An Orphan No More

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“As the world looks upon us, as we struggle along, they say we have nothing but they are so wrong, in my heart I am rejoicing how I wish they could see, thank you Lord for your blessings on me.”

Red and white stripes.  That is what I had on as I stood on the property of Faith Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida.  It was a hot summer day, and my heart was broken, and I began to feel invisible, I began to feel like nobody wanted me.

I got settled in the “big girls room” with 5 other girls.  I put my trophies and other things that remind me of “home”–wherever that was.  One thing I knew, this wasn’t it.  I began counting down the days until I would be 18, it was just over 1,000 days.

Something inside of me broke that day.  My mantra, without even knowing it, was “everybody leaves”.  I had no desire to get close to anyone at this place; and I was determined to stay invisible, then I would not stand the chance of answering questions.  Painful questions.

It had only been 18 months since the state removed me from custodial care of my mother. My dad, who I barely knew, died when I was 7 years old. I had two Uncles and a bunch of cousins but almost all of them lived in Canada and the state would not let them take me. Both of my state-side Uncle’s were fighting issues of their own—my Uncle Lloyd—my hero, lost his battle with cancer just a few years after all of this. But neither of them could take me.  I felt so unwanted; I was a kid I couldn’t possibly understand some of the reasons I could not be placed with blood family.

I will always be grateful to Ray and Gayle Dunning who stood up for me. They took me to the hospital so that evidence could be collected, they went to court for me, they refused to let the state put me into the foster care system. They bought me a twin bed, the first bed, by the way, I ever remember having to myself. They let me finish my freshman year of high school. It was never meant to be a permanent decision for a variety of reasons. I can look back on it now and see the wisdom of moving me 225 miles away from Jacksonville. Ray was the pastor of a thriving church, these people had children of their own, and I am pretty sure I arrived at their house like I had been raised by a pack of wolves. So, the decision was made to place me in Faith Children’s Home in Tampa, Florida.

I had not been at the Children’s home very long.  I was hiding on this red stool in this industrial sized kitchen just days after arriving at the home. I wanted to be invisible. It felt like nobody on this planet wanted me, and well that feeling sucks. It’s hard to even type that because that is how real it feels (even now), like nobody on the planet wanted me. Whether it was real or imagined, it didn’t matter, it is the way it felt to a 15 year old kid who had been through way more than I will ever share.

I guess I figured hiding between the giant refrigerator and a pantry would make me literally invisible. I was minding my business when this person, this little, tiny, person popped her head in my invisible stratosphere.  Her voice was sweet, and kind.  Her words were dripped with the most southern accent you have ever heard.  Her white hair was beautiful, and probably well earned.  Her eyes were a window into her soul; a beautiful soul, one that just make you know that she was trustworthy.   I am convinced they were and still are the eyes of Jesus. “Well hello!”… If I could have pushed myself through that wall and onto the other side I would have. I was TRAPPED. One thing I have always been is polite, so I responded with “Hi”. “Well, how are you? And has anybody told you today?” WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
I mustered “ma’am?”— I had absolutely NO idea what she was talking about. She said “has anybody told you today that they love you?”

I distinctly remember staring at her like she was an alien.
Certainly, the Dunning’s had told me this during my 18 months with them, but as a rule love was not something that was a positive word and almost always meant I had to give something up to get, and keep it. Something, by the way, that I struggle with to this day—I am not sure I won’t always have to have my friends watching out for me on this.

Lindy & Jackie McGowan are founders of 3 children’s homes in the state of Florida. Their ministry spans from Melbourne to Tampa to Tallahassee, 40 years and 4,000 kids. Invading my invisible wall and stick of dynamite was Mom McGowan.  So, indeed, that white hair was well earned!

I came along late in their ministry, they had very little interaction with the kids on a day-to- day basis, we had house parents for that.  However, Mom decided that day that she was going to make the invisible visible, she was convinced to pull me out of my shell; and to teach me to trust; as that had not gone well for me in my 15 years of life.

