What do the words “freedom” and “independence” mean to you? Maybe it’s freedom in a patriotic sense. Or perhaps it’s the freedom to make your own choices – freedom of religion and speech, to marry who you want and pursue the career path that you want.
For some people, like Tanesha*, these words can mean something completely different – like freedom from an abusive person or a traumatic past. Independence can mean standing on her own two feet – not having to rely on the system, or ask for help with gas or car repairs. Finding this kind of freedom can take years of emotional healing, provision and finding trustworthy people who will stand with you.
This is Tanesha’s story – a woman who has been violated from childhood, exploited and taken advantage of. We have the freedom and the privilege of assisting and walking her through her journey of finding her own freedom and independence – full of pain…..but the future is bright.
When you live on the margins, polite society tends to pass by and assume someone else will come to help. Shelter and safety are things that are never really guaranteed in your life because you learn another word: survive. You learn to survive, because without shelter and safety, you’re never ready for the next unexpected expense, and they always come. These “shocks” often create a financial spiral that is almost impossible to break away from. Without the safety net of significant social and financial resources, a shock like a medical expense not covered by insurance, can be the first step in a downward spiral toward homelessness.
When Tanesha opened the door of her home to a couple of Neighbors Who Care chaplains the first time we met her last October, her one-year-old daughter was on her hip, and a smile was on her face. She and her four children, whose ages ranged from 1 to 15, had received public housing placement after a stint of homelessness. She had started a job after several months of searching for employment. We initially met to provide a gift card so Tanesha could buy a few things like towels and dishes for her home. There was a wall of stuffed animals that her two oldest sons, now in their teens, had won for her when they were younger. Somehow, the stuffed animals had survived years on the margins, along with the family that now lived inside those walls.
The chaplains’ relationship with Tanesha continued through the next few months, as she and her family became more established. In December, with help from Flourish Furnishings (flourishfurnishings.org) and other local partners, we were able to provide clothing, furnish Tanesha’s new home and provide last-minute gifts for Tanesha’s children when she lost her job just days before Christmas. Through the months, as the chaplains got to know Tanesha, they learned more of her heartbreaking story.
She was raised in an environment of constant abuse and neglect – raped by her father and brother, living without basic needs like heat and water, and nowhere to turn. Nobody would believe her about the abuse, not even her mother. When her mother died in a house fire when Tanesha was eight, she was placed in her grandmother’s care. Even though life was better there, her grandmother did not believe her claims either, so Tanesha’s traumatic past remained buried and she struggled to process the things that had happened to her.
Tanesha shared that when she met Larry*, she believed that she would spend the rest of her life with him. At first, things were wonderful, and they had two children together. But things became toxic and abusive. “I put up with physical and emotional abuse for 11 years of my life,” Tanesha said. “That’s all my kids have seen – me getting beat on, thrown down the stairs, dragged out of the car, and the list goes on. My kids would ask, ‘Mama, why don’t you just leave?’ I would say, ‘Because I love him.’ I thought that was how love was supposed to be.” And who can blame her – it is all she had ever known. Tanesha did eventually leave Larry, but being a single mother is difficult and can leave you vulnerable to financial crisis, not to mention the challenges of breaking out of a lifelong cycle of abuse.
Tanesha eventually met a local woman who helped place her and her family into a hotel until things stabilized. “She helped me with clothes, food and prayed for me. She introduced me to her church. I used to always be a church woman, but once I lost my grandmother and my mother, I felt that God had taken everything from me, so why should I go back to church? When I met this lady she lifted my spirits back up. She helped me get back in church. She told me to never give up or never give up on God. To always have faith!”
Despite the progress of the past several months since we met Tanesha, the challenges have continued to show up. In March, Tanesha’s older, problematic car malfunctioned for the last time when the wheels literally fell off, causing a scary accident. Tanesha was able to find a low-cost replacement at the last minute, but she had to borrow $1,500. Now with gas prices skyrocketing, it has also been difficult for her to even keep gas in her tank so she can get around.
If you would like to help Tanesha financially, go to tinyurl.com/nwcgiving
and put “Tanesha” in the comments box.
Tanesha has fought through many days and nights of tears in her life, but she says that recently, her biggest motivation is seeing how the events in her life have affected her children and working to create something different for all of them. She wants them to have the safety and shelter that she never had – she wants them to do more than just survive. As we’ve gotten to know Tanesha, we’ve learned just how much she has survived throughout her life. “All I can do is say that I forgive, but I never forget,” Tanesha said. “I’m here today, smiling because the storm didn’t break me, it strengthened me and made me who I am today – a strong woman for my kids and myself.”
While we are enjoying fireworks, let’s remember that we are free to determine our own destiny, even in times of crisis, like in Tanesha’s story. Let’s remember not only to celebrate our freedom and provision, but to remember that because we have these things, we are free to help others who may not. We are free to behave like men and women of God, and free to care.
Happy Fourth of July!
*Names have been changed for privacy.
Questions? Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.