#249. Meghan’s Story

After 30 years of being trafficked, Meghan experienced the authentic Jesus when a group of friends simply received her into their lives. The Chosen, particularly the story of Mary Magdalene, played an impactful part in her journey.

We are grateful to The Chosen for allowing us to share Meghan’s God story with you through the video below.

#248. God Called Me Into Ministry One Step at a Time

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

In the late 1990s, my wife and I had a conversation while driving home from her parents’ house. It went like this:

“I feel like God is calling me into ministry,” I said.

“What do you mean?” my wife asked. “What kind of ministry?”

“I really don’t know,” I said.

“Well,” my wife said, “I don’t want to be married to a preacher.”

And I said, “Okay.”

So, I came home and I said, “Now, Lord, you know that we’re married, and so if You call me into something, You have to call her too. So now, I’m done with this until she changes her mind.”

About 15 years later, around 2005 or 2006, I started feeling that call again. This time it was more specific, in that I felt like I was being called to seminary. So, I said, “Okay, whatever this ministry thing is, it’s going to require a seminary degree.”

I had not completed my bachelor’s degree at that point. So, I told my wife what I thought, and she said, “Go finish your bachelor’s degree.” And, so I did, I graduated from Asbury University in 2009. Then I applied and was accepted into the Church of God Theological Seminary, which is now the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, one of the larger Pentecostal seminaries in the south. 

I went for, I think, three semesters, then I started getting opportunities with my job. Because I had graduated, they kind of sat down and said, “Here’s what we see for you in your future.” I also, at the same time, was forced to make a decision about going to seminary full-time and having to actually commute on certain days because some of the classes I needed I could not take online.

This is 2009, 2010, 2011, so we’re not in the whole “virtual learning” thing at that point. So, I decided, without a whole lot of prayer or talking to anyone, that I was just going to forget about seminary and focus on my career.

So, I dropped out, thinking I’d go to seminary at some point later on.

The next semester, my boss asked me to get my MBA, paid for by my company. So, I said, “Okay.” I went to the school that they recommended I go to, which they were going to pay for. I took three or four classes before the school made the decision to shut that cohort down. It was the very first time in the history of the program that they had closed the cohort. My only option was to drive to Louisville for classes, over an hour from my house. 

I said, “No, I’m not going to do that.” 

They said, “Well, you can wait and join online, whenever the classes that you need come up.”

I said, “No, I’m not doing that.”

So, by late spring or early summer of 2015, I was miserable. I had a good job, paid good, good benefits — but I hated it. I hated going to work.

I remember distinctly — I can tell you the clothes that I was wearing as I was walking down the aisle at work, I said, “Lord, there’s got to be more to life than this. I want You to put me where You want me to be, doing what You want me to do because I want to be in the center of Your will.”

That was the prayer that I began to pray and, at the same time, I started job hunting.

I believe it was late August or early September of 2015, I got a job offer at another company. It came with a raise and more responsibilities. Basically, I’d be in charge of the daily operations of a distribution center. So, I prayed about it. I felt really good about it. And, I accepted the job.

It started out really good — best job, at that point, that I’d ever had. I was working for one of the best bosses I’d ever had. 

They had a layoff right after I got there. I was called into the office and they said, “Don’t worry about it. This has nothing to do with you. You’re too new anyway.” 

In April or May of 2016, the vice president called me into his office and said, “Look, we’ve got some things going on in the company, but I don’t want you to be worried about it.” They gave me a raise. They gave me a bonus. They gave me shares of stock in the company. They laid out a three-year plan of what they wanted me to do and assured me that I had found my forever employment. I was going to retire from there. Great! I thought.

We went on vacation, June 23 or June 24, to Glacier National Park in Montana. It turns out that my wife had a dream while we were on vacation, but I didn’t know anything about her dream. She wrote it down:

“It was the most vivid dream that I have ever experienced,” Adrena said. “In this dream, I lost my job. And, my boss had shared with me that I hadn’t really done anything. It was the finances of the company. I actually still have the dream in my phone. It was so real. I am in this dream. I physically felt the emotion. I cried. It really tore me up. 

When I woke up from this dream, I was really just stiff. You know, you’ve probably experienced a nightmare at some point. When I woke up, it was almost like I was in that nightmare, just physically tense. And, I can remember opening up my eyes first, before anything else, and I kind of just looked around and my husband wasn’t in the bed. He was in the shower. And, I thought, “Well, I’ll tell him when he gets out of the shower.” Then, I’m like, “This dream is so different from any I’ve ever experienced. I’m going to get my phone and put it in my notes. So, I wrote my dream out, you know, everything in it. And then I still thought, I’ll tell him when he gets out of the shower. And I just laid my phone down. Then, I don’t know if I just forgot. I really don’t know, but I didn’t tell him. I didn’t tell him on the trip at all.” 

So now we get back home and we are both getting ready for work. I had to be there at 5:30 a.m. When I got to work, I saw my boss’s vehicle in the parking lot and immediately I knew something was wrong. I didn’t think it had anything to do with me, but I knew there was something wrong because my boss doesn’t come to work at 5:30 a.m. 

After I got in and got the coffee going, I saw the HR manager. I was like, “Oh, boy. I don’t know what has happened while I’ve been gone, but it’s not good.”

My boss said, “Hey Brian, can you step into the office for a minute.”

I was like, “Well, here we go. What have ‘they’ done?” I had a couple of problem employees, so my thought was “They have really done something bad.” 

That’s when they broke the news to me. “While you were off, the company had a downsizing. This has nothing to do with your job performance. This doesn’t have anything to do with you personally. This has everything to do with the bottom line of the company.”

They had let several folks go in the distribution center, my former boss being one of them — a guy that was the best boss that I’d had up to that point. They let him go. That left a lot of inexperience running the distribution center, but that’s what the bean counters wanted. So that’s what they got.

So, I walked out. I said goodbye to a few folks. I got in the truck and came home. 

Adrena’s still at home getting ready and preparing to leave for work, since it is still so early. She hears the garage door open and thinks, “Why is the garage door opening?” She yells, “Brian, is that you?”

“Yes,” I said.

She asks, “What are you doing home?”

“I just lost my job,” I said.

Well, as soon as I said, “I just lost my job,” Adrena immediately thought of her dream. She met me with her phone in hand. She pulled up the dream and handed me the phone. She said, “Oh, my goodness, I may go into work today and lose my job too.”

As I read the notes about Adrena’s dream, I looked at her and said, “That dream is not going to be for you. That dream was for me because this is almost verbatim what they told me.”

At that point, Adrena went to work and she didn’t lose her job. We went through a very challenging time. It was tough for both of us for me to be unemployed for a time. But she said that dream is what helped her empathize more, since she truly ‘felt inside’ some of what I went through losing my job. 

I do believe the Lord gave her that dream and that’s what kept our marriage together — that dream. 

I got a lead on a job not too long after that, and I thought, “It’s going to be okay.”

When I told Adrena I was one of the final three candidates, she said, “No. You’re not going to get that job because you haven’t learned your lesson.”

And, I was like, “Well, now, that’s not a very nice thing to say to me, especially with you yelling at me to get a job.”

I really was praying, and I felt God telling me: “You need to go to seminary.”

I was like, “Well, Lord, that’s all well and good, but now I don’t even have a job. And the bill collectors are still going to keep coming to see me.”

Adrena was right. I didn’t get the job. I couldn’t buy a job. I literally interviewed to be a meter reader and didn’t get the job. Here I am. I’m responsible for an entire distribution center and I can’t get a job as a meter reader. I kept suffering defeat after defeat after defeat, which was driving me to the point of depression. I even remember walking around outside in my barn saying, “Lord, I don’t want to live like this. I know I’m ready to go. So, you just go ahead and take me. I’ll go be with Jesus and she can get what little bit of life insurance and retirement I’ve got left and live happily ever after.

I just kept hearing ‘seminary.’ So, I told Adrena. And she said, “No. We’re not going into debt to go to seminary.”

So, I went back out to my special place to pray. I said, “Now, Lord, I’ve tried this, I don’t know, two or three times. And, you see the response that I get every time. I’m done. You fix my life the way it needs to be fixed or you fix my wife the way she needs to be fixed, or you fix both of us the way we need to be fixed, but somebody is wrong here, and I’m not sure who it is.”

A few days after that prayer, I remember, I was sitting beside my best friend at our home church and his phone rings. Brother Jay pulls out his phone and hands it to me because it’s my wife calling. So his assumption, without even answering the phone, was that she was trying to get a hold of me and knew that I was with him.

So, I answered his phone, “How did you get Jay’s phone?” Adrena asked.

I said, “Well, he’s sitting right here beside me. He handed it to me.”

And she said, “I’m not wanting to talk to you. I want to talk to Jay.”

I was like, “OK, it’s going to be one of those nights. So, I handed the phone back to Jay and I let it go. I never said anything. I didn’t ask about it. I came home. I got in bed. I went to sleep. And I got up the next morning and I was back at my little spot doing my Bible study and prayer and quiet time, and the phone rang. It was my wife.

I was like, “Oh boy, this early in the morning, really?”

And she said, “Go ahead and apply for seminary.” 

I said, “Are you serious?”

She said, “Yes. I’ve talked to Brother Jay and I’ve talked to my cousin.”

When Adrena had told me we weren’t going into debt for me to go to seminary, I asked her to at least pray about it. She didn’t tell me she would or wouldn’t pray, but she did start praying about it. She prayed for weeks actually, and she also asked her cousin in Louisville to pray for us. All she told her cousin was that I had lost my job, so she was just praying for me to get a job.

That morning Adrena’s at work and her cousin texts to ask “How are you all doing?”

Adrena texts back, “Pretty good. No. Brian’s not found anything yet.” She sits the phone down and continues working.

