Have you seen the movie You’ve Got Mail? There’s a scene where Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks are chatting over AIM and he tells her The Godfather is the answer to her problems and that she needs to “Go to the mattresses.” In times of war or siege, Italian families would leave their homes and rent apartments in safer areas in order to protect themselves. The families would hire soldiers to sleep in shifts on the floor, on mattresses. “Going to the Mattresses” means “Prepare for Battle or adopt a warlike stance”. That’s what I think of when I think of Netty. Besides my own mother and a few others, there’s not another woman I could think of who would “Go to the Mattresses” for me. She will battle every demon in hell on my behalf and look dang good doing it. Trust me, she’s one of the ones that when she wakes up in the morning the devil is like “#$%#&@^@ she’s awake!!” She is a First Responder’s wife. A mother. A creative soul and a woman of unwavering faith. This is her Stunningly Strong Story.
Netty: I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, with my mom, step-dad and little brother. We lived in a predominately white neighborhood and growing up I had to deal with racism. I remember when my little brother was three he was outside playing with a neighbor and I heard the neighbor call him the “N” word. I was shocked. How could a three-year old know that word? It had to have been something that he learned; that he had heard. Another time when I was in middle school, we were in the living room watching TV as a family, and a brick came flying through the window with a note rubber banded around it saying “you don’t belong here”
In high school my family moved to another predominately white neighborhood. I was one of the few African-Americans in the school. One of my friends was dating a guy and they started arguing with each other. He got angry and threw his keys at her from across the lunchroom, barely missing her face. I defended her and said, “Why are doing you that? You need to leave her alone!” He replied, “Shut up you “N”! When that happened I experienced a rage like I never had before.
Later that night he called my house to apologize. I told my mom to hang up on him that I didn’t want to hear an apology. The look my mom gave me in that moment…. the only way I can describe it is that she knew what I was feeling, but with one look and ZERO words from her, I also knew that I needed to turn the other cheek and deal with my rage and anger or it would destroy me. I had to CHOSE to forgive him, because forgiving was not a natural thing to do.
Gena: What about Church when you where growing up? Did your family attend services together?
Netty: My mom went to church with my biological father when I was a baby, but when she married my stepfather, they didn’t attend services. It was my grandma and Momma D who took me to church and had me get involved and encouraged me to sing. I got saved at my grandma’s church when I was 16 years old.
Gena: What did you do after you graduated from high school?
Netty: After high school I left Cleveland and went to Ohio University as a Vocal Performance major. I was singing, writing music, performing and
had so many good connections, but I was struggling with anxiety because my mom and step-dad were getting a divorce. One night some of my friends invited me to church and that was when I heard about the Holy Spirit. At the services they had a time of prayer and you could just pray wherever you were. During that prayer time, I told the Lord that I wanted to have the power of the Holy Spirit. One of my friends put her hand on my back and I felt just started praying and felt power come into my life, and anxiety leave. But that didn’t mean that my struggles ended that night.
Because of the divorce, my step-dad stopped paying for my college. I had to drop out of OU and move back to Cleveland. When I got home I got a job; but my step dad owned the only car and he refused to let me drive it. If I needed to go somewhere I had to get a ride from him or walk.
Gena: That had to have been so hard. How did you manage?
Netty: Well…about that. While I was at college I met a guy, who was from Cleveland and he told me that if I ever came home I should look him up. Within the first six months of me being home, we connected. We started dating and he would drive an hour to my house every day to take me to and from work because he knew about the whole car situation. I really felt like he was the ONLY stability I had in my life. He told me
“Whatever I have is yours” he really spoiled me. I had been a virgin up to that point, but we started sleeping together and for months I would spend every weekend at his house. My home life at that point was not good because of the divorce so I moved in with him to get out of the house. We lived together for five years, I started cosmetology school and at twenty-one, I got pregnant.
Gena: Twenty-one, pregnant and in cosmetology school. How did that go over?
Netty: When I told everyone they were shocked. My grandmother was disappointed and wouldn’t talk to me for a few months. When my biological father found out about the pregnancy, he confronted me in front of the cosmetology school and called me a whore. That was rough. But from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I told God, “Thank you for letting me be a mother. Please let me see my children grow up and let me be a part of their lives.” I think having all that opposition was an intricate part to my survival skills I wanted to prove all the doubters wrong.
Gena: How where things for you after your son was born?
Netty: It was easy between his father and I. Meaning, having a baby didn’t put strain on our relationship or cause problems for us, but it didn’t stay that way. I knew that I needed to be in church and I wanted to take my son with me but his dad would tell me “You are NOT taking my son to church.” He would literally stand in front of the door and argue with me and not let me leave with the baby. It never became physical, but it did become a verbally abusive situation and it intensified the more I went to church. But I KNEW I had to be there. I had God so deep in my heart it was where I needed to be.
Gena: Did things eventually get better?
Netty: No they didn’t. He began tearing down my self esteem. Saying things like “You can’t leave me.” “No one is ever going to want you.” He started withholding money from me. One day I needed milk for the baby and he wouldn’t give me any money to buy it. I did the only thing I knew to do. I prayed. I said “God. I need milk for my son. I need you to help provide it.” That SAME day my phone started ringing with clients that wanted me to do their hair and I ended up making $200.00. God provided above and beyond what I needed or imagined
Gena: As things got worse for you at home, what did you do? How did you handle it?
