Let me tell you all something… You don’t want to miss this!
Welcome! I’m excited to share my interview with Valerie Andrews with you! Valerie visited my author page one day and commented on one of my posts. She’d stated she remembered an individual from her stay at the Topeka Rescue Mission here in my hometown. For those of you who haven’t read my book, this shelter, which we refer to as TRM, has a huge presence in my book’s storyline. I was immediately interested in Valerie’s story and when she said she’d allow me to interview her, I knew it would be a fantastic story. Almost immediately, I realized her story goes so much deeper than I’d ever expected. But I’ll let you read it for yourself. So, without further ado, here it is.
Valerie, thanks again to saying yes. I appreciate your willingness to talk with me about your journey and experiences stay at the Topeka Rescue Mission. So at one time, you lived in Topeka, correct? Were you born here?
I was born in Leavenworth, Kansas and raised in Tonganoxie, Kansas. My ex-husband lost his job and had a hard time finding another one. Eventually, we lost our place, cars, etc and ended up there. He left me for a resident there so it ended up being myself, my son, and my daughter who I was pregnant with at the time.
Oh my goodness! Your husband left you for another resident at the shelter? What! Okay, let me back up just a little bit. I’m going to be very nosey now. If you don’t want to answer something, just let me know.
You can ask anything you want. There’s been a lot of healing over the years. Childhood and adulthood. I can talk about my past. Before the healing, though, I was very angry.
Thank you. I appreciate that. As curious (nosey) as I am, I’m going to start from the beginning. Where were you and your husband living when he lost his job?
We were living in Tonganoxie. He was working in Kansas city.
How did you all land in Topeka? Did you come specifically because of the shelter here?
We went to a church in Leavenworth to inquire how to get some help. They directed us to the shelter.
So the area you lived in didn’t have a shelter? Did any of the churches offer you a place to stay? Did you seek help elsewhere before you decided to move to a new city?
No, there was not a shelter and I was ashamed to ask for help from the church I grew up in or any other church because everyone knew me.
Had you ever been to Topeka before?
The only time I had ever been to Topeka before then was field trips as a kid to see the capitol.
May I ask how old you were at the time all of this began?
You mentioned your childhood… What was it like? Did you have hardships during that time also?
When I was two-years-old, I was put into foster care because my biological mother beat me and neglected me. My aunt told me that in the winter I would show up on her doorstep with nothing on and crying. The social services took me away when the neighbor called the police because she was hanging me out the 2-story window naked and banging me against the side of the building yelling at me to quit crying. I was in foster care until I was six and then placed back into my mother’s house.
Wow! Unimaginable. I can’t even fathom how or why the ‘system’ does it what it does. But I won’t go off on a tangent. Were things better when you returned?
No. At this time, she had married and I had a step-father. My mother was physically and emotionally abusive and she allowed my step-father to do whatever he wanted to me. My bedroom was a closet on the porch. When I was eight-years-old my mother was whipping me with a belt while I was eating dinner and my fork went into her arm. I can remember before and after but I can’t remember during. I was then placed in a mental hospital until I was nine.
How horrific! I can’t begin to imagine all you’ve gone through. I shouldn’t have to ask this, but… you weren’t ever put back in your mother’s home, right?
No. While I was in the hospital, my mother came there and told me she’s giving me up to the state. At twelve-years-old, I was adopted.
How was life with your new family?
My adoptive family is beautiful beyond any words. As a youth, I buried myself in books, academics, and God. I didn’t dwell on my childhood until I was 16 and my biological mother passed away from heart failure. I became angry.
Did you, at any point in your youth or adulthood, succumb to self-harm? Only asking because these circumstances are often the very makings of either self-harm or other addictions…
In my early twenties, after my husband left, I did think about suicide but never attempted and I did abuse drugs. March 27th, 2005 was the day I quit doing drugs for good.
