I’ve never seen Mama Janyce without Deirdre Joy Nash serving her in some way: parking the car, answering the phone, bringing her something to drink, reminding her of an appointment. As I contemplated how to revise Janyce’s manuscript detailing her exploits in ministry, I decided fiction would be the best vehicle, and the main character should have a sidekick similar to Deirdre. Deirdre consented to tell me how she met Janyce, so I could base the sidekick on her life. I meet with Janyce and Deirdre at Jesus Miracle Power’s chapel and learned the trip to alcoholism can be short.
“I had a strong Catholic influence in my life,” began Deirdre. “My father went to Mass every morning before he went to work. I attended Catholic schools, but the whole church thing perplexed me. I knew about God, but I didn’t know God. I always felt like there was a hole inside of me. I knew all the sacraments, but I didn’t know Jesus wanted a personal, intimate relationship with me.”
On the outside, Deirdre’s life looked picture perfect. On the inside, she was scared. A friend’s brother molested her when she was in elementary school. She never told anyone or received psychological help. The perfection her father demanded distressed her. For many years, her undiagnosed dyslexia made her feel dumb.
An academic scholarship to Tulane University brought Deirdre to New Orleans and removed her from the sheltered life of her devout Christian family. She spent her first night of freshman orientation partying with her fiery red-headed roommate from Long Island. As the sun broke through the darkness welcoming Sunday morning, Deirdre remembered her father’s instructions to meet him at Mass. He wanted her to see where the chapel was before he returned to New York. Deirdre arrived bleary eyed in rumpled clothes knowing she would not return once her parents departed.
During her first two years in college, Deirdre’s boyfriend introduced her to drugs and her lifelong struggle with bulimia grew worse. She started drinking the first thing in the morning and by evening she was intoxicated and belligerent. Feeling her life slipping from her control, Deirdre went to the student health center to seek help from the school therapist in vain. Her alcoholism intensified when she returned to Tulane for her junior year and learned that her boyfriend was studying abroad. Depressed by his absence, she retreated to the sanctuary of her dorm to drink alone.
“I attended class drunk and wrote term papers drunk. I always took out my own trash, so no one would know how many bottles of alcohol I had consumed. Then I developed another problem. I started cutting myself.”
Deirdre’s roommate grew concerned and spoke to Deidre’s therapist. Deirdre thought she was too young to be an alcoholic and felt her friend had betrayed her. The therapist committed her to DePaul Hospital for detox. The treatment at DePaul’s failed, so Deirdre’s mother sent her to a facility at Florida where she was raped. Cut off from communication with her parents by the therapist, Deirdre never reported the rape. The doctors diagnosed her as bi-polar, put her on psychotropic drugs and sent her to a Three-quarters House.
“I left the Three-quarters House as sick as I had entered. My Dad insisted that I return to Tulane for my senior year. I was embarrassed to go back to college because of things I did while drunk and my behavior had alienated all of my friends. I ended up in detox twice that year and had to take summer classes to graduate. When I returned home, I was worse than I had ever been. My parents had tried every available option to help me. All they had left was tough love. I know it was difficult for them to tell me that I had to leave, but I’m glad they did.”
Deirdre returned to New Orleans to live with her boyfriend and worked various jobs; Krispy Crème, a deli, a short stent at a nursery. Her alcoholism made keeping a job impossible. Desperate for help she returned to church. Any day she wasn’t working; she went to church to say the rosary. Two years later, she was still leaving the church to spend the rest of the evening in a barroom. Her life became an empty shell with no hopes, dreams, purpose or future.
“I wasn’t living; I was existed. An addict’s life is like treading water. You are constantly trying to do something different. You move to another house or get a different job thinking it will change your life, but your addiction is chained to you. No matter where you go, you are always in the same place.”
Deirdre missed her family but knew they would never welcome her return unless she changed. She had been through detoxes, therapy, group therapy, intensive outpatient treatments, thirty- day inpatient, sixty-day inpatient, psychotropic drugs, herbal supplements, Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Three-quarters houses. Changing her way of life appeared impossible.
Then a friend invited her to World Prayer Tabernacle. The service was different, weird she thought, but she wasn’t bored during the service and the people were nice. She wanted to return. Her boyfriend refused, so she went alone and began attending a woman’s cell group to study the Bible. “The women in that cell group loved me,” said Deirdre. “I am convinced their prayers preserved me and led me to salvation.”
