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God Uses Woman's Painful Past to Minister to Homeless Women

In an issue of Today's Christian, Carol Heath shared her moving testimony:

I hated everything about my life.
After twenty-three years in a loveless marriage with little respect, my divorce was now final. I had to leave my dream house in Anderson, South Carolina, and move to a dilapidated rental house on a dead-end street. Even worse, I matched that awful house. Staring at the dingy floor, I felt ugly, used up, and broken. So many years of my life gone. Wasted.
Dropping to my knees, I traced a huge split in the linoleum as I prayed, "God, help me. If you get me out of this, I'm yours. Whatever you want. I just need three things—a job, a new life, and to be loved."
With no college degree and little employment history, my options were limited. Then word of a job opportunity came through my previous mission work. I'd be managing My Sister's Place, a shelter [in northern Georgia] for homeless women and their children. The position would provide a place for me to live and a salary. I didn't think I had much left to offer, but at least I'd be needed and loved. It sounded too good to be true. …
My Sister's Place took in addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, single and divorced women with children, and some who never learned to manage money. …
I didn't demand perfection, but somehow after I arrived, housekeeping dropped off. Chores were forgotten and duties half done. After a month I awoke to discover dirty dishes in the sink, ants crawling over the countertop, beds unmade, and cups covering the coffee table. God, you tricked me—put me in charge of bunch of women who act like spoiled teenagers.
"None of you appreciate me!" I slapped the dirty counter. "Can't you see how hard I'm trying?" My hands shook as I slung the Tupperware cups into the sink. "When are you going to grow up? I don't like being here, in case you didn't notice. If any of you don't want to help out, you know where the door is."
They scattered like rats. All except Gail. I stomped back to the bedrooms and ordered the rest of them to get busy making beds. That night for supper, I fixed turkey again from our collection. Some church had donated twelve.
After supper we went through our usual routine—Family Time, Devotional, and Prayer Circle. I offered no prayers. I didn't even hold hands.
After we finished, I peeled off down the street in my van, screaming out to God. "This is too hard. I can't do it." I found a used fast-food napkin under the seat to wipe my eyes. "I still hate my life," I sobbed. "I'm lonely no matter how many women you stick me with." God seemed far away and silent.
I drove until almost midnight and then U-turned my car back toward home. Stepping out into the dewy air, I stood in the damp, overgrown grass in the front yard and listened to laughter. I realized the ruckus was coming from behind the house. My tennis shoes squished as I trudged toward the voices. Peeking around the corner, I spotted the women. In the darkness their lighted cigarettes dotted the back porch like tiny red beacons. I inhaled, recalling the days when I'd smoked. Way back when.
"That Ms. Carol, something's riled her today."
"Yeah, I ain't getting in her way."
Then Gail piped up. "Y'all give her a break. She's one of us." She paused to take a drag from her cigarette. "She's got nowhere to go. We're her family now. We should treat her that way."
I didn't speak to any of them that night. I knew it was impossible—I could never be like them.
Early the next morning, I heard a faint knock on my bedroom door. Gail tiptoed in with a cup of coffee. "Here, Ms. Carol. Just the way you like it." She grinned and stuck her stubby hair behind her ears. "Sorry about yesterday. We're gonna do better."
"How come you smile all the time?" I grabbed the mug and moved over to give her room on my bed. Gail spent half her day in addiction classes, then went straight to Krystal's to flip burgers.
"I have so much," she said.
"Honey, look around. You don't have that much." I patted her skinny, tattooed arm.
"I have you," she said in her throaty voice. "I'm glad you're here. We need you. Bad." Smile lines formed at the edges of her 47-year-old blue eyes. Lines just like mine. Gail hugged me with all her might. In her arms, something angry inside me began to melt.
My sweet Lord, [I thought]. I understand way too much about abusive relationships. You've been preparing me for this job for years. I know how they feel. I've been there…I am them.
[Later that day], I drove to the co-op to pick up free food. As I shopped I prayed, "God, show me how to really love these women."
Filling up my bag with fruits and vegetables, I noticed something I'd never seen. Long-stem pink roses. They reminded me of my yard in South Carolina. The man behind the table said, "Take some. Every day, if you want. They'll just get thrown out."
Free roses! What woman doesn't love roses?
That night, we celebrated with store-bought hamburger meat—a rare treat. I took my time and made homemade spaghetti, and found a vase under the sink for the pink roses. Smiling, I arranged donated candles all over the table. This looks special. Something I'd love myself.
"Attention ladies," I said, tapping my tea glass with my fork. "We have a new tradition—our family's tradition. Every night we'll have fresh roses and candles on our table."
In the soft glow of candlelight, my precious family and I reached out and held hands as we said our blessing. Gail, my new sister and best friend, sat on my right side and squeezed my hand tightly. I squeezed back—hard.

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