Through Jace’s Tears: God Gave Him the Strength to Forgive

Growing up in church, Jennifer knew the power of Easter. She knew that because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, grace, transformation and forgiveness were offered to all who would accept them.

So when life spiraled out of control and her decisions cost her the custody of her children, she knew there was a way back. Like so many prodigals before her, Jesus promised to forgive and welcome her back home, if she returned.

What she wasn’t so sure of was if her own son, Jace, would do the same.

When the Department of Child Safety (DCS) showed up at her door, Jennifer knew firsthand the terror and confusion her children were about to go through. She had lived it. When she was two years old, she too had been removed from her parents’ custody. Other than a short-lived, abusive, reuniting with her mother when she was five, Jennifer stayed in the foster care system and never returned to her birth parents.

It was a past she did her best to put behind her. She settled down, found a place of her own, had a son, and in 2010, she was hired on here at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center.

“I knew this place was being built and I thought to myself, that would be a cool place to work. I’m a Christian, I love Jesus, so I got a job here before any women moved in. I was working in the day care center, to help set it up.”

Then everything went sideways. After so many years of being suppressed, the scars of her past suddenly welled up inside and refused to stay hidden any longer.

“One day I just broke. I couldn’t mask those years and years of trauma anymore. I became clinically depressed. Then a friend introduced me to meth. It made me a different person. I was suddenly outgoing. I had energy. I loved it. I thought I could do everything. I thought I was a super mom… which was not the case, but that’s the way it was in my head. My son was three years old at the time.”

Not even her oldest son Jace noticed anything wrong, until DCS showed up at their door.

“I remember getting taken away to a facility,” says Jace. “I waited there for hours. Then a random family walked in, took me and put me in their car. I didn’t really know what was happening.”

It was a traumatic night for Jennifer on multiple levels.

“Growing up in foster care, you always tell yourself you’ll never let your kids go through that.”

Thankfully, Jennifer not only knew she needed help, she knew exactly where to find it.

“I should have come a lot sooner, but I was embarrassed to come back as a guest after being an employee. But that was just my pride. I thought I was going to come here and they were going to give my kids back to me right away. I was very wrong. It took a lot of work.

Thanks to the support of friends like you, Jennifer was able to work through the trauma of her past, find the root, surrender it and put it behind her once and for all. Back on her feet, she found freedom from her addiction, graduated from our recovery program, and earned custody of her two kids, Jace and Jedidiah, nine months after she arrived.

“It was amazing to get them back. I’ll never forget that day. I know in my heart, from that moment on, I could never turn back. I can’t. Just looking at their faces, knowing what I put them through, I could never do that again.”

But just because Jennifer had changed, didn’t mean it was smooth sailing between her and her boys.

“When I got back, at first, I really didn’t want to talk to my mom,” Jace admits. “She wasn’t there and I thought that she left on purpose. I thought she wanted those people to take me. I thought she didn’t want me anymore, that she gave me away to someone else. It was hard to talk to her.”

But your support of our Changing Lives Center for Women and Children gave this broken family time to heal, time for God to mend the fractures and allow his Son to work in the hearts of Jennifer’s boys.

“God gave me the strength to forgive,” Jace says through tears. “I learned here that I could forgive because I was forgiven for my sins and I could forgive other people.”

That’s the power of Easter. Today, Jennifer has her own place once again and her two boys are thriving. She’s even rejoined the staff here as part of our R.A.P. (Rescue, Assess, Place) intake program team to help other families find the same kind of hope and healing.

“My favorite thing about working here is watching that transformation happen before your eyes. I’ve only been here for three months, but even in that short time, their faces change, their demeanor changes, their attitudes change."

"I gave a walking tour to a woman the other day and we came to the chapel and she says, ‘I don’t believe in God and I will not believe in God.’ She was really angry. Three weeks later she tells me, ‘I prayed in class today!’”

As we celebrate the gift that keeps on giving this Easter, thank you for the prayers and the financial support that continues to pass it on to those who need it most. On behalf of all of us, we wish you a very blessed and safe Easter celebration!

Where Are They Now: Michele 5 Years Later

In 2015, Michele was addicted, depressed and suicidal. Thankfully, her aunt suggested finding help at Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center. It’s a decision that saved her life.

“I had this attitude and this demeanor about me that was so self-destructive,” said Michele. “This place has changed me. I’m not angry, I’m not bitter anymore. I look at myself now and I just shake my head. I don’t know who that person was.”

