“Are you proud of me?” she asks.
As I look into her eager face awaiting my answer, her story comes flooding back to me. In her eyes I see the tiny girl of 8 that she was when the abuse began. Her mother had passed away, and she was left with family members, one of whom sexually abused her until she was about 14. By then she was already a very lost and very damaged little girl. She dropped out of high school without any hope of ever finishing and never learning to read very well. Her dreams had been dashed. In the years following, she struggled with alcohol and substance abuse and ultimately found herself in a very dark, desperate place all alone. She had no family to take care of her, no friends to count on to help her. Sleeping on the street for some time, she was brutally raped multiple times and began to feel completely worthless. Because her body had never been her own and because of the self-loathing she felt, she decided to prostitute herself in order to make money to survive. If anyone has ever truly been at rock bottom, it was her. She began living at the Atlanta Airport where she had a chair to sleep in, a bathroom, and easy access to beg for food. She was soon arrested for loitering, and then she was evaluated and sent to a mental hospital. Upon release, she came to the Stewart Community Home where she says she was shown a lot of love and support. “It felt like a home to come home to. I wasn’t asked to do anything except take care of myself.” And take care of herself she did. Through counseling and rehab programs, she is now clean and sober. She joined a nearby church with another resident who had befriended her, and she gave her life to God. She got to know the pastor of the church who became another driving force to help her turn her life around. That was 5 months ago. Yesterday, she moved into her new little house with furniture that people have helped her gather. With household donations to the Stewart Home, we have been able to help her with bedroom furniture, kitchen necessities, and other simple home decor, and her new church helped her with living room furniture. She starts her new job housekeeping at a hotel this week as well. If you ask her how she is doing, she will say, “I love my new life. I learned to be honest about my struggles and build relationships with positive people who will build me up and keep me close to God. I have learned that I can be loved unconditionally and that I do get a second chance at life.” As we helped her move in, she could not stop looking around and bursting into tears at all that she has now. It’s not just the house or the stuff in it. It’s how far she has come from where she was. It is the hope she has for her future instead of the hopelessness she felt in her past. It is the life she has ahead of her instead of the one she left behind.
So when she asks, “Are you proud of me?”
What more could we have hoped for? We could not BE prouder.