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My Search for Significance

I was in the middle of sixth grade when my family moved from a south Dallas suburb, away from everything I’d known, to an affluent town northwest of Dallas. All the kids in my new class already had their group of friends. I did not fit in with these rich, snobby kids. I felt an intense sense of being less-than. With both my parents being at work a lot, it was an extremely difficult period where I experienced lots of rejection.

BECAUSE OF THIS REJECTION, I BEGAN TO SEEK LOVE, ATTENTION AND ACCEPTANCE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES.

I started hanging out with the older kids and drinking. I finally felt like I fit in through all the attention I was receiving from older guys. That is until I started receiving unwanted attention.

At 16 years old, I was raped by my best friend’s ex-boyfriend in his attempt to hurt her. He succeeded in his endeavor: she was hurt and she took her pain out on me by spreading vicious gossip throughout the school. I was an innocent victim caught in the crossfire of their hate. I had been betrayed and raped by someone I trusted as well as abandoned, further hurt and shamed by a friend I loved.

Because of this traumatic event, I experienced shame and condemnation like never before. How could I have let this happen? How could I have been so stupid? What was wrong with me? 

I LOST MY VOICE.

I didn’t fight the horrible things people said about me because I so desperately just wanted to move on and pretend it never happened. I withdrew from friends and family, started drinking daily and acting out. I hated myself and everyone else.

At 17, I met a guy who I thought was the “love of my life,” a charismatic, intelligent and fun guy; and above all else, he loved me. I got pregnant right away. But it wasn’t long before I realized he had lower self-esteem than I did. Our joint insecurities led to an extremely toxic relationship.

BUT WHEN YOU HAVE SUCH POOR SELF-WORTH, YOU FEEL AS IF YOU DO NOT DESERVE ANY BETTER.

I survived three and a half years of severe, relentless physical and emotional abuse. I was convinced I could change him and unwilling to give up the idea of a perfect family for my son. About a year after the birth of our son, we started doing hard drugs to cope with the deep pain we faced.

I eventually escaped the abusive relationship, but encountered new problems on my own. I was using drugs to numb the pain of the lies I’d been fed for so long and to deal with the abuse I’d suffered. I had finally found an effective method to cope with the pain and low self-worth. Drugs were my escape for the next 10 years of my life.

I CAN SEE NOW THAT THE REAL REASON FOR MY LOW SELF-WORTH WAS THAT I WAS ALIENATED FROM GOD.

I had been living for so long as if I were floating alone in a remote sea without meaning, not caring about anything, especially myself. So the first step in my search for significance was to turn to God, grab His outstretched hand and come out of the darkness to find hope and realize my life is significant. I knew this in my head, but how could I really experience that truth in my heart?

I knew my next step was putting into practice Romans 12:1-2, which says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.  Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

I had to break my strongholds and set new ways of thinking about myself. This breakthrough finally came when I asked God into my heart and became reconciled to Him. There was a tangible shift in my perspective.

MY PERCEPTION WAS FINALLY IN LINE WITH GOD’S.

My thinking had changed, which led to a shift in my behavior.

Through this surrender to God’s truth my mind has become progressively renewed. And as my mind is renewed, so is my lifestyle; strongholds are broken; I am transformed. My self-worth is no longer contingent on others’ opinions of me or my performance. I am no longer in bondage. I will not be afraid. I have a VOICE! I can’t change my past, but I will not give it power over me. The abuse I suffered as a 16-year-old was not my fault. I will not continue to let this pain hold me down, suffocate me or keep me from the freedom I deserve and that God so desperately wants me to experience.

GOD LOVES ME SO MUCH THAT HE SENT JESUS TO DIE FOR ME.

Jesus took on all my sins so I could be reconciled to God. I am completely forgiven for any wrongs I have committed and I can forgive others for the wrongs done to me. I am fully pleasing to and totally accepted by God. I am complete in Christ. This is God’s Truth, this is my truth and this is the basis for my self-worth. I now have a new self-awareness and strive to resemble Jesus in all I do. I will never again be conformed to any negative worldly thinking when God has released so much provision. I can see myself through His eyes and experience ongoing transformation.