Her cousin texts again, “If Brian is dealing with a calling on his life, he needs to accept it.”

When Adrena read that text message, she knew her cousin did not know that she’d been praying about seminary for Brian. So, she knew there was more to it.

I turned my phone upside down, where I couldn’t see it anymore and I went back to work as hard as I could, trying to get it off my mind for a little bit — knowing. And when I left work that evening, I was driving around New Circle Road. That’s when I called Brother Jay and Brian answered his phone.

I’m like, “What are you doing with Brother Jay and where are you?” Brian’s like, “I’m at church.” I’m like, “It’s a Monday night, what are y’all doing at church?” He’s like, “We had a fellowship meeting,” and I’m like, “What?”

And I said, “Well there are some things I need to talk more to a pastor type person about than you right now. So, I ended up talking to Brother Jay and his wife later that evening. I told them I really felt like Brian had this calling and needed to pursue it. I told them I am now willing to accept the fact that this is where we’re headed. I just felt like I needed somebody to talk to because he had been hearing it. He had asked me to pray. I didn’t really want to, but when I prayed that’s the same message I got too.

So that morning I told Brian, “I think you should go ahead and apply to seminary.”

I remember he asked, “Did this have anything to do with that phone call last night?”

I said, “It did.” 

He’s like, “Oh, okay. Adrena, it’s like three weeks before school starts. There’s no way I’m going to get in seminary now.”

I called the seminary where I was a previous student, so it wasn’t like I was starting off from scratch, but in some ways it was, since I had been out for so long. They said, “Well, we’ll do what we can sir, but a lot has got to do with you. You’ve got to have three letters of reference written, sent in, received, reviewed and accepted by the seminary. And then we’ve got to make sure that there’s a spot for you in the classes you want to take. 

And I said, “Okay.”

So, I contacted three pastor friends of mine. Told them the situation, and I left it at that. This was on Tuesday morning.

Three days later — Friday afternoon — I received a letter in the mail saying that I had been accepted, approved and enrolled, along with the start date of my classes. I barely had enough time to get my books. And, to top it all off, they cut my tuition for that semester in half and they did not make me pay it until the end of the semester, which is unheard of. 

So, that started me back to seminary. 

I was still looking for a job because I knew that unemployment was going to run out, and I got a phone call from a guy that used to work for me. 

He said, “Hey, are you still looking for a job?”

I said, “Well, yeah.”

He said, “Why don’t you come be my boss?”

I said, “Huh?”

So, I interviewed, and when I walked onto the shop floor, I knew immediately that’s where I needed to be because the Lord spoke to me. I felt the prompting that said, “You are here for that individual.” This person was a long-time friend of mine, a former pastor, who had left the church and left the faith altogether because of some things in his personal life.

But the Lord said, “You’re here to witness to him.”

And I said, “Lord, I don’t want to do that. And, I left and came back home.”

It went about a month and my wife, being the nice, loving wife that she is, let me know one morning that “Any job is better than no job” and that I should seek employment. So I called that company back and said, “Okay, I’ll come.”

I worked there for a little over a year, while going to school at the same time. So, if I needed to go to Cleveland, I worked it out to where I could be off work and go to Cleveland and come back. They knew up front that I was in seminary. I made that perfectly clear. They said, “We’ll work with you.” And they did.

Well, then things started getting rough on me. I felt that it was time for me to leave that job. But how do you quit your job and not have any other job lined up? I knew that I had to have clinical pastoral education (CPE) to graduate from seminary, and I was approaching the graduation point.

So, I came home and I told my wife, and she said, “You’re not quitting your job.” And I said, “But I’ve got to get in to CPE. “You’re not quitting your job,” she said. So, this went on. It went on till all the CPE centers were closed. They had filled up. There were no spots left anywhere.  

I felt led to contact a CPE center in Louisville, more than an hour from our home. All the ones around here were closed. I called the Louisville center and was told, “Well, you’ve really caught me at a good time because I had a full class, but I’ve got a guy that I’m pretty sure is going to drop out. And if he drops out and you want his spot, you can have it because we’re so close to starting that I don’t have time to recruit. So I’m just going to let you in if he drops out. 

A week later he called me or I called him, and he said, “Do you still want the spot?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “You’re in.”

I didn’t interview for it. I didn’t apply for it. I was just in. So, after I got there, they wanted my application, so I gave it to them. And, we’re over half way through the CPE unit, when they’re ask me for some more information that I never submitted to begin with. And, they said, “Well, the way you came in, it probably got lost somewhere anyway, so don’t worry about it. So, I never did have to fill out part of the stuff that you normally have to fill out. And again, never interviewed for it, just got accepted over the phone and went in.  

So, I completed that unit of CPE. Part of that training had me serving 40 hours a week at a homeless shelter, which was a life-changing experience. It showed me a whole different world and changed my entire perspective on homelessness.

After I completed my CPE training, I came home and started looking for a job, again I couldn’t buy one. I went to these clothing stores who will hire anybody, except me. I went to Lifeway Christian Store, which was actively seeking employees. You would think that a guy who’s getting ready to have an MDiv would be a shoe-in, ‘nope,’ wouldn’t even talk to me.

So one morning my wife told me, “You go find a job and you go find a job today.” 

I said, “Okay God, you heard my wife. I need a job and I need a job today.”

I walked into Rural King in Winchester, and I didn’t give them my full resume. I was frustrated. I was aggravated. I did a copy and paste. It was the worst looking resume I have ever done in my life, and I had it in my hand and I walked in, wearing just normal everyday outdoor clothes. 

All the managers were standing around the little desk at Rural King. One of them said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “Well, I hope so. I’m looking for a job.” And he looked at me and said, “You look like you already work here, but I tell you what, I don’t usually do the hiring, let me get a hold of Shane.”

So, Shane comes over, and says, “Boy, this is a nice-looking resume.” And I thought he was being sarcastic, so I said, “Well sir, I have a professional resume.” He said, “You could have written it with crayon on cardboard and it would have been alright with me.” And he called another guy and said, “Hey, are you still looking for an inventory specialist?” And the guy said, “Yeah, I am.”

Shane asked me some questions, I passed an on-the-spot drug test and came home with a job that day. And before I left Rural King, I ended up being operations manager of the store, which meant that the next time a store opened I’d have first shot at becoming a store manager.

Once I got into seminary, although I’d given no thought to chaplaincy whatsoever, that’s where I felt God leading me, either counseling or chaplaincy. When I checked it was the same requirements, the only difference would be the word written on my diploma ‘counseling’ or ‘chaplaincy.’

So I stuck with chaplaincy, and I applied for a residency at the VA in Lexington. I also interviewed at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville.

Once my wife had accepted that God was calling me into chaplaincy, she told me, “You’re going to be a chaplain at the VA. And, I said from the very beginning, “It’s not possible. I can’t do it. I don’t have any qualifications to be a chaplain at the VA. It can’t happen.” So chaplaincy at the VA was never really legitimately on my radar — ever.

I get a call from the VA and they said, “We’d like to offer you a paid residency for one year at the VA in Lexington.” Well, it shocked me so much that I choked up and began to cry. I don’t cry. I’m not a crier. And my CPE educator said, “I hear emotion in your voice. What’s that about?”

I told him, “I didn’t think I was going to get this.” Turns out I beat out 14 other people for that spot. I had no idea.

“It was divine intervention,” Adrena said.

A week before I was supposed to start, I got a call from the chief of chaplain services saying, “Hey, we’ve got a program that we would like to get you trained in called Warrior to Soulmate, it’s like a marriage counseling thing. But I can’t pay you to do it because you’re not officially on the books. But if you will come this week, I will give you equivalent time off that you can use anytime you want to use it.” 

The chief of chaplain services in Cincinnati, Ohio, came to Lexington to train us. I complete the training. My official second week, but my unofficial third week at the hospital, I’m walking down the hallway from the Community Living Center (CLC) back to my office. I said, “Lord, I know where I’m at right now, but where am I going to be a year from now?”

And as clearly as anyone has ever spoken to me, the Lord said, “Don’t you worry about where you’re going to be a year from now. You learn what I need you to learn right now, and I’ll take care of next year.” 

Well, I was up in this room shortly after that, it may have even been the next day, and the enormity of my responsibility hit me like a mac truck. “We’re not playing games here. I’m actually here to help these folk. I’m not a veteran. I’m not old. I’m not disabled. I thought, “How am I going to connect with these guys?”

“How?” I’ve got nothing in common with them. My anxiety broke out like you wouldn’t believe. I thought I was going to have a stroke or a heart attack right then and there. I was like, “God you’ve got to help me, cause I don’t know what to do. I’ve got seminary training, I’ve got church training. “I ain’t got no training for these folk.” 

And the Lord spoke to me and directed my attention to the corner of that room. And in the corner in-between the bookcase and the wall, was a guitar. And the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “That is how you are going to connect. That guitar.”

I’d played the guitar and sang all my life. So I went back to the office and asked my mentor, “You guys have guitar groups or people that come in and sing and play?”

He said, “No, but we’ve been wanting someone who can play the guitar and sing because the veterans love that.” 

I said, “Well, I might be able to help you there.”

He said, “Are you kiddin’ me?”

And that was it. My guitar and my singing and all of a sudden everybody in the Community Living Center (CLC), everybody in the hospital knows who I am. “I’m the chaplain who can sing and play.” I started getting requests to go to people’s rooms. It just opened up the entire hospital to me.

Well, after six months is over, this was right as the COVID pandemic was hitting, I got transferred from the CLC to the main hospital. It shares a campus with the University of Kentucky. So, they still left me with hospice and palliative care at the main hospital, but I was no longer doing the work in the CLC. So they give you a broad range of experiences to learn different skillsets. 

I got to do some things as a resident with hospice and palliative care that other residents never got to experience. 

