Updated: Dec 8, 2021
Smart, accomplished, strong. These are a few of the words that one might use to describe Nicole Caley. It doesn’t take long for a person to pick up on her confident demeanor or her easy going personality; but behind what people see on the surface, there is a story. Her journey to success was far from easy. In fact, it was hard. Nicole grew up without ever knowing her father, and her mother was in and out of her life, chasing men and finding ways to pay for her drug addiction. With both parents absent, Nicole’s grandmother was left with no choice but to raise her. Although Nicole’s grandmother took care of her basic needs, the environment in their house was toxic. Lying and other forms of manipulation ran rampant in their home and having a relationship with God was pretty much an afterthought.
Nicole’s grandmother was struggling to make ends meet in the house. She was recently divorced and was taking care of her elderly father, while raising three kids of her own. She worked two jobs to keep a roof over their heads, sometimes having to work the overnight shift. On days when she had to work late, she relied on her neighbors to watch Nicole. This convenient choice for a babysitter; however, was far from a good one. From the age of 5-10 years old, her neighbor molested Nicole repeated while she was under their care. Nicole dreaded going to their house, but her grandmother, who was aware of the abuse, did nothing. Finally, the abuse came to a screeching halt when Nicole gathered enough courage to stand up to her grandmother, threatening to tell the school if her grandmother sent her back there. From that day forward, her grandmother never sent Nicole back, but the memories and pain from that abuse were far from over. Faced with the harsh reality that both of her parents abandoned her, compounded by Nicole’s grandmother turning a blind eye to the abuse, her belief that no one loved her was confirmed. Without anyone to talk to and the weight of the abuse on her shoulders, Nicole’s pain eventually transcended into anger. She silently harbored these emotions for years, coming to terms with this false reality that she wasn’t worthy of love.
Shortly after the abuse ended, Nicole started visiting her mother regularly on the West Side of Chicago, in an area that was strikingly different from the suburbs where her grandmother resided. Seeing that Nicole was the only blond hair blue eyed girl on the block, she suddenly became the center of attention for every boy in that neighborhood. The attention she received from the streets satisfied this unmet need she was seeking from her family for years, and she loved every minute of it. A few years later, her mother moved to Englewood, which is an area on the South Side known for its high level of violence. One day Nicole was left sitting on the front porch of a house for hours, waiting for an adult to return home. A boy on the block noticed her, and asked her if she was okay. He got her some food, and looked after Nicole that night. From that day forward, they were inseparable. Nicole began to run with his crew, hanging out on the streets, selling drugs, and working as the getaway driver when she got her car at the age of 16. Unafraid of the consequences that potentially awaited her, Nicole embraced the street life as her own, and all of the dangers that came with it.
One day, when she was visiting her old stomping grounds on the West Side of Chicago, some boys recognized Nicole while she was entering an apartment building. As she opened the door, they grabbed Nicole from behind and dragged her into the hallway. Nicole tried to fight them, but she was too outnumbered. As they wrestled her to the ground, she became enraged as the memories of the abuse she experienced as a child resurfaced in that very moment. They planned to gang-raping her, but Nicole was not going to let that happened. She reached for the gun that she carried for protection and pulled the trigger. The bullet grazed one of the boys in the shoulder, causing all of them to instantly scattered from the scene. She never saw them again, but the incident served as fossil fuel for the rage she had inside. Nicole walked around angry every day at the world. She would find excuses to fight any person that even look at her the wrong way. She was tired of being hurt, and lived under the mantra of “I’m going to hurt you before you can hurt me.” Her world seemed so dark, and she lived in this self-destructive state of mind but didn’t know how to get out of it. Eventually, it got to the point where Nicole was tired of living that way and decided to seek additional help from a counselor.
