#223. Love City: Radically Transformed

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was raised in the church for first 12 years of my life. When I was born, there was no dad in the picture for the first five years. A guy got my mom pregnant but was not a part of my life. I grew up in my grandparent’s house with four of my cousins, two uncles, aunt, mother, and grandparents. I loved family — family was my life. I didn’t really have other friends, just my family. 

At age five, my mom met a man at Southeast Christian Retreat Center and they got married. I can’t remember exactly what happened, but there was a falling out between my mom and my grandparents, so we got kicked out. I can’t remember — either we left or got kicked out, but it tore me up. It devastated me. It was such a transition going from living in community with family to living in complete isolation. The man my mom married adopted me at age five, as soon as they got married. So I had a new last name, a new man I’m supposed to call “Dad,” a new school, and a new family. I had a new life.

That’s when I started to act out and rebel. We call it the Bible, but I’ve come to find out that it is a 66-book love letter from God to me. Scripture uses the metaphor of a wild animal to describe how I was acting. If a wild animal gets angry, it will devour  people and things around it/tear them apart.

In the same way, when I couldn’t express my feelings, it would come out as rage. I was feeling something but couldn’t express it or understand it, so I would act out. I never found healing because I could never identify the problem or release it. So, I ended up living for other people’s acceptance. I knew who I was in community with family, but after losing that I didn’t know who I was. I kept going to Sunday school and all my friends got baptized. I wanted to also, so I began doing what everyone else was doing. I believed who Jesus was and what He did, but what I didn’t understand was what comes after deciding to follow Jesus.

So, when I started to live for other people’s acceptance, I also started to die from their rejection. In middle school I got bullied, so in high school I was chomping at the bit to fit in with the cool kid crowd. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t do to fit in, but there was always something in me that was tugging at me not to do “that thing.”

At 17 years old, I got kicked out of my parent’s house for being disrespectful and rebellious. I graduated high school and was glad I got kicked out. I wanted to take on the world. My selfish ambition started a ripple effect, not just in my life but also in the lives of other people.

I had a girlfriend for about three years, but I also had this pain inside that I didn’t know how to deal with. So I turned to money, sex, and drugs to turn off my mind, because I had to numb the pain that was in my heart.

I got a theft charge for stealing from UPS and got fired from Ford for failing a drug test. I would spend all my money on drugs, then my girlfriend would get me a meal at the end of the day — even though she knew I was doing drugs. I would repay her by punching holes in the wall when I was mad. I felt like a piece of trash — God didn’t make me to be a monster. My girlfriend would cry and I felt like trash.

I remember that I had a glass prism with Jesus in it and, in a rage, I threw it through a glass table. I had a Bible that was gifted me when I was baptized but, one day we argued and I threw it in the garbage. I never got it back out.

Finally, I ended up on painkillers and cocaine because nothing else would numb the pain. I got in a fight with a good friend, which was the straw that broke the camel’s back. No words were exchanged — we just got up and started brawling. My parents let me move back in when I was 19 but then I got in a fistfight with my dad, so I got kicked out again. It was a never-ending cycle of self-destruction. But it was not just destroying me. I was inflicting pain on other people.

I wanted to change, but knew I would have to get away. One day I called my cousin and told him what was going on. He was about to move to Mississippi. He said if I wanted to clean up my life, I could go with him. So that is what I did. I developed a work ethic and got my driver’s license back (which I had lost because of a DUI charge). It was good timing to get away from the toxic environment I had been in.

Unfortunately, my cousin and I had a falling out, so my girlfriend came to Mississippi to get me and took me back to Kentucky.

The Lord has reminded me of Matthew 23:27 where Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, telling them that they are like whitewashed tombs. There was this beautiful picture on the outside, which gives you the impression that what is on the inside is even better. But Jesus said that what is inside is actually rotten, decaying, and dying. When I came back, I “looked good” on the outside, but on the inside I was still the same monster. I had never sought healing for the pain that was on the inside.

I was still a monster to my girlfriend. I talked badly to her and I was disrespectful. She kicked me out one day, so I moved in with a friend. I got a job at Planet Fitness, but the background check came back and I got fired. I had another interview, but that fell through. 

I found myself overcome with such a burden of shame. I called my mom and apologized, and she accepted my apology. I didn’t deserve her grace but she forgave me. My dad was still bitter and wasn’t ready to reconcile. So I ended up meeting my mom and little sister at McDonald’s to grab breakfast after three years of not seeing them. My little sister had become a young woman, and it tore me apart.

At this point the last resort was the military. I went to enlist and they said as long as I didn’t have a murder charge or drug trafficking charge, I could apply. Twice before the military had not worked out, so this was the third time going to enlist. I wanted to be a Marine but ended up with the Army recruiter. They said they would let me know in a month. 

While I waited, I stayed in contact with mom and my little sister. One day I was running laps with my mom and told her that I would love to have a relationship with my family before I deployed. She was OK, but she said I had to ask my father. I was genuine with my dad and expressed how sorry I was and that though I couldn’t take away the pain I had caused, if he was open, I wanted a relationship. I ended up moving in with them while I waited to hear back from military. My dad suggested I get with one of his friends and see if he could use help roofing. A couple days later I was working again.

The military option fell through, but in the midst of the waiting, I had to praise God. I had a Bible app on my phone and was reading a devotional plan called the “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer. Every day was about the Holy Spirit cutting off all the junk I was carrying.

I could tell at this point I was just tired of it. Enough. I saw the wake of destruction which spurred the realization to not just “desire change” but to “need change.” There comes that point when you stop crying out just when you need Him. Instead you just genuinely want Him.

There is a difference between desiring and yearning. I had always desired change, but now I knew I needed God for change. I was yearning for Him. There is a supernatural God who loves me in a supernatural way. I knew transformation would come if I believed in Him.

If what He says in His Word is real, I’m going to know it, because that is how deeply I am going to seek Him. So I got a notebook and started writing — prayers, thoughts, and hopes.

One of the first incredible things God did in my life was that in my weakness I was able to look down at this notebook and read between the lines. There were words that were an exact depiction of what I was feeling in my heart. I was finally learning to express what I was feeling. God just did it all. That began the healing process! It also began to bring joy! I began to find out who I am because I was learning whose I am.

