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Popular: Boys, Booze, & Jesus by Tindell Baldwin

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Popular: Boys, Booze, & Jesus by Tindell Baldwin

Tindell Baldwin’s words best describe her passion and this book:

“My heart is for teenage girls because my story is much like so many of theirs. I was just a girl who made a lot of mistakes. I was a girl who had sex before marriage and then had a broken heart. I was a girl who did drugs and drank to fill the void that was deep in my heart. I was a girl who was desperate to be popular. A girl who, like so many others, didn’t know the dark side of sin. So my aim is to reach teenage girls, and through an honest account of my darkest sins, show them what they are up against. My heart is that teens would hear my story and flee to Christ. My greatest desire is that God would be glorified above all else.”

Through a two-part journey (“Dark” and “Light”), Tindell details how she said goodbye to her family’s God and pursued popularity at all costs while climbing the social chain in high school. During a night of partying, she even encountered the man suspected of killing Natalee Holloway in Aruba. But God did not leave Tindell. The “Light” part of her story shows how she reconnected with God, changed her ways, and discovered abundant and real life through Christ.

Read an Excerpt





Copyright © 2013 Tindell Baldwin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4143-7524-3

Chapter One


I’M 794 MILES from my hometown, but somehow it all feels so familiar: the lockers, the overwhelming smell of vanilla and Abercrombie, the confusing layout, the kids rushing to class, the couple in the corner making out. I walk the halls and breathe a sigh of remembrance. The bell brings me back to the here and now, and I have no idea where room 2070 is.

Finally I stumble into the classroom, and twenty sets of eyes look at me. A few of them look confused; I’m obviously not their teacher. I tell them that today I’m their substitute. A few more confused looks, and then one brave girl in the back asks, “How old are you?”

“Twenty-three,” I say, looking down at my instructions. They have a test today.

“You look like you’re eighteen,” one of the pretty girls in the front says.

I glance up and see the familiar scene. It might be six years since I was in high school, but not much has changed. There’s still the loner in the back wearing all black, trying to blend in with darkness; the oversize scary boy who wants me to know I don’t have authority; the peppy cheerleader who smiles even when nothing is happening; the angry girl who probably dates the scary boy in row three; the athletes who swish their hair to the side trying desperately not to care; and the rest: the average-for-now kids who get lost between categories. I know they won’t take their test until I go through the normal ritual of questions, so I let them ask.

No, I didn’t go to school here, and yes, I’m old enough to teach. Yes, I’m super tall, and no, you may not stand next to me to see if you’re taller. No, I didn’t play basketball, and yes, I’m married. By this point I can normally get them on task, but the brave girl in the back says something I don’t expect.

“Tell us your life story.”

I look up. Twenty sets of eyes look back. Only forty-five minutes left in class. I wish I could tell them my life story.

I would tell the popular girls to be nice, because later in life they’ll realize life isn’t about them. I would tell the pretty girls that looks aren’t all they have. I would tell the kids in black that this is just a phase and the real world isn’t quite so harsh. I would tell the tough girls that getting hurt is part of life. I would tell the pretty boy with the hair swoosh that there will be a million of him wherever he goes next and the only thing that will make him stand out is his character. I would tell the girls trying desperately to fit in that one day it won’t be so hard. I would tell the in-betweens that one day they’ll have their place in this world. Mostly I would tell them there is a Jesus who loves them, a Jesus who knows what they are going through and has a relationship waiting for them that is more than they could ever imagine. There are so many things I would like to tell this class, but for now they have to take a test.

* * *

So which one was I? Great question. After I watched Mean Girls with my parents when I was sixteen, my dad turned to me and asked, “So, which one are you?” I was Lindsay Lohan’s character: a little clueless, but drunk with the idea of being on top of the popularity food chain. I had started off as a no one, but because of a late burst of puberty and my ability to take shots of vodka, I was fumbling my way to the top, making all the classic mistakes along the way.

I was like many teenagers. I hated my parents. I drank alcohol. I smoked weed and the occasional cigarette, had sex, got a broken heart, struggled with depression, and in the end wanted out. I have a classic high school story but with one big twist at the climax. Here’s where it began:

Before the alcohol, the hookups, the rebellion, and the aches and pains of teenagedom, I was just a little girl with two parents I adored and three brothers I wanted to be like. There was a time before puberty when I enjoyed being with my family. A time when I still laughed at my brothers’ singing. A time when we would catch turtles at Hilton Head. A time before my dad became embarrassing and we still played games together on Friday nights. We were all best friends in the time before life took hold of me and I became too cool.

