“To tell you my story is to tell of Him. Of the grace that is greater than all my sin. Of when justice was served, and where mercy wins. Of the kindness of Jesus that draws me in. To tell you my story is to tell of Him.”
My story is a long one. For you to best understand I’ll start at the very beginning. I was born in Tucson, Az into a family of faith. My sister was two and a half at the time, and my brother would come four and a half years later. From birth, knowing God was a part of my life. I was five years old when I first asked Jesus to come into my heart. There was an altar call at my Aunt’s funeral. At twelve, I rededicated my life to Christ on a mission trip to Mexicali, Mexico.
In addition to attending church regularly, I attended private Christian school grades K-12. There was weekly Chapel and a different Bible course for every grade. In the summers I attended Child Evangelical Fellowship’s Camp Good News and multiple Vacation Bible Schools. As I got older I started volunteering at these same institutions. I thought I had a firm foundation of faith before heading off to college at 18. In actuality the foundation was flimsy. From the outside everything looked right. But like the seed that fell on the rocky ground, I lasted only a short time. There were no roots in my heart of accepting Jesus Christ as my savior AND Lord. (Matt. 13:20).
A month before my 10th birthday, April 2000, my world imploded. My dad moved out of the house. It was the beginning of a very messy, tumultuous, volatile, high conflict divorce. My parents’ arguing got so bad they stopped screaming at each other and started fighting through me. Being 12, my older sister saw the injustices between my parents and sided with my mom. At 10, I was the next oldest child who was still trying to maintain a relationship with my mother and my father. My brother was only 5 at the time so naturally, the responsibility fell on me. I became the messenger; put in the middle of their battles. The messages I was carrying were not meant for a 10 year old to hear. They were not meant for a child of any age to hear. The things that my parents said to me, and then had me repeat to the other parent, make my stomach turn.
I want to point out that the division inside of me began there. The confusion inside of not knowing how or what to feel. Loving my mom was unacceptable to my dad. Loving my dad was unacceptable to my mom. Constantly having to defend whichever parent was absent. Taking responsibility for behavior that was out of my control. I didn’t know where my loyalties lied; somewhere between two parents. I began to split my time between two homes, which eventually became two states. I was divided internally and externally.
My parents never intentionally hurt me. Divorce is war and children’s suffering is collateral damage. What they didn’t know at the time is that there are no winners in divorce. Only survivors. 21 years later my family is still experiencing the repercussions from this traumatic event.
Because so many negative emotions were being expressed by every other individual in my family, the belief that emotions are bad took root in my heart. I believed emotions were harmful to myself and others. I believed that what I was feeling was wrong. I needed to figure out a way to make my feelings disappear. So I bottled up all my emotions and stuffed them down in order to survive. I formed a hard exterior around my heart. With my armor on I had a “just let it roll off your back” mentality. I managed to get by like this for years. But then life happened. My emotional capacity was full. Depression, bitterness, and resentment started seeping out of the cracks. I couldn’t hold it all in anymore. What started at 8 as a bottle of unprocessed pain had become an ocean by age 25. I was drowning in my depression and fear. I chose alcohol to numb me, distract me, make the pain go away. My medicine was my poison.
I had my first gulp of vodka at a party the summer before I went away to college in Santa Barbara, California. It was July 2008. As soon as the alcohol hit my brain my world went from black and white to color HD. I felt as if life had been dimly lit, but alcohol flipped the switch and I could see vibrant colors all around. The world looked completely different all lit up and I loved it. I was infatuated.
I remember thinking about all the things I did sober that I could now do drunk. With alcohol I no longer had social anxiety. I felt free to do and say as I wished, right at that moment, without caring about the repercussions. I could express myself rather than suppress who I was. I could loosen up and feel comfortable in my own skin. I became the person I always wanted to be. Fearless. Bold. Fun loving. Confident. Witty. Friendly. Carefree. Expressive. Alcohol made me feel free. Free of Self-Loathing, Social Anxiety, Fear. Free of feeling unworthy, not good enough, less than. Free of my paralyzing insecurities. Free of the terror of timidity. Free of the confines of my own mind. Free from the chasm filled with confusion that the division had forged inside me. Alcohol was my answer to all of life’s problems. Happy- drink. Sad- drink. Celebrate- drink. Angry- drink. Confused- drink. Lonely- drink. Bored- drink. Alcohol was good for any and all occasions. That was a lie. A lie that I bought into for seven years.