My dad started to see me change. I was seriously seeking. He showed me a book and I started reading it, though I can’t even remember the title. I was reading and just started weeping — the floodgates opened. I was compelled to get on my knees and I just started talking to God. There are three things I remember about that moment:

  1. I told God I was tired of hating.
  2. I told God I was tired of being ashamed.
  3. I told God, I’ve got to find out who You created me to be — because it is not this monster that I have been my whole life.

I got up from the floor and I knew something was going to change. I can’t even explain it. God was telling me: You’re going to change because I am with you!

I’ve heard this quote: “The cross beckons the man who is sick of himself.” That was me! The cycle of shame had formed an anchor in my life.

Scripture says in John 8:36, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I accepted His freedom that day.

After that experience, I asked my boss, who was also a member of our church, to get me plugged in to a group at the church. I got into a men’s group and the first question they asked was “How is your personal relationship with Jesus?” That made me ask if I have a personal relationship, and if I do, what is it like? It was a small group where we could be genuine and authentic.

They were also big on obedience discipleship. Jesus said, if you love me you will follow my commands. He says loving me empowers you to obey me, just like a child.

In their song, What if I Stumble, DC TALK makes this statement: 

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.

That was me! So I recommitted my life to Jesus in February 2019 and was rebaptized in April 2019.

This joy (fruit of the spirit) that started to come to life brought freedom! Now I want everybody to want that! Jesus is about mercy and selflessness. And that realization drove me to the frontlines to see others set free! My whole life I sought meaning and purpose without ever including God. In less than one year, I didn’t care about anything but knowing that I am His. It is hard to fully explain the change that has occurred in me. My parents told me recently that they always anticipated getting a call asking them to identify my body. That’s the path I was headed down, that the kind of life I had chosen to live. Understanding God’s love and grace radically transformed my life.

The one who has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). I have found this to be true in my life, when I finally understood God’s grace. Jesus on the cross was God telling me that He loves me. If I was worth dying for, He’s worth living for! 

I started visiting the residents of a halfway house and one of the guys invited me to a Bible study at a place called Victory House. I would go with a friend named Tom, and he invited me to live my life on mission. I remember we were leaving one night and I told Tom, “As long as my heart is beating, I’ll see you tomorrow.” That seemed like such a random comment I couldn’t even explain why I said it, but the next morning I found myself dying to play a song I used to listen to as a child. And one of the verses says “As long as my heart is beating, where You lead me I will follow, where You lead me I give my life away” That was it! I was sold out to Jesus and as long as my heart is beating, I will follow!

#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

#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

#187 Operation Making A Change

 

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

I was born and raised in Waukegan, Illinois, near Chicago. My mother divorced my father but later got involved in a relationship with a man who I would call my stepfather. He was a very violent man. He drank a lot and there was a lot of drug use. My mom didn’t drink or do drugs. She suffered a lot of physical, mental, and financial abuse from him. He abused me as well. I didn’t look at education as important and I didn’t think I was as smart as the other kids. I was disruptive and disrespectful. I was taught not to trust people and that hindered me from letting anyone get to know the real me. I was afraid that if I told what was going on at home that social services would come in and take us away from my mother. Between eight and nine years old, I experimented with marijuana for the first time. I had watched my stepfather use it over and over, and curiosity got the best of me. I didn’t know that going down that path was going to create a whole different chapter in my life. In my community there was gang activity and a lot of crime. A lot of the kids I hung with were drug dealers and users. I became criminal-minded at a very early age. I was trying to survive by doing whatever it took to get money and food. 

My grandmother was a positive person who spoke hope into my life. She was the backbone of my family. She took us to church periodically. My grandmother was someone I loved very deeply. She had a good home where I got a chance to see healthy relationships. I had other people in my life who were positive influences. I made a friend named Louie at around second or third grade. His life was much more normal than mine. He witnessed what my stepfather would do to me and tried to protect me. He taught me to play baseball and I taught him how to steal. 

A woman named Holly, who was a mentor, picked up a group of us a couple times a week. She took us to a church and we would play basketball, study Bible scriptures, and eat food. She said the school gave her my information because they were concerned about me. She gained my trust so fast. Looking back now, I know she was God-sent. Eventually she took us to her home, where we would cook meals and talk about God and pray. When she came and got us, there were no more worries in my life. But when she dropped us off, we were back to darkness. One night she cooked a special dinner and told us she was getting married and moving away. That was one of the worst days of my childhood. I was about 14 at the time. When she moved, my life became much darker.

In high school I decided I wanted to join the military, so I enrolled in the ROTC program. For the first time in my life I was able to be a part of something positive other than a sports team. Unfortunately, that was short-lived because while at school one day my grandmother called and requested that I come home immediately. When I got home there was a moving truck sitting in our front yard. My stepfather was gone doing an odd job and my grandmother said, “Get your things. We are moving you out.” We went to a shelter and then moved to the state of Wisconsin, which was not too far from Illinois. The school that I attended did not have the ROTC program, so I got involved in criminal activity even more (drugs, gangs). My drug addiction was getting significantly worse. By the time I was 17, I had dropped out of high school. On my 18th birthday I became a teenage father to a daughter. A year later my son was born. Two years later, the mother of my children and I broke up, but she was pregnant with our third child. At the time I didn’t have a job, I was doing drugs, I was a full-fledged gang member, in and out of jail, creating an unsafe environment for my family. I didn’t know anything about being a parent. I had forgotten about God and I wasn’t attending church regularly like I used to. The only time I called on God was when I was drunk and high and wanted to sober up, or when I was about to get caught by law enforcement for doing something wrong. But I always remembered what my grandmother and my mentor, Holly, had taught me . . . pray and God would answer my prayers. I knew scriptures from the Bible and I knew who God was, but I thought God didn’t hear me because I was a criminal, a drug dealer, a deadbeat father, etc. I thought God only listened to people who were perfect. I didn’t think I was good enough for God to do something in my life. 

