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When I was 16 I dropped out of high school halfway through my junior year. After numerous moves state-to-state from the time I was nine, and struggles with anxiety, depression, drugs, alcohol, and shoplifting (among other things), I was tired out and sick of trying. Floating through the nights awake and sleeping all day, it was the lowest point of my life.

Then, something happened: my grandma suggested I come back east to Virginia to visit with my cousins and stay at my Aunt Lacey and Uncle Tim’s house. My first reaction to this idea? “I don’t want to go there and spend time with all those Christians!”

To me, “Christian” had by this point become a dirty word. I had gone from having a faith in God (albeit fledging) to none at all. I was too down to believe there could be a loving God who cared for me. Spending time with people who were believers, heavily involved in their faith, sounded like the worst possible option. No way.

Well, turned out I did not have much choice in the matter; the ticket was purchased and I flew back east for what was supposed to be a three-week stay. I remember curling up in the armchair at the end of my first evening at Uncle Tim’s and Aunt Lacey’s, pretending to sleep. All the cousins were there that evening. having pizza and chatting late into the evening. In my family, we kept to ourselves and had few happy quality times together by the time I was a teen. “Are these people for real?” I thought, going up to bed early. I was too jaded, afraid and depressed to even try to take part in the joy around me. I felt only suspicion.

And I wanted to leave and return home after just a week at Aunt Lacey’s and Uncle Tim’s. All I can think now, looking back, is that when you have lived in darkness for a long time, the light hurts your eyes. There was real love and joy and harmony among these relatives of mine, something I had not experienced in my own family at all in recent years. It rubbed me the wrong way. I called my mom out in Montana and asked to come home; she told me to finish the visit.

My cousin’s wife Sarah took me under her wing right away. She was a new mom at that point, staying at home with her 8-month-old (who is now 20), and she drove out to pick me up every single day. Taking me with her as she lived out her daily routines, I started to open up, to soften. Her own father had died young in a mental hospital; she had grieved and felt abandoned by God, herself; we spoke the same language.

Sarah shared with me about her prayer journals, how she cried out to God in everything, both joy and distress and everything in between. And He had sustained her. He had fed her, even though her life had not been easy and she had suffered immensely. I started to do the same thing on my own time, talking to God via journal. My faith started to open back up as I felt His presence in those intimate moments of sharing with Him my deepest heart and fears and desires.

My Aunt Lacey and Uncle Tim also played a part in what turned out to be a very healing, essential season in my life. They encouraged me to get my GED; they told me I was smart, and that I could achieve things. Slowly, I started to study for the GED and then Sarah took me to take the test; I passed, and then started to attend community college.

Aunt Lacey took me to take my driver’s test a whopping three times, and at last, at age 19, I got my license, and then my first job. All these milestones took time and effort and were not easy to achieve, but as my sense of connection to God and to the body of Christ became strong, I felt more confident, more capable of taking on hard things.

Now my Aunt Lacey is sick, and has only a short time left in this world, before she passes along to the next. I am grieving for her, and missing her already, but also celebrating that she gets to be home with the Lord. I am thankful for her, and for her home, which was a place of healing for me in a difficult time. I simply do not know who I would be if I had not gone to live with her and her family in that season. It changed me. She was one of the mothers who mothered me. And now I am a mother, and I still remember all the things I learned from her. And I will never forget.

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