This week on the podcast I had the privilege of talking to my good friend Deanna Spangler, Asbury Seminary alum and author of “Purchased: Leaving the Sex Trade.” Before you listen, please know that this episode contains content about abuse, pornography, addictions and the adult sex industry, so if those are triggers for you or you’re listening with children, you may want to skip this episode. Deanna’s story is one of redemption, hope, recovery and freedom. We talk about her healing journey that led her to write “Purchased: Leaving the Sex Trade,” what her recovery process at Refuge for Women looked like, and the freedom and forgiveness she has found in her new life in Christ.
*The views expressed in this podcast don’t necessarily reflect the views of Asbury Seminary.
Deanna Spangler, Orthopedic Specialist
Deanna Lynn overcame the trauma of a challenging upbringing and escaped the sex industry, relocating to Kentucky. She has a master’s degree from Asbury Theological Seminary. She loves research and learning and will likely be a student for life. She and her husband, Matt, enjoy traveling and exploring new places. She also has a unique love of alpacas (not llamas) and hopes to open up a working ranch one day to help people retreat and connect those who are struggling with PTSD. In daily life, she and her husband spoil their dog Buddy, who looks like a real life giant Muppet.
Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast
Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.
Heidi: Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast where we bring you conversations with authors, thought leaders, and people just like you who are looking to connect where your passion and the world’s deep needs connect. This week on the podcast, I had the privilege of talking to my good friend, Deanna Spangler. She’s an Asbury Seminary Alum and author of Purchased: Leaving the Sex Trade. Before you listen, I want to give a trigger warning. Please know that this episode contains content about abuse, pornography, addiction, and the sex industry.
Heidi: If those are triggers for you or if you’re listening with children, you may want to skip this episode. Deanna’s story is one of redemption, hope, recovery and freedom. We talk about her healing journey that led her to write Purchased: Leaving the Sex Trade, what her recovery process at Refuge for Women looked like, how she came to Asbury Seminary, and the freedom and forgiveness she has found in her new life in Christ. Let’s listen. Deanna, I am just so grateful that you can be on the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast today. We are friends off the podcast. I just find it a real honor to get to sit down with you for the podcast today. Thank you very much.
Deanna: Yes, me too. Thanks for having me.
Heidi: Yeah. I read your book Purchased that just came out in October. Reading your story, I knew a little bit of it because we were friends already. I just want to say that I thought telling your story was very brave. I’m very honored, as I already said, to get to talk to you about it today.
Deanna: Thank you.
Heidi: Why did you write Purchased?
Deanna: Well, Purchased was a project that’s probably about seven years in the making. I’ve been told my whole life I should write a book, I should write a book. I have no problem sharing my experience if it would be beneficial to others. It was a matter of how I was going to share the experience. I really needed to get grounded in and who the audience was going to be. Once I solidified that, I feel like momentum got going again. For me, what happened when I left the sex industry is I got pegged into one or two categories. One was I was either a victim of human trafficking, and yes, there is definitely correlations between the sex industry and human trafficking and coercion, manipulation, all of that.
Deanna: I felt like it wasn’t doing justice to some of the human trafficking that people are familiar with. I didn’t want to be deceiving in any way. Then the other category is, well, these girls are there by choice, they want to be there. I have no problem purchasing their materials. I really wanted people to see when we make a decision to go into the sex industry what life looks like that that makes us think, hmm, this is going to be the best option for my life to survive. I wanted people to get the whole detailed picture of what that choice was derived from.
Heidi: For sure. Your book released in October and this podcast won’t air until the spring. It was the number one bestseller in the study of pornography, which is amazing.
Deanna: That is fun. It was like the next day everybody was really excited about it.
Heidi: I just read it. It’s a really well thought out book and you told your story …
Deanna: Thank you.
Heidi: … really well. Was it scary to tell your story?
Deanna: Well, there was two things. What I was most concerned with is the other characters in the book, which some of the names I have changed and stuff because these are experiences based on my perception and my healing journey. We don’t know where every single person in my story was coming from. While I’m not excusing any behaviors, I really wanted to make sure that I wasn’t dishonoring people along the way, but that I told enough of the truth that when girls pick this up and read it and say, that’s not normal, I should talk to somebody about that. That was probably the hardest part, was figuring out that balance.
Deanna: Then the other hard part was there were times where I would just pick it up and I was just so disgusted with my life. I went through a process with my counselor called the ultimate journey. It’s like inner child healing. I just went back through each stage of my life and talked myself through why I made those decisions and was able to walk out a fully integrated, healthy person where I didn’t have to leave any part of my past behind. That made it a lot more comfortable.
Heidi: It sounds like the writing process. You had done a lot of healing prior to writing the book, but it sounds like the writing process was very healing, was another catalyst for your healing.
Heidi: Yeah, that’s awesome. I want to back up and set the stage for your story.
Heidi: You talked about you were first introduced to sexually explicit material when you were five. How did this shape your life for the next 23 years?
Deanna: It’s really interesting because when you’re a child, you don’t think it’s doing anything to you. You just assume like everybody’s been introduced to this. You talk about things that you think everybody’s talking about. You do things that you think is normal for an eight-year-old to do. One thing that I know how that happened is I’m five years old and I have sexually explicit dreams the rest of my life that I can’t escape from.
Deanna: Because of visualizations from the movies that my mom had me watch. I don’t get a choice of whether I get to see that in my sleep. To have dreams like that when my hormones weren’t even supposed to get started was really embarrassing growing up. The other thing that I find interesting is that when I was eight years old, as I mentioned in my story, my mom not only introduced us to pornography but other movies that really glamorized the sex industry which was like Pretty Woman. People think like, oh, what a fairytale ending. This guy rescues this prostitute off the street or a woman who’s prostituting off the street, and she gets her happy ending.
