Turning teen angst into adult keynote

1.6 billion people live in slums worldwide.

1.6 billion people live in slums worldwide.

As a preacher’s kid, I moved a lot more than I liked. Peacing out of farm country on my 12th birthday for a town called Lugoff wasn’t exactly the gift I’d hoped for. There was also that time I came back from summer vacation between freshman and sophomore year of high school to find out we’d been voted out of our church.

No one called because they wanted me to enjoy my vacation in case it was the last summer I’d have with my BFF. I came home to boxes.

Even until a few years ago, I would have told you those were my worst moments. I really do lead a semi-charmed life. But until this month I
wasn’t able to put those moves into a positive context.

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Thanks to Habitat for Humanity and our Act! Speak! Build! Week advocacy events, I finally saw where my bratty moments and housing missteps meant something. No, really, my job was very cathartic.

I hate public speaking, but somehow I got roped into assisting with the keynote at Western Kentucky University. My Youth Programs colleagues are well versed in this kind of thing. They are great presenters, have experience in the field backed up with visual anecdotes, and have been passionate about nonprofit work a lot longer than me. I so admire them. I’m also a little intimidated by their skills.

We decided to open our advocacy “ask” this year with a personal story that tied into Habitat’s greater mission of providing affordable housing.

In working over my personal life for any semblance of expressing how important “Home” is, I was able to piece together how it’s taken my family almost my entire lifetime to get to that idea. Habitat didn’t help us, but when I was 15 we were essentially homeless.

It was after that summer vacation where I came home to moving boxes and felt lied to. I still don’t understand how the whims of church people dictated our living situation. Their tithing whims also dictated my parents’ saving options. We didn’t have the money to buy a house or even really rent. We all didn’t want to move again. There was just a lot of emotion and yelling in that double-wide trailer.

The family I babysit for that summer offered to share their home for a family of four with our family of six in order for my parents to save up for a down payment. Everything definitely worked in God’s timing. I was able to share with our WKU group about how that three-month sacrifice gave my parents a chance to play the market and look for a deal, it gave them a chance to keep good credit by not falling behind on other bills, and it gave us all a chance to heal after some big emotional wounds. My parents still live in that house. The financial stability allowed my mom to go back to school. She now has her masters degree and teaches third grade. Myself and my siblings have all completed or are attending college. And my dad finally found a ministry that fit his gifts instead of trying to people please all the time.

Also, as much as I hate saying my “home” is in Lugoff, it truly is! I love our trees and our dirty barn and the stray animals and the perfect view of the sky on a clear night. I love that my BFF from high school still lives two doors down and I can call on her like old times. But none of those feelings of “home”would have happened if someone else hadn’t thought we were worthy of homeownership.

I’m so thankful to work for an organization that helps families like mine navigate such a confusing time and make them feel they deserve a place to call home. And I’m so glad I could get past the feeling of wanting to vomit to share that story alongside one of my favorite co-workers to a campus chapter that our entire staff adores.

I hate having a “me” moment when it’s supposed to be for 1.6 billion people, but I’ll take it. My 15-year-old self really needed it.