by: Sisaundra Lewis | October 16, 2017
I am a PK—a preacher’s kid. My father was a lead pastor and my mother a missionary, so I grew up knowing about the Lord and being taught how to call on His precious name. At the age of five, I was baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and accepted Him as my personal Lord and Savior. Because of the community of faith I was raised in, I had a good understanding of what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus. This understanding has been the foundation upon which I’ve built my life.
I came from the most humble beginnings. Our family didn’t have much, but for what we lacked materially, God gifted us with joy, strength, and love. We ministered to others with the limited resources we had, and as a result, God blessed us continually. In addition to being ministers of the Word, my parents were also migrant workers who harvested fruit. For 16 years, my family and I (parents and seven siblings) travelled to Florida, New York, and Michigan to harvest citrus, cherries, and apples. As kids, our lives revolved around school, church, and work—there wasn’t time for anything else.
For so long, I was embarrassed of that young girl in the groves. She was so awkward, unlike the other kids her age. When I finally stepped out of the groves and onto a stage to sing before thousands of people, I was warned, “Don’t tell anyone where you come from.” So I didn’t. And in the process, I hid an incredible part of my life, because it was in the groves that I became who I am today. It was there that I learned to rely on the Lord’s strength and made a true connection with Him. It was there that I learned the art of perseverance and developed a good work ethic. And it was under the blue skies that I found joy in my gift of singing.
It’s time to tell my story, all of it. For years, I allowed people to see only the more pleasant parts of my life. Today, I am sharing the full story, hoping that someone, maybe even you, will find inspiration to know that, regardless of where you come from or how disadvantaged you are or how poorly you have been treated, there is hope. Life can be tough, even cruel at times, but God can take anyone’s life and transform it into something amazing.
Now, let me tell you about the bullying that I endured at the hand of others. From kindergarten until high school, I was bullied mercilessly. I was a preacher’s kid who worked in the fields—I was an easy target. It didn’t help that I had big feet and kinky hair. My peers made certain that I felt like I was the ugliest little thing in existence.
The bullying was so intense, it captured the attention of my teachers. They would remove me from these situations by sending me to other classrooms to sing. When I opened my heart and my mouth to sing, it would ultimately close the mouth of my bully.
I realized very quickly that this gift was my protection. Singing made me special; it made people stop picking on me. That motivated me to be the best singer I could be. I didn’t want people to notice my hair or my feet or that I was a migrant worker and a preacher’s kid. I wanted them to see God and the gift He had put inside me.
In 1988, I moved to Atlanta. I was 18. The only way I know how to describe what happened next is to compare it to a high school basketball player being thrust right into the NBA. There I was—suddenly invited into a huge world of iconic recording artists. Only God could have opened the doors of opportunities that I experienced, including performing on five world tours with Celine Dion. These incredible experiences not only allowed me to sing on platforms across the world, but to also train top vocal artists in the music industry.
Many people enter the entertainment industry and become lost. Fortunately, I didn’t. It didn’t take long for me to realize that nothing this world has to offer compares to God. I knew my purpose on stage was to minister God’s love and hope to the world through whatever song I sang. All I’ve ever wanted to do is to share my love for singing and perhaps inspire others through the gift God has given me. I am so thankful for the amazing doors of opportunity He has opened for me to do just that. His outpouring of love, favor, and opportunities has sometimes been difficult to receive. Who am I to be so blessed by God? I’m just a little girl from the groves. He could have chosen anyone, but He chose me.
For years I felt guilty about my success. I would look at my humble beginnings and see so many loved ones and friends still in those hard places. How could I enjoy all that He had given me when others I knew were still waiting on their dreams to happen? I felt guilty over God’s blessings. Isn’t that crazy?!
I’ve struggled to feel worthy of God’s love, His time, and the material blessings He poured out on my life. For so long, I could see only the girl the world loathed; I couldn’t imagine that there was anything in me worthy of good.
Yet, God continually showers me with His love. He shows me daily that I am worth everything to Him. He’s chosen to use me and bless me. I don’t think I’ll ever understand it, but I’m learning to embrace it.
The guilt I carried kept me from truly enjoying life and embracing the gifts of my Heavenly Father—especially the gift of rest. Inside, I still identified with that hardworking girl in the groves who always knew there was another day of work ahead. My past makes me driven to work, and I find it difficult to enjoy even simple things like sitting in a chair by the pool. But living without rest leads to illness. A few years ago, I was at my doctor’s office, looking for an answer to what ailed me. His diagnosis was unexpected and surprising. He stated, “Sisaundra, you are as healthy as can be. Your problem is that you live in a constant state of guilt and fear.”
Guilt I recognized, but fear? What was I afraid of? Through some serious soul searching, God has revealed areas where the enemy had me bound through fear. I’m afraid of disappointing people. I’m afraid I might lose what God has so abundantly blessed me with. My life was so hard as a child; what if I lose all that I’ve gained? These fears have made it difficult for me to fully enjoy the moments of my life—but now I realize God does not intend for me to carry such burdens.
My journey to freedom began in 2013, right before I appeared on the national television show, The Voice. Perhaps you remember me singing my heart out, smiling for the camera, and strutting across the stage with my short blond hair. Well, let me tell you a little story about the hair that has become my signature look.
Right before I auditioned for The Voice, I went to my hairstylist to have my hair colored and cut. The stylist left the chemicals on too long and burned my hair off. I mean, all of it! This nappy-headed girl was bald headed! I had to go to the emergency room to be treated for chemical burns and then spent a month at home with bandages around my head. I was so embarrassed and once again found myself facing that “I’m ugly and unacceptable” mindset I’d run from for so long.
I spent a month being a total recluse, until my friend intervened and said, “Girl, you have to get out of that house!” With some encouragement from my kids, I departed from my hiding place and met my friend on the side of the road. He had a wig in hand. I put it on, and suddenly, I felt pretty again. The problem was solved…until it was time for me to take off the wig.
After days of this emotional turmoil, I was finished. This was ridiculous. How could a wig and the opinions of others have so much power? It was time to quit hiding and face the world. It was time to embrace me, the real me, and quit worrying what the world thought. I embraced the new me by going to the barber and having my hair cut low and colored blond. And that’s how I walked onstage before millions on The Voice.
You know what’s amazing? As I stepped out and embraced myself, others found the courage to embrace their true selves, also. Women started cutting their hair off and bleaching it blond! Countless people told me how beautiful my look was—while all I could think was, if you only knew my story. Funny how people desire what you have without knowing the history behind it.
Well, now you know…
I’m a preacher’s kid; I was a migrant worker; I’m a child of God…and I am still a work in progress. At this moment, He is peeling away layers of guilt and fear. But as I face them and share them, I’m discovering freedom. I’m beginning to love and embrace the person God created me to be. He has given me beauty for ashes.
This article first appeared in Victorious Living Magazine.