Deanna: Here I am, eight years old, trying to escape the chaos, the abuse, my mom’s suicide attempts, just trying to start a new life for myself. I think like I take my sweater and I make it into a skirt so that maybe somebody will take me in and keep me forever.
Deanna: At the time, I had no idea that maybe those things were connected. By eight years old, I was already using my sexuality hoping that someone would save me.
Heidi: Yeah, that you can earn love or find love.
Deanna: Yeah, and familial love. At eight years old, I’m not looking to get married, I just need a savior.
Heidi: Right, because your home life was pretty traumatic.
Heidi: As you grew, you chose to enter the sex industry. Is that …
Deanna: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Heidi: Well, is that fair, first of all?
Deanna: It was subtle in the sense that I’m 17 years old and I get hired at Hooters. They put me into a swimsuit competition to represent their store. Now while I’m working there, I find that there are acceptable ways to sell sex and there are not acceptable ways to sell sex. Basically, the acceptable ways were prostituting on the side but you can’t work at strip clubs and then it was nude magazines. Certain pornography was okay. When I went into the swimsuit competition, the winner wins a layout in Playboy magazine.
Heidi: And that was acceptable.
Deanna: And that was acceptable. That’s an acceptable way of selling yourself for other people’s sexual pleasure. That became a lot of our inspiration. It’s like we wanted to be one of those Hooters’ girls that ended up in that magazine. It was those same girls that introduced me to prostitution. It was those same girls that we all ended up answering a model’s wanted ad for a local tanning salon. That’s where I ended up meeting a lovely, beautiful, classy woman, introduced me to this very classy looking man who had shots of alcohol on his table. I’m 18 by that point. He was the one that wanted to take my modeling career a step further and that ended up leading into prostitution, which ended up leading into pornography later.
Heidi: Wow. Does that often happen that modelling leads to prostitution?
Deanna: Yes. That is a big ploy, scam. I don’t know how to put it. What happens is they look for women who really like attention. You’ll even see in mainstream movies that show glimpses of porn producers and they go to the high school campus. They’re like, “Have you ever thought of modelling?” They’re so excited. They think like, oh my gosh, this will pay for college, and it’s not.
Heidi: Right, and it’s fun and it seems innocent.
Deanna: Right, it does seem innocent. Then after a while, what happens is, depending on what your vulnerabilities are, it could be attention. It’s like, okay, so the modeling work stops coming in. How far are you willing to go to make yourself famous to make people recognize you? Or if you have vulnerabilities like addictions, trying to get away from home, stuff like that, it’s like, okay, the modeling jobs aren’t coming in, but here’s how I can get you a new life. That is a very, very common way to traffic women.
Heidi: Wow. Then you were introduced to it at 17, 18. You chose it, is that …
Deanna: Yeah, yeah, at that point. I was actually honored to work at Hooters because I thought like, well, this is wonderful. I had no idea that it was going to be my gateway into a life of selling sex. Then after one incident happens, there’s just really no turning back because you’re so demoralized. It just started with wearing some skimpy outfit and getting a little bit of attention and serving some buffalo wings to full-blown sex industry career. Then you’re like, how did I get here? I was just a waitress.
Heidi: How did you see yourself then? Did you see yourself as a victim or as just a woman who was advancing her career?
Deanna: Definitely wasn’t an advancement. There was a certain point. From prostitution to pornography, it became more of a career. I’ll tell you more about that thought process later. I didn’t see myself as a victim at Hooters because I just thought like I’m 17, I’m about to go off to college. This seems like a great college job. Just how sneaky that whole situation was with that woman who was offering us modeling jobs to introducing us to this man and by then, I was already full-blown alcoholic. This guy came in my life every time my life was in crisis. I’m alcoholic, I’m getting introduced to drugs.
Deanna: There were acceptable drugs that he would give me and then there were non-acceptable drugs. My addiction would take me so far and he would come in and rescue me like anytime I was about to go to jail or needed to get away from an abusive boyfriend. That part, you do feel like that’s really interesting that he came in at those times to prey on me when he knew I had no other options that looked better.
Heidi: Right, like that savior you were looking for when you were eight years old. Then what happened next?
Deanna: From there, what the transition looked like is I’m just trying to stay out of jail at this point. I’m on the run from some really scary exes and stuff like that. He tells me he can make me a star. My thought process was, well, I can stay in this hotel where he’s standing outside with a gun and every half an hour a stranger is knocking at my door. I could possibly end up murdered and nobody would know where to find me. Or I can take him up on this offer and have him train me to be in pornography, send me out to a state where I don’t know, but at least there will be cameras and there will be witnesses. If something happens to me, the world will know. That was my thought process for advancing my career at that point.
Heidi: For moving from …
Heidi: … illegal prostitution into the pornography?
Deanna: To the legal sex trade.
Heidi: Yeah, the legal sex trade. Walk us through the next steps of your journey then. What was it like to work in the legal sex trade? How were you feeling and coping with that?
Deanna: What’s interesting about the legal sex trade is … I found this with addiction as well, it’s so interesting. If you do one type of drug, it’s frowned upon by other addicts who do that drug a different way or a different drug. This is the same thing with the sex trade. It’s like this is acceptable, this is not acceptable. This is dirty, this is glamorous. There’s a lot of really misconceiving things.
Heidi: Okay. Rules within the industry itself.
Deanna: Yes, and in the world. I go into this and I’m like, okay, I’m in Los Angeles. One of the things that they do is they start to introduce you to famous people. They take you around in limos and you’re staying in mansions and stuff like that. You’re thinking like, how far will I go to keep this lifestyle? Because it certainly looks better than my life on the street. The thing is, is you’re still a prostitute. For me and for a lot of women that I know in the industry, we just take that and we run with it. Our only source of empowerment is being able to control it just a little bit. There’s not much that you can control. Because if you deny certain things, you won’t get work.
