Content Warning: This episode contains domestic abuse content and suicidal thoughts that may be disturbing for some listeners.
Christi Paul: You have not just a right, but a responsibility to yourself and to who God made you to set boundaries with people who do not respect you or treat you with dignity. And that goes not just in spousal relationships. That’s also in friendships, it’s with coworkers, it’s with other family members. You are not just allowed to set boundaries—you have a right to do it.
Can God Save Me From A Horrible Place?: Christi Paul and Glo Atanmo – Episode #274
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. When we find ourselves in a difficult season of our lives, we may ask ourselves the question, How did I get here? And when we aren’t able to figure it out right away, we may turn on ourselves for the blame—bringing on deep feelings of regret and shame. Psalm 145 reminds us that when we seek the Lord, He will answer us and deliver us from all our fears. It also says, “Those who look to Him are radiant—and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Our guests this week dealt with really tough circumstances—ones that caused them to question deeply who they were and where they would end up. CNN anchor Christi Paul dealt with an abusive spouse and didn’t know where to turn until she was at the end of her rope and a verse from Proverbs brought her hope that she could trust God to find a way out. Travel blogger Glo Atanmo was in another country when she became very ill and had to have a major surgery that set her back for months. As she wondered how she would recover physically, emotionally and financially, a caring nurse gave her a copy of Jesus Calling where she was able to find a bit of hope to see beyond the place where she was in.
We’ll start off with Christi’s story.
I grew up in Bellevue, Ohio, which is a tiny little town smack between Toledo and Cleveland. My dad was an attorney. My mom was a teacher. I have one brother who’s six years younger than me, and I would not change a thing about where I grew up in rural Ohio. I had some of my best friends. I grew up with my family, my extended family, cousins, aunts, uncles. We were always together. And growing up, it does give you, I think, a real sense of security to have all of that family and all of those friends around you.
My parents displayed a beautiful marriage all my life. I mean, they would have the typical fights here and there, as all parents do. But there was nobody in my family who had been divorced—aunts, uncles, cousins, extended. I really had exceptional relationship examples growing up.
I dated a guy my sophomore year who had kind of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He could be very good to me, but he cheated on me and he could be manipulative. He slapped me across the face once in the middle of the hallway at school. I remember that humiliation, and I said I would never allow that to happen to me again. Then I went and married somebody who did even worse.
It was one of those things where you think, How did I get here? You really start to question who you are and what brought you there, and how you allowed it to happen. I don’t know about other people, but I know for myself, I would look inward and I would blame me first.
I had just started my first job in TV in West Virginia, and my co-anchor and I started dating. I saw him as somebody who had so much charisma and confidence. He was funny, and he was smart, and he embraced me. I think he gave me a sense of strength because I saw such confidence and boldness in him. I wanted to be that, and deep down inside, I did not feel that I was. So I feel like in retrospect, I was kind of living vicariously through his confidence. And so when he proposed, I said yes.
And a week later, the dream job I wanted, WKYC in Cleveland, called me, and it was a huge jump in market size for me. They were in the top fifteen at the time. And I went and told him and I was so excited and he said, “Well, if you’re going to take it, fine. But you’re going without me because I already accepted a job in Boise, Idaho, and I’m not going with you. Is this what you want?”
When my fiancé gave me an ultimatum, I thought I was doing the noble thing because I was choosing the person and the love over the money, the career. I just thought I was doing the right thing, so I followed him.
It started pretty early, even before we even got married: the yelling, the screaming, the punching of walls, the threats. I look back and go, Why did I do that? I’ve learned to be forgiving of myself, but it took me a lot of years to get there.
I was thousands of miles away from anybody that I knew. I knew nobody in Boise at the time. So when they talk about abusers, it was really the perfect storm because I came into the relationship out of some really heavy emotional stuff that was going on already, and now the only person I have is him. It’s the isolation that they talk about—abusers will try to isolate you. If something happened and I wanted to go home to see my parents, he would look at me and he say, “I’m your family now. You don’t need to be going home every time you hear about something.”