The first six months at the VA, I was assigned to the CLC. And the reason that he did it is because the CLC is for hospice and palliative care. Now there is some rehabilitation and some respite, but it is mostly dementia, hospice and palliative care, which is a much slower, much different approach to work and lifestyle than I was ever used to. I was used to fast-paced, snap decisions, put it in place, let’s get it done. You got time to lean, you got time to clean. The whole business mantra. 

And, I asked my mentor one day, “Did you assign me to the CLC to slow me down?”

And, he said, “Yes, I did. It was strategic. I wanted you here on this campus. I wanted you to learn this skillset, and I wanted you to slow down because I think you’re going to make a great chaplain.” 

In my last three months at the VA, they assigned me to the intensive care units. While I was in the ICUs I was asked to bring my guitar and play and sing for veterans there. 

I’ve had doctors tell me that my appearance in the room with my guitar was actually a turning point in the care of some of those individuals.

My last month at the VA, I’m starting to get a little concerned. I’m starting to try and figure out what am I going to do next? Well, the Army called me and said, “We’re looking for men like you.” I participated in the big speech they gave, the meeting they had. He said, “Get me your stuff. We can get you in. You’ll be fine. We will make a chaplain out of you. And if you still want to serve your full 20 years, you’re young enough that you can do it.” At the time I was only 44 years old. 

My wife said, “No, absolutely not.”

“Okay God, so military’s not in it and the VA’s not in it, what am I going to do?”

She’s still saying VA, I’m saying ain’t no way. I went and talked to my boss and he said there’s no way. I don’t have spot first of all, but secondly you don’t have the qualifications. 

What happened was there was this policy thing called “Hybrid Title 38” circulating up in Washington, but it didn’t get pushed through until after I was supposed to leave Lexington.

I got a job offer from Central Baptist in Lexington as a part-time and PRN chaplain. The lady called me in for the interview. She said, “I looked at your resume and I want to hire you because you’re going to be here when there is no other leadership here, and I’m going to trust you to take care of all the chaplain issues in the hospital when there’s no leadership here. I need someone I can trust.”

I said, “Okay, give me a couple days.”

The next day, the Lord had laid a gentleman on my heart that I knew from seminary. I knew he had gotten moved to Cincinnati. He was pastoring a church up there. He was originally from Georgia, but he was a bishop and overseer of Fiji and New Zealand. Because of COVID they kicked him out and he was back in the U.S.

So my seminary friend, Daniel, had to find something to do. He was assigned to a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Overseers typically don’t serve as a pastor and an overseer. It doesn’t happen. He was a Marine with a master’s of divinity, a master’s in mental health counseling and a doctorate in ministry.

I told him, “Daniel, while you are waiting to get back into Fiji, why don’t you go do a residency at the VA and if you ever want to work for the VA, you’re a shoe-in. You have everything they want — everything, the only thing that you’re missing is a residency.”

The Lord laid on my heart to call the Cincinnati VA, where my CPE trainer worked. They called me back the next day and said, “This guy sounds really impressive, but what are you doing?”

“I’m getting ready to go to work at Central Baptist,” I said.

“Would you be interested in coming to Cincinnati and doing a second year of residency or a fellowship?

I said, “Well, I really hadn’t given that a whole lot of thought, but I’ll think about it.” That’s what I said, but I was actually thinking, “I don’t even have to pray about this. I just tell my wife. She’s going to say, ‘No.’ That’s it. We’re done.”

So, we’re on the way home from work and I said, “Oh, by the way, they called me from Cincinnati and they’re interested in Daniel, but they’re also interested in me. And my wife looked at me and shocked me. You could have knocked me over, at that point, with a feather.” 

She said, “Well, I think you should go ahead and do it, and if they take you, we’ll figure it out.”

In my mind I was thinking, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife — cause this ain’t her. “

So, I said, “Lord, I know this is You, cause that ain’t my wife. So that had to be You speaking through her.” 

I didn’t say anything, but the next day I called him back and said, “Well, Chaplain McKinney, I guess, if you’re interested, I’m interested. He said, “Well, I want to meet you in person, can you drive up?”

So, I said, “Well, how am I going to pull this off? So, I told my chief of chaplain services in Lexington and he said, “Yeah, go on up and meet with him and see what he says. Then when you get done, come on back to work.”

“Are you kiddin’ me?” You’re going to pay me to go interview … “Yes, sir.” 

So I did.

When I got up there, I found out that the chief of chaplain services was no longer there. They had brought in a new guy, but he was temporary, and it seemed like they were getting ready to lose another chaplain. 

So the only person that I met that day was Chaplain McKinney. I was thinking to myself, now this real great. There’s no stability. I don’t know what’s going to happen and it is 105 miles one way from my house to the VA. 

And, I knew, by the way the interview up there went, that it was mine. And he told me, “Welcome aboard.” 

So, I came home and I told my wife, I said, “I got it.” And she said, “Okay.”

So the third week that I was up there. They had what was called the Fisher House, where veterans and family of veterans can stay if they live more than 50 miles away and they need to be there overnight. 

So, I asked my boss. I said, “Hey, how about I work four tens. I’ll work Sunday and Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. You let me stay overnight at the Fisher House and I’ll be on call. So I will be here at the hospital and if they need a chaplain I’m right here.”

He said, “Let me run it by the Fisher House.” 

They said, “Okay.”

“I am the very first non-veteran employee that was allowed to stay at the Fisher House six months.” Up until that point they had never allowed it.

The second week that I’m at the VA up there. I tell them that I would really like to have some experience with mental health. I’ve done the CLC, I know it like the back of my hand. I know all the protocols. I know all the rules and regulations that COVID has brought. I know all of it. I’ve got experience with the ICUs, cause I’ve don’t that – but I’ve never worked with mental health.

So he said, CPE is a chance for you to learn a skillset. The second week that I was there that they were scheduled to hand out assignments, the chaplain that was assigned to the CLC retired. 

The chief of chaplain services told my educator that I was going to the CLC because I already knew it. In fact, I’m going to give him the office that the staff chaplain had for the CLC. That will just be his office. 

Now there’s three residents. I get an office. I get assigned to the CLC. 

It was six or eight weeks after I got there, the director of the CLC sent a letter to my boss that said, “Hey, we feel like God has sent Brian to the CLC. We appreciate what he’s doing, and we look forward to working with him going forward.”  

So my boss walks in and says, “Guess we have found your assignment while you are here.”

So about six months in, my boss has a meeting with us and says, “I have tried to post the CLC job three times. It has never posted. I’ve had HR try to post it. They can’t figure out why it’s not posting. We don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to try again. 

Well, the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said, “Go tell him that you’d like to have the job.”

“Okay.” So, after the meeting was over, I went into his office and I said, “Hey chief, can I talk to you a minute.” He said, “Sure, come on in.”

I said, “I’d like to have the job.” 

He said, “Are you serious?” 

I said, “Yeah, I’m here and I’ve been doing it. I’ll take it.”

He said, “Well, I guess that’s why I couldn’t post it. Alright. You can have it.”

“That was literally it.” They gave me a start date before I ever applied for the job. I was already there.

Now that’s where this Title 38 comes in because Hybrid Title 38 says, you can hire a resident or fellow who has completed at least one year of residency without competition. So they didn’t have to post the job. They just hired me and that was it. 

So that is how I went from being a manager in manufacturing, logistics and retail to becoming a full-time staff chaplain at the VA in Cincinnati, 105 miles from home.

I don’t think my story is finished yet, but there’s been a whole lot happen to put me where I am right now. 

So, I can say without any reservations, shadow of doubts, without questioning: I am in God’s will, doing what God wants me to do, where God wants me to do it. Because I would have never in my wildest dreams or imagination or fantasy put myself as a staff chaplain in Cincinnati, Ohio — ever. It wasn’t even anything I was thinking about. 

It’s been one “God moment” after another – a lot of ups and downs, a lot of questions, a lot of ‘What in the world is going on?’ ‘Why is this happening?’ Of course looking back, I see how each step built on the next step.

I grew up in this little country church and I don’t ever remember not playing the guitar, though I never had a lesson. I did not grow up in a musical family, but my 88-year-old grandmother remembers watching me pick up a guitar at church and start strumming it. I was probably three or four years old at the time. She said she watched me go from just strumming to changing chords when everybody else changed chords. 

That was the night I learned to play the guitar.  

They talk about having ‘perfect pitch,’ that’s when you can hear a note and know what key that note is in. And, I have had that for most of my life. I can hear a song on the radio and know what key that song is being sung in. 

God’s ways are truly above our ways.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. — Jeremiah 29:11

A man’s heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. — Proverbs 16:9c

#247. I Needed to Change Everything

I am 27 years old and I’m the youngest of three kids. I have a brother who is five years older than me. He is on the severe autism spectrum. At age 32, his developmental level is that of a toddler. Our sister moved out of the house when I was just three years old and she was 16. 

I was born in Jonesboro, Arkansas, and raised most of my life in nearby Batesville. By the age of five I had tried methamphetamine for the first time, after a kid at school brought it with him from home. At the time I had no earthly idea what it was. He described it as “ice,” which turned me away from having a willingness to try it. But then he described it as “candy,” so I tried it. I didn’t like the taste. I guess after awhile I subconsciously noticed some effects, but at that time, I had no idea that it was in anyway going to effect how I felt or thought. 

Whatever sensation it gave me, I didn’t know that what I was feeling was anything more than natural. However, after school I do remember my mother looking at me when she picked me up, asking “Have you taken something?” I didn’t really know what she meant by that, but that did make me think back to what the kid gave me at school.

That same year at school, the same kid also influenced me to experiment sexually. I’d like to point out this kid was the same age as me.