Deanna: You have to really, really make like you’re enjoying even the most violent of acts because that’s what’s selling now. Because people can see people making love on their regular television channels now. They need shock factor and stuff like that. You’re having to compete in that environment. You have to get into a mentality of like, if I’m going to survive in here, I better figure out how to do this well and make it look like I want to be here. You do. You make it look like it’s the greatest job in the world. Meanwhile, you’re getting tested every couple of weeks for STDs. There’s HIV quarantines that break out. You’re literally putting your life at risk and they won’t let you use condoms. Even in some of the more violent stuff, you have these physical problems and they just … You just have to keep going anyways.
Heidi: Just keep going, yeah.
Deanna: You have to follow whatever the director says and you’re on pain pills to cope with that, and in and out of emergency rooms from different things that aren’t so sexy that you’re not seeing on film.
Heidi: Right. The real life is totally different from what you’re seeing on film, or in a magazine, or things like that. You mentioned control earlier. What kind of control did you have or did you think that you had?
Deanna: When I first went in, I didn’t think I had any control at all. It was like I was owned by a pimp and now an agent, which is a glorified pimp. Now I’ve got 20% to 30% of anything I make is going out to these people who are managing me. I’ve got to do whatever they tell me because when they get angry, it’s really scary. Again, I’m trying to stay off the street. Whatever they tell me goes. The thing is, it was so bad that when the camera wasn’t on my face, I would cry in my pillow. I had somebody walk off set because he’s like, “I can’t continue to do this to her.” It’s like, this was my job. I had to figure out how to do this. I didn’t really think I had any control because they wanted to put me with the most violent scenes because I was this tiny little girl. They just thought it was awesome to see how much they could put me through.
Heidi: That’s terrible.
Deanna: What happened is I actually ended up going under contract with a company, which was my saving grace because I didn’t have to work as much. I was guaranteed income. I was guaranteed work. I was able to choose which partners I could work with that wouldn’t be so hard for the most part, depending on what country you’re shooting and because there’s this different violent factors in different countries. That was my sense of control or taking back control, was being able to participate and, okay, if this is going to be my life, this is how much violence I can tolerate.
Heidi: Define really scary for you. As you said, when they got angry, it was really scary.
Deanna: It didn’t take much for me to know. There’s a glazed over look that a man can get right before something really bad happens. It only took me seeing that look once and knowing that if I didn’t fix this, like when it comes to their money, if I didn’t fix this, this could be my life or my friend’s life. It was all I needed to …
Heidi: Like literally your life?
Deanna: It was all I knew. It was just that one temper change and glazed over look. I was like, this is serious business, I’m not going to mess with this.
Deanna: Now in the industry, it’s a little bit different because it’s a little more organized. I just never thought anything of … When they go and collect money and stuff like that, not a lot I can say on air.
Heidi: Right. You didn’t know a different life because this had been what you’d seen from the time you were a little girl and then just continued to be introduced to.
Deanna: Right. That kind of intimidation I was used to. It was just like you just didn’t ask any questions and all you know is people get their money. That’s it. They figure out how to get their money.
Heidi: How old were you when you entered the sex industry?
Deanna: I was still 18 at the time, the first time.
Heidi: Wow. You were in the industry for how long?
Deanna: That would’ve been around 2001 until 2010.
Heidi: About nine …
Deanna: Yeah, 9, 10 years.
Heidi: Yeah. What led you to the point, your breaking point, where you were like, I have to get out of this, I have to make a change?
Deanna: A couple things. It was probably threefold, depending on which part of the industry I was currently immersed in. The performing part it was. I was tired of not being able to eat. I was so hungry all the time. People were always taking pictures. I didn’t feel comfortable on my own skin. I just remember thinking like, gosh, I would love to put clothes on. What would it be like to live a life with clothes on? The other part of that was I had never been out. I hadn’t gone out on a date, a respectable date. What was it like to go out with somebody and not wonder like, are they going to use me for sex? Are they just here to pay me for this?
Heidi: Which you did they like?
Deanna: Yeah, that was a really tough one. I just didn’t date. I just became my character and hid behind her to avoid life. Then as far as leaving the industry all together, I had a fan drive from Georgia to California to have me sign his DVD collection. I’m not thinking anything was wrong with that. I’m super flattered. He even stopped by my hometown, got me my favorite cookies.
Deanna: Because this guy, he was really following me. Again, not alarmed. Everybody else was like, this is a big deal, scary situation. Well, he went back home and his wife had called me the next week and told me how they didn’t know where he was at. He just disappeared. He drained their entire savings account to come meet me. When he came home, he was just distraught because he couldn’t process that I was an actual human being. Here’s this broken man coming home to his wife and she’s just like, “Okay, this has to stop,” and tries to talk him out of turning on his web chats and to stop the pornography and all of that. He took a gun and he shot himself.
Deanna: Now, he’s left behind a wife and grieving children all over his porn addiction. That was when I realized this isn’t helping anybody. This is destroying people. This man took his life because his addiction was so bad. Even when the addiction isn’t bad, just what I’ve seen it do in relationships and marriages and just how humiliated people feel and the shame and the torture that it brings, I had no idea. Because I was just trying to make a living.
Heidi: Yeah. That was the first time you realized what it did to other people. Do you think there’s often a disconnect between people who view pornography realizing that they’re actually viewing human beings?
Deanna: Absolutely. I think the language that we use is helpful because they say like, “I’m not purchasing an actual person.” I’m like, “No, me and my friends were actual people.” See, what happens is here I am, what? I’m almost 10 years out of the industry and people are still paying money to the people who purchased me to begin with. I have no choice in that because I was 18 and I signed over my rights. People continue to use me without my consent, because of the state of mind I was when I was 18 years old and just trying to survive. That’s really frustrating. I do think there’s a huge disconnect in what people call trafficking and then what they call acceptable forms of purchasing somebody else.
