Romans 5:20 in the Message Translation says: “Sin didn’t and doesn’t have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace.” Today I want to talk to you about that grace, and I want to start by telling you some of my story, and I pray that it gives you hope, and shows you there is no pit so deep that Jesus can’t rescue you.

Addiction problems were the backdrop of my life. Dad was an alcoholic, and my earliest memories are of him drunk. Yet, as a little girl, I loved and idolized my daddy right up to the moment he began molesting me when he was intoxicated. By age 12, I had started sniffing inhalants and smoking pot, and by age 16, I had a drinking habit. My parents were divorced by then, and I kept silent about what my father had done. Mom had become a Christian, married a godly man, but I decided to go live with my natural father, and by the time I left his home my problems with drugs, alcohol, and promiscuity were carved in stone.

For years, I bounced from drug to drug, but alcohol was my constant. I bartended, so I had easy access to money, booze, and men. With those men came more drugs. Then one of the men in my life introduced me to Meth, and that nearly destroyed me. I fell in love with Meth quickly, but after I was hooked came the ‘reality’ of my addiction, and I couldn’t go a day without it. When I tried, it felt like a fingernail was scratching on my brain, and before long, meth consumed my life. I managed to maintain a façade of normalcy, but isolated myself from anyone that might get too close, and figure out I wasn’t all I seemed. I was locked in that cycle with meth for 11 years.

Unbeknownst to me, my mother and stepfather had been praying for me. They didn’t know about the drugs, but they knew I wasn’t living right. As a child, my mom had done her best to teach me the gospel, but eventually, I scoffed at the name Jesus, and declared if there was a god, he certainly wasn’t the one Christians believed him to be. Funny thing was it didn’t matter that I no longer believed in Him, because He never stopped believing in me.

Eventually, in an attempt to support my addiction, I offered my dealer $2000 to invest into his drug business. About that time, mom finally handed me completely over to the Lord, and told Him, “Whatever it takes, save my daughter.” Almost immediately, the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency arrested me for Conspiracy to Traffic and Distribute over 500 grams of Methamphetamine. I, a lowly drug addict, was arrested for the same crime the local drug kingpin and my dealer were charged with. The DEA had my dealers’ phone tapped, so when I offered him that $2000 over the phone, I had sealed my fate. As far as the DEA was concerned, I was as guilty as the kingpin was, and I was facing 10 years in prison.

As I was fingerprinted, put in a jumpsuit, and thrown in jail, I knew I was in trouble. At my first hearing, they denied my bond, and rumor had it Federal cases never got out on bond, they just sat in jail and waited to go to prison. To say I was scared is such an understatement it’s laughable, plus, I was going through withdrawals, so things were as bad as they could get. Then some of my fellow inmates told me about Jesus, and by my second night in jail, I was broken and desperate enough to turn my life over to him. I got on the floor in my cell, called out to Jesus, and begged Him to forgive and help me. Afterward, I didn’t feel different, except I suddenly stopped craving drugs.

Then I called my mom and told her everything. She and my stepfather stunned me with their forgiveness and understanding, and they called friends to pray. Two days later, I was released on bond, which was a miracle in itself, but I was still facing 10 years in prison. However, the prosecutor agreed to let me relocate to await sentencing, so my stepfather (who I now know is the true earthly daddy my Heavenly Father always intended for me) moved me to Illinois to live with the Christian family I had spent a lifetime avoiding. I started attending church, and the Lord was working with me, so by the time I got sentenced to prison, He had his hooks in me deep.

Nevertheless, I was devastated when the Judge sentenced me to 1 year in prison. I thought the Lord failed me, or wasn’t even there. Worse of all, though, was the fear. I was afraid of going to prison, and afraid that my new relationship with Jesus couldn’t withstand it.

I had one month to turn myself in, and during that month, people kept quoting Romans 8:28 to me, “All things work out for the good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose.” I would get mad and say “blah, blah,” in reply. After all, at that point I was too mad at God to feel I qualified, and besides, I was going to prison. I didn’t believe there was any way that could work out for my good. At the end of that month, I self surrendered at Atwood, in Lexington KY, the worst of the Federal camps for women, but I did not go in alone.

Isaiah 43:1-3 says, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze, for I am the Lord, your God, your Savior.”

I did not go alone, because He was with me, every step of the way. He held me up during the day, and covered me at night. I learned that he truly is Emmanuel, God with us, and after my release, I realized that going there had changed me in ways that I don’t think the Lord could have accomplished otherwise. Not because prison rehabilitation works, but because that is where I learned that you’ll never know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got. I’d lost everything I thought mattered, including my bodily freedom, but I gained the greatest treasure of all, freedom in Christ.

