Blog | Victorious Living Magazine

Find Rest In God’s Love

November 8, 2020

Every little girl dreams of having a loving father and mother who make her feel safe and secure. She pictures a beautiful home with a white picket fence where she is treated like a princess. But when this isn’t her reality, something happens within the child. Her heart shatters, and she goes through life seeking the love she should have gotten at home in other places.

I know, because it happened to me. I was desperate for the love, acceptance, and validation of my mother. I wanted to hear, just once, “I love you. I’m proud of you.” Hearing those words would have meant everything to me, but they never came.

Rejected by my mother, I bought into the lie that I must be unlovable. From what I could tell, I was either not pretty enough or not gifted enough to earn my mother’s love, and nothing I could do would change that.

This mindset started by the time I was five, and it followed me into adulthood. It made me easy to manipulate and control, and it led me to do many regrettable things that have brought much pain.

At every new instance of rejection, self-hatred sank its roots deeper into my heart and mind. I blamed myself for everything that happened to me, including the sexual abuse I could not escape as a child, the rape I experienced as a teen, and the physical abuse I allowed as an adult.

I remember watching my stepfather adopt my sister and thinking, “I must have done something wrong—Mom doesn’t want him to adopt me too.” I was sure I was the one at fault, and God must be punishing me for my evil deeds.

It took a demonic encounter at my mother’s deathbed to help me realize the truth of who God really was. He wasn’t a distant, angry God happily sending painful events my way. He was a God of love.

My mother was at a nursing home, and she was dying. I knew my time with her was short, and I desperately needed her to validate me as her daughter. So I rushed to her bedside, bent down close to her face, and started crying out to her. I told her how sorry I was for not being the daughter she wanted me to be. I begged her to forgive me, and repeatedly told her how much I loved her.

I knew she couldn’t answer me, but I hoped there would be some motion—perhaps a wave of the hand, smile, hug, or blink of the eye— that would indicate she did indeed care for me. But there was no response from her. My heart broke all over again.

I’ve often heard people talk about how their loved one peacefully passed away from this world. This was not the case in my mother’s death. I cannot imagine a more horrific transition from earth to eternity. It was a violent struggle until the end. A demonic presence even appeared and knocked me off the bed onto the floor. You can believe I was frightened out of my mind!

I had never thought much about the afterlife or heaven or hell. Just the mention of God or church was taboo in our home. But this event left an impression that I will never forget.

My mind was haunted by what I had seen. The demonic presence I’d encountered there tormented me for months. The only way I could think of to stop my anguish was to end my own life. I did not want to die, but neither did I want to live in my current state of torment.

But I did not know where I would go after this life, and that frightened me the most.

After an intense emotional struggle and a few failed attempts to take my life, I finally cried out to the One I was so sure hated me. Praise God, He met me in my pain and saved me. My salvation indeed came at the darkest moment in my life.

God revealed Himself to me, and His love broke through my pain and expelled the darkness that had attacked my mind. It’s hard to describe, but God’s love enveloped me and showed me the real enemy of my soul—Satan.

All those years, Satan had been the one out to destroy me (John 10:10). Not God. From early childhood, Satan had been using people and events to carry out his plan and, in my ignorance, I had blamed God. For so long, I had questioned God’s good nature. But God was not the source of my pain; He was the answer to it.

Suddenly, I knew God was good. And I knew He had forgiven me, even though at that moment, my life was heaped in gross sin. He was a God of mercy, and His mercy triumphed over the judgment I deserved (James 2:13). I thank God every day for His intervention.

I wish I could say, however, that my life has been perfect since that moment. It hasn’t.

My mind needed a lot of renewal. My fear of rejection was so deeply rooted, it had impacted every interaction I’d ever had. I had been performing my entire life in order to earn the love of people around me. As a new believer, I carried this mentality into my relationship with God.

I was deeply afraid my heavenly Father would reject and abandon me the same way my earthly parents had done. Satan didn’t want me to understand how truly deep and wide the love of God is for His children (Ephesians 3:18), nor did he want me to know that nothing could separate me from God’s love (Romans 8:35–39). Satan wanted me to believe I had to earn God’s love so that I would remain in a cycle of performing, instead of resting in what I already had. I didn’t yet understand that God’s love can’t be earned.

It’s taken me many years (and many tears) to learn to rest in God’s love. But today, I can finally look in a mirror and see who God sees—someone of value. I am free from the endless pursuit of love. I found it in Christ when I accepted the priceless gift of His love.

Seeking after someone’s love and affection is exhausting, and you know it. Worse, it’s fruitless. The reality is, some people aren’t able to love. They don’t have love to give.

That was the case with my mother. She carried her own heavy load of pain, anger, and bitterness, and that prevented her from loving me the way Christ intends for a mother to love her child. Chasing after her affirmation was an empty pursuit that ultimately kept me from the only One who could give me everything I needed and more (Ephesians 3:20).

