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How Does God Recycle Your Junk?


By Don Umphrey

(with scriptural citations from the NIV)

 God is big enough to take the worst parts of our lives and use them  for good.  God is big enough to turn your mess into your message and turn that into your ministry. 

In previous posts I’ve shared how my alcoholism drove me to a point where suicide seemed like the only solution. Gratefully, I didn’t succumb to that but checked myself into a mental hospital.  

I Had It Backwards

I had long assumed that I was mentally ill and that alcohol was helping me cope with this problem   But via a fellow patient in the hospital who worked as a trash collector, I learned that my assumptions were backwards,  Alcohol was the cause of my mental woes—not the solution.

I left the hospital after two weeks and started attending a 12-step recovery group that urged me to rely on God to keep me clean and sober.  I soon returned to church for the first time in several years.  With two years of sobriety, I moved from Detroit, Michigan to Lubbock, Texas for a new career opportunity. 

Keeping My Past A Secret

 While attending12-step recovery meetings in Lubbock, I didn’t share that part of my life with people in my workplace, the single professionals class or anyone else at church.  

I started taking masters-level classes in the Department of Mass Communications at  Texas Tech University located in Lubbock.  Getting close to completing my M.A. degree, I was offered the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant.  A semester later I joined the full-time faculty. 

By this time I had been in Lubbock about five years, still clean and sober and still keeping mum about my past with everyone else.

Going Public

Tim Talley, the singles’ minister at church, asked me to be the Sunday morning speaker at a class retreat that would be held on the Comal River in New Braunfels, Texas.  I didn’t know how it would be received but decided it was time for me to “come out of the closet” in regard to my mental hospital experience and alcoholism. 

Looking out at the group as I told my story, they seemed to be paying attention.  I didn’t know it at the time, but my talk that morning would have a huge impact on my life that continues to this day. 

The immediate response of the singles’ group was very positive.  Class members seemed delighted to hear a first-person story about what the Lord had done in the life of a major-league sinner.  I guess they were used to hearing someone tell them how they were supposed to live and what they were supposed to do.  Instead, they got a first-hand prodigal-son story about the negative consequences of doing the wrong thing. 

I later found out that a group of the women in the class had gone to a bar the previous night and were sitting there with hangovers.  One of them had a genuine drinking problem and ended up going to recovery meetings. 

What Is Your Light?

There’s a children’s song, “Hide my light under a bushel?  No! I’m going to let it shine.”  Who would have thought that your light and mine could be the parts of our lives we initially wanted to keep to ourselves?   

It doesn’t have to be an addiction.  Have you gone through a divorce?  Had cancer or another serious disease?  Had a child who died?  Been in prison?  Have something else that seems embarrassing, harmful or hurtful?  There are countless people experiencing these things right now who would benefit from hearing your story.

This “light” idea is consistent with 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.  Referring to his “thorn in the flesh,” Paul wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

Thorn In The Flesh

We can only guess about the identity of Paul’s “thorn in the flesh.”  Could his “thorn” be the same as yours?  

After sharing my “thorn” story with the church that Sunday, I started teaching the singles’ and have been teaching Bible classes in the churches ever since. 

My personal ministry now focuses on sharing the worst parts of my life by communicating Christian perspectives of addiction recovery.  Undoubtedly, a few thousand people have heard my story personally.  Besides churches, I now share it with people in jails and prisons. 

 In addition, I’ve written and published several books on the subject.  One of these books is now available in a dozen different languages.  If you have any kind of addiction or codependency, you can probably find a book or workbook that will be helpful at my website,

One of my books, The Meanest Man in Texas, has been made into an award-winning movie.  This true story demonstrates that no matter how low in life a person gets, God will help if He is asked.

A word of caution: Before embarking on a ministry based on your “thorn,” make sure this problem is firmly in the hands of God and has been for quite some time. 

 © 2022 by Don Umphrey

New International Version” and “NIV” are registered trademarks of Biblica, Inc. Used by permission.

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