I spent the next 5 years being loved so well by this woman. There are not words for what she means to me. She is still, to this day, the only person that knows some of the most horrific details of my life before the Dunning’s stepped in and got me out of hell. I still have the card she and Dad gave me when I graduated from high school, and college. Both of them “daughter” cards– cards meant for parents to give their daughter. I could add this to count-less “pink-notes” I would get from Mom when we were on tour- that is when we got to see them. I would spend countless hours on a stool on that Greyhound bus talking to Mom about everything you could imagine. Most of the time she initiated these conversations. I was not then am nor am I able now to hide anything. You can see it in my eyes and you can hear it in my voice.

So many years have passed since 1987, so much has happened and they were there for a lot of it. They were even there for my wedding—a day everybody wishes we could have a do-over. I don’t get to see them very often but I did get to see them very much, but I still get text messages asking “has anybody told you today?”

I wish I could say that those 5 years I got there was enough for me not to walk into a marriage that would ultimately almost take my life—but it certainly was a phenomenal 5 years for me. At 42 years old, when I hear them say they are proud of me, it makes me feel like I am that 15 year old invisible kid, becoming visible again.


“He cries in the corner in the corner where nobody sees he’s the kid with the story no one would believe, he prays every night dear God wont you please send someone here who will love me. Who will love me for me, not for what I have done or what I will become who love me for me cause nobody has shown me what love, what love really means.” JJ Heller

Chapter 23: An Orphan No More

Mom, Dad & Me–May, 2014


Chapter 22: Broke Outside The Old Apartment–a trench-mate’s perspective

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I wrote in this chapter about a pivotal point in my story. Today, I found out that Crissy wrote what I will share with you below just one month after I moved in with her. It is beautiful, and I thought you should enjoy it. More than that, hear her message. Get in the trenches with people like me who need you. If you are called to help others, being a trench dweller picks you. I am so grateful for this precious trench-dweller of mine.

Before I share it with you, I want to share the lyrics to a song that Crissy told me later that she listened to over and over many times after dropping me off at my apartment after dinner or a sunset chase. I did not know then, nor can I understand know the love she has for me or the God we share; I am so incredibly lucky.

“And I’m lookin out my car window sittin’ in the pouring rain
Although your house is fifteen miles away, I can still feel your pain
I’ve thought and prayed and worked it through about a hundred times or more
How your soul just cries to everyone to help you get up off the floor
Right now it’s morning, you’re probably sleepin’, totally unaware
of the flood of kisses you hold back by the way that you despair
It ain’t me I’m talking about here, or anybody else you can touch
That’s all I want to say right now, I don’t want to say too much

except Sweet Jesus, roll all over me
Sweet Jesus, roll all over me…
You gotta come down and just set me free”
Remember, the take away here, is to listen to the still small voice and get in the trenches of people who are hurting. You will hurt, you will feel pain deep in your soul (as I think Crissy so beautifully describes) but you might be a part of a crazy, ridiculously amazing story–and because of that have the opportunity to help countless others you will never know.
This is what my sweet friend wrote, just a few weeks after I moved in with her, and days after the beautiful breakdown.
In the trenches October 2008
I’ve often thought of this life as a battle. Sometimes it seems I am winning, other times I want to raise the white flag and call off the whole thing. Somewhere in the middle is where I am today.
I don’t have any military background, but it doesn’t take much imagination to think about how awful the trenches of war must be. Dirty, nasty, bloody….cries of anguish and pain echo through my mind even as I think about it. It’s a place I certainly would never want to find myself, and definitely would never want to ask another to join me. But what if that’s what it took? What if the very thing we need is someone willing to go to the depths with us and pull us out?
I remember the day the Lord laid it on my heart. I remember asking Amy to move in; cautious in my approach and thinking I could pull one over on her by saying it would be temporary. If this was a battle she was in – I was offering air support. Thinking highly of myself, I patted myself on the back and called it a day. I didn’t know the war she was waging. Amy moved in and the battle became near. Still unaware of the immediacy of the situation, I offered to stand guard. She was having nightmares so I thought I could pray and stand outside the door and it would be enough. But the nightmares became worse and they took her away to get some help. When she came back the days in the trenches began. There is something about walking knee deep in the mud and the mire with someone that is life changing. As the terrors unfolded she allowed me to fight along side. As the battle raged she revealed more and more gaping wounds. I never realized that in the ugliness of this life, God could pour out beauty. Maybe that’s what the verse about “beauty for ashes” means. The wickedness of this world, of mankind, is far worse than my feeble mind can comprehend. As I live in the trenches I have come to realize something amazing.
You came here to get in the trenches with us. You came that we might be able to show You all of our gaping wounds and be healed. You showed up in the place of greatest fear, hurt, pain, anguish and ugliness. You lived here with us, and walked among us. Then, in the ultimate fight, when we all should have been struck down by a righteous God…You took our place, received our punishment, and died in our place

