“What’s your story?” is a question that has haunted Tabitha Christopher’s life. The acclaimed author and success coach has experience as an athlete and an actress, but she describes herself as a storyteller and recalls being paid for public speaking at the age of 13. Telling her own story, though, didn’t come as easily to Christopher, a native of the U.S. Virgin Island of St. Thomas.
“I kept asking my mother from a very young age, around 5, ‘Why am I here?’ and she didn’t have an answer for me,” said Christopher. “My natural gift has always been storytelling and speaking. Whatever it is I do, it has to cause impact, a transformation in people. My plan was to share stories but not share my story. Those abilities led me down a path into the entertainment industry as an actress, and I was sharing other people’s stories and thinking that somehow, this had to be enough. I knew deep down inside, though, that I was not being true to why I was created and was not having the impact I needed to have.”
Childhood trauma that included abuse were topics Christopher refused to acknowledge. She did not want to reveal household tensions and family issues that would have been considered shameful within her culture.
As a college student, Christopher was exercise science major who lived an active and healthy lifestyle; however, she collapsed three times while running a drill during an internship at Fort McPherson Base in Atlanta. It was confirmed that if her body hadn't shut down and fainted when it did, her heart would have exploded, resulting in her death.
“A doctor came in and, as a last resort in trying to figure out what happened with my health, he asked ‘Are you upset with someone?’ and I lied and said 'No. I'm not upset with anyone. I get along with everybody. I love everybody.' He didn't buy my lie and said, ‘Hey, Tabita, whoever it is, let them go. It’s not worth your life.’ It was those words he said before I left that caused me to realize how holding onto unforgiveness can negatively impact one's health," Christopher explained.
Christopher gradually began the process of forgiveness. “The first step was that I started to write about it. I wrote and kept writing. Then, I found the courage to speak. Then, I shared my story out loud in third person, because I couldn’t own that space yet,” said Christopher. “I didn’t realize how healthy that process is. When I could own it, my perspective started to change. I started seeing myself no longer as the victim but as the victor, because what I lived didn’t give me an excuse to repeat the cycle or be overcome by that abuse.”
An important step in Christopher’s journey was seeing the family member she had pushed away, facing that person, and choosing to forgive. “The importance of forgiveness is to help us to do family better. It could be your work family, your blood family, your community family, or the family you want to honk at in traffic. From that place, when we start there, we can get on the path to healing,” said Christopher.
Christopher talks to the students gathered at KernYES! about the impact Hurricane Hugo had on her family and relates it to their own life struggles. Her parents were living in St. Thomas when Hugo devastated their home in 1989. “Whatever’s happening outside of you is not more powerful than what’s already happening inside of you. That storm makes you better or bitter, but you have the power to choose. Everyone is created with purpose, on purpose, and for a purpose. Therefore, we can only win when we choose not to be affected by life circumstances and instead to glorify God and manifest love in every single moment gifted to us.”
Transparency now characterizes that approach to Christopher’s public speaking. She can talk about her life now, and that conversation continues as she returns to schools. “I admit what I’m struggling with, and I do try to be better the next time I see you,” she said.
Christopher is the author of a series of healing journals and the book Secrets: The Book of Destiny. Follow her on Twitter at @booktabithanow.