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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Our Mission: Making Disciples

(The Testimony of Naisha Daniels)...

Three years ago, in Winter Lake, Florida I had the privilege of introducing Naisha Daniels to Christ. Her story has been an inspiration to many as we have refocused on our mission. I invited Naisha to join us at district conference to give her testimony. The following is what she shared!

I often wonder why sometimes when I share my story I cry and at other times I don’t. I think it has to do with my level of honesty--of how safe I feel in taking my ‘mask’ completely off. I hope I am able to do that here today.

Safety is a reoccurring theme in my life. I have walked through life like a wounded animal--scared, beaten, defeated. The odds were against me from the beginning. My father was a murderer. My unmarried mother was pregnant at sixteen (with me). She was a disgrace to her family and left to fend for herself.

I was born in February 1979 in Patterson, New Jersey, where my gracious aunt and uncle had taken my mother in when no one else would. It was a home filled with love and the only place I ever learned about true love and godly values. This wasn’t to last for long, however. Mother moved us out of this haven and into a tumultuous relationship with a man. This was the first of several failed relationships that she would experience.

When I was eight, we moved to Lutz, Florida to live with my mother’s twin brother and his family, people I hardly knew. Again, I was lost and scared. I didn’t understand why we had moved. My resentment toward my mother began to grow. I longed to be back with my aunt and uncle and the stability that they represented. Also, I was different from the kids at school and boy did they let me know it.

We moved often and I attended many different schools. During these years my mother would go on a date, leaving me home, lonely and scared. When I was ten, my mother met her ‘Prince Charming’. He was good to me in the beginning. I even called him “Dad”, the closest thing to ‘Daddy’ I ever called anyone besides my uncle. However, it wasn’t long before he betrayed my trust and tried to have sexual relations with me. I freaked and he threatened me. I never said a word to my mother or anyone else about this incident, or the countless other times he was sexually improper with me. I thought that somehow I had ‘asked for it’ or that it was somehow my fault. My aunt had warned me about men like this, but she wasn’t there to protect me anymore. There I was trapped by an abuser--of alcohol, drugs, and us! I swore I would never be like him or my Mom.

By the time I was sixteen my aunt and uncle moved to Florida to be near me. However, not long after their move my aunt was diagnosed with colon cancer. She fought a long, hard fight but lost her battle two years later.

It was about this time that my mom’s boyfriend moved out. The physical and sexual abuse finally stopped. By then, however, I was very damaged. My dreams of Harvard were gone. In fact, I despaired of ever amounting to anything at all. I struggled with my view of God. How could He allow my aunt, my beautiful angel, to suffer as she did? For whatever reason, He allowed my miserable existence, but why did He let her die such a horrible death? She loved Him with all of her heart. In my confusion and anger, I decided that I wanted nothing to do with a God like that.

Curious and rebellious, I started experimenting with drugs. In less than five years, my curiosity had turned into a full-blown addiction. I was addicted, not only to drugs and alcohol, but to men. I loved the power I felt and the attention I received from them. The nightlife became my lifestyle! I lived with beautiful but shallow people. And I was one of them. Under this influence, I felt beautiful, strong, confident, and powerful. These lies almost cost me my life.

In January of 2001, after consuming two drinks, I drove home from a club where I had been working. I never dreamed two drinks could affect me so. I had driven in much worse condition before that. I fell asleep for a few seconds and awoke to oncoming traffic. I over-corrected and hit a car head on. Robin Powell, a 40-year old woman in the back seat of that car sustained a severed spinal cord injury and was paralyzed. She would take years to recover. My injuries were to my face, which had to be surgically reconstructed. I was charged with four counts of DUI, serious bodily harm, and property damage. During the twenty-two months that it took to convict me, I received a second DUI. I was facing eight to ten years in the state prison.

I had no coping skills whatsoever. I tried not drinking. I tried not going to clubs. I even tried dating a pastor’s son. I tried church. Nothing worked! However, through the grace of God, the grace of the judge, and the grace of my victim, my sentence was to have addiction treatment, one year in prison, two years of house arrest, and five years of probation. I went to treatment, not understanding that I had a real problem. I just knew that my life was unmanageable. I was introduced to a twelve-step recovery program. It felt like I had come home. Others in the program were just as broken as I was.

This program taught me about a God, but He was limited to my distorted understanding of Him, since the only God I had known had taken away the person I loved most, and it seemed He was not there to protect me when I needed Him. I wanted nothing to do with that God. So I suffered through the first five years of recovery. I tried making my boyfriend my god, I contemplated suicide, I looked to other humans, but all failed me.

It wasn’t until July of 2007 that I decided I had had enough pain--enough to bring me to my knees. I walked into a church by myself and heard Pastor Paul James speak. He invited people to come forward but I was too ashamed and proud. He had mentioned that he was available if anyone wanted to make an appointment to talk to Him about spiritual things, so after the service, I spoke with him and asked Him if I could have an appointment. The next afternoon we met, he shared the plan of salvation with me, and I gave myself to Christ. He asked about my story and I said, ”Which one?”

I walked on cloud nine my first year as a Christian. My life could not have gotten better. I was on fire for the Lord. However, I guess I had not built my foundation on solid ground. Pastor Paul performed the wedding ceremony for my boyfriend of four years and me. Shortly thereafter we learned we were expecting our first child. Paul and Susan moved away to bless New York. Our New Christians group dissolved, friendships and trusts diminished. My faith in this God I was learning to love wavered.

I grew resentful. I was living in unchartered territory as a Christian, a wife, a new mommy and a full-time employee. I was afraid and overwhelmed and my fear held me captive, so that I was unable to reach out. I was ill prepared and not wearing the whole Armor of God. But in all these experiences, God has been teaching me a lot.

I have learned that, no matter where I have turned or how much I have allowed Satan to deter me, the Lord’s glory is there. I truly believe and understand that when I asked Him into my heart, His beautiful Holy Spirit filled that abyss I had for all the years prior. And although my heart can get polluted with my insecurity, fear and negativity, Satan can not reach there and never will be able to. I am a princess of the King. I am a child of God, and I am learning through this, what it’s like to be refined. In my spirit, I am aware that the Lord loves me, even with all of my imperfections. That means the world to me. I always believed that I had to earn acceptance, approval, and love, and though it is hard to wrap my mind around, I know that all that and more is given to me through grace and mercy.

One tremendous example of this was evident in my last court hearing that took place just before I was to come to New York to speak here at District Conference. My probation was terminated four months early. Robin Powell stood before the judge (she has healed over the years) and stated that she believes I have paid my debt to society. She added that she understands that people make bad choices and that she hopes that I use my experience to help others. She also said that she forgives me, and although she will never be the same, she holds no hatred. On top of all that, she invited me to contact her if I ever need anything. And then she asked that I give her a hug. All of the guilt, shame, remorse and suffering came to a head in that embrace. I could so easily want to erase everything that occurred. However, I just thank the Lord for allowing me to laugh, live and love again.