by LaTanya Simpson, ISP Chicago

reflecting along with the song, “Never Would Have Made It” by Marvin Sapp

God is still speaking? Sure. But it’s also important for me to remember and testify: God was always speaking!

Like a lot of people, I would say that I am a very spiritual person, but I’m not religious. I do go to services and attend Bible study at a supportive church, where I also attend my 12 Step meetings. But I’ve been resistant to joining with organized religion, rules and precepts and all of that, at least as long as I’m still just learning who I really am.

My spirituality was born from the 12 Steps and influenced by ISP and Ignatian spirituality. So I’ve learned something about myself: I love helping people. I love being with those who have been in my shoes. Even working jobs in call centers, I may not have liked the fast-paced business demands of it, but I liked making personal connections and helping the callers. But, like always, God seemed to have a plan and worked behind the scenes for a long time. After I worked as a volunteer at an agency connected to Cara Collective and earned my stripes, against my expectations, a position at Cara Collective opened up just in time for me to apply. There I’ve been fulfilled with a job that allows me to help people like me and treat others as I have always wanted to be treated. I only see that as God’s grace, one way that God was always speaking in a whisper, waiting for me to listen.

I experienced so many years of addiction, from the first time I drank at the age of 13 through so many years dependent on drugs. I thought all along that I was a functioning addict, but I wasn’t. I was going downhill for years, living in a shelter, getting laid off from jobs. I tried to stop using for a long time, changed locations and friend groups, but it didn’t work, even for one day. By 2014, after two horrible years, I was just existing, like the walking dead. I was so tired – spiritually bankrupt and physically drained by the life I was living. I had been mostly making my way in a “career in retail theft.” My last time stealing, I was finally just ready to give up. That time I had left the store with all this stolen merchandise, but I stopped outside just waiting for them to come and catch me. I simply thought, “It’s about time!” Somehow, knowing that I was probably going to court and jail, I felt that it was all going to be OK. God was somehow even then speaking to me in that experience.

I did go to jail. And I passionately prayed that jailhouse prayer, “God help me and I’ll never do this again.” But after release, I stumbled again and returned to jail again within a month. I didn’t know anything; I didn’t understand recovery; I didn’t have any tools. The cycle continued.

That second time through jail and court, it all felt so different. I can’t explain it, but I had to cry out, “God, there’s got to be a better way to live! I can’t do this anymore.” Then I knew I needed more than just to be released, and I was able to convince the court I needed more support to get away from addiction. That was how I sought out a recovery stay at SisterHouse with so much support and structure, and my real recovery and my connection with ISP began.

In my scripture reflections recently, I came across this passage from the Second Book of Kings (20:2-5):

Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall, and prayed unto the Lord, saying, “I beseech thee, O Lord, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” And Hezekiah wept sore. And it came to pass, afore Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Turn again, and tell Hezekiah the captain of my people, ‘Thus saith the Lord, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee: on the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord.’”

The passage reminded me how I had once also turned in desperation and beseeched God for healing: “God, there’s got to be a better way to live.” And I know God answered in His way. God was always speaking in all of those bad times; now I was sober and aware and able to listen. I know that “Footprints in the Sand” prayer can seem cliché, but it is real for me. Looking back, I can see that I had a spiritual hole and I was trying to fill it with earthly things and people.

“The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) I had been so broken. God had always protected me and had saved me because I had cried out. In this Easter season, I know that God sent His Son to save us, but now through my experience, I’m so joyful that I know He’s still saving us and bringing us closer. Like the song says, I offer up to God, “never would have made it without You!”

I spent so many years not talking with God because I didn’t have my own relationship with Him. But I see that He was always speaking to me and creating me and loving me. How is God speaking now? Well now that I have a friendship with Him, I can talk to God just like I’m talking to a friend. This Friend is telling me that, even though I am “spiritual but not religious,” it’s time for me to get past the human mistakes I see in organized religion, to move beyond the people-pleasing instinct that used to rule me, and to look for the merciful way of God. As I read my scripture and pray honestly and look with new eyes, I can hear God inviting me to join a church community. I’m hesitant and I don’t know what that will look like. But I know God always was and still is speaking, reminding me in a whisper that it’s time for us to find a community where we can be even closer.

Reflection Questions: Have you ever been so moved, even desperate in your life experience to call out passionately to God in prayer? How did God respond? Have you sensed that your friendship with God has grown closer through adversity? In what way?

LaTanya, a Chicago native, attended her first ISP retreat in 2014. Since then, she has attended many more retreats, including as a witness and as a facilitator. She also recently helped on an ISP Twin Cities overnight retreat as a facilitator. She will soon celebrate ten years of her substance use recovery. She is now proud to have spent five years at Cara Collective, now as a Senior Staffing Specialist, where she facilitates the connection between those who have experienced homelessness and poverty and employers seeking talented future employees.