This is the story of a young woman named Stephanie. It is her journey from junkie to Jesus, from guilt to grace, told from her own thoughts and words. It is her psalm of grace.
Psalm 51 (The Message) Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down.
My earliest memories are of going to church with my parents and four sisters. I remember praying with my mom at night. Getting an award for memorizing Bible verses at church. Saying the sinner’s prayer with my parents when I was five. I remember church camp, youth group, missions trips and Christian school. Oh, I believed that God was real. I also believed that since I was ‘saved’ I could do whatever I wanted and that I would still go to heaven. I remember.
My bad choices started early, and it seemed natural to follow in the path of older siblings. My parents did what they could by imposing strict rules. But they both worked long hours and we were often left to ourselves. I remember being eight and wanting to smoke cigarettes and weed. At 15, my sister let me drink, buying alcohol for me and my friends. I recall clearly coming to a crossroad at camp when I was 13. I knew I needed to make a decision. But there was a stubbornness in me that said have Him as your Savior, but who needs a Lord. I wanted to do things my way. I wanted freedom to experience life, I wanted to try drinking, drugs, sex. It was a huge internal struggle and I knew I was making the wrong choice. I remember.
I moved on from just drinking to smoking weed, then trying other drugs. I told myself I would never do heroin, but sin never listens to good intentions, it just keeps taking you down the path of destruction. I sank into depression after my first breakup and ended up on anti-depressants. I even started cutting myself so I would feel some kind of pain other than sadness. My parents made me go to therapy but it didn’t help. I turned hardhearted, telling myself I would not get emotionally involved. Then I met “Joe” [not his real name]. Before I knew it, I was deeply entangled, physically, emotionally, mentally. Being with him opened up the door to all kinds of new dangers and addictions. Coke, ecstasy, vicodin. You name it we tried it. There was a wildness, a recklessness in me. I wanted to take risks, do crazy things. And one day, out of my mouth came the idea for what I had vowed I would never do. “We should try heroin,” I declared. Trying heroin led to doing heroin. And doing heroin led to being heroin. Living and breathing and working toward the only thing that matters–the next fix–by lying, stealing, and selling (possessions if you have them, drugs if you can, yourself if you have nothing else). I remember.
You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born.
The first time it happened–nearly dying from an overdose–it was really scary and I vowed never again. That resolve lasted two days before I was using again. I ended up doing four different rehab stays over the next few years. Then came an unexpected shock. I was pregnant. It seemed like a ray of hope in some twisted way. I wanted to get clean, have a baby, be a family. But when you’re an addict, when the drugs own you, escape is impossible. I even ended up in rehab while pregnant. I was completely clean for the last four months before my son was born and then for six months after. I was living with my parents, Joe was helping with Nathan, and we were both clean and sober. For the moment.
My boyfriend turned 21 and to him that meant we could drink. One day we were so hungover he suggested we get vicodin this once to ‘feel better.’ But it’s never just one time. Soon it was heroin again. Our families tried to help us have a normal life. We rented a house, got engaged, started planning a wedding. But it all came crashing down when my parents found out we were using again. They staged an intervention and insisted we both go to rehab, or they would call Child Protective Services and call off the wedding. I was mad, but we went into rehab (again). Joe stayed clean, but I relapsed quickly and when my parents realized it, they kept Nathan. Then things got really bad, really fast. I was selling myself for drugs. I got caught stealing cash and a gun from my dad. That was the first time my mom told me about Life Challenge, but I opted for halfway house rehab instead. When I got kicked out of there, I moved in with some guy and spent my days in the choking grip of heroin. What stands out is how miserable I was. I don’t know why I didn’t attempt suicide, because I wanted so badly to be done with life. At the darkest point, my mom told me if I didn’t enter the Life Challenge program, my family would have nothing to do with me and that I wouldn’t be able to see Nathan. Out of desperation, I decided to go to Life Challenge.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
It was a shock to the system for sure, especially since I was still experiencing withdrawal. By the second day in, I felt trapped and wanted to leave. But while sitting in a required chapel service, listening to a pastor, it was as though God was speaking right to me, saying, “You are exactly where you need to be” and somehow I knew it was true. I didn’t actually pray at that point, but I was thinking, “Ok, God this is where You want me to be. I’m done doing things my way.” From that time on, I had peace that everything was going to be ok.
As I advanced through the program, Jesus Christ truly came alive to me in chapel and my classes through the preaching and teaching of scripture. It was as though my eyes were completely opened. Finally, I was willing to have Jesus as my Savior and my Lord; I wanted to submit to His loving Lordship. There were periods of struggle, times when I failed. Yet I was always given encouragement and grace by Sister Sheila (Women’s Director) and others. Because of the structure of the program, I formed habits of a disciplined life. I also learned the importance of being obedient to the authority God places in my life, as well as putting Jesus at the center of all my relationships.
One of the most amazing moments was my first visit with my parents. For them to hear me say, “I’ve never been happier in my life” and seeing their tears of joy after the years of heartache was incredible. When I was part way through the program, I was able to have Nathan (2 years old) with me on weekends. I hadn’t really been a mother to him and I am still learning to be a godly mom, but he is my greatest treasure. My tumultuous on-off relationship with Joe had continued but when I had been in the program six months, I ended it.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health.
When it was time to graduate, I was feeling stressed, not ready to face the outside world. Pastor Sheila asked how I was doing, and I cried and poured my heart out. She asked if I wanted to stay and serve an internship. I prayed about it, talked with my parents and my mentor, and agreed to stay. Now I am serving a six month internship and Nathan is with me four days a week. I am working on being more spiritually disciplined and learning leadership and communication skills. I am becoming more of the mother (and daughter) God wants me to be. I also get to help the women in the program by listening to, praying for and encouraging them.
God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Don’t throw me out with the trash, or fail to breathe holiness in me. Bring me back from gray exile, put a fresh wind in my sails!
When I complete my internship, I plan on staying at my parents’ house and finding a church. I will be working and saving for school as I hope to attend Rochester (Christian) College and get a bachelor’s degree in nursing, while minoring in biblical studies and ministry. God has put in me a dream and hope to be a missionary one day.
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways so the lost can find their way home. Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God, and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways. Unbutton my lips, dear God; I’ll let loose with your praise!
When I am not working, I am able to spend time with my family and be a light to them. I see spiritual growth and increased faith in my parents’ lives. They prayed for me for so long time and Life Challenge was the answer to their prayers. God used this program not only to change my life, but so that my sisters and my whole family can also know His forgiveness.
I am so grateful for Life Challenge! Now I love the righteousness I once hated and hate the sin I once loved. Thank You, Lord Jesus!