I was a pretty average kid growing up. I played basketball. I was a cheerleader. My favorite subject in school was English; I loved reading and writing! I was a dancer. Pretty good at it; the Washington School of Ballet scouting me in 7th grade; they handpicked their students and then offered acceptance into their school, however, I didn’t take that route as you will soon find out.
I was a bit of a tomboy; I loved to hang out with the boys, they always seemed to do way cooler things than what the girls did. For example, they taught me how to blow off Barbie’s heads with firecrackers. That was cool! The girls just wanted to change the Barbie’s clothes over and over; the boys, let’s just say, they took playing with Barbies to a whole new level of excitement.
I played cowboys and Indians, climbed trees, and fell out many times; I ended up breaking limbs, mine, not the tree. I loved to catch frogs and snakes and play in the creek. I rescued every stray animal I found.
Bike riding was the best! I would go to the top of this steep road next to our apartment building and fly down it on my bike as fast as I could. Going over the speed bumps made it even more fun! The problem is, I often forgot how to use my brakes, so I stopped myself by running into parked cars and of course, breaking more limbs.
I had a good childhood. My mom, brother, and grandmother loved me. My mom worked hard; she provided for us; she did all she could to give us all we needed and more.
My mom became a believer in Christ when I was young. Therefore, I grew up in a Godly home where Christ and His word were a big part of our life. We were very involved in church and AWANA.
I don’t member wanting for anything except, I wanted a Dad.
My mother left my Dad when I was two years old, and my brother was almost a year. She and my father were not believers in Christ when they were married. Their marriage was struggling and facing many challenges; being young, not knowing what to do, my mom left him.
Growing up without a dad was very hard on me. It caused me a lot of pain. I may have seen him a handful of times. And those times were brief. I don’t remember most of them.
Certain times of the year made me sad because I didn’t have a father. Father’s Day was always hard. I hated this day! I didn’t want to think about the pain I had in not having him around. I also couldn’t stand it when the church scheduled the Father/Daughter Banquet each year. I couldn’t go.
Not having a father made me feel unloved and unworthy; I would wonder what was wrong with me and questioned why he did not want to be with me. I figured I was the problem.
As a child, the last time I saw my dad I was about 11 or 12 years old. He had a new wife and a daughter; I was already making some unwise decisions, so he decided to wash his hands of his former family and focus on his new family. Knowing this, drove me into a deeper struggle.
Looking for Acceptance
My need for acceptance and love caused me to seek for it in all the wrong places. I was quite popular with all the kids. I had lots of “friends,” but they were not the right crowd. This group influenced me badly, and I allowed them to lead me down a very dark path.
By my teen years, I ended up getting involved in alcohol, graduating to drugs and doing poorly in school. By age 15, I was a different person than I was when I was a young child. I was angry and unhappy; I alienated myself from my family and became rebellious and tough for my mom to raise.
I did many awful things during these teen years. I don’t plan on spending lots of time on all the wrong that I did because I don’t want to give Satan any glory.
But there are a few situations I do want to share because they play a role in the freedom and grace I found in Jesus.
After about three years of living this drug filled lifestyle, my life was depressing. I hated my life. I hated what I was doing! But I had gotten so deep into it; I didn’t know how to get out. I had a bit of a war going on inside me. At one point, I wanted to do what was right, and then the peer pressure seemed too strong for me to resist and stand alone, so I would give up trying.
But there was one time I did try to walk away from it all.
One day, I skipped school. My grandmother (who lived with us) was expecting me to pick up extra school work so that we could work on getting my grades up, but I didn’t. I spent the whole day drinking and doing drugs; I ended up at a drug dealer’s apartment. They offered me cocaine. On top of everything else, I tried it.
Making it back to school to catch the bus home, I was so out of my mind. I could barely focus. I stumbled into my house, barely greeted my grandmother, and I realized she knew I had not been at school. Knowing I was in big trouble, I ran downstairs and decided to end it all. I took my grandmother’s whole bottle of pain pills.
After taking the pills, I jumped the back fence and ran to my boyfriend’s house; he was not home; so, I continued to my friend’s house. At that point on my way to her home, I blacked out. I don’t remember anything except waking up in the hospital the next morning with an IV in my arm.
I learned later that I had been wandering on a busy highway and my friend saw me out her window. She and her mom ran after me, brought me home, called 911, and called my mom. In route to the hospital, my grandmother reported that her bottle of pain pills was empty. The doctors pumped my stomach, and by a sheer miracle, they saved my life.
At first, this appeared to be the turning point for me, because it scared me. The truth is, I didn’t want to die.
