I’ll paint you a picture.
It’s 1992, a 16 year old girl has bounced around in the system for some time now. But there’s a way out. She’s met a man who can care for her. Who can make this all go away, and she can start a new life. They are married and pregnant within a year. Only it didn’t work out the way she thought. He wasn’t who she thought he was. So there she is, navigating life as a single mom of two by the age of 19.
That was my mom. There’s more to her story than I can fit on a page, but I wanted to share the beginning of what was supposed to be a line of broken children, who grow up to have broken families. Statistically that’s how the story goes, right?
My childhood was dysfunctional to say the least. I moved a lot, not only from house to house, but from parent to parent, to grandparent. There was noting stable about my first 12 years. I saw things, and experienced things that I wouldn’t wish on any child. I tasted beer for the first time by the age of 5. Strangely, I never felt scared or unhappy, that I can remember. In fact even as a young girl in that environment, I knew I was going to be okay. That there was someone looking out for me. When I was 13 years old, I was introduced to that person.
Sitting on a bus, staring out at the rain with my headphones on. I did not want to be there. In my moms efforts to “fix me” in some way, she sent me on this weekend church retreat that I begged and begged not to go on. I had been to youth group before, tried the whole church thing. It wasn’t my scene. These kids had it all together. They had happy families, and they certainly didn’t share my interests in boys and angsty music. I braced myself for the two days I would be stuck there with these people.
I honestly can’t remember if it was night one or night two. Traditionally, if you have never gone to a teen church retreat, night two is unofficially labeled “cry night”. So if I had to guess, I would say night two. A girl, a grade or two ahead of me, spoke some of the wisest words even to this day, that I have ever heard. I actually don’t know if she truly knows the impact that these words had on my life, but if you’re reading this I bet you know who you are.
She shared her story, which I can’t really recall all that well. Regardless, it’s her story to tell, not mine. But the thing that impacted me the most were these five words- I AM NOT A STATISTIC. For whatever reason, this resonated so deep, that it changed my entire life from that point, I really believe that. That night I accepted Jesus into my heart and I have never looked back.
You see, I didn’t know anything different from how I was raised. I knew there was something better out there, I’d seen other people with it. But it wasn’t for me. I had been dealt this hand, and that was that. I day dreamed that in another life I could have a nice house, and a happy family of my own. But in my world, that didn’t exist, so why was I to believe that I was worthy of anything more. I was sort of in this hopeless frame of mind, but I had just accepted it as reality. I believed I would continue to live in that perpetual cycle that had kept my parents, and their parents before me. Generations of young pregnancies, toxic marriages, and broken homes.
After that night though, I realized there was a way out. Jesus wanted to save me. And if you are not a believer I know how that sounds, you’ve officially checked out. But I can’t water it down, there is truly nothing like being freed from the bondage of sin, and it’s impact on your life. For me, it’s never been about rules, or being the perfect Christian. (Although some kids I argued with in high school would beg to differ, as I had a tendency to shove truth down their throats in a non-productive way.)
Because of accepting Jesus into my heart at 13 years old, I was able to change the course of my life. I started with forgiving those who had hurt me. I definitely keep those relationships at bay, however I no longer harbor resentment, or anger towards them at all. Just compassion because they didn’t know any better. They were consumed in their trajectory of brokenness and sin. I pray for them.
That, I think, is one of the misconceptions about Christianity. You’re not forgiving people for their sake, or even for God, although he does ask that of us. But by forgiving them, you free yourself. You no longer have to carry around your afflictions. You don’t have to live as if you are damaged, affected, or defined, by the things that have happened to you. And that is the first step to breaking the cycle.
I became determined to be different in every way possible. I refused to allow my past to dictate my future. All this to say, life since then wasn’t perfect or easy, but I had hope. And that was everything. The hope that I could do better for my kids than my parents did for me. The hope that I could have a normal, functional household, and be a well adjusted member of society despite all the odds. Statistically I would be pregnant by age 17. Statistically I would likely get a divorce if I ever chose to get married. Statistically I will choose the wrong men because I have “daddy issues”. Statistically I wouldn’t graduate high school, and I certainly wouldn’t go to college.
I’m not going to lie, this was almost me. Every one of these things could have been me if it weren’t for my hope in Jesus that he had a better plan for my life. I did fall into an unhealthy relationship for majority of my high school years, I did struggle to keep my grades up, and I did struggle to fit in with those who were brought up in more healthy, and stable environments. But thank goodness I was promised more than that by the God I serve.
I am now happily married to an amazing man who I actually met through that very youth group. I have a healthy, happy baby boy who, God willing, will never know the struggles I knew growing up. I went to cosmetology school, and have built an awesome career from the ground up. I have overcome every one of theses statistics, because someone decided to share their story that night, in a place I didn’t even want to be at. Which is why I’m finally sharing mine. God can and does work miracles, I am proof.
I was having a conversation with my mom one day, who by the way, I hope I have not painted a bad picture of. She did her best with what she had, and what she knew. Without her I never would have gone to that retreat. And she has grown to beat the odds herself. She is now married to a pastor, and has devoted her life to serving the homeless in our community. I could not be more proud to call her my mom.
She often feels guilt about the way we were brought up, which she shouldn’t. I was explaining to her one day, how I am not at all affected by my childhood. There is nothing you would see about my life today that would lead you to believe I’ve ever been anything other than safe, and happy. I said my life is about as normal as you can get. She responded by telling me that ever since I was a baby, she has prayed for my life to be normal. Even when she wasn’t following God herself, she prayed for him to watch over me and to take care of me.
Chills. That’s all I can say. God is real, he is powerful, and I owe my life to Him.
I have never wanted to share my story, because I didn’t want to be looked at differently. I fought so hard to beat the odds, and have a good life. I didn’t want anyone to see me as anything other than a happy, normal, individual. I certainly don’t want to appear damaged or troubled. But it’s not about me, and that’s what I have had to come to terms with. I have refused God in the past when I’ve felt He was pushing me to share, but with this little platform I have it just made sense to go ahead and do it. I hope in some small way this will impact your life, give you hope, and show you that there is more out there than what you’ve seen and understand. Also to say if you feel like you have something to say, you should say it. You never know how your words could change the course of someone’s life.