#227. Love City: Completely Rebuilt in His Image

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

My biological father signed away his parental rights. My sister’s father adopted me when I was around six years old. He raised me and was my dad. My parents were together until they divorced when I was 10. After that I lived half the time with my mom and half with my dad. I was an honor roll student and played the violin. I loved school and was in talent shows for singing. Then, when I was about 17, my doctor prescribed me three narcotics for some back problems, attention deficit disorder, and anxiety. I became addicted. I got pregnant when I was 18 and had my son when I was 19. Between my first and second child I was a stay-at-home mom living in a nice condo, in a nice neighborhood. I even went to college for five years and had custody of my younger sister and took care of her. When I got pregnant with my second son, the doctors told me I had to get on the methadone program to help come off the medicine while I was pregnant. I became very addicted to the methadone. Then I got pregnant with my daughter and was again on the methadone while I was pregnant with her. I ended up losing my house and kids. I used drugs while I was pregnant with my fourth child, a daughter. The drugs just completely consumed me. 

I wound up living in an abandoned house. One night one of my friends was overdosing and there was a fire department around the corner. I knew I needed to get him to the hospital. I pressed the button at the fire department and told them we needed to take my friend to the hospital. I rode with him in the ambulance. While they took care of him, I was in the waiting room hallucinating. I had a moment of clarity and knew I needed help. I looked at myself in the mirror and didn’t even recognize who I was. I was demon possessed. I stunk literally and figuratively. 

I checked myself into the hospital. They hooked me up to an IV because I was extremely dehydrated. I was out of it for a while. The hospital had me call the Healing Place, a residential recovery program in our city. I called and they said they had one bed available and it was first come, first served. I said, “I don’t’ know how I’m going to get there because I have no money.” They sent me a taxi — an angel taxi — you could see the glory on the face of the taxi driver. He wasn’t judgmental. The ride was very peaceful. I knew for sure I was being transported by God’s people to a true healing place. I was at rock bottom. I knew I had to do something different.

When I got there, I crawled in. Sister Johanna, who has worked at the Healing Place for about 35 years, checked me in. I was there 11 months. Then I served as a peer mentor for three months, giving back to other women who are new to the program. Right before I moved out, I met Shawn and Inga, the founders of Love City, a ministry in the West End of Louisville. I didn’t have anywhere to live, and they allowed me to live with them for two years. They helped me get rid of my bench warrants, get a license, develop a budget, get my children back in my life, and get a home. When I first started living with Shawn and Inga, I worked at the Healing Place for six months. Then I started working for Love City, helping to remodel and doing janitorial work. I worked as a counselor and mentored the children coming to the community center. Now I am the manager of Love City’s restaurant, Porkland. I now have my children back in my life. God is slowly restoring things back to me — one thing at a time. My boys live with their father but they come to stay with me. I am back together with my first love, the father of my two boys. 

I have learned that God is always with me. I can see the beauty of every single thing around me now. I can see beauty in the people around me. He has given me new eyes and new ears to hear His voice. He is teaching me that I’m His daughter and I’m worthy. I am a child of the most high God. I’m most thankful for a second chance, a new beginning. I am a new creation in Christ. He has completely rebuilt me in His image. No matter how dark it gets or how far down you go, God will always reach down and pick up His children to give them beauty for ashes.

As for me and my house we will serve the Lord. — Joshua 24:15b

#222. Jesus, My Best Friend

Howdy, it’s an honor and privilege to get to tell my story. This is the story of how I met my best friend. 

I was raised morally right. I was taught not to steal or lie and to be good to other people. But I wasn’t raised in church. One morning I got up to go to school and kissed my mom goodbye, as I always did. I was 15 years old. I remember it just like it was yesterday. When I came home from school my dad was waiting for me. I could tell there was something wrong. He told me my mom had gotten sick during the day. He took her to the hospital and she died. Losing my mom just devastated me, and my whole world changed. 

It wasn’t too much longer, just a few months, and my dad passed away. I had just turned 16. I was out in the world and on my own. I didn’t know anything about all the things of the world but there I was. It wasn’t too long after that I started hanging around the wrong kind of people and crowd, started smoking pot, drinking and taking pills. I just got on the wrong road. By the time I was 19, I had wrecked my life. I didn’t care about anything. I wound up in trouble. I stood before the judge, and he took that little hammer and he gave me a year and a half. I thought “Ahhh, that wouldn’t be no problem.”  And just to be honest, I didn’t really care if the sun came up or not. I’d had all of life I wanted. But after I was in there a while, I got to see what it’s like to be told when you can eat, what you can eat. I didn’t have freedom. I didn’t understand what it meant to be free, until my freedom was taken away. I went from being the baddest to the saddest fella in there. 

One day in February, a fella came by to visit and started talking about a man called Jesus. He told me that Jesus died for my sins, and He would forgive me of all the wrong I had done. He said Jesus would be the best friend I’d ever had. I thought, “Man, I don’t have any friends.” I heard a voice say, “Try me.” I thought about that. About that time I heard it again, “Try me.” I thought, “What have I got to lose?” I knew I had done wrong. I bowed my head and asked Jesus to forgive me. And it was just like that, like the snap of a finger, the weight of the world lifted off me. I could have run five miles if they had opened the door. 

I didn’t know anything about church or nothing like that, but I did remember my mommy telling me about Jesus when I was a little boy. She described it as he lived up in the sky, what was a little 5 or 6 year old boy gonna think, if he lived up there he’d probably fall down. (Chuckled) By her telling me that, it gave me the faith to believe what the man was saying about Jesus. Then I heard the voice saying, “Try me.” And I did. I haven’t been the same since. I’ve got a reason to live. I love working with young people because I almost didn’t make it as a young person. I guess that’s what motivates me, plus I believe that’s what the Lord wants me to do. 

Being saved over 35 years ago is the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m still saved and happier now than I’ve ever been. I’m on my way to heaven. I’ve got the greatest gift ever offered, and all I had to do was ask. I’ve heard preachers, preach about how King David said, “Taste and see that the Lordis good” (Psalm 34:8). Just try Jesus. You don’t know what you are missing. I have tried for over 30 years to explain how good salvation is. I once heard an old preacher say that if the whole world could comprehend and realize what it is like to be saved, there would be no cars on the road, no airplanes in the sky, nothing would be going on because everyone would be on their knees getting saved.  Now that’s how great it is to be saved!

If you don’t believe me, give Jesus a try and I love you guys.

#220. He Gives Strength to the Weariest of Souls

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

As a child, we never went to church. My parents were born and raised in a coal mining community of West Virginia. They were both the product of poverty and religion gone mad. The foundation of their lives was built on a belief that true “religion” was about who could not get bitten when the rattlesnake was passed their way. Sometimes, I imagine that my parents viewed their entire life as a church service, just waiting to see which one of them would survive the poison.

I am the youngest of three substantially older siblings who were on their way “out the door” as I was “on my way in.” My parents were the owners of a donut shop, which meant they both worked from 5 p.m. until 5 a.m., so my siblings were burdened with the responsibility of caring for me and seeing that I was fed and entertained. I am certain that between my two sisters, this was not a responsibility they were happy about! So, from early on, I was left alone to entertain myself while my parents worked, slept or went out.

For my mother, daily drinking was a true way of life. A diagnosis of diabetes led her to become sober when I was about 12. Funny thing is that with that one decision to make her life “better,” it seemed as if ours became worse. Our house was never one that had a pattern. I lived in total chaos, not knowing what to expect on a daily basis, but that chaos was the only thing that I knew, and the comfort level of the craziness was, at times, the only normalcy I could hold on to. We went from weekly drinking binges to weekly AA meeting splurges, only to find that she was never ever satisfied with any of the outcomes. She was self-consumed. Eventually, I was the only one left at home, left behind to deal with her misery and anger. She had nothing of herself to give and she demanded so much from me.

When it came into my life, I’m not certain, but God gifted me with a keen sense and a creative mind, making it easy for me to be a leader. In the past, like my mother did, I have used that gift to my advantage. Not to glorify God as He intended, but to glorify myself and my behaviors. If I would have allowed God to open my eyes, I would have seen that satan had been invited into my life through the portal of nonchalance and unawareness.

Looking back over my life, I see how God protected me. Many times, in my childhood, I was in vulnerable and dangerous situations. For many years, I didn’t realize that God was my Protector, Provider and Defender. I had no clue until I heard about the Gospel. So, back then, I said it was “luck” that protected me.  I spent so many years running from everything that I knew to be “normal.” 