The night that got really bad, he was yelling at me and telling me that I didn’t love him, he came home drunk, and he threw his wedding ring at me and he said, “I don’t even want to be married to you. I’m sorry I ever did it. I’m leaving.” And he threw me up against the wall. He put his hand around my throat and he said, “I’m going to bash your head into this wall.” And then he punched the wall right next to me, close enough to my head that I could feel the swoosh of the fist, and then heard, obviously, the crash of it into the wall. Then he just stood there and looked at me. He didn’t say anything, but he looked at me as if he was trying to say, I missed this time. I won’t miss again.
At some point, I called a friend of mine in Boise. I told her what happened, and I told her I was scared and I asked her if I could come to her house and she talked me out of it. She was somebody that worked with both of us. She had the best of intentions, I know. I think she didn’t know what to do. I don’t blame her. People don’t know what to do in those situations sometimes, so I stayed.
We moved to Phoenix and I thought, Okay, maybe this will be a new start. Maybe this will be okay. And the same kind of things kept happening, the manipulation.
One night it all just blew up. He was screaming, and he said he was going to leave, and it was the first time I didn’t try to stop him. Then it really blew up, and he did leave.
Yes, I was reeling, but there was a wave of relief. So when he got home, I left. I didn’t leave for good. I just said, “I need to get away from this for a minute.”
I went and sat in a church parking lot in Phoenix, and I sobbed and I prayed. And I said, “God, I just don’t know what you want me to do.” And [I remembered] Proverbs 3:5–6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding.” I went, “Okay, you know, follow Him.” “And I will direct your path. Give it to me, Christi.”
I think the hardest part of being in a relationship like that is determining whether you’re going to stay or go. Once you make the decision, it’s still hard, but it’s easy because you know you’re doing the right thing. And I say this about women a lot, my own observation of women and people that I’ve talked to have been in that situation: we will do everything possible to fix it. We will do everything we can to remedy it, to put it back together, to glue everything, all of the pieces back that shattered. But once we’re done, we’re done. And I knew that I was done in that moment. I didn’t know how it was going to work, I didn’t know how I was going to leave safely. I didn’t know where I was going to go. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just knew I was going to do it.
And I did.
Everything worked together. I went back to therapy. I had already lined up an apartment. We got divorced, and I spent a lot of time in this apartment by myself being quiet. I felt humiliation and shame. I think that when you’re in an abusive situation, the first time something happens, you accept the apology because you love them. You want to give them the benefit of the doubt. You’ve seen good in them, and when you see the good in somebody, you believe their goodness even more. Then it happens a second time or third time and every time it happens after that, you realize, But I let it happen. I let it happen again and again and again. So the bricks of shame that sit on your shoulders just get heavier and heavier and heavier with every episode, every abusive episode that happens.
God wants us to be who He created us to be, and living in an abusive relationship is not going to create you to be the person you’re supposed to be. I tell people all the time, “You were not born to be abused, but God can take really horrible situations and make something really good out of them. Yes, it happened to you. It shouldn’t have happened to you. But you also shouldn’t let it affect the rest of your life because you don’t deserve that.”
“God wants us to be who He created us to be, and living in an abusive relationship is not going to create you to be the person you’re supposed to be.” – Christi Paul
I also realized the importance of words because of how they were used against me. I felt how they cut you, even if they don’t cut you physically. Emotionally, they just can rip you to shreds if you do not use the right words, if you do not use some care and compassion. It expanded my capacity to forgive, because I learned first to forgive myself. I forgave myself for allowing myself to live like that for four years. I knew that that’s not what God meant for me to go through, but I knew that He was going to use it for good and He was going to pull me out of it. And therefore, it expanded my capacity to forgive other people, including my ex-husband. By the time I left, quite honestly, I had forgiven him. I just knew I wasn’t safe with him. And I learned you can forgive somebody and still set that boundary.
“I realized the importance of words because of how they were used against me. I felt how they cut you, even if they don’t cut you physically, emotionally they just can rip you to shreds if you do not use the right words, if you do not use some care and compassion.” – Christi Paul
It also renewed my true belief in second chances. We will never run out of chances with God, even if we screw up again and again and again. God is there every single time to just hold our hand and pick us up and say, “Let’s try this again together.”