Heidi: Those are the three things that happened that made you realize I need to change. Then what was your first step to try and to make a change?
Deanna: My first step was I had stopped performing, but I still worked in the industry. When that guy came, I was done before him. I was still signing autographs. I was still doing tours. I wasn’t in the movies anymore, but I was still selling myself through my movies and trying to profit as much as I could off of that. I was working in the office. I ended up becoming the girl that preys on other people. Thinking like, well, at least I’m not doing this anymore. Now, I’ve got girls in my office who can’t get any work in porn anymore. I’m setting them up in strip clubs with people that are escorting them and prostituting them out. They’re going to brothels.
Deanna: Now I’ve become that person that either lures girls into the industry or sells them back out. What was interesting is, is other women wanted to be like me. They were like, “I want to do what she did. She’s making a name for herself without selling herself.” It was these small little steps but still very distorted. I wanted a better name. I went back to school, and went back to school for holistic health and started training under a trainer who did orthopedic specialties. I got to work with disabled people. I just really fell in love because by then, my body had already been through so much trauma that I had to go to her.
Deanna: When she helped me manage the chronic pain that I was living with without medications and stuff like that, I realized I wanted to help other people. It was a long road to that because it was like, well, how do I start over? Because there’s a lot of people that will say like, “Get out of the industry. Porn is bad. Porn is sinful.” Nobody is there to walk you through. Okay, well, how do I make a new life? What else do I do? Because now I have this education, I’ve got to start over and nobody is giving me a business loan. That was a really hard process to go through. That’s part of what led me into Refuge for Women. It’s because all these people wanted to help people be free of their addictions. Who’s helping the girls and the guys to start a life after that so that never becomes an option again?
Heidi: Tell me about your journey, because you mentioned in the book the eating disorder as you struggle with addiction, and then you came to Refuge for Women. You took some steps before you got to Refuge for Women to attending church and things like that.
Deanna: It’s interesting to say like, yeah, I got sober while I was still in the sex industry because cocaine and alcohol are so rampant and acceptable as well as pain pills and stuff like that. I needed to get sober because I was just passing out places and now I was this public figure. People were trashing me online. I had to take myself seriously somehow. I got into recovery. The only thing that I did is I was honest with one person about everything.
Heidi: Wow, and that’s all it took. That was the first step, not all it took.
Deanna: Yeah. That was the first step. Because what happened is as I I continued through recovery and I started working these steps and I was honest with a sponsor, it was like, here is this person, I didn’t have to hide my other life. She knew I was in the industry. She’s like, “Just don’t pick up a drink no matter what.” As long as I continued to do that through gaining a conscious awareness and contact with God and being honest with one person, every year I was able to see the layers that were keeping me from the center of that. At the same time, I also knew somebody who was going to church that was a former performer.
Deanna: I asked if she wasn’t embarrassed if she would take me to church. Because I already told everybody in the industry that I was a Christian because I knew that Jesus died for me too and I had accepted that. I had no idea that I could be free from my life though. I just knew that Jesus died for me too. I wasn’t exempt from what he did on the cross. That was the only thing I knew and the only thing that I could put together. I profess Christianity like no other. I’m like, “Jesus died for you. He died for you. He died for me.” I was an evangelist and people were very confused. That’s what we do. We’re accountable to what we know, and that’s what I knew. I made sure to share it.
Deanna: I started going to church. I would come back and I would talk to the distributors and buyers. I tell them what I was learning on my spiritual journey. I’d go to these conventions. Right after, I’d go to a church retreat. I wasn’t two-faced. It was just I was in this process of transition and being pursued by God. He was very gentle and gracious with me as I figure it out how to get out.
Heidi: When did you realize that he had found you?
Deanna: To be honest, he’d always been there in my life. I’m not really sure how. Because even when my mom was alive, I talk to him, I talk to him all the time. When I was on the street doing drugs, I was so honest with him. I’ve always been real honest about prayers and what I need. Some of those things were not needs. I was honest with him because I never felt like he left me. I just didn’t know how … I had no discipleship. I had no one to show me a better way to live, not for the sake of morality but for the sake of freedom. They say freedom is not the right to make choices, freedom is the ability to make choices that keep you free. I couldn’t make those choices.
Deanna: He came into my life early on and he never left me. To be honest, I don’t know where this stands with people’s doctrines and theologies and stuff, but I felt like a Joseph. Because I was trapped in this prison of the industry and yet there was just enough favor that helped me get to the next step and the next step. While they weren’t good decisions, I was able to break free. Just to find favor in the oddest and darkest of places, I felt like he was really helping me to work my way out even though it wasn’t this clean, hard, and fast break.
Heidi: For sure. How did you then get to Refuge for Women? Because you were taking steps as you talked about going to church, things like that, taking little steps little by little. Then there came a day that you packed your bags and left for Kentucky and Refuge for Women. How did you get there?
Deanna: I had been out of the industry almost a year, I think. Yes, maybe more than that. I had just left like in a relationship that was unhealthy, which was my next savior. My saviors went from a pimp to a producer, to a distributor. Those were my three saviors until finally it was God. What would happen is I would go to church on Sunday and part of this church plant team, I’m on fire for God. I’m helping people stay sober. I’ve got five years of sobriety under my belt. I’m using everything I can and offering it back to him. I didn’t have a will to live anymore. I still didn’t know how to interact with other human beings. People would tell me that they’re my fans.
Deanna: I didn’t know whether to be ashamed, or proud, or what. Then I did try to start dating and I slipped back into old habits so fast. I was so scared that I was going to lose this guy that I resorted to thinking that maybe he wanted this other girl and not me. That’s when I realized like if I don’t get help with this codependency, this addiction to men, all of that, then I’m going to end up back in the industry because I’m really failing at everything else. I just remember telling the devil each night like, “You’ve won. You’ve won. I don’t have it. I can’t do this.” I go to church on Sunday and I feel useful, and I feel connected. Then I leave and I don’t know how to live.