In 1994, there was a sweep of my neighborhood, arresting people for dealing drugs and gang activity. Law enforcement were looking for me as well. So, I went on the run, but eventually I was arrested and charged. I had three counts of delivery of crack cocaine on three different occasions. The charges carried a maximum sentence of 36 years. When I went to jail, I felt so alone but still remembered what my grandmother and Holly had taught me about prayer. I believe God had been trying to get my attention because I had been running from a relationship with Him for so many years. After the court negotiations, two charges were dropped, which exposed me to one charge and a possible 10 years. Of that the judge sentenced me to four years in the state prison. I got classified for a medium minimum, which made it possible for me to go to boot camp. This program showed me so many things that I didn’t know about myself. It was ugly and I believe God set that up for me to take a look at myself. I ended up doing about 13–14 months total. When I got out, I got a job and started spending time with my kids. I was clean and sober. But my mistake was to go back and visit the old crowd. I started using and selling again, and I ended up going back to prison for two and half years for violation of parole. I wasn’t really locked in with God’s plan yet. I didn’t see it. I was going through the motions being in prison, so I wasn’t focused on change. I walked out of prison for the second time. The day I got out was the same day I relapsed. What a nightmare. I had a $300 or $400 drug habit a day. The drugs had such a stronghold on me. I couldn’t escape the urges until I fed it. It was much worse than before. 

By that time my children had moved to Missouri with their mother. I ended up going back to prison, this time for three years. I was mad and blaming others for my situation and not taking a deep look at myself until December 31, 1999. While sitting in prison I was scared because they said the world was going to end. So, I started taking a much deeper look at who I really was as a person, deadbeat dad, convict, drug addict, gang member, drug dealer, etc. I thought, “Wow, this is how I am going to die, a nobody. I have not accomplished anything but a life of crime.” That is when I decided it was time to reevaluate my life (again). People around me were dying from drug overdoses, getting life prison sentences, yet God still allowed me to live through it all.

I got on my knees and prayed to God wholeheartedly, “I don’t know if You hear me, but I am ready to be a new person. I just want You to take charge. I keep messing everything up. My way isn’t the way. I just need Your help.” I was ready to surrender. I knew I wasn’t ready to face the outside world when I got out of prison. God gave me the idea to develop a program called Operation Making A Change (OMAC) while I was in prison. This program helped me get ready for my release from prison. God gave me a vision that someday I would use OMAC to help many other people. I walked out of prison almost 18 years ago. I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t know what or how. I just knew my mind was made up and I wanted to do better. Instead of running from people who wanted to help me, I sat down, listened and learned. I started picking up different ways and habits. I was terrified of change because I didn’t know what to expect. I had made so many mistakes and didn’t know if I could really change. I had asked God to forgive me but many people didn’t forgive me. I had to realize it’s not about people. It’s about what God wants me to do. I surrounded myself with ministers, law enforcement officers, educators, and community activists, and I started to become like them. 

After being out of prison for about three years not knowing where my life was headed, a miracle happened. I was on my way back to prison because I was about $40,000 in arrears in child support. I had $30 to put toward the child support. They laughed at me in court. I realized I had nothing and couldn’t take care of my responsibilities. I was embarrassed. Just as they were about to put the cuffs on me, the judge said, “Wait a minute. Sit down. I don’t know why I’m doing this.” She gave me 30 days to get a job and start making payments. I had been praying before I met with the judge, asking God to be my lawyer, to help me. I had only 30 days and I knew how to get the money from drugs, but I also knew that came with another challenge. If I got caught, I would go back to prison, and if I start using, I would probably die. I got a call from some people I knew from a church in Racine, Wisconsin. They told me they had been praying for me. They got me a job interview at a school. I was saying to myself these people have to have the wrong person (I’m a convicted felon). I was sitting across from a woman at the interview, and I was just about to tell her I had been to prison. She said, “We know who you used to be. But my question is: What are you going to do if we give you a chance?” They hired me as a lunch monitor and to take the kids out to recess. Within two months, I became the gym teacher of the school. Every kid knew my name and I knew every kid’s name in that school. I was actually making a name for myself in a positive way. 

I started playing semi-pro football for the Racine Raiders. I became a personal trainer and got involved with the YMCA Young Leaders Academy. I became a case manager for Safe Haven and Safe Passage runaway shelter. For years I was building up my integrity and credibility. But I still felt like I had a dark cloud over me in Wisconsin, so I moved to Kentucky in 2010. In the beginning, I wasn’t able to find a job working with kids, so I got a job at a gas station. After six months, a police officer walked into the gas station. I said, “Sir, I am looking to work with young people.” I told him my story and he wrote everything down. He said he would get back with me in a week. I didn’t believe him because I was used to being let down. But he actually called me. He asked me to come to a meeting at the police department. I thought they were trying to set me up or I had an old warrant. But I went and he introduced me to a retired police captain who was working with the county attorney as a gang specialist. He said, “I’m getting ready to retire, but I believe I’m not supposed to retire because of you.” It was like God was joining us together at the hip. You have an ex-con, ex-gang member joining with a 40-year veteran of the police force. The captain took me under his wing for a long time. I still worked at the gas station all night; then went to work with the captain as a volunteer during the day. He treated me like a son. He introduced me to his boss, the county attorney, and tried to convince him to hire me but he said no. I didn’t get mad or discouraged. I just kept doing what I was doing, going with the police captain into schools, doing outreach work to prevent violence. 

In 2014, I won a Golden Apple award and the county attorney showed up. We met in his office again but he still wasn’t convinced about hiring me. The captain said he would put his name and career on the line for me because he believed in me. We had prayed a lot together and were spiritually connected. He wholeheartedly wanted to help me with no strings attached. The county attorney told the police captain that he was responsible for me and gave me 99 hours of work per month. God kept His promise to make me new if I would just trust in Him. Months later the county attorney hired me full-time and gave me an office with benefits. That was the first time in my life I had ever had benefits. They were the first ones to adopt the OMAC program I had developed in prison. The purpose of the program is to invest in the lives of troubled youth to promote change. OMAC is implemented in the county jail and the public schools and more. A few months later, a part-time position opened up as a substance abuse violence intervention specialist, and the captain encouraged me to apply. I doubted myself and the captain told me to have faith. God had taken me so far. How could I not apply? There were people with high credentials applying for this position as well. But God says He will put the last first, and I got the job. Four years ago, I got a call from the chief of the police department. He said they had someone retiring in the community service part of the police department and they would like me to fill that position. I hesitated because, where I come from, the police have a stigma attached. I said, “If I take the job the kids won’t trust me anymore.” But if I didn’t take the job, I felt I would be going against God. I decided to take the job and of course I did get push back but it didn’t matter. I just wanted to carry out the mission and the vision that God has given me. 