“We will never run out of chances with God, even if we screw up again and again and again. God is there every single time to just hold our hand and pick us up and say, ‘Let’s try this again together.’” – Christi Paul
My mom gave me Jesus Calling several years ago. I was just in a horrible place, and I always say Jesus Calling transformed my life. I needed to hear God speak to me the way Sarah Young writes His words. It helped me remember my worth. Because where I came from, I had all those experiences that made me question my worth, and you think, Oh, I’ve gone through this therapy and I’ve gotten through so much of it, it still pops up. They never go away. So Jesus Calling has probably been one of the most gifted books I have ever given to people—I just hand it out because it transformed my life. And I hope that it does for other people, too, because I think it gives us a very different voice, a new voice, a very personal voice between our hearts, and Jesus’s words.
This is a passage from Jesus Always, January 26th:
RELAX, MY CHILD. I’m in control. Let these words wash over you repeatedly, like soothing waves on a beautiful beach, assuring you of My endless Love. You waste a lot of time and energy trying to figure out things before their time has come. Meanwhile, I am working to prepare the way before you. So be on the lookout for some wonderful surprises—circumstances that only I could have orchestrated. Remember that you are My beloved. I am on your side, and I want what is best for you. Someone who is loved by a generous, powerful person can expect to receive an abundance of blessings. You are loved by the King of the universe, and I have good plans for you. As you look ahead into the unknown future, relax in the knowledge of who you are—the one I love. Cling to My hand, and go forward with confidence. While you and I walk together along the path of Life, your trust in Me will fill your heart with Joy and your mind with Peace.
This verse speaks to everything that I have gone through and sometimes things that I still do. One of the words that stuck with me when I first read it was, “Go forward with confidence.” I don’t always have confidence. None of us do. But to know that I could have confidence in God and that God is for us, that He pursues us, that He loves us, that He’s not judging us 24/7 like everybody on social media does—it gave me the confidence to remember, as it says in the beginning, that He’s in control. And that if I give it to Him, we are worthy of expecting an abundance of blessings.
We don’t trust ourselves coming out of something like that. We don’t trust ourselves to make a sound decision. But I learned that a healthy relationship will never require you to sacrifice your friends or your dreams or your dignity.
“I learned that a healthy relationship will never require you to sacrifice your friends or your dreams or your dignity. I just want everybody to know God is for you.” – Christi Paul
I just want everybody to know God is for you. We find the strength to be transparent and share our stories, we can help each other get through it. This is not about me. This is about God telling people, “You are worth it. I am for you. Just trust Me.”
Narrator: You can find Christi Paul’s book, Love Isn’t Supposed to Hurt, wherever you buy books.
Stay tuned to Glo Atanmo’s story after a brief message.
Available now! Jesus Listens by Sarah Young
Many of us want to develop a deeper prayer life. In this new 365-day prayer devotional, Jesus Listens, Sarah Young offers daily prayers based on Scripture that will help you experience how intentional prayer can connect you to God and change your heart. Learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample at jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.
Narrator: Our next guest is travel blogger Glo Atanmo, who built a career for herself travelling the world solo and blogging about it. But earlier this year, Glo faced a medical trauma that was horrific and painful, and she found herself wondering if she would ever find her sense of self or purpose again. Through her recovery, Glo was inspired to return to work in a different way—her voice strengthened by her suffering and her purpose resolute to help others find healing beyond their own traumatic situations.
Glo Atanmo: Hey, everyone! My name is Glo Atanmo. I’m a social educator, a travel blogger, a business coach, and a content creator. I basically built a living online for the last twenty years being in digital media.
I am a daughter of two Nigerian immigrant parents, but I was born and raised in California. I think having that duality of growing up in a home where it was very Nigerian in the home, but I would go to school and it was very American—I felt like at a young age, I constantly had to straddle between two lanes and two identities of, Am I Nigerian, or am I more American? Which one do I belong to? Am I doing American right? Am I doing Nigerian right? I constantly fought for belonging and not only with career and entrepreneurship, but just identity and like, Where do I belong?
