Semina Books’ past was filled with traumatic experiences, including abandonment, abuse, addiction and shame. Yet her story does not end there. By God’s grace, her life now serves as a testimony of glorious redemption and true liberation.
Semina Books has an infectious laugh and a magnetic personality. Anyone who encounters her today cannot help but be positively influenced by the joy she exudes.
Unfortunately, positive interactions with Books were not always the norm. Because of a past filled with destructive experiences and influences, she once moved through the world veiled in negativity. In fact, her countenance was so hostile that she was given the nickname “So-meana” to reflect her harsh personality. Books was pensive as she recounted her childhood.
“I am a rare Atlanta native, a Grady baby who grew up as one of four siblings in what was considered ‘the projects’ with my mom and my grandmother,” she said. “When I was 10, my mom became a single mother after my parents divorced. I never really saw my father again, and I felt abandoned by him. To cope with the divorce, my mother turned to alcohol, and that alcohol addiction translated into her being physically and emotionally abusive toward me. Since my mom could not care for our family, I became the default caretaker. I felt my childhood was lost because of them and became resentful toward my siblings.”
Books explained that her mother’s addiction financially drained the family, thrusting them into poverty. Most days, she and her siblings lacked enough to eat. It caused Books to develop an unhealthy relationship with food, hoarding and binging in secrecy and using food for comfort during her darkest days. Overeating led to weight gain and a negative body image that was magnified as her body blossomed. She became a target for sexual abuse by the strange men her mother allowed into their home.
“I felt lost and alone. I was ashamed of who I had become.”Semina Books
“I carried the weight of these experiences into my adulthood,” Books said. “After college, I sought solace in relationships with married men who were drug dealers and soon became a single mother. At first, I was transporting the drugs, but I soon developed a drug and alcohol addiction. I felt lost and alone. I was ashamed of who I had become. I had become my mother.”
Books’ story soon took a positive turn. One day, a co-worker invited her to church. She declined because she felt unworthy to be in God’s presence. Books could not fathom a God who would accept her knowing her past. Her co-worker persisted, and she finally accepted the invitation.
“It was a divine appointment,” Books said. “During the church service, a former drug dealer gave his testimony from the stage. He spoke confidently and beamed as he detailed the deliverance and freedom he experienced by receiving Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. I was amazed. I wondered, ‘Could I experience that, too?’ I yearned for it, so when the opportunity came, I accepted Jesus Christ for myself. It was the best decision I ever made.”
Books knew she had to make drastic life changes. She moved to Minnesota for a fresh start for herself and her two children. There, Books connected to a church, sought help for her addictions and learned about a program called Celebrate Recovery. She joined immediately. Through Celebrate Recovery, she learned how to identify her triggers, deal with stressors and heal from trauma and abuse through the art of journaling. Books also gained accountability partners and a strong community of believers, leading to a newfound freedom in her faith.
“I started a new chapter of my life,” she said. “I met my husband in that church. We are divorced now, but we had two beautiful children, which was a blessing.” Books glowed as she thought about that time in her life. “After our divorce, I moved back to Georgia with my four children,” she said, “but this time, I returned as a different person—healed, whole and free.”
Books credits the Celebrate Recovery program with other blessings, including reconciliation with her estranged father before his death. She also received healing from anger toward her siblings and offered forgiveness to her ex-husband. Books now helps others find spiritual freedom and serves in Celebrate Recovery, where she assists women who struggle with anxiety and depression. In addition, she drives the ministry’s bus to homeless shelters so more people can access the same blessings she has enjoyed.
The transformation in Books’ life has become so evident that she was been given a new nickname. She no longer answers to “So-meana,” ridden with the weight of her past. She now carries “So-nicer” as a moniker, beaming with a forgiveness and freedom found only in Christ. When asked what one message she would give to women facing experiences similar to her past, Books quotes her favorite scripture from Jeremiah 29:11: “When you feel alone and abandoned, God says, ‘I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.’”
Click here to read more stories by Avril Occilien-Similien.