My dad would come to call the time when I became too cool the “blue eye shadow phase” because I wore a thick layer of blue eye shadow up to my eyebrows, and I thought it looked good. (If you’re in this phase, do us all a favor and throw away the blue eye shadow. It doesn’t look good.) It seemed the more eye shadow I wore, the witchier I got, and my parents bore the brunt of my hatred. I started drinking because I thought I deserved the freedom to drink. It was my parents’ fault my life was so hard, and if they’d just let me do what every teenager does, then we wouldn’t have any problems. If they’d just let me stay out all night and drink, even though I was underage, we would be okay.

When I was sixteen, I went through a phase where I refused to tell them I loved them. I thought I could prove how much I didn’t need them if I only withheld my love. I would storm off to bed, angry about something I didn’t have that I desperately needed, but they’d just smile and say, “I love you.” The little girl inside me longed to say it back, knowing I needed them more than ever at this time in my life, but I refused her.

All this denial, anger, hatred, and need were compounded by the fact that my mom was sick. Her first “episode,” as we came to call them, happened when I was four. She had a fever and chills and could barely get out of bed. We took her to the hospital, and I remember my dad buying us Happy Meals and letting us play in a park nearby. The doctors told her she was dehydrated and gave her some fluids. But it wasn’t dehydration. The episodes came back again and again, and they continued for the rest of my childhood. The doctors would think they were close to an answer, and then it would slip away.

The only time my mom and I got along was when she was sick. That’s when I became her caretaker. I brought her ice packs when her headaches were unbearable, ginger ale when she wanted something to soothe her stomach. I folded laundry when she was too weak to manage. This was the only time I made life easier for her. Sometimes, when she was really sick, we’d sit on her bed and watch TV, just enjoying moments of peace. In a way, her sickness brought healing moments to our relationship, but it was also hard. At ten, I knew the grocery store like the back of my hand. I could cook dinner and often did. When my mom was sick, no plans were definite, and I got used to shopping trips being canceled, activities being moved, and life being put on pause. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but when you’re a kid, you don’t understand that, and I adjusted to her chronic illness like all kids adjust to change, kicking and screaming.

Being my mom’s caretaker and getting used to having my needs put on hold is probably why I became fiercely independent. And it’s at least partly why I cheated on all my boyfriends one way or another until I was eighteen. I had to prove I didn’t need them, that I was stronger than they were. I had to prove to myself that I was beautiful and worth being wanted, and I had to prove to others that nothing fazed me. I didn’t care who I left in the ashes as long as I came out okay. Of course, this was a shell—a way to hide how deeply insecure I was and how much I really wanted to be loved.

When I was fifteen, I got a necklace from my cousin that said “Rebel” on it—very classy. I wore it with pride, hoping it would confirm the rough exterior I put on. I wanted everyone to know that I needed no one. But that was the furthest thing from the truth. I needed love, I needed attention, I needed a place to belong, and most of all I needed to know who I was. So I created who I was—I made myself the person I’d always hoped I could be. I followed rules I created for myself, strict social guidelines that would ensure I always came off as cool. As a sign of my true strength, I acted like nothing bothered me. In fact, I stuffed away all the pain that came with being a teenager. I stuffed away the pain of disappointing my parents and losing friends, the pain of rejection, and the pain of guilt. From the outside I appeared happy, healthy, and loving life, but on the inside I was praying no one would find out I was a fake.

The thing that drove every decision I made at this point of my life was my desire to be part of the popular crowd. I was scared and insecure in who I was, so I sought to belong to a group that seemed to know exactly who they were. There were no limits to what I would try. I would be whoever anyone asked me to be as long as I was a part of the crowd. I drank because that’s what you did when you were popular. I smoked weed because to be cool you had to at least try it. I fooled around with boys because that’s what the other girls did. I didn’t know who I was; I just knew who I wanted to be like.

