Graces of Gurley: Deanna’s Story
“This story is living proof that one should never underestimate His Grace.”
When asked if I would share my own personal “God Story,” anxiety was my first reaction. As I have grown into my relationship with the Lord I find these feelings easier and easier to recognize as the devil using his favorite tools of fear and shame to attempt to hold back the glory of God’s Mercy and Forgiveness. Testimony is His way of reaching the unreachable heart, and I should never allow that beacon of hope to be dimmed by fear. Anxiety over whether or not “people” will accept me after they know the truth used to be an every-day occurrence. In my maturity I know that none of that matters, because GOD has accepted me, forgiven me, and therefore I have accepted and forgiven myself. Thank the Lord God for the freedom to love me! All of who I was, how I was saved, and who I have become I owe to my Father. Praise His Name! This story is living proof that one should never underestimate His Grace.
My childhood years were highlighted by witnessed incidents of domestic violence and drug abuse in our home. A runaway at the age of 15, I was immediately set upon by the darker elements of society. As a young girl searching for acceptance and love I thought I had found in there. How easily the youthful can be deceived! I played a willing part in the destruction of my life. I lived a life in bondage to drugs, alcohol, violence, and sex. Only in the deepest and most desperate of times did I search out the Lord and beg for His help. I am so grateful that he heard me! I now know He ALWAYS does. You don’t have to be “good enough.” You only have to believe, let Him in your heart, and ask. I spent 20 years in bondage, wearing chains that I put on myself, and saw and experienced many terrible things. I have suffered many excruciatingly painful losses, and, in the end, have been granted a second chance.
I got sober in the year 2000. I was addicted from the ages of 15 to 35. It is a miracle that I am alive. At age 17 I met a man in a bar who was to become the worst thing to ever happen to me. And that was a long list to top! Domestic violence became my world. Drugs were used to kill the pain. The mix is toxic, and my life was a mess. We had a daughter in 1986. My beautiful Heather Marie. I spent much of her childhood trying to live a lie, covering up and hiding the drugs and the violence. Of course that never works. I drove away anyone who loved me, ended up in prison, and in the end Heather (who was living with my parents at the time) followed in her mother’s footsteps, and became an addict.
I got sober to rescue my daughter. It was during this time that my most intent prayer and begging for forgiveness turned into Love. Loving God for letting me be there for her, for freeing me from the bondage of drugs and alcohol, and for helping her through her struggles that I had already lived through. In 2000 I got a job, and rented our first real home. I begged for Him to save her, and that He did. In one of the many, many recovery programs we took part in, Jesus came into her heart. She tried so very hard to overcome the terrible heritage my example had given her. She was very proud of her “recovering” mama. She told me so all the time. Thank You God for allowing me to be there!
Heather died in 2004 in a drug related domestic violence incident. My baby girl was strangled to death by her boyfriend at the age of 18. She never got to go to college, get married, or have children. The loss of my beautiful girl to violence and addiction after the entire hard, hard struggle was almost too much to bear. My heart will forever bear the scars of this devastating loss.
Still, though drugs and alcohol were no longer a part of my life, domestic violence (DV) was always present. Whenever I looked to a man for acceptance and love, it came with a price, and was always false. I began to read about DV and my eyes began to open to the cycle I had been living for all my life. I began to want to share my story, to help others, and, above all to make a difference for some other mother and child in the name of God’s mercy and love. In 2005 I was blessed with a little boy I named Michael. That same year I left my abuser, and began the life I live today.
I moved to a small town named Gurley Alabama in 2006. I chose this little town because it seemed to be a safe place to raise my boy, and because I had family nearby. God set several Angels in my path. I began attending community college, and obtained an Associate degree. Imagine that, an ex-con druggie with a degree! God surely can do anything!! In 2009 I saw a flyer in my son’s book bag. It was for parenting classes at a local church. How grateful I am that I decided to go! It was there that I found a loving, supportive and non-judgmental group of ladies right down the street. I was introduced to Graces of Gurley, a truly remarkable organization of God Loving individuals whose goals are to help all needs they encounter, to embrace diversity and foster strength and love in our community, to educate our neighborhood and explore God’s Amazing World of Grace together.
I later attended a high-level 4 year college and graduated in 2014 with an honors degree in Psychology with a focus on Women’s Studies and Communication. I now work in social services as an advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves. God led me to an amazing church, and introduced me to the most beautiful life after tragedy, a life of forgiveness, and hope. Every financial hardship was overcome by some miracle intervention placed in our path, such as Graces of Gurley supplying winter coats and food when I could not. It is not an easy life with a small child on a waitressing income. Full-time school, work and being a single parent can break a girl, that is for certain. God never let me give up.
Throughout the last 5 years Graces of Gurley has not only expanded my heart in the Lord, but has been an example of living that I adore. They inspire with education and community events, they also provide food, Christmas presents, childcare, book bags, Bible Studies, daily food bags for kids in school and short-term no interest loans to individuals in great need. There are many times that I would not have been able to provide for us if it were not for Graces. I am so very grateful that God has led us here, and placed all of the beautiful people in this organization in my path! Today is bright, and tomorrow? Even brighter!
Deanna Nicholas, Case Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org