At home I dealt with an abusive father. He wasn’t home most of the time, and when he was home, he was extremely unstable. He was all forms of abusive toward my mother, and verbally and physically abusive to my brother and me. 

I have memories of him pushing my mother down the stairs while she tried to carry groceries up; then he and his friend laughed at her. I have memories of him locking me in a room while he tortured my mother with a knife. I can still remember very vividly standing on the other side of that door and beating on it, begging him to stop, even begging and praying to God for him to stop — but nothing worked.

When I was seven years old, my father attempted to murder my mother, brother and me. He failed and went to prison. At that point, my family was broken. I began to exhibit a lot of my father’s traits. I would verbally and physically abuse my mother if I didn’t get my way. I would not take care of my responsibilities and I would manipulate people. I was forced to go to counseling, where I refused to accept help. When I was 14 years old, my father died of a heart attack in prison. 

After my father’s funeral, I tried marijuana for the first time. I had no memory of trying the meth as a young child. I’m not sure if I blocked it out because of everything my father had put us all through or because of ulterior motives, but I imagine the former. 

I moved out of my mother’s house and in with my sister at the age of 14, so I could get closer to crowds of people who had marijuana. My addiction grew from marijuana to alcohol to cigarettes to pills to acid, and anything else I could get my hands on. At 17 I had a falling out with my sister and brother-in-law, and I had to move back home with my mother. At that point, my previous problems were amplified by my addiction. 

The year I turned 18, I was in jail several times. By age 19, my mother had filed an order of protection against me. I was homeless and in and out of jail several more times before I turned 21. I began using meth occasionally, keeping it from my family, who had agreed to help me get my own apartment, as long as I got a job and took over the bills. 

Quite the opposite took place. I began to use meth regularly at my apartment and experienced spiritual warfare. I was not in a close relationship with Christ at this time, but I was a believer, and the enemy didn’t like that. Pretty quickly my family found out that I was on meth. I never got a job, so before long, the electricity was turned off. But there I was in my dark house getting high. 

It wasn’t long before I was back into an in-and-out-of-jail cycle. Soon I lost my apartment and was forced to go to rehab. I immediately left rehab and returned to getting high and manipulating my family. That didn’t last long though. I was quickly back in jail and somehow got blessed with another chance to go to rehab. However, I still wasn’t ready for it. So, once again, I left rehab and returned to the same mess. 

At this point, most of my charges had consisted of criminal trespassing, public intoxication, violating an order of protection and possession of drug paraphernalia. Again. I went to jail. This time there were no more chances at rehab. I was about 24 years old and all my charges were misdemeanors. I had been on misdemeanor probation and had my final strike. I had done a couple three-month sentences and a six-month sentence, but this time I received a one-year sentence in the county jail.

After my year was up, I got out. A few months later, my family once again helped me get housing with the same agreement that I get a job and take over the bills. This didn’t happen before and it didn’t happen this time either. I was right back into the drugs and other forms of rebellion. 

In 1 Samuel 15:23, it says, “For rebellion is like the sin of witchcraft, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,he has rejected you as king.”

Somehow,I managed to stay out of jail for almost a year, and I kept my apartment for about six months. In that apartment I began to shoot up meth. After losing the apartment, I was homeless for about three months before being caught for my first Class D felony, possession of less than 2 grams of methamphetamine. I did three months in a 6×8-foot cell, 23 hours a day. After three months I got offered probation. I lied and used my sister’s address as a probation address, which was not where I was going because I was not allowed there. Believe it or not, just seven days later I was picked up on my second Class D felony for possession of less than 2 grams of meth, but this time there was no probation option.

I had a spiritual breakthrough upon this second arrest. I was in tears and the officers who arrested me bowed their heads as I prayed and cried out to my God. For the next three days in my jail cell I continued to cry out to God and shout, attempting to make my flesh a sacrifice pleasing to my Lord. I verbalized my thoughts and cried out to my God emotionally. I shouted at the devil. I cried to my Lord. I began to meditate and undergo a spiritual awakening of sorts. Coming to terms with the reality that there was no changing just one thing — but instead I knew I needed to change everything. I told God that I knew this.

I was finally ready. Thoughts became words, words became actions, such as taking the first offer the prosecuting attorney gave me. I had done wrong, I had done so much wrong, I just wanted to change! In the past, I tried to get a better offer for my sentence, so I could get back to the same mess! This time, I agreed to take my first offer — whatever it was. They offered me a year, though I could have gotten six months. So, I took that year! I needed time to work on myself.

I was sentenced to RCF, a regional correctional facility with a therapeutic community. I took mandatory classes two hours a day, five days a week. They were led by CITS. In this atmosphere I learned to separate myself from negative thinking. The majority of the residents were only willing to see bad in the good. Mocking classes that had actual therapeutic value. I distanced myself from these people. I read my Bible and I read my Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the program, I became an expeditor, a resident who helps the guards maintain structure. Expeditors hold other residents accountable to the rules. In the community we also had residential sponsors, which were by no means real sponsors, as almost none of us had a year of sobriety. However, I worked my way into becoming a sponsor and then, eventually, the spokesman for all the sponsors. I managed to read the entire Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous while at RCF. My family could see my growth and recovery through the letters I wrote them. My mother dropped the protection order against me. My sister came to visit me multiple times, and my mother and niece even came to see me once.

Oftentimes, in RCF, I would get hit with waves of sadness because of the memories of what I had put my family and myself through. 

I found a Bible verse I really, really like. It’s John 17:23 and in that verse it summarizes that God loves you and me as much as he loves Jesus.

That realization helped me get through a lot of sad times.

Upon leaving the RCF Osceola unit, I paroled out to Phoenix Recovery Center in Springdale, Arkansas. It’s a halfway house that has two separate entities under the same roof. The Returning Home Center and TCIY.

The Returning Home Center is a nonprofit organization dedicated to repairing lives and restoring families. TCIY is a mental health service that provides counseling. 

Phoenix Recovery Center truly is a gem that God has revealed to me. I mean, seriously, how many halfway houses can be found that have in-house counselors and an organization with people who are working just to help troubled adults restore their lives!

Upon completing the three-month program, I got hired as a staff member at the Phoenix Recovery Center, which truly is a blessing! Before leaving RCF I was telling myself and other staff members and residents that, once I got out, I was going to find a job in treatment and recovery — even if I have to start as a janitor or cook at a rehab. Lo and behold, God guided me to a halfway house that helped me and where I’m able to help others as a staff member, others who have lived through experiences similar to mine.  I will soon be two years clean and have been a member of the support staff of Phoenix Recovery Center since February 2020! God is good!  

Sometimes I almost wonder if God has a sense of humor, not because he blessed me and blessed me and blessed me, but because He also made me a janitor at my second job. I’m a janitor at a poultry plant, making $14 an hour, which is a pretty comfortable job to be making that much money! 

When I went for my janitor interview, the supervisor asked me “Why should I give you this job? I’ve got a handful of other people here who have been working here for five, six or more years. What makes you so special? You’ve barely been with us for 60 days.” 

I told him he should hire me because I believe in accountability. I believe in being humble and I believe in following my last directive. I also know that it’s not necessarily about doing what I see as right, but rather about doing what the company sees as right. Again, I repeated that I believe in accountability! Later that day I found out that I got the job along with one other person who had been working there for 16 years!

I believe it’s vital for us to be stronger than our strongest excuses. Accountability is a righteous and caring word. Snitching is the criminal version of the word accountability. They both hold the same meaning but one is taken with a twist as if it holds wrongful values. There is no such thing as snitching. The correct term is accountability. Embracing accountability allows us to take God’s justice and make it shine.

I would like to ask all of you to please work harder on yourself than any job that may pertain to you.  

“Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job. If you work hard on your job you can make a living, but if you work hard on yourself, you’ll make a fortune . . . income seldom exceeds personal development.” –Jim Rohn

One of my favorite characteristics of God is His love.  

1 John 4:7–8 says:

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

When you or I feel loved, we are actually feeling a connection to God. Not the Son, not the Father, not the Holy Spirit but God (the three are one and He is three) and in that moment we are in a way in contact with the One who created the heavens and the earth. 

“…and the world will be convinced that you have sent me [Jesus], for they will see that you love each one of them with the same passionate love that you have for me [Jesus].” —John 17:23

#246. God’s Blessing of Multiplication

Photo by Rob Collins

My name is Adeboye Taiwo and I was born into a Christian family in Nigeria. We attended the Anglican Church. I served in children’s ministry all the while, taking care of children in the church, teaching them the ways of God. 

I met my wife, Ajibola, at church. We met as children’s teachers. She was born into a Muslim home and converted to Christianity. She had a calling into children’s ministry too. We started a relationship and got married in the year 2000.

In Nigeria, when somebody gets married, immediately a few months after that, the wife is expected to be expecting a baby. So, after a year or two, if there is no sign of pregnancy, pressure starts coming in.

It was not too easy for us when we started waiting for five, six, eight, nine, ten years. In our culture, if it takes such a long time, you might be asked to divorce the person you are married to and get another wife because there was no child.

Even if no child is coming, provided we are living happily, I think ‘I’m okay,’ though it was not easy.    

“Even socially in our culture,” my wife said, “people don’t reckon with you if you’re having issue of having a child. They look down on you. We prayed. We sought the face of God but nothing was coming.

“But, to the glory of God — after 17 years — God decided to answer us. And He gave us … a set of sextuplets.”

“It was an assisted pregnancy through in vitro. We had four eggs transferred,” Ajibola said.

We were prepared that from the four, maybe two or one would survive, but to our surprise two eggs split, creating six viable embryos.

“When we confirmed the pregnancy in Nigeria,” Ajibola said, “the ultrasound did not reveal six. The first one revealed three.” Because of the joy, we made plans to visit Adeboye’s family in Northern Virginia for two or three weeks.

