“Originally, we were just going to the movies.” Lindsey Mann, now 28, pictures her awkward, 7th grade self with two friends from Ponchatoula, Louisiana—nearly an hour away from Lindsey’s home in New Orleans. The three tweens enjoyed frequent hangouts and sleepovers at Lindsey’s house on the weekends. But on this particular weekend, Lindsey invited another girl—one she desperately wanted to befriend. “There was a girl from school I had been asking and asking to hang out with,” she recalls. “I told her, ‘Hey, I have these friends coming over. Why don’t we come to your house to get ready and then all go to the movies?’” Lindsey slowly shakes her head. “That’s not what happened.”
After the girls met up, Lindsey decided to swing by her house around the corner for a change of clothes. “When I walked out of the room, I heard the girl from my school start talking about me.” Lindsey remembers stopping to press her ear against the door. She froze like helpless prey, readying herself to be devoured. “Why do you hang out with Lindsey?” Lindsey winced. “She’s such a nerd. No one likes her.” The 12-year-old “friend” ranted on, criticizing Lindsey’s hair, weight, personality. Finally, Lindsey headed for her house. She bolted through the front door, wiping away tears as she went, and stormed into her older sister’s room. She snatched a bag of makeup, then rushed to her own room in search of the most exotic clothes she could find.
That night, the four girls ditched the movies for a teen club, per “nerdy” Lindsey’s suggestion. “From that point on,” she says. “It just got worse.”
An Elusive Self
By the time Lindsey entered college, she’d lost her sense of self. “I got into a bad crowd and started going to clubs, drinking, smoking,” she says. “I was just trying to find somewhere to fit in.” As Lindsey’s personality warped and waned, her lifestyle began to reflect the battle inside her. She started dating other girls. She bounced between four majors, then dropped out of college. She accepted any job that would pay for bills, new clothes, and—of course—more parties. “I was always changing to be somebody else.”
Eventually, Lindsey and her long-time girlfriend started working at a veterinary clinic alongside several students who’d moved from Dallas, Texas, to plant a church in New Orleans. “They kept telling me about Saints Community Church (SCC) and inviting me to the opening day,” she says. Lindsey had been to church before and wasn’t particularly excited about returning. In fact, she may have never returned if it weren’t for a recent conversation with her grandmother. “She was on hospice and knew she only had a couple of days left, so she asked to speak to me alone.” Lindsey’s voice softens as she shares her grandma’s words. “I thought I had more time than this,” she mused aloud, then looked at Lindsey. “You need to get your life under control. If for no one else, do it for me.” She gripped Lindsey’s hand—tight, tender, as though their clasped fingers could keep her present. Her voice cracked, “I’m excited to see how your life changes.”
On SCC’s opening day, Lindsey sat in a folding chair next to her girlfriend as Pastor Wayne took the stage, and in the center of that middle school auditorium her life began to change. “The entire time Pastor Wayne was preaching and his wife Kristi was playing keys, I was just smiling and crying,” she grins. Pastor Wayne closed the service with an altar call, and Lindsey couldn’t help but respond. “This is it,” she thought. “This is what my grandmother was talking about. This is God’s way of reaching out to me.”
From that point on, Lindsey’s life finally took a turn for the better.
A Woman of God
Soon after, Lindsey walked away from the aimless, unstable personality she’d adopted a decade earlier. She left her group of friends as well as her girlfriend and began making friends at SCC and working in the children’s ministry. “Through faith in what God was doing in me, I started getting a lot of direction in my life.” Eventually, Pastor Wayne invited Lindsey to share her testimony on stage. “I was a very shy person, so it was difficult,” she says. “But it opened doors for other people to approach me and say, ‘This is the same thing I went through!’ It gave me a lot of confidence to share my story and help people not be ashamed.”
In the years since, God has continued to move radically in Lindsey’s life. He’s revealed her heart for children, He’s blessed her with a loving husband, and He’s opened her eyes to see the woman He designed her to be. “In 7th grade, you really have no idea who you are,” she says. “When that girl said those things about me, I tried really hard to change. But what matters is who God made me to be.” Today, Lindsey is back in college, pursuing a teaching degree so she can instill this message in others. “I am goofy and bubbly and all of the things I used to try to hide. All of the things I used to think people would judge me for are now the things people love me for.” Lindsey smiles—genuine and confident. “When people see me now, I want them to see joy. I want them to see happiness. I want them to see God.”