Thanks to your support, Michele thrived at the Mission. She not only graduated from our recovery program, she completed our Servant Leadership course and our rigorous Ministry Training program. You even helped her earn custody back of her two-year-old son, Brody, and gave her the tools she needed to become a great mother.

But that was five years ago. Where is she now?

We’re happy to report that Michele is better than back on her feet – she’s pursuing her dreams.

“Writing has always been a passion of mine. But throughout my life, I set it aside because I was always trying to make everyone else happy. What I learned was, it’s important to make Michele happy too.”

She enrolled in Phoenix College to work on her dream. She found a job as an administrative assistant at the Salvation Army through the Celebrate Recovery program. Little did she know that the skills she learned there would prepare her for a position at Power Trade Media, a publisher of trade magazines.
“I mostly do administrative work but I’ve also got my foot in the door on the writing side of things. Our company produces an aviation newsletter where I get to do a little bit of editing, and interview pilots. It’s an exciting time for me, because it’s something I really want to do.”

Amid her success, there’s the Mission. She still keeps up with the friends she’s made in recovery and attends Alumni functions, including our camping trip a few months ago.

Today, she has her own apartment, she’s getting close to finishing her business degree, and things are looking bright indeed for Michele and her son. It’s truly amazing what God can do.

But it’s important to remember that stories like this don’t happen by accident. Without God’s grace and the prayers and support of friends like you, Michele’s could have been a very different story.

“This program saved my life. It saved my son’s life. With unconditional love, I was able to beat the odds and move forward.”

Thank you for the partnership that continues to make true transformation possible in the lives of the men and women we serve, and God bless!

By God’s Grace: Rejected No More [Nicole’s Story]

Kids are full of wishes, hopes, and dreams – especially around Christmas time. Many of us can remember staring at all the brightly colored presents under the tree, hoping against hope one of them was that special gift.

That wasn’t the case for Nicole. Her heart’s desire couldn’t be found under a tree. It wasn’t something that could be purchased and wrapped in a box.

“I would see other kids who had moms and dads,” she remembers, “and that’s all I wanted – a family that was stable.”

Every year she was disappointed. Every year, the decisions that were made for her and eventually, the decisions she made for herself, pushed that dream further and further from her grasp.

That is, until God’s grace and your support converged to give Nicole a gift she had long given up as impossible.

Nicole’s family was torn apart from the get go, long before she had a chance to experience the meaning of the word.

When she and her brother were still small, their mother was murdered in a domestic violence situation by an angry boyfriend. Her father, who was in prison for selling drugs, couldn’t offer any support.

“We were shifted from one family member to another,” remembers Nicole. “We didn’t know what was going on, but we knew enough that we felt the rejection.”

Time and again, she remembers suffering physical and emotional abuse at the hands of distant relatives. It was incredibly painful. But she did her best not to let it show. She wanted to be strong.

But stuffing all that emotional hurt inside turned Nicole into an angry, rebellious young girl. During her teenage years, she was in and out of jail for fighting and truancy. Her home life was a train wreck. But it was at 18, when she turned to drugs for support, that Nicole checked out completely.

“I just couldn’t stop. There was this craving, this phenomenal craving that was so powerful. I told myself, I’m going to get over this in a week or a couple of months. Just let me enjoy myself for now. But it didn’t turn out like that. I ended up running around in the streets. I was couch surfing, living in hotels, doing drugs, drinking every day.”

The desire to keep the pain at bay was so overwhelming that when she had her first kids, two daughters, she abandoned them with their father to continue to chase the party lifestyle. Years went by. In her mid-twenties she had two more children, this time two sons. Both were taken by the Department of Child Safety [DCS] at birth because of her addiction. Nicole had another daughter in 2016, Madison. Yet again, DCS took her child.

“I went back to doing drugs and a couple months later I was pregnant with my youngest son, Ray, from a different guy. My life was out of control.”

But there was something different about this pregnancy. Nicole soon began bleeding. Small amounts at first, but eventually it was enough to send her to the emergency room.

“I ended up having Ray at 26 weeks. When it happened, my bladder burst, my body went into shock, I needed blood transfusions, I thought I was going to die. I reached out to God and repented for what I had done, I told Him I wanted my kids to live a happy life. I asked him to forgive me. Then I felt the overwhelming presence of God. I woke up three days later.”

When she woke, she felt changed.

