Our family including grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and cousins moved from Minnesota to Southern Calif in the 1940s when I was three. In the big house lived aunt Mimi and uncle Bob. We lived in one of their little cottages and in another little cottage lived my grandparents. To this day the most influential people in my life were my grandparents, Enoch and Carrie Scotvold. I loved spending time playing with my "Toni" doll that I kept in grandma's bottom drawer. Grandpa Scotvold was a lay evangelist for the Lutheran Church. Christian workers from around the world frequently came to visit. Grandma usually had a word or two from the Lord for them but mostly they talked about Jesus. An amazing feeling would come over me as I listened to them share their stories. I knew Jesus was real because He was real in their lives and I experienced that reality when I was around them. Those were precious times that marked my life.
Our lives were centered around family and church. But only when I was around Grandma and Grandpa did I feel like Jesus was real. After high school, I went away to Cal Lutheran College. I was miserable living with a battle going on in my mind and heart. What good was the Christian life if it wasn't real to me like to my grandparents. I turned my back on God and told Him to get out of my life and I said, "I'm going to give you something to save me from". I felt empowered and free. I made many bad decisions in a short period of time. Life felt exciting with no barriers. And I didn't realize I was building my own prison. Once I began smoking pot it didn't take long until I spiraled down to using heroin. I quickly became addicted. For the next 10 years, I lived to get high and did whatever it took to maintain my habit. It was a love/hate relationship. I loved getting high and not feeling the pain of living. But, I hated the person I had become and hated how it affected my parents and those who loved me. After exhausting every program at the time that the state of Calif had to offer, hopelessness and despair filled my life.
When I was arrested the only call I ever wanted to make was to my dad. I dreaded telling dad where I was and asking him to bail me out. He never did. Dad trusted the Lord. He told me I was right where I belonged. I knew that to be true. And I knew my folks loved me. If it was OK with dad then it was OK with me. Tough love. Dad had some rough edges but his love for Jesus and our family was pure.
One time I was in isolation for several days in San Diego County Jail and I asked the deputy to bring me some books. Among those books was "Prison to Praise" by Merlin Carothers. The title of course got my attention. After reading it my downward spiral just got worse.
Toward the end of a miserable 10 years, I was at my folk's house. One of my cousins shared with me an encounter she had with the Lord, that I could see completely changed her. Joyce was an idol to me growing up. I could see the change - she was alive in the Spirit...more alive than I had seen anyone I knew since my grandparents. I had heard stories of other people being changed by the power of the Holy Spirit but they hadn't affected me like Joyce...mostly because I knew her so well. She talked about Jesus just like our grandparents had. And I could feel and see the presence and power of God on her life. It was profound.
From that day on I had hope that one day I too would experience the power of God in my life. But, at that time I had wasted all those years high on heroin. I tried many programs to turn my life around. I wanted to be free but the power of addiction was way beyond my ability and power to break free. After years of trying I knew there wasn't a program out there that could help me. I think the only thing that kept me trying was the family that loved me. It killed me seeing their sadness and disappointment. I hated myself.
After a drug overdose, my mom picked me up from the hospital and took me to the desert. I woke up at my aunt and uncle's place (Gold Rock Ranch) in the Calif. desert 25 miles from Yuma, AZ. Actually it was 25 miles from anything, no phone, no car, no nothing. My precious aunt and uncle just loved me. After kicking the drugs and starting to feel healthy my aunt invited me to an Aglow meeting in Yuma. A Spirit-filled couple sitting across from us drove to the ranch the next day and invited me to their Friday night home meeting. I told them I wanted to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. They suggested I read the book of Acts. I wanted the Holy Spirit to fill me to overflowing. I so wanted Jesus to come alive in me like my grandparents and Joyce. I knew I needed supernatural power to live free of drugs. I wanted the sinful person I had become to be forgiven and given a new start to my life. I wanted it all to be true. I wanted Jesus and every word of the Bible to be true.
The days before that fateful Friday night was filled with tremendous anxiety, fear, guilt, etc. The reality of the disgusting, deceptive, perverted, despicable person I had become plagued by my thoughts. I knew that if I didn't have this experience with God I was doomed to a prison of hell for eternity. I was so scared. Mostly I was afraid it wouldn't happen to me... that I wasn't worth saving and receiving Him. I experienced the fear of God. I spend that week physically nauseated. I knew I couldn't take my next breath without Him. And I couldn't figure out how to make it all happen to me.
I went to the meeting not knowing anyone but the couple I had just met at the Aglow meeting. I assumed they were all Holy Spirit-filled believers. Around midnight the couple prayed for me to receive the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. Nothing happened. I was disappointed and numb. A while later they prayed again and they said just open your mouth and speak. Out of my mouth came an unknown language. I filled the living room with the sound of my voice. It was as if rivers of living water flowed out of me from deep within. A spiritual dam had broken loose and I experienced the power of God. Jesus was real and He was living in me and I was stunned. Driving home that moonlit night I held on to the steering wheel with all my might because God was real and everything in me and around me came alive. The desert came alive and was praising God. I could feel my heart beating with the heart of God. I could stand before Him with absolutely no shame, there was nothing between me and my creator. My sins were forgiven and I was clean. I could feel His power. I knew I would never be the same...and I haven't. It is as real today as it was 43 years ago. I was instantly set free from drugs. I don't see myself as an ex-drug addict. That is not my identity. I am a child of God. I love to share the story of my former life but it is like talking about another person. Only in retrospect do I see how God's hand was on me through it all. He was there all the time. Waiting.
"No sinful pleasure can last; it is always just for a season. The end result of all sin is destruction." Paula White
"So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free." John 8:36
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Galatians 5:1