God used Nicole's counselor as a vessel to draw her to Him. Her counselor was a Christian who had an intimate relationship with God, and she began to dig into some of the deeply rooted issues that stemmed from her past. She was able to help Nicole to identify some of the faulty beliefs that she had internalized, replacing them with the truth of God’s word and how He could heal her from the wounds of her past. Their conversations eventually prompted Nicole to go to church. Every time she stepped in the doors of the church, she experienced joy in her heart that was overwhelming and unexplainable peace. She continued to attend faithfully, and the anger that she was carrying for all of those years slowly began to dissipate. One day, when she was entering into the church service, the ushers gave Nicole a chip that had the “greater than” sign on one side, and “Me, Past, Fears, and Pain” on the other; symbolizing how God is greater than all of those things. The chip was a precursor to the pastor’s sermon that day. The Pastor's message spoke to everything that Nicole was dealing with, and it completely broke Nicole down. At that moment, she realized that she could no longer continue down this self-destructive path. Nicole had a choice to make. She could choose to continue being a victim, or she could choose to seek healing through the love of Christ while working to fulfill her purpose. Even if no one else in her family was willing to help her deal with the pain from her abuse, Nicole was going to face it head on because she no longer was going to allow her past to keep her in bondage. From that day forward, she made a decision to stop blaming other people for her problems. She was going to take complete ownership of her life and planned to embrace every day to the fullest.
As she walked out of the doors of the church, she decided that her street life was over. She had already seen too many of her friend’s shot and killed, and knew in her heart that she was only alive by the grace of God. Although Nicole had surrendered her life to God, her understanding of love was still based on lies. She jumped into a marriage at the age of 21 for all of the wrong reasons, marrying someone who did not truly love her. He was the reflection of the lies, manipulation, and deceit she was surrounded by in her childhood. The toxic marriage sent her into a downward spiral, where she continued to struggle with this belief that she was not worthy of love. The marriage eventually ended in divorce, but the cycle of entering into unhealthy relationships continued. She met this guy who was charming and attractive, and it wasn’t long before they started dating. Early on in the relationship, she learned that he was a Muslim; not realizing at the time that their differences in beliefs would eventually cause her to stop practicing her faith.
The relationship started off great, but as time progressed, things began to shift. It seemed like Nicole was never “good enough.” She was never good enough to marry, never skinny enough, and could never meet his expectations. The relationship began to slowly tear her down, amplifying the life-long struggle she had with love. Several years into the relationship, God began to work on Nicole’s heart, and she had a revelation that she was no longer going to remain in silence about what happened to her in the past because someone needed to hear her story. She started opening up to others about her experiences and eventually started going back to church and finding community through other groups that offered her support. One day, Nicole woke up and made a decision that she was tired of settling for less in her relationship, and she broke up with her boyfriend of nearly 10 years. Although it was one of the hardest things she had to do, she did not turn back. She knew that God had so many incredible things in store for her if she trusted Him, and she couldn’t be more right.
Since then, her life has continued to flourish. God has elevated her to places that she couldn’t even imagine, receiving national awards for her work in her professional field of accounting, she has spoken all over the country about her story, and has started her own business entitled Living Virtuously, dedicated to helping others to live their best life. In the midst of all of this, Nicole has come to understand God’s unconditional love towards her. Although Nicole’s journey was full of challenges, she wouldn’t change one thing. She full-heartedly believes that a person’s past doesn’t have to dictate their future. If it does, it’s because they’ve chosen to allow it to. Nicole recognizes that everything she went through in her past has helped to mold her into the person she is today, and her testimony serves as a vehicle for her to help someone else. She has learned that we all go through some painful experiences, but at the end of the day, we have a choice. It’s up to us to decide if we are going to choose to be a victim or are we going to choose to overcome. Nicole is an overcomer, and she is a testimony of God’s grace in this world. Her story is still unfolding, but she has made a choice to enjoy the journey.
For more information on Nicole and her new book entitled “America’s Leading Ladies, Who Positively Impact the World”, visit her website at www.livingvirtuously.net. Her book will be available for release in 4-6 weeks, but will be available for pre-sale her website. If you were encouraged by this week's Faith Friday Feature, be sure to subscribe to receive other testimonies of faith once a week. New to Faith on the Journey? Check out other Faith Friday testimonies here.