My story isn’t neat, pretty or predictable. There was no grand moment when I found myself praying to God at the altar. I didn’t “grow up” in the church. My family had a Catholic background. Not the typical experience for the average black girl in Detroit. My mom didn’t take me to mass every Sunday. I didn’t receive confirmation. I had an awareness of God based on Christian children’s books/Bibles my mother gave me, an afterschool bible club and even my own personal experience. I remember sensing God’s presence as a young girl in a priest’s rectory (studying for confirmation). Seriously. I really did. It wasn’t something I questioned, I just knew I sensed something outside of myself. I felt a peace there. I had an intellectual understanding of “God.” I never really thought too hard about other religions. My mom never pushed me to believe in Jesus. We went to mass maybe a few times a year. She gave me the culture she knew. She presented it and left it up to me to decide my path.
Early Onset Adulting and the Unexplainable
I was the daughter of a single mom who had health challenges that, in my teen years, began to overtake my own growing desire for independence. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her younger years, but she was starting to have more frequent episodes when I started high school. Though she struggled fiercely during those years, often shifting between mania and depression, she always did her best to keep me first. She wrote a poem dedicated to me called “Jewel.” I had no doubt I was the most important thing to her. We lived in a 1-bedroom apartment. There were times when we faced hard challenges financially. I believe the stress of it set off her symptoms at times. I remember actually encouraging my mom that in spite of all our challenges things “were always working out.” I couldn’t articulate that God was keeping us because I was early in my spiritual journey, but I just knew it wasn’t a coincidence.
I graduated from high school and began attending Marygrove College, a Detroit-based liberal arts school close to home. Since I was her only child, I knew my mom needed the support. I used to look at people who talked about Jesus a lot as oddballs and super extra. So I get the skepticism. I remember seeing folks on TV speaking in “tongues” and I was thinking this is some out there stuff and these jokers are in some type of trance or something. 😀 I used to be really off into astrology and even visited a psychic once. I even had a pack of tarot cards. I’ve always been a global girl, open to different cultures and beliefs. I was never dogmatic or had firm spiritual beliefs. I was flexible and open. I had my moments and personal theories about God, especially in my college years.
To a lot of people I give off “goody two-shoe” vibes. I won’t hide from the label many have put on me. It’s been with me as long as I can remember. I’m usually quiet and observant around new folks. But I’m just like anyone else. I’ve lied, made mistakes and tried to cover it up. During my early college years, I was hungry for attention from guys and was super boy crazy. I used to hang out at a male strip club in Canada with a girlfriend I’ll call April. She couldn’t wait to take me. As soon as I turned 19, April drove us over the border. I was hooked for a minute because of the attention. One day when I was parking my car in the club’s lot, I dented someone’s car. I begged the attendant not to tell anyone. I will never know what I would have done if I’d gone to a college with a ton of dudes and I don’t want to know. I was inexperienced but super naive. God knew my personality. I’m thankful for His protection from the wolves that would have surely preyed on my inexperience.
As time passed in school, things starting getting shaky. Taking care of my mom was starting to take a toll on me. Juggling that and a rigorous school schedule as an English major felt too much to handle. A girlfriend invited me to visit a storefront church. I said a prayer about Jesus, was baptized and at one point, I was babbling like a brook speaking in “tongues.” #InsertIronyHere I was trying to figure out what I was saying (e.g., sounds like Italian, Chinese?). It was all a bit too intense for this girl who slept in every Sunday. I had in that very moment become what I had never understood and even made fun of in my mind. And because I couldn’t make sense of that significant event, I just chalked it up as an intriguing, but puzzling spiritual experience. On that day, without full understanding, I had become a Christian. I just had no idea. No one from that church followed up with me, so I just kept moving on with my life.