I think that helped me shape my identity growing up and feeling like I was a lot more observant than others at a younger age, because I never belonged. I never had a core friend circle. And so I had to find that belonging within myself.
And of course, my dad being a pastor, [I was] raised in the church as well. So it’s been an interesting childhood. But I look back on those years now and I’m like, “Wow, I’m so thankful that God allowed me”—I say allowed because in the moment we feel like, Oh, I just want to fit in and I feel so cursed. But God allowed me to go through that experience that I could have this level of awareness and wisdom now in my adult years.
I come from a very traditional background where it’s like you’re a doctor, a lawyer, or a disappointment. And, you know, my parents were very clear about how, “We have immigrated to this country to give you guys an opportunity to be doctors and lawyers, so don’t disappoint us.” And that was looming over my head. I would have those conversations with my mom, and I would see her disappointment and hear her disappointment. I would just say, “Just give me one more year. One more year.” And I made it a point to never ask her for money.
So the days where I didn’t have money to feed myself, I was like, “I’m not asking her for anything, because if she knows how much I’m failing, she’ll use this against me forever.” So I was like, “I have to figure it out. I have no other choice.”
I’m thankful that I always kind of lived below the poverty line until I was about twenty-five. I’m thankful that I never had means, because when you’re living well and you have enough finances, failure is terrifying because it’s like you are presented with the real reality of like I might not be able to pay my bills. I might not be able to take care of myself. I’ve really never been able to take care of myself.
I left the U.S. with $500 in my bank account, no savings. I booked a one-way ticket to the U.K. and I was like, I’m going to make this work. It’s do or do, succeed or succeed. I never gave myself a plan B, and that gave me such a relentlessness to be like, Glo, figure it out. And yes, at my lowest, I went days without eating. I slept on a park bench because I couldn’t afford a hostel or hotel for the night.
I got into entrepreneurship first through blogging. I started my first blog at eleven years old. My travel blog was my sixth blog, and that was the one that really took off. I allowed myself to learn and develop what my thing was going to be as I experimented. I had a pop culture blog. I had a music blog, I had a sports blog. I had an academic blog. I knew that I loved to write, and I knew I had a powerful voice. I just didn’t know how I was going to use that voice yet.
And then when I was presented the opportunity to study abroad, I was like, “Whoa, I could tell stories of the world.” And that felt so impactful and powerful to me. So for seven years, I was a full-time travel blogger, eighty countries across six continents. That was my life. I felt like I was living the dream, on cloud nine. Like, I’ve made it—a multiple-six-figure blog, getting paid to travel like, “This is it. All right, God.”
When I look back on that journey, I think it was that moment where I stopped giving the glory and the honor and the praise to God—I got so full of my own skills and what I accomplished, and, Oh, Glo, you’re killing it, girl, and you forget who qualified you, who gave you the opportunities and the blessing. Sometimes God needs to humble you to remind you, “As quickly as I give, I can take. And if you forget who is giving you these opportunities and what this is all for, never get to a place of pride where you feel like you’re untouchable.”
“When I look back on that journey, I think it was that moment where I stopped giving the glory and the honor and the praise to God. I got so full of my own skills and what I accomplished. And, Oh, Glo, you’re killing it, girl, like, you know, and you forget who qualified you, who gave you the opportunities and the blessing—sometimes God needs to humble you to remind you, ‘As quickly as I give, I can take.’” – Glo Atanmo
I feel like with travel blogging, I got there, and it was so humbling and sad. I look back on that, I was like, Man, I really built up this—my ego was just, “Come on, you’re getting paid to travel and you’re living this really luxurious life.” It goes right to your head, you know.
At the height of my career, I’m landing these five- and six-figure brand deals. I’m being flown around the world. I’m just living on cloud nine. I feel untouchable. And I’m just, you know, things are easy and it’s just living my life.