“When we came, a few days after, I found that I wasn’t feeling good and I was taken to an emergency room and it revealed six,” Ajibola said.

She’s laughing because when they first mentioned six, I was so excited, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t because she knew the implication of what she was carrying. 

When the complications set in and we saw this, we realized that going back would be like endangering our life. We had to find out how to get a hospital. It was not an easy thing and we — I was praying anyway. Then one day I made up my mind that, well, we have to go back to Nigeria. We cannot sit down here without having a doctor, without getting treatment that is expected. So while I was doing that, our host family called. They now said that a hospital had accepted us.

It was like, wow, is it possible? They said the hospital is VCU in Richmond and the doctor said we can come, they will take up the treatment in order to save our life. At the time my wife was admitted, and for the whole two months we were together in the hospital.

It was the most fearful period of our lifetime.

“It was tough,” Ajibola said. “It got to a time that I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I carried the pregnancy for 30 weeks and two days. I was on hospital bed for eight weeks for bedrest.” 

She was so tiny and oh, she has gone through a lot for me and for our babies.

At birth the babies’ weight ranged from 1.5 pounds to 3 pounds, so they were in the neonatal intensive care unit for some time.

“All of them did well,” Ajibola said.

So while we were in the hospital for these 60 days, a lady — a nurse — in the hospital, just approached us asking if we were Nigerians. She said there is a Nigerian who has worked in the hospital, but she is no longer there, she is now in another place. The nurse asked if she could tell her about us.

Well, we said, good. At least let’s be able to see somebody. And, when Mrs. Christiannah came in, she spoke our dialect. Oh, we were happy. She accepted us like as if she knew us long before then. 

When the babies were to be discharged, they were not all discharged together. Because of their medical appointments, we cannot go back to Northern Virginia. We needed somewhere very close. Mrs. Christiannah said, “No, I have a big house! You are free to come in.”

She’s a wonderful lady.

While in the hospital we also connected with Mrs. Judy, a volunteer in the NICU who met our babies when they were there. Mrs. Judy used to come every week and she’s like a mom to us. We call her our white grandma. She has shown the Christ light in her. We said we’d like to join her church – First Presbyterian Church of Richmond.

Everybody in the church accepted us immediately. They made us feel that we belong to a family, a church community. It gives me more courage and assurance to tell anybody who is trusting God or believing God for anything that no matter what, God can do it. No matter how difficult the situation is, God can turn it around.

The sextuplets were given names that honor and glorify God:  

Morayo (I have found joy in the Lord, Morayoninuoluwa)
Sindara (God still performs wonders, Oluwasindara)
Jubeelo (God is not quantifiable, Oluwajubeelo)
Funbi (God gave me a child, Oluwafunbi)
Setemi (God has perfected my own, Oluwasetemi)
Semiloore (God has favored me, Oluwasemiloore)

When it was that 17 years, I had made up my mind that no child was coming and there was no longer to be anything, but at the same time I had concluded there was not going to be anything, that was when God said, “I will do a new thing, now will it spring forth.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

– Genesis 18:14 

Video by Rob Collins

In a recent letter to the entire church family, Adeboye and Ajibola expressed their sincere gratitude for the hospitality, love and concern they have received since joining FPC-Richmond in 2018. This is an excerpt:

You gave us hope when we thought all hope was gone. We lost count of how many times you drove your cars to our house … fit car seats into them, carefully buckled our children to their seats, and drove us to and from church.

You got me a job by which I am able to put food on the table and a roof over my family. My children are not left out as you always plan and guide us in making good decisions about their education, including plans for their summer school to ensure they have a better future.

All our grandmas and grandpas have been so wonderful. They have always been there at all times to help and assist us whenever we needed them.

Special thanks to Adeboye and Ajibola Taiwo, the Rev. Mary Kay Collins and Rob Collins at First Presbyterian Church of Richmond and Paul Seebeck, Presbyterian News Service, for sharing this God story with us.

#245. COVID Lessons About the Faithfulness of God

Photo by Tammy Warren

My wife Dee Dee and I will never forget Christmas Day 2020. That’s when we believe we were both exposed to coronavirus, while visiting with family. 

We developed symptoms that led us to be tested on Dec. 27, and within 24 hours we learned we were both positive for COVID-19. While Dee Dee had a milder case of the virus, I had the full gamut. I was sick to my stomach and had fever, aches, pains — everything a person could have, I had it.

Dee Dee drove me to the emergency room on Dec. 28 or 29, I am unclear about the date. I was advised to go home and take over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers, like Tylenol or Advil. It was suggested we purchase a pulse oximeter to keep check of my oxygen level. 

I just kept getting sicker and my oxygen level kept plummeting, so within days we were back at the emergency room. This time, they gave me fluids and called in some prescription meds for me. They told me to go directly to the facility across the street to have an infusion of monoclonal antibodies. They said they’d set it up for us.

“All you have to do is walk across the street,” they said. “They’re waiting on you, and they’re going to give you the antibodies. You should feel better in three or four days.”

They told us the antibody infusion would take a couple hours, but that Dee Dee would not be able to go in the facility with me. So, she dropped me off at the entrance and then headed to the pharmacy to pick up the prescriptions the ER doctor had called in for me.

I walked into the facility with my mask on, noticing it was a cancer care facility.

“What are you here for?” they asked me. I explained that the emergency room staff set me up to receive antibodies. They didn’t know what I was talking about.

I explained again: “I just left the emergency room. They said for me to come over here to receive antibodies.”

“Do you have COVID?” they asked me.

“Yes, I do, that’s why I’m here to get the antibody thing,” I said.

They replied, “You’ve got to get out of the building immediately.”

So, I left the building. It was very cold outside. I sat on a bench as I called Dee Dee to come back and get me. “They didn’t know anything about this stuff I’m supposed to get,” I told her. “They said I have to make an appointment and that it could be a week or two.”

As I waited for Dee Dee to return, someone came out of the facility to tell me that I couldn’t even sit on the bench.

“You’ve got to get off our property,” they said.

Dee Dee returned to pick me up. She somehow got an appointment for me to return to this facility in three days for an antibody infusion. In the meantime, the ER doctor prescribed oxygen around the clock at home.

Three days later we showed up for the antibody infusion appointment. I walked in all hooked up to my portable oxygen. They took one look at me and stated the obvious, “You’re on oxygen.” 

“Well, yes, I am,” I said. 

“We can’t give you antibodies if you’re on oxygen,” they told me.

At this point, I was so sick, a lot sicker than I was three days prior. Dee Dee was waiting in the car. They brought me back out, nothing accomplished.

Dee Dee immediately took me back across the street to the emergency room. On that short trip, I was crying out, “God, why? Why me? Why all of these roadblocks? Why? Why? Why?”

As a pastor, I tell people, “You don’t know how you’re going to react to anything until you are in that situation.”

We were both upset and discouraged. Once we got back over to the emergency room we couldn’t even find a parking spot. The emergency room was full, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, what are we going to do now?”

Dee Dee said, “We’re going in.”

So, Dee Dee wheeled me and my oxygen tank into the emergency room waiting area. A nurse spotted us and asked, “Does he have COVID?”

“Yes, he does,” Dee Dee said. This nurse wasted no time and took me back immediately. In my crying out to the Lord between the two buildings, I believe that God ordained this direct route to the emergency room physician through this nurse. 

I remember being in the emergency room with Dee Dee waiting in the car. My oxygen level was low and they told me they would have to intubate me right now. I texted Dee Dee these words: “I’m scared.” 

The next thing I knew, I was out — and I was out until March.

“I’m sitting there and sitting there,” Dee Dee remembered. “Friends came by to check on me, since they know I’m sitting in the parking lot. Then Steve texts me, “I’m scared.” I was like, “I am too.”

“I was thinking he’d go into the emergency room and they would do something, fix him and send him back out, but after I dropped him off, I didn’t get to see him again until sometime the middle of January.

“I knew God had Steve in His hands, I believed and didn’t believe at the same time. I was just so scared. We’ve been together since I was 13 years old, married when I was 18. The thought came to me that I may never get to see him and talk to him again. It was terrifying.”

Dee Dee’s mom came to stay with her while Steve was hospitalized. Their youngest son also flew in from Texas. Pastor Barry, his wife, Gay, as well as other church friends, provided ongoing support and encouragement. One friend, Marilyn, began texting an encouraging scripture to Dee Dee every day, and she continues doing so to this very day. 

Everyone kept telling Dee Dee, “When you get to see him, it will be so much better.”

“That was the worst moment of my life,” recalled Dee Dee of seeing Steve in the hospital for the first time. “His kidneys had shut down two days after he was hospitalized, and he had to go on full-time dialysis. His blood pressure, which had always been high, was now low. Just to watch COVID destroy his body was so fearful to me. I knew God was in control, but I had to be reminded of that every single day.”

As the weeks and months passed, Dee Dee became so upset that she could no longer listen to online sermons or Christian music. “It wasn’t that I lost faith,” she said. “I was just so scared to live my life without him. I never in my wildest dreams thought there would be a time when I would not be able to listen to Christian music or Pastor Barry’s sermons, but that was my experience. It seemed the words hurt me instead of helping me at the time.”

Even though Dee Dee didn’t see any improvement in Steve’s condition, he was moved from the hospital to the intensive care unit of a rehab facility, where he was gradually taken off sedation and the three paralytic medications that he’d been given to prevent movement.

“When I began to wake up, it was a scary time for me,” Steve remembered. “It was also a scary time for Dee Dee and my family. If you haven’t, you will at some point, come face to face with death. If there’s any source of encouragement that I could say to you, it’s okay to be frightened — but hopeful — if you belong to the Lord.”

When Steve was able to text, he texted Pastor Barry, “Man, I am struggling. Just struggling.” 