All of that came to a complete halt when I became an incarcerated convict in the Arkansas Department of Corrections. It was then that I was able to stop running long enough to let God get a firm grasp on me. I had the opportunity to complete a Christian program based on Bible principles in prison. We were trained in scripture so that we could apply it to our lives when were released. The program was designed to be inmate-led. All of the participants in this program lived in one dorm, and there were two female inmates who predominantly taught our classes (character and scripture memorization). This program opened my eyes to the love that God offered me. I felt acceptance from God, acceptance of who I was becoming through His word. 

God took the time that I spent behind bars to mold my soul, to create in me a love that was unfailing, unbelievable and undeniable. He opened my eyes to peace and a firm foundation of trust and calmness. So much for “jailhouse Jesus,” huh? It is real and true and I am a living testimony of His grace. But, as I received the knowledge of God, I never received His grace through salvation before I came from behind the walls. There was great wisdom within the walls. I learned so much and gleaned so much of that knowledge, but I just never accepted Christ as my Savior. Instead, my time in prison was a time of building trust in Him. Since I had never had anyone to lean on in my life, it was difficult for me to develop trust, but I was learning.

Upon my release from prison, I was quickly thrown into the reality of life. The husband that I thought would be there with open arms had since found someone else. My household full of furniture that I thought I would have available to me had been given away months before to anyone who would come and get it. And, any thought of a past life that may have waited on me while I was away was just that, a thought. Visibly there was nothing left of my former life, and as I tell the ladies that I minister to today when I speak to them, “God will remove all hindrances from you when He changes you.” He knew that if anything from my past would have been waiting on me outside the gates, my heart would immediately run back to the place that He had just delivered me out of. Not the life I would have chosen, but with separation and knowledge, I could not have asked for a better blessing. With the hard reality of being alone and still not having committed my life to Christ, I turned back to the bottle. 

My mother passed away in 2000 and my father died in 2007, so loss was not a stranger to me. After I was released from prison in 2011, my sister, whom I had not had time to make amends with, died of a massive heart attack eight months after I was released. The loss of my beloved sister was the final blow to an otherwise broken soul. Then, the only reason that I lived was to drink until I died. Days turned into weeks, and each and every day for three months, I drank myself into unconsciousness. Secluded from life, I wasted everything that I had on the bottle. I would drink until I passed out, wake up again, curse God for keeping me alive, and drink again. I knew that the Master existed, I even led my own mother to Christ hours before she died, having the faith that He existed, but not accepting His love for me personally. Not yet.

It was the love of my dear friend (story #219) who would ask me to go to church for a revival service. It was her love for me that kept bringing her to my doorstep to check on me, often afraid of what she might find. It was her commitment to not letting me die alone that urged her to consistently reach out, as all the others had given up hope. In one moment of strength that, at that time, I saw as weakness, I allowed her to take me to church. In one moment of time, I surrendered to the call of the Master. At that altar, I prayed that He would take my life and He, in His audible voice told me this: “I have heard your prayers and I will answer them. If you take one more drink you will die, but you will not live with Me in Heaven.” Only God knew that I would leave that altar saved unto His Kingdom and delivered completely from the horror of alcohol.

So many things I needed to tell my loved ones. My children, still angry and wounded from my incarceration, were not even speaking to me. I had spent many nights on my knees asking God to change me into the woman that He wanted me to be and that He would reunite me with the boys. Two years of praying and crying, praying and crying. “Please bring about a change in me that is pleasing to my sons,” I would beg. After two years, God granted that request with my older son. He was the hard-headed military son who had originally demanded that I seek help. He is the one who found me after a two-week drunk and had to call the ambulance. He was the one who uttered the words “Mom, the ambulance is here and the whole neighborhood is watching. Now, am I going to have to carry you out like a drunk or are you going to walk out of here like a woman?” Those were some of the last words he said to me before I went to prison. He is the one who asked to see me first when I came home two years later. I can’t explain the conversation that we had at dinner. I can’t remember the words that I used to ask his forgiveness. But I do remember this phrase, “You’re my mom, and I will always love you.”

His brother, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as forgiving. He was not ready to see me, notbecause he was angry or hurt, he just didn’t need me in his life. He had a great career, a wonderful wife-to-be and a fulfilling relationship with God. I had never been there for him, so he went on about life as if I were not involved, and I wasn’t. But each week I would message him, just to tell him that I was thinking of him, that I was praying for him and that I loved him. Three years of prayer and petition and one day, a response. At 4 a.m. on a Monday morning in July 2014, I sent the usual message. “Son, I love you and I pray for you always.” And at 4:17 a.m., the reply, “Mom, it’s time we get together for dinner. Would you let me take you out Friday?” God hears a praying mom. He would take no apology or reasoning. He only wanted to start a relationship with his mother. He wanted nothing of the past and could only focus on our future together and his upcoming marriage in August. To my amazement, he and his bride-to-be handed me an invitation. The wedding was a few weeks away, and they both graciously involved me in some decisions of food and pictures on their big day. As I left my house on the wedding day and during the entire two-hour drive, I could only weep to God, thanking Him and asking Him to allow me to sit in the back so I could watch from a distance. I asked Him to honor one more request, that I just be able to see my son’s face as he took on the responsibility of leading his new household as a Godly husband to his wife. “Just let me sit in the back. Please do not let me get in the way,” I prayed out loud as I drove. But my God saw things differently. As the pictures were finished and the wedding was about to begin, I started to find a seat in the back row. “Mom, where are you going?” I heard. “Honey, I’m going to grab a seat so I can see you.” The next words were priceless…“Mom, you have to sit up front today. That’s where the moms go.” So, my oldest son took me by the arm and escorted me to the front row. So I could see. So I could feel what it was like to be forgiven. So I could be a part of this new life. So my faith in a loving God could be reaffirmed and I could share this story with those who need hope of answered prayers.

Wrecked by Grace . . . The Adult Child of a Demanding Mother. The Adult Child of an Alcoholic. The Adult Child. Convict. Convicted. Transformed. From a family tree of addicts to the aftermath of a life of bad decisions, the season of my life has to equate with fall. From the most hardened love demands of a mother to a love that is tender and forgiving that I have with my Heavenly Father, the leaves of my life have fallen in due time. Bits and pieces of me have been scattered throughout my life. Pieces of the real me. Pieces of joy and pain, laughter and tears. Pieces that seem to have the most majestic colors in the latest season of my life. Not the soft colors of spring, nor the stunning colors of summer. My life reflects the majestic warm colors of autumn, pleasant to gaze upon and sometimes a mere wonder that the leaves survived the harshest heat of past days.

One month after God delivered and saved me, my calling to correctional ministry began. I met a woman from our church who had a ministry team that went inside the Pine Bluff Area Office of the Arkansas Community Correction facility once a month to speak words of hope and testimony to the residents. At that time, the facility was open to all ex-offenders released at least 60 days who had been given permission from their parole office to travel outside the county.

From the moment that I went into the compound, I knew that God had opened a doorway for me to minister. I felt the pull of the Spirit and heard the words “This is the reason that you have lived behind the walls — so that you can be an image of hope to these ladies.” In the coming back, I knew that my life was coming full circle. I knew that God had allowed every bad decision, wrong turn and misguided step to place me in prison. He knew I would have faith enough in Him to tell my story to those who were still battling. I was taken out of the war and now, with God’s help, I am walking back into the battle to lend a hand to others.

I am thankful that I have the opportunity to go back into prisons and tell people that God is for them and not against them. His love reaches far, further than they have ever been. As strong as any addiction or stronghold that has them unable to move, He is more powerful and can give strength to even the weariest of souls.

God’s character is fully merciful and compassionately just. He does not waiver and He cannot be manipulated. That is the best part of the Grace of God. In reality, justice sets us free. Justice is the blend of the strong hand of the Lord because He loves us, the repentance that draws us closer to Him and the ability to forgive ourselves of the past through His strength.

And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. — Deuteronomy 8:2-3 NKJV

#219. Fully Grasping the Grace of God

Photo by Briana Rapp

My biological dad was in the Vietnam war when I was born. I found him when I was 21. I had a relationship with him until I was 42, and then he passed away. I am so thankful for the years I had with my dad. 

My little brother’s biological father (my stepdad) started sexually, physically and mentally abusing me when I was five years old. He also abused my mother. He was an alcoholic. He later served time in prison for hitting and killing someone while drinking and driving. When he got out, he was homeless and lived several years on the streets, before he died of cancer. My stepdad’s friend also abused me.

