BISMARCK — Jewel Hecker has seen some deep-down lows.
At one point in her life of addiction, she says, things got so bad she was living like character Matt Foley from "Saturday Night Live," "in a van down by the river."
Other times, Jewel says, she would find a tent and camp out with her boyfriend, or a cheap hotel room to live in for a while. They weren't below stealing if necessary.
Scars she's collected reveal how addiction and abuse can erode the soul.
But Jewel doesn't want her story to be another "drug addict who got clean through finding the Lord."
God was always in her grasp, she says, even if her own decisions loosened it at times. "He never let me go, even in my running away."
Often, she would beg God to help her. "I knew it was wrong, and that I was in too deep, but I couldn't stop," she says.
A tattoo on her left, inner arm bearing words from Isaiah 61:3, "Beauty for ashes," keeps things real. "That's where, of course, the IV drug-use would occur. I got it there to remind me of what God did for me and what he continues to do," she says.
Jewel's addictions began around age 15, while attending high school in Dickinson. Her very first night intoxicated ending in her being arrested, she says.
In time, marijuana replaced the alcohol, then painkillers. At one point, Jewel was seeing seven different physicians to procure them, she says, along with buying them from a friend with a degenerative disease, who needed money for her gambling addiction.
But in 2010, after a stint in treatment, Jewel moved to West Fargo to live near one of her brothers, and a meeting with Fargo's Pastor Seth and Tanya Wetter of Calvary Chapel reawakened her groping for God.
"From that day on, I didn't look back," Jewel says, noting she was soon set "on fire" in her relationship with Jesus. "As deep and quick and fast as I went into my drug addiction, that was how deep and fast God took me into him when I fully surrendered."
She reconnected with Weston, a high school friend, and the two married, eventually moving to Bismarck for his work. These days, she's devoted to her life as a stay-at-home mother of Deklen, 4, and Avalon, 2.
Her friends at Calvary Chapel continue to provide an anchor for Jewel, including Jamie Lambert, who remembers their first real visit during a children's winter sledding event.
"We realized we both like dill-pickle chips and kind of bonded over that," Jamie laughs.
Soon, their friendship encompassed more "meat and potatoes" talks and took on an "iron sharpens iron" flavor, borrowing from Proverbs 27.
"Even when it's jagged, when you deliver truths, it sharpens you," Jamie says. "We are that for each other."
Savannah Hayes, Grand Forks, met Jewel at Calvary shortly after she'd "come out of drugs," and soon discovered her "unique, quirky personality and dry sense of humor," noting her admiration for Jewel's conviction that "God is exactly who he said he was."
"She's struggled a lot, but I have yet to see her struggle with the nature of God," Savannah says. "To me she is the epitome of stepping out of the darkness into the light."
"I knew that God was the only way out," Jewel says of her conversion. "I always kept one foot in my relationship with God ... but I wasn't ready to get out of my self-serving life, and you can't have both."
Referring again to her telling tattoo, she adds, "(God) gave me beauty for my ashes. He redeemed my time. I came empty-handed to him, and he filled it with beautiful things."
Roxane B. Salonen is a freelance writer who lives in Fargo with her husband and five children. If you have a story of faith to share with her, email email@example.com.