I wonder—have you received the unconditional, never-ending love of God? Or are you still pursuing validation at any cost? It’s time to let go of the pursuit. Mankind might never love you the way you want to be loved, but God already loves you more than you can ever imagine.

The best part is, you don’t have to perform to earn God’s love. He receives you to Himself just the way you are. You can stop chasing the faulty love and approval of man and just rest in God’s perfect love. Move into an intimate relationship with Him and come to know Him by experience.

God’s love is eternal, and it heals all humanity’s ills. His love can bring even the most broken and damaged individual to a place of wholeness. No one is excluded. Not even you.

Trust God With Your Life

“What is there to be thankful for about confinement?” I grumbled. “I’m in a cell by myself for 24 hours a day, seven days a week…and for how long?”

The Holy Spirit quickly responded, “Confinement gives you the opportunity to trust Me with your life.”

I’ve been locked up in prison for decades. I’ve had to learn to trust God and give Him thanks daily. It’s the only way I’ve survived the hardships of prison life. But a period of solitary confinement challenged my level of gratitude.

My mother had just had heart surgery and was on a dialysis machine for her kidneys. No one expected her to live. She was sent to a rehab center and then went home under hospice care. I was unsettled. Any time I’d heard of hospice taking care of someone, it seemed that person soon died. I was afraid the same thing would happen to my mother. I prayed, asking God to let me see her one more time.

And then they put me in solitary confinement.

My first week there, I received a letter from my mother. I was delighted to read that she was feeling better and improving every day. She promised that she and my sisters would visit me as soon as I was back in general population. Joy filled my heart.

I thanked God for Mom’s letter and her health. Was I thankful for confinement? Not quite, but I was grateful for many other things. No matter where you are, there’s always something to be thankful for, and I was determined to find it.

I woke up Thanksgiving Day, still in confinement but with thankfulness in my heart. I wrote letters to Mom, my sisters, and my friends. I wrote articles about the things God had been teaching me in His Word and in my life.

I thanked God for His Holy Spirit, who gives me strength to keep moving toward being more like Christ. I thanked Jesus who, though He suffered, remained focused on doing His Father’s will. His example keeps me focused too.

I thanked God for all the blessings He had given me—for the chaplain clerk who had provided an excellent Christian novel for me to read and for the officer who had given me an extra cup of milk. I thanked Him for my friends, Lucy and Roy, who sent me letters. Just knowing others were praying for me encouraged and strengthened me to face each day.

Psalm 92:1–2 says, “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening” (NLT).

My confinement proved those verses true. As I remained grateful and shifted my eyes off my circumstances and onto God, the days were not as long and lonely. They were filled with God’s peace and even joy. I still can’t say I was thrilled to be in confinement, but I was thankful God was with me.

I didn’t fully appreciate my time in isolation until after  I was released, but now I do. It helped me realize that no matter where I am, I can trust God with my life. He’s always in control. His love and faithfulness know no limits—they are never confined!

Forgiven and Living God’s Good Plans

According to Psalm 32, I am a blessed man even though in my lifetime I have committed many grievous sins. For them, I deserve death and condemnation (Romans 6:23). But God, so rich in mercy, has chosen to forgive my sins, to cover them with His blood, and never count them against me again. It’s a gift too incredible to comprehend.

I grew up in Culiacan Sinaloa, Mexico. My father died in his early forties, leaving my mother alone to raise their eight children, of whom I am the youngest. We were very poor, and life was hard.

Because we had no father figure in our home, many people disrespected my family and abused us. Even as a youth, I recognized the injustice of our situation and the great needs of our family. I grew up feeling lonely and insecure, but I was unable to express my emotions to others, not even to my family. People made fun of me because of my inability to communicate my feelings.

I often wondered what would become of my life. Would I always be poor and at the mercy of those around me? But then, at 12 years old, I felt an impression in my heart that my life would be good when I was an adult. I tucked that impression away to keep.

I came to the United States when I was 23. I was already heavily influenced by the mafia cartels in my homeland. A friend and I began working for a very powerful man, but his people ran into trouble and had to leave the country. I stayed in America to work so that I could provide for my family back home.

I quickly saw the potential to make a lot of money through a criminal life, and I began selling kilos of cocaine with a friend. Not long after, I set out on my own. The money didn’t come as fast as I’d hoped, so I started taking riskier “suicidal jobs.” I became known as a straightforward man of his word, one who got the job done. I even saved lives of people when their enemies tried to kill them. This opened doors to work for bigger clients who bought enormous amounts of drugs. Soon I had many people under my command and others who wanted to work for me. Powerful mafia bosses sought me out, but where there is a lot of money, there is a lot of envy. Great and powerful enemies began looking for me too. I was headed for destruction—which, of course, was what the devil had planned all along (John 10:10).

At the highest point of my criminal career, something strange happened. I met this couple on the street one day. I had spoken to them for only a moment when the wife told her husband that the Lord was telling her to anoint me. She pulled out a small bottle of oil and asked if she could anoint my forehead. I agreed, but I wasn’t a man who believed in God. Minutes later, they left, and I’ve never seen them again. It was a strange encounter, to be sure, but I recognize now that it was the hand of God in my life. Already, He was setting me apart for His good work.