I ended up in Malta for a friend’s event, a video event celebration. And over the last year, I had felt stomach pain. And again, when you have so much pride, you are almost afraid to learn what’s wrong with you because you don’t want anything to stop you from your dream life. And I was like, Okay, I feel the pain, but it’s sporadic and that’s where I can ignore it. I’m just going to pretend, I’m going to let it heal itself. I remember cutting out my diet. I just cut out bread. I cut out gluten. I became a vegetarian. I stopped eating meat. I was like, I’m going to let my body heal itself. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m just going to hope it heals itself. So I was like losing all this weight because I was on a dinosaur diet, like eating leaves and tomatoes. But I still had this massive bulge on my stomach. And I was like, This is a concern. It was getting bad. But again, pride, I was like, Nope, whatever it is, you’re not going to stop me from traveling. I don’t know what it is, but I’m just going to ignore it enough, it’s going to go away on its own.
Until finally it was about early February and [I was in] excruciating pain. I felt like my organs were just being squeezed, and it was so painful. It was such a sharp pain. And I’m like crying out, I’m just like, It’s too much. I can’t. This is enough. I’ve got to get it checked out.
I rushed myself to the hospital in Malta. And of course, immediately the doctor’s like, “If I didn’t know any better, I would think you were eight months pregnant.” Like, what? So in that moment, of course, I’m just emotional. The fact that you have this doctor who’s delirious saying like, “How could you let it get this bad?” And immediately we do about twenty-one or twenty-six—I don’t remember the exact number of blood tests—on the spot. So I’m being pricked and poked and just all of these things. We do an ultrasound to get a deeper look, and that’s when the diagnosis is an ovarian cyst. And right now, like, “Your organs are so moved out of place”—they showed me the scan. They’re like, “All of your organs are being pushed out of place, and it’s growing. If you feel pain, it’s because it could have ruptured. So we have to do an emergency operation.”
So we’re just going through the process, and it’s just so much. They’re asking me questions. And of course, again, I’m in Malta, there’s a little bit of a language barrier. They speak English, but there was still an accent and they’re speaking so fast and they’re just telling me, “What’s your insurance like? If things don’t work out, transporting the body…” Like, what? It became so real in that moment. And of course, all I can think about is how stupid could I have been to just think that I was bigger than a whole issue growing in my body.
Fast forward to the operation. Thankfully, after seven hours of operation, everything went well. And I’m in the hospital recovering. And then about a week later, I’m back in my apartment and I just remember feeling so . . . first of all, they put me on a no-fly list for eight weeks. They’re like, “This bedrest, you’re not going anywhere. We need to be checking up on you, you are stuck.” And so I immediately have to cancel these different jobs that I had lined up after Malta. And so, of course, financially, I’m like, Oh, my goodness. So I felt financially depleted, so drained physically, mentally, emotionally, financially.
I remember having so much of my identity placed in my ability to travel. And for eight weeks I felt like, Who am I if I can’t travel and I can’t post? This was what I’m known for. Who am I anymore? I felt so useless. I really want to speak to the person who puts so much self-worth in their label, like, don’t do that. Your self-worth comes from God alone. Because I put so much of my self-worth and identity in travel, and when travel was taken away from me, it was like teaching myself how to walk. I was literally bent over for so many days, like teaching myself how to walk again and just relearning the functioning of my organs. It was just so traumatic that I remember I was looking at the painkillers. I’m like, Why am I here anymore? I have nothing left. I don’t want to be here anymore, and I’m tired. And I’m like, God, I’m sorry I disappointed you. My audience, I’ve disappointed them. I know I have friends I can call, but sometimes when you’re drugged up, you’re not in your right mind. You know, I’m taking painkillers cause I’m not in my right state and I’m by myself and I’m just like, I don’t have any strength to carry on. And in that moment, you don’t think about your friends and your family that you’re going to hurt. You just think about escaping the pain because you can’t run away from it mentally. It’s a mental prison. You can’t run away from that and you just want to escape that mental pain.
And I remember looking at the Jesus Calling devotional, and I was like, “This is all I have.” And I turned to the page on February 16th. I just needed that. I just needed that quick confirmation that there’s a purpose in this, like, God is putting me through this humbling season for a reason. And it was so, so powerful. Sarah Young, I’ll never truly be able to thank her for saving my life because reading that, I just needed to know that there was purpose in my pain. Because when you’re going through a really dark moment, you don’t see an escape. The only escape sometimes is ending everything. And I was so close to that. And I just needed something to validate, like, Glo, there’s something else that has got to come out of this.
