Before I met Christ, my life was like a desolate place, stripped bare by a swarm of locusts. Everything had been devastated by sin, rebellion, and demonic forces. But thankfully, God has restored what those “locusts” had eaten (Joel 2:25). For as long as I can remember, my life was barren. My birth mother left me with my alcoholic and emotionally distant father when I was five. I never saw her again.

I believe my father loved me, but he was unable to show love or provide stability. By the time I was 17, he had remarried four times. With each divorce, I was placed in foster care, only to be pulled out again the next time he remarried.

The rejection and abandonment of those formative years damaged me profoundly. By 13, I felt so worthless and confused that I hated myself and started using drugs to dull the pain. At 15, I ran away from home. Eventually, I was arrested and began a long trek through the legal system.

My first stop was Eastlake Juvenile Hall in Central Los Angeles, California. There, I gained an unwanted understanding of hatred, racial tension, gangs, and fear. Back then, the system didn’t separate criminals according to the severity of their crimes. The Hall housed murderers, thieves, and gang members right alongside runaways like me. It was a rude awakening.

A few months later, I was transferred to an open-placement girl’s home in East Los Angeles. “Open placement” means that I was able to leave the grounds at will; there were no bars or walls. I transferred buses at night from West LA to Central LA to East LA. I was unaware of the potential dangers I faced as pimps, predators, and gangsters abounded in those neighborhoods. God surely had His hand on my life.

As a youth, I was restless and unable to stay anywhere for long. It didn’t matter where I ended up—I hated myself, and no matter where I went, there I was—and the misery continued. So I just kept running.

After running away from the girl’s home for the third time, I became a ward of the court. My father was again divorced and didn’t want me to live with him, so I was sent to a closed facility called the Convent of the Good Shepherd. The convent walls were 12 feet high, but I managed to escape.

My contempt for and mistrust of authority, life, and people reached an all-time high. But instead of being angry at the ones who had failed me, I internalized those negative emotions and turned the weapons of destruction upon myself. As far as I could figure, I was the common denominator in every horrible thing that had happened in my life, so I must be the problem. I used every drug I could get my hands on. Life was too painful without them.

At 20, I found myself in a dysfunctional relationship with a man I didn’t really know. His name was Bill, and he had just been released from prison. We got married and had two kids before I realized Bill was an IV drug user. Soon I became one too. We were both so lost. All that mattered was getting high. Together, we fueled our addictions, hurting each other and our children. We ended up living in a tent on the streets. After eight and a half years together and a failed attempt to get sober, our marriage ended in divorce.

I abandoned my children, just as so many had left me, and my guilt over that piled on more of the self-hatred, shame, and regret I already carried.

By the time I was 29, I had been arrested 13 times. I lived alone on the streets for two years, scouring through garbage cans for food and selling my body for drugs. I was a miserable being, a bag lady, focused solely on survival.

I couldn’t see how sick I had become. When you’re out there, you don’t see yourself with eyes of truth. In fact, you don’t see yourself at all. I had completely stopped looking in the mirror.

One time, a man aimed his gun at me, and in my pitiful state, I told him to shoot me and put me out of my misery. I had no reason to live. I had tried to commit suicide several times and felt more like a failure when I couldn’t even succeed at that! Of course, now I know it was God miraculously sparing my life.

One morning while I was unlawfully on an army base, I was arrested by military police and the city police sergeant. I didn’t know it yet, but God was bringing me to a critical crossroads. I would soon see His plan for my life unfold in tangible ways.

Because of my lengthy criminal record, I was sent to a crowded southern California women’s prison. There was very little privacy there, but God arranged for my cellmate to work in the kitchen. That meant I had time alone.

In my cell, I read a book about a man named George H. Meyer. In the 1940s, he was the chauffeur and getaway driver for the alleged mafia boss, “Scarface” Al Capone. Meyer’s life of crime eventually put him behind bars. But it was there in his dark prison cell that George Meyer surrendered his life to Jesus Christ.

I was intrigued by the life-transforming power of Jesus in Meyer’s life. God had used this man while he was incarcerated to impact many people. And now, decades later, he was affecting my life too.

Up to that point, I had felt useless. As far as I could see, my life was a complete waste. I was 29 years old with nothing but misery to show for it. I had broken everything I’d touched. But Meyer’s testimony penetrated my heart, and something unfamiliar began stirring inside, something impossible to resist. It was hope!

Through Meyer’s book, I began to wonder about Jesus Christ. If living a life surrendered to Christ had helped George H. Meyer, could it help me too?

I didn’t wait for reason to surface—I got down on my knees and cried out to God for salvation. Suddenly I had remorse over my sin. I wept over what I had done to people and for my self-hatred. I asked God for forgiveness and repented for rejecting Him. I had forfeited so many opportunities to know Him through the years.  As I prayed, I felt God’s grace wash over me. When I got up off the floor, I was a brand-new person (2 Corinthians 5:17).

A few weeks later, I was placed in the general population. There, I was able to attend church within the prison. The chaplain gave me a Bible he had purchased just for me. I read it for hours every day.

God’s Word ministered hope to my heart. Through it, I learned He had a purpose for creating me and that I had value (Ephesians 2:10). I learned that I mattered to God (Psalm 139), and He loved me so much so that He had sent His Son, Jesus, to die for me (John 3:16). Me!