A week later, I was arrested and sent to the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona. Bibles seemed to be everywhere—on the tables and on the floor. I was bored, so I took one and started reading in the book of Genesis. I was surprised by what I read, and I liked it.

Through the Bible, God began to teach me about Himself. Many verses spoke to me, but Isaiah 45:1–7 caused my heart to leap. When I read about God’s ability to open doors and use His servants for His great purposes—even those who had never acknowledged Him—it was like something pierced my heart. It’s so hard to explain, but the same thing happened when I read about God’s good plan for His children in Jeremiah 29:11. These verses reminded me of that impression for a good life I’d had in my youth.

I didn’t surrender to God right then, but I did begin to understand that He existed. I was sent to prison for five years. Without consistent Christian services, I became disconnected from what I’d been learning about God in jail. I stopped reading God’s Word and thought only about my old way of life and its offerings. In my ignorance, I asked God to give me a second chance to continue working in the drug world—I promised Him I’d only sell marijuana instead of more dangerous drugs. I was so deceived and naive!

Once released, I immediately sought out old clients and reorganized my business. Large opportunities came, just as they had before, but then a so­called friend set me up, and I got busted a second time. It was the bust that saved my life.

When the sheriff’s transport van arrived to take me to jail, the numbers on the license plate caught my eye—666. I had read enough of the Bible already to remember those were the devil’s numbers.

It was like Satan was taunting me, saying, “I got you again!”

Anger rose up as I suddenly recognized the evil I had been allowing to rule my life. Satan had been out to destroy my family and me from the beginning. I started thinking about those verses I had read at Maricopa and God’s promise of a good future. Standing there in those handcuffs, I said, “Devil, you’ve messed with the wrong guy! I’m coming after you with everything I’ve got!”

I was done being deceived and led down destructive paths.

When I arrived at the county jail the first night, I joined an inmate Bible study. I accepted God’s forgiveness for my sin and surrendered my life to Him. Right there in that jail, because of the blood of Jesus, my wretched life was made clean and blessed forever. I became God’s son, His heir, and finally, I was ready for His better plan. I was ready to go to war against the unseen enemy who had been at work in my life. In God’s eyes, I was without fault. (See Ephesians 1:4.)

Much of the world looks at my life and says I have nothing. After all, I am an incarcerated man without material wealth or power. But they are wrong. I am rich in every way because I have Jesus. He has forgiven all my sin and made me the righteousness of God. He has secured my eternal future and opened doors for me to show His lost children the way home.

I am living the good plans God revealed to me in my youth. Every day, those good plans continue to unfold. One day, I hope to return to my homeland and share the Good News there that Jesus Christ loves and He saves. I want to help people understand God’s desire for relationship, not religion. In the meantime, God is preparing me—He’s teaching me to fight the good fight of faith, and He’s opening my eyes to the spiritual war that occurs every day in this world. It’s a war I’m now winning.

Roadmap to Hope

A close family member was suffering from a severe mental illness, and I was losing hope. I prayed earnestly for God to heal them, but the situation didn’t seem to be changing. Time passed without improvement, and I grew impatient and sad as I realized that the healing I desired might not happen here on earth. I felt small and insignificant in the eyes of God—He wasn’t hearing my request. My hope faded, and my heart hardened.

Instead of pouring out my sadness and confusion to God, I just stopped talking to Him about the situation. My spiritual vision became blurred. My faith in God became based on what I saw Him doing for me instead of His faithful love and goodness.

I allowed my feelings to impact my relationship with Him.

Thankfully, I soon realized my state of hopelessness and turned to the Bible. There I found a roadmap to getting back on track with God. His truth renewed my hope, restored our relationship, and destroyed the lies I was beginning to believe.

Maybe you’ve been praying and waiting for God to change your circumstance, but like me, you’ve found yourself losing hope and cutting God out of your life. Please don’t pull away from Him like I did. Instead, give Him your concerns and press in to a full and beautiful relationship with your Creator. That’s where hope is found.

I wanted to share with you the roadmap of verses that put me on the right track of hope. I know it can help you too. This map is easy to use: just identify the way you feel and then allow God’s Word to speak truth to your heart. His truth always keeps you on a road of hope.

 

FEELING:    None of my plans are going my way.

TRUTH:       God is the One who guides my steps; I will trust in Him (Proverbs 16:9).

 

FEELING:    My friends have abandoned me, and my family has let me down.

TRUTH:       I am adopted into God’s family; He will never let me down (2 Corinthians 6:18).

 

FEELING:    My mind is scattered; my heart is broken.

TRUTH:       God protects my heart and mind; I will rest in Him (Philippians 4:7).

 

FEELING:    I can’t find my way. Everything keeps changing.

TRUTH:       Christ never changes; I will fix my eyes on Him (Hebrews 13:8).

 

FEELING:    I have no purpose.