In the beginning of my drinking days I was the life of the party. That crazy friend you had who gave you your best stories. The one you loved to party with, but never counted on. I was a black out drunk from the start. Every morning after a night of drunken debauchery, I had to play Sherlock Holmes and piece together what had happened.
Looking back, God spared me from many dangerous situations. Even in the midst of my rebellion and rejection of Jesus Christ as Lord, God spared my life. More than once I was told I must have a guardian angel. “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” -Ephesians 1:4-5
Only 10 months into my drinking career I got my first DUI. May 2009. I was driving in a blackout. Coming out of it, the first thing I saw were flashing lights in my rear view mirror. I pulled over and admitted to being drunk. I told the officers just to take me in. It was 5:00am. I still remember being cuffed and put into the back seat of a police car. I was surprised by the hard plastic bench. The cuffs were very tight bruising my wrists. I asked for them to be loosened, but they said it was procedure. I kept apologizing profusely to the officers, dozing in and out of sleep. I went to jail for 11 hrs. The longest 11 hours of my life.
It is the human condition to forget. Within 48hrs of my arrest I was drinking beer from a keg.
My first DUI cost me $3500 in fines, four months of DUI class, three years probation, and my license suspended for one year. I was 19 which is under legal drinking age. Even with all of this, I still continued drinking. I figured they took away my driving, so I might as well keep drinking. I had a false sense of control. Thinking I could stop whenever I wanted to; but of course, I never wanted to.
The end of my second year of school in Santa Barbara came. I was out of money. My sister, brother and I were all given a college fund to last us for four years. I spent mine in two years and had nothing to show for it. In June of 2010 I moved north to the San Francisco Bay Area to live with my Dad and continue my education. I had decided to study nursing.
You cannot attend nursing school with a misdemeanor or felony on your record. I still had 2 years left of probation from my DUI. However, there were many science classes I needed to take before I could even go to nursing school. The classes would take me 2 years. It seemed to line up perfectly.
A year went by. I worked and lived and went to school. Still drinking, but still thinking I was in control.
Fall of 2011 my Grandma Dorothy (Dad’s mom) was diagnosed with severe dementia. She fired a string of caregivers in a very short amount of time. I needed work and she needed watching. I became her full time caregiver and had moved in by February 2012. (This was only a temporary solution for her care. I was planning to attend San Diego State University come fall). During this time I was also a full time student. The pressures to get high scores in order to be accepted into a competitive nursing program, and be an attentive caregiver to a woman who was losing her mind, were surmounting on top of me. I cracked and broke.
I was arrested for my second DUI April of 2012. I spent another 9hrs in a holding facility. I was six weeks away from getting off probation from the first DUI. This meant the punishment would be harsher. My second DUI cost me $10,000 in fines, my driver’s license for three years, two years of DUI class, 544 hours of community service, three years probation, and my dreams of becoming a nurse. It would be years before they’d let me into a nursing program.
It is the human condition to forget. Two months after my incarceration I started drinking again. My disease picked up right where it left off and I was up to 15 shots a night in no time. Somehow I managed to keep up appearances and hide the severity of my addiction from everyone.
Seeing as my career path was under construction, it was only sensible I become my Grandma Dorothy’s full time caregiver. Her dementia had progressed and she showed signs of internal bleeding. According to The Doctors she had only 3-6 months to live. I prolonged my sentencing, which prolonged my start date for the various punishments in order to be her caregiver.
Without a driver’s license I was on house arrest by default. My inmate was a 90-year-old woman who was losing her mind before my very eyes. Something inside of me died. I stopped fighting the notion that I was a failure and started accepting it as part of my identity. During the first 7 months, my Dad came over about once a week to take me to the grocery store and my Grandma and I out to eat. In my isolation I started believing I was nothing. I would amount to nothing. I was a failure. I was no good. I was worthless. I was hard to love. I deserved all my trials and needed to pay the price. Accept the punishment. I replayed all my failures over and over in my mind. To silence the accusations I drank. My excessive drinking only kept adding to my file “Record of Wrongs.”
