Whenever I share my story of God’s great grace and mercy toward me, I have to ask myself, “Did all of that really happen?” I am so changed, so different from the person I once was. If it weren’t for mugshots and a long list of felony and federal charges, I would question it.

One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 27:13, AMPC: “[What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!” I know exactly what would have become of me if the Lord hadn’t shown me mercy and intervened in my life. I would be dead and in hell right now.

Oh…but God!

He stepped in and brought me, His child, to the saving knowledge of Himself. He took my once broken life and made it into something beautiful. God really can do the impossible!

You see, I was an addict and an alcoholic for eighteen years of my life. I was arrested seven times. The last arrest threatened me with forty years in prison. I began doing drugs around the age of sixteen and progressively allowed addiction to consume my life. It was like I had moved out and the drugs had moved in.

It’s so important to understand that no child’s goal in life is to grow up, become an addict, and go to prison. That’s Satan’s goal. He’s our enemy. John 10:10 AMPC says, “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy.”

Did you get that? Satan, the thief, comes only for evil—to steal from us, to kill us, and to destroy us! And that is exactly what he planned for me.

Beginning when I was very young, he attacked me with sexual abuse, and over the years, he reinforced those feelings of hurt with rejection, abandonment, shame, more sexual abuse, and finally drug addiction.

My mother prayed for me for eighteen years. She and my father tried everything to get me help. But nothing worked. They had given up hope that their daughter would ever come home.

But God intervened, and I was forever changed.

The last time I was arrested was in April 1997. Can you believe I was arrested because I didn’t even know who I was? I was unable to tell the officer my name. I had come to the end of myself. If it hadn’t been for the intervention and mercy of a powerful God, I would have surely died. I could smell death. At one point, I thought I was hallucinating, but I’m certain now that demons were coming to get me. In fact, as we were being arrested, my partner in crime said, “Today, someone is dying, but it’s not me!”

I was so deeply entrenched in my pit that even the possibility of death didn’t frighten me. I thought it would probably be a reprieve from the hell I was already experiencing here on earth.

I was brokenhearted, in so much pain. All the drugs in the world couldn’t make the pain go away. Trust me, I’d tried. It wasn’t that my feelings had been hurt; it was that my life had been completely shattered. I felt like Humpty Dumpty. Remember the rhyme? “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.” My life truly seemed beyond repair.

When a person is brokenhearted, they no longer know how to live. Both my mom and sister used to say just that: “The problem with Teresa is, she doesn’t know how to live life.” And they were right. When something is broken, it fails to function as it should. That was me.

The enemy broke me right at the beginning of my life. I was five when a teenage boy sexually abused me. I know now that Satan broke me as a child in the hope that he could steal the life that God intended for me—a life of hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

But God had different plans.

If we read the rest of John 10:10 AMPC, Jesus says, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).” That is what Jesus did for me!

I remember the day His mercy touched me and set me free. It’s like it was yesterday, even though it happened almost twenty years ago.

It was a beautiful July morning—to be exact, it was July 20, 1997, at 9:30 a.m. I was being held in Seminole County Jail, waiting to be transferred to another county where I would face sixteen state charges. I was also waiting to be sentenced to federal prison for other crimes.

I had started going to church while in jail, but it wasn’t for God. I was only going there to meet my partner in crime, to figure out how we could get out of our situation. Truth be told, I didn’t want God. I blamed Him for all the bad in my life, and I was pretty sure He didn’t want me either.

But again, God had different plans.

One day in chapel, the chaplain told my partner and me to be quiet. With my mouth closed, my ears were finally opened to hear about the unconditional love of God and His forgiveness. My initial thought was, “This lady must be smoking some bad dope. How could God love me?”

I was the complete opposite of God; I was everything that is not of Him. First Corinthians 6:9–10 says: “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are…prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.”

I was everything listed in these verses!

But as I started listening to the Word of God, I realized that I could be forgiven, changed, and delivered from my way of life. The Holy Spirit had begun to work in my heart. I knew there had to be something more.

It wasn’t until I learned that my sister had died that I finally surrendered myself and came into a real encounter with a Living God. Never had I felt so much pain. There wasn’t one place on my body that didn’t hurt from my grief. But God used the brokenness I felt from her death to begin in me a process of transformation from my mess into His abundant life!

Truthfully, I surrendered to Christ because I didn’t want to be separated from my sister for all eternity. I wanted to see her again. So on that July morning, I gave my life over to Jesus Christ, not for Him, but for her. And I told Him that.

I also said, “God, if You are real, either touch me or kill me. I can’t live like this anymore.”

The moment I uttered those words, right there inside my cell, a wind blew over me. I don’t know where it came from, but the Bible talks about how a person must be reborn by the Spirit. In John 3:8, Jesus said the Spirit is like the wind, moving where it wants. That day, the wind of God’s Spirit came right into me. I remember gasping, and as I did, I said, “You really arealive!”

The wind blew, and every bit of pain left my body, from my toes all the way up to my head. In an instant, the drug addiction that had tormented me for more than eighteen years was gone. I was totally free.

Remember how I said earlier that the drugs had moved in, and I had moved out? Well, on July 20, 1997, the drugs moved out, once and for all, and Jesus moved in!

It’s not true, the saying that once an addict, always an addict. I know this, because when Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36). God’s mercy can free His children from anything, and He can free them for good.

Second Corinthians 5:17 says, “Anyone who belongs to Christ, has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun.” On that day, I became new. I had been dead for most of my life, but now I was alive. I had been blind, but now I could see. I had been an addict, but now I was free.

I was so happy, so elated at meeting Jesus, that my sister’s death didn’t consume me anymore. I no longer cared about the prison time I was facing. I just wanted to be with Jesus. I wanted to be in His presence. I wanted to serve Him all the days of my life.

That was almost twenty years ago. It’s been quite an adventure!

Because of God’s goodness and mercy , I didn’t have to serve those forty years in prison. I only served three—half in state prison and the other half in federal. Looking back, I tell people that I didn’t go to prison at all. I went to a Bible school with a good security system! In prison, God gave me the time I needed to grow in an intimate relationship with Him and to study His Word. I was released in 2000.

Since that time, God has done amazing things in my life. He has allowed me to graduate from college and work in prison ministry for over fifteen years. I am now an ordained minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s helped me run and build two homes for women coming out of prison and start a faith-based dorm in Polk County Jail. I’ve traveled with Joyce Meyer Ministries sharing my story of transformation for over six years and I’ve ministered in Africa and India over eleven times. He’s even helped me write a best-selling book called Forever Changed: A Story of God’s Transforming Power. With His help, I’ve founded (and lead) the nonprofit organization, Breaking Chains International. Breaking Chains is committed to reaching the lost for Jesus at any cost.

Isn’t God something?

I am proof that, no matter how messed up your life has become, there is always hope. God’s mercy can fix anything and anyone. I know, because He fixed me. And if He did it for me, He can do it for you!

With His mercy, your life can be forever changed.

by Teresa Kemp

Photo by Japheth Mast