TRUTH:       I’m God’s masterpiece, and He has a good work for me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

 

FEELING:    I am tired and weak.

TRUTH:       When I am weak, God makes me strong (2 Corinthians 12:10).

 

FEELING:    Evil is pressing in around me.

TRUTH:       Christ will rescue me from every evil attack (2 Timothy 4:18).

 

FEELING:    Life is too hard!

TRUTH:       When I draw near to Jesus in my time of need, I step into His overflowing fountain of grace and mercy (Hebrews 4:16).

 

Following God’s roadmap of truth will bring you to His scenic overlook of hope. Let your soul be still as your eyes take in the beauty of His promises. Bow your heart in thankfulness as you remember that God is ever faithful to His Word. In Him, there is always hope.

Unload the Train of Pain

I was two when my mother was sent to prison. My father was not in my life. I went to live with my grandparents who adopted me, involved me in activities, and taught me a good work ethic. They did their best to spoil me rotten, too.

They loved me very much, but I couldn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mom. I longed to be with her. Finally, when I was nine, Mom was released, and I got to go live with her. It was a dream come true… until she started drinking. Our home grew violent, and I went back to live with Grandma, who was now a widow. She decided to move us to Florida for a fresh start.

After the move, I became rebellious and pushed people away. My heart just hurt so much. I felt like I was drowning in pain.

By 13, I was using drugs and smoking. I got to see my mom again that summer in Louisiana, but a stepdad was now in the picture, and heavy drugs and alcohol were present in the home. I became more messed up and rebellious.

At 18, I moved to New Jersey, lived with my girlfriend, and jumped into the fast life. I stayed there for three years and partied hard. Then my mom showed up and wanted to live with me. So I broke up with my girlfriend, and Mom and I moved back to Florida to live with Grandma. I couldn’t have been happier.

A few years later, however, Mom grew very sick. I was the only one with her, and hospital authorities advised me to take her off life support. I finally had my mom, and I was supposed to sign her death warrant? I can’t tell you how much guilt and self-hate I felt. She died, and I dove into drugs. All I wanted was to destroy my life. I almost succeeded.

One night at a party, I had a sexual encounter with a minor. She became pregnant and had a daughter. I was arrested and charged with lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor. I served one year and a day in prison.

I did well for a while after I was released, until I decided I could handle a few pills. I was in control. Then I met a girl who introduced me to methadone, and I was soon out of control.

I refused to provide a required urine sample to my probation officer, and I was sent back to jail for ten more years. Eighteen months into my sentence, a lightbulb finally went off in my mind. If I wanted to leave prison different than I was when I came in, then I needed to make serious changes. I entered a trade program and began to learn new things. I also looked for a new set of friends. I knew I couldn’t move forward if I continued to hang out with people who had no intention of changing.

But God is always faithful and, even in prison, He put people in my path who showed me a better way.

One day, I got a phone call asking me to give up my rights as a father so my daughter’s maternal grandmother could care for her. I considered signing those papers, but my conscience weighed heavily on me.

I remembered the hole in my heart that had come from my parents abandoning me. Why would I do that to my child? It was time I grew up, quit running from difficult issues, and took responsibility for my life and actions. I needed to be a father.

I called the lawyer and said I would not sign the papers. I wanted to be a father to my child to the best of my ability. The classification officer smiled and gave me a big thumbs-up. Since then, I’ve spent time intentionally building a relationship with my daughter, and I now have a wonderful relationship with her, her mother, and her mother’s family. Today, my daughter tells people that she’s proud of me and encourages them to give others a second chance. To be a faithful father, I had to do some genuine soul searching with God. It’s great to learn trades and get an education, but external achievements could not heal the brokenness of my soul. I had deep wounds that needed serious attention.

I started meeting with a couple who volunteered at the prison. Dave and Cheryl helped me unload the pain of my youth with a mental exercise. They told me to visualize two baggage trains that represented the emotional and mental wounds I was carrying through life. They told me to fill those trains with past moments of pain, rejection, abandonment, fear, guilt, shame, and the unforgiveness I harbored.

Unforgiveness took up a lot of space on those trains! I was so angry with my mother and father for choosing drugs and alcohol over me. I also hated myself for my mother’s death. And I still felt guilty for signing those papers.

After three hours of filling those train cars with my pain, Dave and Cheryl told me to mentally haul them to the foot of the cross and leave them there. I learned that Jesus had not only died to save my soul, but also to heal my emotional pain and set me free from destructive behavior. (See Isaiah 53:5.)

Turning my pain over to Jesus enabled me to be free. Although I had become a believer in Jesus Christ in prison, I still had a lot of baggage I needed to cut loose if I wanted to move forward with God and experience His plans for my life. (See Hebrews 12:1–2.)

I served my full ten-year sentence, but I left prison with a Biblical studies degree, an associate degree in business management, and a slew of trade certifications. More importantly, I left with Christ in my heart. I was a changed man, inside and out! Transitioning from prison to free society, however, wasn’t easy. Having a sexual offender charge makes it especially difficult, as people don’t want to rent to or hire sexual offenders. Leaving prison, I had to trust God completely for a place to live and work.