Netty: We separated, but because of finances we were still living together. While that was going on, I just kept praying that the day I moved out would be a smooth transition. I was able to save enough money and move into my own place and again, God was faithful. My son’s dad bought me a used car and hired movers to help me with my stuff and he continued to be supportive. It was so crazy, but I knew it had to be the Lord for him to have that kind of attitude about it.
Gena: Did you and your son’s dad reconcile?
Netty: No. He thought we would, but I knew we didn’t need to be together. He stayed somewhat in my son’s life, helped with bills and stuff, but then he got arrested and went to jail; and I found my self in a situation where my electricity was going to be shut off.
And it’s wintertime in Cleveland, Ohio. I didn’t know what to do so I went to the pastor of the church I was attending to ask for assistance. I’m sitting in his office, my pride gone, explaining my story and the whole time he was doing other things, and ignored me. At the end of my story he stops what he is doing, looks at me and says “Well. You have enough money to get your hair done every week.” Implying that I was using my electricity bill money to go to the salon. Little did he know that I did my own hair.
Netty: I was so shocked and hurt. I walked out of the church in tears feeling so broken and humiliated, but in that moment I heard God say, “Never again. You won’t ever have to come back to this place again.”
Gena: What happened? Did you get money for the bill?
Netty: My electricity WAS turned off, but someone else in the church heard about my situation and even though they didn’t have the money to help with my bill, they did give me military grade sleeping bags. They were so thick and heavy, it was exactly what we needed to stay warm at night. The cold only lasted a few days, and by then I was able to pay my bill and get everything turned back on.
Gena: With that kind of humiliation and hurt didn’t you feel betrayed by God?
Netty: Oh I never lost faith in God, but in that moment, I could’ve lost faith in man and church leadership because of how wounded and hurt I was. But I have never, ever lost faith in God. Man isn’t my source, God is. I’ve heard it said “how can you have faith for a wedding cake, if you can’t believe for a donut?” I’ve believed for a lot of “donuts” in my life, and I know that’s why my faith in the Lord is so strong.
Gena: How did you get from Cleveland to Columbus, Ohio?
Netty: The way things where going I felt like I needed more than “this.” I was doing hair and also began working for a corporate company. The whole time I was working, I kept asking God to increase every area of my life. One day while I was at my corporate job, a fax about a position at company headquarters, came into our office. I read it and said “God, you said I can do all things through you, so here I go.” I faxed my resume to the headquarters in Columbus. A few days later they asked me to drive in for an interview, and I ended up with job! They gave me moving expenses, phone numbers for child care providers in my area, helped me find an apartment and took care of my utilities.
Gena: You were a single mom getting ready to move a couple of hours away with your son. What was the reaction from your family and friends?
Netty: My son was three -years old, and when his dad found out we were moving he started threatening to take my son away from me. My family wasn’t supportive and just kept saying to me “You don’t know anybody in Columbus. You aren’t going to make it. You’ll be back.” I had all that negativity in my ear, but I knew I needed to go. God took care of us, from the apartment that we moved into, to the grandmotherly Christian neighbor and her daughter that helped take care of my son while I worked. God just worked it all out.
Gena: Your faith in God sustained you during that time. How did you adjust when you got to Columbus? Did you get involved with churches or groups?
Netty: Yes. It was almost Thanksgiving and my neighbor asked me if I wanted to go to church with her. We went on a Sunday morning and sat in the risers. I was overwhelmed by God’s presence. We made plans to go back that night, and before we left to go back to the church, I said to the Lord, “I have $15.00 to my name, you know we have things we need and you’re a God who provides.” After service, my neighbor introduced me to some of the singers. One of them handed me a piece of paper and said, “I don’t know why, but I want you to take this paper, go to that door, and tell them I sent you.” I walked over to the door he pointed to and a lady took the paper from me. She said, “I need you to pull your car around to this entrance and wait for us we are going to give you some stuff.” They loaded my car down with an entire Thanksgiving meal, including a turkey and all the sides. That was in 1994. After that, I got involved in the church and began singing and acting in church productions.
Gena: Talk to me about dating as a single mom. How did that fit into your life?
Netty: It didn’t. I hadn’t been on a date in years. My son’s dad was absent from his life and due to circumstances, the situation was very difficult. When we would visit his dad, I would have to take shoelaces out of my son’s shoes, empty my purse, empty pockets, and be searched, just so they could see each other. I spent a lot of time reading my Bible and praying. I felt like I was being formed and fashioned like Esther. To be honest, that time as a single mom was so precious, even though it was hard.
Gena: You didn’t date for the first year or so while in Columbus. But you’re married to a Law Enforcement Officer. How did that happen?