Deanna: It’s just I needed people to re-raise me as an adult and a rehab wasn’t going to do that. I didn’t need to get clean and sober, though most of the times we do. I had a program that helped me do that. I needed to learn how to relate to other human beings in a non-sexual way and be able to trust what it looked like when people weren’t going to use me for sex and figure out friendships and all of that stuff. Refuge helped me to do that.
Heidi: How long were you in Refuge for Women?
Deanna: It was a year program when I went through it. I was seven months in the house and then I had a host family that I ended up staying with for two years. They included me in their family. I got to see authentic faith. They were not preaching the Bible at me. They were not sitting here telling me that my doctrine was wrong. They simply loved well. They loved God, they loved each other. It was evident by the fruit that was coming out of their lives. That to me was attractive. I was like, well, how do I live life like that? For me, I think I imitated people who imitated Christ until I could learn how to imitate Christ myself.
Heidi: Yeah, that’s discipleship. What did you learn in Refuge for Women? Because you mentioned needing to learn how to relate to other human beings. What were some of the things that you learned during your time there?
Deanna: A huge one was boundaries. There’s probably six whole months just on what healthy boundaries look like. You have to be careful because you can get boundaries for your boundaries and then you just become selfish and stuff like that. There’s that line where it’s like, okay, this is a healthy boundary. I had some areas in my life where I had guard rails around those boundaries because I wanted … After really meeting Jesus and knowing how much he loved me, I didn’t want to settle for anything else than what looked like that. I had to make sure I didn’t have blinders on. I did have some boundaries for my boundaries in certain areas. It worked really well for me. We did trauma classes. There was dating classes. It was like, so if you’re dating a guy and you go back to his place and there’s chainsaws all around, that’s a red flag.
Heidi: For sure.
Deanna: We’re like, huh, would have never seen that coming. Because to us, we just thought that’s how people lived. It was really funny learning what dating looked like and knowing what conversations are appropriate. You have to be careful because even with Christian godly … I’m not going to say godly, even with Christian men, not everybody is healthy. Just saying that you’re a Christian … I mean, look at me. I said I was a Christian on every nude porn magazine. I know that people can be in different states in their walk. Learning how to discern this is somebody who’s healthy for me, and this is what friendship looks like, and this is what integrity looks like.
Deanna: I got to learn those things because I went to a place where God’s voice was the loudest over even the people who loved me and I really needed … You can’t hear his voice all the time when you’re not in a place of safety. I had safety for a whole year.
Heidi: Which is something you hadn’t had …
Heidi: … your whole life.
Deanna: Yeah, to be able to fall asleep and not wonder like is somebody going to hurt me, is somebody going to come home drunk, are they going to be yelling, are they going to be slamming stuff, are they going to come at my room. It was so refreshing.
Heidi: Yeah. Then after Refuge for Women and your time with that family, then you came to Asbury Seminary?
Deanna: Yes. It turns out my mentor lived about seven minutes from here. I kept seeing the sign for Asbury Seminary. I felt like I should go there. I’m in my Bible all the time. I’m in Bible study fellowship. It’s my favorite book. It’s my favorite author. I was like, what would it be like to go to school and study the Bible? I really didn’t even know schools existed like that. I started the application process. I applied for a life experience exception because my holistic school had shut down. I had credits here and I couldn’t get transcripts here. It was right before I got my bachelor’s degree.
Deanna: I just remember hearing Bob Goff and reading his book and how he sat outside of law school and said, “You have the power to let me in.” I just kept knocking on the door and said, “I’m not like here for a career. I will use every bit of education that you give me and every bit of transformation. It will affect every single person I serve from here on out. I will be a grateful steward of what you can offer me.” They worked with me until I got in. I even got some scholarships.
Heidi: That’s awesome.
Deanna: I graduated debt free. I can’t believe I got to go here.
Heidi: When did you graduate?
Deanna: I graduated in 2017.
Heidi: You had a degree in spiritual formation.
Heidi: Is that right?
Heidi: How perfect.
Deanna: I know. I didn’t think so. They kept pushing it on me. I’m like, “What does that going to do on a resume?” I kept hearing like, “This isn’t for your resume.” It’s like it’s formation for the sake of others. A lot of times that gets left out. It’s like all this self-formation, and self-growth, and all the stuff. It’s like that only is beneficial if that ripples out onto the people around you.
Deanna: How do we take this formation, this relationship with God that’s so authentic and comes from a place of gratitude and turn it into a way of life that just affects everybody around you?
Heidi: I want to ask how you were letting that … Because you’re very open about your story. Your book is very open. We’re friends on social media too. We’re friends off social media. We’re friends in real life.
Deanna: We’re real friends.
Heidi: We’re real friends, but we’re Facebook official friends too. I see your post and you’re just very open. Is that one of the ways that you see of letting your own formation affect other people?
Deanna: Yes. Facebook was a hard thing for me to consider coming back on because there was lot of people that kept putting up fake profiles pretending to be me. There’s quite a bit of stuff I had to combat with that. When I got on Facebook, it really had to be a place where I could stay connected to all the people that I’ve encountered during different seasons of my life and be able to share with them this journey that I’m on in good times and bad. Because sometimes there’s things that God doesn’t remove. I want people to see my faith isn’t just because he’s saying yes all the time.
Deanna: I get a lot of really painful, hard, embarrassing, humiliating nos that I can expect because I lived on this side of the curse. We live in a fallen world. All of my deliverance is not yet, but some of it I’ve gotten glimpses of. I have this place where I get to share this is what my faith looks like when God says no and he is still good. I’m still going for it. This is why it’s worth it because of who he is. Then this is where I get to give God praise and glory because he said yes and this is what my faith looks like. Being able to share that, there is hard times. There are consequences with the PTSD and stuff like that.
