In this episode Deb, a current staff member at Light of Life, shares her journey that brought her to Light of Life as a client, that led to an internship here at the mission, then an employee. Deb's story exhibits courage, mercy, trust, suffering, trials and how God can truly work all things together for good, even if our life does not go as we planned it. Deb uses her life story now to impact women, children and families on a daily basis here in our programs as the Family Development Coordinator. We are so thankful for Deb and her story, and hope that you feel encouraged by her words.
Kate Wadsworth:0:01Hi, I'm Kate Wadsworth. Welcome to Light of Life Rescue Mission's Podcast: Hope Unveiled, where you hear stories of hope and change from clients, staff, and volunteers today. You'll hear from Debra first came to Light of L ife as a client, then became a volunteer and now is on staff as our family development coordinator and the women and children's program.
Debra:0:24Hi Kate. How are you today?
Kate Wadsworth:0:26Good, how are you?
Debra:0:27I'm doing all right. Thank you.
Kate Wadsworth:0:28Thank you so much for being here
Debra:0:29And I'm glad to be here to share stories and hope.
Kate Wadsworth:0:32Yes. Well you have a great story of hope and God has been really good to you and I can't wait for everyone to learn more about you. Um, and we were talking beforehand about how this is a podcast that captures stories of hope for from clients, staff, and volunteers. And you have experienced all three roles.
Debra:0:51Yes, I have. I have experience from being a client to being a volunteer to become an intern to part time employment to full time employment. It's, or full time employees, but it's been a long. Yeah, great journey.
Kate Wadsworth:1:04Excellent. And so why don't we start at the beginning, could you give us some of the background leading up to what brought you to Light of Life as a client?
Debra:1:11Sure. I don't want to go back to the day I was born, but to sum it all my life was one of um. Um, I grew up with a lot of seeing, just seeing stuff that a kid shouldn't see your experience with. A lot of codependency, a lot of codependency issues. Not Feeling like I'm worth anything or having a decent relationship and so on and so forth. Um, I really wasn't into the drug scene, but like, you know, most kids do, a lot of kids do you experiment and yeah, I got married early, got had a child, you know, just things he relapsed and things kind of fell apart and yeah, one night and it went out drinking and driving and uh, you know, unfortunately, you know, causing an accident. I spent three years in prison from that, you know, God just showed me a lot about myself as kind of like a time out for me just to like regroup my life. And because I didn't like the way it was headed, I didn't like what was going on in my life and the people that was in it. Um, so yeah, I learned a lot about God than like not just, I mean I knew Jesus as Savior when I was 12, but I really only understood him as Lord when I went to prison. Like no one really ever explained, Lord. People just kinda like, like when I accepted Jesus, I remember people looking at me like, okay, you accepted Jesus and you're here crying, we don't know what to do with you. So kind of just feel like, you know, at that point that I still had a handle things on my own that God really wasn't there for the big picture. Like, yeah, okay, I'm saved. But I still had a handle life on my own. Not really realizing that he was there for me.
Kate Wadsworth:2:42What happened in prison to change your thinking?
Debra:2:45Well, Salvation Army would come in, it was Christmas Eve and they asked, okay, we're not going to do like, people might accept Jesus in your life. We want to do like have you accepted him, but how many of you really made him Lord of your life and that just really stuck with me. Yeah, like realizing that, okay, no, because I always thought I still had a handle things on my own money just being where I was and the mess that I've made and you know, just, you know, just life turning out the way it does and realizing that no, I didn't. So that point on I really began to study and learn about what it meant to have Jesus God in my life and lead my life. Not just be, okay, I'm not going to hell. I'm going to heaven, but there's more to.
Kate Wadsworth:3:26That's a huge shift.
Debra:3:27It is a huge shift, a huge. It's a huge way of thinking. You know? I think sometimes I had to remind myself, okay, God's there for me despite decisions I've made or the sin that I commit or will commit that I don't have to be like that at a job. You made your bed lie in it sort of thing. I don't have to be, I don't want to beat myself up for that. Like, okay, I made a mistake. I want to guess what you, I know you probably tell me to do or repent helped me lead me, guide me to the rock to a better path to what you want me to do, to be the person you created me to create to help those coming behind me or with me or whatever the case may be.
