing. Her theme of resilience and empowerment serves as an inspiration. It demonstrates to others that no matter how big the challenge or how difficult the road may be, it is possible to rise above the challenges and create a better future for yourself and your family. Her main message is that true freedom comes from Jesus Christ. She’s not trying to push her faith on anyone, but that’s her story. She believes that no one can take away what she has lived and what God has done for her.
Claudia never walked for graduation until she received her license in nursing. She did one class at a time. She received her associate in psychology in December 2022. She also applying for her bachelors in social work. It isn’t about how fast you get there; it’s about getting there. As a family we are moving the success needle up. When it comes to education and degrees for Hispanics, the statistics are low. Her boys have all moved the needle up in education. They have achieved their associates, bachelors and one has a trade.
In this life, we are like a cloud, and we can minister to people who are going thru physical elements, doubting that God is there, depression, mental health, a variety of stuff. There is no one shoe that fits everyone’s pain. Everyone is so individual and there are so many pathways to healing, but what we do have in common is that we are human, and it is okay not being ok. She’s all about being real with yourself. You don’t have to lie to “kick it” with her. Claudia has remarried and when she first started dating her second husband, he invited her to church. Then she knew that he was her husband right next to her. She shied away from telling her story for a long time, but she feels that now is the time.
She has journeyed from pain to promise. The promises that God gives at the end of the pain in your life are manifested in your journey. She does what she does so that others can experience freedom. Freedom has the capacity to shine a light at the end of a tunnel and show someone the way. Freedom is so precious. Sometimes people have trouble describing freedom. We are so bogged down by so many weights. The weight of others, the weight of our past and the lies we are told are all things that keep us in chains. Freedom is so invaluable.
Claudia has been married now for13 years and says, “I came with boxes of clothes and my three boys” is how Claudia described the transition into a new and better life. Her ex-husband would leave her and her children numerous times. His family would help her. She was a charismatic catholic and she heard God say, “move to Ohio”. Claudia became overwhelmed with her change. She looks back and says “wow, look at what God has done”.
Today, her joy has come from seeing that transformation before her eyes. It is so beautiful to watch. Now she’s living a life worth telling.
Remember that even when it is darkest, the light never turns off.