To those who feel as though life didn’t go as planned,
Three weeks ago, I went to a juvenile detention center in Tampa. There was this boy there who had all gold in his mouth and piercing beautiful eyes. He didn’t say a word throughout the entire time I was there but he kept staring at me. Something about him drew me to him.
So, I walked over and squatted next to him.
In a very monotone voice, he said, “You know, no one does this, right?
I go, “Yeah, I know.”
He responded, “What are you getting paid?”
I said, “Oh, they pay me tons of money.”
He was like, “No, they don’t.”
Then he asked me, “Why are you here?”
It was a good question. Truthfully, I never expected to be in a detention center. Growing up, I always thought by this age, 36, I would be a famous singer, married with kids. But like your life, mine didn’t go as I planned either.
All through high school, I pursued music. I was a singer/songwriter and I wrote songs about authenticity and accepting who I am. At 16, I signed a management deal and shot my first music video in Nashville. I was sure I would be famous by 17.
When that didn’t happen, I got a record deal at 20 and I thought, “Ok, my big break is about to happen.”
To no fault of my own, the deal fell through.
Soon after, I got married to a guy who everyone thought was perfect for me. He played football at Alabama, just like my dad, and was a pastor’s kid. Once we got married, I had to put my music career on hold because we were chasing his NFL dreams, moving around the country on and off different football teams.
A year into my marriage, I was driving in Birmingham, Alabama, where we lived in the offseason. I heard an ad on the radio that said Ludacris and Serena Williams were looking for the next best singer/songwriter to write a theme song for Serena. Heartbroken that my music career was on hold, I thought this would be a great opportunity and decided to give the contest a shot. Sure enough, I won. They flew me out to San Francisco for the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University.
That is where I met Serena and I thought, “Now, my music will take off.”
But, yet again, nothing ever happened.
Through the years, I got opportunities here and there. I became the only unsigned artist to ever be on EA’s NFL Madden game. I was featured with popular Christian music artists. Also, I sang the National Anthem at multiple pro sporting events. While they were all cool experiences, not much came from any of them.
Then, when I was 30, my life came to a complete halt. I got divorced and it was excruciatingly painful for me.
However, I started dating a guy right after my husband, who was also a musician. We were in a band together. It was like Johnnyswim meets freaking Coldplay. Our band was unbelievable and my dream was alive again. We were talking to record labels and performing everywhere. The plan was to get married and do an album together.
Then, out of nowhere, when I was 33, he came to me and said, “We can’t be together anymore.”
Once again, my life took a crushing turn.
It wasn’t just the end to our relationship, but it was also the end of our music.
I felt like I couldn’t catch a break and I had no idea what I was going to do.
A month later, I got a call from an old friend who worked for an organization that provides women in a crisis pregancy, considering abortion, free resources and information. She offered me a position to speak on behalf of the organization.
I told her, “I would love to, but I can’t.”
And then I shared with her a secret no one else knew – a secret that I had been hiding for twelve years.
I had an abortion.
While this woman convinced me to take the job anyway, I planned never to tell anybody about my abortion.
Ironically, one of my first assignments was to join a national music festival tour – not to sing but to speak on behalf of this organization.
On my way there, my friend asked me if I would share my story and I said, “Hell no!”
I told her, “I’m hoping to get married again. So, why would I ever let a guy know that not only am I divorced but that I also had an abortion?”
Sadly, I felt like I had two red X’s on my chest.
She said, “Why don’t you tell your story, trust God and let him take care of the rest?”
So, I went on that music tour. I shared my story and I taught people about ridding themselves of shame and embracing forgiveness. No matter if you cheated on your spouse or cheated on your taxes or betrayed someone or had an abortion, night after night I told audiences that it doesn’t matter. God forgives you and you can forgive yourself and be free.
So many people told me my story touched them. But after the tour finished, I didn’t know what was next.
I didn’t have a career. I didn’t have a husband. And I didn’t have any money. While it was a humbling time in my life, it was also embarrassing and frustrating. It seemed like everyone around me was thriving.
To make money, I randomly decided to teach women a social media course. I ended up meeting a woman who told me that she taught yoga in jails and juvenile detention centers.
For some reason, I thought, “I want to hang out with the kids in jail.”
So, I became a volunteer. Every Monday night, I started bringing my friends to come hang out at the jail with the kids. We talked to them, brought food, played games and let them know that we cared about them and believed in them.
We had so much success in impacting the kids’ behavior that the state asked me to replicate myself in all 21 counties in Florida. So, I started a movement called The VERB Kind. The reason why I call it The VERB Kind is because love is an action. And VERB stands for Victory Everyday Restoring Belief. Our program is now in multiple counties in Florida. Soon, we will be in all 21.
To this day, I still go to jail every Monday night. Sometimes, I even go to see the kids twice a week. At the end of each visit, I sing a hymn or an old worship song, which some boys know from their grandma’s church.
My relationship with these kids is special. For my birthday this past year, they threw me a little party and wrote me cards with messages such as:
“Thank you for loving us when we feel unlovable.”
“Thank you for your time.”
“Thank you for giving us hope.”
Most of these kids don’t have fathers. Some have taken a charge for their uncle or sold drugs to feed their family. Others purposefully got in trouble because they feel safer in jail than they do at home.
These kids mean so much to me. I am not sure if I remained an NFL wife or became a famous singer at 20 years old or married a musician if I ever would have met any of them.
Even so, I still love music. My dream with music may not have come true, but my passion for it never died.
That’s why a few weeks ago, I decided, at 36 years old, I am going to put my music out. I don’t care how much money I have to pay. I don’t care what I have to do. I am going to share my music. But this time, I won’t be trying to get famous. Whether a hundred people download my songs or a million, it doesn’t matter. I am doing this for me.
Time and time again, I have been humbled by fire, which has made me realize that gold is purified in fire. Essential oils are made from crushing plants. Similarly, my heartache and disappointments have brought out the best in me, allowing me to evolve and gain valuable perspective. So, after all these years, I am still singing about accepting the woman I am, but now I can also write songs about the strong wonder woman I have become.
The truth is, for most of us, life won’t go as we planned. I never planned to get a divorce, tell the world I had an abortion, or mentor kids in detention centers.
But that’s OK.
Even though I am not a famous musician, I have an outlet to express myself. I may not be married, but I am independent and empowered. And I have yet to have children of my own, but I am blessed with hundreds of kids who I consider family.
So, when that boy in jail asked me,” Why am I here?”
I told him it was because I loved him. Then, he started to open up to me about his story.
That moment and his question was yet another reminder that even though I wasn’t where I thought I’d be at 36 years old, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
And so are you. Life may be different than you planned, but it just means your journey is taking you somewhere better than you ever imagined .