-A Grace House Testimony

Join us Thursday, May 25th at the Phoenix Ballroom for A Night with Grace House – Let Hope Arise. Throughout the evening, you will have a chance to enjoy dinner while hearing more testimonies of the healing power of Jesus. The event is from 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. and individual tickets are $40. Table prices vary. Learn more and purchase a ticket at gracehousewaco.com

Restoration and Grace: Leigh’s Story

Grace House, our recovery home for women, desires to see women holistically healed from chronic addiction and restored through relationship with Jesus.

Last August, they hosted A Night with Grace House in order to raise money to re-open their doors to women in need of help. They raised enough money to continue helping women and saw life transformation throughout this past year.

Here is Leigh’s story of how Grace House has impacted her life. She has experienced the healing and redemptive power of Jesus, and has been brought out of hopelessness into a life full of hope and joy.

Describe your early life before addiction.

My first memory is of being sexually abused by a man close to the family. I was also sexually abused by a family member.  So from the beginning, I was led to be silent, compliant and alone.  I grew up scared; scared to be used sexually and scared of the rage that ruled over my family.  Everyone fought.  It was so bad we were forced to go to family counseling.  But I said nothing—I was coached well.  I was depressed, anxious and neglected.

At age eight, I started seeking ways to just make myself feel good.  That same year, my parents decided to separate, and by nine I was moving to El Paso to live with my mom. I began to fantasize and plan suicide at the age of nine. I didn’t have any friends and was teased every day for the next five years.  I started getting violent.

When did addiction first take hold of your life?

I was 13 years old when I realized I was a drug user, though I started around 12. I came to realize the only acceptance and love I would receive was from drugs and other drug users.  That became my identity: I was a drug addict. I only felt happy when I was high and I only felt accepted by others who got high.

What was life in addiction like?

At 14, I went to a mental institution. By 15, I was in my first rehab.  And right before my 16th birthday, I was raped.  In the midst of all this was rage and suicide idealization.  I got into witchcraft, then was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon against my sister.  I could not go a day sober, and when I did, outbursts of rage ensued.  I got into cutting, drinking, heroin, meth, sex and never went without weed. I was a blackout drunk and was raped more times than I can count.  Every moment sober, I was overcome by shame and self-condemnation. I overdosed nine times in two months when I started using heroin.  I was in and out of hospitals, rehab and relationships with men who used and abused me.  Caught with heroin while shoplifting, I spent my 25th birthday in a mental hospital and my 26th in jail.  I tried to get help, but I could only ever get short-term care: a couple weeks in the hospital to stabilize meds and bring up trauma, then sent out into the world. I’ve been to rehab four times. If I wasn’t high, then I was having flashbacks.  Eventually, I had to use more and more and started using needles. I gave up.  What was the point?

Where were you last August?

Last August, I was drowning in addiction.  I was shooting up meth every day.  I relapsed on heroin with the intention of suicidal overdose.  I couldn’t die; nothing worked; I failed at everything.  Except drugs. I resigned myself to doing what I knew how to do: drugs and sex.  I was an object for men and women to use and I was good at the drug lifestyle.  I had given up—there was no way out.  I stopped fighting and gave in.

When I failed a drug test with three different substances and was facing my probation being revoked, I was ordered to go to Cenikor, a short-term rehabilitation center.  This was the first time I was ordered to rehab, and the first time I didn’t plan on staying sober.  I had truly resigned myself to my addiction and sobriety wasn’t an option.  “Get high until I die,” was my purpose.

After nine days in detox, I was moved to residential care.  It was there that I finally came out of denial.  I could no longer blame my drug use on my trauma. I admitted I was an addict.  This truth set me free.

I realized my death in addiction would be tragic and prolonged, so I decided I wanted to live.

