Hello, my name is Tiana Swank. Without the atonement of Jesus Christ in my life, I could be known as an ex-prostitute, a recovering substance abuser, a sexual abuse victim, and a prison wife. But, by and through His grace, I am known as a child of God, and that far outweighs anything else.
I am here to be transparent. I will tell it to you straight. I will tell it just how it is, and I pray that some of my honesty, courage, and triumph can help you on your own sacred journey. This is my story.
I was raised in a pretty decent family. We had plenty – a good home, a two parent family, and a belief in the Savior. However, for whatever reason, I was wired a bit differently than some. At too young of an age I saw inappropriate images in my mind, and fell in love with scantily-dressed women when I found my first magazine at three. I knew that was wrong, so I kept it a secret.
As I grew older, I was able to notice a mainstream trend in our society: sex, drugs, smoking, drinking, and basically doing whatever you want in confidence. That made you cool. I was pretty confident, so finding those things wasn’t too hard. I lost my virginity in a boy’s bathroom my freshman year in high school at age thirteen, and it changed me. You see, I am actually quite a sensitive soul, and I can tell you in all honesty that I felt a literal portion of light leave me. The void was pretty noticeable.
Well, as the secrets kept building up I became a magnet for all the other things I could do to attract more darkness into my life. So it wasn’t long after that I started to smoke, do drugs, and drink. Usually on the way to school.
It got bad. Not a moment went by that I didn’t want to be high. I scheduled my times to smoke pot, my times to drink. I made sure not to eat, so I would feel the head change more. But, it wasn’t enough. It was never enough. I always wanted more. So, you bet I found it. Or rather, it found me.
I met a guy and lust overcame us. I moved in with him at seventeen and we decided to sell drugs for a living. But, apparently more of it was going up our noses than converting to cash. So, when I came home from celebrating my eighteenth birthday with my concerned mother, I realized that something had to change. We’ll call my boyfriend Carl.
Carl had a way with words. He too was a confident fellow, and quite charismatic as well. Somehow he was able to wrap the idea of prostitution up into the prettiest looking package for me, and I accepted. Yep, for my eighteenth birthday I was given to the streets. I became a hooker. And boy, the darkness that filled me that day in the boy’s bathroom was nothing compared to the darkness that filled our hotel room that night, and nothing compared to the darkness that filled my tabernacle of clay for the next few months. I will rarely come across a setting where I discuss even a portion of what prostitution was really like, but trust me, you don’t want to know. I’m just grateful to be alive, safe, in one piece, and functioning pretty well today.
After three months of doing this horribly degrading deed, I stood my ground and told him it was time to stop. We took what we had and moved. I thought all would be left behind us. But, it was an elephant in the room that just wouldn’t leave. Resentment and distrust mixed with drugs and alcohol only turned matters in our relationship worse. Sure I was off the streets, but there was an anger inside both of us that grew and grew until…
It was Christmas Eve. He was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t get a hold of him. It was tough to celebrate the holiday like that, especially since I should have still been pregnant. Even though I didn’t respect myself much, I respected my unborn child a lot more. As soon as I found out I was pregnant I quit everything cold turkey. No more cigarettes, no more pills, no more drugs, no more drinking. Nothing. Just anything I could do to help her thrive. But it wasn’t enough. She wasn’t forming correctly, and I ended up miscarrying her. Just pain after struggle after pain after struggle. Nothing seemed to be going right, and things kept getting worse and worse. And then when Carl finally walked in the door that cold Christmas Eve night, drunk with his friend, things got out of hand. More than normal.
Sure there were times I had to lie to my coworkers about the marks on my face from times he bit me in drunken anger, or choked me ‘til I passed out, but this time he finally hit me. I think that in some strange, twisted way I wanted him to. Because it would give me an excuse to leave him (as if I didn’t have enough). But, I failed. I stayed to experience the harshest beating (no one should ever have to say it that way…) I ever had in my life, just two and a half weeks after that lovely Christmas gift. A hard blow to my right cheek left my mouth bloody and my soul in agony – just to touch on the largest mark. I was so messed up in the head I didn’t even want to call the cops. However, with enough wise people in my life I got out.
It wasn’t long until I started heading down a brighter path. That child of God inside me was trying to wake me up and show me a better way. She knew what to do and she was searching, even though I was lost. I started to change my life around, and my spirit sang with joy when I entered a church building again. There’s just no denying the light that fills the room of a chapel filled with like minded people worshipping and praising their loving God. Even though I swore I would never enter a church ever again, and even wanted to literally burn my copy of The Book of Mormon, I couldn’t deny what I felt.
One day, I knew what I had to do, and I will never forget how overcome by the Holy Ghost I felt. It was indescribable, and like nothing I had ever before experienced. So, I knew it was right. The Lord had saved my life on more than one occasion. He saved my eye and sight in another. And at that time in that humble church building, it was clear why. And my dad said it perfectly when we later discussed my interesting and unique path, “You’re going to do something big someday.” He just knew. But as he said it, so did I. And I have been chasing the answer since.
