I’m not your average girl.

I figured before I began blogging about my life and experiences that I should probably provide some background information on how and why I think and act the way I do. A song that really gave me the boost to take this step was “What If We Were Real” by Mandisa. Some of the lyrics are below and completely covered exactly how I felt.

Well, I’m tired of saying everything
I feel like I’m supposed to say
I’m tired of smiling all the time
I wanna throw the mask away
Sometimes you just have a bad day
Sometimes you just wanna scream
Tell me I’m not the only one
Tell me that you feel just like me

We keep tryin to make it look so nice
And we keep hidin’ what’s goin on inside
But what if I share my brokenness
What if you share how you feel
And what if we weren’t afraid of this crazy mess

What if we were real
What if we were real

I’m over hidin my tears
I think I’m gonna let em’ go
I’m over actin so strong
When I ain’t even in control
We make it so complicated
But why does it have to be
Why can’t we open our hearts and let everybody see

     I strongly believe that each of our stories and experiences have a huge impact on the people we are each and every day. And so I’ve arrived at this point right now, nervously awaiting to share my life with you. I’m not doing this for a pity party, I’m not doing it for popularity, I’m doing it for myself and for others. We all have our ups and downs and that’s why I’m here, opening myself up like a book. I want YOU to know that you aren’t alone in this journey called “life.” I want my story to lend genuine encouragement (and hopefully a few laughs) to all who choose to hear it, or in this case read it and experience it. If you aren’t interested in any of the above, I encourage you to click the little “x” icon in the top right hand corner of your computer screen. But if you’ve decided to risk it and continue to read, I warn you, this is all real, its me. You may love me or hate me by the end of this, but hopefully you’ll gain something from it. Here goes nothing.

I’ve grown up in poverty ever since I was a chubby, curly red-headed, little girl. Trailer parks, hand-me-downs, food-stamps and Christina Aguilera were my childhood. My dad wasn’t in my life at a young age and my mom worked all the time so I stayed with my grandma, better known as Nana (my mom was adopted, so my Nana wasn’t blood related). My mom was diagnosed with Lupus which is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s antibodies attack one’s own tissues. In English this means that her body worked against her. Every day she was made weaker and weaker. When I was 7 the doctors found a blood clot in her leg. In attempt to save her life they amputated her leg. I don’t remember much from my childhood, but I do vaguely remember the day momma was able to come home from the hospital. She had a mechanical leg and crutches. When she got in the car I might have been crying or something but I remember her saying “see punkin’, momma’s gonna be okay.” I wish I could say that was true. She was soon hospitalized after growing even more ill. It turns out that the blood clot had regrown and moved to heart, killing her. I remember being at her viewing and my aunt pulling down her shirt to prove to me that they did try and save her as best they could. I saw the seared burn marks on her chest from the doctors trying to revive her…but it was hopeless. This was a really hard time for me as a child. I remember seeing the pain in the eyes of so many people that she touched. This was when I began writing songs. I was a hurting seven year old girl that tried to write songs to make everyone else feel better. Looking back on it now it kind of makes me smile.

I have to pause for a moment and give thanks to a woman that saved my life. When my mom found out she was pregnant she did not want to keep me. When she went to the abortion clinic a woman by the name of Frances Cook took her aside and soon adopted her as if she were her own daughter. Frances convinced my mother not to have an abortion. I had no idea about any of this until Frances, who had become my grandmother and a very influential woman in my life, passed away. In someone’s speech at her funeral they mentioned this. I remember completely breaking down. Grandma Frances had saved me and helped my mom through a tough process. God places people in our lives to do amazing work.

I lived with my Nana in our little trailer for two more years until she was hospitalized after breaking her hip. It was all my fault, too. We had a dog named Cocoa – he always scared the crap out of me because he wasn’t afraid of growling or biting anyone. I don’t remember why but Nana asked me to pick him up (probably to put him back in his doggie area). I refused because I was too scared so Nana sat on the edge of the couch and as she bent over to pick up the mean Cocoa, she fell. I remember her telling me to go get the neighbors. I was frantically screaming/crying/running to help save my Nana – I felt terrible. While she was in the hospital she got double pneumonia and ended up having cancer – she soon passed away. She always stayed strong for her family though, and she taught me so much of what I know today.

I was stuck in a war with incompetent people trying to get custody of me. One day my life changed. I remember being pulled out of my fourth grade class and being told I would be going “home” to a different house…I wouldn’t ever return to my own home. They had moved what they could of my belongings to a foster home and I was told that this was my new home. (It turns out a lot of my belongings were hidden from me on one side of my family so I am still deprived of pictures and belongings of my mother that were supposed to be given to me.) I had an older sister and 3 brothers. I remember that very night for dinner we had tacos. I also remember my older sister (she was probably in middle school at the time) coming in with all of her girlfriends and giving me the dirtiest look when she saw she had to deal with another kid living with her – her friends didn’t know that she was in a foster home at the time so she was disgusted and embarrassed. I spent about a year in this home – my dad was a pastor and mom was a teacher. Looking back, this was the most crucial time of my life. I learned so, so, so much. Being raised and loved by such spiritually sound people is exactly what I needed as a broken little girl. After this year, one day my social worker came in and told me that I would be moving out…just like that. I was enraged – I just wanted to live with them forever. Why did I have to be tossed around like the wind? My dad had been getting his life together, dropping the alcohol and drugs, to get custody of me. But for this transition, I was placed in another home with a lady and her sons. She was supposedly my “great aunt” but as far as I know I don’t even think we were related. After about 6 months it was time for me to move in with my dad, and this was when they found out that I had been living in the presence of drug dealers.