But God wasn’t worried. He provided everything I needed through a prison ministry volunteer named Roger Rash. (See his story on page 28.) When Roger learned I didn’t have a place to live, he invited me to stay on his property. He and his wife, Donna, made sure I had everything I needed to get started in my new life. I will forever be grateful.

Today, I have a thriving business, own my own vehicle, and enjoy spending time with my daughter. I look forward to one day returning to prison as a volunteer. Like Roger, I want to share my story of God’s faithfulness with other people and help them discover the love of God. In the meantime, I trust Him to use this article to reach men and women, both in and out of prison. I want them to know His love can set them free. I want you to know, it will set you free.

Do you need relief from the loads of baggage you carry? Take your train of pain to the cross and cast your burdens on Jesus, for He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). Then simply ask Him to help you forgive others and yourself, and move forward. His love is bigger than your obstacles and your pain. It’s bigger than your past or your present. Let Him be your future.

What’s Holding You Back

My husband and I were in the final hours of our move. Everything had gone smoothly to this point, but now we were at a mental and physical impasse. The rented moving truck was loaded, but there was still so much to do before we could hit the road and go to where we felt God was leading our family.

We walked into the house, dejected, and collapsed on the floor. There was no furniture, only random items scattered around the family room. A toilet plunger. Tools. Dog beds. Half-used cleaning supplies. A life vest. Boxes full of Victorious Living magazine. And a mound of keys from only God knows where.

Tim and I were staring blankly at each other when two friends unexpectedly burst in through the door. They laughed at our pitiful state and the chaos around us (as only friends are allowed to do) and then said, “Why are you two just sitting around? There’s no time to rest. Get up. You’ve got a lot of work to do before your final walk-through with the buyers in the morning.”

Then they said something beautiful. “What can we do to help?” Realizing that Tim and I were too tired to respond, our friends took the lead: “Why don’t we start with taking away the trash?” Oh, yes, the trash. We were moving on a holiday weekend, and with the dump and local charitable organizations closed, unwanted items had piled up in our garage.

They quickly went to work, loading up the bed of their truck with our nasty trash bags, broken furniture, cardboard boxes, packing paper, old sporting equipment, and who knows what else. Next, they gathered the furniture we’d set aside for donation and promised to come back the next day and take it to Goodwill.

With unwanted and unneeded items removed from our premises, an amazing thing happened: suddenly, we could see! We could identify what needed to go, what needed to stay, and the next steps to take. And we could breathe. That sense of being overwhelmed faded, and we found the strength to move forward.

This situation made me think about the impasses we come upon in life. Maybe like Tim and me, you’ve collapsed under the weight of your burdens and cannot see the end from the beginning. You feel stuck and exhausted and are unable to identify the next best step.

Can I do for you what our friends did for us? Can I burst in and lovingly say, “Get up! God’s not done with you yet. There’s still a lot He wants to do with you.”

But doing anything at this moment may seem too big a task. If that’s the case, take some time to sit still with God. Ask Him to search the rooms of your life and to help you identify what is cluttering your view, robbing your strength, and holding you back. Pray as King David did in Psalm 139:23–24, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

God has a destination for you, a purpose for your life. But to get there, you’ve got to remove the debris—things like poisonous relationships, proud and lustful thoughts, deadly emotions, and destructive habits. This removal process will take work and won’t be comfortable, but that is expected.

What may not be expected is that precious things, good things, may also have to be released—things like people, material items, commitments, ministries, and maybe even careers. Not everything or everyone can go where God is taking you. There’s not enough room. You will have to make certain choices and sacrifices that may hurt your heart. But then, the weight of your load will begin to lift. You’ll be able to breathe again. Your feeble hands will find new strength, and your feet will start moving toward God’s purpose for your life. And that’s when there will finally be room for God to put His new things in your path.

What do you need to release so that God can move you forward into His perfect plan? Trust Him and make the move.

God’s Love Knows No Boundaries

I love to read about the woman at the well in John 4. That’s where Jesus presented His incredible gift of grace to a woman with a history of poor choices. Yet He didn’t condemn her. He didn’t chastise her or pile on guilt or shame. No, none of that. Instead, He expressed love. Forgiveness. Acceptance. And an invitation for her to have a relationship with the Son of God—the One who could fill every empty part of her life forever.

It’s amazing. Jesus knew everything this woman had ever done, yet He chose to look past her record of sin—her dirty thoughts, her motives, and every sinful moment—to see the woman He had created her to be. He invited her to follow His better way that led to abundant life here on earth and eternal life with Him in heaven (John 3:16; 10:10).

But then, as if that weren’t enough, He used her to bring others to salvation!

The Apostle John could have just as easily been writing about me. I’ve made my own poor choices—lots of them. But praise God, Jesus met me at my “well” and extended to me His gift of forgiveness and a fresh start. He welcomed me into His family, and ever since, beyond my ability to comprehend, He has used me to lead others to His amazing grace.