With the abuse, I became numb to the things going on in my life. I learned to build walls of protection around myself at a very young age. Things that no child should have to endure or see, I endured and saw. Most abusers are very controlling. My stepdad was no exception. He had to control everything I did. For example, once while I was riding my bike across a bridge near our home, he told me if I ever went across a bridge again, he would kill me. 

When I was 12, my best friend and I took a Dial-A-Ride car to a park. We fed the ducks and had a wonderful day. We were going to sell pop bottles to get the money for a Dial-A-Ride car back home. But no one would buy the bottles. We had to walk home. When we came to the bridge, I told my friend that I couldn’t walk over the bridge because, if I got caught, my stepdad would kill me. I told her I would meet her on the other side. But she insisted that she go with me under the bridge. So we walked under the bridge together. We had to swim across the water, and the current swept us away. I got rescued and she did not. My friend drowned. This happened in June. 

Beatings from my stepdad were a normal occurrence for my mom and me. My mom, little brother and I had a plan to meet at a certain spot outside of our house when my stepdad began beating us. Whoever could escape, would run to this spot and wait for the others to meet there. In August after my friend died, my stepdad went after my mom. She got out of the house and he went after me. At this point, I was ready for him to kill me. I was done. My little brother was four years old and, and until this point, he had never touched my brother. I had always tried to protect him. For some reason this time my little brother jumped on his back to protect me. He slung my little brother across the room and I remember his head bouncing off the wall. I said, “Run, John, run.” My little brother got out of the house. I told my stepdad to kill me. He didn’t — he did what he needed to do, and then I got loose. That was the first time he touched my brother. I knew it wouldn’t be the last. We went to our babysitter’s house to spend the night. My brother and I stayed at her house for two days. I told my mom I wasn’t going home. I called a family member in Arkansas and got a bus ticket for my brother and me to travel to Arkansas to move in with family. I told my mom she could stay or go with us, but we were leaving. She came with a loaded down pickup truck. We moved to Arkansas and never looked back. 

Moving allowed me to escape my abusers, but it was the beginning of my own destruction. My abusers were drug addicts and alcoholics, and I was determined never to go down that road. By the grace of God I didn’t, but the enemy (the devil) continued to pursue me. I was living in spiritual warfare all the time. 

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12). 

There is a real army of evil out there. We have the resources to defeat the enemy, but we have to know Jesus and have His power in our lives. 

I had been sexually active since I was five, so I was sexually active after we moved to Arkansas at a young age with much older men. I just wanted someone, anyone, to love me and want me, even if I had to control and manipulate others to get it. When I was 16, my mom announced that she was getting married again and moving three hours away. I rebelled and moved out. I got married at 17 and had a baby at 18. 

I had never heard the Word of God and didn’t know anything about God at this point in my life. But I will say, the whole time that I was going through the horrible abuse in my childhood I knew that there was someone with me. It was only as an adult that I learned that it was the Lord who had been with me. 

My husband and I started going to church when I was around 20 and I was baptized at 21. This was a time of spiritual awakening for me. I had some wonderful Christian women in my life who were trying to disciple me, but no one knew anything of my past — not even the man I married. We were married 12 years and had three babies; then our marriage fell apart. My world was turned upside down. I rebelled completely. I became a serious man hater. Desperate for love, I turned to a same sex relationship with my best friend. We moved in together with our children. That relationship lasted six years. The enemy had convinced me that there was nothing I was doing that wasn’t right in the eyes in God. 

I fell into a very serious gambling addiction during that six years. One bad decision led me to a whole road of destruction. I did some things I’m not proud of. I could have ended up homeless or dead. I went beyond going to casinos and Vegas to also having bookies. I would bet thousands and thousands of dollars at a time on sports (mainly football). If I lost, I didn’t have the money to pay. Quido was my bookie’s name and his brother was Zito. True story — I’m not making this up. Every weekend I bet thousands of dollars on multiple games, and every Wednesday they showed up at the bar where I was bartending and collected what I owed or paid me what they owed me. I was actually good at it. I was winning so much money I was buying my kids any and everything they wanted. We went on extravagant vacations, doing things I should have never done and really thinking I was somebody! Do you see how the enemy works? I had all the money I could ask for, and I was doing it without a man (because I wanted to show everyone I don’t need a man). In my eyes, I was ‘mom of the year’ because my kids had anything they could ask for. 

But, I had no peace; I had no joy. You can be happy but have no Joy. Happiness comes from our flesh, but true Joy comes from the Lord. My oldest son (because he was the one it affected the most) went down a road of drugs and alcohol. Praise God it was short-lived (just a few years) but it happened. This difficult season really brought me closer to God with a deeper prayer life and dependence on the Lord. Several things came out of this. I quit gambling. The other major change was in my relationship.

The lady I was in a relationship with had two children. I had three. She had a grandbaby that we were raising. The Lord just would not leave me alone from the time that baby was born. He let me know that I was not where I was supposed to be. The Holy Spirit just laid this heaviness on me, so I would get back into reading the Bible and start listening to His voice again. When I did, I knew what I needed to do. 

I went home one day and said, “This is what the Lord is telling me. I can’t be with you anymore.” I went through a depression because I was giving up the baby, who was by then was two years old and whom I had really bonded with. I never got to see that child again. It was hard, but the whole time the Lord was with me giving me His love, His mercy, His guidance, His assurance, His grace. He was leading me to where He was taking me. All He was asking for was my obedience, just to listen to His voice. 

When she left, I couldn’t afford the house. I put the house on the market and prayed that God would help me sell it. God really started showing me His faithfulness. I thought, “Wow, I have done all this stuff and He is still there, still faithful and answering my prayers.” 

My brother and his wife invited me to his church and I have been there almost 13 years. I remarried in 2009, and we are serving in the church and walking every day with the Lord. I also do prison ministry. Prior to COVID-19, I went into a women’s prison in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and led a discipleship class once a week. My children are all grown up and doing well. God has restored everything the enemy stole from me. 

The Lord is a gentleman, and He allows us to make our own choices. But our freedom to choose does not free us from the consequences of our choices. The Lord wants us whole and healthy, but we will never be whole and healthy until we understand and receive His grace over our lives. I wasted a lot of years — even as a Christian (hear me now) — with no peace or joy and full of bitterness because I couldn’t grasp God’s grace for what I had done and what other people had done to me. I could grasp it for others but not for me. For years I was on a spiritual rollercoaster trying to hold everything together. I couldn’t figure out why things were so dang hard! I kept pleading the Word of God over myself and other people in my life and nothing was changing. I kept giving it to the Lord and taking it back. Giving it to Him and taking it back. I couldn’t trust myself and I sure couldn’t trust anyone else —even God. Through it all I never quit praying, begging God to help me be able to withstand the storms of life without being shaken. 

The Lord never gave up on me. The Lord took me on a journey that brought me to a place where I have now fully grasped the Grace of God. Over and over He has lovingly poured His Grace out over me and taught me how to do the same for others. He has taught me:

  1. Although humans disappoint or disappear in this life, God never will.
  2. How to shut off all the voices, so I can hear His.
  3. How to have peace during the storm because He will never leave us or forsake us.
  4. My walk with Him is never going to look like someone else’s and someone else’s is never going to look like mine.
  5. He took away allmy fear of being alone and taught me that He is all I need. 

There are so many ways to describe God. I have experienced God’s love, mercy, grace, restoration, and kindness. He is all-powerful and never-changing. Never give up on God because He will never give up on you. 

“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.Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:11–13

#216. Gurl Get Your Mind Right

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Pittsburgh and raised in a middle-class family. My parents divorced when I was eight years old. My mom put me in dance classes when I was two years old. I took tap, ballet, jazz, tap solo, and baton — all at the same time. I became really good at it. My teacher told my mom I should audition for the play written by Gershwin, Porky and Bess. Out of 4,000 kids, I got the part. When I was eight, we moved to the country to live with my grandparents. I was no longer able to go to dance lessons. This was devastating to me. I loved dancing and believe that was God’s calling on my life. I was raised going to church every Sunday, but I don’t remember confessing and accepting Christ as my Savior. 

My mom remarried when I was 15. We moved back to the city. I moved from a predominately white school in the country to a predominately black school in the city. It was a culture shock. One night I went in a car with some of the guys from my high school. We ended up at a wooded park. They got out, but told me to stay in the car. I didn’t listen and when they saw me coming toward them, they grabbed my arm. They told me there were guys who were planning to rape me. They took me back to my house. God worked through those guys to save me. 

