Tom knew he’d been unwanted all of his life, even before birth. Rejection and abuse eventually propelled him into a violent life of crime on the streets. After being miraculously protected in prison and later directed by an angel, Tom discovered the prayers from a group of teenagers leading him to surrender his life to Jesus Christ.
God’s way is never what one would consider the logical course of events. No one would ever believe that God would choose one like me to pour out his blessings and miraculous saving power, but he did and I stand in awe of it. I am sure others are bewildered by me, and I am positively sure of being loved by God. God has always loved me—warts and all! I was the youngest of four children, and from the time of conception, I have always felt unwanted. In fact, at 16, my mother told me that I was “unwanted, even in the womb” and locked me out of her house. I already knew it from the beginning, in my heart. (Mom died at age 85; to my regret, she never apologized for not wanting me. It was all I wanted from her!)
Unwanted and Violent
As a child, I found no one to hold to or to tell me that I was loved. I was violent from the time I was old enough to speak and walk. I took what I wanted. I asked once; if my wish was not granted, I took it by force. I have been looked down upon, deemed unnecessary and a hindrance to others. Consequently, I spent what should have been the carefree days of childhood, in loneliness. I have been unwanted by man and rejected by the world. I never heard my parents pray openly. Mom was in hospitals for most of my first nine years of life. At the couch we kneeled. I never heard any words. I suppose my dad was praying. At the end he would say amen. (How I would have loved to hear him speaking to God!)
We went to church every week until I was nine. Dad saw to that; but, I don’t remember one sermon or if I went to Sunday School. My parents divorced when I was nine. All four of us children were sent to different places to live in other states. Less than a year later, my dad was killed in an electrical accident. I was sent to live with my mom’s parents, and for the next four years was abused mentally, physically, and sexually by my grandfather. Finally, after a physical fight with him, I left him lying in the driveway. Grandma told me to help her find all the guns and ammo and she hid them! (Grandma Bailes was the most wonderful person I have known to this day.) I know my grandfather would have tried to kill me, like he attempted to do to one of his sons. He called my oldest brother in Chicago to come get me, and he came that day from 400 miles away. Unfortunately, I got into drinking and the gang scene shortly afterwards. I would stay drunk for days at a time. This didn’t do my school life any good. In the first week of the ninth grade, I knocked out the teacher over a gang related matter. I was banned from school with an eighth grade education.
Living on the Streets
No longer welcome in my mother’s home, the next step was living on the streets. During the cold Chicago winters, I slept in the basements of apartment buildings, using storage areas where people had stored mattresses. I slept in the parks, weather permitting. I was sticking folks up and taking what I wanted. I started hitchhiking across country to the West Coast. I spent years in jails for various offenses. I preyed on people in the streets, bars, and those that tried to help me. All of a sudden, my partner for years stopped hanging out with me. I was told by a mission preacher in down town Chicago that my friend Bill had accepted Jesus and moved back home to Nebraska. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God was with me. During my last run in with the law, I had committed armed robbery, assault, battery, and kidnapped a government man. I was facing the electric chair for the kidnapping. I was standing before the judge in leg irons and belly handcuffs. Armed police were all around me to protect the public. Several TV stations had set up in the courtroom to report on the trial. Unexpectedly, just minutes after the trial started, a man (my angel) entered the courtroom and handed the judge a paper. The judge looked at me in confusion for a long time, then called me up to the bench. With a bewildered look on his face, he announced that the charges had been dropped. (In 10 minutes, I went from facing the electric chair to a short stay in jail!)
The judge said he was giving me a year on the “State Farm” to think about what I was doing with my life. God was not through building testimonies in my life for future use! As I was returned to the jail house, I was put into a cell with a career inmate. That night he tried to molest me. I hurt him real badly. They transferred me to Southern Illinois where I was to be put in a cell with the same person. I refused transfer and was placed in solitary confinement until I would tell who was after me. If I had told on him, others would have finished his job on me. I stayed there in solitary for six weeks. I was to be given a glass of water and a slice of bread each day until I ratted on the one that was trying to kill me. Something strange happened, though. Every evening, a full tray of officer’s food and a cup of coffee was slipped under my door. There was no light in the cell except what came in under the door. (There was a four-inch space under the door.) Instead of losing a lot of weight, I gained 14 pounds. God was protecting me! Each week I was taken to the infirmary for evaluation according to law. The doctor never saw me, only a male nurse, who looked me over but never weighed me. Finally, after six weeks, the warden told me to go back to my original cell block (where I was safe) and to keep out of trouble. God is so good!
Direction from an Angel
There’s a lot more to this story, but I’ll jump ahead to 1966. While living in Los Angeles, I used to walk down the same street nightly. For several days, I’d noticed a man standing in the middle of the block each night. The man (who I thought was probably an under cover cop) called me by name and said, “Tom, split! They have you set up. They’re going to bust you tonight.” I started to walk away, then I stopped, thinking, who is this? I turned around to find him gone, but there was no place for him to go. He simply vanished! How did he know me? I wondered.
