Grace- “the free and unmerited favor of God, as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings”.
Sometimes we are visually compared to as onions, we have an outer layer then many, many layers underneath. My outer layer you may see a plain, middle-aged woman that smiles at strangers in passing because they look like they need it. But pull back the outside and you would see layer upon layer of God’s grace. We each have our stories, the good, the bad and the just plain ugly.
I thought I had used up my story, packed it away in my little brain box neat and tidy, and filed it as “used” after sharing in Rwanda in 2009. But the Spirit has been tugging at my heart saying, “Share”. When I approach the month of May, the desire is stronger to pull out my testimony, dust off the cobwebs and “share”. May is important to me in a few ways, we celebrate “May justice reign” (which I love), it will be my 25th wedding anniversary and the 25th anniversary of a big portion of my journey. As I have contemplated sharing, God has asked that I view it from a different angle.
-We may think our testimony is cut and dry but if we look closer there are multiple layers to it, just like our friend the onion.
The punchline to my story goes like this- I am an alcoholic. I have been since I was 14, as well as a drug abuser. I was a woman who sought love and justification in all the wrong places. I have been mentally, physically and spiritually abused. I am a sinner saved by grace. I threw down the fleece and told God if He wanted me He would need to remove my constant desire of fulfillment through outside sources. Amazingly, He did. In that moment He took it all away, in a way that no other source has ever been able to.
“So, what is different about telling my story this time?” I pondered. I have taken my time asking Him what He really wants; how it is not about me but all about Him. What follows is the whisper I felt I heard.
When I was young, my family did not go to church or speak of God.
Enter Godsend #1: our neighbor. Precious, as her husband called her, known to us kids as Mrs. Hantke. She made a point of inviting and taking us to church. I went with them every Sunday until I became a rebellious teen, thinking the church a bunch of judgmental hypocrites and moving on into my addictions. But when I look back now, I know through her actions, teachings and her willingness to take me every Sunday even when I began to drag my feet, I learned the love of Christ. I accepted Him as my Savior when I was 8 and through her I saw a model of what it looks like to have a gentle spirit. During this time before my rebellion, He was starting the ground work. He knew what my story would be and what I would need to come back to Him out of the fire, refined. I am forever thankful for Precious, and to God for bringing her into my life.
As my rebellion grew, and my self-hatred increased, He was always there. I know because when I thought the worst of myself, wished not to live, prayed to be dead I clearly heard, “I am here, and I will provide”. A song would come to mind, a verse, a small whisper of what I knew of God, there to save me from myself. I quit going to church before Jr. High, which when I think about it is one of the hardest points in your life: new school, trying to fit in, awkward age, so many temptations laid before an undeveloped mind. So, I started drinking when I was 14, drugs when I was 16 as well as having unhealthy relationships with men older than myself. But some how through the fog, I always knew He was with me, “I am here, and I will provide”.
Into the workforce right out of High School, at a regional Insurance agency. My whole life as far as I was concerned was a party, at least it seemed like it, but my soul was crying out for something more. Enter Sue, Godsend #2. Sue was the quietest person I had ever met with a ready smile and NOT the type of person I would ever be attracted to as a friend, but I was drawn to her. Sue carried her Bible where ever she went, reading it every break and lunch period. She was patient with my annoying challenging questions about “her God”, taking time to invest in me. She wanted nothing more than to serve God and to be a missionary in Ireland. She showed me love not judgement, a peace filled solitude in my stormy seas. I am grateful for Sue, and God’s perfect timing.
Fast forward, I married and moved away from home-far away-to Alaska. My drug use had stopped, but I was deep into alcohol as my buffer of choice, never really discovering who I was outside of it. While there were good things that came from this chapter of my life, much was a cloying darkness. I was lonely, in a marriage that was unstable, I had a young child and I wanted to go home. I cannot even begin to express how much I drank or the empty sadness of my soul at this time. I bounced from job to job, basically a single parent with little hope. I cried alone in the darkness, hated myself more than ever, and the ever-increasing baggage I had accumulated inside. Yet, He was there, a song, a symbol, a feeling, “carry on”, He said, “I am here, and I will provide”.
Then came Jackie and Felica, Godsend #3 & 4. They worked at one of the last jobs I held in Alaska and yes, they were Christians with an incredible love of Jesus. They jumped right in, loved me as I was, provided friendship when I thought I was nothing like them, thinking, “How could they like me?” They had an undeniable overwhelming happiness about them that was contagious. They were always available to listen, tell me I had value and provide Godly advice, whether I was open to it or not. I was blessed by their friendship and God’s gift of hope.
Jump now to May 1993 where I threw down the fleece and challenged God (it’s scary, challenging God). I prayed, “If you want me, take all of this from me, this burning desire to hide everything in my addiction, my past hurts, my sins, my hatred, save me from me and I will be yours.”
I was given my own personal miracle, after years of trying counseling, groups, thinking I could stop on my own, wishing I had never existed, poof it was gone. I belong to a God who in a moment can erase a dreaded desire which consumed me daily for years, which still incredible and mysterious to me today.
God has placed so many women in my life since then that have helped me grow in Him and walk the narrow path. Women that did not judge, prayed for me, were there through hard times. (Yes, the desire was gone. I was saved, but life was not all roses). I wish that I was able to tell each and everyone of them what they have meant to me, how important they were in my journey, how they were my breath when I had none, my lifeline. Precious has passed away as well as many of the women that have served the Lord for me since. Sue, I know in my heart, went on to be a missionary. Jackie and Felicia, I am sure, are serving other women where ever they are.
We never know when we are called to walk alongside another if we are the life line. The investment we are making, we may not see them change, but what we should know is that when He calls us to duty for each other, His timing is perfect, and He has a purpose.
I am ever so thankful, grateful, and blessed that these women said yes to God when He called them. He is, and He will provide.
Blessings, Coleen Smith
I am child of God, a wife, a mother, daughter, sister, a grandmother of 4, and a shepherdess. Fully blessed beyond anything I could imagine by God. We live on 14 acres, in Gervais where we raise sheep, I love spinning wool into yarn, knitting, selling our wool and marketing our sheep. I work outside the farm full time at a very large organic farm where I do safety and administration work. My husband and I have been calling Grace Chapel home for 10 years. ~Coleen Smith