I was in awe that the Creator of the universe knew me by my name (Isaiah 43:1). I had always felt so invisible. He also promised never to fail or abandon me (Deuteronomy 31:6,8; Joshua 1:5–9). Everyone else in my life had let me down.

God’s Word, His truth, was like a stream of cool water in the desert. It quenched the thirst of my soul like nothing else could (John 4), and it set me free from the bondage of guilt, shame, and self-hatred (John 8:32).

This newfound freedom brought the love, peace, joy, security, and stability I had always longed for. As I grew in that security, God began to put His love for others in my heart. I knew that He wanted me to share His love and hope with others in prison, just like George Meyer had done. I stepped out in trust, leading music at the prison church service.

Not long after, I was transferred to a minimum-security prison. I was on fire for Jesus and excited about growing in my faith in this new place. And then I discovered that, out of the 90 women there, only one other inmate was a Christian. And she was being released in two weeks!

I felt so alone and betrayed by God. In my confusion, I cried out to Him and asked, “Why would You send me to such a spiritually empty place, Lord? I need training. I need friends to help me now more than ever!” Had He forgotten about my needs?

Of course not. Instead, He had put me in that spiritually barren place because those women did not know the hope of Jesus. He wanted to use me to bring healing to women who were as desperate and broken as I so recently had been.

I decided to start a Bible study. I made rounds through the dorms in the mornings and yelled, “Bible study!” At first, the response was less than welcoming. You just don’t wake people up in prison that way. I could tell by their looks that most of the women thought I was crazy.

I am sure some of them wanted to ask, “Just who do you think you are, Miss Goody Two-Shoes Christian?” But I didn’t give up, and soon a group of ladies assembled.

In our time together, I shared the scriptures that had brought me so much hope and healing. I continued to lead the study until I was released, and they continued it for many years after I left. Praise God!

Being released from prison presented immediate opportunities to return to the land that the locusts had destroyed. I was given $200 and sent to Santa Cruz, California, where I had lived before my incar­ceration. I was afraid—I knew how dangerous and unhealthy it would be for me to return, as the only people I knew there were drug addicts and prostitutes.

Once again, I questioned God’s ways. “How could You send me back to a town where all I know are drugs and the street life?!” Not only would it be difficult to stand firm in my faith, but I had such a poor reputation in that area. How would I ever overcome it?

I got off the bus and stopped by a pay phone. I could hear the devil whispering to me, “Go to your old neighborhood and get some dope.” But then I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit, telling me to pick up the phone and call the church I had contacted before my release.

I was at a spiritual crossroads. Thankfully, God’s Word was written on my heart, and I remembered Deuteronomy 30:19: “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (NIV).

I chose life.

I picked up the phone and called the church. Members there gave me the help and support I needed to keep moving in the right direction—toward God and the plan He had for my life. God also presented opportunities for me to share the Gospel with people I used to run with on the streets. They could see the change in me, and it gave them hope that what God had done for me, He could do for them.

Ten months later, I met my current husband, Michael. His father was a recently retired captain of the California Highway Patrol, and his brother was a CHP sergeant. Cops! God indeed has a sense of humor.

Initially, Michael’s family was shocked that he would bring someone like me home, but over the years, God changed their hearts about “those people.” Michael and I have been married now for 30 years. We love helping others come to faith, and we’ve had opportunities to reach people on both sides of prison walls.

I returned to school and graduated with honors as a registered nurse in 1998. I also started teaching Bible studies for women.

I leaned on the Lord, His truth, and my experience in learning and teaching the Bible in prison. Since I couldn’t find any material that the diverse group of ladies who attended the study could relate to, I started writing my own Bible studies. My book, Be Transformed by the Spirit of the Living God, was birthed from this class. I have since written two more books that are used all over the world to help people understand the Bible and apply it to their lives.

It’s been over 30 years since Jesus saved my life. And just like He promised in Joel 2:25, He has restored all that the locusts had eaten. I am forever grateful.

Have those locusts ravaged your life too, leaving it desolate and bare? Do you feel alone or like your life is a waste? Friend, there is hope. God loves you, and He still has a purpose for your life.

Surrender your heart to Him. Ask Him to forgive you for your rebellion, doubt, fear, pride, hatred, and confusion. And then accept His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He wants to make you new. He wants to restore all that has been taken from you. It’s not too late to have the abundant life God intended for you (John 10:10). There is no life too broken for Jesus to mend.

I hope you’ll accept God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation like I did by inviting Jesus into your heart today. Please don’t wait. Your eternal security depends on it, as well as your ability to live a life of peace and purpose on earth now.

If you are ready to surrender your life to Jesus, offer the Lord your heart with this prayer:

Jesus, I’ve been searching for peace and happiness my whole life. I’ve tried everything to fill the emptiness in my heart but haven’t found anything that works. I realize now that it’s because I’ve never confessed my sins to You and received forgiveness for my selfish ways.

I’ve done a poor job of running my life on my own. I’ve done so many things against You, myself, and others. Please forgive me. I want to start a new life with You, one filled with contentment and purpose. I want to live for something greater than myself. I want to commit my life to You right now. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus’s name, amen.