“I saw Ray fighting for his life in the hospital, connected to all the tubes and everything, and I knew I couldn’t be selfish anymore. He was fighting for his life… why couldn’t I fight for mine? The only people I had to go back to outside the hospital were my old using buddies. I didn’t want to go back there. So I reached out for help. One of the counselors pointed me to the Phoenix Rescue Mission.

Thanks to your support, Nicole’s life turned a corner that day, and she’s never looked back.

“It’s changed my life! I was able to work through the trauma from my childhood. Phoenix Rescue Mission helped me get my kids back. They advocated in court for me and wrote letters. It took a year, but I finally got them back!”

I’ve learned how to be a good parent here, how to create routines for my kids, how to pray together and have family dinners.

"We plan out family activities once a month. We go to church together. It’s a lot different from what I grew up with. Everything is centered around God.

Today she’s sober, a graduate of our recovery program, and a graduate of our rigorous Servant Leadership Program. And she’s busy! In addition to taking care of two adorable children, she volunteers her time as a table captain for Celebrate Recovery and she has a position at Community Bridges, helping the homeless find housing. But that’s not all.

“I’m going back to school in January, I’m enrolled at Phoenix College to start doing my general studies in preparation for either nursing or counseling, where I can apply my behavioral health training and my peer support specialist certificate I received while I was here.”

Nicole has a bright future ahead of her. But even better, she finally has what her little heart desired all those years ago, thanks to friends like you – a real, stable, and healthy family she can call her own.

Thank you for the support that makes stories of transformation like this possible. On behalf of us all at Phoenix Rescue Mission, we wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

HOPE for a whole family

The destructive effects of addiction aren’t limited to the individual. The children who witness their parents struggle, who suffer abandonment, neglect, who must weather domestic violence and survive homelessness, are very nearly devastated by it.

Rebecca knows it first-hand. She grew up in a home filled with all of the above. In fact, it was so toxic that she felt she had no choice but to run away from home at 13, never to return.

Growing up in such a broken home was an experience she never wanted for her little girl.

Thanks to your support of the Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center, she, and hundreds of kids just like her, never will.

Drug life, violence, gangs, all of it, was a part of my life ever since I ran away,” Rebecca admits. “I begged for food, sold drugs, committed crimes, I did whatever I could to survive.”

For 20 long years, Rebecca never had a place of her own. When she couldn’t find a couch to crash on for the night, the streets were her home. Over the years, her addiction led to multiple run-ins with the law. She was sent to prison four times. The last time, she went in pregnant.

And that’s when everything changed.

“I gave birth to my daughter while I was incarcerated and they took her. My DCS [Department of Child Safety] worker took me aside and told me, ‘I know you’re used to a certain way of life, but there’s this place, some of my other clients have gone there, and it’s literally changed their life. If you decide to go and you get through the first part of recovery, I’ll give you your baby back and close your case.’”

Rebecca had been on her own for so long, she didn’t trust anyone, especially a free recovery center. She knew there had to be a catch – but she didn’t want to lose her daughter.

“I definitely wasn’t thrilled about coming to the Phoenix Rescue Mission. I actually told Pastor Will while we were in foundations class that I was going to get my baby back and I was going to leave. I never thought I would stay for two years.”

It took some tough love, but Rebecca found a hope here she never thought she was good enough to receive.

“In one of the classes, I told the class that ‘I can sit here and tell you that Jesus died for you guys, but he didn’t die for me.’ Pastor Will called me out on it. He said, “I’m going to challenge you on that. Are you God? If God can forgive you, who are you to not forgive you?’ That’s what it took. I’m very hardheaded and independent, so I needed someone to call me out and challenge me.”

It was at that point that things started changing for Rebecca.

“You know how they tell you that when you read the Bible, things are just going to pop out at you? I was always like, ‘Yeah, ok, you guys are full of it.’ But then it started happening for me. The first one that jumped off the page was Exodus 14:14: ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’ God was telling me, just be still and let me do my work. So I let go and things just started falling into place.”

But Rebecca admits none of the transformation she’s experienced would have been possible without having her daughter by her side.

“If I couldn’t have my daughter with me during recovery, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. The whole reason I wanted to change my life was because of her. What is life without your child, y’know?”

Phoenix Rescue Mission’s Changing Lives Center (CLC) is unique in that transformation is possible for more than the individual – it’s available here for the whole family.

