Gabrielle Vaincre (not her real name) has been speaking with our own, Shelly Robinson, and the following story is a result of their conversations.
Iheard God speak one night.
A friend had invited me to a party I knew I had no business going to. I told her to pick me up, but right when she called to say she was on her way, I heard it: “No!”
I thought I might be losing it because no one else was home, so I dismissed it. But as I continued to get ready, I kept hearing it—louder and louder.
I knew it was God. I called my friend and told her something had just come up.
The next day my friend called me with news. Three people at that party had been shot.
I took my first plane ride when I was 3. The flight attendant fed me all the Teddy Grahams I could eat. At the end of the flight, an escort brought me through the terminal and down a long tunnel. There, at the end of that tunnel, I met her for the first time—my Nana.
Abandoned by my mom and my dad, I latched onto her from that very moment. I was the little kid crying outside the bathroom door while Nana showered, the little kid sitting outside the bedroom door when she took too long to come out. If my eyes weren’t on Nana, it was a problem.
Even as a teenager, when my friends were going to parties and hanging out, I preferred to be with my Nana. Not even old enough to drive, I drove her to doctor’s appointments when she was too tired to drive herself. I loved spending my evenings sitting on the kitchen counter, watching her cook for me.
Every night. No matter what.
Nana made sure I never went to bed hungry, even if all we had was Vienna sausage and crackers.
She never once forced me to go to church—she didn’t have to. I knew Nana loved Jesus, and that meant He was somebody worth knowing. Every Sunday morning, I was up early and ready to go.
Our Sunday routine was fruit smoothies for breakfast, church, dinner, then family-time. She wouldn’t let me watch TV before noon, and if I wanted to listen to music, it had to be gospel music. Sunday was family day; everybody came to Nana’s house. Whether she cooked or bought rotisserie chicken from Boston Market, we all knew what time to be there.
That all changed when I was 15. My dad came and moved me away from Nana in Baltimore—all the way to Alabama. And nobody told me why.
Nobody told me Nana couldn’t take care of me anymore. Nobody told me our long drives back to Baltimore were because Nana had leukemia and stage 3 cervical cancer. Nobody told me she refused to take her medicine because it gave her no energy.
I only knew I was suddenly alone in a new state, living with a father I barely knew.
We spent the first eight months in Alabama moving from one hotel to the next. My Nana came from Maryland about two weeks after the move and brought me clothes and shoes, pillows and blankets, and tons of canned food.
We didn’t talk much. I didn’t have much I wanted to say. She had abandoned me just like my parents did earlier, I concluded. But as she said goodbye, it seemed she had more she wanted to say.
Looking for Love
I needed a way to consume my time, and the high school track team seemed like a good option. I was so focused I made it to state-level competition my sophomore and junior years, but my dad wouldn’t let me compete. The first year, he simply mocked my achievements and said I was too much like my mom to do anything good. The next year I didn’t have enough money to send myself.
Frustrated, depressed and alone, I couldn’t make sense of why Nana had pushed me away or why she didn’t want me anymore. I didn’t know she was sick; I simply wanted to be with her.
We moved to Las Vegas. I felt like a prisoner. I was tired of being degraded for everything I didn’t do the right way, tired of being told I was just like my mom. I was tired of going to bed hungry while my dad ate a full plate of food right in front of me.
He said I was worthless, and I started believing him.
I decided to look for my mom and found her on Facebook. My dad never had a pleasant word to say about her, so I didn’t tell him. Seventeen years old and desperate for the connection I’d had with Nana, I ran away—to Louisiana—to be with my mom.
That was a big mistake.
She had three children she was being a mother to—one of them not even her own.
What about me? Why couldn’t we have been a family? Why had she chosen drugs and men over us? Why did my dad send my older brother to foster care? Why did my mother later send my younger sister to foster care as well?
Why did she choose to take care of these kids and not us?
I wrestled with those questions for a couple of months until I finally realized the mistake I made going there. I buried the hope of a relationship with my mother and moved back to Alabama.