All of those emotions and reactions are very understandable. Thanks to God, it seems you’ve made the most remarkable recovery. I want to ask you about your adopted mother too, but first I want to go back to you being twenty years old and finding yourself homeless. Obviously, there were issues in your marriage prior to you needing to find shelter when you lost your home, right?
My marriage wasn’t the best. We fought a lot and neither of us respected each other.
So in the midst of a troubled marriage, things are falling apart all around you, and you find yourself in a taxi on the way to a new city? Wow. Not a question. Just a recap. Your life experience in dealing with hardship by the age of twenty was already more than what many people suffer in their entire lives. God picks the right soldiers, though. *sigh*
Do you remember how you were feeling in that taxi?
It was very scary for me going to Topeka. I remember once we entered the gate and was walking down the sidewalk toward the entrance to the family area, I was panicking. I did not know what to expect at all. In my mind, we were going to a filthy bug ridden shelter where they were crowded. It’s quite the opposite.
Does your son remember any of this?
No, Koda does not remember anything from then.
Because he was too young?
Yes, he was a toddler.
How was he during this process of getting checked into a homeless shelter with his pregnant wife and young child? I assume your family was given a room of your own?
JP was very quiet through the entire process until later that night when we were in our room, then he became angry and cried. He voiced he didn’t deserve this and he’ll figure something out.
Wait. So when he said ‘he didn’t deserve this,’ did he acknowledge the fact you were going through this too?
No, he did not acknowledge me. He didn’t see us as a unit. We had a room by ourselves on the 2nd floor. When he left, they put another girl with a child in the room with me.
So when he left, where did he go? I know you said he left you for another resident so did that person get a place of their own?
They stayed with his mother.
Okay, I have to ask… Why did he not take you and your son to his mom’s house?
Lol, I knew that was going to be your next question. His mom didn’t like me. I have always been very loud about my relationship with Christ and she doesn’t believe the same way. She had begged her son to leave me numerous times. She’d believed that I was stuck up as well because of my family background. She’d felt I looked down at them, which was not the case.
Your story keeps taking me by surprise, Valerie.
By the way, I’m friends with his mom now. We still have a difference of opinion, but have learned to look past that.
That’s wonderful! For you and the kids!
What happened the day he left?
My advocate had called me into her office and advised me that she’d noticed my husband being too friendly with some of the females in the establishment and if it continues, he will have to leave.
Besides being married. The family unit is in the building where women and women with children stay. Men are in a different building altogether. So I’m sure his behavior was quite noticeable.
Right. I’m not sure if they spoke to him or the other females, but he was at work that day and never came back. When a couple of hours went by and he didn’t show up I knew he wasn’t going to. I had a panic attack and collapsed on the floor crying uncontrollably in my room. I had no idea what I was going to do. I felt helpless. The only thing I could think of was to just stop the pain. I didn’t want it. I couldn’t breathe or think straight until my little one put his hands on mine and said, ‘It ok momma. I wuv you.’ That little blessing saved me and his sister. The shelter was very helpful in assisting individuals with their needs rather it be counseling, clothing, resources etc.
So then how long were you at TRM with your son? Were you on one of the programs?
We were there for a few months. If you weren’t working, you had what they called detail (chores) and mine was assisting in the dining area and various things on the family side. That was until I had a job. Later, I started working fast-food and went to OTAP to get a certificate in office work. I found an income-based apartment. TRM was a BIG help in getting me in my apartment.
Out of all the staff there, who impacted you the most?
My advocate was a big impact. Just a kind word or a smile can make such a difference. I had also become good friends with an individual on the men’s staff. His name is Joseph Delancy. He as well was a resident there at one time. He is now a worship leader and Christian singer.
Are you still in touch with Joseph?
Yes. *smile* I’m still in touch with him.
Any special memories from your stay at TRM?
A unique memory I have of the shelter is around Christmastime, they had a little warehouse where the parents were able to pick presents out for their children.