My sinful choices stemmed from my need for love. I can’t remember a time as a child that I felt loved or safe except when my father was home. Unfortunately, his commitments to the military often took him away. His absence left my siblings and me vulnerable to abusive behavior from our mother, who struggled with alcoholism.

Today, on the other side of years of therapy and treatment for my own poor choices, I better understand her illness of alcoholism. I understand now that my mother wasn’t just mean; she was sick. She had a disease that greatly impacted her behavior. That doesn’t make what I experienced at her hand any more comfortable or right, but knowing it has helped me forgive her. I’ve also come to forgive my father for not intervening like I thought he should.

Regardless of the reasons for my parents’ actions, those years of abandonment and abuse led me to believe I was unlovable and not worth saving. I mean, if my mother wouldn’t love me and my father wouldn’t save me, who would?

Maybe you can relate.

In my teenage years, I began drinking and using heavy drugs. These substances temporarily faded the darkness around me. However, I increasingly needed more drugs and different combinations of drugs and alcohol to get the same effect.

At 15, I joined an outlaw motorcycle club. I was definitely looking for love in the wrong place. Most of the men, including my boyfriend, thought nothing about beating their women. I was soon pregnant.

In my experience, children were a curse. That’s how my mother had made me feel. Desperate, I went to a pregnancy center, where a counselor told me that at 16 weeks, I was simply carrying a blob of tissue. That “blob” terminology was exactly what I wanted to hear, and I chose to have an abortion. I was so afraid I would be like my mother.

I would go on to have three more abortions, but I never once considered I was taking a life. I have since recognized my sin, sought God’s forgiveness, and through counseling, worked through the emotional aftermath abortion brings.

When I was 18, I went to cosmetology school. Some people from a modeling school came there to recruit girls to join the Brevard County Beauty Pageant. One woman encouraged me to enter. She told me I was smart, elegant, and beautiful. No one in my life had ever told me such things. Inside, I laughed and wanted to say, “If you knew who you were talking to, you’d spit on me!”

Her words, though, encouraged me. I entered the pageant, and I was voted Miss Congeniality. This experience and the acceptance of those women helped me believe maybe I could be someone special. I decided I’d enter the pageant again the next year.

Regretfully, that positive experience was quickly overcome by darkness, and I reverted to my usual way of thinking: I wasn’t worth anything to anyone. I had nothing good to give. I was a curse and a burden.

I didn’t enter the pageant again. Instead, I ran away with another biker—a dark, handsome Italian who smuggled large amounts of cocaine into the state of Florida. It wasn’t long before he kicked me to the curb, leaving me homeless. For six years, I lived on the streets, and I did whatever I needed to do to survive. I was arrested many times for my actions and sent to prison. I served two years in the Florida Department of Corrections on my first stint.

Prison did nothing to change me. As soon as I was released, I went back to my old ways. Within weeks, I had violated my parole and was sentenced to two more years in Lowell Correctional Institution, one of the hardest women’s facilities in Florida.

While I was there, my mother passed away. I wasn’t a religious person, but I found myself heading to the prison chapel. I wondered if she had gone straight to hell, and I was terrified for her soul.

I went to the altar and knelt to pray. I was surprised when other female inmates in the chapel gathered around me, placed their hands gently on my shoulders, and began to pray for me. I felt the pure love of Jesus Christ envelop me. There was no darkness there, only light (John 1:5).

I went back to my dorm and, for two days, pondered what I had experienced. I got on my knees and prayed, “God, I don’t know if You are real. I don’t know if You can hear me or if You can do for me what everyone says You can. But if You are who they say You are and can do what they say You can do, will You do it for me? I don’t want to live another day the way I am.”

I was so tired of running the streets in criminal activity. Demoralizing behavior, abusive relationships, alcohol, and drugs had brought me nothing but pain and regret. I was a disgrace to my family, nothing more than a pile of trash to be hauled away. I couldn’t go another day carrying my heavy load of shame.

Two nights later, I dreamed of my mother. At first, her back was to me. I felt rejected and cried out, “I love you, Mom. I’m sorry.” But then, she turned around. I’d never seen her so beautiful and gentle. “I love you too, and I’m sorry,” she said as she held out her arms. I collapsed into her loving embrace. It felt so real.

That dream changed me. God had given me a gift. He knew I needed to feel the hug of my mother, and that sensing her love and seeing her in a different light would melt away the mortar of pain that had encased my heart.

There were no spiritual fireworks, but I felt different when I awoke. I understood that God was real. And somehow I knew that with Him, I could do the prison time ahead of me. I needed that time to heal.

A few weeks later, Bill Glass Ministries came to Lowell for a three­day prison yard event. I listened as celebrities shared their testimonies of how Jesus had radically changed their lives. Their words encouraged my heart, and I publicly accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Afterward, I imagined myself one day voluntarily going into prison to minister to inmates.

