Growing up, I wasn’t the happiest of children. I was a quiet and shy girl with a lot of insecurities and fear. I grew up in a broken home with a violent, alcoholic father and a neglectful mother who had a gambling addiction.
It was a home with no love, no rules, no safety and no trust. My dad was never around much, but when we did see him, he was always drunk and violent. I’m not sure I could count how many stories I made up about how I got a certain bruise or cut from him. One scar I often can’t hide is the cigarette burn he left on my hand after a night of drinking.
We spent a lot of time running away from him with my mum, often ending up at different women’s refuges all over the North Island. Because of that, we never stayed in one place for long. I struggled to make and keep friends because of all the moving around, so I always felt alone.
My mother and I didn’t have a good relationship. She never drank, never used drugs and never physically abused us, but she was neglectful and emotionally abusive, which is something I struggled with the most.
It was very normal for us to go without food in the cupboards for days at a time. I remember always feeling hungry. Our house was always a mess and we rarely had clean clothes. We learnt fast not to trust promises about getting presents or having a birthday party.
Looking back, I truly believed that my life was ‘normal’ and that every other kid lived the same way I did. I struggled in every area of my life. I thought no one loved me and no one cared about me. I was always scared, and emotionally I was broken.
When I was 11, the Police and a Child, Youth and Family worker turned up at our home. They took me and a brother off mum and put us into a foster home. I really feel that this is when my true life started. I felt like God was taking care of me, finally. I was so happy that I didn’t have to go back to my mum or dad.
As happy as I was, I had a long road ahead of me. Deep down, I was hurting. Instead of showing my emotions, I hid them.
If you asked my friends what I was like at school, they’d tell you I was loud, energetic, always smiling and laughing—the class clown. Little did they know
My best friend, whose parents were Salvation Army officers (ministers), convinced me to go to youth group and church with them. I became a part of the corps (church) family, and they really showed me what it was like to be part of a family.
I struggled with my faith during my high school years. I blamed God a lot for giving me the life I had. I couldn’t understand why, if he loved me so much, he would let those things happen to me. I was always looking for other things that could make me happy. I started going to parties every weekend and would just drink until I passed out.
The family I was living with was having their own problems, so I decided to run away. I ended up at my friend’s house—and I was a wreck. Again, I felt like I was alone, rejected and that no one cared.
I stayed with my friend and her family for three months. During that time I turned 16 and was put on the Independent Youth Benefit, so now I was truly on my own and had to start taking care of myself.
God found me a great family to board with. On the day I moved into their house, they took me out and let me pick brand-new furniture for my room, a whole new experience for me. They really looked out for me and showed me love.
But I was too stubborn to see that at the time. I didn’t honour them very well. I would lie to them about where I was going and who I was with. I didn’t listen to anyone.
Even though I didn’t respect my teachers very much, they still had a lot of time for me. They really encouraged me, even when I acted like I didn’t care. They believed in me, and that helped me believe in myself.
Much to their disappointment, when I was 17, I found out I was pregnant. I was completely devastated. My whole world flipped upside down.
Again, I blamed God. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have any family to support me, let alone a baby.
My daughter Gabrielle was born—and she was everything to me. When Gabby was about six months old, her dad and I broke up, and I had to find a place to live on our own from then on. I turned back to drinking.
It took me about two months and a good talking-to by a close friend to wake up and realise that I wasn’t being the best mother I could be. I stopped and looked at how I was acting and got a shock to see that what I was doing was reminding me of my parents. And that was one thing I was so, so determined not to become!
So I chose from that day that I would break the cycle and stop it at me, and live a better life for myself. Most of all, I wanted better for Gabby.
When I look back on my past and all the situations that I was in, I can clearly see now that God was there. He has always given me a way out; it was just whether I would choose his way or my own. The thing I failed to see growing up was that God was in every situation, walking right beside me. He surrounded me with people who were willing to listen, willing to take care of me. He had people in my life to guide and lead me to the right path. And he never left me.
Yes, people could say, ‘You’ve had a really dumb life.’ But that’s not how I see it anymore. Without God’s help, I wouldn’t be half the person I have grown to be. God knew I was in those situations, and he protected me from what they could have been. He knew that he and I together would be okay.
I’ve been hurt by the people who were meant to love me the most. God has given me a choice to forgive them—not for their sake, but for my own healing. God has shown me that by choosing to forgive them, he has broken the hold they once had over my life.
I see a clear picture of God standing there hurt, with tears for me, right in the middle of my pain. And to know that he was hurting for me is such a powerful thing.
Not only does God feel our pain, he carries us through it. He will always be right beside us—in the good times and the bad. God knows that any trauma you have faced was not easy, and God wept that it hurt you so much—but it was allowed to shape your heart so that into his likeness you would grow. You are who you are for a reason.
Looking ahead, I am excited, because I am ready for God to use me to reach out to other people in similar situations. To help and guide them to him, to show them that there is a better way to live, to show them that with God’s love and help we can pick ourselves up out of our stuff and walk away clean. We can have the life God has prepared for us!