I agreed to meet with the Youth Pastor at our church every week. He encouraged and counseled me. I looked forward to this time. I wanted to make him proud of me; so, I said no to drinking and drugs and stood up to the peer pressure.
I depended on him, which might seem like a good thing, but what I needed to learn was to rely on Jesus. He did not teach me how to do that. And when he couldn’t meet me anymore, this disappointment drove me right back to my old life. My life got darker.
This experience reminds me of the passage in Luke 11:24-26 where Jesus says,
“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and clean. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits, more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before.”
It was not enough for me to have stopped doing drugs, drinking, and hanging with the wrong crowd. On the outside, it looked like my life was in order, swept clean, but I was nothing more than an empty shell. Unfortunately, while this youth pastor had good intentions, he did not lead me to Jesus, he just helped me “clean my house.”
Darker Days Came
It wasn’t long after this that I ran away from home again, and ended up at another drug dealer’s house. I was there for about three days. My mom had no idea where I was. She had the police looking all over for me.
Terrible things happened to me on that weekend. Things that are hard to speak and write about, but you get the picture. Thankfully, the police found me. My mom took me to a drug rehab in Florida.
At first, I thought we were going on a vacation. Thinking I’d run, my mom didn’t tell me why we were going to Florida. To my surprise, she registered me at the rehab and left me. I was so angry with her!
I was stubborn. Difficult. Rebellious. And the staff had quite a time with me. This rehab was only to take five months to go through; it took me 14 ½ months before I left this program.
While there, my mom organized a prayer group back home; they prayed for me every week. I honestly believe this is what saved me.
My mom, a saint, flew down every week, hoping to have five minutes with me. My stubbornness kept me from seeing her one-on-one. I could only listen to her speak to me in front of all the other students and their parents across the room. I caused my family a lot of pain during this time; I’m not proud of that. But that didn’t keep my mother’s grace and endless love seeing me through.
She never gave up on me!
Unknown to my mom at the time, this place was awful. Later the program was charged with child abuse, and it was shut down; I was one of the many victims of this abuse which I’ll describe later in this post.
I saw some scary things! When I look back at my time there, I know that God was taking me for a walk, showing me where my life was headed, if I did not stop living as I had been.
If a teen didn’t live in Florida, they stayed in foster homes; I stayed in many because I was a runner. If I could figure out how to run, I did. Of course, I was caught and brought back.
Because I ran, they placed me in many homes; finally, they put me in a home surrounded by a swamp filled with alligators. I stayed put!
In the many homes I went to, I saw and experienced some uncomfortable things. In one home, I witnessed a family worshiping Satan; they had séances and called out the dead; I met girls who practiced homosexuality; they taunted me, just to scare me. I didn’t sleep in those homes. I was too afraid!
This place was horrible!
Regardless of how evil this rehab was, God was there, and He pursued me. He revealed Himself to me through a young girl in the program, named Debbie Castro. She was from Michigan, and she was a believer in Jesus.
Every chance she got, she read and explained the Bible to me. For the first time, I began to understand what the Bible meant. At first, I gave her the cold shoulder and pretended I was not listening, but I was. She didn’t care if I wanted to hear it, she read to me anyway. Her insistence was God’s persistence.
Since then I have tried to find her, yet without success. Not too long ago, I came across Hebrews 13:2, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing, some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” I wondered if Debbie was an angel. She may or may not have been an angel, but I do know she was used by God to draw me closer to Jesus.
I was eventually placed in a loving Christian home for a longer period; they modeled love to each other and extended that to me. Their daughter became my friend, and she was a positive influence on me.
I finally got to the point where I decided to follow the rules of this rehab and participate in the groups. I eventually made it to a phase where I could go to the local public school and (the best part), I was able to go to the youth group at my foster sister’s church.
I loved this youth group. The Youth Pastor taught in a way that made me hungry for God’s word.
At this point, I had not given my life to Christ. However, when I was twelve years old I did pray the “prayer of salvation” in AWANA, but at that time I only did it because my friend did it; I didn’t mean it. But now I was seeking.
Between Debbie Castro, my mom’s visits, the prayers being prayed for me, the youth group I attended, and the letters I received from my grandmother, God was softening my heart toward Him.
My mom flew down on Friday. She was quite surprised when I not only earned five minutes with her; I earned an entire weekend! She was so proud of my changes she wanted to take me shopping. She said she’d buy me anything I wanted. Typically I would have asked for clothes, shoes, or something materialistic, but not this time. I asked for my very own Bible. You can only imagine how elated she was!
