Turning a dead weed into a sparkling flower
By Sonya Joubert as told to Nico Bougas — Originally published by ASSIST News Service
I didn’t have the greatest start to life. My father was an alcoholic who physically abused me. My daughter was raped and turned to drugs. I have tried to commit suicide but I was afraid to die. Everything seemed so hopeless and futile. That was the story of my life.
When I was a teenager, because of his drinking problem, my father who I adored, used to punish me harshly and sometimes unreasonably, using physical force because he could not control me. I deeply resented it.
Being a teenager during the fifties wasn’t easy. Rock and roll and drugs were the themes of the day. I was a lonely, only child. I was slightly overweight and my face was populated with pimples. I turned to drugs to give me acceptance with the crowd. That was all I wanted acceptance – but one guy didn’t believe that I could do drugs and still be a virgin, so he raped me.
Because I didn’t believe in myself, I didn’t believe anybody else would either. Who was going to believe a sixteen-year-old? So I told no one for two years; I just let it corrode my soul and enlarge the bitterness within.
My parents knew that I was involved with drugs. They realised I was going to the wrong places with the wrong people. They tried to stop me. But by that time it was too late, I wasn’t listening to anybody – I thought I knew it all.
A year later I met Mac, who was a good imitation of James Dean, a rebel without a cause and a with a chip on his shoulder. He wasn’t the kind you brought home to meet your mother!
He was the youngest of five children from a broken, alcoholic home on the wrong side of the tracks. He had been smoking cannabis since he was eleven. We were a complete contrast. I came from a comfortable, middle-class home background and I had been educated in private girls’ schools. But like Mac, I was totally disillusioned about life.
Married for wrong reasons
My parents tried to break up my relationship with Mac. But I manipulated the situation and threatened to fall pregnant or commit suicide, I got my own way. We got married for all the wrong reasons.
I just wanted to escape the “restrictions” of my home. I could not understand that my parents were trying to protect me. We started life together in a room with a bag of cannabis. Four years later we had a house full of furniture, in a suburb, a car and the inevitable debt.
Responsibility was something that neither of us could escape or accept. Respect for each other was gone and “love” dwindled into monotony.
When he started physically abusing me – I left. I walked out of the door with a suitcase and never went back. I was 21 and “free” at last to do exactly what I pleased. Two years later I was living with a pimp in Point Road, Durban. Prostitution and violence were the last things I wanted, but there I was. I hadn’t come very far or learnt very much since leaving Mac. I was still into drugs and drinking heavily.
I even went to live in Hillbrow, a part of Johannesburg that typified life that was unrestricted and unencumbered. But I found that this freedom wasn’t free. During the six months I was in Johannesburg, I had been physically abducted, raped twice, beaten up and abused. Unfortunately, this sort of thing comes with the territory. If you do drugs you have to mix with drug addicts, drop outs and delinquents.
My life was a mess. I tried to commit suicide, not because I wanted to die, but because I was too afraid to live. I knew what I had become, that I would never be accepted in society. I loathed my lifestyle, although I didn’t want to stop doing drugs – that is all I really enjoyed.
During this period in my life, I met a Christian man, although I didn’t know about his faith at the time. His name was Ray. We met when he had tried to turn his back on God due to circumstances that had gone wrong in his life. For three years he never went to church or read his Bible. Nevertheless, there was still something different about him, and he was the only person I ever respected or trusted.
While I was in Johannesburg getting into trouble, God was working in Ray’s life, bringing him back into relationship with Himself through His Word. When I came back to Durban he didn’t hang around the same places I did, but he always kept in touch with me and knew where I was.
When he got a job on the oil pipeline going from Durban to Johannesburg, he came to the hotel where I used to drink to say goodbye. I was too drunk to comprehend the finality of his leaving and Ray, concerned about what he saw, really began to pray in earnest for me.
As he travelled away from Durban, I got worse and ended up living with Harry, the pimp on Point Road, again. It was there that God answered Ray’s prayers by first putting a desire in my heart to go back home to my parents in Pinetown, a lovely suburb just outside Durban, as I had totally dropped out of their lives because of shame.
I knew I had to do something to save myself – nobody else would – and once again I failed miserably. I had no friends. My life was an empty vacuum, but it was during this time that I “accidentally” bumped into Ray while walking up the main street in Pinetown, and he invited me to come and have a picnic with him in Pietermaritzburg where he was staying at that time.
It was St Valentine’s Day, and on that day, after being good friends for two years, this man, who I respected above everyone else, told me that he loved me. He knew everything about me. I was everything a man doesn’t want to marry, used, abused and broken. But God loved me through Ray and you cannot fight unconditional love.
A few weeks later, although I didn’t know that Ray was a Christian, I was sitting in my bedroom alone when I became aware of the presence of God. I knew that He was there because I found myself crying out to Him for forgiveness. My life seemed to come before me, the things I had done, the people I had hurt, and the most wonderful thing was that I knew I was clean for the first time in my life. I can remember feeling that I was like a little baby again, held in my Father’s hands. I had never heard of the new birth, but I know that I experienced it at that moment.
I wrote to Ray and told him that something had happened to me, and I wasn’t just turning over a new leaf, but that something was happening deep inside of me.
Some weeks later, after Ray had told me about having a relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I went into my room alone with a very dusty Bible and wondered where to start reading. The author of the Bible, the Holy Spirit, led me to Luke 7:37, “And behold , a woman in the city, who was a sinner, came to Jesus and wept at His feet, washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head.”
She was a sinner, not a drug addict, not a drunk, not even a whore, she was a sinner like everybody else. I knew I was like that woman, and that only God could forgive sin, therefore Jesus must be God. I realized that time meant nothing to Him and that if He could forgive that woman, He could forgive me as well. He did.
For the first time I understood what had happened to me. I was born again of the Spirit of God, and “in Christ” I was “holy and blameless in His sight” (Ephesians 1:6). Because “He who knew no sin became sin for me so that I might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). I had become a new creation, “the old things had passed away and everything had become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Ray and I were married during September of that year, 1965 and we are celebrating our 47th wedding anniversary this year (2012). We are still best friends, very much in love with each other and have been blessed with two daughters, Sharon (46) and Kathleen (39) and 4 grandchildren.
God took a hopeless, useless and unproductive life and in His great mercy He gave me “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The burden of my heart is to pass on the message that Christ can bring living hope. He can turn a dead weed into a sparkling flower.
- Sonya Joubert was National Coordinator for the Renewing Love Ministry in South Africa; a ministry dedicated to the restoration of relationships using Biblical principles and would love to hear from you. Her e-mail address is: Joubertsonya@gmail.com