Kate Wadsworth:4:01And how old were you at this point?
Debra:4:02Uh, I was 24.
Kate Wadsworth:4:05And when is that when you got out of jail?
Debra:4:08No, 24, that was, I was 28.
Debra:4:10And then from there moved to, that's when I moved to Pittsburgh and it was already in a um, another bad relationship because that's what codependants do. Go from one to another to another and I knew he was using but I really didn't have anywhere else to go and I didn't know anybody in Pittsburgh, but I knew I couldn't go back to my old hometown either. Kind of wanted a fresh start. Well, it didn't, it was kind of picked up unfortunately where I left off with him and in the process and then I started going to carlow college for art therapy, but in the meantime had two kids back to back, but I still made it through school and he finally went into a program and you know, for the next 20 some years he was, wasn't, he was a dry drunk, there was no behavior change, wasn't drinking, wasn't using, but there's no behavior change and you know, and he accepted Christ and all that great stuff. But when you're not working on yourself, when you're just not using, it's just not still not good. It's still not good. So I was a stay at home homeschooling mom even after I finished school and then, I don't know, somewhere down the road he just decided he was, for whatever reason, I don't know and I don't try to figure it out, he relapsed and I just, I don't know, to this day, I don't know why I ended up using with him. I think it's just because I couldn't, I just couldn't go through it again. And not that using help the situation, but it numbed me to what was going on. And so for like a year and a half I was using crack cocaine with him and my life just really. I just, it just sucks. I'm sorry, but it sucks.
Kate Wadsworth:5:48Yeah. And this was after over 20 years,
Debra:5:51after 20 years of marriage and, you know, go on the church and having a ministry, it just, you just never know who it's going to happen to. It can happen to the best of people. Anybody you know, used, you know, you don't set up set out saying, okay, I'm going to be a drug addict.
Debra:6:06You know, you just set out saying, okay, I just don't, I'm sick of the pain. And before you know it, you're an addict.
Debra:6:14You know. And um, that's what happens.
Kate Wadsworth:6:17Yeah. So what, what caused you to want to make a change?
Debra:6:23Um, well God in his infinite wisdom knew I needed, I needed pushed to it, you know? So there was a lot of times where me and my four kids, we get kicked out at 2:00 the morning, 4:00 in the morning, no where to go, so I had to go back or I would call a shelter or some or they were full in or you call a program or you have to be an addict. Well that was before I started using. You know, I did try to leave before just like you, And I remember saying what I have to do, become an addict so I can get help, you know, because when you know it's relationships, you're isolated and you don't really have anybody. And I didn't want to call my family because it's shame and guilt, you know? So finally at the tail end when I was using, I would go to my friend's house and always go back, you know, because my kids will say, okay mom, he said he was sorry. And he really knew my older ones knew what it was like to have the family. Like he was really a pretty good dad but controlling. But anyway, so we had to go back thinking, okay, things will be different and they weren't and I wasn't in, um. Finally he kicked us out and my friend said, look, I'll let you back in. But if you go back to him, this is the last time your kids can stay, but you can't come back again if you don't make that solid choice. So that's what it did. I sort of took some tough love, some tough love, a lot of tough love. And it was hard, you know, I had to treat him like a drug. It wasn't good for me. It was a toxic relationship I didn't want to be using anymore. You know, you always have in your mind, okay, I'm, no, no, no. But as soon as it's offered, you know, the whatever goes on in your brain kicks in and says, okay. So yeah, a lot of tough love. And just once it was out then I could see. And then the years of handling the shame and guilt behind it all. So anyway, I end up calling Light of Life and um, got into the program because I knew I couldn't stay with her forever. She had four kids, I have four kids, saw a lot of kids in a small house
Kate Wadsworth:8:25And I just wanted to point out, I mean, what a courageous choice you made. I mean 24 years of marriage
Debra:8:31That's like a whole grieving process there, you know, because you think, okay, if I were good enough and it wasn't even about that at all. But that's how it felt.