One afternoon while sitting in the backyard of my foster home, I took my new Bible with me, and the Lord led me to Romans 7 and 8.
Two things about me at this point on my faith journey you need to know is: First: Deep down I wanted to change, I just didn’t know how. I had tried and failed and figured there was no way out. I had pretty much lost all hope. But I was willing to try one more time. Second: I had a different spirit with which I was reading the Bible. With great anticipation and expectation, I knew that God was giving me the answer to my emptiness.
In Romans 7:15-16, Paul begins to describe his struggle that looked just like mine:
“I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong, and my bad conscience shows that I agree that the law is good.”
I wanted to be free from this life I was living, but I could not walk away from the life I was living on my own. After reading this passage, I couldn’t help but ask, “What’s wrong with me?” The next few verses answered this question:
“As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it” (Romans 7:17-20).
What’s wrong? Sin is what is wrong. The word sin in this section does not just refer to the mistakes we make; it speaks to a nature that lives inside us. It means to wander from the path of what is right. It means to rebel and reject God and all His goodness.
Some might think this passage says that no good dwells in us. But that is not the case. The part that is not good in us is our sinful nature.
When God made Adam and Eve, He said that what He had made was good. It wasn’t until Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree that contained the knowledge of good and evil that the sinful nature gave birth inside man. Adam and Eve not only knew good and evil, their rebellion gave birth to a war between good and evil living inside the soul of man. This sinful nature causes a constant battle inside of us. It makes us what Romans 7:24 says, “a miserable person!”
We are wretched, as the HCSB version puts it. To be wretched in this passage is to be afflicted, plagued, and deeply distressed!
When I read the question in Romans 7:24, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin,” I was determined to find the answer!
Notice the key word in that question, who will free me. Not what. There was no what I could do to rid myself of this sinful nature, but there was a who that could, and verses 25 tells us who: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
So you see, in my mind, I wanted to obey God, but because of my sinful nature, I was a slave to sin. And this slavery was killing me!
Sitting in that backyard, reading that Jesus was the answer to my problem, I knew I needed Him! Then the Spirit of God reminded me of the prayer I prayed in AWANA that evening when I was twelve years old. I bowed my head, confessed my sin, I asked the Lord to forgive me, to live inside me; to be my Savior, to be My God, FOREVER!
And you know what? It’s been over 37 years since I prayed that prayer. And-I-have-never-turned-back! Just like the old hymn I Have Decided bolsters, “I have decided to follow Jesus, the world behind me, the cross before me, though none go with me, still I will follow, no turning back, no turning back.”
Jesus freed me from the war I was in.
He gave me a new life. And that is not all – Oh how His grace abounds!
In Romans 8:1 Paul tells us that “There is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of good and evil, humanity knew condemnation; but at the tree where Jesus gave his life, condemnation was removed; the curse reversed, and for me and the battle with drugs and alcohol was over!
“For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death” (Romans 8:2).
I was so excited to know Christ and share my new-found faith at this rehab during our group time. Sounds like a good idea, right? This is where the abuse came that I spoke of earlier.
Sharing Christ with the teens in the rehab threw me right into persecution. The staff was not happy. They did not want the teens to trust Jesus; they wanted them to trust the program. If they trusted Jesus, the program would have lost money. The staff threatened parents with drug possession charges against their children so that they could keep them longer. Fear of their kids having a permanent police record made way for this rehab to make a ton of money! I was now a threat to them!
They told me to stop talking about Jesus. They said I couldn’t go to the youth group anymore with my foster sister. And I was mad! I rebelled. Being a new believer, I still needed some sanctification. I needed to learn how to handle difficult situations with grace, love, and more faith!
To set me “straight,” they decided to beat me. Yeah, you read that correctly! A bunch of girls took me into a bathroom and beat me for 9 ½ hours. They starved me; they did not give me anything to drink; if I was thirsty, they offered the toilet. Pretty bazaar for America, the land of the free! Amen?
I was severely beaten, bruised from head to toe. But, do you know what I was doing the whole time I was beaten? I recited Romans 8:18 over and over in my head, “For I consider the sufferings of this present time not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
I hung onto that verse until the beatings were over. The glory that was revealed to me was the ability to stand alone; I didn’t need man’s approval or acceptance anymore; I just needed Jesus! Though none go with me, still I would follow.
Miraculously I was released from this rehab without any false drug charges placed against me. But God was not done with me. God is in the business of complete restoration for His children.
One day I was home, in my bedroom, curled up reading my Bible and praying. At this point, I had found the Lord; He had freed me from drugs and alcohol, forgave me of sin and given me a new life.
