My life began under pretty ordinary circumstances. Second born into a middle-class family, eventually becoming the middle child. My parents had only been married a few years but things were going south fast. Our home was a violent and broken place. When I was in first grade my brothers and I were taken from our home and placed in foster care. My mom fought to get us back, and she did, but dad would never be part of the picture again. Although back in my mom’s custody, we spent several months floating between battered women’s shelters. I don’t remember much from those years, honestly, except random things like an Easter egg hunt and saving pennies in the plastic bunny bank I had.
By the time I was in third grade, my mom was a little bit more stable. That year was the beginning of some sort of routine. I actually went to school every day, walking to and from, in a safe neighborhood. Mom was still struggling to pay the bills despite help from welfare and a monthly check from my uninvolved dad’s parents. Now that I’m a mother myself, I can’t imagine the stress and heartache she endured as a single parent. Her own parents had recently passed away, and with only a high school diploma and very few friends, she was breaking her back to barely stay above water. I remember her working at Wendy’s and a shoe factory. I remember being alone, without supervision, a lot. My brothers and I were left to figure it out. That became the theme of the next ten years… figure it out. No one to lead, no one to guide. Up to me. Survival.
One redemptive thing happened just before my seventh grade year. I went to a church camp and gave my heart to the Lord. Now at least I had some hope that there was someone who would love me enough to look out after me. I grew spiritually, but only sporadically. I was learning things from the Word and my youth leaders, but there was no one to help me work through the abuse and neglect I had been traumatized by. Mom was deteriorating physically from a disease called Multiple Sclerosis. She spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital. By the time I was in high school, my world had become my youth group and my activities at school. I was never home, and that suited me just fine. My home was way too depressing.
I also spent a lot of time with boyfriends. Not more than one at a time, of course, but a steady stream of relationships would mark my high school years. Not good. I was an emotional wreck from the unresolved pain in my childhood and the instability in my home. Try surviving a high school break-up with that kind of turmoil already pent up and ready to explode. Did I talk to anyone about these things? Heck, no. I was too busy being smart and popular and attractive. I wanted everyone to think I had it together. I was the poster-child for a Christian young woman who was going places, and I liked it that way. Admitting I was hurting would have ended the charade, and all of that popularity and admiration I worked so hard to get would have been lost.
When it came time to head off to college, I was more than ready. I had never wanted anything so badly. I always knew I would go to college, because I did NOT want to end up like my mom (it sounds so mean, I know… I was a punk!). I also wanted to escape from the small town I lived in. When I started college, I was in a long-term romantic relationship that I knew I had no business being in. I was trying to hear from the Lord about my future, but my own sinful disobedience to Him was causing a tremendous amount of confusion in my life. I had no clue what I was doing. I was guessing, pure and simple.
Finally, just before my junior year of college, I had a moment of clarity where I not only realized the mess I was in, I actually was willing to do whatever it took to get out. I repented. I broke up with my boyfriend of two years, and I felt the Lord speaking to me again. There were missteps over the next few years, but I was finally really on my way to knowing how my relationship with the Lord should look. I was growing.
The next decade brought a lot of peace as I walked steadily with the Lord and finally began making choices based on His leading instead of my own best guesses or preferences. He spoke very directly to me about whom and when I was to marry, as well as the mission we were to be on together. As a young couple we immersed ourselves in youth ministry and devoted most of our time to the students we were pouring into.
Eventually the Lord brought us to Nashville and gave us two beautiful and witty boys. It was here that we really experienced –through the local church—the power of mentorship and discipleship to shape our lives. Those lessons have changed us and the way we lead others. Before she passed away in 2004, my relationship with my mom grew deeper as I dealt with my own issues and bitterness. Yet… life hasn’t exactly looked the way I expected these last several years. My husband and I have done a lot of learning through trials we did not expect. But even in the darkest days, we realize how deeply the Lord loves us, and how willing He is to cover us and guide us when we cry out to Him.
My life is not a glamorous one. I’ve lived through seasons of full-time pastoral ministry, seasons of staying home full-time with my kids, and seasons of working full-time for the corporate world. Currently, I spend my days spreading the hope of Christ as a staff member in the marketing department at Mercy Ministries. I work on personal writing projects after my kids are asleep or on weekends. And even though my life is not glamorous, God is leading and directing me in His paths. I am no longer on a search to feel important… my search has been settled at the cross of Christ, who emptied himself of His very life and cancelled my debt of sin.
I hope to challenge others in my generation who may think that pouring into young people should be left up to the single hipsters who have “time” for youth ministry. Not so. The young people of the world need us… all of us—even moms, dads and grandparents. I’m not a youth pastor. I’m not a youth speaker or a national director of student ministries. To borrow a well-fitting phrase from acclaimed author Angela Thomas, I’m an “ordinary woman.” I have been given the opportunity to open my mouth, share my story, and hopefully help others find purpose and redemption as they grow in Christ.
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