My faith in God is very powerful. I am an example of what God can do. There is no way I should even be telling this story right now. I should either be dead or locked up for the rest of my life. There had to be a Higher Power to get me out of my situation. My platform to help kids has just gotten bigger. God placed all these things around me for a reason. I used to think I was supposed to die violently in the street, now I just want to live and be a light for others, to witness to others. God motivates me every day to want to keep going. OMAC went from a small piece of paper in a prison cell to helping so many people stay away from crime, drugs, and gangs. This is God’s program not mine.

God is real. God loves us and doesn’t want to hurt us. God has ways of getting our attention. I believe the times I spent in prison, drug houses and gang activity — all of that allowed me to have firsthand experience so that now I can minister to other people about it. If you are going through life and trying to do it on your own, give God a try. What do you have to lose? I knew there were things that were better than what I was doing but I didn’t want to learn. You have to open up your mind and heart. God can help you with that. God will elevate whatever you are doing if you stay obedient. God protected me and covered me. He gave me the vision and He has opened every door along the way to make that vision come to life, even more than I ever imagined. I have learned that God can take pain and turn it into something good. I have learned to never give up, to never doubt that God is good — amazingly good. 

No weapon formed against me shall prosper. (based on the scripture from Isaiah 54:17)

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.

#175. The Desires Of My Heart

 

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My parents didn’t take me to church but I went with a neighbor regularly. I LOVED church growing up. I went to every camp and on every mission trip. I was really smart in high school, and by all appearances I was set for life. My parents were together and my dad had a good job as a policeman. Everything should have gone well. But a few months after I graduated high school I was raped and then as hard as I had run toward God, I began to run away. When I drank or did drugs, everything was okay. I didn’t have to think about things that were painful. I started to find my identity when I was high. All of a sudden, I could express myself and had no social awkwardness. I was the girl who would do anything, the girl who was funny. Even though I had grown up in church and loved Jesus and I knew He loved me, I didn’t connect my identity with Christ. So, what that meant was that I was always searching to find my worth in friendships, performance, and relationships. I didn’t find any worth in me apart from these things.

My moderation switch was broken. I was either going 100 miles an hour or sitting still. My drug addiction was no different. Balance was missing from my life. Anything that happened to me was either the best thing that happened or the worst. Being high leveled out my perception of extremes.

I ended up pregnant and still couldn’t quit. I started getting arrested. At one point in all of this insanity, I took my daughter to my grandparent’s house and didn’t go back to get her. I knew that I couldn’t take care of her and she would have a better life with my grandparents. I sought treatment but I didn’t think I was a true addict. I couldn’t stay clean after treatment, even after multiple treatments and multiple jail stays. My addiction got worse. It went from pain pills to heroin to meth, and then I started making meth. At this point I was living in a house without electricity and water. In October 2012, I came home and the police were waiting on me. I was charged with manufacturing meth and facing 20 years in state prison. Eventually it was dropped to a lesser charge and I ended up with a four-year sentence. I served 11 months and that was enough to keep me straight for a while.

When I got out of jail, I got back involved in church. I no longer blamed God for the rape. I had surrendered my drug addiction to God but I hadn’t surrendered any other aspect of my life. I was still seeking my identity in the wrong places. I went from horrible relationship to horrible relationship and got pregnant again.

During this time, God started working on the heart of my daughter’s father. He was very angry (and understandably so) that I had left her with my grandparents, and I thought that I would never see her again or even hear her voice. But after I got out of jail, he allowed me to see her and she started living with me again. She was 4 years old at the time. I got a good job and then had the new baby, and between all these responsibilities I stopped going to church. I thought it would be okay to start drinking. In my mind, I was a junkie and alcohol wasn’t a big deal. But just like everything else, I had no moderation and very quickly I was drinking every day. A friend sent me a message that said, “I have relapsed.” I know he was reaching out for help, but when I went to meet him, he had drugs and I asked for some. I began doing drugs again after that.

I had hoped that I had overcome my problem with addiction, but this relapse extinguished all hope. It was like someone poured a bucket of water on it. I tried to stop but couldn’t. Thankfully, my family intervened and said, “You are going to treatment, or you are on the street.” I found out about a residential treatment center and called on Monday, but they said they didn’t take my insurance. Tuesday I called and asked which insurance they accepted so I could switch, and they said they had a meeting and decided to take my insurance! Wednesday they called and asked if I could come the next day. I said yes and arrived there on Thursday, August 11, 2016. Two days later the house where I had been doing drugs was raided by police and everyone in it went to jail. Wow! Praise God for His perfect timing.

The treatment center sat at the top of a mountain and I remember the driveway up to it was so long. I was so broken. I had had such a hope that I could raise my kids and have a job to support them. I thought I was doomed to live a life of constant relapse. I knew that my older daughter’s father had taken her once and I was terrified that he would take her for good. I was afraid my family would take my younger daughter. I didn’t know if I wanted to live another day. I had NO HOPE that this place would help me. I had been to so many treatment centers that couldn’t help me … why would this place be different? The first two weeks my attitude was just to “do my time” until I could get out. I received a letter from my employer saying they would not hold my job, which meant I wouldn’t have a way to support my children when I got out. This drove me further into hopelessness.

I’m not sure how long it was before I started opening back up to God again, but slowly and without a definite starting point, it happened. I began to find my true identity as a daughter of God. I learned that I don’t have to be the best to be loved. I can be myself and be okay with myself and know that people love me. During treatment, I found out about the Peer Support Academy, an online program that I could do at the end of my treatment to get certified to help others with addictions. This was a career path—a way I could support my family. Learning about this opportunity gave me hope. After I finished treatment, I completed the training and became a peer support specialist. In May, I was hired as full-time staff at a residential center. In August, I was transferred to the corporate office where I currently work with the chief of staff. All of my strengths are being used in my job now. I get to make a difference in people’s lives because I am sharing hope and showing them that change is possible. Life is still really hard but there are so many blessings! When I look at where I was a year and half ago and where I am today—I never thought this would be possible. There were many times that I had hoped that I would OD and die, because it was the only way I saw out of the prison of addiction. But God didn’t let it happen. He had other plans and He didn’t let me go.

