“The LORD is faithful to all His promises and loving toward all He has made.” Psalm 145:13b
I always look forward to sharing a new Her Story each week. There is something about hearing what God has done in another’s life that ignites my own faith. Although most of the stories I share I’ve heard before in part or in whole, I’m still moved to tears each time as I witness God’s presence and His faithfulness in someone’s life. It never fails to cause my heart to respond in praise to a God who heals, restores, rebuilds, and transforms every heart that surrenders to Him. Today’s story is no different. You will be blessed; you will be encouraged; you will see God’s fingerprints all over Her Story, and I pray that it is Jesus who shines through the details of her life and that it is Jesus whom you see through the pages of Her Story.
It was just recently that she had attended the memorial service for the mother of a close friend of her husband. The service was held in a Catholic church, and having been raised in the Catholic Church herself, she was very familiar with their traditions. However, as she was standing in line preparing to receive Holy Communion, it dawned on her that she had forgotten a very crucial detail. Unlike her now Christian church that she attends, it is customary for wine to be offered in communion instead of grape juice. And it was in that moment that the memory flooded back to her, the reality that she is a transformed alcoholic…
As she looks back, she had what seems to be the perfect childhood growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her family’s home was idyllic, and all their closest friends lived just down the road. While she played kickball in the street with her friends, her parents would regularly have get-togethers with their friends to play cards. It all appeared to be problem-free, the magical years of the 1950’s. It was in her early childhood years that her mother enrolled her into ballet classes. It didn’t take long at all for her to fall head over heels in love with dance. She performed in many dance recitals throughout her early teen years while she dreamed of becoming a world-renown ballerina. Her dreams were shattered, though when her father abruptly put an end to her ballet lessons. Without any explanation given whatsoever, this enormous part of her life was now over. She felt as if a piece of her had died.
Meanwhile, she attended a Catholic school for the first eight years of her education. She was taught mostly by nuns, the kind you don’t really see anymore with the black robes, white stiff veils or habits as they were called, and the rosary hanging down from the waist. Being a girl who was enamored with all things “girl” – shoes, handbags, jewelry and the like – she just couldn’t understand their style, or lack thereof. I mean, those black, granny shoes that the nuns wore were so not in! Despite her difference of opinion in fashion, she learned about the life of Jesus at a sweet young age. Although most of the nuns seemed angry and harsh, teaching more about hell than about heaven and forbidding her to do any and all of the things that would send her to that dreadful place, she remembers Sister Sharon and her love for Jesus. Whenever Sister Sharon would talk about Jesus, it was obvious how much she loved Him. Still, by the time she graduated from that little Catholic school, she could only understand God as someone who was very angry with her for failing to measure up, and Jesus was no more than a historical figure. Her family would regularly attend church every Sunday, somewhat of a routine, which was followed by a familiar family breakfast and a trip to grandma’s house. It was just what they did on Sundays. She never knew about such things as Sunday school. Either the church they attended didn’t offer it, or her parents figured that she got enough “religion” all week in school and church on Sunday was sufficient. The Bible was merely a book that remained in a special drawer, never to be touched. She never saw her parents read it, nor did they share it with her and her siblings.
When the high school years approached, she was enrolled in public school. Suddenly, she was no longer surrounded by other Catholics and religious conversation. Talks of heaven and hell were replaced with talks of boys and parties. Ballet was no more, and she began to feel her sense of safety and familiar routine fading. Although her and her family still attended church every Sunday, it was nothing more than obligation and ritual to her. Regular church attendance only masked what was really going on within the walls of her home. Discipline was handled in anger and outbursts. All the while, a painful hole had formed in her heart, one that she was desperately trying to fill with anything that she could. She tried out for many of the school’s extra-curricular activities, trying to be as active as she could to avoid the pain that was aching inside of her. Because the relationships within her family were unhealthy, she found herself in many of her own unhealthy relationships, trying to fill the void, desperate to ease the pain. To make matters worse, there was no talk of “the birds and the bees” in her house. When puberty arrived, so did the Kotex and Tampax boxes with no explanation. Sex was something that was dirty, and to ensure that she would not get pregnant, her mother put her on birth control pills when she was 16. Even though she remained a virgin throughout her teen years, she couldn’t help but think that her mother was silently telling her, “You’re free to do whatever you want, but I don’t want to know and you better not get caught!”
College was an option, but finding a job was a necessity. After she graduated high school, she found a job as a secretary and got engaged to a boy that she had dated in high school. Just a short time into the engagement, she was heartbroken to find out that he had been unfaithful. She called off the engagement, and decided that it was time for a fresh start, a new beginning. Her sister had moved to Arizona a few years earlier, and after visiting her she decided that the southwest would suit her just fine. So, she packed up her life (a trunk full of clothes and some money she had saved), and moved to Arizona. She found a job, a car, and an apartment, and she was ready to take on the world!
