Felicia Johnson

I was suffering abuse from the time I was 11 years old. In my young mind, I didn’t know what the affection meant. I trusted my uncle completely. After all, it was he and my aunt who first taught me about the goodness of God. The importance of loving God. Feeling God. Feeling the Holy Spirit. But when I was 15, the abuse went horrifically over the line. My innocence snapped. Nobody knew. And there was nobody I could tell. I marked that time with a phrase – the beginning to my end.

There is no God, I thought. How could there be? Why wouldn’t he protect the child he loves? The hot tears and emptiness that stalked most of my young life grew suddenly more urgent. I tried filling the void with alcohol. Anything my babysitting money could buy. Malt liquor. MD 2020. Seagrams. In school I lashed out any way I could. Disruption. Fighting. Attitude. And I desperately tried filling that void with high school love. It wasn’t real love. But at 15, I was pregnant. I hid it from my mother. We weren’t talking – I felt like nothing more than a babysitter for her at the time. Then when I got sick and passed out at school, my mom discovered the whole secret sitting next to me in the Emergency Room.

THE LIE

“You can’t keep this baby,” she told me. “I talked to the doctors,” she lied. “That boy gave you a disease. The baby has it too. It’s deformed.” From there, she took me to a clinic. And then it was over. It still hurts me to think about it. I thought I was alone before. Now I was alone with shame and guilt. And from now on, I don’t dare tell my mom anything about what’s going on. I needed more than alcohol. Marijuana, ecstacy, and cocaine became my personal prescription to mask the pain. To forget.

ALMOST OUT

A few years earlier, I almost escaped this life. When the abuse at the hands of my uncle first started, I must have been acting out. My mother thought it best to send me away – far away – Tacoma, Washington to live with my aunt. Life there was idyllic. I had adults who cared for me. I was doing good in school. And I discovered a real talent in track. At 13 years old, I set two school records for the 50 and 100 yard dash. I was flourishing. But about that same time, my mom in Pensacola, Florida got custody of her grandson. I went home at Christmas break to visit. Mom needed a babysitter so she never sent me back.

At 17, I’m settling into a new way of living. Babysitting. Selling marijuana and crack. Stealing things from clothing stores to sell or to wear. This was normal. It’s how you live. Through it all, I never got caught. I knew the game – knew when to quit. From my perspective now, it was because I knew God was watching. Not necessarily approving…but watching. The next year I met a man seven years older than me who worked a regular job. This was refreshingly different from what I saw on the street. We moved in together and a year later had a son. But the novelty of a regular life began to fade and I soon left him for someone infinitely more exhilarating. Although the new guy was a drug dealer, it felt good to be needed – to not be alone.

RIDE OR DIE

I was along for the thrill ride, in love with a bad boy. But it didn’t last. He killed a man and ended up in prison. I supported him from the outside. But it meant I also had to support myself. With my son in tow, I got my first apartment. And I got a job working at a gas station. In the evenings, I went to a high school for adults. I was trying to find my footing when I slipped big time. The occasion was the day I went home for Thanksgiving – to mom’s house. My uncle was there. The pain, the shame, the emotion was too much. I dropped my son at his paternal grandmother’s house and ran from there into a drug binge like never before. It would take the next 18 years of my life to find my way out.

THE TRUTH

Early into my binge, my mother and brother tried to intervene. They pounded their way into my apartment.  “You’re lazy,” she scolded. I fired back. “You think you know, but you don’t know…” And after years in the bottle, that’s when the truth came spilling out. My uncle. The incident. The pain. Everything. She was livid. She put me in the car and took me home. I just wanted to talk quietly with my aunt. Mom had a different idea. She called a family meeting. My uncle and aunt. Brother. Other relatives. My grandfather. It got real public. My mom stood me face to face with my uncle in the front yard and insisted that I tell everyone what happened. Trembling, I began the story…That’s when my uncle’s brother-in-law cut me off. “What does this matter? It’s in the past. My dad’s sick. My sister can’t take this either. Get over it!” All the while, my uncle faced me without a single word. One by one, they turned and went in the house. My relatives. My uncle. My brother. Even my mother. I was left standing in the cold night air completely alone.

