By His stripes we are healed. ---Isaiah 53:5, NKJV
My mother almost died on the day she had me: December 31, 1995. As Mom
gripped the arm rails of her hospital bed in Newport News, Virginia, a
doctor and nurse tripped over themselves trying to stop her from
bleeding to death. No one could figure out exactly why she was
hemorrhaging so badly, but they finally gave Mom a series of medications
that made her blood clot. An hour later, a nurse bundled me up and
placed my six-pound, five-ounce body in Mom's arms—that warm spot
I've returned to a thousand times since.
Back then, cash was tight. Very tight. I'm the baby in my family, and
that made me the last of four mouths to feed. Since three of those
mouths arrived back to back (Mom was prego every year between 1993 and
1995, and each birth came with major complications), my mother had to be
on bed rest. So Mom let go of her job as a bank teller, a position that
only paid about $20,000 a year; and my father, who worked on and off at
various jobs, wasn't bringing in much money. That's why my mother and
father loaded up a U-Haul trailer and moved us all to Oklahoma so we
could find a fresh start.
Mom had once dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But after she had Arielle in
1989, she set aside college at Norfolk State University in order to keep
food on the table. A couple years later, when she was twenty-one, she
met my father and they got married. As they considered a move from
Virginia to Tulsa, Oklahoma, after I was born, the plan was for my
mother to go to Bible school and for my dad—who already had a
background in ministry—to continue his training. At the time, my
parents were both part of a movement called Word of Faith, a set of
teachings that involves claiming and standing by God's promises in the
Bible. So Tulsa—a city filled with Word of Faith mega-churches and
Bible schools—was the perfect spot.
When we rolled into Tulsa in February 1996, my family drove right into
one of the worst situations we've ever survived. My mother and father
had scrounged up a thousand or so bucks to cover the deposit and rent on
an apartment, but because of a miscommunication between my parents and
the owner, that place fell through. So rather than sinking all their
money into a hotel, my parents first looked around for apartment
vacancies. When they couldn't find a single rental that was in their
budget, we ended up living in the only place that wouldn't cost them a
cent—the floor of our blue Dodge van.
So that's how we became homeless—as in parked in a dark, damp, and
rundown lot for several months. Why didn't they reach out to their
families for help? Because Mom was sick and tired of asking her own
parents to lend us money, so she just wanted to stick it out this time.
When my mother called her mom from a pay phone— not many cell
phones back then!—my grandmother kept asking, "What's your
"I felt humiliated," Mom once told me when I asked her about the
experience. "We removed a bucket seat from the back of the van so that
we'd all have more space to lie down, huddle together, and try to sleep
at night." After lifting me up to her breast to feed me, Mom would rock
me in her arms. Later, after my mother had patted me on my back till I
was asleep, she'd carefully spread a napkin on the floor to prepare the
only daily meal our family could afford—peanut butter and jelly
sandwiches. "And since we'd gotten to Tulsa right in the middle of
winter," Mom recalls, "it felt like it was below freezing some nights."
Just to keep us warm, Mom dressed my sisters and brother in every shirt,
pants, underwear, and socks she could find. With all those layers, my
siblings must have looked like little stuffed animals! My sister Arielle
was already six at the time, so Mom enrolled her in school by using the
address of a post-office box. In between shuttling Arielle back and
forth to first grade with the few drops of gas we had in our van, Mom
practiced the alphabet with Joyelle, who was two, and John, who was one.
For hours, our mother would entertain them with stories or let them
color while my father, who worked sporadically as a day laborer, was
away from the van. At just two and a half months old, I lay there next
to all of them, wrapped in every blanket Mom could find.
That April, my parents' tax refund check showed up in their temporary PO
Box—and that gave us enough money to move into a small room in a
Super 8 hotel. But after two months of shelling out $50 a night, they'd
blown through every dime of their money. In place of cash, my parents
began making promises to the hotel manager that they would pay up
soon—and that worked until their bill climbed to more than $300.