Now both of my children live with me again and I’m a mom. I was just able to buy a car this year. I am renting my own house. I have never been able to do that! I feel like God is just saying, “Let me give you the desires of your heart!” When I was in high school I loved participating in mock government activities and conferences. Earlier this year I was asked to talk to state legislators about my story and advocate for treatment for addiction instead of incarceration. It isn’t mock government anymore!

When I was in treatment, I made a list of qualities that I wanted in a life partner. I had been in unhealthy relationship after unhealthy relationship and I made a commitment to stay single until God showed me the man that would fit all of these qualities. After many prayers asking God to show me this man that He had picked out for me, He finally brought us together. October 3, 2018 I was privileged to marry the man that I had been searching for. Not only did he have all of the qualities on my “list,” but he has qualities that I didn’t even know that I needed. I am so blessed to be able to worship God with a husband that loves Him as much, if not more than, I do. 

When I was in treatment, every day we were asked questions. One was:

“I want to be someone who__________.” My answer was “someone who my children are proud of.” Last year a regional newspaper published my story and my 9-year-old daughter cut that article out and wrote, “Good job, Mom!” and taped it above her bed. This is the child that I was never to lay eyes on again. God is a God of restoration. The Bible promises that God will restore all the devil has stolen, and He is doing that, and more, every single day of my life.

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. Philippians 1:6

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.

#170 God Knows My Heart

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My parents were divorced when I was 3 years old. My mom was married nine times and we moved every two or three years. I was surrounded by drugs growing up. I was 5 years old the first time I saw cocaine being used. My dad wasn’t involved in my life in a meaningful way, and as time went on he spent less and less time with me. Many times, I can remember having my bag packed and watching for him to come and get me for the weekend and him never showing up. To fill the void, I ran to the streets. I started smoking cigarettes and hanging out with kids that huffed gas and White Out. At about 15 I met a friend who introduced me to alcohol and acid. Our moms would buy us alcohol thinking it was safer for us to drink at home. I needed money to buy a car and went to my dad. He gave me marijuana to sell. I started smoking marijuana with my mom and dad. When I was about 20 I was introduced to cocaine.

In 1998, I had a car wreck while speeding over 120 miles per hour. This is the first time I went to jail, but the charges were dropped. In 1999 I went to jail for possession of marijuana. This was the year my son was born. His mom and I had both been meth users and he had serious health issues from birth. His lungs were not producing oxygen. He was in the hospital for weeks but thankfully he responded well to treatment. We took him home and two hours later Child Protective Services came to our home. We had periodic drug tests after that. In 2000, my son and his mother were in a bad car wreck and she was killed. Miraculously, he only had a few scratches. I wanted to be numb after this. He went to live with his maternal grandmother and that gave me the freedom to do what I wanted, which was to indulge in meth.

I went to prison in 2001 and was in and out of prison for over a decade. During this time, I learned to manufacture meth, and my relationship with my son was non-existent. In 2013, I was put into solitary confinement in prison. There was no window and no interaction with people for five days. It was unbearable. I prayed, “God, if you are real, get me out of this room.” In two days, they moved me to another room with a window. But I felt this was a coincidence. Again, I prayed, “God, if you are real get me out of this jail.” Not even 36 hours later they came to get me and moved me to another jail. There I met a guy who convinced me to read the Bible. I read the Bible for about two weeks and this softened my heart. On August 18, 2013, I cried out to God and received Christ and the Holy Spirit. I had a spiritual experience that night that changed my life. The experience was like liquid love. Everything was broken off of me. I no longer had the desire for drugs after that. Everything was changed. Another inmate said to me, “I’ve never seen a change in anyone like I have seen in you. I want what you have.”

In 2014, I got out of prison in one state but I was facing a 20-year prison sentence in another state. I asked the judge to lessen my bond and he cut my bond amount by 90%—from $10,000 to $1,000. My dad and a friend posted my bond and I was able to spend time in a halfway house and spend some time with my son before going back to prison. My 20-year sentence was cut in half and I began serving my 10 years in July 2015. This was the best time I had ever spent in prison because I went back saved and I met some wonderful people. I witnessed to my roommate and prayed for him and for his release, and he was paroled. In two years, I had the opportunity for parole. Everyone was skeptical because it was so unlikely given my history, but I felt strongly that I would have favor and that they would grant me parole. When I went before the parole board I told them if I was paroled, my plan was to go back to the halfway house. They granted me parole.

 

I spent six months in the halfway house, and as soon as I got out I started going back into the jail to minister. I am now a part of Residents Encounter Christ (REC), an organization that has three-day weekends with inmates to teach them the Good News and bring them into a relationship with Christ. God has prepared me for the ministry I am doing now, offering hope and bringing people to Christ and discipling them. I spend time with the Lord every day. The power of the Holy Spirit is the only way I have the strength to live the life I am living now. It is an honor to bring Him glory and exalt Him.

 

God knows our heart and wants to give us the desires of our heart. He is restoring my relationship with my son. I am so thankful for the many ways God protected him over the years. I can now see all of the little and big things God did to save me and draw me to Him. I’m so thankful for God’s love that is beyond our understanding and that He answered my cries for help and changed me. I am a new creation and His power in me strengthens me every day.

Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:4

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.

#168 Walk by Faith

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

I was one of seven children. I had the best mom ever; I have never seen a stronger woman. She went without so we could eat. My dad was in and out of jail and did over 20 years in state prison and federal prisons. My dad was my role model. He taught me how to con and hustle. I thought he was a gangster and that’s what being a real man was.

My grandma lived next door. We were very close, and I stayed at her house many nights. She had so much determination and was a hard worker. She loved the Lord, went to church every Sunday, and talked to me about Jesus. In 2005, she died in my arms. That was a turning point. I was 16 and had been getting in trouble before that, but I wasn’t doing drugs. I had friends that were doing drugs, and the drugs were easy to get. Some people have a slow downhill spiral, but for me it was immediately falling apart. I started with one pill and then went to IV drugs. I got suspended from school, kicked off the ball teams, and went to juvenile detention.