“I’ve never done the first time parenting sober, so it was rough, it was hard. Thankfully, I had a lot of help from our amazing counselors and childcare teachers who worked with me. They helped get me through a lot of moments when I felt like giving up.”

While their parents find hope, children receive daycare and counseling as well.

“A lot of the kids here have issues. They’ve seen the drug use, the domestic violence, parents removed from their homes, a lot of things that they’ve had to suffer through. That comes out as behavioral issues, and insecurity. Not trusting that your mom is going to pick you up after school, that hurts. It’s intense.”

But it’s not just emotional issues. On the streets, healthy meals and proper care and attention just aren’t possible. To restore the children who call the CLC home, the Phoenix Rescue Mission partners with Dental Home Concepts, Canyon Pediatrics, and Parsons Family Health Care.

We have a lot of kids with bad teeth. Others have been malnourished. They come in underweight, unable to thrive. “My daughter gets to see Mrs. Mickey [Dental Hygienist at the CLC] every month for cleanings and a checkup. And she sees Canyon Pediatrics for her well-child checkups and her shots.”

Today, Rebecca and her daughter are well on their way to a bright future. Rebecca has found sobriety as a graduate from our recovery program, she’s completed our rigorous Ministry Training program and was even hired in August as our new Work Therapy Coordinator!

“Other recovery centers don’t give you the love, support and the biblical principles that make all the difference. Here they really help you to dig deep and get to the root of the issue. This place has changed my life – both of our lives!”

What is Love?

What is love? A difficult question for most people, let alone men and women who have experienced a a fair amount of trauma and abuse. Yet, these men and women are learning what love looks and feels like when God is a part of their lives. Some are early in their journey. Some are deep in their truth of what the Bible says about love. February, and every day, we celebrate God's love for us and how we can walk that out in our own lives by loving like Jesus loves.

"Love is an action. God IS love. God sending his only son to die for us .. is love. Something as simple as a smile can represent love."

Michelle - Graduate of Phoenix Rescue Mission

Screen Shot 2018-02-02 at 11.01.11 AM

Tom - Graduate of Phoenix Rescue Mission

Tommy

"I didn’t know what love felt like. All I knew was hatred, shame and guilt. I didn’t realize until I came to the Phoenix Rescue Mission and actually received Jesus Christ, my personal Savior, and turned my life over to God, what love feels like. And now its like a feeling in my heart all the time. It’s amazing. I care about myself again, I care about everyone around me. The way the Mission and the staff adopted me as family. That feeling you get, it’s crazy. I don’t have problems anymore. It’s a good feeling."

"Love is selfless, and takes a lot of sacrificing of your own desires."

Tiffany - Graduate of Phoenix Rescue Mission

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 1.47.46 PM

Stephen - graduate of Phoenix Rescue Mission

IMG_8690

"This is a good week to talk about love. When I think of love, I think of 1 Corinthians 13. What is love, what is the picture of God's love for us? Love is patient , love is kind. Love keeps no record of wrongs. It does not boast, it is not envious. And looking at 1 John also, perfect Love casts out fear, if we don’t know God, we don’t know love."

"Past experience with love hasn’t been the greatest, but a lot of that is because I didn’t have a relationship with God. Now that I do, it’s kind of re-learning everything through His eyes, His perspective. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m still learning a lot."

"Love means home. With my kids, it’s home, family, my babies. That’s love to me. Here at the Changing Lives Center, my kids aren't here with me. So I often go to our daycare on campus, and spend time with the kids. I feel an abundance of love there. It’s unconditional. This is my home right now, I feel safe and I feel love from Christ. Love from God is overpowering, just all-consuming, joy, smiling, happiness. It puts me at peace. My relationship with God now is the strongest it’s ever been. I feel God’s Spirit, that’s love."

Michelle - Client at Changing Lives Center

Michelle-Love

Brandon - Graduate of Phoenix Rescue Mission

DSC_6640

"Love is an unconditional acceptance and a yearning to be with someone or something. Love has no bounds, there are no stipulations as to how I can give it to someone or something."

"This is what I have sought for in love. When I think of love, I think of my mom. She showed me the most love, forgiveness, encouragement and just enjoying the company of others. That’s where I learned what love is. Enjoying and wanting to invest all of yourself regardless of cost."

"Love is to be fully known, yet accepted. Unconditionally."

Sala - Graduate of Phoenix Rescue Mission

noora-with-kids