Shortly after Deirdre joined the cell group, her boyfriend left her. Then she tried to detox herself and fought with hallucinated monkeys were scurrying throughout her house and snapping alligators in her back yard. She stood on her couch for hours clutching a can of bug spray in a vain attempt to kill imaginary bugs as they invaded her house. She had not slept for three days when she was rushed to the hospital near death. Two weeks after the hospital released her, she was drinking again.
By age twenty-four, she had lost hope of finding a cure, until a friend told her Teen Challenge had opened a women’s facility in Winnfield, Louisiana. A ray of hope dawned, but Deirdre had reservations. She laid excuses at God’s feet. “What about my cell phone bill?” A friend offered to take over the plan. “What about my apartment rent?” A friend offered to pay it. “I can’t afford the blood test the program requires.” Some over-time hours at work covered the cost. “I will get drunk on the bus ride.” Melanie, one of the directors of Teen Challenge, was in town. She offered to drive Deirdre to Winnfield the following Saturday with one condition. Deirdre must remain sober until they left.
“Melanie made that offer on a Sunday, so I had to stay sober for a week. I had been drinking a lot, but I was desperate to try Teen Challenge. I got on my knees and prayed, “God, I cannot do this anymore, and I can’t stop on my own. If Jesus is real, take this from me, and I’ll give you the rest of my life. When I awoke the next morning, I knew something had happened. I had no desire to drink. I didn’t have a headache. I didn’t throw up. I could eat normal food. I knew God had heard my prayer and answered it.”
Deirdre remained sober until Melanie picked her up. She arrived at Teen Challenge with the required round-trip bus ticket excited, nervous and determined to finish the year long program. Her anti-social, selfish behavior often resulted in disciplinary action. Deirdre endured by embracing Hebrews 12:6 “The Lord disciples everyone he loves” (God’s Word).
“I was disciplined a lot but that made me believe God loved me a lot. I didn’t deserve some of the discipline, but I did it anyhow. I didn’t want to return to my former way of life, and I knew God was teaching me something.”
Her anti-social behavior worked in her favor. Instead of watching movies and painting her nails with the other girls, she spent time alone with God, praying and reading the Bible. As she studied the Bible, she felt there was something more and longed to find a deeper relationship with God.
Eight months into the program a pack of cookies disappeared. Accusing fingers pointed at Deirdre. “I didn’t take the cookies. Part of me said, take the blame, but part of me said, No, why be punished for something I didn’t do. I prayed about it, and I felt that I should tell the truth,” said Deirdre.
No one admitted stealing the cookies. Since the other girls blamed Deirdre for the theft, she was kicked out of the program. She left Teen Challenge with the phone number to a ministry on Apple Street. Since the ministry wasn’t expecting her, she entertained thoughts of throwing the phone number away and calling an old boyfriend. Then she remembered the story of Abraham. God rewarded him when he went to Canaan without knowing what to expect. She decided to follow Abraham’s example and phoned the ministry from the bus station.
“I cried like a baby the first two weeks I was at Jesus Miracle Power. At the time, there were thirty-five, to me, big scary men in the program. There was only one other girl – a lesbian who was mean as a junk yard dog. Then I learned that I had signed paperwork that committed me to another year long program. I wanted to leave. I didn’t, and I’m glad I stayed. I found the deeper relationship with God I longed for.”
Deirdre flourished at Jesus Miracle Power. She found direction, purpose and more joy than she had ever known was possible. The ministry provided many opportunities for her to give. She feed the homeless, visited detox to encourage the patients, and assisted in outreaches to children and prisoners.
“I’ve told Mama Janyce many times that Teen Challenge was a gate way to coming here. A lot of bad things in my personality were chiseled off during my time in Winnfield. I don’t think I would have survived the program here, if I had not gone to Teen Challenge first.”
“I like to say something, now that Deirdre has finished telling her story?” said Janyce.
“Certainly” I replied.
“I only had one room for girls when Deirdre arrived,” said Janyce, “We ran out of beds, so Deirdre volunteered to sleep in a chair in my room. She wanted what I had and followed me all the time and started serving me. I didn’t ask her to and it made me uncomfortable. I had some bad relationships with women in the past and preferred working with men. As she served me, I learned how to have a friendly relationship with women. She also relieved my concern that this ministry will end when I die. Deirdre has been with me three years and understands deliverance ministry. I know this ministry will continue through her.”
After I had turned off my camera, we talked for a long time about God’s provision. Janyce needed Deirdre as much as Deirdre needed her. Deirdre has remained sober from the day she promised to give the rest of her life to God. Janyce can rest in peace that the ministry she built will continue after God takes her home. I left Jesus Miracle Power with the knowledge that those we serve bless us as much as we bless them.