I was a thick girl. I thought I was fat. My mom was very critical. She made comments about my clothes making me look big. My mom was physically, verbally, and emotionally abusive. Nothing I ever did was right. If she and my stepfather got into an argument, she blamed me. He was the best stepdad a person could ever have. He tried to get my mom to be nicer to me. 

My senior year in 1976, I was a cheerleader and started dating a football player. He turned me on to weed, opium, hash, and cocaine. I started trying other drugs. I even snorted heroin once. It was God’s grace that protected me. I was promiscuous and slept with married men. 

I was excellent at typing and after graduation became a secretary in the nursing department at the University of Pittsburgh. I got my own apartment at 17, a two-room efficiency, paying $95 a month. I watched a movie of a baby being born when I worked in the nursing department and knew then I never wanted to have a baby. I was 23 when I had my first daughter, Brandi. I had seven abortions prior to that. Six with the same man who fathered my daughter and one with a boyfriend. I didn’t know any better. No one taught me. I had no self-worth. My pregnancy was a nightmare. The father told me that it wasn’t his baby and that I was fat. I had stopped doing the drugs during my pregnancy and replaced the drugs with food. I became addicted to food. In the last three months of my pregnancy, I gained 100 pounds. I was an emotional mess. 

My daughter’s father didn’t go to the hospital with me when I gave birth. He came around a few times to see Brandi, but he wasn’t really involved in our lives. I started smoking weed again. I got a job at Aetna insurance. Jim, a Christian gentleman from the Houston Aetna office, came to our Pittsburgh office and asked me to come to Houston. He said there was a position that I would be really good at. He said, “If you come to Houston, I will make you the supervisor and you will get a raise and you will get a bonus to cover your move if you show me what you showed me in Pittsburgh.” They offered me $10,000 more to do the same job in Houston. My daughter was only three when we left Pittsburgh. When we got off the plane in Houston, Jim and his wife, Tamara, met us. They drove us to our apartment complex and gave us a TV. We only had our clothes, a couple of towels and a clock radio.  My furniture was coming on a truck that was stopping in other states.  It took two weeks to get our furniture.

When you move to a new town you don’t ask people, “Who has weed?” One day as I walked through the apartment complex there was a big group of guys and one of the guys came to my door and asked, “Do you get high?” I told him I did. I sent my daughter to her room. I thought he had given me weed, but he had given me crack cocaine to smoke and I was hooked immediately. He told me where to get it. I started dating this guy and he would bring the crack over. I became more and more addicted. 

Jim did everything he promised. After one month, he made me a supervisor and gave me a $10,000 raise plus a bonus to cover my moving expenses. I was excelling at work, traveling to provide training and had been the employee of the month four times in the same year. But I didn’t have the money to afford my drug habit. So, I came up with an elaborate plan. I started forging names on checks at Aetna and cashing the checks. Eventually, I was out sick and one of the girls in my department figured out what I had been doing. My boss asked me to come into the conference room. A man with a briefcase said, “Have you ever cashed a check besides your paycheck?” I told the truth. He said, “I’m glad you told the truth.” Then he took the checks out of his briefcase and laid them across the table. He said, “We know what you did but don’t understand why you did it. Why? You had such a bright future.” I said, “I’m addicted to crack.” He said, “We thought it was drugs.” He asked me how much I had taken, and I told him I had a folder at home with all the checks. He asked me to bring it in. I brought the folder to him and he told me to go home and they would let me know what they were going to do. 

My friend John from work called me and said, “Where are you?” I was driving and said, “I’m just going to kill myself.” The devil was telling me to just let the wheel go. John said, “Just drive to my house.” Then Jim called me. He had told the leadership at work he was going to remain my friend. I believe God was intervening on my behalf through both of these men. Jim told me I needed to immediately go to treatment. I went. Jim and Tamara not only took care of Brandi for two weeks, they also went to my apartment and packed up everything and put it in storage. They sent my daughter back to Pittsburgh to my family. Aetna fired me, but because I cooperated with them, they didn’t press charges. The bank didn’t press charges either. Nobody came after me. God spared me. I should have gone to jail for what I had done. Jim came to that facility every day and brought me a Bible. I wouldn’t listen. I said, “Get that Bible away from me.” He said, “It’s the only thing that can help you.” My therapist told me I had to get to the root of why I was there. I felt like my parents had robbed me of who I should have been. I loved dancing. I should have been a choreographer. They took something from me that was near and dear to my heart. I also realized the resentment for my daughter’s father. I discovered all of those things in treatment. 

After 90 days, I got out. Aetna had kept me active on the payroll to pay for my treatment. This was another way that God provided for me. God saved me from killing myself through John and Jim. He saved me from myself. Jim and Tamara let me live with them with only two rules — stay sober and go to my meetings. They gave me a car and credit card. 

I went to church with Jim and Tamara but was still stuck. One night they were getting ready to go to Bible study and I was sitting on the couch and balling. My daughter was coming back from Pittsburgh and I knew that I was going to have to face her and make amends for all I had done,  including locking her in the house at night, while sleeping, so I could go out to get crack, putting her in danger. 

Jim and Tamara invited me to Bible study but I didn’t want to go. While they were gone, I was thinking about how to kill myself again because the thought of facing Brandi was overwhelming. When they came back, I was still crying. They got down on their knees and said, “There is only one way. You have to accept Jesus.” I asked, “Will it make this pain go away?” That night I confessed Romans 10:9 and everything changed. I started going to a Bible study group. I got an apartment. One year to the day of my sobriety, December 16, 1988, I got offered a job at Enron. This company was drug-free, and employees had to be drug-tested to work there, which was what I wanted.


Things were going well at Enron. I got promoted and got bonuses. The girl they put me with at Enron was a Christian and had me listening to a Christian radio station. I went to her house for Bible study. I was clean and sober but then I noticed people were getting things and recognition that I wanted. I figured out a way to cash travelers checks at work. They confronted me and I admitted it. They fired me but didn’t press charges. This time I couldn’t blame it on crack. I had to do self-inventory and say to myself, “Are you a thief? Do you just steal?” Even though I had accepted Jesus, I still didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus. 

When I found out I was pregnant with my second daughter, Courtney, I immediately went to have an abortion. I was single, overweight, depressed and scared to death because of my pregnancy with Brandi. I went to an abortion clinic. I knew I was right at 12 weeks. They lady said, “You are 13 weeks. We can’t do it. But you can go upstairs. They do it up to 26 weeks.” So, I went upstairs. I am sitting there with a sheet over my lap and the doctor is getting ready to examine me. I prayed, “God I know this is a sin, but I can’t have this baby. I can’t even afford to raise Brandi.” The doctor examined me and said he couldn’t do it. I asked him why. He said, “I don’t know. I just feel there is a risk with you.” God intervened . . . again.

When Courtney was born you would have thought she was a crack baby. She had a hernia, a tear in her liver, a hole in her spine, her heart was on the opposite side, her intestines were in knots, her neck muscles were messed up, and her head was tilted. She was transferred to the ICU at Texas Children’s hospital, where she stayed 90 days. She went home with a feeding tube. She had a special-needs caregiver. I was working at Enron when that was going on. God preserved me — my mind — through all of that. I had no family, but I did have Jim and Tamara. They were my family.

Some of Courtney’s problems have been healed, but she still has some health issues. God gave her a brilliant mind. He preserved her and He did the same thing for Brandi. Brandi is so imaginative and creative. I truly believe God protected her mind through my drug battle.

In 1999, I began attending a non-denominational church, New Light Christian Center. Dr. I.V. Hillard was having a Spiritual Millennium Warfare conference at this church. I went down for the altar call and experienced spiritual healing. I had finally found my church home. This church taught me so many things. I was delivered from addiction in 1988, and I never went back. Crack cocaine is euphoric-demonic and is spiritual warfare. I finally got to the root of my problem. I had been self-sabotaging. For so much of my life, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God. When this happened, my life was transformed. God called me to evangelism, to minister to women with low and no self-esteem, bound by addiction like I was. 

When I was pregnant with Brandi, I developed diabetes. As a result, I’ve had five toe amputations. I have diabetic retinopathy in my right eye. I have been in stage three kidney failure for 15 years, but God is sustaining me. I have been at death’s door many times, but God has protected me. God is faithful and loving. If we just seek Him, He will never turn His back on us or leave us. God did not give up on me. He kept pursuing me. He kept helping me get on the right track. God protected me and my daughters and provided and intervened for me so many times. I am so grateful for the people God placed in my life, for the revelations He has given me, for the healing He has provided. I am grateful for my two daughters who are amazing women. 