At 18 I was released and went right back to doing dope. I got into more trouble and was a three-time convicted felon and spent eight years in jails and prisons and detox centers. During this time, I felt I was destined to be in jail. I didn’t trust people and was ashamed. But on the outside, I wanted everyone to think I was a tough guy. In 2010, my little sister who was 18 years old overdosed and died. She had called me a few hours before she overdosed and had a bunch of pills. I was so consumed in my own addiction I did nothing to help her. I was so lost I used her funeral to make people feel sorry for me to get dope. Not long after that, the girl I was with got pregnant. After our daughter was born, my aunt and uncle took her into their home. I’m thankful to God that they took her. They provided a good, safe home for her. We named our daughter after my little sister who had just passed away. 

In 2014, I went through a substance abuse program in jail and stayed clean 19 months. I was sober but I wasn’t in recovery. I hadn’t changed anything about myself. I just wasn’t using. I started dating a girl I had known since I was a kid. We got a place and she got pregnant. I was still clean from drugs but didn’t have a job. I wasn’t free and was ashamed and miserable. I was running around with my old buddies, hustling people for money. I was not being a man to provide for my family. We were living off my girlfriend’s child support for her two children that were living with us.

Eventually I broke and started doing dope again and relapsed bad. I robbed my family’s food stamps and sold their toys and diapers. My girlfriend wasn’t into drugs. She was a good girl. It was the relationship I had always wanted, and I was throwing it away. Our son was born November 2, 2015. On Christmas Eve of 2015, I came in and threw down a rug I had stolen, and my girlfriend thought it was her Christmas present. She hit me hard and evil took over me. I was a monster. I beat her. The next morning her father was at our door with a shotgun and the law was on the way. I went to jail, and when I got out she wanted nothing to do with me. I couldn’t see any of my kids. They told me I had to get help if I wanted to see my kids. I went to my sister’s grave and asked God why He took her and not me.

In February 2016, I checked myself into a detox hospital. I waited for about 10 hours and wanted to leave, but something kept telling me to stay. I thought, “If you leave, you are going to die.” A month later, I checked into a residential drug treatment center. I hated everybody and hated myself. I couldn’t stand to look at myself and had no hope whatsoever but knew if I didn’t do something different I was going to die. For eleven days, I wanted to leave. I couldn’t get focused. One day I was using my phone and as I was typing “Walk by Faith Not by Sight,” I got caught with it, and you can get kicked out for that. However, the pastoral counselor at the home talked to me and said, “What if you could take all this bad and turn it into doing something good? What if you can take all that hustling and conning that you learned from your dad and use it to help people and show people hope? What was meant for evil God uses for good. You have a chance to change your family tree.” This conversation changed me. The Assistant Director spoke with me about accountability and it opened my eyes and planted a seed that changed the way I saw things and I began holding myself accountable for everything I had ever done in my life.  The Director of the program also talked to me that day and gave me hope. He said he had been through eight rehabs and now he was the Director. I said, “I wish I could be where you are.” He told me to reach higher than that. After that I got focused. I worked on the old baggage inside of me—the anger, the shame. I wanted to be free from that. I was still struggling with spirituality because of my sins. I hadn’t submitted fully to Christ yet, but God was working in my life and shaping me. I was learning patience and humility. When I graduated from the recovery program, it was the only thing I had accomplished in my life. I framed the graduation certificate, and it is now hanging in the center of the wall at my office where I work.

I had already worked on moving beyond my past, but I hadn’t really found Jesus. I was still stuck on following laws. The last night I was in the recovery program, we went to church and I heard a sermon about how believing in Jesus saves us and about Jesus’ relentless love and forgiveness. I finally got it. I got saved that night and felt so free. The next day, I went home. I had come to terms that my girlfriend was not coming back, but I still wanted to be a good father to my children. I was living my life by faith. I told God, “I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m going to trust in You and have faith and stay the path.” I was trusting in something totally different than I ever had.

I started going to church, and it was around Mother’s Day. I knew all the sorrys couldn’t change what I had done, but I sent my girlfriend a Mother’s Day card and wrote Proverbs 3:5-6 in it.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

I started taking my children to church and then asked if she would go to church with me. She started going to church with me and ended up getting saved too. We got married in June, just two months after I graduated the recovery program. My family was restored with custody of all children except my first daughter who is still living with my uncle and aunt. I want to do what is best for her. I want it to be God’s will and God’s timing when we get reunited. I have prayed that God would let me know the right thing to do at the right time.

After we got married, I was honest about who I was and couldn’t find a job anywhere. I went back to school to get a college degree. We moved in with my mom, but it was a hard situation. We had to take showers with a water hose outside. The only thing I owned was a car and that blew up. I had to walk everywhere I needed to go. My wife and I didn’t pray for money or things, we just prayed for our relationship with God to get stronger. But God always provided. The pastor of our church and his wife offered us a house to stay in rent-free, and the church bought us a 2009 minivan. I got certified as a peer support specialist and was hired on as a residential staff at the recovery program I went through. I was promoted to pastoral counselor in October 2017. We just had another baby April 13, a boy named Gage, which means “a deposit of good faith.”

Six days after the baby was born, my dad got hit by a car as he was leaving jail and was killed. I hadn’t talked to him in a year. I had tried to help him but he didn’t want it. I felt so bad. When I looked at him in the casket, I thought, “What if he had taken the opportunity to follow Christ? If he had known the love of Christ everything would have been different.” And I thought, that could have been me. I have so much regret about the things I have done, but God is using those experiences to allow me to help others. Today I find my joy in helping people find hope and helping them get their families back. Today I realize life is not about material things it’s about people; it’s about family! I love my beautiful wife and my 5 amazing kids. God restored all the broken pieces of my heart and today I know what true freedom is.  I never thought I could break the bond of addiction. I never thought I would be able to be a good dad, son, brother, and husband. Without Jesus, there is no way I could do what I am doing. I’m so thankful.

To me God is love, grace, and mercy. I have many days that I fall short and struggle with self- doubt, but I snap back and know that God loves me. It’s the religious stuff that turns people away from God. But His love chases you down and finds you and pulls you out of the pit of hell. Once you experience that, how could you ever go back?