Well, I tell you, once you experience that feeling of knowing you are on the right path, and shaking inside from so much light and joy, you want it forever. I threw away all my music, I had to say goodbye to many friends, I went to church every Sunday. I fell in love with goodness! I was so obsessed with positivity and my love for my Savior that I wanted to serve an eighteen-month service mission for my church. I did all in my power, but it wasn’t enough. At the time, I didn’t know if their decision to turn me down after eighteen months of nonstop effort was due to all my visible tattoos, or due to my past of prostitution, guns pulled on me, theft, living on streets, abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, or what. But, I was proud of myself for trying. And I will never forget how much it meant that my pastor (or bishop, as they are called in our persuasion), and the other brother who helped read the letter of decline, both were in tears, for they knew my spirit – they knew who I was and how much I had transformed through the saving grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ. But, I moved on.
With only desire to improve myself, I made my plans to attend college, move into the city, and work on myself some more. Little did I know that the mission the Lord had in store for me, and how He saw fit for me to work on myself, included an old friend.
On our way back to our home state of California for a little trip, my mom asked me “Have you been praying for your husband yet?” You see, in the Mormon culture family is a pretty big deal, which is awesome, just sometimes overbearing for young single adults. I’m sure I must have rolled my eyes when I told her that my plans didn’t include a husband. But, without a care for my own agenda she responded, “Well, I have.” Moms…
I guess a mom’s prayer is pretty powerful, because it wasn’t more than a day later when he reentered my life. Wesley Swank, my childhood sweetheart.
You see, I had a thing for military men. Probably because I was a soldier at heart, but upon looking into joining the Marines, my soul felt a loud prompting that that was not a part of the mission the Lord had for me. Living vicariously is an alright alternative. Well, it was easy to spot that military fade Wesley’s hair was cut into when he unexpectedly walked through the front door of his mom’s house during our visit. Luckily, since we were spending an entire week in our old home town, there were some opportunities he quickly jumped on. He was sure to ask me on a date the following day, and we ended up going on two or three more that week.
Hey, remember how I said my spirit was sort of sensitive? And how I craved to feel the companionship of the Holy Ghost constantly? Well, the night before we headed back home to Arizona, Wes and I had a pretty serious conversation. We both know it was led by divinity, and it made him feel pretty awkward the next day. Luckily for me, I knew that feeling so well, and knew exactly where it came from that even though a husband wasn’t what I wanted at that time in my life, it was clearly a major part of my path.
Now, this may sound a little crazy – unless you’re Mormon yourself, then this will sound pretty typical – but we got married two and a half months later. It was kind of insane, but it was a very beautiful day. Very beautiful…
However, it wasn’t long before things took a pretty unfriendly turn. And when I say “long” I mean like a matter of a couple weeks. And before you knew it, only a few months later, it was getting really bad. Then, at about the six month mark, he too decided laying a fist on me in anger was a good idea. Sheesh, you begin to think something is wrong with you when after you make all the best decisions you know how and still domestic violence creeps its way in. Though, this time was different. It was different because I had a power with me now. A power to discern, whereas before everything was dark and unclear. Of course I left our home for a while to figure some things out, and you bet your bottom that everyone around me was pushing for divorce, but I had made a strict decision to listen to the Lord, and the Lord alone. I know it sounds a bit extreme, but it’s just the way I was made. I ask, He answers, and I obey. Many times it’s not very easy, but I do it. So, after three to four weeks of asking and listening, I went back the very day I knew I was meant to. And I did so in the fashion I knew I was meant to – meaning, without birth control. You see, sometimes in our gospel we talk about the fact that the Spirit doesn’t always guide us in the most “logical” way. Which makes sense if we understand the Lord’s way, but it’s not too fun always. Well, I’m quite sure that was the very day I conceived my sweet little daughter, Coraleen.
You can imagine that there were many times in my pregnancy I was terrified, and I was usually filled with uncertainty and angst. However, a major part of me felt an indescribable peace – a knowing that everything would be okay. I can only believe that was the peace Christ meant when He said, “Peace I leave with you.”
Let me take a moment here to explain something.
It never would have been my idea to have a child in an abusive home. And it never would have been in my plan to potentially raise a little one without a father, and God totally knew that. He knew how important it was to me that I raise a family in a forever two-parent home. But, it was actually the sweet spirit of my “angel baby” that saved me in so many ways. I chose happiness for her, and thus over and over again, she blessed me in many, many ways that I would not have experienced without her during all the struggle and heartache.
Okay, moving on…
So, the time came to deliver our little cutie, and I did. This man whom I knew deeply loved me, showed it so much that day. The look he had in his eyes as he would look into mine during my long labor process was indescribable. He marveled, and I had no clue why. But, I later found out in a visit I had with him in prison…
Wesley was blessed to be able to spend three weeks with our little Coraleen, before he was arrested…for murder.
