Lauren: The breath of fresh air that I’ve got in life now, the peace that I have—that’s something I never had before. It was always just an edge. [I was] anxious and fearful, and I don’t live life in fear anymore. Now I know that no matter what happens, no matter what comes, I’m going to be okay.
God Loves Broken People: The Next Door’s Lauren, Aja, & Natalie – Episode #168
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. On this episode, we feature stories from The Next Door—a nonprofit, faith-based organization that helps women who are coming out of incarceration return to society and provides resources and treatments so they can successfully transition back to life outside of prison. During this episode, we’ll hear the stories of three women who came to The Next Door after trauma and pain led them into a life of addiction— Lauren, Aja, and Natalie. They share how they received help for their emotional issues and their addictions through The Next Door’s programs, but most importantly, they learned how much they are loved by others, and by God.
Lauren: I’m Lauren Norris. I was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We moved to the South quickly after I turned nine months old. My mom’s family is from Alabama. We moved to Nashville when I was four.
I have a little brother and little sister from my mom and her husband. He [her husband] basically raised me. I mean, he’s the only dad that I knew growing up. The family dynamics changed when my sister was born. Obviously, when you have a stepchild, things are just different. When he had his little girl, there was a definite shift. I was eight.
Throughout school, I danced. I loved that as a kid. I made straight A’s, I didn’t really get in trouble. I definitely wasn’t experimenting with anything at that age.
After the birth of my sister, things were always rocky and very uncomfortable between my mom’s husband and I. So at eighteen, everything kind of shifted for me. He felt like I wasn’t his, so his job was done. He basically gave my mom an ultimatum. He felt like I was being disrespectful and that I needed to go. So that’s kind of where it landed. My mom made a phone call to me at seven-thirty in the morning and said, “You need to be here at three o’clock to pick up your things.”
And that was the end of life as I knew it. I had turned eighteen on January 8th, and this happened on Good Friday, the Friday before Easter.
So when everything went down, I was pretty much ostracized, and part of that was my [own fault]. I was just so embarrassed and in shock and didn’t really know who to trust at that point. I didn’t like the people that had been a part of my life for as long as I’d lived in Tennessee. I ran. I’m definitely a runner. That’s how I coped in life—running.
I was helpless and broken, so broken. I started looking for relationships, and I thought I had found Mr. Wonderful [when I was] very young. We were together when everything went down with my family, so I held on to that. And when that ended, I went in the opposite direction. That’s kind of been the thing for me. It [was] one extreme or the other during those parts of my life.
I went through another bad breakup, and within the week, my now ex-boyfriend was being put in jail for kidnapping and domestic battery against me. My little sister died of an overdose. Then, I found out I was pregnant five weeks later. It was just bam, bam, bam.
[The baby] was born early, but was perfectly fine—a very healthy, beautiful, little boy. When he was one year old, he had a febrile seizure, which is something that runs in our family. I had them, my cousin’s kids have them. He had the flu and rhinovirus. A situation unfolded at the hospital. I was basically told to either let him leave with my mom—who I had a very limited relationship with at this point, because she had only come back around since he had been born, and [our relationship] was very strained—or I may never see him again. So I let him go home with my mom, with all these hopes that things were going to be different. [I thought], She’s kind of come around since he was born, and I’ve grown up.
That is not what happened, and it ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back. I started using. At that point, I’d never been suicidal, ever. The only mental health stuff I’d ever struggled with is PTSD and anxiety. But I got to that point right before I relapsed, I was having these suicidal thoughts [like,] I don’t need to be here. A lot of stemmed from not having my son, and I was like, Why am I even here?
I sent a message to my boyfriend at the time. The drugs were my solution. Like, they truly were my escape, and how I coped. [I wasn’t] even able to live life, but [I could] keep existing. I knew exactly what I needed to go get, exactly what I needed to do. I don’t need to be here anymore. It scared him. The next morning, it scared me that I had even sent it. But that relapse truly saved my life, because if I hadn’t picked up and used, I couldn’t handle the pain that my life was.
So my relapse numbed me out enough to get me to The Next Door to get a different answer.
Running to a Loving Father
The Next Door has completely changed my life. I had to find me again. And I think in all those years of running, I didn’t even know who I was, I didn’t know what I liked. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. It was just empty, everything was so empty.
