Leesha Tyler readily admits it was her husband’s hair that first attracted her to him.  “I’m a beautician and I love to do a certain type of hair,” she said. “I saw him in the grocery store. He had awesome hair and I knew I could make it even better. I talked to him and gave him my card.”

The Tyler family includes from left, Marcus, Justice, Shyleh, back row, Tyrone, Leesa, Eric and Cheyenne.

What Eric Tyler didn’t tell her was that he was living with a woman and she was doing his hair.  By the time he ran into Leesha again he had broken up with that girlfriend and agreed to come and get his hair done.

He came to the shop the next day.  “We had a great time talking and laughing,” he said.  “Her shop is in her house so, I met her kids.  Marcus asked me to come back the next day for Thanksgiving breakfast. So, I did.”

A born-again Spirit-filled Christian, Leesha did not grow up in church. Eric had grown up in church but was nowhere close to God at the time they met.

“I knew how to turn it on and off because I had been in church,” he said.  “The first thing I realized was that she did not use profanity. Didn’t eat beef or pork. I was intrigued.”

Although in 2008 when they met, Leesha was a strong Christian, just a few years earlier she had been supporting her children by selling drugs.

“My father died when I was in third grade,” she said. “My mother was a drug user. We lived in East St. Louis. We moved a lot and went without a lot of things.  I had no spiritual guidance or stability.”

At age 5, Justice Simpson may be the youngest member of the family but he holds his own with the big kids. (Photo by Kristin N. Bailey)

By the time Leesha was a senior in high school, she had two children and was pregnant with a third.  With a final settlement from her father’s death, Leesha decided to move to Columbia with the father of Tyrone and the baby she was carrying, Cheyenne. Her oldest daughter, Shy-leh was 3.

Determined to have more for her children than she had, she kept attending high school. “I graduated from Hickman High School at 19 with three kids,” she said.  “That is unheard of. Not too many people are able to do that.”

She attended cosmetology school but then quit to make money working at Wal-Mart. To make even more money, she turned to lifestyle she was familiar with. She began selling marijuana on the side.

It was in high school where she met the father of her fourth child. She was engaged to Marcus’ dad but they didn’t get married. She was two months pregnant with her fifth child, Justice, when his father went to jail.

“I guess I was feeling down one day about being pregnant again and the father going to jail,” she said. “I was at home and I started praying.  If God wants to, He can grab you at any time and pull you out of the situation you are in.  You just have to listen and be obedient. That’s what I did.”

Although she had not gone to church, Leesha says she always believed God was real.  “I just couldn’t make the connection of how Jesus and God were one and yet different. I didn’t know how to go through Jesus to get to God.”

Praying and journaling became a way for Leesha to talk to God. She was drawn to the Imani Mission Center where her mother had volunteered at one time. She began volunteering and eventually worked herself into a paid position.  The center had a Sunday morning service she started attending.

The woman who led the service taught the Bible in a “preschool fashion,” Leesha said. “It was exactly what I needed. She taught me who God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus are.  I got a good understanding of the Word of God.”

At the same time, her children were attending an afterschool program called Granny’s House. The director, Pam Ingram, took Leesha under her wing. “She bought me a Bible.  She discipled me and gave me a better understanding of the Word of God. I started going to a charismatic church, growing in my Christian life and doing things in God.“

Pam says she has known Leesha for almost 10 years but her first clue that something was changing in Leesha’s life was a note her daughter, Shyleah wrote thanking Jesus for “changing my mom into a better mother.”

When she understood the sacrifice Christ made by dying on the cross for her and all mankind, Leesha said her lifestyle did a 180-degree turn.   “I stopped drinking, selling drugs and having sex,” she said.  “I saw how much of my life I had wasted.  The light came on and I saw all the mess I had created.  I had hurt myself and others and hadn’t done anything with my life.”

The big revelation for Leesha, though, was how she had never loved herself.  “I never knew who I was or what I wanted out of life,” she said. “Once I got to know God, I got to know myself.  I got to know God and His love, compassion, grace and mercy changed me.”

Leesha went back to working as a beautician, which is something she has a love for.  “I grew up poor,” she said. “When I had kids of my own I never wanted to be poor. So I sold drugs and I felt I was successful because I had money. Sin blinded me to what I was doing.  When I was in the life of sin, selling drugs made more sense than fixing hair because it made more money.

“Sin, though, separated me from the life God wanted for me which is the best life ever.  Sin tried to make me believe the wrong I was doing was OK because I wasn’t robbing or shooting anyone.  But, it was wrong.  Sin distorted my life.”

The girls: Shy-leh, Cheyenne and Leesha. (Photo by Kristin N. Bailey)

During the years, Pam says she’s seen dramatic changes in Leesha.  “The Lord took this one-time, drug-dealing party girl and changed her into a red-hot love of Jesus Christ,” she said. “Since marrying Eric, the two of them have made Christ and following Him the focal point of their home and family life. What a powerful testimony of God’s ability to do the impossible.”

Although Eric grew up in a religious middle class home in the St. Louis suburbs he fell away from his faith the summer after he graduated from high school.

He and a friend moved to Columbia to go to the University of Missouri and he had sex for the first time.  “I felt I could no longer serve God or be a member of the church,” he said. “So, I stopped going to church.“

Eric says he began living “the wild life”.  This consisted of weekend fraternity parties, heavy drinking, smoking marijuana, promiscuous relationships and never studying or attending class.  He lost one of his scholarships and then his grades became so low he had to drop out.

