'From Stripper to Preacher' Amber Picota
All of my kids' birthdays are important to me (I'm an enneagram 7, we celebrate errythang y'all), but my oldest child's birthday (which just passed) holds special significance to me because of the circumstances surrounding his birth.
I'm in a storytelling mood today, so buckle up and put on your grown up britches today because I want to share about a time in my life that was a HOT mess. Most people who only know TODAY Amber are shocked at where I came from. I've been asked throughout my ministry to tone it down or to develop a G rated version of my testimony, but I WILL NOT. ***Consider that your trigger warning***.... my testimony is not for the faint of heart. Some of this story I've never told before, to protect other people, but I know that the truth sets OTHERS free. That's worth my momentary discomfort.
The summer I got pregnant with Joseph was my rock bottom. I hit rock bottom after failing out of college at UT Tyler and moving back to my hometown Paris, Tx with my tail between my legs to attend junior college. In Tyler I had started doing cocaine, using various prescription medications recreationally, I had worked as a stripper at a strip club for 8 months, and even overdosed on a mix of alcohol, xanax and whatever other drugs I had taken that night. When I moved back to Paris, my drug habits became more frequent, and I also started doing meth. The summer I got pregnant with Joseph was one long meth binge pretty much. I made a lot of bad choices that summer. I spent a night in jail at one point. In fact, I wasn't even completely sure who Joseph's biological father was the entire pregnancy. It wasn't until he was born and later was verified through paternity test that I knew.
When I first found out that I was pregnant, I immediately wanted an abortion. I was completely determined. I worked a full time job at the time and was trying to resume my classes at the junior college part time. I started trying to set aside the money for an abortion immediately when I found out, but stuff just kept coming up. I had a flat tire, had to buy this, and so on. At one point I shared with someone about my plans for an abortion and they wrote an address on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. I'll never forget that address, or even the handwriting. It was in green ink, and it simply said 500 E Houston St. Paris TX.
I called the phone number that was also written on the paper and I went in for my appointment at the Paris Pregnancy Care Center. I met with a woman who gave me a pregnancy test, and confirmed that I was pregnant. I told her my plans for an abortion, and this was about the time when I realized that this was NOT, in fact, an abortion clinic. The woman started talking to me about Jesus and attempting to share the Gospel with me. I got mad and I remember standing up thinking about what a huge waste of my time this had been. As I stood up to leave I told her "I already know who Jesus is, and if YOU actually knew him you would know that he doesn't even like me right now", and I stormed out.
You see, I grew up with the idea that "being saved" meant you go to the right church (every sunday), you dress a certain way, you stop sinning (any sin means you're not saved, and the list for what was considered sin was looong), and as long as you maintain that stuff you're saved and Jesus is happy with you. If you're NOT saved, God is angry with you and everything wrong that happens in your life is his judgement, intended to make you repent and turn to him. I'm not saying any of this is correct, I'm just saying this is what I believed at the time.
I left that pregnancy center, and my plan was to work some extra hours to come up with the money for an abortion. No matter how hard I tried, I could not come up with that money. At some point I came to terms with it, I just accepted that this pregnancy was about to happen whether I liked it or not. The more I came to terms with it, the more I began to love Joseph.
You see, I wasn't some monster. It's wrong to call women who have had an abortion or are considering an abortion names like murderer. It's wrong to assume they are terrible people. Listen, I'm sure every demon in hell was taunting me and torturing me with lies. I hated myself. I believed that no child deserved to be born to someone like me. I believed I was worse than trash and would make a terrible mother. I believed that my baby would be better off with Jesus than to be born to someone as awful as me. You'll never convince a woman to not have an abortion with your judgement, scorn and by calling her a murderer. Try LOVING HER WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED, whether she goes through with the abortion or not.
