My mom, brother, and I have had very happy lives but we have endured many hardships. We believe these adversities were blessings. Because of how far we have come, we are stronger and our lives are a testament to the mercy and love of God. The intervention of Habitat for Humanity was a clear turning point in our lives that set us on the Lord’s path for us. We went from a life of poverty and fear to a life of security and thankfulness.
My parents divorced when I was very young. At the time, my mom barely spoke English, had no income, and lived far away from her extended family. Nonetheless, she bravely set out to raise Tom and me single-handedly. Even though she found full-time work as a waitress, we had very little. We wore secondhand clothes, never ate out, never had toys for Christmas. We depended on food stamps and Medicaid. Despite all this, I genuinely never felt poor because we led decent lives and we were happy – we had each other.
We could only afford to live in a small, dingy, one-bedroom apartment in the dangerous area of town. Gunshots were a frequent occurrences, drug dealing was everywhere, and gangs were normal. We would sometimes hear of murders in our neighborhood. Whenever we were at home we would keep all locks locked, a chair underneath the doorknobs, and a stick of wood to bar the window closed. When we were young we would accompany my mom to work and school, quietly reading at the bar of the restaurant or sitting outside her classroom door. When we were older we would stay home alone and watch her from the window as she walked out to the car to drive to work. We held a phone ready in our hands in case something happened to her and we had to call 911.
Something did happen. One day my mom took us to the bus stop to go to school and returned home. When she came inside, a man was hiding in our closet. He stabbed her stomach and cut her hands. He cut off her clothes and prepared to rape her, but God put words into my mom’s mouth and she calmly spoke and reasoned with her attacker. She talked to him about her children, her dreams, and God’s love for him, no matter what he did. She asked him to spare here and he did. God spared her. Our FOCUS teacher took us home that day. I will never forget the bloody handprints on the walls or my mom lying on the mattress soaked in red with her hands bandaged. I still cry whenever I think about that time of our lives, but my mother recalls it frequently with gratefulness. She was so blessed that day, she says, because the Lord was watching out for her.
Soon my mom learned about Habitat for Humanity, the Christian organization which builds houses for low-income families. Our family prepared the application together. We could not afford the normal envelopes but we found an old brown paper envelope to use instead. It was that ugly color that set our application apart from the pile of crisp white papers. Through the work of the Lord, the person who interviewed my mom was our technology teacher. We were approved. We were saved.
As soon as we could, we began working on the Habitat worksite. At Habitat we learned everything about how to build a house. We learned to hammer, to drill, to install insulation, to paint, and more. We met lifelong friends, mentors, and role models, among them Mr. Fred, Ms. Debbie, Joey, Hyacinth, Devin, BJ, Mr. Paul, Ms. Lisa, Mr. Bob, Mr. Walt, Mr. Tom, Ms. Hope, Mr. Rob, Jon, Mr. Ray H., Mr. Ray S., Mr. Larry, and so many more.
On August 26, 2001, we became Habitat homeowners. It was one of the happiest days of my mom’s life.
Because of Habitat, my mom was able to finish nursing school and shared her love and compassion with countless patients and their families. I cannot begin to express the admiration that I have for my mom and her hard work. Tom was able to go to college and then to pharmacy school, and he continues to serve the community in which we grew up. He continues volunteering with Habitat and other organizations regularly. I also went to school and hopefully I can be as kind and generous as my mom and my brother. All this is possible because of God and because of Habitat for Humanity. How blessed we are!