Faith as small as a tiny mustard seed.

That’s what I was told I needed for God to come into my life and change me. It’s a good thing, too, because a tiny seed of faith was all I had. Turns out, it was enough. God’s love met that little faith seed with mountain-moving power, and He changed my life forever.

I didn’t even want to believe in God at the time, and I sure didn’t want anything to do with church or Christianity. But my desires were no match for God’s pursuing love. My story is evidence that God will stop at nothing to make Himself known to one of His children, no matter how far or how hard they’ve run.

For weeks, I had listened to the other ladies at the prison talking excitedly about an upcoming weekend-long, Christian event hosted by a prison ministry called Kairos. Everybody I knew had put their name on the list, hoping they would be one of the thirty or so women chosen to attend.

My friends tried to sell me on the weekend. They told me about all the incredible food and activities, but I didn’t want any part of it. “I don’t care what kind of food they serve, I ain’t going!” I said. I couldn’t imagine going to church for one hour, much less three full days. Heck to the no!

A few days later, a girl ran over and congratulated me for making the list. “What?! How?” There was no way my name should be on that list because I had not signed up. She pulled me over and pointed at the bottom of the page. “See—it’s right there!” Sure enough, there it was.

I repeated what I’d been saying all along, “I ain’t going.”

I stood my ground right up until the day before the event, and then a good friend helped change my mind. She could see I was upset about something and encouraged me to use the weekend as a sort of vacation from prison life. So I went, but I was determined not to enjoy it.

I got up that morning with an attitude and put up every emotional wall I could. I was not going to let anyone in. But it was hard to maintain the attitude and the walls with all those ladies greeting me at the door. Hugs and smiles filled the room as each one expressed how glad they were that I had come. I restrained from telling them how I really felt about being there.

The way they interacted with me was so foreign. I couldn’t understand why they were so nice. They didn’t know me or what I’d done. I could have been the vilest person on earth, but they didn’t seem to care. Not one lady looked like she was trying to figure out what I’d done to be in prison. I’d never experienced kindness like this. And I couldn’t help but wonder where it came from.

Hearing my story will help you better understand my walled-off heart and distrust of people. It would take a small library to provide every detail, and truthfully, some of those details would be too much for many to read. So let’s just say, the things that happened to me and the things I did are not conversation starters.

I mean, how do you share—why would you share—that when you were a year old, you were kidnapped from your grandmother’s home and taken to Mexico, where you were locked in a bathroom for the next 17 months? How do you bring up the violent abuse and detestable things you encountered, or tell how you were burned on the stove, scalded in near-boiling bath water, and forced to eat feces? Now imagine that this nightmare was set in motion by your mother and her drug-dealing boyfriend.

That’s just a quick snapshot of my life. I’m sure your stomach is turning already.

Thankfully, my mother stopped the nightmare when she abandoned my near-unconscious body in a Louisiana hospital. I was 3 years old. She and her boyfriend had returned to the United States for a drug deal. While there, he decided to kick me in the head one too many times.

Somehow, I can still picture those big yellow work boots repeatedly coming at my face. I hear my mother screaming for him to stop. I remember blood…everywhere. Then she grabbed me in her arms, ran out the door, and dropped me off at the nearest hospital.

I’m 36 now, and I haven’t seen or heard from her since.

No one knew who I was for quite some time. The authorities only knew that I was a severely traumatized little girl. I was placed in the foster care system, where another difficult journey began.

I was in foster care for some time before I was miraculously reunited with my grandmother. But as you can imagine, the severity of my abuse had left deep emotional scars. I experienced frequent flashbacks that resulted in full-blown panic attacks. My grandmother loved me dearly, but she didn’t know how to deal with my issues. She sent me back into foster care.

I was a handful in my adolescent years, full of anger and hopelessness. Bouncing between various homes and schools only added to my frustrations. I longed for stability, to find a place where I felt wanted and understood.

It wasn’t until I was 12 that I found these things—when I was arrested and sent to a juvenile delinquent center. There, I finally felt secure and somewhat safe as I knew I couldn’t be kicked out. I know it sounds crazy, but it felt good to be “wanted.”

For the next decade, I cycled in and out of jail, mostly due to my inability to keep my fists to myself. I was a scrappy little thing, all about the fight. I had discovered early in life that the one thing I could do well was take a hit. I had survived brutal abuse as a toddler and even more abuse in the foster care system, so I wasn’t afraid of what someone might do to me. I knew from experience that physical pain only lasted for a short while, no matter how hard the blow. But the one who took the first swing had better take their best shot, because I was coming after them.

Not only did I defend myself at all cost, but I took on the role of protector for others too. I was the friend who had your back. And my friends knew it, too. Sometimes they took advantage of this, but I didn’t care. I figured as long as I fought for them, they wouldn’t leave me. I wanted to be accepted, no matter what it cost me.