Time passed. In a desperate search for acceptance, I fell for 2 more bad boy drug dealers along the way. With the first, I had another son, with the other a daughter. I sent them to live with my mother and family to protect them. I was homeless. Selling drugs and whatever I could to stay alive. It got so bad, I started buying from the people I used to sell to. My name on the streets was “Baby Girl.” I was molested, beat up, robbed – more times than I care to remember. One night, I was picked up by some hateful men in an Escalade. They tried to rob me. One man hit me in the face with a handgun. I was gone. Blacked out. All was silent. Then in the depths of my soul, I heard God speak my name. “Felicia.” I woke up into the scene again. My face bleeding and throbbing from the pain of merciless bludgeoning. And I began the fight for my life. “Please let me go! I got babies! I want to see them! I won’t tell anyone.” I popped open the car door and leaned out with all my strength. My attacker still had me gripped by the front of my sweater. Still swinging at me. I could hear the hum – and feel the heat – of the spinning Escalade tire by my head. “Oh, God.” By His grace, I broke free. Finally dropping out into the street. Rolling like a rag on the pavement. To this day, I’m not sure how missed falling under the tire. Or how I lived through it. But I did.

And better than that. Through all the pain, I knew God was in my life again. I knew without doubt that He knew me. And that He cared. And so did my step-sister. She took me in and helped me heal. But I still had an overwhelming addiction I couldn’t break. I knew I still had miles to go. I sent my two youngest to live with relatives in Cincinnati where they would be safe. I told my aunt, I’ll get myself together in a year and come up to get them. A year came and went. I was back to my former ways living crack house to crack house. As the second year approached – my aunt reached out with a plan for my ultimate rescue.

THE PLAN

“Felicia,” came the voice on the phone. “We’ll be down for the family reunion in July. Your brother and niece will come get you and put you on the bus so you can return with us to Cincinnati.” Something inside me stirred. I wanted desperately to be found. Could this finally be my way out? I gave her every crack house address I knew – not knowing where I might be at that time. Finally, that week arrived. I was drunk, or high every day, going totally crazy. But my brother showed up on schedule. And by that day, I was ready. I left with him. Got on the bus with my aunt and uncle. Never looked back.

Three years ago, I quit smoking. And I crave cigarettes every day. But in four years, I never craved another drug or missed that lifestyle once. That’s the power of God’s grace.

During my bad years, I spent two terms in jail. For me, it was a blessed relief to be off the streets. The first time, I hadn’t eaten in a week and hadn’t slept in four days. I was cold and near death. It was in jail that I had a spiritual breakthrough. In Bible Study there, a fellow inmate was telling her story, but she was telling mine at that same time. I realized that there were others just like me. I had sisters in shared experience and we were awakening to a common Father God.

BEGINNING TO MY NEW LIFE

Moving to Cincinnati saved my life. My cousin Monica enrolled me in the Courage to Change program at City Gospel Mission. They taught me what I needed to learn to live on the streets legitimately. How to be consistent in work. How to take care of myself. How to take responsibility for paying bills, for my spiritual life, for surviving. My job at Nehemiah was the fulfillment of this life training. I can’t find the words to express how utterly grateful I am to be here. To be working. To be alive every day. They give me the support I need to stand on my own two feet independent of the Courage to Change program. Today, I’m living life on life terms.

My family has noticed the change. They’ve been documenting my progress for the whole family from here to Pensacola on Facebook. “Felicia’s back,” they say. I am back. Back with my two sons and daughter again. I want them to know their old mother is dead. Today, I’m alive in a whole new way. And it’s glorious to be someone they can love and trust again. It feels good to be able to give to my children.

Through it all, I’m thankful to my mom, who passed on five years ago. Only now in my clear-minded freedom, do I feel the consequences. She was always there for me, even though she didn’t always know the best way – everything she did was in love. She’s now at a place where she knows my heart. See was the one who saw the greatness in me regardless of where I was in life. I believe her prayers for me are now finally being answered. Praise God.

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