“The Next Door has completely changed my life. I had to find me again.” – Lauren, Graduate of The Next Door
But there’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is, “I feel bad for something I’ve done,” but shame is, “I feel bad because of who I am.” The big prayer for my life had always been that I wanted to feel God’s love—I wanted to experience that. I never felt like I did. And now that I’m a little further removed from the trauma, [I see that] God saved me over and over and over.
“There’s a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is, ;I feel bad for something I’ve done,” but shame is, “I feel bad because of who I am.’” – Lauren, Graduate of The Next Door
Now, it’s mesmerizing to me the things that can happen when we start showing up for ourselves, because God really shows up when we get out of the way and let Him. That’s kind of what life has been in the last eight months. Who do I need myself to be? What kind of mom do I want to be for my kids, and what is God calling me to be? [What kinds of doors is] God opening for me? It changed everything, surrendering to that and knowing.
“God really shows up when we get out of the way and let Him.” – Lauren, Graduate of The Next Door
I blamed God for a lot of things. I think that was a big thing. My prayer to always feel God’s love—I couldn’t feel it, because I was still so angry. I had to get to the place where I could say, “God, I’m angry with you. I’ve attached all these things that people have chosen to do and I’ve blamed You for it. And I’ve thought, You did it.” That was a big lie that I had to break.
And I had to let go of, I may never have my family back the way I think it should be. Today, I can finally say, “I’m okay with that.” God just keeps showing up and bringing me other people and new family. I have no family support now. As of right now, there’s not been a restoration to that relationship. That doesn’t mean that it won’t come. That’s definitely one of my biggest prayers, is that one day it looks different. But it’s definitely given me a huge appreciation for family, for my new family.
My life is so covered in grace. I tell people this all the time. If you want to see what God can do and the redemption [He provides], just meet my daughter. Ask me, because I didn’t even see it while it was unfolding.
Mia was not planned, but she was definitely very wanted. I have never believed in abortion, but I tried to force myself to go through with it. At that point in life, [I thought,] I don’t even have my son back home yet. How can I bring another one into the world? What’s my mom going to say if I have to walk into court, pregnant, fighting for my son?
God really has a sense of humor, because while all of this was going on in my life—there was no physical way to get [an abortion] done in Nashville, anyway—I was trying to force myself to make this decision.
And I’ll never forget a friend, who is not very religious and not spiritual. I was asleep on the couch at her house, and she hit me in the leg and she said, “There’s your sign. God said you’re having this baby.” And I don’t think she even knew what she was saying, but it went straight to my heart. Of course, at that point, I’d relapsed and was pregnant and didn’t know what to do. Finally, when I just got miserable and things kept getting more and more out of control, I came to the only place that I knew to come. I just showed up on New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day at The Next Door and just said, “I need help.”
“[The Next Door] took me in. And I’ll never forget walking in the building and taking the biggest deep breath, because it was like coming home again. You know, I didn’t have a home. And that’s what they’ve become for me.” – Lauren, Graduate of The Next Door
After my interview, they walked me into a two-bedroom apartment. The most mind-boggling part for me was that there was a crib in the second bedroom. I just hit my knees and was like, “God, I told you to just wave,” and He just keeps doing that for me. When I finally stop trying to save myself, to let Him save me, He does it’s much bigger than I could have ever done for myself.
“When I finally stop trying to save myself, to let Him save me, He does it’s much bigger than I could have ever done for myself.” – Lauren, Graduate of The Next Door
We moved in on Friday. I jokingly said, “Okay, well she can come now, we have a home.” [Mia] saved my life, but The Next Door saved hers, and gave me the ability to be her mother in the way that she deserves. She’s changed everything about my life. I see so much more of God’s grace. I had so much fear that I was going to have her, and then DCS was going to show up and they were going to take my baby, and I [would have] done all this work and [would] not [have] even mattered.
God has blessed me so much, and honored the hard work and surrender that I’ve done. I’ve gotten out of my own way, and I’ve had to learn to listen to that soft voice that is sometimes intuition and is sometimes somebody else.
That’s a big thing Jesus Calling has given to me. Anytime I’m having a bad day, that’s just what I go to. In treatment, they give us all [a copy of Jesus Calling]. That was the book that I started using to reinsert quiet time with God in my life. When I started, it was just really small, it was just reading that. That’s all I had. I had that and a Bible.
