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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

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Transforming a difficult life

Uploaded: Sep 24, 2013
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-old—she 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 years—they have gone to every prom together—was 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 day—because 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 programs—Christian ones were at the bottom of the list—but 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
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by proudmom, a resident of Happy Valley,
on Sep 24, 2013 at 8:16 pm

proudmom is a registered user.

In 1998, and again in 2003, after having escaped with my child from a violent spouse, I tried to get help, even temporarily, with Shepherd's. They turned us away both times because I wasn't an alcohol or drug abuser; my son and I were just severely abused and needed help. Ironically I gave nearly everything I owned and couldn't keep to Shepherd's, so we had to move in with my elderly parents. My son just celebrated his 5-yr anniversary in the United States Coast Guard. Hope and trust is hard earned. I hope and trust Shepherd's policies have changed to help all women and children. I mainly help Veterans now.

Posted by JHarp, a resident of another community,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 3:11 pm

JHarp is a registered user.

Tim, we were so glad to see you last Thursday evening at our event! Your support of Shepherd's Gate, and the women and children we serve here, is awesome and we so appreciate you! I did want to quickly address proudmom's comment and let her know I am sorry for the abuse she suffered from a violent spouse, my heart goes out to her and her son. I also wanted to let her know our policy has always been to help women who are homeless from abuse, addiction and poverty, we have never just exclusively helped women suffering from drugs and alcohol. We do however help women find shelters in other areas if their violent spouse is close by, both for their safety and the safety of the other women in the shelter, this is a pretty standard policy when sheltering domestic violence victims, I don't know if this was the reason in her case. All that to say I am so glad her and her son are doing well now!
Thank you again Tim for your article and your support!
Jennifer Harp
Shepherd's Gate

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