Kate Wadsworth:8:40Yeah. Yeah. And it's so hard to make those changes and you have so much strength
Debra:8:46No, God, you know, people, you know, people in your life telling you and you just have to embrace it for yourself eventually. Either have to embrace it for yourself or just keep living the life you've been living there. That's the only choices there are. Embrace what God has for you and the change he wants to make in you. And knowing that you are who he says you are or keep living the life you're living.
Kate Wadsworth:9:08Yeah. So you decided to make a change
Debra:9:11I decided to make a change that came to Light of Life was best, best decision I've ever made in my entire life.
Kate Wadsworth:9:18So what was that like? What was the process of getting in and what was the first experiences that you've had? Like as a client?
Debra:9:24My first intake, uh, my first experience of life was Michelle, can't be crying like, well she didn't have me crying, but she goes, what are you crying for? I'm like of the shame and guilt, you know, you know where you come from, like a stay at home, home schooling mom in the church to this, you know, that's a lot of mind games that the enemy can use on you. Like, well, who's going to really believe that you, God's going gonna Change you now if you already were claiming that, you know what it was in love, you know, it wasn't her, it was me. But coming here and just learning about learning what forgiveness really is for myself,
Kate Wadsworth:9:59I'm sure that was a process.
Debra:10:00Yeah. And I can't believe I'm still crying over it after all these years. Wow. But, um, because it's a daily reminder of like how much God loves me despite myself. Yeah. Despite choices that I have made, you know, sometimes you talk, now that I'm a staff member, you're talking to the women and then you know, and their choices they made with their kids. You know, I do share a little bit. No, look, I've been there. This is, you know, it's only by the grace of God that, or it's only by the grace of God, you know, my kids weren't taken into the system or losing them or me dying or whatever the case may be. So, but, uh, you know, look at me and look at Michelle, look at whoever, you know, all the other stuff and Sherry that we're here as a hope, like we'd God's beacon of hope that we've been there. You know, everybody's story's different, but it's all similar. It all comes down like knowing how much God loves you and cares about you, cares about your kids. And um, he forgives you. Yeah. And having that hope because I think that's after all these years, I'm thinking, why did I pick up and use with them like out of the blue? I said, let me get high with you is because I didn't have no hope left. Then it's important to be have hope because if you don't have any hope, there was nothing to look forward to.
Kate Wadsworth:11:15Yeah. Yeah. And I think that you bring such a valuable experience by sharing your own life story with the women that come into Light of Life because they, they can feel, I think less shame knowing that you understand been there and what a gift you can give to them by sharing your own story in your own life and the hope that you now carry you could pass onto them. Right?
Debra:11:40And that's what it's about passing on that love that God has and his hope. And again, like it's your choice. You either can learn to embrace it. No one is good or keep living the way you're living and wonder why aren't getting any better.
Kate Wadsworth:11:55So what was the whole experience of being client like? Like what, what are some of the things that you felt were the most meaningful for you when you were in the program?
Debra:12:03The retreats are spiritual retreats were amazing, you know, and every year Sherry would have scripture that God would give her and maybe just choose a scripture and knowing that what you've got is what you needed and has spent over the years has been crazy. It's like it because of course was like my first one was from Joel about not being afraid of not having fear and no cause he knows I was, fear was like dictated my life and now it's up to like, all right, get it together girl basically went from coddling to that little girl to like, okay, your your moment now let's go. Let's get this together. So the retreats are always special. This like three treats and it's just the time away from the world, away from everything. It's you and God and a room full of women who love you and care about you.
Kate Wadsworth:12:50So you guys actually physically go away?
Debra:12:52We go away every year in February for our spiritual retreat and it's grown. We were a room of like 25, now we're up to 60 because we now we have alumni go with us and not that they don't get anything out of it. They're also there to be an example for the current clients.
Kate Wadsworth:13:08And is it how many nights?