“In what way?” Pastor Barry asked.

“In every way, in every way,” Steve replied.

Looking back, Steve can see his battle was both physical and spiritual. “No matter how physically, emotionally or spiritually strong you think you are, you are still vulnerable. There’s nobody who is exempt from spiritual warfare. And, I believe a lot of what I experienced was spiritual,” Steve said.

“There was a turning point in my recovery — a time when things moved from hopeless to hopeful. Pastor Barry visited and asked me if I had been in the Word. At that point I couldn’t even lift a Bible. So, we figured out a way and got people to prop up the Bible for me.

“Physical therapy began before I could feel my legs. I was able to sit on the side of the bed and, after a few days was able to semi stand, not straightening up. They worked with me diligently, and I had strong determination.

“I got a firm talking-to by my pastor. I kept thinking, ‘Man, why is he so hard on me?’”

Pastor Barry wanted me to get better, telling me, “I don’t care what they tell you. If they tell you to sit there and wiggle your finger for two or three minutes a day — you wiggle that finger.”

“As much as we can talk about everything that we went through, and how frightening and horrible it was — the entire time we weren’t alone,” Steve recalled. “God was with us every step of the way, even when we thought He wasn’t.

“If God had chosen not to heal me, it would not have made Him any lesser God. He would have still been glorified as a result, but I do believe that for whatever reason God chose to reveal himself again as a miracle worker through my life.

“I think I told Pastor Barry as soon as I could talk, ‘I’m a miracle.’ I don’t say that in a boastful way, but I truly believe that I’m a miracle. I even coded once. Things looked bleak. I have had so many conversations, you know, when my doctor said, “You should have died five or six times and you’re still here.”

The director of the respiratory department said, “When they bring someone in on a ventilator, my job is to assess whether that person will come off the ventilator. I told them you would not come off it.”

She, the director, walked into my room nearly every morning and just cry, saying, “I just can’t believe it.”

“And I’d reply, ‘I can’t believe it either, but to God be the glory.’”

After 101 days in the hospital recovering from COVID-19, Steve was discharged on April 15, 2021. He came home in a wheelchair, then moved to a walker, then to a cane, then to a sort of a little limp every now and again. “I can’t stand on my feet very long, but I’m standing,” he said. “Thanks be to God.” 

#244. My Story Isn’t Over

I have spent over half my life in prison.

All totaled, I have been to prison four times. The sad part is that none of that prison time helped me; to be honest, I truly think it made me worse. I had gotten to the point where I didn’t care to break the law, as long as I didn’t get caught. And for the most part I didn’t even care if I did get caught!

I truly believe that God led me to Addiction Recovery Care (ARC). I’ll never be able to put into words what God and ARC have done for me. While going through the program, I have learned a lot about myself and have come to understand the core beliefs I developed over the years were wrong.

My parents did not care much about me. I didn’t realize how much this would affect me growing up, and I tried to act like I didn’t care, but deep down I was dying inside. They lost custody of me when I was nine years old, and they never looked back.

My aunt and uncle stepped in and did their best to raise me, my brother and my sister. My uncle, who to me is my father, worked all day every day to try to make a living for us. He worked himself to death to take care of us — no matter what. He always tried to instill in us a good work ethic. He taught us to always be honest and do the right things no matter what.

My aunt and uncle were raising us, along with their four kids. They loved us when no one else loved us, and to me that’s what matters most. They were young and doing the best they could with seven kids. Honestly, they did a great job, cause no matter what we went through or what we did, they always taught us right from wrong and always made sure we were safe.

My aunt and uncle decided to get all three of us involved in sports and, we all were really good at something. I played football, basketball and baseball every year. I started in all three. When I was 12, my all-star team went to state in baseball, and I helped pitch for us at the state tournament. So, to say I excelled in sports would definitely be accurate. In high school I continued to do the same.

I think I remember my junior year the clearest. Maybe because it would be the last full year I would get to play. That year in baseball I batted 108 times. The first game of the year we played Allen Central and I struck out swinging twice in that game. The next 106 at-bats I would only strike out one time and end up with a batting average of 608. I had 69 base hits out of 108 at-bats, with six home runs and a slugging percentage of over 1000. That year I made the all-district team and became the only player on my team to make all-region. In football that year, we went 11-2, losing the regional championship game to Paintsville.

In my senior year, our first game was against the Hazard Bulldogs, thought to be the best team in our region. I pitched that game. I remember it well because Alice Lloyd College scouts were there. We only played six innings because our lights were torn up. In six innings you can only get 18 outs. I ended up striking out 15 batters and pitching a shutout against the top team in the region. We beat them 2-0. That game would be the last of my high school career.

My life changed forever on April 17, 2003. I was charged with two counts of first degree assault, two counts of first degree burglary, and two counts of first degree robbery. From that point, my life spiraled completely out of control due to drugs. After several months of being locked up for crimes that I didn’t commit, I started to lose hope in anything and everything. I honestly couldn’t see how this had happened to me. All the doubts and all the fears started to set in, and I began to believe the jailhouse talk. How the justice system isn’t fair and how it didn’t matter if I had done the crimes I was charged with or not — I would be going to prison.

I was hurt and angry, lonely and sad, you name it. I was a kid in a man’s world. I heard talk of a couple other inmates making plans to escape. I didn’t want to be there anymore, so when they brought it back up, all I knew is that I was broken and ready to go. That night, I joined them in trying to escape. A guard ended up getting stabbed, two others ended up getting assaulted, and my situation just got a whole lot worse.

After doing a lot of time in the hole [solitary confinement], I finally got to take my original charges to court. I was facing 120 years, but I didn’t care. I was just ready to have this all over with. To say I had lost hope in everything would be an understatement. By that time, I was almost completely broken.

It took me a couple of years to do so, but I ended up getting acquitted for all those charges I’d originally been locked up for. I remember falling to my knees and crying like the kid that I was. I thought I could finally shut the door on that part of my life. But I had to face the new charges, the escape and assault of the guard. I clearly remember how I felt as I watched my so-called codefendant walk out of the doors that day, and me having to stay behind.

The rest of me broke.

In my eyes it mattered that I shouldn’t have been in jail for something I didn’t do. However, all that mattered to the prosecutor was that I wouldn’t testify against the one who stabbed the guard, so they sent me to prison. I ended up making parole the first time up but the damage to me was done. I had no trust in the justice system and wasn’t ever going to listen to another judge or cop in my life.

Over the next nearly 20 years, I was in and out of prison, descending deeper and deeper into addiction. Each time I was released, I turned to drugs, since that’s how I dealt with everything. My lifestyle had become just like the quote you’ve heard that is often attributed to Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

I ended up catching more felonies and going back to prison two more times before serving out a 13-year sentence walking out of the doors of the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in 2014.

I was “dope sick” from heroin and/or suboxone. The first time I ever touched any of those was in prison, so I truly believe prison only hurt me and never helped me in any way.

I was strung out and hating life. On Nov. 14, 2014, while I was taking a part off of a vehicle, the car fell on me. It pinned me to the ground, broke my pelvic bone and my back, and nearly shut down my kidneys and other organs. When I look back, I know in my heart I was supposed to die that night, but God spared me and, at the time, I had no idea why.

I was a pitiful excuse of a man who had let life dictate every decision he had ever made. I was paralyzed from the waist down for several months and didn’t know if I’d ever walk again. Depression became a part of my life. I turned to the only thing that would numb my pain, the only thing that would help me forget all my past failures, hurts and hangups — drugs.

I burned every bridge I had ever crossed, and I hurt almost everyone I had come into contact with. I wasn’t the father I wanted to be, the son or brother I wanted to be. I was hopelessly lost and didn’t know what to do or which way to turn so, as always, I turned to drugs.

In 2016 I got in trouble again. I ended up serving five years in a prison in Virginia. When I finally got out, I was so tired, I didn’t have much strength left in me. Over the next couple years, I went on a meth binge. Boy, I thought I was bad then. Meth was a whole new and different kind of animal. I had done it before, but this was different. It’s all I thought about. But, like I said, I was breaking the law, running from the law, always angry. I was exhausted and coming to the point where I didn’t even want to live anymore. I had already overdosed twice and thought the only way I was going to stop was to end it all.

One night before coming to treatment at ARC, I decided to go and trade the car I had just bought for a gun, so I could end it all. That night I went to the drug dealer’s house to talk to him about trading. I was done. I couldn’t stop hurting the people I cared about, so one way or another, I was going to stop it. While in the house, little did I know that God was doing for me what I couldn’t do for myself. My car was towed away. As I look back, I realize that if that had not happened, chances are I wouldn’t be here today.

A few days after my car got towed, I ended up getting a DUI and, in doing so, I received a court order to complete Phase 1 at Lincoln Oaks drug rehab center in Annville, Kentucky. All I was worried about was completing Phase 1 and then going back to my miserable excuse of a life. Along the way things started to change; my mind started to clear. At first I saw treatment as a hindrance, but then I started to see it as an opportunity to change my life.

The people in the ARC program were different. There were no degrees that made them different, it was their life experiences, they had been where I was. They knew me and what I had gone through because they also had lived my experiences in their own way. They suffered heartache, pain and loss, and they had come out on the other side. They were living the kind of life that I had been dreaming of. I was so tired and hopeless, but these people who had previously been incarcerated, who had lived lives of addiction similar to mine, they were sober and productive members of their society.

For once in more than two decades, I began to see hope. I started to believe that it was possible for me. I truly believe God used ARC and the people there to show me the way.

“This is your way out if you want it; then here it is.”

They saw something in me that I thought had died; and they believed in me. Every rehab center that I went to, I saw people who were just like me. People who had been beat down by life like I had, people who suffered great pain but were taking the necessary steps to have a better life. From the directors to the residential staff, none was any different than I was. They kept talking about how if I did certain things and applied the tools I had learned, I could live the life I was meant to live. This gave me hope, ’cause no one saw the silent tears. The heartache. The constant pain I was truly in.