Deanna: I have people from all different parts of my walks that are part of my circle and they get to see this. They get to ask me questions. It’s a really beautiful ministry I get to have. Facebook has been a really positive thing for my life and for the lives of those that I get to stay connected with that maybe haven’t said yes to God yet. Because they’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t know if He’s for me.” I simply get to just ripple out my faith and be there when they’re ready to ask questions and just love them even if they don’t.
Heidi: It sounds like you get to live like your mentor’s family and just loved you for two solid years. I’m sure they still love you, but you no longer live with them. It’s a little bit different, but you get to live that for other people. How have you seen God restore your relationships?
Deanna: The cool thing is, my dad who I grew up with, he found God when I was seeking God. He got married. They both love God. They’re continuing their own formation process.
Heidi: That’s awesome.
Deanna: While we have different healing paths, a lot of people in my family, they just rather not look back. They just want to move on. It’s really painful for them.
Heidi: That’s fair.
Deanna: It is, absolutely. I respect that. I had to get to a place where it was like, I’m not going to force you to heal for my sake. That’s just not how I feel like God’s asked me to live, because there’s a lot of people out there still struggling. I want to offer the good, bad, and the ugly if it helps them to get out. They’ve got this new family. The person that I was engaged to, his family that owned the porn distribution companies and the production companies, they walked away from it all.
Deanna: They’re beach evangelists and leading Bible studies. That’s really beautiful to watch. We’re still connected with them. I’ve just learned how to do friendship differently knowing that like … When I first got out, I thought like everybody had to be accountable to everybody, and that’s just not. There’s time. Friendships involve time, and trust, and experience. I’ve learned how to have really deep, authentic friendships. I have a beautiful relationship with my husband who I met here. We had a great dating relationship. He has nothing close to a background like mine. He believed God and he saw the work that God did in me and that’s all he needed to see.
Deanna: Our backgrounds didn’t need to align. We had a beautiful dating relationship with those guardrails. It was something we had to do, but it was something we wanted to do. We knew that our decisions in singleness, our decisions in dating as well as our decisions now were going to affect our future relationship and our future family. It was an honor for us to say, you know what, we’re not going to go here because here’s how we want to grow. Seriously, to have a man that had his own godly values that I didn’t have to worry about like, are you going to go to church today?
Deanna: Or I didn’t have to worry about him bringing something up that I was going to be uncomfortable with physically, it just wasn’t an option for us. That’s not how we wanted to live and honor God. Again, not because it was a rule, but because we just wanted to stay in the center of that freedom and that love. Now we’re three-and-a-half years married and pregnant with twins after a lot of nos.
Deanna: My God is great and he’s walking us through this. We’re super excited to … I mean, that’s going to be a whole other healing journey, is I didn’t see healthy family growing up. I’m going to have to learn from scratch what mothering looks like and how God would have me parent.
Heidi: I’m sure you’ll be a great mother. I have no doubt.
Deanna: I know for sure Matt’s going to be a great dad.
Heidi: Yeah. Well …
Deanna: I’m going to do my best.
Heidi: That’s all you can do, Deanna. Can I ask you about your wedding day and what that meant to you?
Deanna: Wedding day or honeymoon?
Heidi: Let’s start with wedding day. We can get to honeymoon later.
Deanna: My wedding day was like when I got baptized, I know that I didn’t need to be re-baptized. It didn’t negate the work that God had already done. There was just this different understanding from the first time I was baptized where God offered himself to me to the second time I was baptized. I really offered myself to God and I knew who it was that I was going to follow the rest of my life. That was my first wedding, my first marriage. The people who are in the water with me were like bridesmaids and they’re the ones that continue to point me back to my commitment with God. They happen to be the same people who were at my wedding.
Heidi: I love that.
Deanna: For Matt and I, our wedding was like the celebration coming together before God. I woke up that morning and I opened my Bible and I read about … I think it was don’t take my degree back, but it was either Caleb or Joshua. I think it was Caleb, and he was going to collect his inheritance. I thought like, how interesting. Here I am, I believed God and I didn’t settle for anything less than what I truly believed he had in store for me. It was like me going to collect on a promise that God made to me. I know that’s an interesting concept. I truly believed that he was going to show me love in this way. I was intentional about who I had in my life, and all of that. I was vulnerable. I put myself out there. I didn’t expect him to just fall out of the sky. Here it was. I literally got to start a new family and it was a new chapter. We got to give everybody communion because with our belief …
Heidi: That’s beautiful.
Deanna: … we just believe Jesus offered that for everybody. Out of that gratitude for what he did comes how we live. We were able to offer communion to every single person at our wedding.
Heidi: That’s beautiful. What did it mean to you to wear white on your wedding day?
Deanna: I had a testimony for church awhile back. There was this little girl in a white wedding dress. There’s all these traditions. I don’t know much about traditions. I didn’t know anything about traditions before coming here. There was this tradition that a girl couldn’t wear white if she had been like … I don’t know, tainted or had had sex before, this and that. The thing is, is when I was baptized in 2012, I felt brand new and I lived in a way that was consistent with that. I really felt like God had washed all of that away. For me to show up in white, pure as can be and now like … My husband was pure. Here I am, I got to offer myself. I think I had five years, five years of just really living in the center of what that looked like. I got to offer myself to my husband as a pure bride …
Deanna: … that Jesus made me. It was like all of that stuff, it fell away. I just remember how important it was for me to wear a white dress because I knew that’s how Jesus saw me. There was no conflict in my mind whatsoever.
Heidi: Absolutely not. How have you since coming to know Jesus come to understand sexuality and intimacy?
