Choosing Life

Childhood hadn’t been easy for Chantel. Her family was torn apart by drug and alcohol abuse, leaving Chantel’s older sister to raise her until she became a teenager. At 13, Chantel went to live with her father — her mother still plagued by drug and alcohol problems. Chantel blamed God for her broken family and thought He was punishing her for mistakes she’d made as a little girl.

But by the time her junior year of high school rolled around, things seemed to be looking up for Chantel. She was at the top of her class, chief editor of the yearbook, on the honor roll and she excelled in Advanced Placement courses. Chantel had plenty to look forward to: summer wasn’t too far off and pretty soon she’d be making plans for college.

Facing the unexpected

One day, about a week after she had broken up with her boyfriend, Chantel was eating in the lunchroom when a close friend came to sit with her and teasingly asked, “Are you pregnant?” The question had been a running joke between the two girls, so Chantel simply laughed and said, “There’s too much good stuff going on right now and it’s almost summer. No way!”

Having a baby was the last thing on Chantel’s mind. That is, until she started feeling sick in the morning and her friend’s question began to haunt her. She picked up a pregnancy test from the store. Alone and afraid, she found out she was carrying a tiny life inside. “When I found out I was pregnant, I had a breakdown,” she said. “For once in my life, there had been so much good going on. I was applying to college and looking forward to a better future.”

Barriers and letdowns

In an effort to seek guidance at school, Chantel met with a counselor. The same person who had helped her apply for college and encouraged her to pursue her dreams told her that she probably wouldn’t even graduate from high school. The counselor and a principal told Chantel she needed to transfer to an alternative school for pregnant and struggling teenagers. They told her she was no longer fit to go to their school. She would be too much of a distraction for the other kids. And although she would be allowed to participate on the yearbook staff, she lost her position as chief editor.

For the little girl who had come a long way since childhood, life was again falling apart. Just as she had in the past, Chantel blamed God for her struggles and believed He was punishing her. God seemed to be some distant deity who took pleasure in her misfortune because she couldn’t seem to make Him happy. But God had a surprise in store for Chantel. He was about to make a very different impression on her — one of a personal, loving God who deeply cared about her.

When Chantel’s senior year began, she had transferred to the alternative
school and dreaded every day she spent there. “I remember thinking, ‘I’m not like these girls. They have issues. I shouldn’t have to be here,’” Chantel said. Although she had been demoted, Chantel was grateful to be tied to her old school through yearbook staff. “Yearbook was the only connection I had to who I was before I got pregnant,” she said. It was also an avenue to stay in touch with friends, one of whom had a mother who worked for Young Life. In the past, Chantel had been invited to Young Life, but didn’t want anything to do with it. “I knew there would be a message about God and I didn’t want to hear it — I was too angry with Him,” she said.

Birth and rebirth

January came around, and so did finals and Chantel’s due date. Because of her Advanced Placement classes, she had enough credits to finish her senior year early and graduate at semester’s end. Her daughter, Jaidyn, was born Jan. 7.

A month later, the mother of Chantel’s friend from yearbook called and again invited her to Young Life. She explained a bit more about the Young Lives program and asked Chantel to come. This time, Chantel said yes. When she got there, she was skeptical — surely she didn’t fit in with these girls. Much like when she arrived at the alternative school, Chantel judged the other girls at Young Lives. “I again thought, ‘I’m not like these girls. They’re a mess,’” Chantel said. But then the night began. “I remember the games that night, they were so fun. They really broke down the walls I had walked in with,” she said. That night, Chantel also connected with a Young Lives leader: Quincy Young Life’s area director, Christy Bakker. She remembers, “Christine was real. I could tell she genuinely cared about me and the other girls. That made it easy to talk with her.”

Over the course of a month, Chantel and Bakker met several times. They talked about Chantel’s feelings toward God and Bakker explained God’s love for Chantel — how He had sent His Son to die for her so that He could have a relationship with her. She told Chantel that God wasn’t punishing her, rather, that He was there for her, wanting to help her and that He had incredible plans for her future. Desperately needing His help, and realizing that God loved her and wanted to walk alongside her, Chantel decided to accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and began a new relationship with God. “My view of God went from punishing and distant to loving and very personal. Because of Christine, I finally understood that I could have a real relationship with God by having a relationship with the Son He sent to die for me,” Chantel said.

Set free for others

Bakker soon asked Chantel if she would be willing to meet with an older lady named Mary Schullian. “Mary and I immediately hit it off,” Chantel said. Although Schullian was 68 at the time, the two were inseparable from the start. Schullian said, “There’s never been a time when Chantel didn’t want to talk to me.”

The two went to camp together and Chantel helped Schullian share the story of Christ’s love with another girl in their cabin. Talking about God’s desire to be in a relationship with us and about His mighty rescue plan carried out by sending His Son, was an experience that both blessed and humbled Chantel. “It was amazing to be able to share ‘the story’ with a peer who desperately needed to hear it. It’s humbling to feel like God can, and wants to, use me to draw other girls to Him.” Several times a month, Chantel and Schullian get together to pray and talk about life. Schullian has encouraged Chantel to follow her dreams and to pursue her education. Chantel is now in her junior year of college and finishing a degree in accounting while working at two jobs. “When everyone else told me I couldn’t do it, Mary told me I could,” Chantel said.

Last September, Chantel became a junior leader with Young Lives. Leslie Henry, another leader and Young Life staff person, has known Chantel for three years. “Chantel has changed,” Henry said. “She knows Christ can do amazing things, and she wants to know what that means for her. Her faith is fresh and freeing,” Henry said. It’s a faith that’s freed Chantel from childhood disappointments and past regrets. God’s gift of salvation has motivated her to live life to the fullest and help other teenage moms do the same.