So I look back on that moment and I just thank God so much for putting me through that humbling season, because on the other side of that, I had such a new approach to life. Everything that I did was about serving other people. It was no longer about me. I don’t care about what I can do for myself. How can I help the world? How can I heal the world? How can I speak to those who are also going through a traumatic experience? And it’s so incredible how God will use seasons of pain to really set you up for your next season of elevation. And that was what that was.
“I don’t care about what I can do for myself. How can I help the world? How can I heal the world? How can I speak to those who are also going through a traumatic experience? And it’s so incredible how God will use seasons of pain to really set you up for your next season of elevation.” – Glo Atanmo
Healing, Purpose, and Peace
I stayed put for about three months. I allowed myself to heal, of course, and when I was taken off the no-fly list, I remember my friend was like, “Hey, Glo, there’s a conference going on, it’s all the way in Arizona.” So it would take about thirty-eight hours of connections to fly back. And when you’re transitioning, of course, all this time, I’m not even on social media, so I’ve been gone two months. And so people are emailing, DMing, “Glo, are you okay? What’s going on?” So I’m like, “Oh, I’ve got to say something. I can’t just hide.” And so I decide to share the blog post that to this day has gotten like, gosh, over 100,000 views. I get emails weekly, like, “I had an ovarian cyst, and I didn’t know anyone else dealing with this,” and, you know, people telling me their story.
But my friend Samantha, she told me about this conference called High Performance Academy in Arizona. And I needed something to kind of rebuild me, like I was, you know, going back on my spiritual walk and building up my self-worth again. But I still needed something to be in a community of people who, again, were using their platforms for good.
Going to this High Performance Academy, it was like a three, to four-day event. And it was just a room of positive, empowering leaders who want to do good in the world. And it was such a great segue into like, Okay, I’m recommitting and rededicating my life to something bigger than me. And that’s when I dissolved my travel influencing career and started creating programs all about teaching: launching my first course, launching my first coaching program, launching my first retreat company. Just, like, how can I help? How can I teach, how can I serve? And really becoming like a teacher instead of just an influencer. Now I’m a teacher. Everything that I’ve learned through even the painful periods, like, how can I now teach this and help and save other people?
Travel will always be available to me, and it’s still such a massive privilege. I think the way that I show up in the world now feels so much more fulfilling because when you have purpose and legacy behind what you do, you feel more called and led in your work. And who I was in my twenties, I wasn’t ready to serve the way I do now. I was figuring out my own life, you know, and you have to heal yourself before you can try to heal and help others. So I believe that I’ve done travel blogging to the extent that I needed to, but I feel so fulfilled in the lane that I’m in now. And I think just reminding people of that, like, “Hey, I’m constantly a student, which is what makes me a great teacher,” because I’m never above people. I’m just addicted to learning because I love to feel like I’m treating people to the best of my ability and knowing the right language and words and understanding and communication and words is at the core of everything I do. And if we can be more intentional with the way we use our words and how we deliver them and how we pour into people with them, we’re literally delivering healing to other people.
“When you have purpose and legacy behind what you do, you feel more called and led in your work. [And] if we can be more intentional with the way we use our words and how we deliver them and how we pour into people with them, we’re literally delivering healing to other people.” – Glo Atanmo
Narrator: To learn more about Glo, please visit www.theblogabroad.com.
If you’d like to hear more stories where God helped someone find a way out of a desperate situation, check out our interview with Lathan Warlick.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll talk three people with special connections to the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child, which collects shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, hygiene items, and delivers them to children in need around the world to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way.
Vladimir Prokhnevskiy: My name is Vladimir Prokhnevskiy, and I am a shoebox recipient from Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child. I received a beautiful and colorful shoebox from Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child when I was only nine years old. And let me tell you what a blessing that was—not only for myself, but also for the whole family. And for me was extra special because it was my first Christmas gift ever. But most importantly, the gospel came with it.