People only see what we allow them to see. And I never let anyone close enough to see anything about me. The botched suicide attempts. The overdoses. For once in my life I had true hope, and there is no price tag on that. Jesus hung on the cross for that hope. He died to give broken, misguided, helpless people like me a chance at life.

So, here I am, more than two years sober, and people from my community reach out to me and look to me for help in getting into treatment — me of all people.

I am married for the first time in my life. I have a beautiful, Christian wife with a gentle soul and a huge heart. I am a father to my kids, I’m actually a big part of their life now, I am no longer the family disappointment. I no longer have to worry about spending the rest of my life in prison or dying with a needle in my arm. God and Addiction Recovery Care are helping me live a life free from the chains of addiction, something I never thought possible.

All the bridges I once burned are no longer burnt.

Someone once asked me, “After all the time you wasted in prison and addiction, what’s one year (in the program) compared to the rest of your life?” That is one of the many things that has stuck with me. So, I gave myself a year to complete the entire program, internship and all. And here I am living the rest of my life free, truly free. I am a husband and father and blessed to have a job helping others — just like me — at the place that saved my life, ARC. Today I have purpose in my life and I wake up every day and thank God for that.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. To give you hope and a future.”  — Jeremiah 29:11

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. — Isaiah 30:21

#243. School Bus Baby, Part 2

Photo by Billy June Richardson

I remember her. That little girl in pink and pearls. I remember reaching tiny fingers up to touch those gritty pearls and wondering if I could eat them later if I got hungry. 

I remember. I always remember. At least I want to always remember… because, “Who knows when something or someone will leave, and all you’ll have left are your memories.”

When I look at this photo of a younger me, I see the pain. I wonder if a lost childhood is like the phantom pain of a lost limb. I still secretly grieve. I see the confusion that still haunts my heart to this day. I see a little girl wondering if she is cute enough to be allowed to stay. I see her pale little face, full of questions about who she is and why God would allow her to suffer. I see her yearning to be loved and to belong. I ask God, “Why?” 

For nearly three decades I have roamed the dark hallways of my mind, calling my own name over and over, reaching out for answers. I have battled demons of depression, anger, anxiety and bitterness. I have survived the reoccurring trauma of my memories on a daily basis. My flashbacks are like bits and pieces of an old movie flickering with intermittent static on a black and white TV. 

Some of my childhood memories leave me shaking. “What kind of parents try to drown their own baby?” 

There I am again — in an empty bathtub at six years old — determined to be a lifeguard as soon as I turn 16. 

Some of my memories are sad. The blurry face of my birth mother screaming beside my hospital crib still leaves a ringing in my ears today. Memories of being unwanted and unloved will haunt me to the day I leave this world. 

I haven’t battled alone though. 

Through it all, even when I didn’t know He was there, I had a Friend. A Friend who is gentle and meek, but also stronger than the demons and darkness I battle. A Friend whose arms are always wrapped around me, shielding me. A Friend who is never sleeping when I need help. 

When my biological father and mother tried to drown me, God gave me the breath of Life. When they tried to starve and poison me, He sustained me. And when my birth mother turned her back on me, condemning me to a lifetime of mental and emotional anguish, God held me fast. 

When I thought I had no one, He was always there.

My God is a Provider. He took the shell of a little girl that I was, and filled my cup to overflowing. I met my forever family about a year after my rescue. Three years later I was adopted by my second pair of foster parents. They opened their arms, hearts, and home to me. They promised to never leave. They promised to always love. When my broken little mind doubted, they stayed faithful. When I tested boundaries to determine if they could be trusted, they withstood the test with patience and understanding. They taught me about Jesus. The One who brought me from the brink of death into a beautiful new life. 

I’m now married to a wonderful man and together we are raising our daughter to know and love Jesus. We are raising her to love, and together we are repainting my life’s canvas. 

My God is a healer. He has taken the broken pieces of my spirit and made me whole. He has walked with me through every dark valley and shadow of death. He has been the key in my dungeon of despair. He is my Almighty Fortress. He is still restoring my soul day by day. 

God has blessed me beyond anything I could have dreamed up myself (Ephesians 3:20–21). He has raised me from my pile of ashes, like Job, scraping away at the sores in my soul. He has been my rock. 

No one could have known the joy that was coming to me, and I cannot wait to see where God will lead me next. I know it will be beautiful though, simply because I am walking with Him. 

“For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness.” — Psalm 18:28 (ESV)

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” — Exodus 14:14

#242. School Bus Baby, Part 1

Photo by Billy June Richardson

I love these big beautiful mountains of Southeastern Kentucky, but I almost didn’t get to experience the beauty of them. I almost lost the chance to dance on their peaks. I almost lost the chance to grow up in these hollers and see the glory of God in their beauty. But, by the grace of God, I blossomed like an evening primrose in the dark shadows of a coal mine.

There is an ugly poison in our beautiful mountains. Its name is addiction. It has poisoned generations and — no matter what form it takes — its clutches are visible and heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking for those in its grasp and for those like me, who have felt the generational curse and consequences of addiction’s reach. 

My story is not one of a Phoenix rising from the ashes reborn. Mine is a Joseph story (Genesis 37–50). A story of victory over all the demons in hell and forces of sin and darkness. Mine is a story of angels of mercy and hope. Mine is a story of redemption.

Addiction is an expression of despair, a slough of despondency. My birth parents wallowed in it — blind to the beauty of the eternal paradise before them, and enslaved to the god of alcohol. As they worshiped at its altar, I drowned in the consequences. 

I couldn’t find the steps to get myself out; then God sent an angel!

Billy June came on wings of hope with a food basket from her church. (My birth mother had somehow reached a point of despair and contacted Billy June’s church, asking for food for herself.) 

This was the kind of despair that spent the food money on alcohol and cigarettes, a despair that caused a mother to attempt to drown her own baby in a bucket of water. It was a despair that nearly ended my life. 

Several food baskets later, Billy June was even allowed inside the rusty school bus we called home. That’s when she saw me for the first time. My birth mother had been trying to conceal me and had tried to “get rid of me,” so she could leave Kentucky and go back to my father in Georgia.

“There’s a baby on that bus,” Billy June told a social worker, who agreed to come along on the next food delivery to see for herself and to evaluate the situation for social services. 

On that next visit, they were met with ugliness and carbon monoxide fumes so strong the social worker had to leave the bus to vomit outside. They found a baby living on that bus — a baby so pale — with her eyes rolled back in her head. This baby (me) was dying from starvation, multi-organ failure and carbon monoxide poisoning. I had a blood count of 2.4 and had stopped crying and expressing my needs, realizing it was fruitless.

For many months I had lain in a pit of darkness until the doors of death opened to receive me. What a glorious salvation it was the day those doors were slammed shut by the God of all creation! 

After I was taken by social services and placed in a loving home, doctors said I wouldn’t last a week. I spent a year recovering physically. However, if I’m honest, every day is a new victory mentally and emotionally. Every day is a testament to God’s mercy. Every day is a day that I can glorify God as a walking billboard of His mercy. 

I still suffer from the lasting consequences of addiction’s reach. Mental turmoil and emotional scars from the abuse and abandonment I went through are still potent today. But, through it all, one truth remains: All the forces of evil and darkness cannot compete with my Champion in heaven. What the devil and this fallen world meant for evil, God has transformed into good. Those doors of death have been refined and reformed into beautiful gates of heaven awaiting me one glorious happy day. The chains of addiction haven’t just been broken. In my redemption, the forge where they were created has been razed to the ground and, in doing so, I have been raised to a new life, full of hope. 

What a beautiful privilege it is to give my life and place my trust in my Champion! May the rest of my life reflect His glory, redemption, and the hope and comfort that can be found in Him. 

Some people say I should have been aborted or left to die. That my suffering should never have happened. That the emotional and mental turmoil I still experience to this day could have been prevented by abortion or death. But I defy them to ignore the immense blessings my God continues to rain down upon me. 

Nobody knew the joy that was coming! May my every day be a hallelujah!

You Light a lamp for me.
The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness.
Psalm 18:28 (NLT)

For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.
Psalm 32:7 (NLT)

Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord will hold me close.
Psalm 27:10 (NLT)

#241. With a Mighty Crooked Stick, God Is Able to Make a Very Straight Path

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

To some, Louisville, Kentucky, is a thriving hub of commerce and enterprise. But to me, I knew a different side of my city. I didn’t see anything but poverty. I didn’t see anything but crime. My father’s mental disorders created chaos in our home. He was in and out of psychiatric institutions all of my life. With both parents emotionally unavailable, I never knew stability or what a real “functional” home looked like. 

Our utilities were often cut off. I, along with my four siblings, were often yanked from our sleep, to flee our home from my father’s violence when he derailed. We were thrown from home to home all of our lives, and we were rarely ever welcomed into the homes of relatives. 

Being molested three times before age 12 sent me spiraling into an emotional whirlwind. Early drug use seemed to numb me just well enough to stop feeling the pain and trauma. Little did I know that the same drugs that numbed me also removed me from reality, from feeling love, peace or a sense of connection. Early formative years left me feeling like I had no value, worth or reason to be. Rejection and abandonment affected my desire to connect intimately and kept me living in a world of fear — living disconnected from others. 

By the time I was a teenager, my parents divorced. In the court’s eyes, I was old enough to choose who I was going to stay with, and I did that. I stayed with my father, which was not, in any way, a benefit.  

My father began prostituting women out of our home. When I turned 16, my father threw me out on the street. I packed the few things I owned, got in my car and found shelter in a parking garage in downtown Louisville. I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night, other than the car. It was both the winter of my soul and a cold winter’s night as well. That car ended up being my home for the next two months.

