Up From the Grave I Arose

By: Tina Cook

To my Debra & Vicki: Thanks for helping me pedal

It’s been almost a decade since I stood at the crossroads. The decision before me was quite simply LIFE or DEATH. If I chose life, I knew exactly what it meant! You see, I’ve never really been a middle-of-the-road sort of person. In fact, I have always lived on one end of the spectrum or the other…either thriving or self-destructing with nothing in-between. So for me, choosing life was a decision to no longer flip-flop through life. The contradiction of who I had become was bizarre: I was the epitome of a pregnant woman who walks into an abortion clinic wearing a SAVE THE WHALES t-shirt. I also knew without a doubt what it meant if I did not choose life. It meant there would be no going back…no coming HOME to anything I had ever held dear. I would be choosing to let go of anything and anyone that had kept me from tumbling into the abyss. Yes, I was at the crossroad that would determine the rest of ME.

Believe it or not, the decision was hard. This seems unfathomable now but at the time, death really had its hooks in me. Fear was assuring me that I would never fit into THAT world…hopelessness was reminding me I might as well not even try…the attraction of living on the edge was enticing me to stay. I had to dig really deep and make some unfamiliar choices to shush the voices enough so I could find a semblance of faith…a smidgen of hope…and just enough strength to begin tuning out my physical ears and mind so I could start tuning in my spiritual ones.

The further away from the voices and vices I got, the more I questioned how and where I had ended up! I started to wonder if perhaps familiarity is the enemy of blessings. For decades, I had consistently chosen what was familiar at the expense of God’s favor, my family, friendships, and quality of life. I had done this over and over and over again in spite of the despair…the destitution…the destruction…the danger of my deadly lifestyle. It dawned on me that I was literally clawing myself out of the grave I called my life. Worst of all, that grave didn’t want to let me go! The climb was so excruciating at times; it would have been easy to simply let myself slip back down into the comfortable numbness I knew awaited me.  Ahhhh…but I had been doing some new things during my climb. I had been diving into Scripture and praying to be changed. Isaiah 55:11 says that God’s word will accomplish all He wants it to, and it will prosper everywhere He sends it. It did just that for me right in the middle of the county jail. I decided on an improved death for myself…the resurrecting kind that would release me from my self-induced grave and deliver me to safety so I could regain my lost dignity. So right there in my jail cell, I utterly died to Tina Cook and held a funeral to the woman who had been the walking dead for far too long.

What I didn’t know at the time was that I would face more than one death. I have held many more funerals for myself since then. To really live, daily dying to opinions, desires, unforgiveness, and unbelief is required. In simple terms, I have to give up my own thoughts and behaviors so I can give in to obedience and trust. Believe me when I tell you, dying is NOT pretty for me! It hurts like the dickens. If not for my stubborn determination along with lots of God’s saints keeping me hemmed in, I might have reverted to the old, familiar death of drugs and all that they imply. The belief that I only had to sincerely offer myself to God one time likely stemmed from a mindset that God would simply change ‘stuff’ in my life without grasping that required ME to change.

I remember vividly the day God transformed that mindset…the events leading up to it…the stage God set to turn me around for the long-haul. I had been out of jail for about 2 months and was racking up back rent at a half-way house that was giving me a chance. I was getting very nervous they were going to kick me out, and I had nowhere to go except back to the streets which were patiently waiting for me. So, I reluctantly called one of the only connections to home I had left: Debra Fleming. She had already shipped me some things I needly desperately including my birth certificate so I could get an ID. She asked me what she could do to help me, and I said, “Debra, if I had a bicycle, it would change my life! I could ride to more places further away to apply for a job.” So, she told me she would put a $50 Visa card in the mail so I could get myself a life-changing, used bike. The very next day, I got a call from Vicki who managed a dry-cleaning production plant within walking distance from me. After some tears and begging on my part, Vicki agreed to give me a chance to work part-time at minimum wage. I was so happy…until the end of the workday! My feet were absolutely killing me because I was wearing practically worn out, hand-me-down shoes. By the time the Visa card arrived, I couldn’t have cared less about changing my life. I just wanted my feet not to hurt so badly. So, I called Debra to tell her, “I got a job! But I didn’t buy a bicycle with that Visa card you sent to me. My feet were killing me from walking on a concrete floor all day. So, I bought me a pair of tennis shoes instead. It seemed more important to change my days than to change my life!” We had a good laugh about it. She wasn’t upset at all that I had bought those shoes. She just wanted to help me because she knew I needed it and could see I was determined to do some pedaling. Two days later, I was at work when some people I met at the homeless ministry pulled in. I told my co-worker I was taking a break and went out the door to say hello. As I ran toward their jeep, they began pulling a bicycle out of the back of it. As clearly as if He were running alongside me, I heard God say, “You change your days…I’ll change your life!”

It took a while for me to grasp all that those words truly meant. I knew they were profound and life-changing without understanding that they encompassed the moment that fully pivoted me toward freedom and stability. In that moment, I let go of trying to change, do, be, and have everything which was what I had always endeavored. “If I just had this…once I do that…if I were this…when I have that…etc.”  God’s words set me free to live one day, one step, one breath at a time which is all I could ever handle anyway!

I will end this with a quote from Mitch Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie. “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they are chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning in your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives purpose and meaning.” I am well aware that my life is an extreme makeover. But the truth is, many people walk through life in a deadly state: no joy, no purpose, no meaning. They are constantly seeking that elusive thing they believe will make life worthwhile. So, if you need a pivotal moment, please borrow mine! The words are freely shared with all: “You change your days…God will change your life!” Be blessed everyone…

By: Tina Cook

Director, Athens-Limestone County Family Resource Center