I had been studying about the Holy Spirit and how He could help me live my life for God, but I still struggled with not having a father. Then God reached down and showed me the most amazing scripture that spoke volumes of love to me.
“The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13). At that moment God’s tender affection reached down and hugged me. And I realized He was my Father!
He would always love me.
He would never wash his hands of me.
He would never leave me, nor forsake me.
I finally received a spirit of adoption as a daughter who was able to cry out, “Abba! Father! To my God!” That was a huge revelation for me. He filled my emptiness. That would have been enough. But we serve a God that does the immeasurably more.
A little over ten years ago, I went on a retreat.
In one of the sessions, there was a large cross in the middle of the floor with nails and hammers near it. The speaker gave us a piece of paper and asked us to put the first name on it that came to mind after he asked his question.
He asked, “Who do you need to forgive?” Immediately, my father’s name came to mind. While hard to face, I knew that a lack of forgiveness was a roadblock to spiritual growth and I didn’t’ want barriers in my faith. I placed his name on the paper and knelt before the cross, took the nail and hammer and I nailed his name to the cross. I chose to forgive my father that day. I was free! My forgiveness did not excuse his abandonment, but it did free me from the hurt. I no longer held against him his sin, just as God had forgiven me, I forgave him.
Grace became my new go to!
Reunited and Reconciled
You probably thought that forgiving my Dad was the immeasurably more God gave me. It would have been enough! But no, our God is way bigger than that!
Not too many years after that retreat, I was running an event for Father’s Day at my church. (It is so incredible to me that this day was Fathers’ Day!)
My mom calls me. She says she has something important to share with me. So, I sit down to hear what she has to say.
My Dad and sister have been looking for my brother and me! It had been so long since we had heard from him; we weren’t sure if he was even alive. I couldn’t believe it! He wanted to see us!
We had heard that he had given his life to Christ and I figured I’d reconcile with him one day in heaven. I was okay with that. But God had different plans.
My dad wanted to talk to me.
I called him; we talked; he wanted to go on a vacation with us. With our family, he and his wife, and my sister’s family, we headed to Myrtle Beach, SC.
When our family goes on vacation, we usually have church at the place we are staying. Dan had been praying all week about what to prepare for everyone since this was a unique gathering. And God gave him the perfect verse.
Before Dan shared the scripture that Sunday morning, my dad (with tears rolling down his face) said to Chris (my brother) and me, “I’m so sorry that I washed my hands of you that day. Can you forgive me?” This was an emotional moment!
I was so glad that I had already forgiven him before this meeting. I shared with him my experience at the retreat; how God had freed me from my anger at him. He was visibly and deeply touched.
Then Dan opens his Bible and reads 2 Corinthians 5:18, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”
Full circle God had reunited a father with his son and daughter. What’s interesting to me is that reconciliation is not complete between individuals until it is complete first with Christ. My father, my brother and I had come to know the Lord first; now we could fully reconcile with each other.
I went home and made an album of our childhood. It was filled with pictures and little stories and scriptures that shared a bit of our life along the way. At the end of the album, I put a picture of us that we took at the beach.
I captioned the picture with one of my favorite verses, “God will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6).
Chris and I had six great years of reconnecting with our dad after that trip. While we can never make up for all the lost time we missed growing up, it was a wonderful gift from God to know our Dad this side of heaven. To top it off, we have the benefit of having more family added to ours. I love my sister, her husband and her children. And I love my father’s wife, too!
Unfortunately, our father passed away from pneumonia and other health complications. But I did get to see him in the hospital in South Carolina before he died. His last words to me were two-fold:
The first part made me smile; the second made me sad. He said, “You are a really good daughter” and the second part, he struggled as he said it, “I wished I had been a better father.” Still, makes me cry!
I had forgiven him, but I wished he had forgiven himself. It’s honorable that he sought us out and made amends this side of heaven. It says a lot about his character. It speaks volumes about how God changed his life. Not many people do that, especially after so many years.
My story may have conjured up some thoughts and feelings in you. But one thing I want to leave with you: many live their lives believing they have tomorrow, but we are not promised tomorrow. We only have today. It’s important to not put off until tomorrow what you must do today!
Are you struggling with your sinful nature? Are you doing good things, but you haven’t made Christ Lord of your life? Instead, you have just cleaned your “house”? You need Jesus!
If you don’t receive the Spirit of Christ, you will never have the power to resist sin! You will lose the battle every time! Today is the day for you to change, to be free, to be forgiven, and receive Jesus as your Savior.
Will you? It’s my deepest prayer that you “confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, [so] you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Please let me know in the comments how My story impacted you today!