It was just me, and that was fine. I told the high school principal about my situation, and he brought me before the board of education. They determined I was an independent student and allowed me to complete my senior year of high school. Determined to make it, I got a job.
I walked to work almost every day. One evening, an older friend at work asked if I needed a ride home. As I sat in her car, trying to find the words to explain where to take me I blurted, “I don’t have anywhere to go.”
I was a homeless high school student.
Through the tears, I shared my story. She returned the favor by telling me she was moving to Pennsylvania to take care of her terminally ill mom and had a prepaid apartment for the next six months. She let me stay there, rent-free. By the time the six months were up, I was 18 and had saved enough money to get a place of my own.
One week before my high school graduation, I got a call—Nana had passed away. By then, I knew she was sick, but I hadn’t realized how sick.
The next few days were a blur. I flew to Maryland for her funeral, then right back for my graduation. But while I was in Maryland, my Nana’s sister handed me a letter Nana had written me two years prior. In the letter, Nana said she loved me. She never wanted me to feel abandoned.
“Always have the faith of a mustard seed, like my necklace you love,” she wrote. I knew she loved me, and I wanted to make things right with her, but now it was too late —my Nana was gone.
I lost my sense of stability and found drugs. Eventually, I lost my apartment. I couch hopped, stayed in hotels, even slept in my car more than a few times. I eventually found a solution. If stayed at work for 12 hours a day, I only had a few hours to find somewhere else to be.
I managed to save enough money to move into my second apartment. A few months later, I found myself in a serious relationship and pregnant with an amazing little boy.
His father named him Mercy.
One Hit Too Many
Mercy spent a week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after he was born. The moment I brought him home, I promised he would never feel what I felt as a child. I vowed to be with him always, no matter what. Being a mom became my purpose.
In January 2015, I started college and began putting my life together again. But my brother, the only relative I felt connected to, passed away just five months later. It was more than I could handle. No one could tell me I was depressed, and no one could tell me I was hurt. I just kept going—until I found myself in jail.
It took 28 days in jail before I realized I had a problem. Being confined to a room no bigger than a bathroom and knowing the child I swore to be with always was home without me were too much. I was broken. I began having panic attacks.
Lost No Longer
Then I remembered what Nana taught me growing up.
I prayed like I had never prayed before. I asked God to guide me, to help me, to give me strength.
After leaving jail, I went to see a therapist. She said panic attacks were normal but having them so frequently was not. Sometimes they lasted for seconds, sometimes longer—the longest one lasted over 30 minutes. I no longer knew how to calm myself down. The therapist wanted me to go see a psychiatrist, but I wasn’t crazy; I just needed someone to talk to.
Now separated from Mercy’s dad, I called my best friend and told her everything. She picked up my son and me and took us to live with her and her mom.
I was so scared Mercy would be too loud. He was only a year old, and my best friend’s mom worked the night shift. I certainly did not want to be a burden to anyone. But she never complained. They simply loved me and invited me to church.
I hadn’t stepped foot inside of a church since my Nana passed, but I went. That day, things changed. I felt the pastor was talking directly to me, and it was exactly what I needed to hear.
I still don’t have a relationship with my mom and am not interested in one with my dad. But over the years, I’ve learned it’s not about me or how I feel. Maybe I should be mad she was on drugs. Maybe I should be mad she chose men over me. I should be mad she separated her children and decided to raise her youngest kids but not me. I should be mad she never came to my brother’s funeral. But I’m not.
I’m not mad at all.
Now I know I am not alone. I have Mercy, and God gave me a family that loves me like their own. A family I know I can call at 3 a.m. if my son is sick. People to turn to when I need help staying on track. Men and women who pray over our lives every single day. If I need encouragement, I know who will direct me to the perfect Bible verse. I found a home in my church, and I’m finding my destiny. I don’t feel alone anymore. I’ve got Jesus and a family in His people.
Jesus protected me all along, and if I’m tempted to go places I shouldn’t—like that party—I know what it sounds like to hear Him tell me not to go.
I’m not crazy. I’m not broken. I am just a lost soul who found Jesus—again.