By the time my life here on this earth began, things in my life were already headed in the wrong direction. My father wanted nothing to do with me and left my mother to raise me on her own.
In order to take care of me, she always had to work so I never saw her much anyway. I didn’t know about my father at the time, my mother always told me that it was just me and her and that’s just the way it was. She would have her “friends” watch me while she was at work, and after awhile I began to call them my play uncles and aunts and grandma and grandpas. I was under the impression that they were just really close friends of my mother’s. By the age of 7, I was working on their pot farms every August, which is when we would be on vacation at the lake. It was a month long party with lots of drugs and alcohol.
When I was 13, one of my mom’s friends got a little too drunk and spilled the beans about a family secret—that my “Uncle Rick” was actually my dad. I was devastated. I spent my life wondering why I didn’t have a father, only to find out he had been there all along, posing as my “uncle” who was supposed to be just a good friend of the family. That was a lie! Quickly I realized that it didn’t end there either—this also meant that his mom was really my grandmother, his dad was really my grandpa, and all the way down to his brothers and sisters really being my aunts and uncles. I felt completely betrayed.
I began using drugs and alcohol on a regular basis, quit school and left home. As far as I was concerned, I never wanted to see any of them again. I tried finding my escape in drugs and began using heroin, cocaine, LSD, mushrooms, PCP, marijuana, and alcohol, and sometimes all at the same time. This kind of behavior at the age of 13 was unacceptable and the courts became aware that I was not attending school and had run away from home. I was placed in juvenile detention center. This really bothered me as well because I felt as if I was being punished for what had happened to me on top of having to be the one who had to live through the madness that was my family.
I spent the next four years in and out of juvenile detention centers and the Division of Youth Services. While in juvenile, my life of crime began. My life began to be defined by how tough I was or how many countless and senseless crimes I could commit. It was like I found my identity in this new persona and also found some much-needed acceptance by my peers who all had been through the same types of things as me. All I ever knew was pain and heartache. So I was pretty much locked up from the time I was 13 until I was 17 with a rap sheet a mile long from stealing cars to high-speed chases, assaulting police officers, robbing stores, home invasions, robbing drug dealers, and the list goes on. I even made it a point to rob or physically injure every family member who played a part in lying to me. I was completely out of control at this point and dangerous to anyone and everyone around me.
At the age of 17, D.Y.S. was forced to release me from their program because of my age. I was still consuming massive amounts of drugs, and heroin became the dominant drug in my life. I lost many friends who died at a very young age due to overdoses, and honestly, I was surprised I was still alive myself. Living on the streets of St. Louis I was willing to do whatever it took to stay high and quickly found myself charged with some very serious crimes. Two counts of Robbery in the 1st degree and two counts of Armed Criminal Action in which they offered me 14 years plus 6 years flat for the Armed Criminal Action charges. I was completely devastated because this wasn’t a slap on the wrist anymore like juvenile was. Needless to say, I had a nervous breakdown at 17.
While in jail I began to go to a few church services. No one in my family went to church, and as far as I knew they didn’t believe in God either. But I began to pray, “God if you are real and you really exist, I need you to show me, I need you to prove it to me because otherwise I have no point in living and I can’t go on like this.” And all of a sudden I felt a hand on my shoulder and I jerked around, with what felt like super human strength, expecting to see someone standing there. No one was there. I fell on my back instantaneously and couldn’t move for the next 30 minutes. All I could do was say “Oh my God” over and over as I lay there in tears. And for the first time in my life, I felt a peace that I had never known and I loved it.
I later got my sentence reduced to seven years and they dropped the Armed Criminal Action. I served 85% of my time because of the severity of the crimes and was finally released from custody in 2004.
I had grown in the Lord by leaps and bounds over the years and it was crystal clear to me that God definitely had a call on my life, but I had no idea what.
Not long after ending a very dysfunctional relationship, I met and married Brittany. She was just out of a bad relationship as well. We spent the next decade raising a family, going through many struggles and trials and tribulations. We both were using drugs of all sorts and partying a lot, but knew that we had to change and get our lives right. We eventually both became addicted to pain pills due to some health issues.
One night I began to talk about building a self-sustaining community where we could get out of this broken systematic way of living and get back to living for God and discovering our true purpose in life.
Ever since my encounter with God in that cell, I had a heart after the things of God, but I lacked the ability to live it out. I never knew back then that 11 years from the date I made that statement that I would end up in a place called Heartland — a community built around the church with broken people just like me who love God and want to live for Him.
It was about two weeks after I got here I was walking around when it all dawned on me and I broke down into tears and I knew that for the first time in my life I was finally home. This was that place! God brought me to that exact place that I spoke of so many years before.