I transferred to Mooresville, North Carolina, to work in human resources with Lowe’s. I thought that my purpose of coming to North Carolina may have something to do with my ministry GurlGetYourMindRight which God gave me 10 years ago . My lease is up in August, and I plan to go back to Pittsburgh. I believe God wants me to go back home. There are women who are there who need life spoken to them. I really believe the ministry will take off there.  

Lastly, no matter what you go through in life, always remember “it’s just temporary” because we’ve already won! The ransom that was paid for us covered all our sins but we must continue to renew our minds and not be subject to this world.  To the ladies, who are still being controlled by men and this world…….GurlGetYourMindRight!

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Matthew 6:33 NIV

#215. The Ultimate Father

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I born to a 13-year-old mother. I came home from the hospital with my grandmother and was raised by her. I grew up in the West End of Louisville in a rough neighborhood with lower income white and black people. The parents wanted their children to have better lives than they did. I went to church regularly with my grandparents, which was an important part of building my Christian faith. 

I was in ROTC all four years of high school. I graduated on a Saturday and went to Marine Corps boot camp on Monday. The first trial of my faith was when I went to Afghanistan while I was in the Marines. The Muslim soldiers stopped five times to pray each day. These men were my age and were willing to put their weapons down to pray. I wondered if I would put my own weapon down for my faith. I was brought up in the church, but I had never seen conviction like that. I had never really seen someone who was willing to put their life on the line for their faith. 

A few months later, we were securing buildings to make sure they didn’t have weapons. We were going into homes and trying to speak to parents. I learned that they were just like us. They weren’t evil. They were just trying to raise their children to have better lives than they did — just like the parents back in the West End of Louisville. 

What helped me commit my life to Christ was the change I saw in the lives of people I grew up with. I saw people who were raised in sin and hate who, over time, experienced a change in their life. They began to serve God. Any questions I had about Christianity were resolved because I saw what Christ did in the lives of people when they accepted Him. Their lives were radically changed.

During my time in the Marine Corps I didn’t go to church a lot. I did do a lot of praying in combat. It is true what they say: There are no atheists in foxholes. Before we went out on a combat mission, we held hands and prayed together. I never met anyone in the U.S. Marines who refused to pray before a combat mission. 

When I was a young Marine, I came home on a weekend and went to a club. I met a young lady and six months later my grandparents told me that a young lady was looking for me. I was 22 years old when my son was born. Over the next eight years, I went through child support and visitation. I didn’t have more children until after I was married when I was 30. 

After my first daughter was born, when my son was eight years old, I did a blood test and found out he was not my biological son. But he is still my son. Here is how God worked this out. My grandfather was not my biological grandfather. My grandmother was divorced and he was my step-grandfather. But he loved me and treated me as his own child. That prepared me to deal with what happened with my son. I had no other way to treat him but the way I was treated by my grandfather. God prepares us for things coming down the pike that we don’t see coming. I have three wonderful grandkids now. They were just here Father’s Day. My son just got out of the Army himself. He is the older brother to the girls. We are all family. 

I always had a curious mind. I got my undergraduate degree on active duty and got my graduate degree when I got out of the Marines. I worked with Toyota for about 13 years in quality management and then another 10 years for Honeywell in corporate quality. In 2012, I left Honeywell and started two UPS franchises in shopping centers.

Prior to this, in 2000, I had a motorcycle accident. The doctor prescribed pain killers and this was the beginning of years of struggle for me with pain pills. In 2012, I had a second motorcycle accident. I was given more opiates. Opiates change the way you think. I had gotten in trouble before but it was nothing serious. There had been no real consequences other than money. 

By 2016, I was in real trouble and that’s when I lost my UPS stores. I had to short sell my businesses and face the consequences of what I had done. I went through the next three years going through that, then I went through a physical amputation. My right foot was amputated six inches below the knee. I got through my amputation on Tylenol and muscle relaxants. I committed to myself that I would not put another opiate in my body. Generally, pain won’t kill you unless it triggers a cardiac arrest. But I knew if I took opiates again, it would have destroyed my life. Right when I thought I had faced the worst thing in my life, then there was something worse. 

But everything that we go through is to make us who are are supposed to be. I am a man of faith. If you believe in the Bible you can’t expect that your life will be any different than the experiences of those people in the Bible. Job was a good man, prosperous and blessed and yet he suffered greatly. I came from the West End but had become prosperous with a six-figure salary, properties and businesses. And then it went away. I am 52 years old. I never thought I would be missing a part of my body. It is trying at times, even though I know there is good that has come from it. 

I am in training to become a minister. I talk to people about giving their lives to Christ and the change that will come from that decision. If I am doing something that is sinful or wrong and you are my friend, I want you to call me on it. And I do the same for my friends. I love them and stand by them, but I call them out when they are doing something wrong or sinful. One of the positives that has come from my amputation is that I have found that people listen to me more attentively now.

Everything that God teaches us in the Bible, is put there to protect us. Living life by the teachings in the Bible leads to a life of peace. Even though on the outside I am down one foot and receive disability, I am happier than I can ever remember being. I sleep well at night. The PTSD is even better. I have more peace than I’ve had in my whole life, despite how my outer body looks. As we grow and mature in our Christianity, we have internal peace. This allows me to conduct my life with more serenity than I have ever experienced before. 

I have discovered that God is the ultimate Father. Nearly every parent wants the best for their children. I believe that is what God wants for us as His children. That is why he has given us the guidelines in the Bible. He has given us everything we need to be successful. All I have to do is to accept His will and work every day to adhere to it. I won’t be perfect but I can try. 

I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)

#212. Praying Wives: Something To Live For

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I married my high school sweetheart. Bob and I had known each other since first grade. I knew he had a good heart and I believed the Lord brought us together with His blessing. I was young and idealistic, full of hope and dreams for a bright future together. Fifteen years later at the age of 35, I found myself living in quiet desperation. My husband and I had good jobs. We lived on the property of a golf course where my husband was a PGA pro. Our three daughters were wonderful and a source of much joy. Yet something was wrong with our family.  Day after day, hour after hour, I was forced to deal with the fact that my husband was an alcoholic and drug addict. Oh, there were days we could hide it from the outside world. There were moments we pretended it wasn’t a fact and tried to laugh and have fun together as a family. But always in the back of my mind I was waiting for something to trigger him, to set him off and send him into erratic behavior directed toward me or the girls. We never knew when or why that would happen. Once he began to drink, his rules were the only rules in our house. He would drink all night, unable to work the next morning. Our girl’s room was the only sanctuary they had. They were afraid to invite their friends to our home because of what their daddy might say or do. Not only was his behavior awful, but his language was also worse. He didn’t care who heard what. I didn’t know how to deal with these terrible problems.

 
I remember going to a golf tournament with him. He promised me it would be a good weekend without drinking and that we would have fun together. The first night I found myself in the motel room at midnight wondering where he was. His promises had quickly been broken leaving me upset and frustrated again.  Left alone, I questioned my life, and began to talk to the Lord. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was about to come face to face with Jesus Christ in a way I had never experienced before. But before this happened, things went from bad to worse. My husband was arrested for public drunkenness and everyone in our little town knew it. He was the “town drunk.” I had accepted Christ as my Savior when I was ten years old. I have always had a deep love for the Lord. I was active in my church and when I married that continued. As each child was born, I made sure they were in church. Rarely could I get Bob to attend church with me. Mostly he would only go if the girls were in a program. When I asked him to attend, he got indignant, saying that Sunday was the busiest day of the week at a golf course and how could I expect him to be gone. I made sure the girls went even though they knew that Dad didn’t think it was worth it. 


I’ll tell you some of the things I did wrong. I wrote letters to people who had overcome the battle of alcohol. I called members of my husband’s family. I asked friends to talk to him. Five times I went to the pastor of our church but could never really tell him what was wrong. I could only sit there and cry. I got mad at Bob, went along with him, ignored the problem, and tried to reason with him. I reached out for any solution that sounded reasonable. In August of 1975, I began to feel ashamed of myself. I found that if I encouraged Bob to drink more, he would pass out sooner and I would have some peace and quiet.