More often, I feared the person I was becoming and the path I was headed down, was not the person I wanted to be. I had gone so far down the wrong path I couldn’t find my way back. I didn’t know how to get from who I was to who I wanted to be. “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do.” Romans 7:15
My drinking had caused me to turn away from God. I was experiencing the death that the sin and the absence of God brings. Every Sunday I told myself, “I’ll go to church next week.” But next week always turned into next week. I told myself this lie to comfort my dying spirit that once knew the Truth, but was never rooted in Christ. (Matt. 13:21)
I felt like I was two different people. I didn’t understand how I could encounter God at Church (on the rare occasions I did go), and drink until I passed out in the same day. How I could start my day with reading my Bible and be drunk by 2pm. Part of me yearned for closeness with Christ, but the other part of me craved the desires of the flesh. My addiction had a hold. “Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” James 1:8
There was a war waging inside of me. The internal division that two parents vying for my allegiance created in me as a child, carried over into adulthood and I tried to serve two masters; God and alcohol. This internal conflict and fight for my devotion exhausted me. I would resolve to stop drinking when I woke and by noon I would have changed my mind. I used to wish I could go to jail so I wouldn’t be accountable for my choices. The choice would be made for me. I could twiddle my days away in forced sobriety. I was exhausted from internally being pulled in opposite directions. It felt like a tug of war between 20 people; pushing and pulling on me all at once. I was so broken. So tired. So done.
No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t do it in my own strength. I needed Jesus Christ to come and rescue me from my sin and myself.
My Grandma Dorothy passed in April of 2014. Two years later. Not 3-6 months. I still had DUI classes to finish, so I was tied to San Francisco for another year. I got a job at a restaurant over summer, and another restaurant by fall. I moved out in November 2014. I lived, worked, and drank for the next 10 months. I plummeted by September 2015.
Over the course of my drinking career I compromised myself for alcohol. My self-destructive habits increased in frequency and intensity. My drinking went from social to solo, celebratory to medicinal. I went from saving myself for marriage to engaging in sexual immorality with more than one person. I engaged in other drugs as well. Ecstasy, cocaine, acid, mushrooms, weed. By September of 2015 I had lost 3 jobs, couldn’t pay my rent, and was drinking every day. I had isolated myself from everyone. I couldn’t go more than 10 hours without a drink. I craved it so much. I don’t include this to shock you or compare stories. I include this so it is clear to you the depths to which I sank. Knowing how low I went, and seeing how high God has brought me brings glory to His name. It is only by His grace I am here today. “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” Psalm 40:2
My return home is littered with what I call mini miracles. So many things out of human control fell into place; the only explanation is God working. I could write a book just listing all the ways He provided for, and orchestrated my rescue. “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” John 21:25
Friday, September 4, 2015, I almost missed my plane for a weekend trip to Tucson because I was drinking. My sister told me to get my purse, get in a cab, and get on the plane. With nothing but myself and my wallet I got on the plane. I met some people at the airport and continued to drink all the way to Tucson. I had the shakes for two days as I was detoxing.
Upon seeing the state I was in my Mom, Sister, and Brother didn’t want me to return to California at all. I convinced them to let me go back, pack up, and say goodbye. My mom bought a ticket for two weeks later to help me move. I was in such a helpless state she would be on my door step in just a week’s time.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015, my mom flew into San Francisco International Airport. God had told her, “Go and get your daughter before you don’t have one anymore.” She arrived at my house that evening around 7pm. She found me in a ghastly state. Unbeknownst to her, I was waking from a drunken slumber as I had been drinking earlier that day. That evening she had a fitful night’s sleep, hearing me vomit due to the tequila in my belly. Wednesday morning, September 16, 2015, she let me sleep in while she cleaned and packed up my room. We drove away that night.
The words “cleaning and packing” don’t quite do the sacrifice my mom made justice. The state I was living in was animalistic. Garbage, clothes, and alcohol paraphernalia blanketed my room. Stuff was everywhere. You couldn’t see the carpet, let alone walk on it. I was exposed. There was no more hiding my sin. My mess was all laid out there for her to see.
The morning of Thursday, September 17, 2015, I was sitting on the edge of a hotel bed. My mom was sitting across from me in the standard hotel desk chair facing me. My body shriveled and my head hung low with guilt, shame, and remorse as I sat on that bed knowing the unspeakable things she had found on my floor. I remember I was trying to apologize for what she had seen and thank her for helping me. I was expecting judgment, ridicule, and rejection. Instead, as I listened to her recount the events of the last two days, she expressed sheer joy and elation. She said more than once, “I’m just glad to have my daughter back.”
