Dirty, cold, and bitten by mosquitos, Annie crouched in the deep grass of an alley. She had run away from an abusive home in search of a fairytale ending, but life on the streets was rough and cruel.
Hearing laughter, Annie turned and saw a house behind her. Warm light shone through the window, and she could see a family gathered around a table, enjoying dinner together.
Why can't I have that? she wondered. How do I get there? I'm going to get there. I'm going to get that for myself.
A TURBULENT CHILDHOOD
Annie Goebel was born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada, on the cliffs of the North Atlantic Sea. She likes to say that the setting of her birth was indicative of her childhood— "very violent, very turbulent, very cold."
Her family was large and unhappy. Annie's parents were married only after her father date-raped her mother. Her father was a cold man, Annie recalls.
When he drank, he was very violent. And he drank a lot.
Her mother was a Christian and did her best to keep the peace in the house. Because Annie's father preferred quiet on Sunday mornings, the children and their mother would sneak out of the house and go to church. Church was Annie's safe haven. It was where she learned about Jesus.
"I believed everything I learned about [Jesus]," she says. "But when I left that church, Jesus didn't come home with me. And I couldn't blame Him. My house was filled with pain and darkness—why would He come there?"
'When I left that church, Jesus didn't come home with me. And I couldn't blame Him.
My house was filled with pain and darkness—why would He come there?'
Annie's father was in the Air Force and was frequently moved to different military bases around the globe. It was during this nomadic time that Annie began to question her life. The world was so much bigger than her family—there had to be something more out there. Something better.
By the time the family relocated to Texas, Annie had decided that she could take care of herself. So, when her father barged into the house one night brandishing his gun and threatening to kill all the children, she decided it was time to leave.
"I went out the bedroom window to look for that life, that fairytale—where there was love," she says. "But as we all know, life on the streets for a young girl is no fairytale. There's no prince in shining armor to save you."
Instead, life on the streets was bleak. Annie begged for spare change so she could eat. She was often arrested and sent to jail and juvenile detention. And many times, she found herself in dangerous situations at the mercy of strangers. After a particularly traumatic experience, Annie decided she had had enough.
"This [life] wasn't working," she explains. "So, I turned myself in, and I went home—15 years old—to find out that I was pregnant."
'Life on the streets for a young girl is no fairytale.
There's no prince in shining armor to save you.'
UNLOVED, ALONE, AND WITHOUT VALUE
Life on the streets was scary and dangerous, but not much had changed back home. Although she was looking for safety and stability, Annie found herself pushed away as soon as she returned to her cold and turbulent family.
After realizing that her daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, Annie's mother sent her wayward daughter to a home for unwed mothers. Annie's son was immediately put up for adoption upon his birth. The records were sealed—Annie was to never see him again.
The abuse from her family and others, life on the streets, and the experience of giving up her baby were harrowing for the young teenage girl. Annie believed three lies about herself: that she was unloved, that she was alone, and that she had no value. It seemed like no matter what she did, she could never shake this identity. And these lies were a breeding ground for her destructive behavior and choices.
Annie believed three lies about herself:
that she was unloved, alone, and had no value.
'AT THE BOTTOM OF MY PIT'
Her father and mother left Texas not long after the birth of Annie's son, but the now 16-year-old refused to leave the state.
"I was going to be my own adult, and I was going to take care of myself," Annie says. "I didn't need them. And so, I dropped out of school, got a job, and started living my life my way."
But those destructive lies that Annie believed about herself infected every decision she made. Once again, her life spiraled down further and further. She took drugs and drank alcohol to cover her pain. She bounced from one bad relationship to another and had job after job. Finally, one night in South Dakota, Annie couldn't go on any longer.
I found myself at the bottom of my pit. I realized one night that I was hopeless—that I had become a statistic. That society now considered me a throwaway. I would never amount to anything. I had no education—I had dropped out of school. I was living with a drug dealer, [and] I was strung out on drugs. Anybody who had ever known me or wondered about me probably figured that I was dead or in prison by now. I was at the bottom of my pit.
'I realized one night that I was hopeless—that I had become a statistic.
That society now considered me a throwaway. I would never amount to anything.'
JOY AND HOPE IN THE DARKNESS
At her lowest point, Annie felt that her dream of having a loving family and a warm, secure home was lost forever. She had tried so hard to live life on her terms, but she couldn't save herself. Nor could she rely on anyone else to come and rescue her.
And then, the tiniest flame of hope sparked in her darkness: Memories of those Sunday services with her mother and siblings came to her, and she remembered Jesus.
"I remembered that I had always believed in Him," Annie says. "Now was the time to maybe ask Him for help."
She wasn't sure how to ask Him, but as she stood under the stars in the Black Hills, Annie cried out, "Jesus, please save me. I can't do it anymore. I just keep making it worse. Save me. I need You."
There were no heavenly angel choruses, no voice from heaven. The world was as it always had been. Nothing had changed, and yet Annie felt joyful.
"I had no idea what was going to happen, but I just knew something was going to happen. Jesus was going to save me … I didn't know for sure what that meant, but I knew He could do it."
Four days later, a warrant was issued for Annie’s arrest. She was going to prison.
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