The “For Rent” sign caught my eye as I drove down in the pristine street. It was the prettiest house I had ever seen in the most soothing shade of pale blue.
I was headed to class at Loma Linda University and had just entered what I thought of as “the other world” I lived in, the one filled with positives — school, a future career, a way out. A way out of the place where I had just woken up.
It wasn’t the apartment where I lived that was the problem. Although the building where it was left a lot to be desired. The neighborhood was unsafe, and some of the other residents of the building were clearly dealing with problems in their own lives. I often heard couples yelling. And it wasn’t coming from just one apartment. It was a few, and I knew for a fact more than one of the partners in these relationships was being abused.
I lived there for a while, encasing myself with the negativity, probably because, at the time, it was comfortable to me in the discomfort it caused. When you’re not in a good place yourself, somehow you gravitate toward what will keep you down. The vibration in the air in that building provided me with the environment I needed to feel as I wanted to, which was bad.
I wasn’t always like this. Growing up in San Diego, I was a straight-A student. During my high school freshman year, I was class president and voted “Best Personality.” I was a cheerleader.
No one ever had to tell me what to do; I just did it. I was a good girl. To anyone watching, none of this would’ve been surprising. I had a stable childhood, with two parents and a brother who loved and took care of me.
But things aren’t always as they appear, and when I was 14 years old, my mom went out and never came back. My father, reeling from having been left by his wife and the mother of his children, spiraled downward into despair. He left me alone for hours to fend for myself, then returned home at the end of the evenings drunk and unable to be the dad I once knew.
I blamed myself. If I wasn’t good enough for my mom to stay for, I must not be worthy of the life I had. So I took to sabotaging it. I stopped studying, and my grades soon began to slip. I dropped cheerleading and started hanging out with a new crowd, the wrong one, which included a few troubled girls. I experimented with cigarettes and weed and did drugs.
Where I was once positioned in the middle of the class and was friends with kids like me, who were on a path to success, I moved to the fringes. Within a matter of months, the only place I could see my old life was by looking at it from the outside.
This went on for 10 years, up to and including that terrible apartment I lived in during college. That tree-lined street on the way to my university was a physical demarcation of how I was straddling two worlds every time I made the morning drive.
In my heart, I knew something had to change. The problem was I didn’t know how to change it. So when that “For Rent” sign jumped out at me, I took it as a sign from God.
Just the day before, I had been watching TV. An evangelist had come on and asked the audience if they wanted a better life. For a long time I had. I got down on my hands and knees, which I could never have envisioned myself ever doing before.
“I do,” I said out loud. And along with the evangelist, I prayed.
The very next day, my life changed. I called the phone number on the sign and said I wanted to see the house. Even though I couldn’t really afford the rent on it, the owner told me if I looked in on his elderly parents who lived next door, it would be mine. Without an ounce of hesitation, I took it.
Later that same week, I attended a nutrition fair. In the booth next to mine, there was another student, a guy, who was getting his master’s degree at my school. We got to talking and soon after began dating. Once we did, I got away from the people I had been hanging out with, those negative forces in my life. Our relationship blossomed as did I, and we dated for the next four years. I was at peace.
Although it didn’t end up working out between us, and we broke up while he was in medical school, the relationship had a positive impact on my life. By the time I was 29 and met the man I would marry, I was in a good place. I was mentally strong. I had two degrees and was established in my career as a registered dietitian. I had long since put my dark past in the rearview mirror and was ready for marriage.
What I wasn’t ready for was a man who would slowly chip away at the identity I had worked so hard to rebuild, beginning in that little blue house so long ago. With every criticism about the way I dressed, the way I spoke, and the way I parented our young son, I lost a tiny piece of myself, until one day I no longer recognized who I was.
By the time I asked for a divorce eight years later, my self-esteem was near where it was when I saw the “For Rent” sign for the first time. The worst part was I had no idea how I had gotten back there. While with my husband, I had somehow gotten lost. I thought long and hard about how this could’ve happened and realized much of it was of my own doing.
Though I had kept my faith, I was not open to God like I was when that evangelist reached out from the TV and inspired me to question what I wanted out of my life. Over the years, when things were going well, I had gradually become complacent, ignoring the signs God was showing me. I lost my ability to hear Him, and I lost myself as a result.
When I realized what had happened, that I had lost my way, I began to meditate every morning. I needed to center myself, and I chose scripture for the foundation of my sessions, mostly because it was familiar and comfortable to me, much more than the meditations of Eastern philosophy. That would come later, as I expanded my knowledge of the practice.
During my meditations, which I scheduled in the early morning hours each day, I wrote what I was thinking and feeling in journals. I chanted, and I sang. But most importantly, I listened to what God had to say to me. What I heard was that I had the power within me to become strong. I always had it. The only thing left was to act on it.
I left my marriage. And, similar to what I did years earlier, I left my house to build a new home. I don’t mean brick by brick in a literal sense, although I really did move, but, instead, by building up the pieces of me that had gotten lost along the way. Those pieces were who I was, what I wanted, and where my boundaries were. It took a while, many months, but spending that time being introspective was worth it and necessary.
Then, once I felt strong enough, I ventured out. I began to date. I started my business helping others to learn Christ-centered meditation practices. And, most importantly, I began living my truth, seeing myself for who I am — a member of God’s house and a queen in His Kingdom.
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, LORD Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, LORD Almighty, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. (Psalm 84:1-4 NIV)
Tonyah Dee is a spiritual teacher with a degree in science. She teaches scientific lifestyle tips integrated with spiritual and contemplative practices. A Christ-centered life coach, Registered Dietitian and Master Level Meditation teacher makes her perspective deep and broad. Tonyah is the Founder of YahLight, a movement to ignite the Light within.