My story is much like the Prodigal Son. I had squandered my resources and was living with the pigs. “But while she was still a long way off her Mother saw her and was filled with compassion for her; she ran to her daughter, threw her arms around her, and kissed her. The daughter said to her, ‘Mother, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your daughter.’ But the Mother said to her friends, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on her. Put a ring on her finger and sandals on her feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a party and celebrate. For this daughter of mine was dead and is alive again; she was lost and is found.” Luke 15:20-24. I was going home.
The grace, peace, and forgiveness I experienced was overwhelming. For so long I had been trying to hold it all together and not let anyone see the brokenness under my armor. I was exhausted. But for the first time in years I started to release my burden and rested in the grace and mercy of Christ’s blood.
I’m going to interject here. My full name is Tesia Grace Miller. The meaning of Tesia is “Loved by God.” My mom specifically gave me the middle name Grace as altar to God and His grace in her life.
Sunday, September 20th, 2015, three days after experiencing God’s Grace in the hotel room, I had my Miracle Sunday. I experienced and encountered God’s love multiple times that day. I went to church Sunday morning with an old high school friend (Kim) whom I hadn’t seen or spoken to in four years. During worship, God very clearly said to me, “Tesia Grace, I love you and I give you My grace” over and over and over. I tangibly felt Him wrap His arms around me. All I could do was cry.
That afternoon I went to a different church with another friend I hadn’t seen in years (Janet). Right before I left, my mom called me and said, “Holy Spirit told me to tell you, ‘It’s ok to not be ok.’ Feel your sadness and grieve.” I lost it. For so long I believed I had to put on a brave face and push through it. It was weakness to cry. It was weakness to feel pain. I couldn’t afford to be weak.
I was set free from the lie.
Crying in the car ride all the way to church I wasn’t paying attention to where we were going. I looked up and noticed we were in my childhood neighborhood; the house I grew up in while my parents were still married. I asked Janet where we were going. She said, “the church is in this neighborhood.” In that moment God said to me, “I am bringing you home. I am going to heal what was broken and restore the years the locusts have eaten.”
During worship we sang the song Unstoppable Love. I felt God speaking directly to me as if no one else was there. The song says, “Try to stop Your love and You would wage a war. Try to take the very thing You gave your life for. You would come running. Tear down every wall. All the while shouting. My love you’re worth it all. God you pursue me with power and glory. Unstoppable love that never ends. You’re unrelenting with passion and mercy. Unstoppable love that never ends. You broke into the silence and sang a song of hope. A melody, resounding in the deep of my soul. You have come running. You tore down every wall. All the while shouting. Tesia you’re worth it all. No sin. No shame. No past. No pain. Can separate me from your love. No height. No depth. No fear. No death. Can separate me from your love.”
Nothing I had done and nothing I will do can separate me from Him. God relentlessly pursued me. He wouldn’t let me go. I was in his hand. Even after all the rejection and denying Him with my words and actions, He chased after me.
Throughout that whole service I felt Jesus saying to me, “I have redeemed you and made you whole.” I felt inexplicably loved. Inside my body there was the warmth of His healing presence coursing through my veins. I tangibly felt His presence with all of my being. God is so so so good.
An even different friend from the other two spent the night that evening (Sam). The community that God surrounded me with immediately is a miracle in and of itself. He scooped me up and embraced me through the arms of His people. We had prayer time the following morning. As Sam prayed for me she said, “It’s ok to take off you armor, be vulnerable and feel your pain.” My armor was heavy and thick after years of trying to deflect the pain and shield myself. God penetrated my heart and said, “It’s time.” Time for me to take it off, be exposed, and let Him work on me. I was relieved. I felt the weight come off me and I was lighter. I didn’t have to carry that heavy armor around anymore.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9. I cannot help but declare the praises of Him who brought me out of the darkness. Jesus has totally consumed me with His love and light. I want others to find the same freedom in Christ Jesus that I have found.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:11-14a.
I am no longer a slave to fear. No longer a slave to sin. I am a child of God.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9