Anyways, the same pregnancy care center that I went to offered parenting classes, so once I'd come to terms with being a mom, I decided to go in and at least try not to suck horribly at stuff like changing diapers and all of the stuff entailed in being a mom. The parenting classes were on VHS tapes. (For all you whipper snappers out there reading this, that's what we watched movies on before Netflix, and before DVD.) The pregnancy center had a system where for every video I watched, I could earn "mommy dollars" (it was like fake money printed on paper) that I could spend on supplies like car seats, clothes, diapers, etc. At the point when I had watched all of the parenting videos, it was mentioned to me that on Tuesday nights there was a bible study, and a meal was served. Everyone who attended got 3 mommy dollars. I was like "Dang for 3 mommy dollars I can endure a dumb bible study", and I started going.
Except, this was NOT a dumb Bible study.
The woman who led it wasn't sharing some deep, complicated scriptural insight.
She wasn't blowing our minds with Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic.
She simply went through the Bible with us, and we all discussed it. What was wild is that I had heard the Bible taught my whole life, and I felt like she was reading a whole other book. And not because she was reading out of some bizarre translation. It was because each story we read seemed to be telling a story of God's love for us. I couldn't believe I'd never seen that before, and I started to worry that Michelle was just a little too optimistic about God, the bible, and all of this. Each week as I got to know Michelle better I started telling her about some of the awful things I'd done. No matter what, she remained pretty convinced that God loved me anyways. I think deep down I wanted to believe that Michelle was right... that God really could love someone who had done the things I had done, but also deep down I was afraid that one day Michelle would find out the whole truth about me, and that not only would she stop loving me, but that I would find out that God couldn't love someone who had done THAT. But that day never came.
I was induced on January 15, 2006. I had health complications which led to an emergency C-section. That was the day I fell madly in love with a fuzzy little black haired baby named Joseph Emanuel.
Three days later, as I was sitting in the hospital bed filling out his baby book details, I began to cry as I came to the section about "daddy". I left it blank because there was no happy daddy ready to drive us home. I was all alone. Don't get me wrong, my family was extremely supportive, but I suspected they were hesitant due to all the lies I had told and bad choices I had made. As I sat in that bed with tears running down my face, I felt a sacred rush in the room. It felt like God himself had just walked in the room. I tingled all over, like static electricity running over my skin. I heard God's voice speak to me, "I love you".... Such an awe fell over me that I could hardly breathe, for fear I'd disrupt this moment. A flash of a memory leapt into my mind. The worst day ever shined like a beacon as a vision right before me. I hated that day and hated the choices I had made. That was one thing I had never shared with Michelle, out of fear that THAT would be the thing that meant God couldn't love someone like me.
I whispered, "God, why would you remind me of this day?" And little did I know that his reply would be the thing that changed me forever. Little did I know that it would be the thing that still drives me, even to this very day, 14 years later. He said to me as gentle as warm honey, "I LOVED YOU THEN."
You wanna talk about the ugly cry? Honey I cried so much they were worried I would get dehydrated.
THE GOD OF THE UNIVERSE LOVED ME AT MY WORST. MEEEEE. I was undone.
I fell madly in love with Jesus that day, and that passion has never wavered.
I turned in my baby book to the last pages and wrote two letters that day. One to Joseph and one to God. I realized that if God loved me at my worst, he definitely loved me.
So yeah, this guy Joseph is pretty special to me. For 18 months it was just me and baby Joseph. When Rene and I married, Joseph accepted him as his daddy and Rene accepted Joseph as his son. Years later we finally were able to afford the court costs for Rene to adopt Joseph.
I will never tone down my story. I'm not ashamed of any of it because I'm not even the same person anymore. This is a story of a God who will leave the 99 for the 1. Even if that 1 is a shame-ridden, pitiful girl smoking meth and looking for validation from men. The world saw a junkie but Jesus saw his princess and he pursued me until I finally was able to truly encounter his love. I don't care if people lose respect for me when they hear about my past. I care that somewhere someone is reading this who didn't believe God could love them.
The Gospel isn't complicated. "Being saved" isn't some prayer you pray inside a church at an altar with a pastor present.
All that call upon the name of Jesus are saved. Jesus wants a relationship with you more than you do and it doesn't matter what sins you've committed, he still loves you.
Be blissed! Amber Picota Kingdom Bliss Ministries
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