Brenda Jolly was waiting on tables at a local restaurant in Tulsa when someone says, “You’re Brenda! I know you!” Brenda lit up like a light bulb with those five words.
Being known simply as Brenda, a member of a Christ-honoring church family means everything. For the first time in twenty years, it’s not “Brenda, the black sheep of the family,” not “Brenda, the addict" or “Brenda, the ex-con.” It’s simply, “Brenda.” She doesn’t hide her past, but it’s behind her now.
Brenda Jolly had lost everything that mattered when she walked through the front doors of a Bible-believing Tulsa Church family in August of 2010. She asked for food, but she knew she needed so much more. Addiction had destroyed everything good and wholesome in her life, and she had no idea how to help herself find a way out of her confused lifestyle. Brenda traces addiction to an inner ache she could never fill after the death of her mother on Easter 1990. Life spiraled out of control as she turned to drugs to numb her pain. “I’d snort cocaine, but the high only lasted a few minutes,” Brenda said. “Drugs took me down a dangerous path that took everything that was precious to me.”
Brenda walked away from her husband and two daughters. She was arrested in 1999 and sentenced to three years in a federal prison. “In a sense, that saved my life,” Brenda said. “It was the beginning of seeking God; though I didn’t know it at the time. I started my journey of following God.” In prison, another inmate handed her a Bible and told her to read it. Brenda held that Bible up and let it fall open to a random chapter and verse. The first few verses she read were from Hebrews 12, a chapter about faith and discipline. Brenda believed God let her go to prison to discipline her and save her life. She continued to read the Bible, signed up for some Bible studies and earned a stack of graduation certificates. “They talk a lot about jailhouse faith,” Brenda said. “But I did try to take it out of prison with me.”
Her father and stepmother helped her get on her feet when she was released. Brenda held steady for a while, working at Applebee’s Neighborhood Grill and paying for her own bills. Life seemed better than ever when Brenda married her second husband, Joe, 2004. But Brenda’s world spiraled once again downward after a doctor prescribed her pain medication for a gall bladder infection, and she slipped back into addiction. This time, she trolled the streets for meds and stole money that Joe set aside for rent and utilities. “If I didn’t have the drugs, I felt like I had the flu,” Brenda said. “Before long, I needed $100 a day to get by.” The couple teetered on divorce, as the bank repossessed their car. Losing their home was the last straw.
One afternoon after work, Joe noticed that Brenda was especially antsy, pacing back and forth in their home. He knew something was terribly wrong. About 4:00 p.m., Brenda told him that they were being evicted in an hour. Joe left with his eight year old son to live with his mother while Brenda moved into a motel with her two cats and three dogs. “That day, I lost my home, my husband—everything, again,” Brenda said.
In her job as an administrative assistant at one of the large churches in Tulsa, Sheila Smith often talks with people who come to the church for help. “So many come in with the saddest stories, she said. “When Brenda came, I explained the resources that are available and prayed with her. When I went to hug her, it seemed like she held on for dear life.” From then on, Brenda stopped at the church often to pray with Sheila. This time, she knew she could not overcome addiction without God’s help. “It was the same old thing with me.” Brenda said. “I couldn’t do anything right on my own. For a while, I prayed to die every day. Nobody wanted me, and I was so lonely.” Often Brenda doubted that even God wanted her. When she stopped at the church campus one morning to pray with Sheila, Sheila assured her that God did love her and had a wonderful plan for her life.
Brenda went off methadone, realizing that she was addicted to it as much as other drugs. It cost $13 a day, which was money she didn’t have to spend. Getting totally drug free was a battle, but one that Brenda knew was vital to survival. The more she was at church the more people recognized Brenda as a kindred spirit who was seeking the Lord. She began to feel that she belonged and that people genuinely cared. On October 3, 2010, Brenda accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior and was baptized by her father. The congregation rejoiced and celebrated with her in her new life in Christ!
Joe began to see Brenda change, and the couple got back together last February. When things get tough, they sometimes stop by their church to pray with their ministers. Brenda is proud of her job as a waitress, where she often waits on Bible study groups from her church family. She and Joe are working together to pay their bills and save a little to get on their feet once again.
On Mother’s Day, a few weeks ago, Brenda received cards from her daughters, who are in college. That was a major breakthrough for her. “They’ve forgiven me,” Brenda said. “I just can’t forgive myself, but God is helping me in that area.”
Brenda has an answer for those who doubt that God exists or cares. “God saved my life,” she said. “I know He’s there. I’m living proof!” She also shares that being a part of the church family means more to her than anyone knows. “People here know my name, life and heart, she said. “I belong here!”