Debra:13:09We go on a Friday, we come home on a Monday. We used to, used to be Sunday nights, but after the healing services, like there's too much to try to pack up and go home. So now we pack up on the Monday morning, come back Monday morning.
Kate Wadsworth:13:22I've heard so many wonderful stories from those retreats. Surprise to hear that that was such a highlight for you. You'd probably then and now. And so what year did you come into the program?
Debra:13:37Two thousand 10.
Debra:13:42Two thousand 10. It feels like a lifetime ago, but it's really not.
Kate Wadsworth:13:46And you had your kids with you?
Debra:13:47Uh, my kids with me, I had my two teenagers and my younger two are six and six and eight at the time. Six and nine.
Kate Wadsworth:13:56And when you came in, you got an apartment and let, if I've helped paid for it, and then you'd come for the
Debra:14:02I'd come for the groups, you know, the program times. It's still the same, you know, the summer program, the kids were every day with great programming for the kids during the school year. They would come on a Tuesday night.
Kate Wadsworth:14:12What do you think the, um, the program meant to your kids
Debra:14:18Now I can look back and think a pro. I mean, I think I see it now with current kids in her mom's like, she, this was hers, but we're really trying to encourage them like this is a family affair, this is a family recovery. So I think for my kids, helping them, it helped them, especially my teens seeing me grow, like coming out of a situation where they're old enough to really remember a lot of stuff. The younger two, not so much but them definitely. So it was for them see me grow and become the woman that God's created me to be like, okay, we can do this. I mean it's sad things ended the way they did, but it's, it happens to where do we go from here. So I think it helped them in that respect, knowing that they have a safe place that they had, the things you were seeing and hearing and being exposed to this past year and a half. They didn't have to do that, have to do that anymore.
Kate Wadsworth:15:08Right. And maybe even just the connection with other kids.
Debra:15:10Yeah, the connection with other kids, like they're not alone, that I'm, their stories are similar too what they've come from. So that's the big thing. Making that connection. That was relationships like my one son keeps in contact with a lot of the kids yet, you know, from the times that he has come here and I think that's important. Like the women, they make lifelong friendships. I think the kids could form the kids form that as well near their friends outside of here.
Kate Wadsworth:15:36That's really special.
Debra:15:37It is special.
Kate Wadsworth:15:38So you were in the program 2010 and then you graduated
Kate Wadsworth:15:44And what were your goals that you were working on at that time?
Debra:15:47I started, I went back to school for my master's degree in art therapy. So I did that and I did, from there I did my internship here, you know, just doing like art and recovery and stress management grief. So that was my internship. So then I graduated from there in 2014.
Kate Wadsworth:16:05And then what?
Debra:16:06And um, I think I became an employee. That's what got my appointment days kind of up in the air over here. July 2012. I got hired part time and then I went full time. I think that's still always up in the air, but yeah, my timeframe is like really off if I don't write things down I forget. But yeah, it's about 2012 or so became an employee, which sounds about right because it's 2018. Yeah. So yeah.
Kate Wadsworth:16:28And what did you start in as your first employee role?
Debra:16:31While I was part time case manager, part time case manager, and then went into full time family development coordinator.
Kate Wadsworth:16:38Will you share with us what that means?
Debra:16:40Family Development Coordinator? That means I'm like, we have the case managers for the moms and then we have our child care coordinator who really focuses on the kids, but the family one kind of works with everybody together. We have this program called family strengthening and it works off of eight building blocks of a healthy family. Actually nine, is spirituality, communication, togetherness, sharing activities, affection, support, and we have a program that really focuses on those. And then throughout the year I just tried to incorporate different programs or family nights or care plans that encompasses those building blocks. Like when I meet with families like, okay, where is your strengths? Let's use those strengths and those blocks, um, to support the ones that are weaker. So if their problem is communication, helping them to learn as there's different communication styles and learning how to communicate with each other, you know, or okay, support, okay, you're child's going to school, but what do you really know about his teachers and what he's learning to help them to support the child's education. And if there's something specific with the child, then I'll like refer them to the child care coordinator. And she'll take it from there if they need evaluations or anything like that. So it's really helped them to understand that recovery is a family process, you know, you were the child was without a mom for so many years and now you're with your mom. And so, you know, life is different for everybody. So it's learning how to get along in that change and in that transition.
