God does not intend for Christians to simply forget their troublesome pasts. Instead, He wants the opportunity to redeem them. In a believer’s life, even the deepest pain, heartache and regret can be woven together for a good and God-glorifying purpose. Romans 8:28 shares this vibrant truth: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” In theory, it’s easy to hope that our screw-ups haven’t exhausted the grace of Jesus, but in reality, sometimes it’s hard to imagine God using our mess.

Ray and Betty Hutchison are two people whom God is using because of their past. Before they met Jesus, their lives were overflowing with pain from dysfunctional homes and sinful addictions. When they initially gave their lives to Christ, neither one ever imagined sharing their shameful past. They were content just to be Christians and walk in the new life they had been given. God, however, had a much grander plan for their lives, a plan to use their mess as a platform for His message.

Today, Ray and Betty are the founders and leaders of a branch of Celebrate Recovery at The Rock Family Worship Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered recovery group that supports, leads and ministers to hundreds of individuals every year. The Hutchisons have embraced a life of transparency and vulnerability because they want others to know that there is no such thing as the point of no return with God.

Dysfunctional Lives

Ray grew up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic and extremely violent home. “I grew up watching my mom and dad send each other to the hospital from fighting,” he remembers. At age 10, his uncle molested him. To escape the pain of his broken home, Ray began using drugs when he was 12. By the time he was 14, he was a full-blown heroin addict. At 17, in an effort to save his life, his mother forced him to join the Army. But even there he was able to conceal his drug use and became what is called a “functional addict.” Ray juggled a growing army career and party lifestyle for over 20 years.

Betty lived in a much more stable home as a child, but a few months after her high school graduation, she became pregnant out of wedlock. In an effort to help fix the situation, her older sister made her have an abortion. When she got pregnant the following year, her mom forced the same decision upon her. Insecure and filled with shame, she found herself in one harmful relationship after another. The drugs and violence in her relationships became so unbearable that she eventually fled to California. There, at age 25, she met Ray — a tall and charming man in uniform.

Rough Start

Ray and Betty were married and began a life that quickly became very turbulent. Ray was heavily addicted to cocaine, and Betty had no idea what she had married into. When she learned the extent of his addiction, she felt trapped and helpless. To say their first few years of marriage were chaotic and painful would be a gross understatement.

Fast forward several years.

Their daughter Amanda was eight years old when she was invited to attend an AWANA program at a local church. Then she started going to the Sunday services. She enjoyed church so much that she repeatedly invited her parents to attend, and eventually, reluctantly, they did. God drew their hearts to Him, and all three were saved and later baptized together on the same day.

In what can only be described as a modern-day miracle, after over 28 years of habitual drug use, Ray met Jesus and never looked back. He literally never touched heroin or cocaine again after that day.

Growing Strong

In 1999, the Hutchisons began to grow tremendously as believers. Their growth was a direct by-product of being surrounded by people who discipled them as well as maintaining personal discipline in their own lives and spending daily quiet time with the Lord. During the next 12 years, God equipped and prepared them for ministry. Still, very few knew of the darkness which existed in their testimony. It just wasn’t something they told others.

So what changed? One Sunday afternoon, Ray was reflecting on the sermon he had heard that morning and how he could apply it to his life. He realized that the most powerful and practical parts of the sermon were the parts in which the pastor shared his own personal struggles. “That’s when it clicked,” Ray said. “I suddenly became okay with sharing my past with others. I realized that my struggles, and how God had delivered me from those struggles, could be used to show others that there is hope when we surrender to Christ.”

And when it clicked, there was no shutoff in sight. Within a year from hearing the call from God, Ray and Betty prayerfully formed a team of over 45 volunteers who had a passion to help others find freedom in Jesus. Since then, every Friday night at Celebrate Recovery Ray introduces himself to a room filled with people recovering from life’s hurts, habits and hang-ups as one who has struggled with drugs and alcohol for most of his life. Betty also shares openly about her struggle with shame and fear.

Typical Celebrate Recovery Meeting

Celebrate Recovery meets every Friday night at 5:30 at The Rock Family Worship Center Huntsville campus. Meetings begin with food and fellowship, followed by worship, small groups and end with coffee and dessert. The dinner is free, the worship band is incredible and God’s unconditional love is radiantly displayed by more than 25 leaders who faithfully serve all who walk through the door.

“It’s simply the best place to be on a Friday night in Huntsville,” Ray says.

Because at its core Celebrate Recovery is a recovery program, many people assume the ministry is mainly for those dealing with drug and alcohol abuse. However, the meetings are open to anyone who needs support to recover from past problems. Only about a third of attendees deal with substance issues. Celebrate Recovery has several different issue- specific small groups as well as an all-inclusive “A to Z” group.

Living Testimony

One of the frequent components of the Friday meetings are the phenomenal testimonies. Participants share how God has redeemed, healed and delivered them from the struggles that once held them hostage. One of the memorable stories was shared by a young woman who had a severe methamphetamine addiction. She had just gotten out of jail before she came to Celebrate Recovery. This young lady has now been clean for over a year. She has been miraculously healed of hepatitis C and has a good job with benefits. Just like Ray and Betty, her life has done an astonishing 180 degree turn all because she surrendered to the Lord.

Ray had just completed seminary before starting Celebrate Recovery and is now back in seminary working on his doctorate in pastoral counseling. Betty provides one-on-one counseling to young wives who are struggling with marriage to addicted husbands. The Hutchisons are amazed at how God continues to redeem lives by using the past they were once so ashamed of to help others.

They have chosen to live their lives forever abandoned to Jesus, to daily spend their time into showing the love and power of Christ to the desperate, hurting and hopeless. Their lives, and the ministry of Celebrate Recovery, broadcast a message of hope to everyone they come in contact with: you can do all things and overcome anything with God.