At age six, CJ Nalley wasn’t allowed to call her mother “mom,” unless they were in public. CJ was told that she had no value, that she was worthless. Her mother repeatedly stated that she didn’t want to love CJ.
“From that moment on, in my head I ‘knew’ or thought that I had no value,” shares CJ.
At age 15, CJ’s mother forced her to sign an emancipation agreement. She then gave CJ $300, and put her on a bus to Seattle. She knew no one. And no one came looking for her. She felt hopelessly lost and totally forgotten.
[sharequote align="center"]She remembers the forgotten, loves the unloved, and values those who feel like they have no value[/sharequote]
Finding a box behind a downtown appliance store, CJ called it home. Meals were twice daily discards taken from a nearby convenience store dumpster. She accepted a pimp’s offer to run money back to him from his teenage prostitutes in exchange for 30 percent of the cut. The girls were 15, CJ’s age, living in a seedy motel, selling their bodies to stay alive. The mere thought of their plight made CJ physically sick to her stomach. She had to disconnect emotionally just to survive.
Their young age made it easy for the pimp to trick the prostitutes into becoming fully dependent on him for their food, clothing, their life.
“Typical kids rely upon a parent to care for them. To the girls, the pimp had become their parent,” shares CJ.
When the pimp was arrested, the girls found themselves without a parent. CJ stepped in. She was terrified of her newfound responsibility, but the role allowed her to move into the motel. She now had a warm bed, a free shower, and reliable food. This excited her. In her thinking, it was going to be okay. It also gave CJ a deep sense of responsibility for the teenage prostitutes, wanting to make sure they would always be cared for.
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But then one morning, CJ woke up with a strong desire to return to school. She contacted a police officer in downtown Seattle, and told the officer where the girls were. She never saw them again.
CJ went back to high school on her own accord, but the lack of support quickly led to a teenage pregnancy. At age 17, she gave birth to twins. One passed away, the other struggled to survive. CJ immediately became pregnant again.
By age 21, CJ was grieving the loss of one baby, had two living children, and had just gained custody of a 12-year-old drug addict in need of love. She had also started a series of abusive relationships.
The first abuser was a contracted hacker for a major software conglomerate. But each time CJ fled, she was forced to apply for state aid for her children. The abuser would ping her social security number and find them. No matter where she went, he found them. Always. She lived in fear.
Her next abuser tortured her. CJ’s escape came one morning after he had kicked a bucket of industrial cleaner on her. With skin burning, she ran outside in nothing but her underwear and t-shirt. He followed her outside to finish the verbal portion of his assault, but the very moment he returned inside their home, CJ made her escape, bolting to a nearby home. The homeowner called 911.
Another abusive relationship followed. CJ’s turning point came after she was caught attempting to flee by swimming across the border into Canadian waters, pulling her kids in a boat. She was returned stateside, and hooked up with a ministry that kept them safe. They were offered a free hotel room for two years along with medical care.
The ministry also offered CJ a job as administrative assistant. With no skills or training, she didn’t know what she was doing, but she did know the people she was doing it for, and that’s when the desire to give back began to take hold.
“I feel like I have to give back to where I came from in order to heal,” shares CJ, as the tears trickle down her soft cheeks.
Her pivotal moment came at age 32.
By then a mother of eight, CJ was attending church with her children thinking that the ex-con speaking to the congregation was a joke. Until he spoke the words that stole CJ’s breath, and have since become etched in her heart.
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“He said that salvation was free, and even if I was the only person in the entire world, it would still be offered to me. I’m 32 years old by this time with eight children, single, lost, alone, don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m thinking that if its free, I don’t have to work for that. So just me, in my own skin, exactly like I am, right this very second. That I had value to this God that would allow his son to die for my salvation. That was like a pivotal breathing moment. I don’t think I had ever taken a breath before. Right then, I totally recognized that the skin I’m in is just enough,” she said
Recently celebrating her birthday, CJ is now a 43-year-old pastor. Her ministry operates a nonprofit thrift store that supports six different projects benefitting the homeless. Her mission is simple: she wants people to know that they have value.
“That they deserve every breath that they are given. That they deserve to be safe and comfortable, and happy and loved and remembered. That they are not forgotten,” she said.
Looking back at her time on the street, she shares, “I wanted to feel remembered, but I didn’t.”
She now remembers the forgotten, loves the unloved, and values the people who feel like they have no value.
“I just want other people who felt like they were forgotten to be remembered.”
Making the transformation from street kid to pimp to minister, CJ feels that if she can do it, anybody can. And she has made it her life goal to help them.
Lynda Cheldelin Fell is a world visionary, humanitarian, producer, and author who loves creating endeavors that bring comfort, inspiration, and hope worldwide. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org WEB: www.lyndafell.com
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