Netty: I was volunteering as a cheerleading coach for 4-5 year old girls. We practiced on the same nights as the 9-10 year old boy’s football team. During cheer practice my son would go watch the “big boys” practice. One night the football coach and I were stuck at the fields, waiting on parents and we started a friendly conversation. After that, we would run into each other at social outings and eventually found out we had mutual friends. We always seemed to be in the same places as each other. Our friendship grew and we started courting on Memorial Day 1999. I say courting because we never kissed or touched before our wedding day. He would only kiss the back of my hand. He told me that he had so much respect for me as a woman of God that he wouldn’t touch me until we were married. Our courtship was filled with very long walks where we talked about EVERYTHING.
Gena: When did you know he was the one?
Netty: I had been on the platform singing and when I was finished, he walked to the bottom of the stairs and as I walked toward him I could just see his love for me radiating all over him, I knew in that moment he loved me before he even said it and I knew I loved him. That night on our walk he actually told me that he loved me. We got married on August 28, 1999.
Gena: Your son was seven when you were married, how did he handle sharing you with someone else? How did your husband deal with becoming a step-dad?
Netty: We adjusted fairly easily because my son and husband already had a relationship with each other. We also went to pre-marital counseling and talked about every aspect of marriage including step-parenting.
Gena: Was your son’s dad still in contact with you? Did he and your son see each other?
Netty: We were still in touch with each other. I wanted my son to attend a private school, and I prayed for God to make a way. His kindergarten year, his tuition was taken care of by an anonymous donor. After that, because I never took his dad to court, we made an arrangement that his dad would pay for the tuition and half of the uniforms, and I took care of everything else from his day-to-day needs, to doctor visits, extra curricular activities, etc. His dad stopped paying tuition when my son was in 4th grade and my husband stepped up and took care of all the tuition and uniforms and continued to do so all the way through graduation. As far as my son and his dad seeing each other, they did, but my son started to act out. It was hard, because his dad would make promises, like paying for the school, and then not follow through. I’m thankful my husband stepped in to help raise him.
Gena: What about expanding your family did you want to have more children together?
Netty: We wanted to have more kids, but we focused on us for the first two years, and then we had a little girl. When my son was TWENTY and my daughter was TEN we were HAPPILY SURPRISED surprised with a baby boy. My husband always wanted a son and had already picked the name out before I ever got pregnant.
Gena: Your husband is in law enforcement, and for safety I’m not using his name or showing any pictures of him. What is it like for you, watching him walk out the door everyday, knowing he’s stepping into the front lines?
Netty: When my husband told me he wanted to get involved with law enforcement, I was pregnant with our daughter, and my first response was “For what city?” I was hesitant at first. But I knew as his wife, that I needed to be supportive. When he passed all the exams and we got the letter for his city assignment, we found out the Chief of Police was a born again Christian and that gave me a lot of peace.
Gena: How do you overcome fear and anxiety when it comes to his safety?
Netty: There have been very few times over the past 16 years that I have been afraid for his life. The most anxious I have been was when the tensions between civilians and law enforcement escalated. The police were being targeted all over the country and things where getting heated between everyone. I was very concerned. As he would sleep, I would lay my hands on his back and pray for his protection. In the moments of my greatest fear for him, I knew that the Lord had him. I believe my faith level is where it is today because there have been moments where I had no other choice but to trust the Lord.
Gena: How do you support him at home?
Netty: He doesn’t really talk about what he sees and deals with at work. There have been a few times where he felt like he needed to talk about it, but he usually doesn’t. I’m respectful of that. I don’t nag or ask for details. If he talks I just listen. At night when he’s sleeping I will put my hands on his back and ask God to give him peace, strength and health to do his job. The kids are not fearful for him; we just don’t operate in that sort of mentality.
Gena: How are things now with your extended family?
Netty: My biological father apologized for how he acted and what he said and my Grandmother and I had a great relationship until she passed away. When my mom comes to visit me she will go to church with us, and now as an adult she and I talk more about God than we ever have. I’ve watched her minister to other people, she has changed from when I was a young child. I give credit to my mother, my grandma and momma D, for who I am today.
Gena: What does your story look like these days?
Netty: Besides being mom and wife, I work as a recruiter for my company. But God has opened doors for my creative talents. I have been scrapbooking for 15 years and travel to other states, teaching classes and working as a design team member with scrapbooking companies. I’ve also started doing photography for weddings and recently, my cosmetology background has allowed me to become a make up artist.
I’m also singing and really feel like this year, I’ll release a CD. I’m going to be ordained as a minister, which is one of the most important things, besides getting married, having kids and getting saved, that I have ever done. I’m in awe because I never thought I would be doing all of this. I want to encourage all the women and girls to allow God to show you what is on the inside of you and He will help you. He has already given you the talent, but you have to trust Him and be willing to work with the tools you have so He can take you where He wants you to be.
Gena: How would you sum up your Stunningly Strong Story?
Netty: I am 46 years old and even in the toughest moments of my life He has shown himself faithful and strong. He has NEVER forsaken me.
Gena’s PS: Due to the nature of his work, I’ve had to leave out her husband’s name and pictures. Most of the photos are stock photos to enhance her story. If you are a single mom, a first responders wife, or someone who wants to hear more of Netty’s story and you would like to reach out to her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get you in touch with her. xoxo