I think now, a lot of my hope comes from the fact that I know I can’t do it. I want to give [Mia] so much more than I had, and for God to basically say, “This is your little girl. I still trust you to be a mother,” was enough to breathe so much life back into me, because Mia was not a mistake. Not at all. But to be able to talk to another girl who’s pregnant, who’s come to treatment and who’s covered in shame, and to see my story, my pain, and my experiences help another blows my mind and it makes me feel like it’s not in vain. You have no idea what you’ll do until you’re in the grips of [addiction]. It was really hard. But because it was so hard, it helped someone else, and it qualifies me to speak life into other women. That, to me, is all the hope I need.
“You have no idea what you’ll do until you’re in the grips of [addiction]. It was really hard. But because it was so hard, it helped someone else, and it qualifies me to speak life into other women. That, to me, is all the hope I need.” – Lauren, Graduate of The Next Door
It really helped me to see that all the women at The Next Door really are rooting for you and they do want to see us succeed. It’s amazing to walk back through the door with the baby and say, “We’re still here. I still have her, we’re still doing this thing, and I can still come here anytime. I just need to talk, or I need a hug. I really do have a family again.”
Narrator: Stay with us as we share another inspiring personal story of restoration from The Next Door, after this message about how you can connect with other people in the Jesus Calling community through a weekly prayer call.
Did you know that Sarah Young, the author of Jesus Calling, prays for her readers each day? In that spirit, we want to extend the Jesus Calling prayer community out to you in a more personal way. Each Tuesday morning, you can dial in to the Jesus Calling Weekly Prayer Call, where the team from Jesus Calling and special guests will minister to us during a ten-minute call to reflect on that day’s passage from Jesus Calling, read scripture references, and pray together for each other and our world. Prayer call times are 8:00 a.m. Eastern, 7:00 a.m. Central, 6:00 a.m. Mountain, and 5:00 a.m. Pacific and are for U.S. only.
For more information on the Jesus Calling Weekly Prayer Call, or to submit prayer requests, please visit www.jesuscalling.com/prayer-call.
Aja: My name is Aja Tate. I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. I was born and raised here. But as all children grow up and go our own ways, I did too. I grew up in the church and went straight away from the church. I allowed older people to influence my decisions that I made in life. I began to live the life of a drug addict and an alcoholic, which then led me to be homeless, allowed me to be hungry, and I strayed away from my family. I didn’t want to see my family, so I isolated [myself].
I realized that it was a problem when my family had put a missing person report out on me. I didn’t want to be found. They found me anyway, because they are my family. Looking back, I know that they really care about me. Even with them finding me, I still didn’t choose to go with them, because once they did find me, I was eighteen years old. I had a choice to go with my family or continue down the road that I was on, and I chose to continue down the road of drugs and alcohol.
When I was living on the streets, it was really hard day-to-day. I didn’t have a regular restroom, I didn’t have a bed to sleep in, so I slept in the back of a van in a Walgreens parking lot. Then eventually, I got tired, and I knew that this was not how I was brought up. I had no business on those streets. I began to see how other women were being treated and held hostage. Men were taking and using them for their bodies. I knew in my mind that I did not want to become that woman.
The first time that I realized that I had a problem, and knew that it couldn’t continue, was when I was driving down the highway. I hadn’t slept in about five days, and I ran off the side of a cliff. When I went off the side of a cliff and crashed the car, I ended up finding out I was pregnant with my first child. That child was an absolute angel to me. She saved my life.
I actually went back home to live with my mother for a while, and then I applied for my own place to live [and] I’ve been there ever since, for eleven years now, because I know how it feels to be homeless and hungry, and if it’s up to me, my child is not going to be homeless or hungry.
I had suffered some loss, myself. [I lost] my brother, and he was and he is a very big part of my life. Once I lost my brother, I turned back to drugs. I had lasted about a month at rehab, and then I was back to drinking and using drugs, because that was the only way that I knew how to cope with the pain. When you cry for months at a time, and then you see your mother’s tears, you can’t do anything to help it or stop the pain, all I knew was to drink and drug. It got to the point where I couldn’t even stop myself from using. And I was carrying a baby. That’s how serious it was. That’s a lot of what led me to The Next Door, I had a child. My son was born with drugs in his system. That called for the state to get involved in my life and my children’s lives.