Later, after salvation, I understood that he was an angel. At that same moment, 19 young kids were praying for me in Mobile, Alabama. That night I left for Chicago where my mom asked me to visit my sister in Mobile. The first night in Mobile, a 14 year old boy that knew me through my sister, invited me to a party. He looked like he was in his twenties. I didn’t know at the time that he was the one God had told to start praying for me. The Lord had shown this young man that he was going to bring me to Mobile! I went to the party. There were 19 teenagers there. This made me nervous. I feared I would be arrested for being with juveniles. It was a Friday and these kids met there to pray and have fellowship each Friday night. On Sunday morning, my sister asked me to drop my niece off at Sunday School. I could not remember stepping inside a church since I was 12, and I was now 27. I took my niece to Sunday school. Without even thinking, I went into the church and sat three seats from the front. (I didn’t know I was supposed to sit at the rear, as most unchurched folks do. You all know what I mean. You did that too!)
Following the Call
At the end of the first service I went back to my sister’s house. I entered the bedroom where I was staying. Again, without thinking, I kneeled at the bed. I didn’t know what to call God. I figured he must have two names like us, not just God. I raised my fist in the air and
called him dude! I said, “Dude, I want what you got, even if you have to knock me out of the seat!” I had never seen an alter call before that morning’s service. So, I got up and went back to the church’s second service. I sat in the same seat. At the end of the sermon, when we all stood up, I began to feel shaky and uneasy in the stomach. I looked at my hands, and they looked steady. I remembered what I had told God about knocking me out of the seat. I felt as if someone was repeatedly hitting me in the stomach with a fist. But, then I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit (for the first time) saying, “Tom, if you take just one step the feeling in your stomach will quit.” One step would put me in the aisle, where most people would be nervous in front of strangers. By faith, I took that step.
Hebrews 11:6 says “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (NKJV)
Instead of fear, I could feel a smile on my face that would not go away. I don’t ever remember smiling except to con someone out of something I wanted. The pastor shared the plan of salvation and I said yes to Jesus. I met Jesus Christ that Sunday, about noon, on November 6, 1966! That evening I was baptized by emersion and shared in the Lord’s Supper. Baptism is the first requirement of becoming a Christian after accepting Him. (Acts 2:38) Then your work begins, telling others what you were and how to meet him.
My life has been a journey from rejection to rejoicing. I grew up in eleven different homes, with eleven different guardians. I felt alone, depressed and unloved. A man sexually abused me when I was six years old, another man at age eleven, and a third at fifteen. I was physically and emotionally abused as well. Searching for salvation, I turned to men at an early age, desperately trying to earn love. I pretended I didn’t care as time after time I was dumped, used and rejected.
I Did Not Want to Exist
I was an A student in school, but I didn’t care. I did not want to exist. I had to repeat my senior year to graduate because of excessive absences. I tried everything to numb the pain. I was addicted to alcohol by age fifteen and was shooting up cocaine by the time I was nineteen. For years, drugs controlled my life. I tried everything from marijuana to LSD. My friends and I had one goal in life: to win the lottery so we could buy huge amounts of cocaine and shoot up until our hearts exploded. One day, I had so much cocaine in my system that my muscles would no longer work. I couldn’t stand or lift my arms. I thought I was going to die. I remember watching my chest, waiting to see my heart bust right out of my clothes. After almost dying, I tried to pull my life back together. I knew I was going to die if I didn’t do something. I ran away from everything and tried to go back to school. Eventually, I was able to start college, but could not escape alcohol and depression. I barely finished my degree again because of so many absences. I was labeled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and severe depression.
My Life Was Hopeless
Bound in fear, I could barely function on my own. At times I would barricade myself in my home, too frightened to even look out the windows. I slept with furniture in front of my bedroom door and weapons under my pillow. I was sure somewhere, someone wanted me dead. I truly thought my life was hopeless. In 1992 I visited a church and received Jesus as my Savior. For the first time, my life had hope. God delivered me from alcoholism. I married my boyfriend, and had two beautiful children. My life was still a struggle, dealing with depression and my husband’s drug addiction, but God gave me strength to survive. I finally had a desire to live, even though I lived in constant fear.
The Greatest Challenge of My Life
In 1998 I faced the greatest challenge of my life - the death of my two-year-old son. In desperation, I grabbed onto God with everything I had. God answered my cries. He began to change me. I learned to hear his voice, and gave him authority in my life. I realized that I didn’t have to live as a victim any longer. He became my comforter. He healed me of mental illness and began to free me of fear. Life is still a struggle at times, but now I know that I truly can be victorious!
For 5 years, Terri focused on spiritual maturity. Then God called her into ministry. She became an intercessor and a servant. Since then, God has used her to speak prophetically and He has used her hands to bring healing to others. God has called her into prophetic evangelism and deliverance. Terri received her education through the Assemblies of God Urban Bible Training Center in Tampa, Florida, where she graduated valedictorian. She now runs Aiming High Ministries with her husband, Jody. As Terri pursued God’s desire for her life, she became burdened with the huge number of Christians still living in bondage. She became determined to take her testimony of freedom to the churches as well as to the streets. Now, together with her husband, they challenge people to aim higher, throw off the victim mentality, and arise victorious!