Sierra held a razor blade in her cold fingers. She was numb from the inside out.
She stood in the darkened woods behind a dilapidated house. The house was her boyfriend’s functioning meth lab. Traces of the drug still lined the edge of the razor. She drew it closer to her wrist.
The emptiness inside of her was fueled by a lifetime of neglect and abuse.
Sierra’s mother was an addict who used cocaine heavily during pregnancy. Her father was her mother’s drug supplier. As a child, a large portion of her life had been spent shuttled from obscure family member to obscure family member. Her parent’s addictions and self destructive cycles stole any sense of home.
Sierra felt like there was no place for her.
She only saw one way out.
Sliding the blade against her wrist, drops of blood rose to the surface. Her heart began beating wildly and she dropped the razor; terrified of how close to she had come to ending her life.
And in hindsight, her daughter’s as well.
“I know it sounds weird, but at the sight of blood dripping down my hand I knew there was a spirit attached to my spirit. That’s the only way I know how to describe it. I knew right then that I was pregnant.”
Sierra scrambled back to the lab and bandaged up. After the bleeding subsided, Sierra withdrew again.
This time she went out not to lose her life, but to find it.
Still spinning from thoughts of suicide she uttered her very first prayer, “I asked God to give me a healthy baby and I promised that I would never touch methamphetamines again.”
He did and she didn’t.
Sierra was 16 years old.
Nearly twenty years later, Sierra stood in her kitchen.
A cheery plate stacked with strawberries and cinnamon buns sat next to a pot full of French press coffee. Her small belly swelled. She was expecting a child. Her third biologically. Her first with her husband, Edward. Pictures of their blended family lined the counter top.
Tucked away in a rural suburb surrounded by forest, Sierra’s large log cabin was not unlike the setting that first drew her to God.
“From the very beginning, I really didn’t have a place,” she said. “When I was 10 years old, my dad just got sick of raising kids and called my mom to say, ‘Either you take them or I’m going to let CPS take them next time they come here.’”
Sierra’s parents split when she was three. “My father was very abusive. My mother, too. They constantly used drugs and alcohol around me and my father did his drug deals with us right there,” she explained matter-of-factly.
“We were one of the only families where I grew up that didn’t have a lot of money. Everyone knew who my dad was though, because the wealthy parents were buying cocaine from him.” She paused. “Their kids weren’t allowed to hang out with me.”
Sierra’s childhood was seared by brokenness, addiction and unsafe circumstances. “As a parent myself now, I understand how it is my job to protect my kids and teach them and lead them and guide them. My dad was really doing the opposite, leading me into dark places.”
Time spent with her father was centered around wildly destructive behavior. “When I was eight-years-old my dad handed me a stack of adult magazines and said ‘This is how a woman should look. If you don’t take care of yourself you won’t be able to keep a man occupied.’”
Sierra’s young life of trauma and abuse invariably led her into corners of culture she’d been groomed for, but desperately wanted out of. “I remember coming home one day, and felt like there was no place for me. I couldn’t have conversations with normal people because I felt so removed from what normal life was. I had felt that way from the time I was little.”
The longing for stability and normalcy gnawed at her.
In her early twenties, she rekindled a romance with someone she had known in high school. They got married. Sierra hoped for a family unit to rely on, but the marriage became progressively blackened by domestic violence and affairs. After one particularly violent outburst, she finally decided to leave him, “My son was two months old.”
Desperate for a fresh start, she moved around the country doing odd jobs and trying to find a place she fit. During a brief stint living in Chicago, she found herself on her knees inside a Catholic church. “I knelt down on this bench and I said, ‘God if you are real, I need you to show me who You are.”
Something inside of her kept being pulled back to places that harbored His presence. The small belief from years prior was still there; the rumblings of a deeper rooted faith eager to break through.
Sierra left Chicago and moved to Vegas with her two children. Shortly after, she enrolled her son in a preschool at a church nearby and her daughter attended their youth group. The church seemed like a “nice place”, but her involvement with it felt merely coincidental.
“Outside of my kids, I remember feeling like I didn’t have any purpose. I didn’t understand why I was here. I just didn’t feel like there was a place for me. It was a negative tape playing over and over in my head.”
One night, Sierra heard a voice say, “Get up and go to church.” She ignored the voice at first.
But the voice grew in persistence, louder and louder.
Get up and go to church.
Get up and go to church.
She responded adamantly, “I don’t want to go to church!”
But the voice continued.
GET UP AND GO TO CHURCH.
Finally, Sierra gave in to the promptings and went to the church where her children had been attending school and youth group. In a crowd of 800 people, the pastor stopped the service and called her up out of the crowd. “I struggled then with social anxiety and couldn’t imagine going up in front of all these people. But I walked up in front anyway.”