Once my kids were removed from me, I had an option of going into rehab, and The Next Door was the first place that we called. We [filled out] an application, and they accepted me.
“I Know He’s Here with Me.”
When I first came to The Next Door, I walked away. But I came back three days later, and they brought me in and they welcomed me and they rushed me through the process. I don’t know if they were afraid that I was going to leave again, but they rushed me through the intake. And I’m so grateful that they took me, because I came that morning with my bags packed. I didn’t know if they were going to turn me away, or if they were going to accept me. They told me to come on in.
When I came to The Next Door, I found a greater relationship with God. I felt Him in this building, and the first day that I came, they were like, “You don’t have to attend the meetings.” But something inside of me just kept saying, Go to the meeting, go to the meeting. I sat there, but my feet stayed still. So I got up, and I went to a meeting. And when I got into that meeting, it was a lady speaking about how her family had to raise her children because she chose to use drugs, so her kids had been taken by the state and given to her family. And I was like wow, This is my situation. My kids have been taken from me, and I don’t want my family to have to raise my children. I don’t want my kids to have to go into the system and be moved around or separated, and God knows what happened to them. When I heard what she said, that let me know that I was not alone. I was not the only woman that was going through this. It was a community of us that are able to help one another get through our situations.
“When I came to The Next Door, I found a greater relationship with God.” – Aja, Graduate of The Next Door
I began to change about my third day at The Next Door. I met a group and we would read Jesus Calling at the beginning of group every day, and it would just fall right in line with what was going on in my life. And today, it is still falling in line with what is going on in my life, right in the middle of my struggles. I know He’s there, why He’s strengthening me. I know He’s here with me.
“We would read Jesus Calling at the beginning of group every day, and it would just fall right in line with what was going on in my life. And today, it is still falling in line with what is going on in my life, right in the middle of my struggles.” – Aja, Graduate of The Next Door
This passage is from August 21st. It says:
Wait with Me for a while. I have much to tell you. You are walking along the path I have chosen for you. . . . The work I am doing in you is hidden at first. But eventually blossoms will burst forth, and abundant fruit will be born. Stay on the path of Life with Me. Trust Me wholeheartedly, letting My Spirit fill you with Joy and Peace.
I was really hurt. I missed my children the entire time that I was in treatment. I’d never been separated from my children, so to be separated from them was a great deal to me. But I had to realize they are coming through The Next Door. They’re going to get a better mother. They’re going to get a better part of me. And my relationship with my family, my mother and my father, is better than ever. I love my mother so much. And I know she never gave up on me, and I know that they pray for me every night. There’s no doubt in my mind that they pray for me because I am here today. I’m just grateful to my mother and my father that are here with me, who stand behind me in everything that I do.
I just want to be able to just inspire young children, [to show them] that they have options. They don’t have to go down the roads they think are already paved for them. There are other options. There are other ways out of the lifestyle that we see growing up. I just want to be able to just be a voice for the children for the community. Even if an adult wants to change, I just pray that I’m able to reach out and touch them more, or to let them hear my voice and know that there is hope.
If I could give someone just a little hope, I would let them know that they are not alone in this situation. There is a community of us that are willing to love you and help you and pray for you. To hold your hand. Whatever you need. [We want to] let you know that there is a God and He is real. AlI you have to do is hold onto His hand and He will do the rest. Hold on to Him. He will lead you where you need to go.
“There is a God and He is real. AlI you have to do is hold onto His hand and He will do the rest. Hold on to Him. He will lead you where you need to go.” – Aja, Graduate of The Next Door
Narrator: We’re wrapping up our stories from The Next Door by talking with Natalie, a graduate of The Next Door who now works there as a certified peer recovery specialist and is helping women, like herself, who struggle with addiction and despair by showing them that God has a plan for their lives, no matter how hopeless they may feel—and she talks about how Jesus Calling helped her realize this truth for her own life.
Natalie: My name is Natalie and this is my second day at The Next Door as an employee. It really overwhelms me when I think about what Jesus Calling means to me.
I came to The Next Door twice. The first time I was doing well, but then I was diagnosed with breast cancer. [I went through] the whole process: chemo, mastectomy. I was on medication and then relapsed. So I found myself back here for a second time.
