In the early 2000s, I began a long journey of redirection. It started with one step, then a series of steps until finally, I arrived in a spacious place where today, I am passionately living out my God-given purpose and helping others do the same (Psalm 18:19). God’s love and grace rescued me from the powers of darkness that had held me captive since my youth (Colossians 1:13).
Did I deserve His kindness? No. I had rebelled early in life and trampled His gifts, especially the gift of loving parents. After eighth grade, I ran away from home and dropped out of school. I wanted to do things my way.
My parents tried desperately to get me back on track, but I ignored them. My only focus was making money. I imagined it would give me the freedom to do whatever I wanted. So I found a place to live with a relative and got a job at the local Burger King.
Every morning I rode my bike to a place that tells its customers to “have it your way.” Well, having it my way might have been desirable for a hamburger, but not in life. I needed God’s way, but it would take years of hardship for me to figure that out.
Selfish desires, irrational decisions, and a lack of direction carried me into dark places where I experienced much physical, emotional, and mental pain. It still hurts to revisit that time of my life.
By 17, I was pregnant with my first child. I had an on-and-off relationship with the baby’s father and gave birth to two more children with him in the next couple of years. As often happens to baby mamas, the father gave no support.
I did my best under the circumstances, but the weight of raising and providing for three children was a lot to carry. Not to mention I was far too emotionally immature to care for them properly. How thankful I am for immediate family members and community programs that provided support.
One day, a case worker knocked on my door and told me about a program that assisted parents with young children. This program would allow me to attend a local community college and obtain my GED while my children participated in a Head Start program.
The thought of getting my GED kindled new hope in me. For years, my educational status had prevented me from obtaining jobs outside of food service. I was only 19, but my future had already seemed set in stone. Suddenly, I could see a way to take a step toward something positive in my life. Maybe there was a future for me after all.
I entered the program excitedly and set what I thought was a reasonable goal to pass one test a month. Obtaining my GED took longer than expected, though, as I had trouble staying focused. I would get inspired, then fall away.
Math slowed me down. It took three attempts for me to pass that exam. I didn’t know it then, but depression was contributing to my inability to stay consistent. At the time, all I knew to do was push my feelings down and keep trying.
My teachers noticed my determination and asked me to be a guest speaker at the basic skills recognition ceremony. I was surprised when my speech and a picture of me in my cap and gown were published in the local newspaper. It was my birthday, and I couldn’t have received a better gift.
The newspaper article and picture proved that good things are possible to those who work hard and believe. I showed it to my children with pride and encouraged them those good things were possible for them, too.
From that day forward, I set more goals and entered the local community college to pursue my college education. Filled with newfound confidence, I refused to count myself out or be content with just getting by and relying on others. I wanted more out of life and was determined to defeat every challenge that came my way. My children were looking up to me, so giving up wasn’t an option.
I began pursuing a degree in human services technology. I wanted to help people, especially women like me who struggled to make ends meet. It felt good to take daily steps to better myself. But in 2005, I lost focus when the father of my children came back around. I got pregnant again and had to put my education goals on hold for nearly a decade to care for my four children.
Looking back, I see that continuing a relationship with a man who didn’t stay and didn’t care enough to provide for his family was unwise. But I couldn’t see past the moment. Insecurities and an unhealed heart led me to make many choices that resulted in hard consequences.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my children and would make every sacrifice again for them. But being a single mom and living in poverty was hard—for my kids and for me.
I often felt discouraged by my circumstances and would isolate myself as I fought depression and suicidal thoughts. Only by God’s grace were my kids and I able to survive that long, dark season.
The church was the only place I experienced a sense of relief. I started attending with the kids around the same time I got my GED. We’d walk down the street to church each Sunday, and there, I’d find the strength to make it through another week.
Being in the presence of God, His Word, powerful worship music, and fellowshipping with other believers lifted a heavy weight off my shoulders. I knew no matter what, I needed to cling to my faith. And I did. But I didn’t yet understand the importance of living in Christ daily.
God used my children to draw me closer to Him. My children have always been my motivation to live a better life. I wanted them to be proud of their mother and see that they could achieve their goals if they focused and worked hard.
But God showed me that it was even more important to teach them to live a life of faith daily. Worldly success is worthless if they don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior (Philippians 3:8).
I began to seek God daily through prayer and studying the Bible. I was determined to give Him more than church attendance. Soon, God’s Holy Spirit convicted me of my life choices. He showed me that my going to church and then hitting the clubs and hanging out was sending mixed messages to my kids.
Having one foot in the world was also causing me to be unstable. James 1:8 says that a person who divides their loyalty between God and the world is unstable in all they do.
Setting a bad example for my children was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to live a life of faith that honored God and exhibited character worth imitating—and God gave me the power to accomplish it (Philippians 2:13).
