The Courage of a Mother’s Love

Story by Jeannie Stone

Becca Talley, born in Danville, has lived through hell, and like the prodigal son in the biblical account, she has come back from the dead. The hand of God has delivered her through the worst of times, and the love for her children has given her the courage to break the bonds of abusive relationships. 

What you are about to read is the true story of a remarkable woman, who against all odds, has reclaimed her role as mother to her children.

Talley, who grew up in Illinois, Texas and Kansas due to her step-father’s military career, was pregnant at 14 when she returned to Arkansas. Her mother divorced her step-father the following year, and she, her mother and her newborn son, Dustin, moved in with her granny in Harkey Valley.

“I had spent summers with my granny in her 100-year-old house, surrounded by her 40 acres,” Talley said, “and those times were my favorite childhood memories… She is a strong Christian lady, and I was afraid she would judge me harshly for having a baby.”

She found that her granny’s love, however, transcended her actions. “She was very forgiving and loving,” Talley said. “I went back to high school in Havana, and during that first summer I worked at Wayne Farms chicken processing plant. I was cutting out hearts and livers,” she said.

During that summer she was eviscerating chicken carcasses, Talley developed a relationship with a co-worker.

“I got mixed up with some guy, got pregnant again at 17 and dropped out of school. My thinking at the time was that I needed to work full-time to support my children,” she said.

Talley hadn’t planned on a problem pregnancy, however, and she ended up spending four weeks at UAMS until her second son Austin was born. The premature baby weighed only three pounds, eight ounces and measured just 111⁄2 inches long.

“He was sickly, and I was afraid he was going to die,” Talley said. He stayed in the hospital for four weeks of his own.

“I wasn’t allowed to hold him for two weeks,” Talley said. “That was so hard.”

When she did pick him up she was afraid she would break the tiny body. After gaining five pounds, Austin was transferred to Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Russellville where he stayed for a few days of monitoring.

“He had jaundice and had to have a blood transfusion. It was all pretty scary. When he came home, a nurse practitioner had to visit us every day because he was on a heart monitor,” she said.

When Austin was three months old, Talley landed a job at Tyson’s Dardanelle plant and promptly entered into another relationship with a co-worker.

“I was the kind of person that believed I needed a man to make me complete,” Talley said.

Within a month she had married the man who knew practically no English, and she knew no Spanish.

“I was 18 at the time and rebellious and out of control. By then, I just wanted to get out from living under my mother and my granny.”

The two boys continued to live with her grandmother while Talley and her new husband began a life raising chickens as part of a corporate farm and living in a trailer. Eventually, the boys moved back with their mother, who soon discovered she was pregnant again.

Thirteen months after delivering her first daughter Albricia, Tatiana was born.

“We were just living life the only way we knew,” Talley said.

To make matters more difficult, half way through her last pregnancy, Talley’s brother was murdered.

“To my boys, he hung the moon,” she said softly. “To lose him like that was just terrible.”

Because of the stress of the murder and reliving it daily during the trial, Talley nearly lost Tatiana. To this day, although two men were convicted for the slaying, it is unclear what their motives were. All Talley knew was that she had lost her best friend.

“My brother and granny were my only real family,” she said. “We didn’t grow up in a Christian home except for my Granny’s influence during our summer visits. During the years of living with my step-father my brother and I had been abused. He was an alcoholic, and my mother was an enabler, so we were not close to my mother. All my brother and I had were each other.”

Meanwhile, Talley and her husband bought a house, left the chicken farm business, and were working at the Tyson plant.

“He was abusive in every way,” Talley said, “but then I didn’t know what ‘normal’ was when it came to men.”

Talley found the nerve to leave her husband when Tatiana was nearly one year old. Three months later, her best friend from work moved in with her ex-husband.

“It was like a slap in my face,” she said, “so, shortly after renting a place, I fell into another relationship to heal that hurt.”

Unfortunately for all involved, it was an even worse marriage than the one she’d just left because he was a substance abuser.

“I knew he drank and smoked pot when we met,” she said, with head bowed, “but I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

It was a slow descent into the pits of hell, Talley said: “Black eye here, bruise there, I was his punching bag, and his drug dependency grew stronger as he tried different drugs. The abuse got worse each day.”

Talley picked her chin up and said, “I can look back now and see the signs, but I was naïve, and there was no one to help at all. The fathers of the boys had never been a part of our lives, physically, financially or emotionally. Not even my ex-husband would come and take his daughters away from it. He didn’t want any part of their lives until much later. And I wasn’t allowed friends.”

Talley continued to work third shift at the plant. Her husband had long lost his job and wasn’t interested in working anymore.

“He always portrayed the good dad during the early part,” she said. “He’d get kids ready for school and cook breakfast. I thought I had it made even with the abuse.”

But what Talley didn’t know came to haunt her later. “It was a miserable time in my life,” she said. “I thought he was going to bed when I went to work, but he was staying up all night doing meth.”

Then, the beatings began. He had already been physically abusing Talley, but he started abusing the children as well.

“I didn’t know it at the time. Little by little, I learned of it. So much of it was emotional abuse – the kind that didn’t leave bruises or scars – like telling my children in detail how he was going to dismember me and kill me and even where he would bury my body parts if they told anybody about the abuse. He would force the boys to fess up to me that they had given their sister a black eye or made marks on them. It was evil,” she said.