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 

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.

#166 My Pain, God’s Goodness

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

My mom raised us in church until I was 9, and I was baptized as a young girl. We were very involved in church and I loved Sunday school. As I got older, we no longer attended church. I started smoking pot and drinking when I was 12 years old. I ended up pregnant at 16 years old. When my son was born I really hoped that I had found a pure love that wouldn’t go away. I didn’t know my birth father at that point in my life. I got pregnant on purpose because I wanted love. But I was a kid myself and never thought about how I would provide for a baby. My son’s father was 15 and neither of us knew how to do the things we needed to do to be good parents. So, when my son was 1 year old, my mom took him to raise. I grieved so much for him. I didn’t care what happened to me after that. I was sleeping in school buses and in public bathrooms. Sometimes I slept on other people’s couches, and when I did, I felt I owed something to the guys who were allowing me to stay. I allowed my body to be given away because that was the only asset I had to give. I felt I wasn’t worth any more than that.   

I wasn’t addicted to drugs at this time but I was making many bad and dangerous decisions. I remember one time the police picked me up as I was driving around with several men much older than me who were convicted felons. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I had nowhere to go. He knew how vulnerable I was in that situation, and to get me to a safe place, he paid for a hotel room for me and bought me a meal. He dropped me off and left. I know that was God showing kindness to me, protecting me.

When I was 21, my birth father got married and his wife heard about me from a mutual friend. She contacted me and asked if I would want to come live with them. I stayed with them for six to twelve months. They bought me a car and new clothes. His wife was so kind and she really tried to help me. I started nursing assistant school and did very well. I was third in my class and was ready to graduate, but then they wouldn’t let me because I didn’t have my GED. That was another hard hit and I went back on a downward spiral.

I left my father’s house and got into a relationship with another man. We had two children together. We were very poor and lived way out in the country with no indoor toilet. My sister took us in at one point. We split up after about four years when our youngest child was 3 years old.

In 2003, my children and I moved into an apartment, and not long after that my sister died. I began to lose my mind after that. The enemy just came in and consumed me mentally and physically. I lost custody of my children because of multiple suicide attempts. I was in and out of the psychiatric unit several times. They put me on many medications. Some made the cutting worse and some made me numb and emotionless. I knew something was wrong but I didn’t know how to find God, and my life had no meaning without Him.

In 2007, I was in a horrible car accident. My pelvis was broken in half. I was in the hospital for a month. I was in so much pain. For the first year after the accident, I was prescribed pain medication. I remember the day I knew I was addicted. I ran out of pain pills and my whole body was shaking and trembling. I was so sick. I began using IV drugs and that took control of everything in my life. Even just an hour after doing drugs, I would get sick and need more. I prostituted myself to get drug money. It was no longer about getting high. It was about trying not to be sick. The mental obsession was insanity. It was all I could think of. Life became all about who I could rob, con, or sleep with to get my next drug. I knew addiction was of the devil. The moment you prepare to change your life is the moment people come out of the woodwork to give you free drugs. I saw this happen in my own life.

The day came when I was tired of it all. I cried out to God for help. Shortly after, a local drug enforcement agent caught me on tape selling drugs. God was answering my cry for help and intervening to save me. They put me in jail and then released me to drug court, which is an outpatient accountability program with drug testing and meetings with drug counselors. I talked to God a lot at this point. I asked God to let me serve Him and His people. While I was still in the drug court program, I discovered that I had leadership ability. I began facilitating faith-based recovery meetings through Lifeline. I continued to work with Lifeline after graduating drug court. I got custody of my kids back and we had four great years.

But then I relapsed. I got on heroin and it was worse than the first time. I remember my arms and chest being covered with needle holes. Social services were going to take my children, and I tried to stay clean so I could keep them, but I failed a drug test. I don’t know why I relapsed. It was a big surprise to everyone, including me. I had become the poster child in my town for overcoming substance abuse. God had changed me completely and then I relapsed. I talked to God again and said, “I have made a mess of this. I don’t want this anymore.” I went through detox and as soon as drugs were out of my system, I began to ask God for deliverance from drug addiction. I knew I couldn’t go on without God. I began to seek the Holy Spirit with everything in me. I started working at the church doing anything they would let me do, cleaning toilets…anything.

When my children were taken away because of my relapse in 2015, I thought my life had ended. But it was just the beginning. That was the last day I got high on anything. I have custody again, and I’m a productive parent to three great kids. The Lord answered my prayer and has delivered me from addiction. I am still very careful. If I feel any trigger, I talk to my pastor. I stay really close to God. When I wake up, the first thing I think about is Jesus. My relationship with Jesus is the only thing that has worked to help me. I can’t do this alone—not even for one day. Every day I ask God to help me and He does. I don’t function well without God…I can’t lose Him. Everything is at stake.

I now work as the Director of ReWired, a faith-based addition recovery program. A local church has taken ReWired on as one of their ministries. We have a church service on Saturdays and each time we meet there is a revival spirit. The pastor and I let the Holy Spirit lead and we worship and sing for God. Through ReWired, I also work as a coach with 10 people who have additions. The most important thing we do is provide spiritual guidance. We share our stories to help others know there is hope and that God can break the bondage of addiction.

I never thought I would be qualified to serve God or make it to heaven, but my pastor taught me that it is about a relationship, not perfect rule-following. God is love and it isn’t about requirements. The right lifestyle is acquired through the relationship with Him.

I am a miracle, because without God I would be dead or in a crack house at 90 pounds doing dope. I never expected that there would be a greater purpose to come out of the pain of my life. But God is using it all for good. I look at my “before” pictures—my mug shot—and cry because of how good God is and how real He is. He has loved me, forgiven me, and transformed me. I want everybody to know.  

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

(Proverbs 31:25) 

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.

#164 Every Moment is a God Moment

 

 

Photo by Brianna Rapp

Several years ago at Thanksgiving our pastor asked our congregation what we were thankful for. Growing up, I had good parents and grandparents. I come from a big family, with four brother and four sisters. We grew up in a loving home and we were very close. I remember many times we prayed together as a family. All my siblings are still living and both my parents are living. When my pastor asked this question, I thought about how blessed I have been to have such a good family and felt so thankful to God for this blessing.