 
One evening that August, Bob had finally passed out and I went to our back porch, a quiet haven for me. Everyone in the house was quiet. Outside everyone was gone and the peace and solitude that our old worn-out porch offered were just what I needed. I was physically and mentally exhausted from juggling three jobs, keeping the girls busy and having no answers. I had upset Bob that night. I don’t know what I did to upset him but when he drank it didn’t take much.  I sat down, soaked in the night noises, and sighed.  I hugged my knees and rested my head on my arms and the tears began to flow. I cried out loud and I thought about whether anyone could hear my sobs and if they did would they even care. I thought, “I am of no use to anyone.” I felt reduced to a scream, a tear, a cloudy mind. I was unable to function, a blob waiting to crawl into a hole and stay for a long time. Many other nights this same summer I had come here knowing there had to be a way out, wanting to help but just not sure what I should do. I can remember screaming on previous nights, “God, why is my life like this? What good am I to anyone? Why don’t you just let me die?” And then I would always feel so guilty because I couldn’t pull it together. I couldn’t find an answer.

 
That night in August was different. Out loud, in sobbing tones, I said, “Lord, I’m at the end of my rope. I’ve tried all I know to try. I don’t know anything else to do. If you are listening to me, please, please help me.” And at that moment my tears and sobs ceased. That shocked me. I had been sobbing so hard I was shaking, but it just stopped. I felt very warm inside and very calm. It was not a sensation I was familiar with. For the first time in an exceedingly long time, I didn’t feel alone. The Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I am with you. You can go on. It will be alright. You are my child. And you have three children to care for. I will help you.” The Lord had been waiting for me to turn it over to Him. He probably said, “Well, finally she is going to let me handle it!” At that moment, I knew everything was going to be alright. God was listening and He cared. He could see my heart and He was there. I didn’t know how everything would be alright, but I knew He was giving me strength and love to face tomorrow.  Positive thoughts began to come into my head. “I can like myself once more. I can begin to be a better mother. Our girls need me. And Bob with all his problems needs me more than ever. With God’s guidance and wisdom, I can be a good wife, the wife Bob needs me to be.” I finally gave up my problem to God and said in effect, “Lord, take over.” And He did… in more ways than I could ever imagine! The evening breeze stirred the leaves on the huge elm tree in the back yard. I suddenly was aware of the beauty around me. I stood up slowly as not to shatter this new atmosphere. I went into the house and looked in on our three girls, my heart was so full of love for them. They looked so fragile and beautiful as they lay there sleeping soundly unaware that a miracle had just taken place, one that would deeply affect their lives forever.

 
At last, I knew I must work on myself. The Lord helped me by sending a friend who invited me to a Bible study. There I began to study God’s word in a fresh way. I made my heart vulnerable to others in the Bible Study and they began to pray with me for Bob. The more I learned about the Lord, the stronger I became. I was able to exhibit a kinder spirit in my home, my emotions were more stable, and I had a wonderful hope inside knowing the Lord himself lived within me and was helping me become more than I could dream.

 
I never thought of divorcing Bob. When I looked at him, sometimes I could see the 17-year-old boy I fell in love with. I could see the gifts and talents hidden from view. I could see the man I loved to be with, to laugh with, to share with. All those things were still there, they were just hidden. One of my greatest desires was to be a good wife to him. Taking care of him made me happy. I knew without a doubt I couldn’t abandon him. I would not give up on him. With the Lord’s help, my love for Bob and a deep sense of commitment and purpose kept me going. After I realized the Lord was in control, the thought occurred to me that I might be the only one exhibiting a Christian walk in front of Bob.

 
In November of 1975, Bob was converted at an old-fashioned revival meeting in the Laurel County High School gym. The Lord took away the desire to drink immediately with no withdrawals at all. Bob took no more drugs. He was able to fellowship with fine Christians who provided encouragement and love. It took almost 2 years to work through everything we had gone through to put our marriage back together. Our daughters had a dad again. Bob went back to college and seminary at the age of 40. He started two churches in Kentucky and became a full-time evangelist whose calling was to share this story about the grace and love of our Lord. We began traveling all around the world and Bob preached and taught. We had amazing experiences and met many wonderful people.  God even used Bob’s golfing expertise to evangelize. Bob would invite men to play a round of golf with him and while they were playing, he would share his testimony and invite them to attend revivals where he would be preaching.

 
Bob preached his last revival in 2006. He passed away in 2008. My trust in God has grown so much since my husband died. As I reflect on my life, I can see now that God was guiding me all the time. He reassured me and encouraged me in the difficult first years of our marriage. He gave me an unexplainable peace even when Bob was out of control and I had no idea what to do. When I surrendered the situation to God, He worked things out in wonderful ways that were beyond anything I could imagine. God provided years of extraordinary experiences and opportunities. He sent many people to encourage us, mentor us, pray with us, and provide for our financial needs. I am deeply grateful for the wonderful people God put in our lives and the part each person played in our story. It isn’t our story at all. This story is God’s story and the glory for every step of our journey is God’s alone! 

#202 Yet, I Will Rejoice: Part 2

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

So, I became a young single mother and have raised my almost 11-years-old son alone, since he was about four months old. I went back to finish my master’s degree that I had started in Kenya years back. I got support from my family and I went back to church. However, I still felt like a failure. I felt like I had failed God, my family, and myself. None of my relationships worked because I brought a lot of trauma that I had not dealt with into them. I thought my career would make me feel better. I did have a relationship with God, but I focused more on work than letting God work in me to heal me. I got very good jobs that were well-paying and was able to take care of my bills and my son, but I still felt empty.

After finally graduating with my master’s degree in Kenya, I enrolled for a PhD course in Public Health. My sister wanted me to come back to the US, but I didn’t want to leave because my career was going so well. I told my sister, “I’m not coming as a student. I will only come if I get a green card so that I can work.” I applied mostly not to disappoint her. I knew chances of me getting it were slim, but on my seventh try, my application was successful! I still did not want to leave Kenya, but people I trusted told me this was the second time God had opened a door for me to go to the US, and I should ask myself why God opened the same door twice. They advised me to walk through the open door by faith.

I resigned from my job and came to the US with my little boy, a plane ticket, a $50 bill and two suitcases. I was very afraid. I cried all the way in the plane and kept telling God I hope I made the right decision. I had worked so hard to get to where I was career-wise, but left all that (my well-paying job, my friends, my relationship, my consultancy firm, my PhD, family, church). I left everything to come to the US and start over.

I thought it would be easy to jump back to my career. I knew there were a lot more opportunities for me to advance my career in the US and to make my life better than back home. What I did not know was that it would take years. It took me a year to get my transcripts sent from my former college in Kenya to the Board of Social Work in Kentucky, so I could get certified as a social worker. It also took much time and moneyfor me to get my transcripts accredited. By the time I finally got certified, available jobopportunities were for people who had prior experience working in the US and/or had a master’s in social work. My master’s was in medical sociology, so the only option I had was to use my high school certificate to get a job.

So, I started working at Amazon. I went from an office job to standing 10 hours a day. All the money was going to daycare and rent. I could barely pay my bills, and I got frequent eviction notices. When I put my son to sleep, I would cry to God, “Just take me. Why did you bring me here?” I was in this job close to a year until I finally got a job at the state psychiatric hospital as a mental health associate. I led groups and also provided direct care. It was tough. Patients wanted to fight, but I still had a heart to work with people with mental illness. I did this for two and half years.

After I got the job at the state hospital, I got accepted into the university. I tried to continue my PhD in public health, but I had to start at post baccalaureate, then four semesters of a master’s program before being accepted into the doctorate program. But social work was still my passion. When I was near completion of my doctorate, I still felt empty and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I also faced many challenges in the program. My professor-mentor prayed a lot and felt his work was to shepherd students. He realized that public health wasn’t my passion and was probably not a good fit for me so he prayed with me. I believe that was God’s favor. My professor said, “Why don’t you transfer and get a PhD in social work. If you push yourself, you can finish your PhD in three years.” God brought me back to His original plan I believe. I had already practiced in the field of social work and I had a desire to work with vulnerable populations. I hope to defend my final project in August and graduate in December. God gave me the grace to work and do my best in school. People would say, “How did you do that?” Even I don’t understand. It was definitely God’s grace.

Lately God has been dealing with the inside of me, releasing me from the trauma of my childhood. I have been praying about it and letting it go. I feel like I am experiencing healing in this area. God is my counselor. I breakdown and cry, and He leads me to Scripture.

I look back and see God’s hand working behind the scenes. In the past, He seemed far away and I felt like He had forgotten me, but He was always there. Looking back, I have come this far because of His grace. Every day he provides healing and delivery from my past trauma. I am still a work in progress, but I have come a long way. I am amazed at God’s unconditional love. He loves us as we are and though at times we see ‘broken,’ He sees ‘precious.’ In His due time, He will elevate us. Our lives are in His hands, and He has good plans for us. We may not understand the mountains and valleys that we go through, but His love will keep us. He will always be our victory. He will embrace us in our trying moments and give us the grace to sing even in our most painful times. His love sustained me, and I know He embraced me when I felt broken and lost. He embraced me when I was giving up on life. He did it for me, and He will do it for whoever might be going through a similar experience and is feeling lost or forgotten. The Lord surely does give beauty for ashes. He is able to fix our brokenness into a precious vessel — a work of art — that is so valuable. He is able to bring out the best from even the most painful moments.

