Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
June 28, 2010
Life of addiction becomes life of grace
B.C. drug addict transformed when God smashes his way into her life and calls her to reach out to others
THE B.C. CATHOLIC
VANCOUVER - "Awesome" is one of Starr Peardon's favourite words.
It's awesome, she says, that God can pluck someone out of a jail cell, heal their addictions and transform their life. It's awesome that such a conversion can be so profound it turns the gut-wrenching out-of-control urge to drink and take drugs into feelings of peace and security.
It's awesome, she noted, how God used her to open three recovery houses for addicted women like herself to turn their lives around.
Peardon, who founded the non-profit Talitha Koum Society for women with addictions and troubles with the law 10 years ago, is one of six winners of this year's Coast Mental Health Foundation Courage to Come Back awards.
Peardon chose the name Talitha Koum because it's a biblical phrase in Aramaic meaning "Little girl, get up." It symbolizes, she said, how we need to reach up to God for his help.
On a comfy sofa in the toy-strewn living room of a Talitha Koum home, Peardon related the story of her sudden recovery 16 years ago.
"In the blink of an eye" God touched her heart in the Burnaby Correctional Centre for Women, where she was serving time for robbery, fraud and drug dealing.
Born into a poor native family of 12 children, she was a young Nanaimo teen when she began battling the serious drug and alcohol addictions that dogged other family members.
A FAMILY AFFAIR
"We have a family disease. My mother was addicted to pain medications and my father was an alcoholic. We believed that if there was something good in your life, you partied. If there was something bad in your life, you partied.
"The unsaid teaching for women in our family was marry early and, if it doesn't work, divorce and marry again. Add in drinking and drugs, and it's not such a big leap for someone with my background to lose control. I have few memories of my youth; mostly it's a blur."
After her mother died, Peardon went into a tailspin. Any chance for a normal life drifted away. As a needle-using junkie and dealer she cycled through the revolving doors leading from the streets to prison to detox.
With next to no religious training she had no reason to believe in God. She certainly never envisioned a personal relationship with a saviour.
Yet one night in her prison cell, a deep peace and warmth flooded through her being, which she instinctively knew was God. She called prison chaplain Henk Smidstra, who prayed over her. She fell into a deep sleep. When she awoke, she began talking to a God she hadn't known existed.
"He took my heart of stone and just smashed it! It was awesome. I seized on a Bible and began to read. I talked to anyone who would listen and sang praises to the Lord in my cell.
"Most people thought I was nuts. If they saw me coming, they would just scatter!" Peardon said with a chuckle.
She checked herself into detox and then returned to complete her sentence. Once outside, recovery wasn't smooth sailing; she began using again and was soon back in prison.
"When I talked to God the feeling of warmth would come back. One day my love for him outweighed everything and I was finished. I was free!"
At the chaplain's suggestion, Peardon visited St. Paul's Parish in North Vancouver. Right away she knew she was home.
"God was right there. Father Dennis (Alexander) was so patient listening to my story. I did some of the parish gardening and took on sacristan duties and I loved it. St. Paul's became my church, although I still wasn't Catholic."
Peardon worked for a time for the Sisters of the Child Jesus at their nearby convent. Later she moved downtown where Sacred Heart Parish pastor, the late Oblate Father Bob Douglas, helped her prepare to become Catholic.
Even in prison Peardon had dreamed of helping women like herself. Now, she began to form a plan.
HELP FROM THE NORTH
A surprise phone call from Father Gary Gordon brought an offer of funding. With little to lose, Peardon approached Archbishop Adam Exner and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. The donations now totalled over $25,000, which meant she could open the first Talitha Koum home for women who had nowhere else to go.
Peardon estimates that, so far, 200 women, some of them mothers, have resolved their social, educational and legal problems in a Talitha Koum home. The success rate is over 70 per cent one year after completing the program.
Today, Talitha Koum homes accommodate 17 women and their children.
"God has been behind it all," Peardon said.
More information is available at www.talithakoumsociety.org.
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