Even when that cost became a 3-year prison sentence.

I took right to prison life. And like many of the women there, I schemed, scammed, and manipulated my way through every day. I couldn’t wait to go back to my old life, though, so I worked at making connections on the outside. I was one year from going home when my life took an unexpected and unwanted turn at that Kairos event.

As I shared earlier, the ladies at that event met me at the door with an unfamiliar love. I didn’t want to hear anything they were saying, but I couldn’t ignore what I felt—pure, unconditional love. Before I knew what was happening, my walls started coming down.

Suddenly, tears were trickling down my cheeks. What in the world?! I wasn’t a crier. I hadn’t even cried when I was sentenced to prison. I fought like a pit bull, trying to keep those tears inside. The last thing I wanted was for anyone in that place to see me cry.

But the more I fought, the more the tears came. And soon, every tear I had ever held back broke loose. To my horror, women surrounded me, put their hands on my back, and prayed. It felt like there were electrical shocks flowing through my body.

I got up and went to the bathroom—my reflection in the mirror made me gasp. My whole face was swollen and red. What was my problem? Why had I gotten so torn up? I thought back to the theme of the morning.

The women had been sharing how God could do miraculous things with faith, even faith as small as a tiny little mustard seed. I hit my knees on that bathroom floor and muttered, “God, all I have is faith the size of a mustard seed. If You’re real, You’ve got to show me.”

When I came out of the bathroom, I walked through the room to my seat with my head down. I didn’t want anyone to see my swollen face. But as soon as I looked up and saw the girls watching me, I lost it and wept uncontrollably. Every heave of my body felt like a thousand bricks were being lifted off me. God was taking emotional baggage I hadn’t even known I was carrying. I felt light as a feather.

The next morning, I returned to the event, but now I was hungry! Not for all the delicious foods those ladies had brought us. No, I was hungry to know more about what had happened to me the day before. How had that weight been lifted off me? And why was I seeing people differently? Only the day before, I had been so judgmental and cynical. Now I was full of compassion and love. It was so weird. And then, to top it off, I had given my cigarettes away!

The weekend soon ended, but after that, I attended every church service I could. I had this insatiable desire to know more about God. I made some new friends, Jody and Alex, and together we dove into God’s Word. The three of us held each other accountable, kept each other strong, and pushed each other to know God more intimately.

Every day, verses would jump off the pages of the Bible and into my heart. God’s Word really is alive, just like Hebrews 4:12 says. It was exciting to experience revelations daily with the help of God’s Holy Spirit.

Those around me saw evidence of the faith in my life. They knew only God could have made these changes in me. I was different—kind now, and vulnerable. There was no way I would have made those changes on my own.

My life was a living testimony of what God could do with a tiny mustard seed of faith.

A year later, I was released from prison and entered a Christian transitional home in Central Florida with my friend, Alex. (See her story on page 12.) There, I grew even stronger in my faith. After 16 months, I returned to North Florida to be near my grandmother. My grandma continues to be amazed at how God has changed my life. She enjoys spending time with my husband of seven years, and our two children. Grandma has been the one constant in my life, and I love her dearly.

I wish I could tell you that I have been a picture-perfect Christian, but I haven’t. I’ve struggled on many fronts. It’s interesting how God immediately removed some of my destructive habits but left others, like an eating disorder, to teach me to rely on Him. And some habits, I had to work through with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). It was a humbling experience.

I’ve made mistakes, lots of them, but no matter what they were, the Lord never gave up on me. Of course, that’s not because of me—it’s because my actions can’t change who God is. What I do doesn’t diminish or increase His love for me, His child.

God isn’t like an earthly parent, and I am so glad.

To think that God has forgiven me of all the terrible things I have done is overwhelming. Yet I know that His love and forgiveness are true (1 John 1:9). Since the moment I encountered the Lord’s love, I’ve not been the same. Ezekiel 36:25–26 explains perfectly what happened to me. I love these verses, where God said:

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

God purified me from every detestable thing people had done to me and every sin I had committed. Then He removed my stubborn heart of stone and gave me a responsive heart of flesh—a heart that feels and trusts.

Maybe your past is complicated too and, like me, you’ve built walls around yourself. I want to encourage you to let them down.

Be brave. Take the chance. Grab that one tiny mustard seed of faith and plant it in the soil of your heart. That’s all it takes for God to come into your life like a mighty rushing wind.

You can trust His love. God won’t hurt, reject, or abandon you the way people do.

I know that’s hard to believe. And it’s hard to do. In fact, it might be the last thing you want to do right now. But if you sow that seed of faith—if you say, “God, this is all I have. Show me You’re real”— He’ll do it.

He will meet your faith with His love, just like He did with me, and He’ll move mountains on your behalf.