So one afternoon when we were away from the hotel, the manager evicted
us from our room and removed our few belongings. In fact, just to get
our suitcases back, my grandmother had to wire some money—by this
time, Mom had 'fessed up to her parents that she and Dad were flat
broke. Once that money ran out, we stayed for three weeks with a
newlywed couple my parents had met through a local ministry. But after
awhile, we ended up back where we began—crowded together in the
back of a Dodge. We spent most of our five months in Tulsa living on
that hard floor.
By spring, I was a few months old — and getting smaller by the
day. (I've always been tiny—don't rub it in!) Because my weight
kept dropping, my parents became concerned. In fact, my mother told me
that a couple of people accused her of starving me. She fed me
constantly, but I threw up everything. At one point, Mom says it felt
like I only weighed about four or five pounds. I'd received one round of
vaccinations at birth, but because my family had no insurance, Mom
hadn't taken me back to the doctor. Mom eventually received a letter
from the hospital where I was born—a friend back in Virginia had
forwarded the note to our PO Box. Doctors had gotten the results of the
blood test they run on all newborns. They'd diagnosed me with a
life-threatening disease called Branched Chain Ketoaciduria. Sounds
scary, right? Basically, it's a rare blood disorder found in infants who
can't process particular kinds of protein. The condition is also known
as maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)— mostly because it makes a
baby's pee smell just like a stack of molasses-soaked pancakes. Maybe
that explains why I've always loved me some IHOP.
But all jokes aside, I was sick. Seriously sick. And in addition to the
blood disease, Mom was also pretty sure I had whooping cough, because I
sounded like a child she'd heard on a public service announcement on
television. "I was afraid for your life," Mom recently told me. "Because
we had no money and no health insurance, I was afraid to take you to the
doctor. I just didn't know what to do, so I leaned on my faith." Mom
prayed for me every single day as she quoted (and requoted!) a powerful
Scripture, Isaiah 53:5: "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He
was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon
Him, and by His stripes we are healed." As it turns out, God answered
Mom's prayers and came through with a miracle: By the time I was six
months old, the disease had gone away. Completely. And to this day, I am
healthy—even if I am only 4'11" and 94 pounds.
By the summer of 1996, my parents were so over the whole Tulsa
thing— so our next stop was Texas. We moved into the two-bedroom
apartment of Mom's Uncle Ben and Aunt Teresa in Irving. My uncle offered
my dad job leads, and Dad eventually began working at a used car
dealership; but because he didn't sell many cars, he didn't earn much
money. So he quit that job. Around that time, Mom's aunt and uncle
traveled to the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Years later, Mom told me that
her uncle left a note with her. "In that letter, my uncle wrote that he
loved me and my kids, and that we were always welcome to stay with him,"
Mom recalls. "He also wrote that he wouldn't support a grown man, so we
had to be moved out by the time they returned from the Olympics."
Arielle told me that Mom began looking for work too, since my father
wasn't working. It didn't take long for Mom to land a job in the
collections department at Citibank. In addition, Mom's friend—the
same one who'd once forwarded the hospital's note about my blood
disease—knew a young couple in Dallas. That friend asked the
couple if they'd be willing to take us in temporarily, and they agreed.
In the fall of 1996, Mom had saved up enough money for us to move into
our own apartment in Richardson, Texas.
Later that year when Mom celebrated my first birthday, I'd already been
given the nickname my whole family still calls me: Brie Baby. Since
then, we've put every possible spin on that name, including Brie Cheese
and Breezy. And then there's my personal favorite— Easy, Breezy,
Beautiful Cover Girl. But if you ask me, none of those nicknames roll
off the tongue quite as gracefully as my full name does: Gabrielle,
which means "God's able-bodied one." When that blood disease almost
snatched away my life, it might've seemed that I wouldn't really live up
to my name. But my heavenly Father had something totally different in
mind. In Texas, as I grew stronger by the month—and as my mother
worked to turn our family's financial crisis into a comeback—my
name's meaning became a sneak preview of all that would come next.
Excerpted from "Grace, Gold, and Glory My Leap of Faith" by Gabrielle Douglas. Copyright © 0 by Gabrielle Douglas. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.