Jeremiah 29:11–14 (NIV) speaks hope to me because I know that in every season, whether good or bad, God has a good plan for us. He is a God who restores and brings us back to His purpose when we deviate from His plan. He loves us unconditionally and never gives up on us. At times we may not understand the pain that we go through, but He is still God, a good God who has good plans. Whatever the season, it does not change who God is!

“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, they are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me in earnest, you will find me when you seek me. I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and bring you home again to your own land.” Jeremiah 29:11–14 (NIV)

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#201 Yet, I Will Rejoice: Part 1

 Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born in Kenya in 1980, the last child in a family of three siblings. When I was six years old, I woke up late in the night and was looking for my mum. I asked my dad where she was. He told me she had left, and he did not know where she went. I was confused because to me, my family was perfect. I kept asking my dad where my mum went and would she ever come back? He kept telling me he did not know. My questions bothered him and at times made him very angry, so I stopped asking. But silently, I suffered deeply inside. I kept wondering why my mum had left me?I was so young. Why did she reject me? 

The next time I saw her was in court three years later. She had filed for divorce. She and I never really had a connection and, much later, I asked her why she rejected us? Why she left us? She told me that she had to leave because they were fighting a lot. She said she loved us and tried to look for us all those years, but my dad would not allow her to see us. I tried to accept her version of the story and worked very hard to establish a relationship with her, but it was so difficult. My relationship with my dad was so close. He was my hero and I loved him. I think I chose to believe his version of the story. 

My dadraised my siblings and me after my mother left. Growing up was tough without a mother’s love. I think dad was pushing himself too hard. I think he was afraid he would lose us. One time he mentioned his fear that the court could take us away from him. You could see that the thought of not having his children broke his heart. He provided everything we needed. However, he was very angry, bitter, and tired. So we grew up afraid. As loving and protective as he was, he would say some mean things out of anger. We learned perfection from him. Everything had to be perfect. From elementary to middle school (known as primary School in Kenya)we topped the class, and my dad pushed us even harder. Our grades had to be perfect. We were not even allowed to date. We were very involved in church, sports, extracurricular activities such as music and drama, but he monitored all that closely. By the time I was in sixth grade I could cook and clean for the whole family, and I could comfortably stay home by myself after school. He had taught us to be independent.

 

During college I visited my mother. We would bake, take walks, and try to do mother-daughter bonding activities to make up for the lost years. I was really starting to connect with her, but after a few months, she fell ill and died. It broke my heart. I was very involved in church and had a group of girls that I met with to pray and that got me through. Yes, losing her still hurt but the prayers and encouragement from my small prayer group gave me courage to keep moving forward. God gave me the peace and grace to continue focusing on school. I could trust Him despite the situation. I cannot explain the strength I had going through that situation, but I know it was only with God’s help. 

Both my siblings went to the US to build their careers, but I remained in Kenya and was among the first cohort in Kenya to train as a social worker. When I graduated, I got an internship at the United Nations in Nairobi. My first formal employment was in a research study for HIV prevention among high-risk women. I did not have much experience. It was a miracle that I got the job. I enrolled for a master’s degree in medical sociology. 

Having gone through a broken family and trauma, I was drawn to working with the kids from similar backgrounds and those going through abuse. While I was doing well in my career and working on my master’s degree, my father became ill. My dad began getting sick around fall of 2007, which was an election year in Kenya. When the election results were announced, violence broke out. This escalated cases of abuse and violence and kept me very busy at the violence recovery center. I could not go visit my dad because of the post-election violence. Tribes were fighting against tribes and political parties against each other and it was risky to travel.

 

Unfortunately, my father also could not travel to see his physician for medical care in another city. Instead, he went to a local hospital in a rural town in Kenya, but he did not make it. I remember the last time I spoke with him. I had left work at around 4 p.m. I talked to him and his phone went off. I remember him telling me to take care of myself and to tell my siblings the same. I asked him what he was talking about? I told him the violence would end, and he would get out of hospital, and I would go see him. I was told that the last thing he mentioned was that he wanted to take a short nap and rest, but when he slept, he never woke up. The next morning when I heard my dad had passed; I thought my life was going to end! I did not see how I would live without my dad because I loved him so much. He was my hero, my best friend. I was truly daddy’s girl. I felt like a part of me died when he died.

 

I didn’t date until I was an adult and got in my first serious relationship when I was 25 years old. I wasn’t experienced in relationships and I didn’t know about normal relationships because I came from a broken home. When my dad was sick, I met the man who would become my husband. He was there with me when I got the news about my dad’s passing. He saw how crushed I was and decided he would take me to the country to attend the burial/funeral. We were both risking our lives because there was still tension, due to post-election violence. I cried all the way from the city to the country. The seven-hour drive was very scary. You could sense the tension. We knew anything could happen, and we could get killed. This really brought me and my boyfriend close.

When I returned, it was very hard to get back to work and to finish my master’s degree. I felt empty. I wanted to die and I prayed to God to take my life. I drank a bottle of wine or sometimes two, to wash away the pain. My boyfriend was there for me during this time, and I was still involved in the church, but instead of turning to God, I turned to this relationship. After a few months of dating, we decided to get married. We really didn’t know each other very well. My whole family was against it. They thought I was still going through trauma of my dad passing and thought I should wait, but I did not care. I went ahead with the wedding plans. My siblings could not make it to my wedding. Only a few of my family showed up. I smiled during my wedding ceremony, but I was breaking inside. I had no dad to walk me down the aisle, as I pictured all through my life, I was getting married to someone I didn’t know well, and my family didn’t support me. 

The morning after my wedding, I looked at my ring and I remember thinking, “What have I done?” We went for our honeymoon in Mombasa, a coastal city in Kenya, but I was unwell and unhappy. One night we decided to go out to one of the clubs. When we were heading back, we were stopped and surrounded by a group of about 10 men. We actually thought they were police, but they were not. It may have been an initiation into a local militia group because they didn’t steal anything. They started cutting us with machetes. A man was cutting me again and again. I faced death. I had two deep cuts in my head, and blood was flowing like tap water. I was silently whispering, while holding my blood with both my hands, “Lord Jesus, forgive me. Please remember mercy. Save me!” 

 

I cannot believe I survived this ordeal! I had said my last prayer at the time because I knew I was going to die. Miraculously, they left us (probably for dead). People heard our cries for help and came to help us. A man offered to take us to the hospital in his car. I believe God intervened to save us. I really don’t know how I survived. From a beautiful bride a few days before, I lost all my hair. They had to cut all my hair with a razor so that they could stich my head. I almost lost my eye as well. I still have a scar. The next day we informed our family back in the city. They arranged for us to be flown back to Nairobi. That is basically how we started out marriage. With a traumatic experience and nursing wounds from our near-death experience!

 

My husband was drinking a lot and at times not coming home. I was also drinking my wine. I was depressed and felt stuck in the marriage. I did not know who to talk to because my family was against the marriage in the first place. I was too embarrassed to reach out for help. My siblings were far away in the US; I had no dad to talk to. My spiritual life was a mess. I felt very far from God.

 

We decided to go for counseling from our pastor, but we still had problems. We also went to talk to his family, and the aunts advised us to have a baby. They said having a child sometimes solidifies a marriage and makes a couple bond. I was scared and excited at the same time. I had stopped my master’s program; I did not graduate, taking a three-year break from school. I got pregnant but I had no one to take care of me emotionally. I felt alone. I spoke to my sister and explained how sad I was, and we decided it was best to go to the US. I applied for a scholarship and got accepted to pursue a master’s degree in public administration in Louisiana. My husband seemed okay with it. My plan was to go to Louisiana then transfer to Kentucky to be close to my family. I was only a few months pregnant. My husband and I agreed that we would try and apply for an F-2 visa for him as a dependent spouse. I traveled to the US and applied three times, but we were not successful. I also tried to transfer to Kentucky and was unsuccessful. I took a semester off from school and had my son. When I held my son, I felt blessed and happy. At the same time, I was scared because I did not know if I would be a good mother. I fell in love with my little boy immediately. He lit up some part of me that was broken inside. I decided that it was best to go back to Kenya, so my son could be close to his father. I did not want to go through a divorce like my parents did because I know the pain it caused me then, and I did not want my son to go through the same. 