Deanna: Well, before Jesus, one of the things that led me to the refuge was I was in a sex industry recovery meeting and they brought up the word intimacy. They use phrases like into me you see. That was terrifying to me because I didn’t even know it was in there. I had always done relationships backwards. What I came to discover about Jesus and God is that he has these good gifts. It’s not like this gift is bad in the sense of the word, like food is not bad, and like work is not bad. There’s a lot of good gifts that he gives us that when we don’t understand how best to use them, can be very damaging to us. Living with my ex, that was really painful. That was like a divorce.
Deanna: Everything that I went through with every other person, that was super painful. I don’t think like God was up there mad at me and ready with a punishment. He was just like, man, I had so much more for you. The beautiful thing is, is when I met Matt, I asked him what his values were in sexuality and singleness. Because I’m not here to change anybody’s mind. We have pretty specific values about like our sexuality is something that honors God and honors each other. The decisions that I made in singleness and the decisions that he made in singleness and then dating, those were things that we got to honor God with later.
Deanna: Sex became this beautiful expression of the trust and the intimacy that we had built ahead of time. It’s our way of coming together in agreement, renewing our covenant with God and with each other in a way that’s not shameful, in a way that we only get to do with each other just like God intended. Thinking about Jesus in the desert and how Satan tempted him with all these things that were already going to be his, but it wasn’t the time. Timing is everything, because God has these great plans and these great gifts. If we take them out of time, it just doesn’t have the same fruit. It can be really damaging, and just trusting like he does know what’s best and it is good. It’s really painful when it’s done out of context.
Heidi: Yeah, for sure. How would you define wholeness now?
Deanna: For me, that was a tricky one because I always heard sayings like become the person, the person you’re looking for is looking for. They always try to get you to become like your most whole self. Don’t bring a broken self into a relationship, a friendship, this and that. The thing is, is with me and God and self, not that there’s three of us, we were as whole as we could be together for that season. What happens is, is so then I start dating and I let somebody in. He becomes this reflection of things that I didn’t know were inside of me because nobody had gotten that close to me. Learning that wholeness looks different each season, we’re going to continue going through refinement. It doesn’t mean we weren’t whole before, it’s just this different layer and this different beauty that comes out of it and knowing that we do bring our best self in that season.
Heidi: Yeah, for sure.
Deanna: God’s got more, and so just being ready for that.
Heidi: I’m going to borrow a question from a podcaster that I listened to onto That Sounds Fun podcast with Annie F. Downs. She likes to ask people this question and I thought it was really good. I’m going to borrow it. What have you learned about God this year that you didn’t know about him last year?
Deanna: This year was a lot of trials with Matt and I in our fertility experiences after finding out certain things that were going to prevent us from having children. Knowing that with the right kind of help, it was possible for us to start our family. We got a lot of nos. We went through some serious procedures, a lot of money, emotions, prayer, and stuff like that. A lot of times what I discover about God is that when I wanted to get a job, God wasn’t mad that I went an interview. When I wanted to start dating, I put myself out there and I built a friend. I did these group activities and I put myself in situations to get to know other people in safe ways.
Deanna: I didn’t expect them to fall out of the sky. To graduate from school, I showed up and I did my assignments. There’s a learning process between what’s our part and what’s his. There was this verse that taken out of context, it’s not what he’s talking about at all, but it really helped me and thinking about David when he’s like, I will not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing. Because for us, it was about we’re going to put everything on the table. We have a God who empowers other people to use their gifts to help others and to restore us to different states of fruitfulness.
Deanna: We didn’t feel bad about seeking out medical help because we knew that God was going to teach us no matter what. When we put it all on the altar, it was up to God to either sacrifice it or to bless it and give us some other fruit. We got a lot of nos in the beginning. We wanted to try every possible way before coming to our last resort financially, physically, emotionally, and stuff. We were willing to get those nos. It was really great for us to be able to teach others what faith looked like. Because in Exodus, it talks about you need only be still, the Lord will fight for you. People forget the next verse where he’s like, tell the people to stop crying and move forward. It’s like there’s a time where we step in the water and he parts it and there’s a time where if you’re going to get out of the boat, you better make sure it’s Jesus that’s calling you out of the boat.
Heidi: For sure.
Deanna: You got to be able to discern like, hey, God, I’m going to give you everything and I’m going to be bold with this. Whether you say yes or you say no, you’re still my God. That’s a big deal for us. We did get our yes later. Either way, his position in our life doesn’t change no matter what offerings we put on the table and how he answers those.
Heidi: When are the twins due?
Deanna: April, right around Easter.
Heidi: That’s like just the fulfillment of so many promises right there. I want to go back to your book for just a minute, because I really loved how at the end you acknowledged the people in your life who would helped you in different ways. One of those people was your mom, which I’ll be honest surprised me after reading about some of the trauma that her actions had caused you. You didn’t gloss over the scars that she had left you with. You found the good in what she had given you.
Heidi: What was that forgiveness process like for you?
Deanna: For me, I haven’t had a hard time with forgiveness because I’ve just always known that I’ll never have to forgive more than I’ve been forgiven. I’ve always been free with forgiveness. Not always safe with it, but I’ve been free with it. I came to a point in my life where I had to really take an honest look at, what are you forgiving her for?
Deanna: Because I just forgave her as a person. I just knew my mom wasn’t well. I never really sat down and looked at what I was forgiving her for. I went through that process and it was good. The beautiful part about any process like that is being able to stay in balance. You do this inventory and you say like these are the things that had happened. This is how it made me feel. I felt humiliated, and devalued, and unloved, and all of those things, but also being grateful and seeing like even if this person is not safe for me, they still bear God’s image. There is still some good in them. Even if they’re not living in a way that is consistent or submitted to him, they still have great gifts.