Written by Crissy Loughridge, October 2008


Chapter 21, All Things New

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Chapeter 21, All Things New

Thanksgiving was coming and I finally was up and out of my room after my surgery. The drains were gone, the wounds were healing and it was time for the second part of the journey, which was nothing more, really, than a weekly doctor’s visit in preparation for the second surgery. And, o, here is where I should probably mention that somewhere during this time I moved from Clearwater to Citrus County, but that probably deserves it’s own blog.

Recently, it has become abundantly clear to me that these were days full of Grace. I read back some of the stuff I have written and it seriously feels like it happened to somebody else. With that being said, my days then felt without purpose. After I stopped teaching, I fell into what I can only identify now as a black – hole of loneliness. I would be lying if I didn’t say that I was embarrassed to some degree because the general public did not know the back- story of my early exit from the school year; nor did they need to know. It really wasn’t about them. It wasn’t about anything but people who loved me looking out for me and making a very difficult decision on my behalf. Even though it was 6 or so months between leaving school and my surgery, it is all a blur to me. And the words that come to my mind is that my life felt so absolutely without purpose.

I had only known 3 vocations in my professional career. Teaching clearly had been taken away as an option. My only other job was as a research technician in the paper industry, and well, no, just no.

Could it really be an option? No way. But, I was not healthy enough to work a regular job; I was always ill; and we are talking high temperature pneumonia in both lungs kind of ill. On average, I fell asleep around 2 AM every night (still very true)—so I had to find something that I could do from home. I was paid through the end of my contract, so I had some time to figure it out; or as it seems fight what now seems like such an obvious decision.

“What if you are just a vessel and God gave you something special? It ain’t yours to give away, it ain’t yours to give away” Unknown

NO I AM NOT DOING THAT AGAIN. I SPENT A DECADE BUILDING A BUSINESS HELPING PEOPLE FIND JOBS, IT DID NOT END WELL. In my mind, the whole demise of my marriage was because of that business. How in the world could I possibly think of working that industry AGAIN? It was 2009, just a year after the stock market crash. Unemployment was in double digits. There was no way this made sense. It was an insane idea. It was an absolutely insane idea. And it clearly was NOT my idea, or thought—this came from that Still Small Voice that can’t be ignored. Unless you want to be Jonah—I didn’t want to be Jonah.

Still though, every time I would go there in my mind, I could see the 1995 version of myself. The version of me without injury; the version of me who felt indestructible; the version of me that had no fear—that was who I saw when I remembered 1995.

I didn’t hate working as a research technician in the paper industry. I did not like the corporate politics, and (I can only identify this now)—I felt as though my life was without purpose. Not yet married, but living together, I told him how much I hated my going to my job everyday. A few months prior to all of this, we had an idea for a recruiting business and was working it part-time. One day when I was ranting to him about how much I hated the corporate politics of what I was doing he said “come work for the company”. I was 24, and I had no fear. ‘What would I do?”, I asked. To which he responded “you will call people on the phone and get them better jobs, or find clients who want to hire you to find people”.

