Betty Christy of Modesto thought Celebrate Recovery was all about drug and alcohol addiction. When she saw a note in her church's bulletin seeking sponsors for people in the group, she decided to attend a meeting.
"I had done a lot of discipling in the past," she said. "I thought this might not be any different."
But it was.
"I went thinking I was going to help others there. I came to realize I was there because I really needed some help myself."
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No, Christy wasn't addicted to drugs or alcohol. But she had come through two problem marriages.
"I've been divorced twice," she said. "My first husband was a youth pastor and had some affairs. I had a lot of hurt and pain from that. I was young and I didn't know who to go to because I would have exposed my husband and at the same time, I wasn't sure I'd be believed. I was scared and I had two little kids."
Ten years after her husband divorced her, she remarried.
"I shouldn't have married him," she said. "He was a fixer-upper and I'm the type of person where I feel I needed to fix up (others). I married someone I could fix, but it never worked. The marriage lasted about nine years, but it was not a happy situation at all. I was in and out of counseling all the time trying to figure out how to live through it."
When she attended that first Celebrate Recovery meeting, "I saw a lot of love and honesty. Sometimes, Christians put on a mask and play like everything is OK in our lives. We don't get the help we need because we're hiding our pain or whatever's going on inside of us."
Christy participated in the Celebrate Recovery step studies, which is a small-group weekly meeting that lasts from about nine months to a year. Using four workbooks, participants eventually dig deep to understand themselves and their actions and hand over control of their lives to God.
"There's no words to explain the healing and the bonding that goes on with those 12 steps," Christy said.
Four years later, she helps care for the children during Celebrate Recovery's large gatherings "so the parents can go and find hope and healing," she said. "I give the kids a lot of love and encouragement because a lot of them are from some really crazy situations.
"It's important to me that the Christian church today has open arms toward hurting people. If they're going through drug problems or divorce or other problems, they can come and not be judged. We love them in the condition they're in and let them know that God loves them unconditionally, no matter what they're going through."
Robert Williams, 49, said he was raised in a Christian home but started "hanging around with the wrong people, started partying and sleeping with girls" when he was in high school.
He spent the next 20 years abusing drugs and alcohol, "mostly cocaine, crystal meth, drinking." He "got busted and did 60 days in the Stanislaus County jail," he said.
Williams went through rehab programs twice, "once to save my job and the second to save my children." Neither worked.
"I found myself living on the streets because of my drug addictions," he said. "I knew there must be something better than this. I didn't want to die as a drug addict and be a statistic in the newspaper.
"I started going to Big Valley Grace. He (Scott Miller) kept reaching out his hand and saying, 'There's something better than this.' I owe my life to that man. The grace of God saved me.
"Everything I do now is through Jesus Christ. I help other people so hopefully they don't go down the same path. It's hard to shake drug addictions. You have to turn your life over to God."
Because of the Celebrate Recovery program, he said, he's been able to remain sober for more than two years.
"I just wish I had found Jesus when (my children) were smaller. They're adults now, living in Tucson, Ariz."
Linda Barrios, 59, began attending Celebrate Recovery with her husband, Jeff, in 2005.
"My issue is food," she said. "I overeat and at the time, I was weighing about 270 pounds. I'm an emotional eater — mad, sad, glad, food's my answer. I made up my mind that year I was going to work on it in the Celebrate Recovery program."
She did, and eventually lost about 100 pounds. Barrios helps lead the healthy living step study class.
"We have people going in and out of the class," she said. "A lot of times, when they break their drug or alcohol addiction, they turn to food. One lady said that (with drugs or alcohol), they can lock up the lion in the cage. But with food, we have to eat every day. We put the lion in the cage and then we have to let him out and put him in again. We have to get control. That's the whole issue."
It's not all about overeating.
"Sometimes people share about bulimia or anorexia, and some people struggle with nicotine," Barrios said. "Some struggle with needing to exercise more. Some people are at an OK weight, but they aren't healthy.
"I've struggled with weight forever, done different programs. Now I know I can't look to food to fill my void. I have to fill it with the Lord."
Barrios said the Celebrate Recovery program is helpful for people dealing with a wide range of issues.
"I think we all struggle with hurts, hang-ups and bad habits," Barrios said. "I'd like to see people come to Celebrate Recovery before it becomes a big issue.
"You don't have to be a drug addict or have a really bad problem to go. I don't think you have to fall apart before you get help to get better. You can do something about it, with (God's) help."