So I started reading it. I had lost thirteen people in 2017 alone to drug overdoses. I was in a really bad place when I got here. I was very angry with God. And even though I’d known about God since I was little, because I come from a church background, I was very angry with Him and really did not want anything to do with Him. I didn’t know what that relationship was really about. I got to a place where I just wanted to give up, and if there was a God, wherever he was, I needed Him to know how angry I was.
So I read Jesus Calling, it started to get a little easier to understand some things in my life. After losing all those people, I began to shut down. Not only did I shut down, I wanted to give up. I had never had more than ninety days clean within twenty-something years. At this point, I had made it so far. And then, [I lost] more people and I just didn’t understand. And then on March 31, 2018, I read [the Jesus Calling passage for the day]. This is what it said. This is hard for me. It says:
Taste and see that I Am good. The more intimately you experience Me, the more convinced you become of My goodness. I am the Living One who sees you and longs to participate in your life. I am training you . . .
Which is very profound to me, because it started to resonate that everything that I was going through in life there was a purpose for. [It continues:]
I am training you to find Me in each moment and to be a channel of My loving Presence.
This is when I started to realize that there was a bigger purpose for me, not only to help others, but to share my story. Then it talks about:
Sometimes My blessings come to you in mysterious ways: through pain and trouble. At such times you can know My goodness only through your trust in Me.
And then this is what got me. It says:
Understanding will fail you, but trust will keep you close to Me.
And it goes on to talk about peace, which I needed so much of. It also talks about:
I also speak Peace to you, for I know your anxious thoughts.
I’m seeing, by reading this and taking this in, that God knew exactly where I was when I was going through all these things. And not only did He know where I was, but He was willing to meet me where I was and give me the peace that I so needed. That day is when I decided to turn my life around.
“God Loves Broken People Who Can Help Broken People”
From that day forward, I pick this book up every day and I read it. I would start to see the Scriptures and then I would start to look those scriptures up, and then I started becoming a sponge. And [I was] able to learn not only what I felt like He was talking to me on a daily basis at this point, because every day I’m reading something. This is so odd, but it feels exactly like what I’m supposed to be hearing from Him. Sometimes I think, Maybe I need to give this book to somebody else to see if they’re reading the same thing that I’m reading, because it’s so profound in how things unravel for me on a daily basis.
I’ll tell you what. I never knew that I could do something productive in this life. As a matter of fact, I thought I was going to die a drug addict. But [I now] know that not only did He not give up on me, but he has a purpose for me. Jesus was calling me to be something so much greater in this life. And I found that not only does He know broken people, but He loves broken people that can help broken people.
“I found that not only does He know broken people, but He loves broken people that can help broken people.” – Natalie, The Next Door
It’s given me a purpose. This book has really given me a purpose, because if I had not picked this book up on that day and allowed Him to speak to me in ways that no one else could, I don’t think I’d be sitting here today. And I know I wouldn’t be working as a certified peer recovery specialist, in which I can help other girls do the same thing that I did.
I really just want to be able to convey that we all have something deep down inside of us that we can tap into. God has a plan for all of us. Some of us don’t understand that. Some of us can’t see that. Some of us are so broken that we don’t even know that exists. But I remember how broken I was when I got here, and I know what it took for me to get where I am today. I just want these ladies to understand that it’s possible. It’s not just me or one other person or a few people that make it, we can all make it in His light and His love and in His guidance and His understanding is compassion. Every one of us can do exactly what we need to do. I want to convey that message more than anything in this world, that if I can do it, you can do it.
Narrator: To find out more about how you can help a woman who is facing life after incarceration or may be dealing with addiction, visit TheNextDoor.org for opportunities to volunteer or donate.
If you’d like to hear more inspiring stories about women who have restored their lives through finding a relationship with God, check out our interviews with other graduates of the Next Door, Janie & Tammy.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll speak with Cyntoia Brown-Long, a young woman who shares the redemptive story of how she changed her life for the better while in prison, finding hope through faith after a traumatic adolescence of drug addiction, rape, and sex trafficking led to a murder conviction.
Cyntoia Brown-Long: It was not until I came back to God. And when I sat down and I just let Him take over, that’s when I was free. I don’t think God gives us testimonies for us to just sit on them. And then there’s that thing about me making that promise to Him that, “If You do free me, then I will tell the world about You.” And so I’m going to keep my word because I think it’s important. I think it’s necessary.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on www.jesuscalling.com/media/video.