The first time I got in trouble for drinking, I was fifteen and went to party with some of my older brother’s friends and my best girlfriend at the time. My parents were out of town, and I told my grandparents I was going to a friend’s house. When I walked in, everyone stared in disbelief and delight, and they immediately started offering me drinks. Some of my brother’s friends were fighting over who could give me shots. No one could believe that I, a member of the Stanfill family, wanted to get drunk, so they watched in anticipation as I drank shot after shot. Before I knew it, I was wasted and had made out with my best girlfriend at the older boys’ urging. I don’t remember it, but a picture truly says a thousand words. By the end of the night I’d also made out with one of my older brother’s friends, even though I had a boyfriend—another picture memory—and was hanging my head over a toilet seat in the arms of a stranger. My boyfriend at the time found out and was livid. He tried to call me, but I wasn’t answering my phone. Everyone was in a panic trying to figure out whether I needed to go to the hospital or not, but I wouldn’t let them take me, because I knew I’d be in trouble. The night ended when I stumbled home and fell into bed with the stale taste of vomit on my breath.

On Monday the whole school was talking about what an idiot I’d made of myself. I was mortified. My boyfriend broke up with me, and when my parents came home they got four phone calls from “concerned parents” letting them know what had happened. My parents confronted me, and I’ll never forget my dad asking me why I made out with my girlfriend. How could I explain to him that I would do anything for the popular kids, even if it meant making a fool of myself?

I was grounded for three months. Much of my freshman year continued in this manner: groundings, followed by freedom, followed by drunken nights, followed by loss of trust and another period of being grounded. It was an endless cycle I couldn’t escape. My parents tried every bargaining tool in the book, but I wouldn’t give up alcohol for anything. One spring break my mom even let me get my belly button pierced because I told her I’d quit drinking if she did. I lied. I didn’t think I could be cool without alcohol, and I couldn’t survive if I wasn’t cool. My reasons for drinking were all lame, but somehow I kept convincing myself they were valid. Self-exploration was my favorite excuse, although I don’t know how much you can find out about yourself with your head hanging over the toilet.

I’m an all-or-nothing person, which explains why I felt the need to try everything before my sixteenth birthday. I was in my best friend’s basement when I first smoked marijuana. (First moral of the story: parents, don’t get a house with a basement.) We were bored on a Friday night, and my friend had an older brother who supplied us, so we smoked and ate a whole bag of potato chips. It wasn’t very exciting. I would smoke weed on and off until I was eighteen, when I had my heart broken and found it was the only thing that would numb the pain while I was at school. Smoking was just another way that I could be who I wanted to be.

One particularly boring Friday night, my friends and I decided to smoke weed in a closet in my parents’ garage apartment. We all giggled, passing around a bong a friend of mine had bought. We tumbled out of the closet laughing, only to find my parents coming up the stairs. We sprayed body spray until it smelled like burned hair and hoped they wouldn’t catch on. My mom walked up the stairs, and the first thing she said was, “I think something’s burning up here!” My friends almost fell out of their chairs. I quickly blamed it on a faulty heater, and they went back to the house. Once they left, we erupted in a fit of giggles. The smell never did come out of our garage apartment. Times like this make it all seem harmless, but it wasn’t. These isolated incidents seemed funny at the time, but it was never just about smoking or drinking; it was about running away from who I should be. When I was high or drunk, I hurt my family, ruined friendships, and lost people I cared about.

Most of the four years described in this book were spent running from the responsibility of being the person I knew I was supposed to be. I knew I should be a law-abiding citizen, a good daughter, a faithful friend. However, all I cared about was me and how and whether I fit in with the popular crowd. So I ran from that straight to who it felt good to be, and then I kept running. I was always running.

The cigarettes came along with everything else, just something to do to intensify the drinking. The first time I had one I threw up for hours. That should have been my first clue to stop, but of course I pushed through, until the nicotine was enough to calm my nerves after a long day of school. My three best friends and I all picked up smoking together until finally, when one girl’s mom was diagnosed with lung cancer for the third time, we all vowed to quit. A few years later that same friend’s mom died from the habit we so carelessly picked up.

So these are the things that defined me—what I did and who I was with. It was all so harmless at first; I just wanted to fit in—and I did, but at what cost? What I gained was nothing compared to what I traded. I traded diamonds for dog food.