It was finally time: I went to live with my dad in the middle of my sixth grade year. He had gotten himself cleaned up, started buying a trailer that we could call our home, and began rebuilding our broken relationship. We got along perfectly, I was daddy’s little girl. He loved me and did whatever he could to make me happy. But as the years passed, things started to change drastically. He got engaged to a woman that was pulling him away from me and back to his addictions. Things with her were great in the beginning years. I finally had a mom-like figure, a woman I could talk to about stuff that my dad would kill me over. I loved this woman with all that I had and she seemed to love me. But when things increasingly began going downhill, they realized they were incompatible and called off the engagement, breaking up for good. I have never felt so hurt and betrayed by someone. This woman who claimed to love me lost all contact with me. She deleted my number from her phone, my Facebook from her friends list, and she ignored multiple attempts from me to contact her. My dad began getting back into his old habits of drugs and alcohol. He struggled with depression and anger problems. When I needed this woman she refused to be there for me, and it hurt. I remember thinking to myself that it was like my mom had died again – I had lost yet another person that I loved. (During this time my Uncle and Grandma Frances died) My dad’s anger would root itself in vicious name calling and rampant mental abuse. (He wouldn’t hesitate to slap me in the face if I offended him.) One of our neighbors was a druggie who beat his wife, and of course my dad ended up befriending him. My dad would tell me of how he hated the guy for beating his wife, but I always wondered why he still hung around the man. Daddy got deeper and deeper into his old habits – the drugs and alcohol became more important than his own daughter…and that’s what cut deep. There were times I would get so depressed and frustrated knowing that he was choosing these things over his own daughter. He had already missed out on seeing me grow up and now he was choosing the same things over me again. It hurt me most that he didn’t realize the time lost with me was something he could never get back. With the constant brain washing and abuse, I began struggling with low self-esteem. I never felt like I was ever good enough – I always felt fat, ugly, incompetent, and hated. I still struggle with these same feelings.

My dad had hurt himself on the job a few years back, and so after surgery he was unable to go back to work. Being unemployed my dad scraped metal for a living. Almost every day of my sophomore, junior and senior year I came home to a dark, empty house, made my own dinner and did everything for myself. My dad would be gone for days at a time. LETS PAUSE FOR A SECOND. This is one prime example of how our past experiences mold how we act today. Even though I was forced to grow up at a young age and take care of myself, I was at least in control of myself and everything around me. So now, sometimes I tend to be a control freak. But recently I received some news that would take everything out of my control. We’ll talk about that later. LETS RESUME. Christmas of 2010 I didn’t get any gifts from my dad, which is fine. But I put up the tree by myself and also took it down by myself. Christmas morning I even made breakfast for both of us. He came in 30 minutes after I said it was done, heated it back up and took it to his room. Later that night I went to check on him and as I opened the door the smell of alcohol consumed me. He looked up and started freaking out. He began crying telling me that he had been calling and looking for me and that I had just been there but an angel took me away. He thought I left him. He was hallucinating from the drugs. I was of course freaked out by this but tried to keep him calm as his sobbing transformed to a fit of rage. He began yelling in my face then finally returned to his room. As I closed his bedroom door I began to cry. I snuck out crying and running to my cousins house who happened to be my neighbor. There hasn’t been Christmas since 2010 for me. (I did however get an awesome surprise from some friends though. God works in crazy ways because none of them knew that I was going to get nothing for Christmas, but they all knew that I had a rough home life. They threw me a surprise Christmas party. In that moment I had never felt so loved in my entire life.)

Before you all begin to think my dad is a maniac, I do have to take up for him. This blog is the story from my eyes. I know that my dad loves me with all of his heart. I am the only reason that he chooses to live another day in this turmoil. What I’ve come to realize is that my dad, in his love for me, sacrificed family time and daddy-daughter time for “work” so that he could provide a roof over my head and food for me to eat (even if I had to eat alone). He had to find some way to pay the bills as a single parent. He also had to find some way to cope through the physical pain his body gave him and the emotional pain his heart gave him. I see it as him choosing drugs, alcohol, and work over me. But I know he sees it as him choosing me and (functional) him over no home to live in.

