The first time I met my future sister-in-law I knew she was a force to be reckoned with. After all, there are very few eleven-year-olds who are confident enough to call it like they see it, and Jennifer was definitely not shy about sharing her opinion on anything.
On the outside, Jennifer’s life looked like any ordinary teen. She was from a middle class family with two parents who worked hard to provide a good life for her. She lived in a beautiful home, attended great schools, and was active in competitive cheerleading. Never in a million years would I have dreamt this young, beautiful, intelligent, opinionated and full-of-life girl would soon be on a dark path to addiction. A path that all of us, as family, were ill-equipped to handle.
Could God save Jennifer from this dark place? Could He heal the damage that had been done and redeem her story before it was too late?
It wasn’t until my now husband, Chris, and I had been dating for a few years that I noticed changes in Jennifer’s attitude. She was moody and hard to please. I thought Jennifer was going through a typical teenage phase where your parents know nothing, your friends know everything, and you believe you are fully qualified to be an adult at the age of sixteen. To top it off, her big brother, whom she had grown up with and idolized, was suddenly out on his own; she felt left behind. It all seemed like typical teenage behavior, right? Little did we know, Jennifer had been drinking with friends since the age of twelve and smoking marijuana.
Over the next few years, we watched her behavior go from bad to worse. Jennifer dropped out of college, had trouble keeping a job, and was living at home. Her behavior was erratic and unpredictable. We never knew what to expect. One minute she seemed elated; the next minute she flew off the handle, flinging abusive language toward anyone in the room. Every family gathering became a battle to the point where my husband and I dreaded visiting. We walked on egg shells, trying not to set her off. It was at that point we knew something was seriously wrong, but we had no idea how severe the problem was.
Of course we began to suspect drug addiction, but she denied it every time she was confronted. While she was good at covering her tracks, she was now so deep into drugs she began to slip up. By the time we realized what was going on, Jennifer already had a full-blown dependency on heroine.
Married and living seven hours away, we didn’t fully comprehend what she or my in-laws were going through. It didn’t sink in for us until we traveled home for Christmas one year. I will never forget the morning we got up to open presents.
Jennifer, normally the first one up and beaming with excitement, was still in bed. Hours passed as an uncomfortable vibe settled in among us. As much as we all wanted to believe this Christmas would be like the happy ones of the past, we realized her dependency on drugs wasn’t going to take a holiday. When she finally made her appearance, it was clear Jennifer had used moments before coming upstairs to join the family.
My heart broke. As we passed out presents, she could barely keep her red glassy eyes open. Jennifer almost noded off between opening presents, and my mother-in-law’s eyes filled with tears. No one knew what to do or say. Of course, my heart broke for Jennifer, but now for my in-laws and husband, too. We could no longer bear to watch her struggle, yet we were at a loss about what to do. Something had to give before it was too late.
The danger of losing her to drugs was too close, but where do you begin? How do you help someone who isn’t willing to admit she has a problem? Is it too late? Can she be set free from this?
In Our Time, or His
The more we tried to pursue and help her, the more she pushed away and the uglier her attitude became. We prayed and prayed for her, yet nothing seemed to happen. We kept waiting for God to step in, but it just seemed to get worse. The addiction had completely consumed her leaving no room for her to find joy in anything else.
A year passed and before we knew it, our hearts began to harden toward her. We were now angry, bitter and resentful of her and the entire situation. Why wouldn’t God save her from this? We felt as if God left us hanging, and we quit praying about it. The fact that He didn’t answer in our time made us doubt He wouldn’t answer at all. We were angry—angry because we were scared of losing her and scared of not being able to control the situation.
We were making the mistake of forgetting the power of God and the power of prayer.
A Holiday in Jail
Just when we felt hope was almost completely lost, God began to show up mightily. We received a call—Jennifer would be spending some time in jail. It was her first real wake-up call, as she spent both Thanksgiving and Christmas in jail. While they were incredibly difficult holidays without her, at least we knew she was safe. She was in a cold, sad place, but she was not around drugs. Plus, Jennifer was under constant supervision.
For the first time in years, our frantic minds eased. Jail was our first answer to prayer. Jennifer needed consequences for her actions. She needed someone to hold her accountable so she could be sober long enough to realize what she was doing to herself. That was enough to light our prayer fire again.
We asked God to forgive us for thinking He would ever leave us or Jennifer. We begged Him to give her court-ordered rehab, and God delivered again. The court ordered her to rehab from January through April. We continued to pray that God would pursue and surround her with support, and God delivered yet again. He provided a halfway house that is currently helping her get back on track with her life. The wonderful people there have helped her find a job, learn to budget her money, taught her about her addiction, and have shown her how to be independent. God has essentially used them as angels on Earth to give her a fresh start.
For the first time in a very long time, we have been able to see and spend time with the real Jennifer—and not the addiction.
The Beautiful Truth
Satan would have loved nothing more than to hold Jennifer prisoner in that dark place. He tricked her into believing she found fulfillment, satisfaction and even freedom in her sin management. He used her sin to convince Jennifer she was unworthy, unacceptable, unloved and beyond redemption. He caused us to question God and feel hopeless in our circumstances. Despite Satan’s best efforts to separate us from God, God reminded us of what we already knew—the beautiful truth that God has already provided a way out of the darkness.
God provided a Savior—His Son, Jesus Christ—to pay our debt, so we no longer have to be held prisoner by our sin. I am thankful for the grace of God and the sacrifice He made for us. We never have to be separated from Him again. I am thankful for God’s faithfulness in pursuing His children. Even when we had our moments of doubt, He never left Jennifer’s side or ours. He heard our prayers, patiently pursued Jennifer, and answered above and beyond all that we had asked.
When I reflect over our family’s trials, it’s amazing to see that what sin built over many years, God tore down and started to redeem in a matter of months. While we know future struggles are inevitable, we are thankful for the fresh start God provided for Jennifer. Also, we pray we will all seek God’s guidance as we walk through them together.
I am thankful for Jennifer’s bravery in sharing her story. I hope her story is a source of encouragement to those of you who feel worn by your circumstances. If your heart is aching and your burden of sin seems too heavy to bear, I pray you will find great hope in the same beautiful truth of Luke 2:10-11: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
How amazing is God’s love for us that He sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin? If you have not surrendered your burden to God, I pray you will take it to Him. Trust Him and let Him show you He is bigger than your circumstance. Take heart in knowing you don’t have to keep fighting this sin battle; Christ has already fought for you and won. Know that you no longer have to be a prisoner of your past, but, in Christ, you can been set free.