Let's start at the beginning. I was born in Hendersonville, TN in 1982. And I was blessed to be born into a family that has known Christ personally for many generations. So it was only natural that I spent every Sunday and Wednesday in a church building learning about Him. At a very young age I knew who Jesus was and I understood that He died for my sins. So by age 5 I accepted Jesus into my heart as my personal savior and was baptized by age 6.
By age 7, however, my life took a very dark turn. I found myself the victim of a man much stronger than me. Just to clarify for those who may know a little about this part of my life, this man is no longer alive and was never a part of my family or even close friends. It was an unfortunate situation that occurred a few more times over the course of 3 years while staying at a friend's house. Because it didn't happen all the time, and because I was just a child, I didn't understand that I was a victim. I only understood that if I told he would hurt my family. And I also understood that when I was there my friend was safe. In my child-like brain that was motivation to keep me coming to her rescue. By age 10, however, I knew there was something wrong with the situation and refused to go back. I still failed to tell anyone about this experience until my junior/senior year of college - over 10 years later.
Even though those 10+ years of keeping this dark secret were hard, they were also filled with more people than I can count pouring God's love into me and teaching me about His true character. I never once, even through the darkness, blamed God. And I think that is because the Christian influences all around me. Even though I would never wish to live through those times again I know that they made me who I am. My love for kids grew greatly during those times. And the protective nature that God had given me grew even stronger. I developed a heart for loving others, especially those who seemed to need it the most. And I grew to love the church and what it stood for in a way I don't think I even understood at the time. My church was my safe haven and my second home. I was loved for being me, no matter how strange I was. And I was praised for doing good. These were the faint lights in my life during the darkest period to date.
By age 13 I felt led to rededicate my life to Christ, to create a fresh start for myself. I wanted God to be the focus of my life, not my fears and failures. At that point I remember very clearly feeling as if God grabbed hold of me so tightly that I knew He would never let go. I started to talk to God about everything and developed an intimacy with Him that was unique and special for me. That intimacy became very important when, around that same time, my church decided to split. The place where I felt safest in the world was no longer a welcome place to be. It honestly felt like a divorce for me. It was a very difficult season for us all. But I found myself drawing closer to God during this time, and closer to those who were showing me God's love.
At 14 tragedy struck again and I learned that life was very fragile. One of my best friends, Allison, died after having an aneurysm at school one Friday afternoon. From that point on I began to see life differently. I knew I had been through many difficulties and struggles. And I continued to keep this dark secret inside of me that taunted me with nightmares and fears I couldn't express. But with this new tragedy, life had become a scary place to live. Nothing felt safe, except my God. Through everything I felt Him drawing me closer to Him. He seemed to be the one factor in my life that never changed, no matter what. I grew to love that about Him through my high-school years!
By the end of high-school I decided I needed to be in a Christian environment for college. I didn't feel ready to take on the "real world" without the support of other Christians. So I found myself at a small Baptist college in the middle of no-where, KY. This place turned out to be the absolute best place for me to be, even if I complained about it most of the time. While there were still opportunities to get myself into trouble, probably as many as at a secular school, there were just as many opportunities to learn about my God, His character, and who He created me to be. If it weren't for the lessons at this school I wouldn't be as strongly rooted in scripture, I wouldn't be able to defend what I believe, I wouldn't know the joy of working hard in missions for the glory of the God I so loved, and I wouldn't have felt brave enough to finally tell my story.
After telling my parents, and dealing with the emotions that came with this breaking of the dam, I was able to get the help that I needed to start the healing process. Through the next few years God used a Christian counselor at a local center, several Bible studies (Breaking Free in particular), a growing and loving church (Long Hollow), and an employer that truly cared for its employees on a spiritual level (LifeWay) to heal the wounds I had let fester for so many years. The nightmares began to stop and I began to see the world in the light of His love again. It wasn't such a scary place to be any more! And I finally felt as if I had the freedom to be me, as weird and unusual as I am. I finally understood what my Papa had told me since I was a little girl, "You were born to stand out. So stop trying so hard to fit in." I was free to be me because that's who God made me to be and that's who He loved.
That freedom led me to develop a passion to help kids in need. Shortly after moving back home I started helping on the media team at church. I did this not because I wanted to help the church, but because I didn't feel strong enough to go back to working with kids right away. I had attempted to be an elementary school teacher for two year prior to moving home and I felt as if I had failed that role. So I found another outlet of serving that didn't involve kids. The media team allowed me to be in the church, feel like I was part of the church, but still be hiding behind the scenes while God built my strength and confidence in Him back up. A few years later, I found myself helping in the children's department again and loving every minute of it! Teaching kids about the God that I knew and loved made my life feel complete. (I served on both the media team and the preschool/children's teams at church.)