When I went back to Kenya, my husband continued with his old ways, drinking, partying, and sleeping around. There was infidelity and neglect, and we reached a point where it was best to end the marriage. We ended up separating and later divorcing. It was so hard for me to divorce despite infidelity. I thought about repeating my parent’s history. All this time I kept crying to God. I felt unworthy because my walk wasn’t always right. I wondered if God really accepted me. But I realize now God loves me unconditionally. We are the ones focused on other things — focused on the pain or the lack, but He is always there.

Habakkuk 3:17–19 is one of my favorite verses and reflects how I was feeling at this time and what I still believe today. Through it all we should give thanks and Praise the Lord. It might be difficult to do that when going through pain, when the road is all foggy, and we are unsure of where we are going. Even when it hurts, we should put our trust in the Lord and rejoice because He gives us grace and strength to go through these seasons, whether good or bad. He is there behind the scenes. He is there carrying us, even though we do not “see” Him or “feel” His presence, He is there, putting every piece of the puzzle in place, where it belongs, and ordering our steps. 

“Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vine, even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren, even though the flocks die in the fields and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation. The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountains.” Habakkuk 3: 17-19 (NIV)

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#199 A Mustard Seed of Faith

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I grew up in a single parent home, living with my mom and younger sister after my parents divorced when I was young. My parent’s marriage was plagued by domestic violence, so my earliest memories are of my parents fighting. My home situation and my parents fighting made me feel very insecure, though we did have lots of extended family, which provided safe places to spend time. My mom became a Christian when I was seven. I remember going to church with her and to Vacation Bible School, but I didn’t understand what was going on in church. 

When I was 11, my mom got remarried to a man who lived in Indianapolis. He was a godsend. He was a great guy and didn’t have any children, so he took me and my younger sister on as his own. He was a Lutheran and put us in a Lutheran school. That is really where I learned about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. We had religion class and learned the books of the Bible. But this was head knowledge and had not made it to my heart. There was no relationship with Jesus. As a result, I always felt like something wasn’t fulfilled within me. 

In high school, I could see I had two choices, two groups of friends to choose from. I could pursue my education and do the right thing, or I could take another path. I chose the other path and started smoking weed. I became pregnant at 16 years old and had my son the first week of my senior year in high school. Out of fear, I didn’t tell my mom and dad until I was seven months pregnant. To their credit, they didn’t put any pressure on me to choose — either put the baby up for adoption or to keep the baby. That was another God moment for me. I lived with them and they helped take care of the baby. My mom helped care for my son, and my dad took care of us financially. I was enrolled in night school and finished high school mid-year. Our family dentist then hired me to be his dental assistant when I was 18. 

I had second child, a little girl, when I was 19 years old, with a man who became my husband several years later. I was still working for the dentist, though I moved out into a place with the father of my child. We did the best we could, but we weren’t very equipped to raise two small children. At around 20 years old, I got introduced to crack cocaine. The first time I used it, it changed my life. I became addicted immediately and, by age 21, I was arrested for the first time for drinking and driving. 

I was in and out of incarceration from 2000–2011 for drug-related issues. My life just spiraled out of control for several years, but I believe the Lord was working in my life during this time. In 2005, God awakened my soul! I had to go to prison when I was seven months pregnant and that finally got my attention. I was imprisoned in March, my daughter was born in April, and I was released in September 2005. My mom was her caregiver while I was in prison. My other two children were living with my mother-in-law. I moved in with my mom when I was released. God provided a good job for me, which was a true blessing. I worked in that job for a few years and things went pretty well.

For me, it wasn’t one moment, but many moments over the years that really changed me. Each time I was incarcerated, there were volunteers who would come in and minister to us. They told their stories, brought Bibles, led recovery groups and Bible studies. They were so consistent in sharing God’s Word and God’s love with us. It made such a big impact on me. There was a mustard seed of faith that was growing inside of me into a tree. The Bible studies, recovery meetings, and programs available while I was incarcerated, were the biggest blessing to me. 

I remember one man named Ralph who came weekly to pass out Gideon Bibles and to share the Good News. He was probably 80 years old and had emphysema. It was really hard for him to breathe, but he came faithfully. I asked him if he would visit my grandparents and share the Good News with them. He ended up going to my grandpa’s house to share the Good News and my grandpa accepted Christ. About a week or two later, my grandpa passed away from a heart attack. I’ll never forget that moment — that is when awakening began!

I did well for several years, but in 2008, I got into another relationship and got pregnant with my last son. The relationship with his dad was very hard. It was a rebound relationship for me, we didn’t know each other very well, and there was a lot of emotional instability on my part. I was just in a bad situation. By March 2010, my life was out of control, so I gave my two-year-old son to his father and my five-year-old daughter went to live with my sister. I got arrested in September of 2010 and was incarcerated for four months. 

In 2011, I had gotten back together with the man who fathered my second child when we were 19. We were staying in hotels using drugs every day. I was exhausted and just couldn’t take it anymore. On November 5, 2011, I cried out to God from a hotel room. I prayed, “God, if you don’t save me from myself, I’m going to kill myself doing this. I need you to help me.” God answered my prayer. I prayed that prayer around 6 a.m. and around 6 p.m., we were pulled over by the police because we had tinted windows. I was arrested, but I believe my arrest was divine intervention. Actually, each of my arrests was divine intervention. I feel like each arrest came at a time when I was going to die. God was saving me from myself by using the judicial system to stop me. Nothing else could stop me. It was like being possessed — something I couldn’t control. My addiction was such a tug of war for my soul. 

On November 5, 2011, the day I cried out to God, I was arrested for the final time. I went from jail to prison, jail to prison — four different facilities in one year. At that point, I was really engaged and applying myself in pursuing God. I was attending Bible studies and using all the resources available to me. I took a recovery course and went to classes. I worked a recovery program for a whole year while I was incarcerated, which really set the foundation. In January of 2012, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit in jail. My spiritual eyes were opened and each day after that I grew more and more in my understanding of Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. One night a scripture verse (just the book and verse number) came into my mind during a dream. It was Galatians 6:9. I looked up this verse when I woke up and read it, I realized these were just the perfect words to encourage me. This was a real game-changer for me.

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Galatians 6:9 (NLT)

I was due to be released on November 7, 2012, and before I was released, my mother-in-law sent me information about Wheeler Mission Ministries: Higher Ground Addiction Recovery Program. It is a God-centered program and I thought it sounded perfect for me, so when I was released, I went directly to the Wheeler Mission Higher Ground program. One of things that makes recovery challenging, is that often, when people get released from prison, they go back to the same community, same friends they left. Then they end up back in a bad situation. It’s important to look for a supportive program or another place to go. There are re-entry programs and resources available, you just have to find the courage to do something different. 

The initial commitment at Higher Ground Addiction Recovery is eight months but you can stay as a servant leader in training to serve your program after this eight months. I chose to stay and became an assistant in the recovery program. In 2014, I became an employee. My personal relationship with Jesus has been growing since God’s intervention in 2011 and I am still actively pursuing God. I am now a case manager for Higher Ground. By the looks of it on paper, I wasn’t qualified for the case manager position, but God made a way. God provided me with this position. I love my job. I love being able to encourage and strengthen women and their relationship with God and be a person they can count on. I love being able to share about Jesus. 

When I got to Wheeler Mission, I saw the Bible lived out in the way the people loved God and loved others without condition. That is another reason I’m so grateful for the position I have now. I can share the love given to me and encourage other women to reach their full potential, to be good mothers and family members. 

When I look back, I see God’s protection all through my life. Sometimes I was in dangerous situations and He had His loving arms around me. I can see it completely now. God is patient and consistent and unconditional in His love. He does correct us though and that is an important piece of His character. But His correction is as a loving Father and is done to help and protect us. His correction saved me. I can’t put into words how loving and caring He has been to show me so much favor my whole life. I got my daughter back from my sister in 2015, which was a miracle, and I became a homeowner in 2018. The biggest gift that God has given me is my children, my relationships with my children and the grandchild I have on the way. 

All God wants is a relationship with His children and He doesn’t give up on them. Even when people don’t know Him, He still wants the relationship. He pursues us, but he is a gentleman, and He doesn’t force Himself on us. 

I am often reminded of this verse that is on the wall at Wheeler Mission: 

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 

Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

When I read that verse, I see a Father with his arms open to His children. Don’t wait to pursue your relationship with God and grow as a person. Start today! Pick up a Bible and read it. Let God change your life!

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.