Kate Wadsworth:18:04Yes. What an important piece of the puzzle. So I think, you know, like you said, there's the women's piece where they're working on themselves and the kids piece where they're learning and growing, but your position is really to help the family become a stronger unit and how important that is during such a time of change.
Debra:18:21It is really important. Um, sometimes you wonder like, am I really making a difference? You know, like getting like Christmas time we get these family packets together and so like each day and in December. Okay, pull out your activity work activity. It takes 15, 10 minutes, to work on the little activities to hang out and like really focused on Christmas. It's about. And sometimes you really wonder, is it, is it just trash can stuff you know, but someone, a prior graduate set, Deb, I want to send you this picture. And it was her and her kids having doing one of those activities when they were in the program She says, we still have these pictures and we still bring them out. So I'm like, thank you. Sometimes I know sometimes you wonder, but you know when God's in control, I mean there's going to be what it's going to be, but as a human you're like, am I really making a difference? And you just got to trust that God is using you where you're at using me where I'm at, and as long as I'm trying to do what he wants me to do and to be the that he created me to be with his strength and it'll be all okay.
Kate Wadsworth:19:24Gosh, from the outside looking in, I could see no doubt that your presence and your gifting, has made a huge impact on the families there.
Debra:19:33It's a fun position. I like it.
Kate Wadsworth:19:36And you have your master's in art therapy?
Debra:19:38In art therapy. Um, we do a lot of our, a lot of creating, like everybody. I just believe everybody has their ability to create. We are made from the creator in his image. So we all have some type of ability to create, whether it's poetry or painting or whatever it is. Everybody can create something, you know, we used to think, it took me a long time to get over that. Okay. An artist isn't just someone who paints. It's an artist is anybody who creates something beautiful that means something to them. So I really try to connect the art with spiritual and creative growth.
Kate Wadsworth:20:11Do you have a favorite project that you've led with the art therapy in the program?
Debra:20:18The art recovery, I really like art recovery, like looking at the steps, using the artistic process. That was my favorite. The grievings, the greiving was pretty good too. I liked that one, but really the art and recovery because it's connecting to both. Yeah. That's awesome. First, people like art, I can't draw, but it's not about drawing. It's about expressing yourself and connecting, connecting who you are and learning about yourself through what you ever it is you create, whether it's as a collage or. Or, just a line on her paper. It's something and so it was with the families too with our family strengthening program we discussed the topic at hand, but then we always have an art project, a creative project at the end of the families do together like stepping stones or journals or prayer bags or prayer chains or it's all creating something and her doing it together.
Kate Wadsworth:21:11That's awesome. It's so beautiful.
Debra:21:13It's fun to see like, okay, when you're watching a family creating, you can see who's to control freak, who wants things their own way, who has ocd, who's like, this is just fun. You learn a lot just by watching them when they're in their process. I'm sure.
Kate Wadsworth:21:26Um, well what I'm wondering like as we're wrapping up, like what is one of the things that you would want to tell somebody who's listening that might be struggling or have a loved one that's struggling? What would, what would you want to share with them?
Debra:21:39Don't give up hope. I mean God's timing, God's timing and the person in your life that's struggling, it's their process and it's nothing you can change. You know, all you can do is work on yourself and keep yourself healthy and keep. Keep hope for yourself because if you don't have hope, you have nothing. You don't have anything.
Kate Wadsworth:21:58You are such an ambassador of hope. I really enjoyed talking with you and hearing about your whole journey, um, before, during, and after the program. Is there anything else that you wanted to say that you didn't get a chance to?
Debra:22:12I think that would be it, Kate.
Kate Wadsworth:22:16Well, thank you so much, thank you. Alright. Thanks for listening to light up. I rescue missions podcast. Hope unveiled. We hope you join us next time for another story of hope and change.