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A Valley Girl: Yolanda Stith's Story

    I was born and raised in Southern California in the San Fernando Valley, a suburb of greater Los Angeles.  It was there that the term “Valley Girl” became popular.  It held special significance to me, not only because I came from The Valley, but because valleys are often a metaphor for pain and suffering.  I am a Valley Girl in every sense of the word.
Married with a three year old, my husband and I tried to have a second child and failed. I was diagnosed with secondary infertility and entered a fertility program.  During this time while in prayer, the Lord told me that I was going to have a baby boy.  I marked the date in my Bible, “November 1984.” Five years later, after stopping the infertility treatments and surrendering my plan to have another child, I gave birth to a baby boy—Benjamin (Ben).
Little did I know that this Valley Girl was about to embark on a journey that would last many years.  The years of infertility were hard enough, but the son that God promised me was going to take me to places I never in my wildest dreams imagined would be so painful.
     Benjamin was not any easy baby and as he grew up, he became even more challenging.  He was later diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyper-Activity Disorder) and ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)—a classic case.
The adolescent years with Ben were even more difficult, but it wasn’t until his junior year of high school that things started spinning out of control.  His behavior was becoming increasingly rebellious and defiant.   We tried everything we could think of in an effort to help Ben; private schools, rehab--twice, a faith-based boot camp and lots of counselors and therapists, but nothing seemed to help. Our home became a war-zone. 
I could not understand how this happened.  We were good parents.  Ben was never abused. We loved him and spent time with him.  We were very involved with church and ministry as a family; our whole lives were centered on God.
Years later, at a Women’s Retreat the Lord spoke to me.  He told me that Ben was going to be arrested and go to jail and then, two years later, He told me again.  Just a few weeks later it happened. He was sentenced to 18-months in the county detention center, and when he was locked up, so was I.
     I sank into a deep, dark depression.  The pain and suffering from watching my son slip away into a life of drugs and criminal behavior were too much to bear. It was during this dark valley that God was growing me; growing my faith and dependency on Him moment by moment.
     Nearing the last six months of Ben’s incarceration, he was sent to a Pre-Release Center for good behavior with the expectation that he would come home under house-arrest.  The day that he was scheduled to begin house-arrest, he was caught with contraband and was handcuffed and immediately sent back to jail to finish out the last six months of his sentence.  In addition, he was given an extra 30 days for his violation.
     I was not only devastated by this event, but I felt completely abandoned by God.  I just could not understand why He would allow this to happen; none of it made any sense to me.  I had been praying for a miracle and was certain that God was up to something big and then this happened. 
     When Ben completed his time and came home, he told me about the gang he joined after one of his rehab visits and the immediate regret right after he did it.  He explained that the only way to get out of a gang was either in a body bag or by order of someone very high up in the gang. 
     When Ben’s house arrest was terminated and he was sent back to jail, unbeknownst to me, God was up to something big.  One of Ben’s cell-mates just happened to be in the same gang and he just happened to be the highest ranking member in the jail.  He liked Ben and the two became quite close during those months. Every week Ben went to chapel services, bible study, and helped other inmates study for their GED exam.  Recognizing that Ben was different, that he was not like the other gang members, he wanted to know how Ben got caught up in that kind of life.  Ben confided in him that he wanted out and this cell-mate of his arranged for him to be un-initiated just before his release, which involved a free-for-all beating from five other gang members.  God arranged to get Ben out of the gang by sending him back to jail and providing just the right cell-mate!  As my son shared these events with me, tears streamed down my face, as I realized the magnitude of God’s faithfulness.
     Since my son’s release three years ago, my circumstances have not changed.  Ben continues to struggle and fail, but through this valley, I have discovered that Jesus is enough, even when everything else is lost.  I know Him, and His love for me in ways that I never would, had I not walked through this valley.  I don’t just know that He is faithful because His Word says so, I have experienced His faithfulness.  This valley has become a gift from God to grow me and to reveal His grace through my pain and suffering.  I have learned through experience that Jesus is not only my Savior, but my Life, and Life in the valley is where God’s glory shows up best!
 “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for                        You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Ps 23:4