“He raped me a lot, and threatened to kill my children if I tried to run away,” Talley said. “He would always hold on to at least one child whenever I’d run to the store. He was always threatening us.” And still, nobody helped.

Neighbors called the Department of Human Services (DHS.) The school repeatedly reported their suspicions when they saw the children’s continuous injuries, but Talley said that DHS didn’t help.

“They came out to our house, but they refused to help me,” Talley said. “They said their hands were tied since they didn’t actually see any signs of abuse.”

But, oh the abuse they could have seen had they stuck around. Talley said she and her children paid dearly for those visits.

“He knocked all my front teeth out, and he wouldn’t let me go to the doctor. The one time I went to the emergency room because he plunged a metal rod all the way through my leg, I panicked and lied to the nurses. I didn’t want him to kill my babies.”

It is here that Talley paused and said, “You know, one of the saddest part about all this is that people blame me for not doing something, but the fear I lived under, the poverty, the abuse, the failed attempts are more than some of us can  overcome.”

The husband was growing paranoid because of the meth and was sure they were under surveillance (partly due to the DHS visits.) He moved the family to Texas for a couple of months but returned to Arkansas settling in the Ft. Smith area where his cousins lived.

“He didn’t get along with his cousins so we moved into his mom’s van,” Talley said. “I found a job in a chicken plant in Ft. Smith and finally talked him into allowing Dustin and Albricia to go live with their separate fathers. I was just trying to save who I could.”

Talley convinced her husband that it would ease their financial burden to let the two children go.

“It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, to call Dustin’s father. The two had never met, but I knew it was my son’s only chance at survival. Dustin was eight years old.”

Upon returning to Ft. Smith, things changed rapidly: “That is when God stepped in,” Talley said. “I told my husband I wanted to go to church that Sunday morning. We were staying in a hotel room. He told me if I wanted to go I could walk. We did, and we never went back,” she said. “I had a child on each hip.”

Talley contacted the women’s shelter in Ft. Smith, but was told they didn’t take children. She found a room at the shelter in Russellville, but there was no support to get her life back together.

“I found a job, but I had to also find my own transportation and child care,” she said.

So, this mother who gave up two children so they’d have a chance at life gave up the other two.

“I called DHS to see if they could take the children for a little while, so I could get on my feet, and they seemed to agree, but they didn’t intend on giving me back the children. They had me arrested for failure to protect my children against child abuse,” Talley said.

The police located her ex-husband and charged him with child abuse and drug possession.

“We were both sent to prison, but they dropped his child abuse charges in a plea bargain. He never served time for the horrors my children and I suffered at his hands,” Talley said.

It was during her time in jail that the seeds planted by her granny years before began to produce.

“I was saved and developed a personal relationship with God,” she said. “I dove in and learned His word.”

The Lord visited Talley immediately, she said: “I heard Him call my name, and then He said, ‘You’ve lived your life your own way, and look where it got you.”

Talley sat in the detention center for 101⁄2 months not knowing what would happen to her next.

“But I knew I was in God’s hands, and He had a plan for me. He began to speak to me, assuring me everything would be okay, and He was going to restore everything back to me that was stolen by the enemy. I just stood, in faith, on that promise.”

Talley was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading no contest. She moved in with her granny and began to walk a life with God.

She was mentored by the minister she met in jail, Effie Renken.

“We grew very close,” Talley said. “She taught me everything. She belonged to Fellowship of Christians and invited me to go to church with her. The people there have embraced me.”

The church family became her family: “The first time I visited the church the Holy Spirit came to me and told me that is where he wanted me to be,” Talley said.

Her church family has supported her with their love and prayers, but they’ve also helped to meet her needs.

“My rent’s never been unpaid. My electricity has never been cut off. My children have never been without presents or clothes,” she said. “The Lord is my husband and provider.”

Talley is well known in the church: “I was so hungry and thirsty for the Word that I attended every Bible study I could,” she said. “The Lord was faithful and has blessed me with the miracle of having my children back in my life.”

Although the girls continue to live with their father — he received custody of Tatiana when Talley was arrested — they visit their mother during the week and on alternating weekends. Austin lives with his mother full-time, and 15-year-old Dustin, who has lived with his father for seven years, is still healing.

“The last time we talked on the phone, he told me he’d forgiven me,” Talley managed to say between tears. The Lord is good.”

The Lord has also revealed His plan for Talley’s life.

“My purpose is to work with battered and abused women and children,” she said. “I came across the verse in the Bible that says, ‘You will defend widows and orphans,’ and I started to sob. I remember feeling like nobody cared, and I remember how horrible the system treated me. No mother should ever be made to feel like that.”

Talley is a full-time student at Tech. “I’m living on student loans,” she said. And she participates in a work-study program assisting the event planner at Lake Point Conference Center. She is also a paid nursery worker at her church.

She receives no child support. “I let God take the place of the earthly father I never had,” she said, “and he makes sure everything is taken care of.”

Talley is majoring in pre-law with a minor in criminal justice. She is working towards a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

“My goal is to come back to Russellville and open a free-and-low-income law firm, primarily for abused women, because they and their children deserve it,” she said.

From the depths of despair, Talley wants to create a belonging place where women can connect with the Lord, and be a part of a loving family.

“Hurting women do not need men. They need Christ,” she said. She wants to bring hope to the hopeless.

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