Today is my 52nd birthday, and today I begin a series of posts — 52 Stories of Salvation.  Years ago I found myself in a moment of truth that began one of my own salvation stories.  For weeks I could not shake nagging questions about my story.  I had always known my mother was adopted, but neither my mother nor I had pursued any information about her birth parents.  I called my mom and pleaded, “I need to know about your birth mother.”  I could not articulate the reasons.  It seemed crazy.  I have since learned that salvation often begins in crazy places.

My mom searched through her papers and provided me with her birth certificate and certificate of adoption.  She shrugged her shoulders and said, “Go ahead, see what you can find out.”  The birth certificate listed my mom’s birth mother’s name as Marjorie Clay Dixon.  My mom also knew that her mother was a student at the University of Wyoming when she’d become pregnant.  I obtained a current listing of the University of Wyoming alumni with addresses and telephone numbers, and then I randomly selected the number of someone who would have attended the university when Marjorie was a student. 

The elderly woman who answered the phone remembered “Marj” and recalled her older brother, Edward Clay.  Unbelievably, the directory listed an Edward Clay with a California telephone number.  Suddenly, I was afraid, but I called Mr. Clay and gently asked about Marjorie.  The poor man was baffled by my inquiries and suggested I call Marjorie’s daughter, Susan, who lived only sixty miles from our home!  I called Susan and falteringly attempted to explain my interest in her mother.  Susan was neither shocked nor surprised.  Although her mother never talked openly about the baby girl she gave away, Susan had discovered her mother’s secret and watched it haunt her mother throughout her life.

My heart beat faster.  I knew I was close to understanding more of my own story, and I couldn’t stop now.  “Where is Marjorie?  I’d love to meet her, to talk to her.”

Susan’s answer stunned me.  “My mother died several years ago,” she explained with a trace of bitterness.  “She was only fifty-two.  At the end, she was a hopeless, hallucinating drunk.”

Time stopped.  I don’t remember how the phone call ended.  I do remember setting my glass, half full of Smirnoff’s vodka, down on the coffee table.  I was caught.  The sad story of Marjorie Clay Dixon compelled me to tell the truth about my own life.  I was an alcoholic, and Marjorie’s story of broken relationships, impoverished children, insane paranoia, numerous hospitalizations, and bleak funeral was like a malignant prophecy. 

Several weeks later I stopped drinking — for the first time.  I wrote about Marjorie’s story and mine in my first book Bravehearts, “When my story collided with Marjorie’s, God was answering my cry for help.  My heart that had opened a sliver to understanding suddenly opened wide . . . . I bowed my head and acknowledged aloud, “Lord, I am a sinner.  A broken and needy woman.  I am caught in the disease of alcoholism and I see no way out.  I need your mercy and your grace.”  The God of all salvation mercifully taught me that I needed to be honest and deal truthfully with my past and present, not hiding from it, so I could be clear how it was embracing or suffocating me in the present.  After this glorious salvation, I confidently boasted, “If I ever make it to age 52, I’m going to have a huge party and celebrate!”

I relished this salvation.  I had babies and dreamed dreams of a wonderful story.  And then my life split wide open when my marriage crashed into a million little pieces that all of the hard work and wise counsel could not put back together again.  I relapsed and I scared a lot of people and hurt them and me.  I wrote about this experience in my book, The Last Addiction.  This relapse led to a more rigorous program of recovery and certainly a more secure salvation.  I began to participate in the Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I acknowledged that I was truly powerless over alcohol and that I needed a Power greater than myself to save me.  Once again God answered my cries for help and brought me into a Fellowship that is almost always available with the steady words of, “One Day at a Time,” and “Let Go and Let God“, and I have been saved over and and over and over and over again by the outstretched hands and time-worn wisdom of my fellows.  Once again I determined with a little more sensibility about what would be required for sustained sobriety, “If I make it to age 52, I’m going to celebrate!”

