From the moment I walked into the Betel women’s home when we arrived in England, I felt warmth and acceptance. And, after spending 2 week of full-immersion in Spain, I was exuberant that I could carry on a conversation with people in my own language! I was never in my life so happy to just simply talk! (*insert knowing look*: this is a Big Deal) Yet I found quickly that I was definitely not the only talker there. The women in the safe home I was living in were just so happy and familial. So open and expressive. Definitely blew my British stereotypical view out of the water. (please, release from your imagination any Pirates of the Caribbean character types. and accents. just let go) They also were very very open about their lives and stories of their past. It was so full of pain and hurt and sin and God and Jesus and victory and purpose. I was overcome with the amount of pain and life-crushing experiences they had gone through and the joy in Christ that they recounted despite the life-numbing circumstances.
One friend in particular stood out to me from the others. My friend Sherry. Yeah, she was pretty much the life of the party. Funny, always laughing, always joking, very open, full of conversation—you couldn’t help but love her. She was, I’d say, 45-ish years old and had such a strong Birmingham British brogue, more so than most of the girls there. Which to me added to her humor. For a moment it seemed like I had just met My Fair Lady. Her voice was raspy, her skinned stretched and leathery, and she was pretty thin. Personality: the wittiest of them all.
Sherry was such a hard worker and very quick to anticipate a need and meet it. She was one of the few women that had a permit to drive the large vans. I noticed when she picked up donations during the day that she would always put aside a special treat for the guests, or some herbal tea for someone sick, or some flowers for one of the girls’ birthday. She was just a gem.
My 3rd or 4th day there I was assigned to pick up donations with Sherry, so we spent at least 9 hours together that day driving around to the various food stores in Birmingham to pick up mostly food donations. During those hours together, we talked, laughed, learned about each other, encouraged each other.
And Sherry told me her story.
The Prodigal Sinner
I forget what the trigger point in her life was for drugs, but pretty early on she was hooked. Typically it begins with an entry drug like marijuana and then the unquenchable thirst for more—a bigger high, and safer low, resulting in a higher high. Often drug abusers will offset drugs so that some will give them super highs, but the higher the high, the harder to low. And to keep from crashing, they take another drug. So the body is on this extreme rollercoaster.
Sherry quickly got addicted to heroin, probably the worst drug addiction of have. Typically people on heroin do not live long because of the amount you must inject in order to keep getting the next high, and eventually you will overdose. Sherry was addicted for 20 years.
It destroyed her possessions, her career, her family, her sanity, and her life. Even to this day, the doctors cannot get to any veins to take blood except the ones on the bottoms of her feet because she had deflated them all with countless injections. Stealing money and possesstions at every opportunity, she was trusted by no one. Her family disowned her. Society rejected her. She was violent– very violent, as she told me. No one could be around her and she was often in and out of jail or prison. Her life was in an unstoppable downward spiral.
She told me of the lowest, most despairing moment of her life. She had become so violent, raged and drug-ridden that she was arrested, put in a high-security isolated prison cell, and was wrapped in a straight-jacket that was made of a chain-metal type material. She said she remembered lying there on the cold, hard prison floor, and thinking,
“All I want right now is just something soft to touch. Just something soft.”
Yet nothing was. Not her straightjacket, not her skin, not the floor. It was at this point she prayed to God. She said, “God, please kill me. Please—please kill me.” There was no hope.
To her surprise and chagrin, she didn’t die. It made her angry—“God, why didn’t you kill me?” She did not want to live anymore and this one request He did not grant.
The Prodigal God
Yet, it was at this point that God took the broken, destroyed pieces of her life and started building something new, something beautiful. Impossible? You may think so, but God is so good at what he does.
He led her to a Christian, Gospel rehab where she met Jesus. He brought her out of the miry, muddy disgusting pit and set her feet upon a rock and gave her a new song in our mouth, a song of praise to our God! He freed her from drugs, from violence, from her past, her idolatry. What an awesome God! What victory!
Sherry continued to tell me that she met a great Christian guy at church and they soon got married and had a beautiful ceremony, got a home, and began a family. They soon had a daughter and then a son. They had a nice little house, a good church, and a real family. Life couldn’t get any better.
Yet, over the course of several years, the slow fade entered. There wasn’t a certain day or time where she remembered setting God aside, but slowing, one choice at a time, her and her husband didn’t hold Christ as closely to themselves as they used to. Church became more of a duty than joy. The marriage began to look more and more selfish. She said she began believing that she could handle everything pretty well on her own, and that’s where the slow fade began.
Over the course of a few years, the beautiful, godly marriage that they once had fell apart and he left her (I believe) for another woman. It was at this point that she turned to alcohol as a release and it became her idol. The next drug. For the next year or two she wasted her days again and again on alcohol to free and numb herself from pain and reality.
She knew God and the Spirit of God resided in her, yet how could she get freedom when God had already saved her life before? How could God accept her after her obvious and blatant abuse of His love and grace?
Through a friend she found out about Betel and went there to be free from alcohol abuse and her sinful, independent lifestyle, and God graciously gave her her life back in Him. Over and over she said to me,
“You know, one time is enough for God to forgive me and welcome me home, but even when I turned away a 2nd time, he still took me back! I cannot thank Him enough because I deserve to be on the street right now, yet I am a child of the King! I don’t know when God will allow me to live a ‘normal’ life again and to have my children back, but I have such a greater real sense of my need for him. I can’t make it without him and I think about Him all the time. Even today, he’s just been on the mind the entire day—I can’t get him out of my mind!”
This is the point where I basically sat back and said, Wow—oh wow. I’m thinking, what really have I to share about my testimony after that? And yet… my story has just as much God in it. She was saved from her idolatry, I was saved from my idolatry. I struggle every day to love God, and so does she. Different stories, same God, same Cross. It was at this moment that God brought to mind the lessons from Tim Keller’s book Prodigal God, and I shared with her that in that story, she would be considered the worldly son, and I would be considered the Pharisaical elder brother. Both abused the Father’s gifts, one through open rebellion, one by self-righteousness. Yet both are equally sinful and estranged from the Father. And the Father shows grace and forgiveness to both. It’s a story of a prodigal, extravagant God.
When we said goodbye, my heart was so full and so was hers. Amazing how in such a short time God can knit hearts together in the common bond of Christ. Last I heard, Sherry was still living in Betel and her son had come to live with her. I pray that she stays strong in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and that He would keep her until the day of His appearing. Can’t wait for the reuniting!