I’ve always enjoyed friendships with people from all walks of life. My college attracted students from all ages and backgrounds. I met a fellow female student named Pat who was a big blessing to my life. She was probably in her 50s when we started our friendship. I was about 22 at the time. When my senior year neared completion, I didn’t think too much about graduation expenses. It was all new to me. She bought me an outfit for my baccalaureate ceremony from Lord & Taylor and another dress from Ann Taylor. I never would have been able to afford something like that. She told me, “God wants me to do this for you.” I didn’t give her statement much thought. Pat came into my world and just unselfishly showed me so much love and understanding in a really pivotal and challenging time in my young life. She shared her stories of her personal struggles but also expressed how the Lord was still keeping her. In the midst of her pain, she was pouring into me. I didn’t know it at the time, but she became my first spiritual mentor. Years later, I remember her reflecting on life as a Christian saying, “It’s a hard walk but a good one.” Some people I met during that time were just a little too “deep” for me. I met a hairdresser who seemed like an over-the-top Bible thumper. She had Christian videos playing while I was getting my hair blown out. She gave me a cassette tape from her church. I stopped going to her shop because I was basically thinking “It don’t take all that” and I didn’t come here to be preached at. But I did keep the tape for some reason. Keep that tape in your mind. I’ll share on that later.
Having It My Way aka Crash and Burn
I finally finished college after 5 years. Between work and home demands, I decided to take my time finishing school. I start working at Electronic Data Systems (EDS) as a call center rep for Buick Customer Relations Center. And then I meet HIM. I met “Josh” through a friend. It was my first real adult relationship, filled with all the stars and rainbows of young love. We were together about 3 years and I thought he was the man for me. I still didn’t know how it would work out because we both had entry-level jobs and my mom couldn’t afford to live on her own. But when he went back for his Master’s Degree, all the love and attention fell off hard. And what I didn’t pick up on early enough became evident and the final nail in the coffin: He was a mama’s boy. I couldn’t occupy a space that would always be reserved for someone else. I ended the relationship, wondering what my future would look like caring for my sweet mom but wanting my own life. One night while sleeping on the couch, bullets shot through the apartment next to mine, and I knew we had to leave the neighborhood immediately. I moved us into a place I thought would be safer for us. One day when I was parking my car at our new apartment, I fell on a patch of ice and damaged my knee. I had surgery and physical therapy. It’s an injury I still have issues with today. I also had two jobs losses two years in a row. I almost thought my mom and I should move out of state to live somewhere with a more stable job market. The financial instability was a big stressor, and I wasn’t just taking care of myself. Thankfully, it didn’t take me long to get another job and I started working at an ad agency named BBDO Detroit. I made fast friends with two women there who were my age. We all started hanging out together, laughing, bonding over the ad world life. But I noticed they were different. Mary and Katherine both were churchgoing, scripture-knowing, celibate ladies. I hadn’t really bonded with women who were young like me but seemed so solid. They were anchored. It’s not that they didn’t have their challenges and personality quirks, but they were grounded. It was an assurance that was so attractive. It was intangible, something that I couldn’t put my finger on but I wanted for myself. I remember asking Katherine tons of questions about Jesus, salvation and the Bible. Since I didn’t regularly attend a Bible-based church, there was a lot I didn’t know. They would influence me to finally follow Jesus fully. On Valentine’s Day 2002, I said a prayer to God and asked Him to be Lord of my life. Something clicked for me that day. I had a peace, an assurance about so many doubts and questions I had during my spiritual journey. It felt like a download from Heaven that brought revelation and clarity. It was like going from black and white cinema to a full-color, 3-dimensional interactive world. Living a celibate lifestyle had never made sense before, but it was something I desired for the first time in my life. I had a hunger for reading the Bible when I had previously considered it a boring, dusty Shakespeare read. Sundays were now opportunities to hear more about this Savior I had largely ignored in most of my waking moments. I later learned more about the Holy Spirit and how He played a part in revealing truth to my mind. Every twist and turn I took through life God used to get me to Him. Every person that showed me His love, every situation that felt impossible. It’s why I cling to this word: “That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:28.
Remember that tape I told you about? I had visited nearly a dozen churches and was really leaning toward the last one I had visited, but I wanted to be sure. Not long after, I stumbled across the tape. It was from Dunamis Outreach Ministries (DOM) — the same church I had been visiting. My pastor and his wife, who would go on to be my spiritual guides for many years, were pictured on the back cover. DOM’s building had been a Catholic church many years before. There were still bolts on the sides of the pew where parishioners could release cushions to kneel and pray. My mom told me she prayed in that very building when she was pregnant with me and asked the Lord for a girl. Twenty-eight years later, I walked through the same door as my mother and joined, spending 16 years there as a member. It’s been an amazingly exquisite journey, filled with the highs and lows of life and one I’ve never regretted. ❤