It was a dark and cold January morning, and the cops woke me up with a loud and persistent knocking on the front door of our little SoCal apartment. I had no idea why they all piled in with flashlights on and an agenda to carry out, but I was highly concerned. Especially considering I had a brand new babe asleep in her crib with a place full of male strangers.
After four hours of questioning, I was left with this much: “Your husband is going to jail for murder today.” That’s it. I knew they had accused him of murdering, but I also “knew” they had the wrong guy. That was until I was told stories from others who had somehow known more than that. And, boy, was I enraged.
In one day everything in my life had completely changed, and over a matter of only a few months everything was stripped away from me. No more apartment, no more phone, no more computer, no more car, no more husband, no more California. I moved in with my sister and her little family in Utah, and I felt so alone, and so mad at God. I couldn’t stand eating dinner at a table with my sister and her husband and children, because it tore me apart. It was too much to see the kisses, and hear the laughter of the family I no longer had a shot at having my own of. That’s how I felt. I couldn’t stand living in Utah, because I felt like an outcast in such a dense LDS culture. I couldn’t stand God, because I listened and obeyed, and He dealt me a crap hand. Again, that’s exactly how I felt. I couldn’t stand being alive, because it wasn’t worth it. But, after coming so close to ending my life, for the second time over the last eight years, I was nudged to choose a different way – to see things a different way.
I had to choose repentance. In order for me to live, I had to make a change. I apologized to God for my anger towards Him, and I asked Him why. “Please bless me with understanding, because I don’t get it…” was all I could think of. And He began pouring out the answers…
When we lived under the same roof, I was simply seeing Wes and his scars through my own wounds. In so little words, I saw him through glass darkly. But, as I decided to simply dedicate myself to the Lord, He showed me Wes as He and Christ see him. Simple as that. I saw his beauty, his kindness, his loyalty, his spirit from before and how his qualifying refinement and penitence are creating him to be now and in the hereafter. I was granted images, even while choosing to have no contact with him, and knowledge about my husband only a wife choosing holiness and forgiveness would.
You guys, I can’t even begin to touch on this. It would take a novel to paint the picture properly, and someday I will be up to the task, upon His call. But, I will say this. After my husband, who I knew had adored me since day one just about twenty-four years ago, hit me the first time, I prayed to ask if I could divorce Him. “Not yet,” was the response. I asked a second time when I was in my second trimester and he threatened to break my skull. I left then too. And again, I got “Not yet.” Really not the answer I was hoping for. And when he was arrested for murder, again I asked. This time hearing “You can divorce him now.” But, something happened. The Lord knew the full picture (and I now realize how much I really didn’t), and in His wisdom followed through with “But, if you take my hand and trust me, I will show you a better way.”
My husband was arrested on January 29th, 2015. We are coming up on three years since that awful day. And these last three years have been the most trying, difficult years of…my…life! But…they’ve also been the most rewarding for my eternities. My vision has been expanded, my heart has grown in capacity, my understanding is still being increased daily, and my family is thriving. Something you wouldn’t expect with a husband as an inmate with twelve years still to serve.
Now, I want to share one thing with you in closing. As I have evolved immensely through this journey, I have noticed something incredibly fascinating, and that is the heavy darkness that weaves in and out of our lands. Why is that so fascinating? One, because that means there is still so much for us to learn so we can overcome the beast – so many answers to be found, and many of us are actively looking, engaged in a cause to heal. Two, because it means that the exact opposite exists. There is so much goodness and light. So much love and loyalty. So much charity and abundance. So much joy and prosperity. We are living in a day when it is impossible to sit on the fence. Where mediocrity is getting noticed less and less, and where you have to really pull yourself out of the trenches to make it. What a beautiful thing that is, because it shows us what we’re made of! Guys, if you would have told me back ten years ago in high school, what I would do the night of my eighteenth birthday, and where that would lead me, and then how I would turn my life back around, and rejoin the church that I then hated, marry my sweetheart from the age of three only to be beaten by him and left alone to raise our baby, file for divorce, but later decline due to understanding and loving him more than I ever thought a human being had the capacity to love, it would have been unfathomable. But, the Lord knows what He is doing. Because He is our Father, we are made of the same substance He is. He has a mission for each of us. Sometimes it requires us to break so He can mold us into what we were always meant to be, and that’s okay, because He is the master of masterpieces, and He creates magnificence, beauty, and perfection.
All of our missions are different, but they are all oh so crucial today! There is no coincidence, and you are not either. You are here for a very important reason, and you know it. The two best prayers I have ever uttered were first, “Please bless me with understanding, because I just don’t get it,” and “Who am I?”
So, my question to you is this: “I know you’re a child of God, but who are you?”
Your sister in arms, enlisted in the Lord’s army