Before coming to the UGM Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene, Nikki Downs was in jail. Her infant son had been taken by Child Protective Services, and her teenage daughter was living with her sister.
Today, Nikki is nearing completion of the LIFE Recovery Program, has both her children living with her and is doing her business practicum at the Kroc Center. She has been sober from alcohol for six years and clean from meth for 18 months.
Nikki speaks clearly about the reason for the change in her: “My personal relationship with the Lord and the fellowship with other people, but mainly, getting into the Word, reading what it says and applying it to my life. I find joy in that, and that’s very new.”
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2a
“I read the Bible. I actually understand it now, where before I read it but never really understood it.”
God himself wasn’t new to Nikki. She had accepted Jesus as her Savior when she was 11. She went to church with a neighbor and she loved it. She went to Awana and youth group, volunteered in the children’s department. “The only time I felt loved was at church.”
Unfortunately, Nikki’s faith was a bit like the seed in Jesus’ parable that fell on poor soil. It didn’t take root and mature. The cares of the world choked it, and the enemy moved in with lies to steal her joy.
One of eight children, “I had to be loud to be heard, and I had a high fear of failure, a fear of rejection and not being good enough. My mom loved us and was very affectionate, but at the same time, she was broken herself. She grew up in a very physically, emotionally abusive family, and we didn’t come with rule books, so…she tried the best she possibly could with her own brokenness.”
Still, Nikki experienced mental, verbal and physical abuse as a child, “and I internalized that.”
Nikki spent 16 years in alcohol addiction. In her 20s, she had a daughter, Elliott, who is now 16, but the relationship with Elliott’s father didn’t last. In 2011, Nikki’s dad died in a motorcycle accident. She herself almost died from her alcoholism. Then, in 2013, her mom was diagnosed with cancer. Nikki took care of her mom until she died in January 2014.
Life turned pretty dark. “I felt guilt and shame throughout that time because of the choices I had made. I didn’t like the person I was.” The one positive during that time, Nikki says, was the birth of her son.
Still, the lies she believed were choking her:
- You are unlovable, unforgivable.
- You have messed things up beyond repair.
- You cannot trust anyone.
- You can’t possibly go back to God like this.
Nikki remembers her aunt telling her, “As long as you have a foundation with the Lord, he keeps a hold of your heart, and he wants you back.” But she was ashamed, and she was unwilling to give up control.
“I would pray. I was asking for God to help me, but I wasn’t actually surrendering what he wanted me to surrender to get the help that I wanted. Like, I would pray, ‘Please help me not be an addict anymore,’ but then I was still holding the pipe in my hand, smoking.”
Going to jail and having her son taken away changed all that. “I think God had a hand in it when I was arrested, because he had been knocking at my door for a long time. I just never opened it.”
In jail, Nikki admitted she needed – wanted – recovery, and that’s when she heard about the UGM Center for Women and Children.
“On October 17, 2017, they brought me into UGM, and I cried… It was like I won the lottery!”
Unlike the lottery, Nikki didn’t change overnight. It has been 18 months of hard work, but she has seen continual, steady growth as she surrenders, waits on God, and invites the Holy Spirit to renew her mind through reading his Word.
“I can be a prisoner in my own mind, and so, as long as I keep reading Scripture and trying to memorize certain Scripture, and I keep repeating those in my head, it just helps me know, I am a child of God. He loves me just the way I am, he’s got a purpose and a plan for me, and I’m going to steadfastly wait for it.”
Before, Nikki says, “I knew God loved us, but I didn’t realize the depth of his love. And I didn’t realize the depth of his forgiveness. I knew he died for our sins, but I didn’t realize…how much he truly cares for us and that he wants us to be the most authentic version of ourselves because he made us each uniquely different and he loves us just for that, so I don’t have to pretend to be something I’m not anymore because he loves me just for who I am. Coming here made me realize how much he loves us and wants a relationship with us. And that’s really resonated with me.
“I am rediscovering God in a new way and just really knowing what Scripture is and how to understand it. Not just reading words in a book, but reading words in the Bible and letting it penetrate me and being obedient to it and applying it to my life.
“Every time I had control of things in my life, I didn’t do it very well. I just ruined everything. I have learned …to surrender and let God take control, and things will happen not only in God’s timing but for a reason.”
One way to allow God's Word to renew our minds is by obeying the biblical instruction to be thankful always. Try our simple worksheet to jumpstart thankful thinking in your life.