Awesome! During our conversation, you mentioned you’re adopted mother passed away about three years ago in Tonganoxie. What was her name?
Tell me about her.
It’s hard to put into words the woman who did not give birth to me but took me in her arms and called me her daughter. She wasn’t there for my first steps and first words, but she was there when it mattered. She saw my first heartbreak and held me when I cried. She encouraged me to not give up on the things I loved to do. Piano, clarinet, writing, reading, drawing, my love for Christ and so much more. She was there when I gave my life to Christ. My momma was there when I gave birth to my first born and second. She taught me the love of a mother. Many times as I felt I was a failure, she reminded me that I was so much more. My momma didn’t hold me as a baby and she didn’t change my diapers. Nor did she teach me how to walk but none of that matters because my momma taught me to LOVE!!! She took an orphan into her home and called her daughter.
People who adopt are already amazing in my mind. But I read that she was an elementary school teacher. So someone who taught little kids adopted a twelve-year-old. That’s wonderful. Older children are too often overlooked. What an amazing woman!
My life is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m rich with blessings. I don’t know what you consider a good life, but I have a beautiful life with my four children. My second marriage to a man with the same name as the first *roll eyes* It’s ok you can too.
Haha! No eye-rolling here! Tell me more.
It didn’t last very long. That’s because I didn’t wait on God. My kids were getting older and my son wanted a daddy, so I was careless. I found a man instead of waiting for God to bless me with a good man and father. At that time, their dad didn’t have anything to do with them. He just started seeing them 2 years ago because his wife (the one he left me for) didn’t want him anywhere around me so he didn’t see his kids. I have three beautiful girls and a beautiful son. By the way, the girl I was pregnant with when I was in the shelter turned 13 today. Here is a video of her singing!
Wow, Valerie! She has a beautiful voice! You have a lovely family. So it’s been worth it?
Yes. Though I’ve struggled throughout the years and I’ve had heartache and mountains and roller coaster rides in life, I wouldn’t give it up because it’s made me the strong woman that I am now. I’ve learned from my mistakes and allowed God to transform me into who I am. I currently work at a Christian retirement home called Go Ye Village.
That’s really cool. It takes special people to work in any kind of care facility.
I have to ask… could you tell me how you ended up finding the one book written by little ol’ me?
Roughly about a week before I came upon your book, I was praying and inquiring why God put me where I’m at today… meaning where I work. Mainly because He led me to work here and I took a cut in pay and I was having some struggles at first. As I was praying about it, the shelter flashed in my thoughts and I had a desire to open a shelter here where I’m living. I hadn’t thought about the shelter in a long time. Fast forward roughly a week later, I was reading a friend’s Facebook post and comments and clicked on another individual’s Facebook page that was not a friend of mine. I was skimming down her page where I came across someone posting that she should check out your book. The title caught my eye so I decided to download it. I read it that weekend. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I stumbled upon that Facebook page and just happened to find a book that has THAT shelter in it.
I don’t believe in coincidences. That was definitely a ‘God Thing!’ Reading that has tingles dancing all over me from head-to-toe. It’s like you said to me once or twice during the time we’ve been talking, ‘God is AMAZING!’
Valerie, Meeting you was a gift. Thank you for sharing your life experiences and for being so open, so honest, and so candid. I know some of those mean the same thing, but I don’t care.
Valerie mentioned she writes and during our conversation. I found out she is also a poet. Here is one of her poems.
Fear eating within,
As the knife enters her skin.
Glimpses of her life passing through her mind,
With every tear fallen to her side.
Fear of the past or present,
Is not the cause of her pain.
Fear of what is to become,
Fear of the pain that will not ease.
Reaching deep in her soul,
Searching for the peace she once knew.
Nothing but darkness surrounding her.
She laid her head on her pillow,
Waiting for the pain to ease.
And as she took her last breath,
She whispered just for God to hear,
“I loved and I lost,
But I will never love again.”
Check out Valerie’s Poetry Page here to see more.