My name is Susan Baldi, and I’m a part of The Gathering Place, a Foursquare church in Folsom, Calif., pastored by Phil and Donna Jones.

I was born and raised in a small town near beautiful Mt. Shasta, where God’s arms of love enveloped me in His breathtaking creation. As a young child, I sporadically attended a Presbyterian church and loved learning Bible stories. But while God most certainly had His hand on me, so did the enemy of my soul, who was continually on the prowl to bring destruction and death to my life.

Unfortunately, I came to know the eruptions of anger more than love, of physical abuse more than affection, of verbal assaults more than encouragement. Molested at around age 5 by an older cousin, I was too frightened to tell, fearing I had done something wrong.

My first memory of a severe beating was around age 6; I vividly recall the thick belt, as well as the terrible bruises and welts it left on my little legs and thighs as it whipped against my flesh. But worse than that pain was the disappointment that I had to miss my first dance recital so no one else would be able to see the marks of violence on my body.

Smoking and drinking began at an early age, and as a rebellious teen I was always a thrill seeker, searching for arms of love to ease my aching heart.

At 15, my boyfriend introduced me to the Catholic church, where I ran to God’s arms of love and was baptized. However, some time after that, the priest began an illicit affair with me during a counseling session. Those false arms of love left me disillusioned and devastated.

Anxious to escape my miserable life’s trappings, at 18 I moved to the big city of Sacramento. An empty, violated heart led to drug experimentation, partying and looking for love in all the wrong places.

When I returned home with anticipation to celebrate my 21st birthday, my father put a loaded gun to my head, because I’d come home late. Daring him to pull the trigger, I believed death would bring welcome relief.

At 23, I found myself in an abortion clinic with an unwanted pregnancy, honestly not even grasping the severity of the choice I was making—only longing for a quick escape to the consequences of my foolish choices.

Later, upon meeting and marrying the man of my dreams, I settled down and lived happily for many years. While God was not a priority in my life, I often felt His arms of love reaching out, calling me to Him. When I gave birth to my precious baby girl, I felt He had truly forgiven my horrible past.

Unexpectedly, the rug was pulled out from under me when, after 15 years of marriage, my husband said he no longer loved me and did not want to be married anymore, leaving me and my young daughter. Once again, my soul was shattered.

But God had a bigger plan. At that time, He brought me to The Gathering Place, where I ran to the arms of Jesus, once and for all totally surrendering my broken heart and life.

For the past 16 years, Christ’s wonderful plan of restoration has been miraculous and incredible. I’ve been on staff at The Gathering Place for 10 years now, and have had the privilege of being a pastor for nearly 6 years.

Christ Jesus has taken the ugly, sordid sin and pain of my past, and given me beauty for ashes in His arms of love. My relationship with my earthly father was lovingly restored, and he gave his heart to the Lord before he passed away. And, though I once believed I could never deserve to be a mother, my greatest gift in life (next to Jesus) has been the relationship I share with my beautiful daughter, Tristina.

I was thousands of dollars in debt after my divorce, but the Lord has restored my finances as I have kept Him first in tithing. Jesus has restored my dignity as I live a life of purity to Him. He has revived my heart and soul, my very breath of life, giving me joy, purpose and fulfillment as I serve Him. Each and every day, I am overwhelmingly grateful for Christ’s arms of love.