I became open, willing to listen to others’ opinions and insights. I even started going to Bible study.  Not because I believed, but because I hoped I would get more knowledge.  My roommate encouraged me, because she glorified Jesus in so many ways.  If it wasn’t for her, I probably would not have softened my heart to the Lord.  One Sunday, she pushed me to join her in attending a worship service. A group of men came to Cenikor to share the Gospel.  These men were also in recovery, so I was able to relate. The lesson was good: describing Jesus as the bridge between old self and new self. However, it was something else that captivated me. One man had so much passion for Jesus that my whole body vibrated. He had no shame, but only purpose and fire! He would die for his convictions, not condemn others. Whew! He was on fire!  As the discussion went on, tears started streaming down my face.  I was thinking, “How could Jesus love me after what’s been done to me?  I am nothing.  How could He love me after the abuse of my childhood?  I’m disgusting.  I’m unlovable.”  I was heartbroken, hopeless and full of shame. I wanted what those guys had—I wanted to be loved by Jesus so badly.

Then glory came.

They asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus as their Savior, and I could not get my hand up fast enough. We circled up, prayed and I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I had a pentagram I had worn since I was 16 and I felt like it was choking me. I ripped it off, went outside, prayed and buried it along with the hold my abusive family member had over me. I was so joyful that I couldn’t stop smiling.  I felt brand new. Thank you, Lord.

I was scheduled to leave Cenikor that Friday and was homeless, but I was so sure that I would be ok.  I had Jesus, and it was well with my soul. An employee at Cenikor got me a phone interview with Missy at Grace House, then we met in person the next day. This place was a dream come true!  A year of true healing, free of charge. Could it be? Long-term recovery, space to heal from the trauma and learn how to walk with Jesus?! The morning I was released, I was packed up, homeless and trusting the Lord.  Missy called to say I had been accepted into Grace House–five days after I chose Jesus Christ as my Savior! That’s the Lord!

How has life been since coming to Grace House?

Since coming to Grace House, I’ve not only dedicated my heart and mind to Jesus, but my body as well.  I’m married to the Lord and confident in celibacy. At World Mandate, I was moved by the Holy Spirit and surrendered all the men who sexually abused me and declared forgiveness. I’m learning what conflict resolution is and how to set boundaries. Through counseling and prayer ministry, I am facing the pain and bringing Jesus in.

I have been delivered from shame and rage.

I was baptized June 12th at Tonkawa Falls, and shared my testimony with all who were there.  My family is being reconciled and generational curses are being broken off.  Grace House is setting me up beautifully for life outside the home. I’m in a great Lifegroup, full of supportive individuals who value and encourage me. I’m working part-time at a bakery, learning how to budget and bring Jesus into my workplace.  When I look to the future, I rejoice at the days to come. Jesus is my future.

Where He goes, I’ll go.

On August 18th, Grace House will host A Night with Grace House: Beauty for Ashes at the Phoenix Ballroom. Come enjoy dinner and hear more stories about the healing and redemptive power of Jesus. Tickets are $40. Learn more and purchase tickets here.

Live it Out

Johnny Ramirez is a 27 year-old young adult living in Waco. His son, Ethan, is seven and has been an important part of Johnny’s life and walk with God. Johnny was raised in a loving catholic home, but in high school he started to explore the party scene and experiment with drugs and promiscuous relationships. At 19 years old Johnny and his girlfriend found out they were pregnant. At Johnny’s suggestion, his girlfriend aborted the baby and never spoke to Johnny again. The decision led to a downward spiral of shame, guilt and condemnation. “It was hard for me to know that I had basically killed my child and I didn’t know how to cope with it,” said Johnny. This prompted Johnny to dive further into drugs and partying, but nothing seemed to help him fill the void he was feeling.

Johnny and his son Ethan

Two years passed before Johnny received a phone call with the news that he was going to be a father again. This time Johnny said “I decided to man up and follow through with that. I didn’t know what it was going to look like. I was still a child at the time… but the day my son was born was really what turned my life around.”