I remember opening a bag of chips, eating some of them and thinking, “I hope these last for a day or two.” I remember the hurt and the fears. I wasn’t sure where I was going to turn. I wandered the streets, eventually landing a job as a dishwasher. My wages were just enough to pay for a little food and my drug habit. I was beginning to use drugs more and more and didn’t know where I would acquire the next drugs to keep me one step beyond my pain.

I later married and started a moving company. After eight years of marriage and operating a business as a functioning addict, I received an indictment on drug charges. Realizing a mutual acquaintance had turned me in, I armed myself with a knife and went to this apartment. He was staying in a small room in the back of a friend’s barbershop. I remember walking in the door and confronting him. In a very short time, the heat of the argument escalated. He grabbed a knife and within a few seconds, we were in a fight. During the fight, we both busted through the glass door of the business and landed outside on the concrete.

I seemed to blackout. I had no idea how many times I had stabbed him. I knew when I stabbed him the last time that he was soon to be dead. He put his hand over his mouth and whispered, “Oh, God.” Those words continued to echo in my mind as I left. 

I was later arrested and charged with murder. After I was released on bond, I went home and started getting high. But this time, it was different.

I was sitting in a recliner, listening to music, with a joint going. I remember the presence of God settling in around me. This feeling was something very foreign to me. Being unchurched and lost, I didn’t know exactly what was going on. All I knew was that — for the first time in what seemed like forever — I was able to feel. 

Remorse, leading to repentance began to work in my heart. I began to really contemplate what I had done. I thought about the crime and the crime scene, and all the horror that had taken place. I remembered every detail for the first time. I got on my face. My weeping turned into a compulsive crying, and my high was gone.

That night, I asked Christ into my heart. 

Two years later, I went to trial and was given a 35-year sentence for wanton murder. Throughout those years, I grew in my faith, taught many classes, discipled men, set up accountability groups in each prison and educated myself and others. I took every opportunity to share Christ with fellow inmates. While I was in prison, I earned an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree in theology, a master’s in divinity, and five two-year vocational degrees. 

Despite model behavior, I was denied parole twice, once after 12 years and the second time after 18 years. I was finally released in 2012, after serving 22 years. I served out my 35-year sentence and moved back to Louisville. 

Today I lead The Prisoners Hope, a very successful holistic ministry that meets prisoners with the redeeming love and grace of the gospel right where they are — before incarceration, during incarceration and post-incarceration. The Prisoners Hope also ministers to the children and families of incarcerated individuals to meet practical, emotional and spiritual needs. 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us,to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:20–21

#240 A New Way to Live

I was born the middle of three children. My father was never in my life. My aunt, cousin and grandmother lived with my mother, my brother, my sister and me. I grew up in a traumatizing household. I was sexually abused as a child. Growing up I remember feeling like I had no hope. I didn’t see a future and didn’t believe in education. Drug abuse and domestic violence were a normal part of my life. My mother’s and my aunt’s boyfriends beat them often. I learned a very dysfunctional view of relationships. When I was eight years old, my aunt’s boyfriend broke a beer bottle and cut her from the top of her eyebrow down to her chin. She received around 300 stitches. I came home after my aunt was released from the hospital and she and the boyfriend were sitting on the sofa — drinking beer and laughing, as if nothing had happened. I thought, “What is he still doing here?” I was baffled with disbelief. 

When I was 14 years old, I witnessed my aunt’s boyfriend, at the time, being shot and killed in our neighborhood by her former boyfriend. A couple of months later, my mother was raped, beaten and left for dead by one of our neighbors. My mother had the strength to continue to scream while her rapist passed out on the bed after locking her in the closet. Another neighbor heard my mother’s screams and was able to rescue her, then run to our home to inform my 16-year-old brother. My brother ran to her and saw her bloody and naked. He started having mental health issues shortly after that. My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 18 years old. He has been living in a group home for the past 24 years. After the rape, my mom was hospitalized for three to four months. She was never the same after that. She recovered physically, but she never fully recovered from the emotional trauma. 

I was very smart in school, but I was an angry child and a violent person. I was physically violent and enjoyed fighting anyone. I was involved in street gangs. By the time I was 16 years old, I was a high school dropout, a teenage mom and a daily free-basing cocaine addict. I got high with my mother, aunt and grandmother, and I bought drugs from my father. My first child was born positive for marijuana. Four years later I got pregnant with my second child. I was smoking crack cocaine every day. She was born positive for cocaine. I was court-ordered to go into substance abuse treatment, but I continued to use drugs. I had figured out the system. A year later, when I was pregnant with my third child, I went into substance abuse treatment again, right before my son was born. At birth my son tested negative for any substances, but social services still took custody of him shortly after birth. I saw my son the day he was born and then I didn’t see him again until six months later. The Department of Children and Family Services took custody of my second child when she was 18 months old. 

I continued to use drugs. 

My turning point was at the age of 22, when I was 7 ½ months pregnant with my fourth child. I was tired of the life I was living. I even tried committing suicide to escape my life. I had been up for days. It was 3 a.m. and I said, Everybody can’t be living like this, God help me.” I went into treatment for the sixth time the following day, July 14, 1994, and I haven’t not found a reason to use any drugs since then. 

It was hard because everybody I knew was using drugs. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew I didn’t want to use drugs anymore, and I needed to change my lifestyle. I gave birth to my fourth child while I was in treatment. When my son was just two weeks old, we went to live in a homeless shelter. I started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Every day for 18 months I thought about using drugs to get high. I had been using something since I was 12 years old. It was challenging and difficult in the beginning for me to learn how to stop using drugs. When I was really struggling, I would pray, “God take my will, my life and show me how to live today.”

I got custody of my other children and moved out of the homeless shelter into my first apartment with all four of my children, the oldest was five years old. I was trying to change from the inside out. I got my GED and started working for $5.25 an hour. Because I started working, they cut back my food stamps and raised what I had to pay for Section 8 housing. It was like I was being punished for working and set up to fail. 

God put a beautiful woman in my life to help me. My second sponsor in Narcotics Anonymous is an ordained minister who has sponsored me for the past 17 years. She taught me how to treat men and how to be a lady. I know she wants the best for me. The women in my life have been productive members of society, enjoying life without drugs, working and obtaining an education. They have encouraged me to figure out my goals in life. 

I went back to school because I had to. There was no way I was going to survive and provide for my children without an education. The women gave me hope and courage that I can do it. My sponsor encouraged me when I feel like giving up. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders. She would not let me give up. I worked third shift — midnight to 8 a.m. — at a drug treatment facility, and I enrolled in college to earn my associate degree. I started from the bottom up. When I got off work, I would take the kids to daycare or school, then I went to school from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. I’d go home from school, spend time with my children, prepare dinner for them and get three or four hours of sleep before going back to work. There also were evenings I attended my Narcotics Anonymous meetings, so I could stay clean from drugs. This was my daily routine for years. It took me five years to earn my two-year associate degree. Then I earned a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science. I bought my first home when I was 29. I became a certified counselor, and the first 15 years of my career I worked as a counselor with women experiencing addiction and mental health issues. I graduated with my master’s degree in human service counseling in 2005. I became licensed as a mental health therapist and drug abuse counselor. I opened my own private practice in 2011. 

In 2009, I adopted my cousin’s daughter. I wasn’t sure if I’d be approved because in 1992. I had been convicted of two counts of child abuse and neglect related to my second and third child. The Department of Children and Family Services told me I could never have anything to do with children after that. I didn’t think I would be able to adopt my cousin’s daughter, but the court could not find a record of the child abuse of charges from 1992, and the adoption went through. I believed that God intervened, so I could adopt her. She’s my daughter. She’s been part of my life since I took her home from the hospital at four days old. 

In 2009 I went back to get my doctorate in psychology. I had completed my dissertation but because I had reached my time limit, I could not graduate with my Ph.D. They converted my Ph.D. into a master’s degree of psychology. I was devasted but determined. I would never give up on my goals or dreams, I know if I do, I will be giving up on myself. I thought I would never stop using drugs. It’s one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I told myself If I can stop smoking crack, I can do anything or be anything I choose to be with God’s help. I was determined to get my Ph.D., so I enrolled in another doctoral program within two months. At this moment, I need to write my dissertation, then I will be finished.  

Only God could transform a 16-year-old high school dropout, single mom, free-basing cocaine addict, into a mother of five successful, healthy, drug-free children; and a professional with my own home, my own private practice, two master’s degrees — and just months away from earning a Ph.D. Five years after a judge locked me up in jail and took my children from me, I sat on a board with that same judge and we opened a women’s recovery house. I do a lot of community work. I am advocate for women. 

I am a Christian. I go to church and participate in Bible studies. God has blessed me with good children that did not travel the path I did. My children are now 32, 28, 27, 26 and 15 years old. All are doing well. God helped me get clean. He gave me my children back and taught me how to be a mother. God put the recovery community into my life, like my sponsor and other women who taught me how to be a mother, friend and neighbor. God chose me to be a member of a self-help program and, with God’s help, I made it through going to school while working full-time and raising five kids. 

People ask me how I did all of that. I tell them that it was God’s strength; the 12-step program and fellowship; courageous women; and my children needing their mother. That’s what gave me the ability to do that. The relationship that I currently have with God is different than when I was younger. I was raised thinking that God was a punishing God. I felt like if there was a God, then why did I have to go through what I went through. I didn’t come from a household of love, and I didn’t understand God’s love for me. I didn’t like God and blamed him until I got clean. When I started working the steps in Narcotics Anonymous, I realized that God had been with me all along and had been protecting me in many ways. 

Now I am not just surviving — I am living. I am healthy and happy. God has given me a new way to live life. 

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. – Psalm 51:10