One of my favorite events is the annual Shepherd's Gate banquet.
It's a celebration of lives changed and an opportunity to support the shelter for women and their children who live at its campuses in Livermore and Brentwood.
The highlight of the evening last week was the testimony by Charla Norris who graduated from the program eight years ago and now works as a drug and alcohol counselor in Redding. She grew up in Richmond in a household where her grandmother made wine and gave it to her as a 7-year-oldshe said she had hangovers as a child.
When she was a child, her mother told Charla that she wished she has aborted her. That anger was expressed by drinking that resulted in Charla being beaten and her eyes blackened. She told the 300 people attending that alcohol and drugs were always present in the house.
Growing up, Charla experienced a stunning amount of loss. Both her father and a boyfriend (in the 8th grade) drowned, while both of her brothers died in motorcycle accidents. Her boyfriend of eight yearsthey have gone to every prom togetherwas shot and killed for growing marijuana two days before her 21st birthday. That's three family members and her boyfriend within six years.
In 1989, she got pregnant and aborted the child because her mom encouraged her to do that. A few months later, she got pregnant again and told the attendees that she carried the baby to term and gave birth to Joshua. His father denied paternity and left her for another woman.
When asked about dealing with so much loss in her life, she said she was angry at God and very depressed. She had worked since she was in high school, but lost that desire and lived on welfare and fed her addictions. She lost custody of her oldest son and Child Protective Services removed her youngest, Jesse. She described the day Jesse was taken from her as the best day of her life and also the worst daybecause she realized she had a problem that she had to face. She went to recovery programs that worked for a while, but then she relapsed.
She was so desperate when she was homeless that she planned to kill herself, but stopped because she could not kill her dog, Toby. Toby, incidentally, lives with her family today.
One night on a friend's sofa, she has a spiritual awakening and saw a vision of her son Jesse saying "Come on mom, let's go into recovery."
She entered another program, was baptized, but fell into using again when a girl who was baptized at the same time brought drugs into the house. That was the last time she used. She checked out programsChristian ones were at the bottom of the listbut a day later Shepherd's Gate called with an opening. She told the audience that her heart softened as staff members poured love, compassion and unconditional grace into her life.
While there, she regained custody of Jesse, who was 9. She cited Pastor Rick Warren's book, "The Purpose Driven Life" as literally changing her life. While there, a dentist repaired her teeth at no charge and she was able to get her driver's license back by paying off $3,100 in fines. She moved to Redding to attend Bethel Church's school of ministry and has stayed there. She has been clean and sober for almost nine years.
Her testimony demonstrated how Jesus changes lives even in the most desperate situations.
For information about Shepherd's Gate, please see www.shepherdsgate.org.