Even after his child was born and his lifestyle began to change, Johnny remembers still feeling a void in his heart. “I wanted to be a positive role model in his life, but it was hard,” Johnny explains. He was searching for identity and reaching for acceptance in his new role as a father and from his family and friends.

A couple years later a friend from high school showed up at Johnny’s door. This friend was noticeably different than Johnny remembered him. In fact, he seemed like a completely different person. “I thought to myself, he has something I want,” Johnny said. Johnny listened as his friend told him how he had given his life to the Lord and how God had restored him. The friend invited Johnny to church and he decided to go, thinking he had nothing to lose.

“I showed up at church one day and it was very different from the church I used to go to… for the first time, I felt His presence. I was hard to explain, a huge weight came off me that day… God was working in me and from that day on, I gave my life to the Lord and it’s been life changing. He set me free from self-condemnation, the guilt and depression and gave me hope,” Johnny shared.

Once Johnny started following Jesus, he tried to find ways to live this out in his everyday life. He thought about what skills and passions he could offer to the community around him, and started offering free haircuts to the homeless in Waco. Cutting hair is a skill Johnny developed at a young age, and although he doesn’t use the skill in his job, Johnny uses it to reach out to the homeless around him.

A couple weeks ago Johnny met a man named Tim while giving haircuts at the Salvation Army. Tim was quiet at first, but began to open up as Johnny began to work. Tim told Johnny he had been an alcoholic for many years and went into detail about the pain and suffering that had led him to homelessness. At the end of the haircut, Johnny handed Tim a mirror to see his reflection and Tim began to cry. Through Johnny’s simple and generous act of service, Tim was deeply touched and told Johnny that no one had ever done something this nice for him. This caused Tim to evaluate his own life and he decided to stop drinking. “It was remarkable,” Johnny described, “It was just God in the midst, moving and working in him. [Tim was] able to experience the presence of God through a haircut and it gave me this hope. I’m right where I need to be.”

Johnny cuts hair for the homeless on a weekly basis

Johnny meets Tim outside the Salvation Army and offers him a haircut

Tim is touched by Johnny’s kindness and willingness to get into his world

One simple act of kindness changed Tim forever

 

God has placed unique passions and skills within each of us for a great purpose and He calls us to be beacons of light in a world of darkness. He calls us to live out the Kingdom and give away what He’s given us. What skill or passions do you have that you could use to change Waco and change the world?

 

Running to Win in Marriage

“Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT)

“You win!” Don’t you love hearing that phrase? We all love to win, but usually only one party is able to do so. But what if you could live in a way where both you and your spouse could win and the Kingdom of God expand?  This is what running to win in marriage is all about.

My wife, Christy, and I have a passion to see people run to win in marriage so the Kingdom of God expands in homes, cities and nations. In marriages that run to win, we observed couples did the following by the grace of God:

  • Spent time with Jesus individually
  • Prayed together as a couple
  • Intentionally invested in their marriage
  • Lived for something greater than themselves

Interestingly, running to win in marriage had nothing to do with finances, socioeconomic status, age, race or family of origin. Rather, these couples were running to win in their marriages because they were simply living out Kingdom values. They were not compartmentalizing their faith, their work, and their family but were integrating them. As a result, we observed these couples experienced greater levels of righteousness, peace and joy in their lives – the Kingdom of God!

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17 ESV)

Towards this end, here are a few thoughts on living out Kingdom values in your marriage.

  • Spend time with Jesus individually. The church has many resources available to help you in this pursuit. Here is one we recommend!
  • Pray together as a couple. We encourage couples to make a prayer list. Keep it simple: your marriage, your family, your Lifegroup. This simple act will bond you in ways you could never expect.
  • Intentionally invest in your marriage. The main point is to relationally invest in one another. Check out our marriage podcast for ideas on how to intentionally invest in your marriage!
  • Live for something greater than yourselves. Find one common mission and run to win together as you pursue that shared goal.

By Jordan Ogden, Lead Pastor at Antioch Ann Arbor