On another day at church, our pastor challenged each of us in the congregation to start reading the Bible daily. On January 1, 2007, I started doing this—reading the Daily Walk Bible early every morning. My wife and I live out in the country. The end of that same January, as I was going to church on a very icy Sunday, my truck slid off the narrow bridge and fell upside down into the creek. Thankfully, it landed on the passenger side and I was unharmed. God protected me. I went back into the house, warmed up, and picked up my Bible to read. Nearly every morning since then I have read the Bible. Now it feels like my day is not started off right if I don’t read the Bible.

Both our son and daughter have been into drugs. Our daughter got pregnant and we raised her son for five years. Without being in God’s Word and knowing how forgiving God is, I don’t know that I could have forgiven or made it through these situations. Because of our kid’s addiction, they stole from my wife and me—guns, tools, cash, even my wedding band. Each time it happened it was harder to forgive them. My wife and I both work hard at our jobs and we don’t have a lot compared to what many people have. That made it even harder when our kids stole from us and we had to replace things. But when I read the Bible I learn how many times that Jesus has forgiven me—too many to count. This realization has helped me forgive them.

But we did have to do hard things. We turned both of them into the authorities and they both went to jail. After our daughter got out of jail, her life began to change for the better.  She and her husband now come to church and have jobs. Our grandson has gone back to live with them.

After you start reading God’s Word, it changes everything. Many days I have had things going on in my life and I could pick up the Bible and hit on just what I needed to hear for that day to help me get through it. Since I have been reading the Bible each day, I find myself being more grateful, seeing things each day that I am thankful for. God is a giving God. When I try to think of a particular “God moment,” well … everything is a God moment. He put air in my lungs this moment and gave me this day. I don’t care what we do, we could never thank Him enough.

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.

#160 Completely Forgiven

 Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

As a young child, I went to church regularly and my parents were very active in church. But I felt like I couldn’t live up to the expectations of God because I was not going to be able to be perfect. I felt I needed to earn God’s love. I continued to go to church until my teens, and then my grandmother passed away and my family stopped going to church.

I remember taking my first drink in high school. I didn’t like the taste. I had to hold my nose to get it down, but I loved the way it felt, the freedom it gave me. It was the only coping skill I had developed to deal with problems in life. I became a weekend drinker in college and then began drinking more heavily. Around this time, my parents divorced. I ended up getting pregnant. Even though I wasn’t going to church at this time, and I was walking away from God, I know that God never left me.

Alcohol and the enemy take you to a place where you can’t differentiate between right and wrong. Life becomes a gray area. I decided to stop drinking while I was pregnant but I wasn’t excited about having the baby. In fact, the only thing I could think about while I was pregnant was not being able to drink. After a year, my family stepped in and took my daughter. It’s not that I didn’t love my daughter, but I knew I wasn’t able to care for her and willingly gave her up. My family wanted me to go to treatment and I agreed to go to get them off my back. I went to treatment for 30 days but afterwards continued drinking. I became pregnant again and made a choice not to continue that pregnancy. Afterwards, I felt I had committed the ultimate sin, that in a moment of selfishness and addiction, I had stooped to the lowest point. This just made the drinking worse. Then came two suicide attempts. I was so emotionally bankrupt that I felt death was the only way out.

I remember one night I was in an empty apartment that I had been evicted from. I had no electricity and no running water. It was just me and four walls. I cried out to God, “You’ve kept me alive when I wanted to die. I am completely broken down. It’s up to You to do what You want with me. I can’t keep fighting alone.” The next morning, I went to treatment, but this time I wanted it for myself. I wanted a genuine life change. My moment of desperation met a window of opportunity and I had a moment of clarity. I thought, “Maybe there is something different for me.” I know this was God. I was in treatment for about a month and found out I was pregnant again. The facility was not designed for pregnant women, and they told me I had to leave because I was a “liability.” By the grace of God, a spot opened up in a facility in my state that accepts pregnant women, and I got a place there. I remained there for a year in treatment. I remained sober for the entire pregnancy, and during that pregnancy I didn’t think about drinking. I thought about my son, and for once I thought that I could be a good mom.

I had asked God to show me if I should stay in that city after completing the program, and I felt God leading me to stay. One morning I woke up and felt God calling me to go home and get the baby that I had left behind. I applied for a job in my hometown to do drug prevention in the school. The job required a college degree, but I applied even though I didn’t have a degree and ended up getting the job because of my experience! I got custody of my daughter and had a stable job. But then, funding ran out for my job and I applied for a job with an addiction recovery organization. Again, I didn’t meet the requirements, but I was hired anyway. I continued to be promoted and eventually I was involved in a discussion with the CEO about programming. I felt God was getting ready to act on my dream that an addiction center for pregnant women would be opened in our area. I told him about my experience of being a “liability” and my dream that no one else would ever be in that situation. I had been praying that God would open a place for pregnant women in my area, and when I talked to the CEO I found out that he had also been praying about this! God took over after this. A year ago, I saw my dream fulfilled and the organization I work for opened a residential addiction treatment center for pregnant women just miles from here.

In the meantime, I felt called to do something in my hometown jail. If you want to carry the message of God’s love, the jail is the place to go. That is where you will find the broken but also God’s presence. I asked the jailer if I could do a ministry in the jail, and he said yes. Fast forward three years and I am now married to the jailer and we have a seven-month-old son with our own home. For the first time, I feel stability. My husband and I work together to help people in jail. We believe they need skills and resources and need to know about the goodness of God—that He is not a condemning God looking for perfection. He is a God that wants to love you. My husband also advocates with the state jailer’s association for giving inmates the opportunity to change their lives through rehabilitation instead of incarceration.

I thought I was a terrible person that made extremely bad choices and was going to burn in hell for what I had done. I now know I am forgiven completely and made new through Christ. He continuously loved me even when I didn’t love myself and saw no worth in myself. I am so thankful for the abundance of God’s love and the abundance of grace He has shown me. 

I share this story of honesty to reach the next person that may feel they are all alone. My past does not define me. My past does not dictate my future. God defines my path and my purpose. I am forever grateful for the life I live today. To get to show up and watch God show out.

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.