Today I am blessed to say that my life has been radically transformed by the power of God and all that He has done through Pastor Charlie and Mrs. Laurie here at Heartland. I have the privilege of having my beautiful wife and three kids here with me, being a part of this amazing church and this absolutely wonderful community. Words can never rightly express the gratitude I have for this place. Brittany and I have been clean and off drugs for two years now and have completely submitted to the will of God for our lives. Brittany and I have been together for almost 14 years.
As the Admissions Director for Heartland Men’s Recovery Center, Dwayne has the opportunity to give a helping hand to men who find themselves in similar situations to his own. He thinks often of Charlie Sharpe as he quotes 1 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
At an early age, I began to rebel against my parents’ authority. First, it was boys, sneaking out at night to hang out with my friends, then drinking, smoking, and things I had no business doing. At a very early age I witnessed my parents drinking, staying up all night and lots of parties, so naturally, I gravitated towards “having a good time.” I thought it was normal.
As I became a teenager my parents became very strict, not even letting me stay the night with my friends. And for good reason. This did not go over well with me; I felt like a prisoner, and remember not being able to wait until I could move out on my own so I could do whatever I wanted. I lived only to please myself. At the age of 17, I wound up pregnant and in a very bad relationship. He was controlling, manipulative, and obsessive. I thought this meant he really must love me, and I felt we had to make it work. My parents knew he was troubled so they never accepted him into the family. My father eventually kicked me out of his house when my daughter was just a few weeks old. I ran right into the arms of a very abusive and unstable teenage boy, and shortly after that, I was introduced to drugs.
I felt like a total and complete disappointment to my entire family. I was ashamed to speak, let alone visit my family. It took me two years to break free from that toxic relationship. Only a matter of months later, I met my husband, Dwayne. I felt rescued in a sense. He treated me with love, respect, and kindness. He accepted my daughter as his own. He protected us. And we both knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. But, we were both broken. I had severe confidence issues and crippling anxiety. It was hard for me to believe anybody could love me. We both began self-medicating, consuming anything that would take the emotional pain away (what we believed at the time was pain created by other people). We felt like victims, but we found refuge in each other.
At the age of 23, I became pregnant, this time with twins. I was instantly able to turn away from drugs. My concern for the health of my unborn children outweighed any self-centered unhealthy desire for myself. I was able to focus on something other than myself. I felt God had given me such a gift. I felt the love that I so eagerly desired. Things went well throughout my pregnancy and after delivery. Both babies were born healthy.
Dwayne and I were both working hard to take care of our growing family. We had a lot of responsibility: three children, a home to maintain, and lots of bills. We decided to move from St. Louis, Missouri to a much smaller town in southern Missouri in an attempt to be closer to my family. Although the relationship I had with my parents was very strained, we had high hopes we could move forward from all the past pains and hurts.
Dwayne found employment at a bar and grill just about right away. This was a terrible idea. He began drinking every day, even on his days off. This put a huge strain on our relationship since I was focused on raising our children and repairing the broken relationship between myself and my parents.
I began experiencing horrible headaches and migraines and was referred to a neurologist. I tried several different treatments but eventually started to self-medicate again. And before I knew it I was once again highly addicted to pain pills. The pills eventually became the center of my daily focus; I had to have them in order to function. This horrible addiction was the beginning of a very powerful downward spiral. We began losing everything—our jobs, our home, even our sanity.
We found ourselves moving from house to house, in and out of jail. We were so miserable with our lives and circumstances we both began crying out to God, praying He would help us break free from the evil trap that we had found ourselves in. We had finally come to the end of ourselves.
I found myself at the age of 29 sitting in county jail, so ashamed of my choices and mistakes in life. So broken and hurt. But I also felt like God was rescuing me. I started reading the Bible and praying every day.
A jail ministry started coming in to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I jumped at the opportunity to rededicate my life to Jesus, consciously making the decision to live my life differently in order to bring glory to Jesus.
In reading the Bible I learned that I had the power to walk after the spirit and not the flesh. I started to recognize the strategies of the devil. I learned the importance of my thoughts. Mark 4:24 says, “be careful what you are hearing. The measure you give [to the truth you hear] will be the measure [of virtue and knowledge] that comes back to you—and more will be given to you who hear.”
God has been giving me a new peace, a peace and love I was seeking in all the wrong places that only Jesus can give. Isaiah 58:8 says, “Then shall your light break forth like the morning, and your healing (your restoration and the power of a new life) shall spring forth speedily; your righteous (your rightness, your justice, and your right relationship with God) shall go before you conducting you to peace and prosperity], and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”
God has done an amazing transformation in my life. He has brought me and my family to an amazing Christian community called Heartland. We are so fortunate to be able to raise our children in this environment where they are free to worship and learn about God on a daily basis.
Now unto God and our Father be glory forever and ever! Philippians 4:20
Brittany feels blessed to be able to work as a front desk receptionist at the Ozark Lodge & Steakhouse. There, she is able to share some of what God has done in her life, how “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” Psalm 40:2