The Power of a Name – Michelle’s Story
Names are powerful. They define us, locate us and identify us. But what if you don’t know your name?
Growing up I had no idea who my father was. I didn’t know anything about him so the only last name I had to use was either borrowed from my siblings or whomever my mom was married to at the time. My life was full of chaos and uncertainty and my mother’s drug and alcohol addiction dominated our home. She and the rotating roster of men she lived with were consumed with only one thing – their next high.
My siblings and I were left to raise ourselves in a toxic and destructive environment. I suffered abuse on multiple fronts, at the hand of my brother and from the tongue of my mother. I was robbed of my purity by a man who lived in our backyard and the only ‘real father figure’ I knew was shot after our family was held at gunpoint by a drug dealer. My home address changed regularly but no matter where we lived I never felt safe.
In an attempt to bring a sense of order and control to my life I threw myself in to sports and other activities. I was determined that no one would know how hurt and traumatized I really was. I put on a happy face, acted like things were fine, and built walls that kept people from knowing the real Michelle.
As I attempted to navigate the challenges of college and life as a young adult, I found the role of ‘Perfect Michelle’ harder and harder to play. I was exhausted from years of trauma and stress. I turned to alcohol to help ease the pain. It worked for a while, but then it didn’t. One morning, after a night of partying, I woke up in the front yard of my house with no clue how I had got there. I had hit rock bottom. I had no idea who I really was or who I was meant to be. I was living as an emotional nomad with no sense of security, identity or purpose.
It was in this moment of desperation that I remembered praying to God, with my grandmother, when I was a little girl. Would God help me now? I didn’t feel worthy of His love or attention but from the very depths of my heart I called out to Him and hoped He would answer. He did.
I sensed God calling me to a fresh start and a life of freedom. A few weeks later I left my hometown in Southern Illinois to start a new life in Sacramento, California. Over the next 10 years of my life I finally began to heal. God had chosen me, a broken and damaged girl, to experience His restoration and freedom. When God offers new life, He intends for that life to be exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ask or think and He did just that for me.
One of the most cherished gifts that I received on this healing journey was something that I had always longed for. I was given a last name. When my husband, Joe, proposed, he said that God wanted him to give me a last name. On our wedding day I stood at the back of our church and looked at the man of my dreams. As I walked towards him I realized that I was also walking towards family, wholeness, forgiveness, and redemption. In that moment, I felt like I was finally able to walk away from the hurt, tired, and abused little girl that I used to be. I am so proud to carry the name of my husband, Joe Raby, a name that now continues with our two amazing children, Cohen and Annalee.
This year I had the opportunity to reconnect with my mother. I hadn’t seen her in over 10 years. We talked for hours about the painful things of our past, both of us willing to be brave and vulnerable so that we could begin to heal our relationship. My mom cried as she asked for forgiveness for all the decisions she made in her life that caused me so much pain. As I held her in my arms, the memories of that painful past began to fade away! I am so grateful to God for the healing journey in my own life that has allowed me to be a part of the healing that He is bringing to my mom’s life. For as long as I have breath I will proclaim that with God my past is redeemed, my future is established, and my life is filled with promise.