“Persimmon cookies,” says Vivian. “That’s what I remember most.”
The warm, sweet smell of freshly baked cookies always filled young Vivian’s heart with such comfort. When her mom baked, the house seemed less empty, her mother less sad and distant. “My dad died when I was very young. My mom never remarried,” says Vivian. “I guess he abused her to the point where she had nothing left to give her kids.”
“She loved us – you could see it in her eyes,” Vivian says about her mother. “But she didn’t know how to show it. She had a lot of hurt and pain inside her.” The physical and emotional absence of her parents left Vivian and her siblings unsure of the world, uncertain how to survive and form healthy relationships. Vivian’s sisters were eventually taken to foster care. Her brother left home at an early age.
Vivian escaped to a teenage marriage, only to find herself trapped in abuse just as her mother had been. Through decades of turmoil, and a second marriage, she managed to raise six children of her own. But not without clinging to drugs in order to cope – a decades-long habit that destroyed her health and left her longing for something more.
“I was renting a room in a wet, moldy basement,” Vivian recalls. At age 51, she left her unhealthy marriage to get help. “I wanted to know what life tasted like without drugs. The happiness of it, the sadness, the struggles. All of that.” Vivian’s daughter helped her find Shepherd’s Door, our New Life Ministry for women and children.
“As soon as I walked in the door here, I felt this blanket of God’s presence. This sense of warmth. That I was secure and I was safe. I felt like I was home,” says Vivian, echoing her life-long desire to be embraced with love.
Slowly, Vivian unclenched her grip on her painful past. “It was time to let it go,” she says. “To let all the fears, all the abuse, all the beatings, all the drugs, everything I went through – to give it to God, because He wants it.” Recovery counseling and a new experience of God’s love began to set Vivian free. “God’s always been there, carrying my heart,” Vivian says. “It wasn’t until I gave Him my life that He carried the full weight of it.”
Now a graduate of the yearlong program, Vivian loves teaching other women from her own life experience. “We come in here with such shame and guilt, with our heads hanging down,” she says. “When we leave, we leave that all behind. We find a sense of God’s love and His forgiveness. With that, there comes hope and peace.”
Not long ago, a stranger asked Vivian a challenging question: “If you were to plant your heart, what would it grow back as?” Now she finally has an answer. “My heart would grow back as love and forgiveness,” she says. “I came here empty. But I’m leaving full.”