I returned to school again, and in 2014, I finally graduated with my college degree. My older self told my younger self, “Girl, you did it!” I thanked God for this joyous day. Later that year, I got married—something I never thought I’d experience. But the honeymoon didn’t last long as my kids and I tried to adjust to our new family unit. We all struggled, and soon, my children rebelled.
I kept pushing down my emotions and pressing through situations as I’d always done. It seemed to be paying off when in 2016, I started a job at East Carolina University in an administrative role. I could hardly contain myself when I sat down at my very own desk in a private office. I rejoiced in the Lord and thanked Him for bringing me so far in life. He had helped me overcome so many obstacles (Philippians 4:13).
But things fell apart in the fall of 2018. My husband and I separated, and my son, arrested for double homicide, was facing the death penalty. (Instead of death, he is now serving a 38-year sentence in prison.)
His arrest took a toll on my mental state. Life had thrown me many curves in the past, but I’d always managed to bob and weave and keep moving. This time, I was drowning in sorrow.
Satan had a heyday with me while I was down. He reminded me daily how I had missed the mark as a mother and wife. He told me God’s plan would never come to fruition for my kids or me and that I had experienced all the good I ever would. It didn’t take long before I was engulfed again in a hopeless pit of despair and self-pity. All I could see was an endless dark tunnel with no light, closing in on me. I lost sight of all the progress I’d made.
A good thing happened during this dark season though. For years, I had refused to talk to anyone about my mental health or seek medical help. I’d used God as an excuse, telling myself that He alone was my Healer; I didn’t need anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong—God is the Great Physician, and He can heal anyone of anything. But I wasn’t actually receptive to His help because I didn’t want to confront the painful issues of my past. Finally, I realized that unless I faced my past with God, I had no hope of breaking free from the darkness that held me captive.
It wasn’t easy, but I started sharing my pain, first with God and then with other trustworthy people. I took the cap off the place in my heart where I stored my emotions and painful traumas and let them rise to the surface. One by one, I gave them over to God.
First Peter 5:7 (NIV) invites us to “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” As I realized the depth of God’s love for me, I trusted Him more with my pain. As the old traumas, disappointments, emotions, and my sinful behavior came to light, I would write them down, pray, and then release them to God. It helped me to remember that God’s love was unconditional and that no matter what I shared, He would not reject or judge me (John 3:17).
With time, the light of His love overcame the darkness that had tormented me (Psalm 18:28; Matthew 4:16). The Lord also gave me strength and peace to seek professional help. I am grateful for those He put in my path to help me. God never gave up on me, even when I wanted to give up on myself.
Today, praise God, my mental and emotional health is more stable. In 2020, God graced me to launch a nonprofit called Striving with Vision. I now have the privilege of helping women discover their worth in Christ and encouraging them to strive toward a better future. My past victories with God have equipped me for this journey. In the process, I’ve found that serving others helps me avoid becoming consumed with my own struggles, especially my son’s incarceration.
There’s a saying, “Nothing worth having is easy.” I know this is true. My life has been one fight of faith after another. But the “good fight of faith” is what we must all face if we want to be victorious over our circumstances (1 Timothy 6:12).
Satan and this world are not just going to roll over and let you experience the goodness of God’s plan. You must be willing to face the fight! God will strengthen you for the journey and grace you for success.
It may not seem like it now, but there is hope for your tunnel’s end. Keep casting your cares over to God. Remind yourself daily of the victories you’ve already experienced and cling to your faith that more will come. And then rise, aim, and move forward with purpose (1 Corinthians 9:26).
In Christ, you are a conqueror over every situation (Romans 8:37). No circumstance or person has the power to stop what God has purposed for your life (Isaiah 54:17; Jeremiah 29:11). Well, no one except you. Your unbelief in God, refusal to believe in yourself, and unwillingness to keep going will stop you in your tracks every time.
Right now, maybe you’re fighting that good fight of faith. You’re taking steps with God toward a better future. I’m so glad. Keep going; you’re going to make it. You can be victorious.
But maybe, like I often did, you’ve gotten sidetracked, knocked down, or delayed. Friend, it’s time to get back up. It’s not too late. God’s love is big. Nothing you’ve done or experienced has disqualified you from the good things He has for you.
Get your eyes off your circumstances, your failures, and those deceitful emotions. Instead, give them to God. He will help you. Then rise and take the next step He has for you.
Don’t know which step to take next? Ask Him. He’ll show you the way (Proverbs 3:5–6; James 1:5). And when He does, move in faith and purpose with tightly secured boxing gloves.
You’ve got this because God’s got you!
LATOYA WILLIAMS is the founder of Striving with Vision, an empowerment support group, and an ordained minister. To find out more about her nonprofit or to invite Latoya to speak at your event, visit strivingwithvision.com.