Now back to the story. There’s a lot that families do together: have meals together at the dinner table, watch TV shows together, go shopping together, put up the Christmas tree together, spend holidays together, laugh together, love together – and I didn’t get any of that. I constantly find myself struggling to get rid of the jealousy in my heart. I hear my friends talk about hanging out with their families, I see pictures of them all going to the beach together, doing this and that, and yes I get jealous. When you’ve been deprived of such things it’s hard not to get jealous. On top of it all, I could never get away from the situation. I didn’t have a working car. I got my license my junior year and couldnt even drive. My dad kept making broken promises saying he’d get the car fixed and I could drive it, but that never happened. I was ALWAYS stuck in a home, in the middle of turmoil and depression – alone. I still don’t have a car to this day and it just makes things a lot harder. Especially when everyone I know has a car. I can never just take a ride to get away from reality and destress. I’ve been stuck smack in the middle of it all and thats when things begin to get overwhelming.

In the middle of all this, my senior year of high school had been the roughest year of all. But I was getting in all of my college applications and scholarships ALL BY MYSELF – talk about a stressful situation. After this grueling process, I ended up getting a full ride to UNC Chapel Hill as a Covenant Scholar which is strictly financially need-based with academic upholding. When I got this news I had never been happier in my entire life…I remember thinking as a little girl there was no way I was going to be able to pay for college – I was worried and didn’t know what I was going to do with my future. But with this scholarship I was able to be the first in my family to go to college and boy was I so excited and proud.

Back to my all-over-the-place story…SORRY ‘BOUT IT. My dad has been going to a Methadone clinic every day now for almost three years now. Methadone is like synthetic heroine and if it the dosage is not eventually terminated, it can kill you. It’s a drug that the government legalizes that helps people that have previously been on harder drugs, such as heroine, take a step to get off them. But my dad’s dosage hasn’t been lowered at all and I’m constantly scared about losing him. The crazy thing is he has no clue that I know about it. He pays $11 a day to receive his dosage plus a good bit of gas money to go all the way across town to the clinic. Added up that’s over $400 dollars a month, and for a man who is unemployed and behind on bills, the next set of news was only inevitable, but heartbreaking to say the least.

It came this summer, the biggest heartbreak of my life. I was working at that camp and got a call from my cousin telling me that our trailer had been rolled off the lot…taken away – foreclosed. This news was given to me a week before I had to move back home and get my things together to move back up to chapel thrill to start my sophomore year of college. I was devastated, completely crushed. Being told that you and your dad are homeless is some really rough news to handle. The day I got back was one of the hardest days of my life. I had to face my dad who it turns out had been homeless weeks before I received the call. Looking into his eyes, I’ve never felt so broken. My dad is literally the strongest person I know. Regardless of all the hurt I’ve suffered, words can’t begin to explain the extent of love I have for my father – he is my ultimate hero. I look at him with an unshaven face, dirty neck, and big jacket – he resembles the homeless men on Franklin Street. It breaks my heart to know that that is now my daddy. He is living in a tent with no means of personal hygiene or food. This is the point that I referenced earlier on my “control-freak” ways having to be thrown out the window. I care so much about my dad and not being able to do anything to change those circumstances is one of the most discouraging feelings in the world. I really wish I could reach someone of relevance – wealthy, famous, whatever – that could help him out of this desperation. I don’t need anything, I don’t want anything – except a better life for my dad. I’d give up whatever I could just to see him happy for once in his life. I’m terrified of losing him…because it could happen at any moment.

Over our school breaks I’ve had to try and find places to stay the best I could. It hurts the most not having a solid place to lay my head, not having a bed to call my own. Even hearing someone say “I can’t wait to go home!” triggers so much emotion for me. I’ve thought about it a lot recently on Christmas break. I’ll never get to see my room again, the way it was decorated, my posters, my bed, my armoire, my TV stand, the living room, the kitchen…even the refrigerator. There was so much memorabilia on the fridge that I’ll never get to see again. Losing my home forced me to realize how often we, as humans, idolize our belongings – we love them. It also made me realize how little they matter.

But being placed in the situation I’m in has literally just placed me on my knees. I worked at a church camp this summer and my prayer was for God just to break me down and build me up the way He wanted me. When I got the news that our home had been foreclosed, I felt like God had done just that. I no longer had any control over anything and it forced me to just lose control and give all my burdens to Him.

The biggest thing I’ve realized in my life is that everything works to strengthen who I am and will be in the future. The verse I constantly turn to is James 1:2-3 which says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trial of many kinds. For you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” That’s so encouraging to me. So whatever you are going through at the moment, please know that you are not alone. I think loneliness is the easiest way to get entrapped in depression – I find myself there at times. The reassurance that present and past experiences will only lead to strength is encouragement alone. No, I’m not perfectly jolly all the time but when a troublesome time arises I find hope in the following verses:

“I am tired of crying inside myself. All night long my pillow is wet with tears. I flood my bed with them…For the Lord has heard the sound of my crying.  The Lord has heard my cry for help. The Lord receives my prayer.”

-Psalm 6:6,8-9

Even David understood MY pain…that’s crazy awesome! An even great reminder that we are not alone.

In conclusion, I know this has been an extremely LONG, scatter-brained story, but it has been straight from my heart. AND YOU MADE IT THROUGH THE WHOLE THING! So there you have it. A little chunk of my life. It’s real. It’s me. Thanks for reading.

Until next time,

In the words of Mandisa, “What if we were real?”