I used to say my “no fear” approach to life was a survival instinct. I now value myself enough to say I view it as one of my greatest gifts. And, here is where I issue a blanket apology to all my friends who get embarrassed when they are with me because I will talk to ANYBODY, no fear. ☺ Poor Crissy, possibly the shyest person in the world, though I think she is used to it by now.

So, with a degree in Biology and the confidence only a 24- year old person could have, I agreed. I look back on the wording of his offer and it is apparent to me that he knew I had to feel like I was living a life of purpose. He only stood to gain if I were successful; and the evil in him knew what words to use to so encompass my life, and be the controller of it.

Sometimes I think this is was the decision that turned me into a piece of property for him. Because, as it turned out, I was pretty good at calling people I didn’t know and asking them if they wanted better jobs. I was even better at calling companies who needed help finding employees, and selling our services. He didn’t teach me anything. I read books, listened to tapes, but mostly just learned as I moved along—and winged it—not different from now, really. And, honestly, it is a skill-set that is a gift, not mine to give away.

Before I knew it, the company was at $1M. There were some in between stages. But, things moved quickly. I went from only me recruiting and selling to a small staff of recruiters and project managers. It then became my job to sell our services full time, a job that sat squarely, on my shoulders. He did not help at all; he came into the office at lunch- time to yell at people, cash the checks, go to lunch and then go home.

My team’s hard work and success paid off. Finally engaged, we moved from a rented town home to the very first house I ever could call my own. Finally married, years passed and abuse began, but the bank accounts grew, material possessions grew, and at our height we were at 30 people working for us. September 11, 2001 came and went and with it, our business began its decline. Not different, as it would turn out, from me.

I was still chasing purpose and trying to earn enough money so that I wouldn’t get hit. Ultimately, we were so successful that we moved from our house in Jacksonville to what can only be described as a dream house, 3 blocks from the beach. And the wheels continued to come off; I was going down in flames. Everything about me was tied to a dollar amount on a P&L to him. At one point, I was hospitalized with what I know now was a viral infection in my heart. It was scary and it was one of the only times I ever thought he actually loved me. But, the doctors could not figure out why such a young person was vacillating between the ICU and the Cardiac Intensive Care Ward. I was barely 32 years old.

He was never one for visiting hospitals. So, I vividly remember a phone conversation with him. “If it is the business that is making you so ill, our marriage is more important to me than the business. It would break my heart if something ever happened to our marriage”. I still will describe that night as one of the best nights of sleep I have ever had. But he didn’t mean it. I got out of the hospital and things went right back to the way they were. Except I was injured now; I was distracted; I was broken. I was dying, literally. Incidentally, the virus in my heart? You guessed it, from him.

Now then, you can understand why God and I wrestled with His prompting of me to start a better company in 2009 that would (in my opinion) do nothing more than remind me of those times. The Call was to build a company with integrity; one with dedication; one with excellence; one with PURPOSE. I tried every way I could around it. But one thing was still true, I was still chasing purpose, and before I knew it, purpose found me.

So, the decision was made, the paper work was completed and now it was time for a name. One day Crissy and I were in the car and we decided that the very next song that shuffled on whoever’s iPOD would be the name of the business. Well, that is what we did, except we named our business after the group not the song—but the lyrics of the randomly shuffled song, still gives me chills.

‘Cause of Who You are and who I am in You
You make all things Pure,
‘Cause of Who You are and who I am in You
You make all thing True,
You make all things New, all things New”

Watermark, “All Things New”

There was absolutely no arguing the next step—but could He really make all things New? Could He make all things Pure? Could He redeem this? I was done fighting it; and in November of 2009, in a new house separate from anything that was familiar; I was at the helm of a baby company, with a mission to chase and complete purpose. Harmed, scared, and tired, some how I knew, I was going to have a front row seat to a redemption story. God, however, had a different time line than me.