She just wanted to be loved. She just wanted somebody — anybody — to tell her that she was smart or funny or pretty. Instead, Kendra heard that she was ugly and undesirable ....
And a mistake.
Daddy told Kendra how he was drunk when she was conceived; how Mommy had tricked him into getting her pregnant; how it never would have happened if he had been sober. Daddy also told Kendra that she would turn out just like her mother. Whether that meant she would be an addict or an AIDS patient didn't really matter. Whatever he meant, Kendra didn't like it. Whatever he meant, Mommy was still dead.
Mommy passed away when Kendra was 10. Like most 10-year-olds, Kendra didn't know much about AIDS or how Mommy got it, but she knew enough. She knew it was a disease people died from.
Kendra remembers visiting the hospital, her mother on life support.
"She was holding her hand out to me, trying to get me to come to her," she recalls. "But I was afraid."
It was her last memory of Mommy alive.
A broken road
Kendra went to live with Aunt Tricia, but — unlike Mommy — Aunt Tricia had rules. By high school, Kendra had started skipping classes, and then skipping school altogether. Aunt Tricia was done. "You're going to live with your father," she said.
Staying with Daddy was Kendra's punishment. Her father's insults were now routine, and she eventually started believing them.
"I wanted anybody to love me," she says. "I would try to get close to my friends' moms so they could love me. That's how it started with the boys. I wanted what I saw in the movies. I wanted to be loved like that."
Any boy who gave her attention — a compliment or even just a smile — Kendra ran with it. All the way.
"I ended up giving my body to different boys in school. That cycle began in high school, and it lasted well into my adult years."
Pleading to God
By age 21, Kendra was a single mother on her own. Her daughter's father had evaporated, but she had a good job as a medical assistant, a new apartment and some money in the bank.
The only nights Kendra wasn't out drinking were when she couldn't find a baby sitter. Weekends, weekdays, didn't matter. Yet regardless how late she stayed out on Saturday, Kendra was in church come Sunday morning. She'd listen to the sermon and tell herself she was going to change, but that conviction never made it past the sanctuary doors.
Convincing herself that she needed extra money, Kendra became a stripper.
"I thought that men loved strippers," she says. "You can control men with your body. I wanted ... just to be wanted."
She assisted patients during the day and danced for men at night, while her daughter stayed with family or friends — sometimes for days at a time. Kendra eventually quit dancing and tried to settle down, but a broken engagement and two failed pregnancies left her barren and lonely. She'd spent a lifetime looking for others to fulfill her, to complete her, and now no one was even answering the phone.
"It was just me and God. I got down on my knees, and I was screaming, I was crying, I was praying, ‘Lord, please, I don't wanna feel like this anymore.'
"I said, ‘Lord, You got it. I won't call on anybody else. The only person I should be dependent on is You.' It didn't get better right away, but that was the moment I realized, when nobody else answers the phone, I can always call on Jesus."
A fresh start
Not long after that night on her knees, Kendra got a new job at a doctor's office. She had stopped drinking, but she was struggling to remain abstinent and her daughter was acting out. It was her new co-worker Mayerlin who told Kendra about a radio program called Focus on the Family.
"It had such a big impact," Mayerlin says. "She would come in each morning and tell me what she heard and how she was going to make changes in her life. It just encouraged her to seek God more."
Kendra related to host Jim Daly and his story of losing his mother at a young age.
"From the very first show, I was hooked," Kendra says. "I've gotten tools and advice that I don't think I would have learned anywhere else."
Mayerlin says Kendra has realized the power of forgiveness and the damage associated with sex outside of marriage. And the positive changes she's seen in Kendra have overflowed into her daughter's life.
"Focus on the Family helped her become a better mother and is preparing her to be a good wife."