Are there times when your life feels meaningless?
If so, I’d like to tell you the story of Deborah Jones, a woman who abandoned her children to her family, became a prostitute, and eventually wound up a wino, a homeless woman pushing a cart containing all of her belongings.
But as you will see, this is a remarkable story of redemption and of finding real meaning in life.
It is said that God sometimes works in mysterious ways. Deborah, a black woman, was at rock bottom when she went into a liquor store to buy some cheap wine. As she left the store clutching her wine bottles, two white women approached her.
They warmly greeted her and encouraged her to repent, come to their church and be baptized in Jesus’ name. Deborah had heard it all many times before and quickly got away from them.
But she couldn’t forget their words nor drink herself into a stupor. Bewildered, she went to their church and listened to the service, in part conducted by Pastor Charles Shearer, when suddenly she was profoundly affected.
As the Pastor spoke, she bolted out of her chair in front of a stunned congregation and ran to the alter, where she knelt and cried out, “I surrender Lord!” She then repeatedly screamed “Jesus” at the top of her lungs.
And surrender to Jesus she did. Deborah was baptized and grew close to her new church family. At times, she was drawn back to her old life but she put alcohol behind her and began working as a hotel maid. And Pastor Shearer assisted her as she studied the bible.
But just as Deborah’s life was turning around, she got quite a shock.
Pastor Shearer was called to a church in Mobile, Alabama. He and his family and several other families relocated. Though they kept in touch with her, Deborah was terribly lonely without them and after sharing her feelings with her family, she moved to Mobile to rejoin her church family.
To support herself, she cleaned hotel rooms. But through the church, she interviewed and was hired by Pinkerton to be a security guard at a large hospital.
There Deborah blossomed. Although she made just $6.10 an hour and had no medical insurance, she was grateful for the life she now had and her enthusiasm lit up the hospital.
With a big smile and booming voice, Deborah greeted staff and patients, learned their names and got to know them. She also comforted sick and lonely patients and soon everyone called her “The Sunshine Lady.”
On Christmas day, the local newspaper told all of Mobile about her as they ran a front page story, which included her picture. In that picture, Deborah smiled brightly as she always did. The picture however revealed that she was missing some of her front teeth.
A reader that Christmas morning was Dr. Byron Scott, a prominent dentist. He was so moved by her story, that he voluntarily did several thousand dollars in dental work free of charge and gave Deborah the full glow of her smile.
Dr. Scott operates a successful dental clinic which in 30 years has treated over 15,000 patients. He was deeply affected by Deborah’s warmth and gratitude and four years ago he decided what his clinic lacked was “The Sunshine Lady.”
He gave her a big raise and medical insurance and made her the clinic’s “Director of Happiness.” Among her responsibilities, Deborah greets patients as she did at the hospital and the day after their dental procedures she calls to see how they’re feeling. She has become a friend to many of the patients.
Because Deborah has a dynamic personality and wants to help others, she has also become a popular speaker at shelters, a monastery, in colleges and elsewhere.
At The House of Grace for example, with tears welling in her eyes and pain in her heart, she told the battered and drug addicted women, many of whom are mothers:
“I knew what it was to want alcohol so badly that you would allow yourself to be abused by a man, to be kicked out of a car with your clothes ripped half off your body. I knew what it felt like to have the remaining clothes thrown at you while he sped away. I knew what it felt like not to get the money that had been promised for doing the pitiful deed.
“I knew what it was to sell the food stamps meant for your children to make sure there was alcohol around. I knew what it was to sell household items because your welfare check was not enough. I knew what it was to have a man beat you until your body is so bloody that not even a bath tub of water can soothe it.
“I knew what it was not to know where you were going to lay your head. I knew what it was for people to laugh and make fun of you because of the way you looked. I knew what it was to be raped – not by one man but two or three at a time!
“I knew what it was to live in a roach infested project where they were just part of the décor. I knew what it is to have your children hate you because you mistreated them.
“But there is another thing I know,” she added, as she began to offer the forlorn women hope. “There is a Mighty God who will forgive you for every wicked thing you have done! He will turn your life around until you hardly remember the person you used to be.” *
And God has turned Deborah’s life around. When I spoke with her, she talked of her many friends from work and from church, whom she views as family, and her hope that her children will forgive her for being the terrible mother she was.
She spoke with deep gratitude for Dr. Scott and for Pastor Shearer and how they helped her to change her life and how they continue to play a vital role.
She spoke of her apartment in which her furniture matches, flowers bloom and “there are no gunshots at night.” Deborah feels safe and happy there and she is thankful for every little thing she has, from food on the table to dresses in the closet to the job that awaits her each day.
For Deborah, life’s meaning is about closeness with God, sharing love with and helping others, and appreciating the comforts of home and the beauty that surrounds her.
Success Tip of the Week:
If at times your life feels meaningless, take a moment to appreciate its wonders. Among them, the love of others, health good enough to allow you to do as you would like, and a job that pays you, a home that awaits you and a community that needs you.
Editor's Note: *These quotes are from Deborah’s self-published book, “From the Guttermost…To the Uttermost.” To order a copy, please write to Springhill Dental Health Center, 4620 Springhill Avenue, Mobile, Alabama 36608.
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The man who courageously confronted the Nazis during World War 2 and saved 406 lives.