Sadly, the salvation of the Fellowship got a little shaky too, and two and half years ago I slipped into a room, needing salvation once again, but hoping to go unnoticed by others in the room.  I quickly surveyed everyone in the room and felt relief that I didn’t know anyone.  I was at a breaking point — again.  I was lonely, exhausted, and drinking.  I was being checked into treatment by concerned friends.  A question from another woman in the lobby jarred me out of my thoughts.  “Are you Sharon Hersh?” she asked.  I wanted to hit her with my purse.  How did she know me?  What was she doing here?  “I’ve heard you speak at my church,” she continued, “and I’ve read your books.”  I’m not sure what else she said or what I said before I blurted out, “Today I’m just Sharon — a lonely, needy, insecure, middle-aged, alcoholic woman who has gotten lost along the way and needs to be rescued.”  She kindly put her hand on my shoulder and gave the perfect response, “Aren’t we all?”

Once again God proved that He really did come to rescue us, and He saved me through the transparency that came from everyone in my world knowing about my latest struggle.  When you wake up  — blurry and bedraggled from a drinking binge — in the hospital with your pastor and all the elders of the church around your bed, there isn’t any place to hide.  A counselor in treatment — Tino — tenderly taught me to trust the simple truths of salvation again.  I wrote about much that I learned from Tino in my book, Begin Again, Believe Again, “Today I’m grateful for spiritual failure because it reveals that I cannot save myself.  I need a Savior.  God, in his mercy, allows difficult circumstances and realities to reveal our vulnerability to trying to make life work our way.  When our way of doing things falls apart, we are in the perfect place to be converted to want the Way, and wanting Him more than wanting our own way is true salvation.”  After this relapse I met my parents for dinner at The Texas Roadhouse.  With confusion and desperation in her eyes my mother pleaded, “Sharon, you don’t have much more time to get this.”  I knew what she meant. I remembered Marjorie Clay Dixon and prayed, “Dear God, if you let me make it to age 52, I will celebrate this with You.”

I would be less than honest if I told you that I haven’t struggled since that last big relapse.   I have struggled with temptation and experienced recovery, and I imagine that both will be part of my story until I die.  In fact just this week while having coffee with my good friends William and Dana I confessed that this week — this week of my 52nd birthday as I anticipate celebrating breaking this curse — I’ve been more tempted than ever to drink.  I guess that’s not surprising since the Enemy has plotted and planned and arrogantly believed that he “had me” since Marjorie Clay Dixon.

So what do I mean by “Safe at Last”?  I do believe that today, August 25, 2011, a curse is broken — a curse breathed into Marjorie’s story of guilt and shame that slithered through the cracks of my mother’s story and took hold of my own heart years ago as I grew to depend on alcohol rather than the true and living God.  I don’t have the confidence to say that I will never relapse again because this curse is broken.  I know the Enemy is crafty.  And so I will continue to heed what all of my salvation stories have taught me — I will honor my story and the story of Marjorie Clay Dixon by remembering; I will continue to take part in Alcoholics Anonymous and a rigorous program of recovery by relying on someone other than myself; I will tell the bald-faced, raw, truth to my friends because redemption only lies in the ruins of the truth, and I will get up every morning and surrender to Jesus, not so that He will make everything better but so that I can just be in a relationship with Him.  Remembering my story, relying on others, redeeming the ruins by telling the truth, and wanting a relationship with Jesus more than anything else — that’s my salvation story.

I cannot help but think of Marjorie tonight.  I am getting ready to meet my daughter, Kristin.  She’s going to spend the night and then we are going to celebrate all day together tomorrow with shopping and manicures and Starbucks.  And then tomorrow night we will join her husband, my parents, and my brother for dinner.  I’m sorry that Marjorie’s 52nd birthday was not so happy, but I am putting the wily Serpent on notice:  Today, August 25, 2011, this curse ends.  I am safe at last.

I run for dear life to God, I”ll never live to regret it.  Do what you do so well: get me out of this mess and up on my feet . . . .You keep me going when times are tough — my bedrock, God, since my childhood. . . . Now I’m telling the world your wonders: I’ll keep at it until I’m old and gray.”  Psalm 71, The Message