Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Tammy’s Story: A Home Called Grace (p1)

When Tammy was 16, she was living on the streets. Her father was dead. Her mother was pursuing a better life somewhere else. Her twin sister was too drugged to care. She was alone.

Now, 25 years later, she is the mother to 46 children in South Asia. This is her story.

In the World, Alone

Tammy only met her father a half-dozen times before he died of brain cancer. Her parents divorced when she was 5 and her mother quickly moved on to other men. Home provided no stability.

Her twin sister dropped out of school when she was 16. The educational path was not for her. She preferred the punk rock scene. After a few failed trips to rehab, she decided to strike out on her own. Today, punk rock is a fashion statement. In the late 80’s, it was a lifestyle—spiked hair, drugs, loud music, rebellion. Her sister lived the life.

Punk scene in Atlanta, 1980s.

Punk scene in Atlanta, 1980s.

When Tammy’s mom decided to move away with a new man, she was left to join her sister. In 1988, Atlanta was the number one city for crime in the nation. That year there were 176.2 crimes per 1000 residents. Tammy moved right into the middle of it all. Little Five Points was a mix of punk kids, homeless men, and addicts. Tammy lived in a run down apartment full of teenagers and runaways; all of her belongings stuffed into the trunk of her beat up hatchback.

Unlike her twin, Tammy liked school. She was smart and loved learning. College was the only path she could see out of her current life. She was determined to do well.

She and her sister bounced from place to place and Tammy tried to hold things together. However, when one of her roommates stole her last possessions out of her car, she knew she needed to get out. There was no future in that place. She got a job and rented another apartment, leaving her last family member behind.

Tammy managed to make it through high school with good grades while providing for herself financially. She was completely on her own—school in the morning, work in the evenings and on the weekends. She only had just enough.

To her surprise, she received a scholarship to attend the University of Georgia when she graduated.

40 Watt Club in Athens, GA. Christina LeMarr (Creative Commons

Photo credit Christina LeMarr (Creative Commons

By college, she as life-hardened. The student party scene provided an escape. The University of Georgia had at least two things in abundance: bars with cheap beer for students and good southern religious folks. Tammy loved the first and hated the second.

It was not that she had anything against God, just that he clearly did not exist. The first time another student asked her about God, she looked back at him as if he asked her about unicorns. Besides, she saw his kind every night in the bars getting wasted.

Tammy was good at arguing. She was logical and philosophical. Once, she was in the study lounge of her dorm and made a negative comment about God. Another girl—a sweet southern belle—spoke up.

“Don’t you believe in God?” she drawled.

“Of course not. Don’t be ridiculous,” Tammy scoffed.

“But what about the Bible? The Bible says that God exists.”

“Well I can write on this paper that aliens exist and that won’t be much more proof,” she mocked. “Can you prove the Bible is true?”

“Well, in the Bible it says . . .”

“You can’t prove a book with the book! Of course, the Bible thinks its true! Can YOU prove its true?”

“Well . . .”

“Can you? Prove it!” Tammy saw a weakness and was going for the kill. “If you can’t prove it, then it’s not true.”

The girl turned her head and collected her books. As she left the lounge, Tammy could see the tears running down her cheeks. She felt a twinge of remorse for bringing her classmate to tears, but was justified in her logic. To her, the case was clear.

Tammy made it through her freshman year working 20 hours a week and maintaining a full school load. She was doing well, but was unhappy.

Towards the end of her sophomore year, she met a student named Michelle. Michelle claimed to be a Christian but was different from the other religious students she had met. She was patient with Tammy. She seemed to really care and actually took time to try and answer Tammy’s questions.

Tammy started reading the books Michelle gave her. Eventually, she even went with her to a meeting of her Christian student group—the Wesley Foundation. It was the closest thing to a church Tammy had ever entered.  For the first time, she met students living out what they believed. She was taken in by their kindness and friendship.

At the Wesley Foundation, Tammy also met Tom, the leader of the campus group. Tom proved more prepared than the girl in the study lounge. After a number of long discussions, he offered her a challenge: ask God if he exists. He encouraged her to ask, “God, if you are real, show yourself to me.”

His argument met Tammy’s logical criteria. What did she have to lose?

If God is not real, she loses nothing.
If God is real, and she doesn’t ask, she loses everything.
If God is real, she gains everything.

Tammy began to pray and read the Bible for herself.  Near the end of the semester, Michelle asked how her experiment was going.

“I don’t know,” Tammy replied.

“Do you believe in God now?” Michelle asked.

“Yes, I think I do.”

“Do you believe the Bible is true?”


“Do you believe in Jesus?”


“Are you ready to give your life to God?”

“No way,” Tammy exclaimed, remembering the Christians she had seen in the bars her freshman year. “I don’t want to be a faker, claiming to give all my life to God and only giving him half of it. I would rather give him nothing at all. Then I won’t let him down.”

Michelle shrugged her shoulders. “Well, that’s what God wants—everything.”

It was a fork in the road.

When Tammy fell asleep that night she was unsure. By the morning, she knew what she wanted. She wanted to know God, even if it cost her everything. Sitting on the edge of her dorm room bed, she gave all of her life to God and waited to see what would happen next.

One thing she did know, she was no longer alone.

[Read part two of Tammy’s story here]

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