However, if my story ended there it would have been good, but I’d be just another ex-con, trying to make it in a world that despises Meth felons. Yet, the Bible says, “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans to prosper you, to give you a future and a hope.” That seemed dubious for a while, though, because the first job I got after my release was cleaning hotel rooms, which was backbreaking, nasty work for little pay and less appreciation. I spent a year doing that. I call that my wilderness period, because that is where I began to learn the most important lesson of all; we must walk by faith, and not by feelings.

One day at the hotel, I met a guest who told me about a Christian counseling agency in Marion called Caring Counseling Ministries that did Biblically based counseling, and I suddenly knew I wanted to be a counselor there. However, to make that dream a reality I would have to get my Master’s Degree as a counselor, and I didn’t even know if I could get admitted to graduate school with my criminal record.

Not only did I get admitted, but from the start of my Master’s program, I was required to do an internship, and I headed straight to that agency to apply, knowing it would take a miracle for the director, Kent Mattox, to hire me with my past. I told him I had been a Meth addict, and had been in prison, and not only did I get my miracle, but he didn’t hire me despite my past, he hired me because of it.

Upon my graduation, he kept me as a full time counselor, so I ended up with my dream job. A couple of years after that, and with a full disclosure of my felony, the State of Illinois granted me professional licensure, which is the cherry on top of the ice cream in my field. Actually, my favorite part of the professional license is that now lawyers and judges listen to my advice! God truly has a sense of humor. Then, this past year Kent decided to work a little less, and handed the Agency Director position over to me. And on a personal note, last year was also the year that, after a lifetime of waiting, I met and married the man God has chosen for me. Clearly, 2014 rocked!

And here we are at 2015, which is pretty special too. Last month I celebrated 10 years of sobriety, so I am now 10 years old in Christ, and I have not experienced a drug craving since I reached out to him that night in my cell. I am amazed by this, because no one knows better than I do who I was, and the things that I have done. I marvel at the miracle He has made out of my life. I would be lying if I did not tell you that to this day I still feel some survivor guilt over this, and I ask Him on a regular basis, “Why me?”

What I mean by this is, why would he take a burned-out, sin-encrusted, wrecking-ball of a human being like myself, and then shower me with so much mercy and grace that my life had to change under the magnitude of His love?  Ah, but then I look at the gospels and I see my story written across the pages of history. From the woman caught in adultery to the woman at the well, these women tell my story. Shattered lives looking for things to fill the emptiness in their soul, only to find themselves in a deeper pit. Then they met a man who looked past the sin to the wounded soul inside, and he rescued them. Grace is Jesus Christ, and Grace is absolutely scandalous. When you are the one that He has been that merciful to, it’s a really strange feeling, like being the survivor of a plane crash.

I think the Apostle Paul wrestled with this himself, because he talked about it in First Timothy. He called himself the chief of sinners, and said the reason Christ had saved Him, the chief of sinners, was to show off God’s unlimited grace and mercy. Here is how I interpret that and apply it to my life…I was just the kind of jacked up mess He was looking for, because when people hear about my life they know it had to be the power of God.

What kind of God is this that seeks us out and then ravages us with His love and heals us from all our secret hurts? His love has brought me to a place of forgiveness for my father and all others who used me. It has even brought me to a place where I have forgiven myself for all the people I used and destroyed, because if He loved me enough to pay the price for sin with His own flesh, who am I to hold anything against myself or anyone else? I think St. Augustine said it best when he wrote, ‘In loving me you made me lovable.’

And while this thing we call life is all about Him and His goodness, He is all about us. Consumed with us. And not because He is mad and counting our sins against us, that was dealt with on the cross. Indeed, it says in the bible that what He is really counting are the numbers of hairs on our head, because we are that precious to Him. So precious to Him that dying was preferable to life without us, and then His love was so strong that death could not hold Him. His love is the only thing we can truly count on in this life and the next.

All of this is what has formed my core beliefs as a Christian, as a therapist, and as director of Caring Counseling Ministries. Since I was what society would have deemed a ‘hopeless case,’ I no longer believe in hopeless cases. I have told Kent countless times that I would have fit numerous mental health diagnoses before coming to Christ. That is because inside of me was a hurting little girl that needed the love of her Daddy to fix her. Not an earthly daddy, but the Daddy of Jesus, my Abba Daddy. And through that love I am starting to understand who I am in Christ, and that is a game changer.

Those are the two things that I want everyone who comes through the door at Caring Counseling Ministries to know. First, regardless if we are in a state of grace or disgrace, we are radically loved by a God who is tender and merciful, and it is His love that changes us. Second, because of His spirit inside us, we are incredibly special and touched by majesty. We are clothed in the divine, so next time you are feeling worthless and unloved, look in a mirror, deep into your own eyes, and say, “hey Jesus, I see you in there, and you are looking good!”

Brennan Manning, author of the Ragamuffin Gospel, said that “We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that He should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at His love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” Our mission at Caring Counseling is to help you experience that astonishment, because we believe that kind of love and awe will change your life.