I served my sentence and, once released, went home. I got off the bus in Cocoa Beach and looked up to the sky. “What now, Lord?” I asked. I wanted a new life, but I had no plan to get it. I thought I could just figure life out as it came at me. Boy, was that a mistake. My feet had my body in a crack house before my brain knew what was happening. And that decision led me right back to Lowell for another eight months.

I quickly learned that if you don’t plan for success, you will fail every time. This time, I asked God to reveal His plan. Hebrews 12:13 says, “Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong” (NLT).

I learned about a transitional facility that would provide support, safety, rehabilitation, and godly direction. I finished my time at Lowell and went directly to Resurrection Ranch. The godly support at the Ranch kept me standing firm in my transition.

A few years later, I married the administrator of the program. We served God and others with zeal at the Ranch, but we forgot to care for one another. As a result, our ten-year marriage dissolved.

In my loneliness, I became deeply depressed, and I relapsed. I had been clean for 15 years. It was a humiliating experience, and I felt like I had let many people down, including God. But God did not give up on me. Instead, He pursued me with His love and helped me get up again. Then He brought others alongside me too who offered support. It’s been several years since that relapse. With God’s help, I have stayed clean. There have been many trials that could have tripped me up, but God has kept me secure as we take one day at a time, together. He is a good God, a loving Father, and my faithful friend. Two years ago, I fell down the stairs of my home and severely broke my leg. I ended up homebound for months and needed constant care. To my great surprise, God brought my ex­husband back into my life to serve as my caretaker. During those long months of recovery, Dave and I had many in-depth discussions and came to forgive one another.

I am in awe over how God not only healed my body but my relationship with my husband as well. We remarried on October 5, 2018, our original anniversary date. Isn’t God something? I am so thankful I serve the God of another chance, the God who restores broken things.

Maybe like me, you’re prone to making mistakes. Be encouraged: our God is the God of another chance. His love has no limits, no boundaries, and no expiration dates.

Maybe you think you are too far gone and that there’s no place for you in God’s kingdom. That’s what the devil wants you to believe. Reject those lies the enemy sells and shake off the guilt. God’s hand is always extended to you. He will never give up on you. He does not keep a record of your wrongs (Psalm 103).

Accept His invitation for a new life and get a plan that includes godly support. Then take one day at a time with Him. Together, you can make it.

Bloom Where You Are

I live behind a large house with a yard full of weeds. As part of my rent, I keep that property mowed for the landlady. It looks fairly decent most of the time. As I was mowing recently, I noticed a beautiful flower growing in the middle of this weed-filled yard. It was next to a tree, and I was careful not to mow it down. It occurred to me that I should dig it up and move it to the front of the house so others could see it.

But as I was thinking this over in my mind, the Lord spoke to me in my thoughts. “Leave the flower where it is. It brightens the area around it.”

But a plant that pretty needs to be seen, I thought.

“Digging it up and taking it out of its place may cause it to die.”

I winced as I remembered other times when I had relocated plants. I had replanted them where I thought they would do better…but none of them had survived the transplant. I should have left them right where they were and applied more nutrients instead.

And then I thought about how often I’ve felt like I needed to be transplanted somewhere else. I’ve looked around and not liked where I was. I felt isolated from God and became anxious for change. Usually when that happens, I want to dig myself up and replant myself somewhere nicer—in greener pastures where I think I’ll be more fruitful, more beautiful and, if I’m candid, more seen. But I fail to see how much I am needed where I am and how much God is using me there.

Now don’t get me wrong. Change can be good. But for change to be successful, it needs to be orchestrated by God and not by our selfish desires. Otherwise, our impulsive actions can make a situation worse. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

If you study the life of Jesus, you’ll see that He was not impulsive, nor did He ever fall into panic mode. He always exhibited a calm strength as He sought the Lord’s will and His words. He was patient and stayed where God had put Him until God led Him to a new place.

I’m learning to exercise more caution these days and to apply more patience before I act. When I get frustrated where I am, I get on my knees and ask God what He wants me to do. Then I ask Him for the patience to help me wait for His answer and stay within His plan.

But I’ll admit—sometimes it’s difficult to wait on God.

Impulsiveness is a trait of our sinful nature. Yes, we must improvise at times, but we should wait to move until the Holy Spirit quickens us to act.

That day in my yard, I left that solitary flower alone like God told me to, and it’s flourishing. When I look over my backyard, my attention is immediately drawn to the beautiful white flowers blooming from that one faithful plant. Its beauty outshines all the ugliness around it.

Are you desperate for a new location? Do you feel isolated and alone where you are, not fruitful at all? Ask God to give you the strength to stay where you are and to bloom where you’re planted.

Let Him use you to bring beauty to this world right where you are—even if you’re in the ugliest of places.

Would You Like to Get Well

I didn’t just wake up one day in my teens and decide I wanted to be an addict and a prostitute. Childhood sexual abuse and trauma set me on a collision course with disaster.