Sierra recalled the pastor’s words with tender clarity. Her voice cracked, tears gathered in her eyes. “He said, ‘God wants me to tell you, there is a place for you. You do have a purpose.’”
The negative loop she had been hearing?
The exact words she’d been telling herself since she was a kid were crushed under the glorious weight of hope. She described what she felt as a physical “flooding” of the Holy Spirit into her heart and life. “From that point on, I didn’t care what I heard about God not being real. There was nothing you could tell me that would keep me from believing He was real.”
This pivotal experience flipped a domino effect in Sierra’s life. Her faith caught fire.
After hearing the voice of God through a pastor Sierra had never met inside a church she had never attended service, she fell head over heels in love with Jesus.
The rebuilding of her life around the Gospel was in full effect. She went to five services throughout the week, served in the youth group and hosted a Bible study in her home.
“My life turned upside down immediately. I realized that through all of my trials, God had protected me.” Her voice strengthened. “I should have been an addict, but God protected me. Why was I so high-functioning? God set a hedge of protection around me. Why wasn’t I trafficked? I had friends that were. Because of God’s protection. God was with me every single hard place that I went.”
Even though she identified and understood that God was her protector, that didn’t mean she was now immune to suffering.
In Vegas, she met a man visiting on a missions trip. They had a long distance relationship and ended up getting married.
“We moved from Vegas to Washington where he had family. In the middle of all this, my husband stopped reading his Bible, began drinking a lot and getting angry about all sorts of things. I found out he was having an affair. I forgave him at first, but then I found out about other women.”
They separated and eventually divorced.
Sierra’s life went off the rails briefly. She struggled to find air. “Even with all I had been through, that was the deepest violation. Nothing really hit very deep until I met Jesus. Something different happens when you become a Christian. Your heart softens and opens. I became vulnerable in places that I didn’t even know existed.”
Even though she loved and believed in a good God, she was devastated. “I didn’t know how this pain could fit into a bigger plan, but I trusted God. Through my first mentors and pastors, God taught me about boundaries and breaking generational curses, which started my journey of stopping the abusive cycle I was in.”
During this season, she decided to go back to school.
Sierra was a high school dropout, but this time she threw herself into her studies. She was academically decorated and achieved a 4.0 throughout her college career. “I actually got my degree in Health Sciences. Nobody in my immediate family ever went to college.”
For a baby that was born hooked on cocaine and raised in an abusive environment, Sierra’s newfound security in Christ materialized in ways that far surpassed statistics.
Ivy Leagues were reaching out to her, awards and scholarships were at her disposal. She had her sights set on a master’s degree or a PhD in nursing. “I was pretty sure I was going to get my degree and spend the rest of my life in medical missions. As soon as my kids were grown, I was basically going to ‘Mother Theresa’ it for the rest of my life.”
But one day out of the blue, she got a message from a guy named Edward.
When Sierra first heard from Edward, he was working for a local organization that fought sex trafficking. Sierra planned to attend one of their fundraisers, but hadn’t been able to. The two connected through a follow up. “Typically, I would throw out a message from a guy I didn’t know, but I just had this feeling.”
It is not lost on Sierra that her difficult backstory could have only been understood and embraced by someone like Edward.
Edward had a heart for the abused and marginalized and was compelled by the life of Christ to serve them. “With all of these abuses that I had gone through and how that directly affected me and my relationships with men, Edward was the only man that could have captured my attention in the place I was.”
God was orchestrating a life that included Edward and Sierra together. He was taking the grief Edward carried from his own broken marriage and Sierra’s battered heart and fusing together a coupling that would glorify Him. A story that would punctuate purpose instead of pain.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize maybe there’s a completely different story God is writing me into. It was really just committing to what God wanted for my life instead of what I thought that I wanted for my life.”
One year later, Edward and Sierra were married. They blended their two families and found out they were having a baby girl of their own.
Sierra’s eyes lit up when talking about preparing for this new life and for this new season for her and her family. “I have a truly blessed and abundant life. I don’t know why the Lord saw fit to bless me so richly, but He did.”
God redeems. He restores. He knits back together what was torn to tattered rags.
Sierra’s life is the masterpiece that proves that.
She ran her fingers through her hair. Her smile widened. This was not the same girl tormented by a checkered past and debilitating abuse, this was a new creation.
“God came along and where there was only a graveyard, He planted an abundant garden. That’s just what He does–brings light to the darkness, gives shape to what is without form, fills what was void. He breathes life into the most destitute and hopeless places and plants gardens of goodness.”