Deanna: I really wanted to be able to understand what it’s like to honor my mother, to be truthful so that other people can recognize when things are out of place in their life, but to still honor my mother and say, you know what, she had an amazing drive and I have a great work ethic because of her. She loved animals. She had a huge heart. I don’t know what caused her all of the pain. I don’t know how far the alcoholism and the mental illness went back generationally. I can have compassion for her. I’m truly grateful that God gifted me in such a way, because there’s a lot of people that left scars in my life. I’ve never been one to hold out on forgiveness because I’m just ready to forgive like when he does. It doesn’t mean I forget. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have proper things in place that help keep us safe. God gave freely to me. I just don’t see any reason to not do the same for others.
Heidi: Was it hard for you to forgive yourself?
Deanna: I think that was probably the more difficult one, because you think like I had a choice or you think you were in some control. For me, it came down to if God could forgive me and love looked like what it did on the cross, who am I to say I’m not worth forgiving? It’s almost like a prideful arrogance. We call it in recovery terminal uniqueness. It’s for everybody but me. Then you end up going to the grave like that. I think somebody had asked me one time like, “How did you forgive yourself?” For me, it just wasn’t a question because it was like I live a living amends. While I can’t make right every wrong that I did, I can live in a way that doesn’t hurt people anymore. That is my amends, is living consistent to this new life that God gave me and not making those same decisions now that I’m not ignorant to what my choices lead to.
Heidi: One of the first things that I noticed about you when we became friends was that you love people and you want to help people even when you were living a different life. In the book, it was just super obvious that you wanted to help other people. You talked about that even in our conversation today. When people read your book, what do you hope that they get out of it or receive from it?
Deanna: I think one of the greatest compliments that I can receive is that like people think I’m lying about my past. Not because of my character, but they just can’t imagine … My own husband cannot imagine what my life was like when I was a junkie and I was passed out in the alleys. He serves people coming in the hospital. He just can’t believe that that was my life. When people hear my story and they’re just like, “I would have never known that,” because I do get quite a bit of people who are hurting and they say things like, “You wouldn’t know what pain is.” I’m just like, “Oh, okay. I know that comes from a really painful place.” As we get to know each other, I’ll open up about it.
Deanna: What I hope that people get from the book is just knowing no matter how far down the scale you have gone, your experience can benefit others. I have a life that is unrecognizable today. That can happen for anybody. Even if God doesn’t remove every single situation or circumstance when it comes to the consequences of that lifestyle, our life can still be unrecognizable. That’s just amazing to me. I wanted to be honest about the good, the bad, the ugly, so that people could see full on this is what God has brought me from. This is the life that I get to live today. I know it’s 80% dark and maybe 20% light. It took a while to get out.
Heidi: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Deanna: So are fairytales, and so was the ultimate fairytale. It’s a lot of like, oh my gosh, we’re going through this again. Oh my gosh, these people are still struggling with the same thing. Then all of a sudden, it’s like, and then we live happily ever after, and we do.
Heidi: Yeah, we do.
Deanna: It’s possible. I want people to see that’s a life that’s really hard to get out of. So many people in the industry will tell you like, “There’s nothing else we can do after this.” It’s life in the brothel, life in the street, overdose, suicide. I got told that so much. I don’t know how my life’s going to end, but I have gotten some great purpose out of it so far. I want people to not stay there out of fear that it’s not possible to have a new life.
Heidi: After reading the book, I really feel like it just exudes hope. It was 80% dark, 20% light. The light was so light and the hope that it gave others, it was beautiful. Thank you. As we wrap up the podcast, we have one question. Well, first of all, I said as we wrap up, is there anything else you want to talk about that we haven’t talked about yet?
Deanna: I’ll leave you with a question that Dr. Sytsma gave me in human sexuality, which by the way, everybody should totally take. What a great class. He said like, “Who are you becoming and how are the choices that you’re making right now helping you to get there?”
Deanna: I think that’s so important because we think of all these things that need to go. We just become aware of all the stuff that is not keeping us in an abiding relationship with Christ. It really just takes one next good decision. If I can just make a good decision tonight, maybe I can make another one tomorrow. For tonight, let’s make a decision that promotes human flourishing and not the destruction of self or others.
Heidi: Now as we wrap up the podcast, we have one question that we ask everybody. It’s called the Thrive with Asbury Seminary podcast. What is one practice that can be spiritual or otherwise that is helping you thrive in your life right now?
Deanna: I would say a constant place of returning and remembering. How many times does it say in the Bible like remember, remember me, remember what I’ve delivered you from, remember how far I’ve taken you. Because I returned to God, we do life together. We’re pretty close. I really do life with God. I also am intentional about like in my mornings, I meet him. At night, I meet him. If we continue to meet him every day, we can’t get that far off track because he’s so good to say like, hey, that’s probably not the best. I’ve got better. Let’s try this way. Then the other thing is, is in recovery, we just learn again how to live in a state of amends.
Deanna: It’s just like we try not to injure others or anything like that. If we do, we’re quick to really recognize our part and why we may have reacted out of that. Just a constant state of being willing and ready to learn, even those things that where you’re falling short that might be a stumbling block to somebody. Just be willing and ready to listen, and stay humble and teachable. I don’t know if that was one practice.
Heidi: It’s good. It’s so good, Deanna.
Deanna: It was like with the 96 Thesis. I got a lot.
Heidi: That’s good. Thank you. Thank you so much, Deanna, for taking the time to share with me and with our listeners today. Your friendship has been and is such a gift to me. I’m really just grateful for the gift that that is to me. I just really appreciate our conversation. Thank you.
Deanna: I appreciate it too.
Heidi: Hey, you all. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Deanna. So very grateful for her honesty and her bravery to share her story so that others can find hope too. I hope you enjoyed hearing about God’s redemption, freedom, and grace through Deanna’s story. Until next time, have a great day and go do something that helps you thrive.