As a little girl, I read all the happy-ever-after fairy tales, but I figured “girls like me” didn’t get to believe in fairy tales. No. Girls like me had to put on their big­girl britches so they could make it on the streets.

I learned to be a master manipulator and developed many other dysfunctional survival skills. My heart was cold and hard, and I lived in a constant state of denial. I justified my bad behavior with blame and self­pity.

My battle continued over three decades and resulted in many casualties, especially in my relationships. I had nothing to offer anyone. I was mentally, emotionally, physically, and morally bankrupt. Every part of me was broken.

But then I had an encounter with Jesus, much like the one experienced by the man at the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). The Bible doesn’t tell us much about this man other than he was sick and he was stuck. Before he met Jesus, he had spent 38 years sitting in the same spot, hanging around the same sick people, stuck in the same mindset, and facing a pattern of the same circumstances.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I am confident this man spent all those years doing all that same stuff while hoping for a different outcome.

Jesus wanted him to experience something different, something better. So, without minimizing the man’s problems or blaming him for his mess, Jesus cut right to the core of the matter with a question: “Would you like to get well?” Jesus wasn’t looking for a detailed explanation of how the man got to his pitiful state or why he was still there. He just wanted to know—do you want to be well?

The man answered with excuse-­riddled, blame-shifting sentences like: “I can’t. No one will help me. Someone always gets to the water before me.” In his answer, we see the root of his problem. He lacked personal accountability for his predicament.

But Jesus was compassionate. He didn’t just offer the man a different outcome, He offered him the ability to participate in the plan of action as well. Jesus said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” He gave the man a choice: get up and move forward, or stay put and stay stuck.

To find wholeness, this man had to move out of the realm of “same”—that mental, emotional, and physical place that felt natural and comfortable. He had to accept Jesus’s invitation to try something new. If he did, he would find healing and be empowered to live a completely new life. The Bible tells us this man made the right choice, and Jesus made him whole.

Letting go of my old excuses helped me find wholeness too. Like this man, I had to take responsibility for my life. I had to quit feeling sorry for myself and to stop blaming everyone else for the disaster my life had become. Yes, people had hurt me in unspeakable ways, but I had to rise up out of self­pity, pick up my mat (the familiar things I clung to), and walk out with Jesus.

That was five years ago. He brought me out of darkness and transformed my life. I’ve been walking with with Him ever since.

Are you tired of the same pitiful results, time after time? Have you been stuck in the realm of “same” for way too long? Jesus’s invitation for wholeness is for you too. So go ahead. Get up. Pick up your mat. Start walking in a new direction toward your victorious life with Jesus. Do it today.

The Goodness of God

I first met Damien King in prison. (See his story on page 26.) My church’s secretary had roped me  into  volunteering. I can’t say I was too excited about going into a prison, but I was willing to do it for her.

Damien was an inmate, assigned to assist new volunteers like me. We quickly developed a genuine friendship. Each week, I looked forward to seeing him and the other men who attended the class I taught. God filled my heart with love for these men. He filled their hearts with love for me too.

God had been faithful to me, and I had a story to prove it. But I had never before considered how that testimony could impact others.

I lost my first wife to a drunk driver in 1986. We’d been married 20 years. I was far from God at that time. I wasn’t going to church or seeking Him; I was just going through life, trying to keep our family together in my own strength. Her death was a major wake­up call for me. Being a single parent of teenage boys who’d just lost their mother wasn’t easy. We were all hurting.

In my loneliness, I remarried quickly. That relationship lasted nine months and brought pain to my boys. It would be many years and several other poor relational decisions before I’d finally realize I needed to find my security and support in Jesus Christ, not a woman. Once I began to rebuild my life on God’s love and sought His companionship above any other, He blessed me with a healthy, godly relationship. Donna and I have been married now for 14 years.

When I lost my first wife, I was very angry with both the driver and the justice system. Her killer got only 90 days behind bars due to the great lawyering skills of his attorney and his connections in high places. It wasn’t fair. I let that anger drive my emotions and actions for a long time. Only after Donna and I started dating did I choose to be thankful for God’s blessings and appreciate the time I’d had with my first wife. My grateful heart made way for God’s love to help me forgive the one responsible for my loss. And that forgiveness set me free to truly learn to live.

One day, after I shared how I’d forgiven my offender, an inmate approached me and asked, “Roger, how can you love someone like me? I’m in prison because I drove drunk and killed a lady.” He couldn’t understand how anyone, much less God, could forgive him for his actions. He was so steeped in guilt and pain. This opened the door for me to explain the unconditional love of God. I consider it a privilege to help men like him understand how valuable they are in God’s eyes.

I’m getting to be an old man, but with God’s help, I plan to keep going behind bars for a long time yet. I just can’t see settling for the rocking chair when there is so much adventure to be had with God.

Today, I have the privilege of spending time with Damien in free society. He’s like a son to me. In fact, he lives right in my backyard! I’m grateful to be a small part of his success story and am so proud of him. Every day, we marvel at the goodness of God.

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