Shortly after I moved to Madison, TN, where I purchased my first home, I took this passion to the next level and I opened my home to foster care. I took kids into my home sporadically for the next 2 years and then decided to walk away because of my work schedule. If you are interested in foster care or helping kids locally that need to know what real love looks like, contact Camelot. They are wonderful! (www.thecamelotdifference.com)
I also found myself drawn to going on missions trips. I had experienced a longer missions trip while in college. I gave up a summer one year to serve as a missionary's helper, along with a dear friend of mine, on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. That trip only seemed to wet my appetite for more. So back home in Tennessee, at a church that loved to serve others, I found myself going on several short-term mission trips. That hunger to go and love on others hasn't stopped growing. And in 2013 I felt a strong push in my spirit to "Go".
I started investigating ways that I could let go of the comforts of my home and go to help others feel safe and loved. I attempted to go through the traditional Baptist routes, through organizations that I had supported and heard about my whole life. But one by one they rejected me. "Sorry we aren't taking females at this time." ...okay. "Sorry, you're not married. We aren't accepting singles at this time." ... alright. "Sorry, your teaching certificate has expired." ... fine. "Sorry, you'd need to lose a lot of weight before we could consider you.".... sigh. While I will admit that I felt beaten up as the rejections seemed to pile up, I still felt my heart pounding with the desire to go! It was a strange feeling for me. I felt as if each organization had a legitimate and understandable reason for rejecting me. But one by one their reasons began to pull me apart until I felt like all I had left was my desire to serve my God. And it was then that I fell on my knees and said, "God, this is all I have to give. Is it enough?" And overwhelmingly I felt His reply, "Yes, child! That's all I wanted." I decided I was still going, despite the rejections. But I knew it would take a God sized open door for me to be able to go. So I asked Him to make a way and I sat back and watched.
During these rejections my closest friends and family members were all there surrounding me with love. One such friend was Cindy Carter. She had just followed God's prompting and moved to Virginia to work at Liberty University. While she was there she began to tell me about some new friends of hers named Steve and Julie James. She had told me that they had worked in missions before and they had even struggled with rejection from some of the same organizations I had. But now they were heading to South Africa, working outside of an organization, to start a children's village and help kids in need there. I got in contact with Steve and we began to talk a little by email. At the same time, Cindy was talking with them as well. We both found ourselves in a position we didn't expect, feeling led to go to South Africa to visit the James', to see what God was doing in South Africa, and with the real possibility of returning to work long term alongside them. So in October of 2014 Cindy and I boarded a plane headed to Africa!
We spent a week with the James family in Plettenburg Bay, South Africa. During that time I met their kids, we toured the townships where the people lived that they were working to reach, and we heard their personal stories and passions for the people of South Africa. That week was one of many different emotions. I felt as if a piece of the puzzle that I couldn't find was not only laid in front of me but was pushed into place in the picture of my life. I knew God had hand-paved the road that led me to South Africa, for such a time as this. However, I also realized in detail what all I would have to give up in order to join this work on the other side of the world. Some of these realizations still make me sad. But when I feel those pains, and those tinges of fear, I am quickly reminded of a phrase my dad used to say as we were growing up, "To be happy in this life, just find where God is at work and join him." I saw God running rampant in Plett and I HAD to join Him!
After the week in South Africa, I decided to take some time to pray and talk with God about what I was feeling/sensing. I took the month of January 2015 to fast (something I'd never been able to do before - thank You God!) using the Daniel fast, and separated myself from social media and communication outside of work and church. During that month I felt as if I could hear God sneeze! LOL! And very clearly I knew that He had in fact made this opportunity for me to come alongside and join Him at work in South Africa. I KNEW I was to move to South Africa!
So, after watching God make a way for me and watching Him provide for me in so many ways, I moved to Plettenberg Bay, South Africa in September of 2016. I worked with the James' at Merryfield Village until around February of 2017, when the James family felt led to move to Jeffery's Bay, South Africa to work with Victory4All ministries. After yet another time of fasting, praying, seeking, etc, I felt led to "stay where I'm planted." I continue to live and serve in Plett, but now under the Hope Crisis Pregnancy Center, a ministry of Plett Community Church, along with Shine Literacy Program and the Sozo Ministry of Plett Community Church; and whatever else He leads me to. I may not always know what each day has in store for me, but I know who holds me each day. I seek Him daily and listen for His voice to tell me how I am to show His love to others. This journey is not always an easy one, but it's a blessed one! And it's one that leads me to where I want to be - found securely in His arms!
"I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me. Still, you did well by sharing with me in my hardship." Phil 4:13-14
We were not meant to walk this road alone. Can we, if we have to, walk alone with just God? Yes! But He designed us to walk in faith together, lifting each other up and leaning on each other. Thank you for sharing in this life with me! I can't wait to see what God does next in all our lives!! It's a joy to be a small part of the story He is writing to save humanity and draw them closer to Him!