I don’t remember a time in my life where I can honestly say I had high self-esteem. All my life I have tried things to get noticed, whether they were good or bad. I didn’t have a filter. I had childhood dreams of being a race car driver or a fighter pilot. I cannot pinpoint the exact moment where things started to spiral downward, but I know they did. I remember not feeling pretty enough, or being cool enough. The feelings of rejection that came with them were intense. I did not feel accepted for who I really was, nor did I feel loved unconditionally. I felt my acceptance was contingent on outward acts or appearances that I never quite seemed to measure up to.
Being uncomfortable in my own skin caused me to try and reach out in ways that were not healthy. I had many bouts of anger and depression, confusion and loneliness. Not wanting what I had at home because I thought there was so much better out in the world. I did not have a bad home life. There was just something lacking within me that I could not find and wanted so badly. I sought it out in all the wrong places. Most of my life I put on an act, lying to myself and those around me with my actions and words. Afraid to say what I really thought or felt in fear of losing a friend or someone not returning my affection for them. I remember as a young child I just wanted to please someone so much, that if they even got a little harsh with me, my feelings were seriously injured and I felt like they no longer cared for me. This is one thing I have struggled with my whole life.
I was a very rebellious child, but a smart one. I had no problem with my class work when I wasn’t getting in trouble. Unfortunately though, my stint as a student in high school did not last very long. When I was fifteen, I got pregnant with my first child. I moved out of my parent’s home and moved in with my boyfriend’s family. I had my first son in December of that year. I dropped out of school on the A/B Honor Roll and passed my GED test with flying colors. Even though my boyfriend’s family was a great family, I was emotionally unstable, and very unhappy. When my first son was around eight months old, I met someone else. Against my family’s warnings I fled into the arms of this man. I took my son in the middle of the night and disappeared for a week. No one knew where we were. Not even my best friend. I do not remember what happened after this; if I called my family or if they found me. I do remember the pain of my son’s father when I finally saw him. He was only sixteen years old and I treated him like he didn’t even matter or exist. I will never forget the pain I caused.
I did not return to my first son’s father. I was so hard hearted and cold, I was determined that I was going to make my own way. I stayed with the person I left with, and found myself pregnant again not too much later. He was older than me, and had a good heart, but once again, I was very emotionally unstable. I was sixteen years old, living on my own really, bouncing around from house to house, and now pregnant with my second child. He did all he could to take care of me, but my destiny was not to stop there. One night when we took my son to the movies, a little argument broke out between him and another patron at the movie theatre and it escalated outside. It led to a series of events that ended up leading to incarceration for him when I was two months pregnant. He is still incarcerated today, thirteen years later. I returned home to live with my grandmother to have my second son. Now I was seventeen with two children, no education, no money, and a strong desire to be like other kids my age.
I had all of the feelings that a mother does when she has a child, but also many feelings that a normal mature mother doesn’t. I loved my sons so much, but I also loved my life too. I did not know how to love them, especially two of them. I didn’t know how to give myself to them when I couldn’t even love or care for myself. Shortly after my second son was born, I asked my first son’s father if he could take over the care of our son because I could not make ends meet. During this time frame, I really started partying hard. I just wanted to have fun and numb my pain so I didn’t have to think about my life. I continued to party my life away for the next few years. My kids spent most of their time with their grandparents and my oldest still living with his father. I was fully addicted to the party scene and the night life. The hours of partying prevented me from keeping a normal day job, so in order to support my night life habit I ended up working as a waitress in a topless bar.
Even in the midst of all of this, I remember wanting something different with my life. At this time I was 19 years old, with two children, no education and no real job. I was tired and wanted something different. I wanted something stable and what I considered a “real life”; I just didn’t know how to get it. But God works in mysterious ways, and I believe He watches over us even when we don’t know He is there. A friend of a friend worked for a law firm and was able to get me a job answering phones. This did not put an immediate end to my partying. As a matter of fact it got worse for a while, but I was on my way to a new life. Not too long after I met a man who was everything I had been looking for; stable, with a real job, a “normal” guy. Our relationship flourished and I ended up moving in with him only two months later. I had no clue how a relationship was supposed to work, and neither did he. We had no blueprint or map on how to parent and love unconditionally. We both had children and we were very defensive of them. We had no clue how to live with a blended family. After a very rocky engagement the wedding was called off and I found out I was pregnant. I was 22 years old. We tried to work it out, and my daughter was born. We stayed together, but the relationship ended. I was still a very hurt person searching for someone to accept me and heal me and take away all of the pain from over the years.
During my relationship with my daughter’s father, I befriended his sister, who was a Christian. Before he and I split up, I started to attend church regularly and loved it. I felt so much peace and joy when I left the church. But feeling a peace and knowing a peace are two different things. This was only the beginning of my spiritual journey. I had much healing to be done, and it would not happen very quickly. I moved into an apartment and stayed working at my job. I continued on bettering myself, but I was not working on my heart condition. So everything was improving on the outside, but nothing was changing on the inside. I started partying and drinking heavily again. A few years later, when I was 25, I bought my first house. I was officially fed up with my life and I found out that they were building a church right down the street from my neighborhood. I waited until they opened the doors and on the second Sunday I walked through the doors, and into a new world.
I found everything I had been looking for. I loved to go to Bible study and learn about God’s love for me. This was not the first church experience I had, but it was the first experience I had where I gave my whole heart to it. I was in church every time the doors were open. I took every class I could. I made myself open up and talk to people and learn from them. I wanted to change and I was going to get it, I was determined! I experienced so much love and growth from the church and the people I met, that my life was totally changed. I was not completely healed, but I was not who I used to be either. I was getting to know God’s love for me, and I was learning the promises in His word. How His Son died for me so that I could live. I prayed for God to bring me friends and mentors who could encourage me and teach me. People that had faith like what I wanted to have. And even though it took some time, He was faithful to answer that cry. He brought me an awesome mentor, who took me under her wing and really showed me how to be different. She showed me how to take care of my household and to be a spirit led woman. She taught me how to fill my house with my faith and to make it the first and foremost priority. And she taught me how to start digging deep in myself to discover a long buried sense of self esteem. She made me sit down in front of the computer one day and list out what I thought my positive attributes were, but I could not list anything physical. The first time she had me do this; I didn’t have anything to write down. Her verse for me was Philippians 1:6: “He who began a good work in you will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ…” I started to see my life completely different, and saw myself in different levels that I had not seen before. I felt a sense of wholeness begin.
This was by no means the end of my journey; it has only led me to where I am today. My children and I still have or issues, but we are alive and healthy. I just turned 30 this year. And I feel like I have been given a second chance at this thing called LIFE. This is my new beginning. This is where I can take a step back and take the good, the bad and the ugly and use it for God’s glory.
I sometimes sit back and think where would I be if not for God’s grace? Many times over I should have been dead or injured, but He saved me, He kept me and He is changing me daily. I am not completely healed. We only get healed when we expose things to the light of God’s love, and there are many areas I have kept hidden from the Lord because I wanted to maintain control over them. But I find (over and over again) that my control does not lead to any good thing. And so I am learning to give those things over to Him and trust Him that He has not brought me this far only to leave me now. I am happy and content with my life for the first time since I can remember. I still have lots of work to do, and I have many trials and struggles every day. But I now live my life with purpose. And the more I live my life with purpose, the more I find that is what I was missing all along.
Written by Jamie Stapleton, a leader of Embrace Grace & Love