“I moved back home with hopelessness. I had no ambition.”

After a few years, he got bored of living at home and moved back to Columbia with a friend and got a job.  “This time I got into the clubs,” he said.  “I was meeting a new girl every weekend.  I was at my worst drinking, smoking marijuana and sleeping with different girls. I really didn’t want to change.”

He moved in with a woman who had two kids but he was still seeing other women.  “During this time, I would find myself in the bathroom praying and singing gospel songs,” he said.  “A part of me wanted to be close to God and did not want the lifestyle I was in. Still, that part seemed to be drowned out by the noise of drinking, partying and having sex.”

His live-in relationship had ended by the time he ran into Leesha the second time.  After the Thanksgiving breakfast with Leesha and her children, Eric came around every day.

The guys: Eric, Tyrone, Marcus and Justice. (Photo by Kristin N. Bailey)

“We hit it off,” he said.  “She was so different from the girls I had dated.  They were superficial, over-sexed girls without ambition.  Here was a woman with five children, going to school, working full-time and providing for her family.  That drew me closer to her.”

Although Eric and Leesha spent a lot of time together, he was still dating other women.  “I was slowly getting rid of them but still having sex with them. About six months after Leesha and I had started dating, one of the fathers of Leesha’s children found out about an outside relationship I had.  He told Leesha. When she asked me about it, I told her it was true.”

Leesha was upset about the situation because of trust issues in past relationships.  When something like this had happened in the past to Eric, he just moved on to the next woman.

“The way I handled it this time was totally different, though,” he said.  “I pleaded with her to give me another chance.  I told her I would end the other relationships.  From that time on I committed my life to Christ, growing in the faith and growing toward a strong relationship with Leesha and the kids.”

Eric spent time playing kickball, going bowling and just hanging out with Leesha and the kids.  “One day the kids came to me and said they wanted to have a talk.  They sat me down and Shy-leh said, ‘We want you to know we think you are good for our mom.  But if you ever break her heart, we will get you.’”

The meeting left Eric in tears.  “I really felt loved and accepted.  Several months later Leesha and I got married.”

The marriage, however, has not been without some challenges.  While many newlyweds have a chance to get to know each other without the responsibility of parenting five children, Leesha and Eric didn’t have that luxury. In addition, he was learning how to be a man to one woman.

“She needed things like conversation, a gentle touch and kind words,” he said. “Growing in the Christian faith helped me become the right kind of husband and father.”

Although Eric enjoyed getting involved in Leesha’s church, he said he had not been exposed to a charismatic style of worship.   “I had never seen the move of the Holy Ghost, people falling in the Spirit, speaking in tongues,” he said.  “Even though I worked on Sundays, I went to midweek Bible study.  I built a relationship with the pastor and he helped me build a strong relationship with God.  Leesha helped me in the overall understanding of faith.”

Eric’s father, however, was not sure about Eric’s new church or new wife. His father is a research scientist and his mother, a speech pathologist.  They had a certain type of woman they thought their son should marry and it did not include a woman who had five children with four different fathers.

“He considered her to be ghetto,” Eric added.  “She was boisterous and not weak.  He thought he had raised me to want a certain type of woman and Leesha was not it. This caused a lot of difficulty between Leesha and I early on in our marriage.

“But it also helped draw us closer together.  We connected with each other on a deeper level.  There is a peace and enjoyment of each other.  If there are issues, we constantly take them to God in prayer.”

There was also a learning curve for the new father. Eric is four years younger than Leesha and much closer to her children’s ages. Shy-leh is 15; Tyrone, 14; Cheyenne, 12; Marcus, 9 and Justice, 5.

“It was a little difficult for me to get into the role of a disciplinarian.  I had just been a friend and now I had to learn to be a real dad whose love sets boundaries.  I met some resistance but they never really gave me too much grief. One thing we still do is play and have lots of fun.”

Eric and Leesha Tyler. (Photo by Kristin N. Bailey)

Leesha’s training of her children to accept parental authority helped make the transition easier.  Soon they accepted Eric’s role most even calling him Dad.

He adds that last year he become rock solid in his faith and belief. “God has called me to a place where I need to be serious about my relationship with Christ,” he said.  “I am a husband, a father to five children and a mentor to other men.”

Through a basketball program at Forum Boulevard Christian Church, Eric helps lead a devotional time. A small accountability group has grown out of that.  The family is also active at Urban Empowerment.

Last fall, Eric and Leesha organized a Christian nightclub event called “The Experience”.  They rented a facility and brought in several Christian artists including a Christian rock group, praise dancer, gospel rap artist, gospel singer and praise and worship band.

Although the event happened to coincide with the Cardinal’s Game 7 of the World Series, they still had 60 to 100 people attend.  “The idea grew out of the fact that there is not a lot for young Christians to do in Columbia.  We wanted to provide a place to dance and have fun with other Christians.”

They are considering doing another session of The Experience in August as a back to school event.  “It’s still in the planning stages,” he said.  Leesha added, “We don’t have a lot of times where we can come together as Christian young adults and teens from all different denominations.”

Whatever happens, a few things will always be true wherever the Tylers go.  They will love Jesus.  They will have fun. And, their hair will look awesome.

Cheyenne, Shy-leh, Justice, Marcus, Tyronne, Leesha. (Photo by Kristin N. Bailey)