She attended the Catholic Church off and on, although mostly off, and her relationship with God could be best described as a crisis relationship. Whenever crisis hit in her life, she ran to God begging Him to fix it. Other than that, she could take care of things on her own. It was around this time that she began to pursue training as a legal secretary, and it was then that things began to downward spiral. Her friends and co-workers spent their free time in bars, so she joined them. Drinking was a way to meet people and to ease the pain of life’s trials. It wasn’t long before she met Mr. good-looking, smooth-talking, hot shot lawyer who showed her all the attention she had been longing for. His flirtation led to lunch dates, which then led to dinner dates, and before she knew it, she was hooked. Despite the fact that he was a married man and she knew it was wrong, she ignored any and all conviction from God and continued seeing him. He had stolen her innocence. She felt dirty and ashamed but struggled to walk away because she longed for the affection that he gave her. At one point in this sordid affair, he left his wife and children to be with her, but only after a short time, he returned to them. Her life, as she knew it, was over. She was devastated, heartbroken, and torn. One night after one too many drinks, alone at home in her small, dingy apartment, in her darkest night of brokenness and pain, she slit her wrists. Before it was too late, she called her sister who came to her rescue. She was never more aware than now that she needed to get her life back together, so she sought professional counseling.
In order to fill the growing void in her aching heart, she threw herself into her work, setting her sights on a professional career. With no college degree, she sought out mentors and those that could train her to be successful. She worked hard Monday through Friday in the office, and played hard all weekend in the bars. Her life was filled with one bad relationship after another. She continued to make poor choices in men who had no respect for her because she had no respect for herself. Her hard work began to pay off in her attempts at career advancement though, leading to promotions. Her identity was so wrapped up in her career, that she was blinded to see how empty her life really was.
A few years later, her parents moved to Arizona, and it was at that time that she discovered that her mother also had a drinking problem. She was devastated by this new reality, but seeing her mother’s problem caused her to begin to see her own shattered life and drinking problem. She tried to convince her family to attend counseling together, but they refused. So, she went on her own. Although extremely difficult to face and accept, she knew what the truth of the matter was. They were a family of alcoholics. She hated the sound of that word. A “drinking problem” was much more palatable, but the truth was that alcoholism was threatening to destroy them. Yet, because of her deep roots of an Italian family paired with a religion that piled guilt on heavy, she could not stop drinking. She eventually married a man who abused drugs, alcohol, and her. Their short marriage ended when she caught him in an affair.
She had completely and utterly hit rock bottom. Her life was a mess of shattered pieces, and it was then that she cried out to God, desperate for Him like never before. And He answered her cry, in a big way. She decided that she needed to return to church, so she began attending another Catholic Church. She was about to become a member of that church, but there seemed to be something holding her back and she couldn’t explain why. Then, one Sunday while sitting in church, she understood completely. The pastor was giving a message on divorce, and his words were condemning, causing her to feel like an outcast rather than loved, welcomed, and forgiven. She decided that she needed to discover for herself who this God was that she said she believed in. When she made that commitment to seek God and know Him, she came to know this Jesus as the Lover of her soul. God brought an incredibly godly man into her life, and she began attending his church with him. He knew her background of Catholicism, and he lovingly and gently began to show her who God really was. They attended Bible classes together, and as she began to study God’s Word, she fell in love with the Jesus of the Bible that she had never known. But, there was still one area of her life that she kept hidden, and that was her drinking. She had unsuccessfully tried to stop on her own. The battle to overcome this addiction was so discouraging, and it was in one of her darkest moments in this fight that Jesus met her in the midst of it. In a moment of total brokenness and pain, she heard Him lovingly whisper to her heart, “I am here. I know it all, but I love you just the same. If you give it to me, I will help you overcome.” Her sin was exposed, but she felt no shame. She knew God loved her and wanted to set her free more than she wanted to be free. His arms of love embraced her brokenness in that moment and set her free, cleansed her guilty stains, and washed her white as snow. When she finally surrendered, God transformed her life. He took her ashes of brokenness and gave her His righteous beauty in its place with a promise of new life. As she clung to her Healer, she was delivered from her alcohol addiction and set free! She married the godly man that the Lord had brought into her life, the first man to display Christ’s love, kindness, patience, and gentleness to her.
After they were married, God began to impress upon her heart the promise of a child, even though she was barren. Several years went by seeing no fulfillment of that promise, and she began to lose hope as she grieved that loss. She decided that she had heard incorrectly or that God had changed His mind. Yet, our loving Father never changes His mind or makes mistakes, and His timing is always perfect. When her and her husband least expected it, God made divine connections with a little boy who needed a home. It was life-changing for all of them and served as a reminder that Jesus is still in the miracle making business.
Today, she continues to pursue Jesus with all of her heart, and He continues to transform and equip her by His grace, enabling her to be a loving wife, mother, friend, mentor, and servant minister. She radiates the love of Jesus to everyone she encounters because she is a life that was changed by God’s amazing grace.
Her Story today will remain anonymous. The beauty in that is that God receives every ounce of glory for the work He has done in her life, and she would want it no other way. I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s plea with God to remove his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12. Paul pleaded with God three times to remove it, but God’s loving response was, ‘No, my grace is sufficient for you.’ Scholars have debated for years as to what that “thorn” was. Some have said it was Paul’s singleness. Others have suggested it was a physical ailment. The point is that God didn’t see fit to name the thorn, it simply just was. This unnamed “thorn” allows every single one of us to relate to the passage. If it were singleness, most of us wouldn’t give it a second thought. If it were a physical ailment, only those who struggle with that as well would relate. The fact that it wasn’t named teaches each one of us that whatever our trial, whatever our hardship, God’s grace is sufficient for us. Likewise, Her Story today comes without a name, without a face for you to see, but God knows her name. God crafted and designed her face, and continues to write her story. In closing, I want to share with you a few lines that she wrote to you. Be blessed as you read:
“This is a story about God’s faithfulness and His amazing love. It is a story of the hope He gives and the promises that only He can deliver. By sharing my life story with you, my prayer is that it will give glory to God and give you hope.”