THEREASA ORTEGA: “CHRIST KNOWS JUST WHAT I NEED”
The scars on the little girl’s body stood out. As the other children teased her, Thereasa Ortega was puzzled. Today, recalling the incident, she notes, “I had never noticed the scars before, and I didn’t know where they came from. Later I asked and was told my dad did it.”
There is much from her childhood which Thereasa, 49, does not recall. “I don’t remember being a child really, just bits and pieces–even from my older years; I guess I just wiped it out.”
The second of seven children from a single-parent household in Phoenix, Arizona, Thereasa observes, “When my father came in and out of our lives, there was a lot of drinking and violence.” She adds, “My mom told me I was a very difficult child. It seemed, though, that when I was away from her I did all right.”
However, when Thereasa was “ten or eleven,” her mother abandoned the family, and the children were taken into the first of several foster homes. In most of them, Thereasa remembers, “I was treated more like a workhorse than a child.” The siblings were generally kept together. Thereasa adds, “Since I was the oldest girl, I was required to watch out for the others.”
Pregnant at 15, then married at 17, she notes that during her teens she didn’t have a substance abuse problem. However, at age 23, after she took a job tending bar, Thereasa’s lifestyle changed radically. “I started partying and drinking. I wanted to recapture the teen years which I never had,” she says. “I was acting them out.” At 25 Thereasa divorced her hus- band, because, she explains, “I wanted my freedom.”
She later remarried, beginning a long-term relationship in which alcohol was pervasive. “I was a functional alcoholic; I held down a job.” By her early forties, however, Thereasa had also developed a serious crack cocaine habit. The drug “takes you down quicker than anything. When you’re on crack cocaine, you do anything you have to do to get it. I ended up selling the drug just to support the habit.”
Now running afoul of the law, Thereasa twice found herself in jail. When locked up the second time, she became determined to get her life together. “I signed up for a rehab there and began attending chapel. As a child, through my grandmother, I had come to know Christ, but I had put him on the back burner. When I was released from jail, however, I found out my husband was living with a young woman, and I started back using (the drug)–I had had it!”
Soon afterwards, an old friend contacted her. “She was a good friend I used to do drugs with–she looked so good! She had completed the Salvation Army ARC program and wanted me to attend chapel there with her. I knew that if I didn’t do something soon, I wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I told her, ‘Okay, I need company.’ ”
At the chapel Thereasa picked up a Life Recovery Bible, and, to her surprise, it opened to Psalm 23. “When I was in jail,” she says, “I used to read Psalm 23 every day. When the Recovery Bible opened to it, I knew this program was for me!” On September 25, 2000, Thereasa checked into the Phoenix ARC, and, soon thereafter, made a commitment for Christ.
“I was carrying a lot of guilt; but in the program I learned how much I’m worth–that God loves me and has a plan for me! Talking to my counselors, I realized that I had no control over the things for which I felt guilty. “I’m so very grateful to The Salvation Army for helping set me on a journey which God had planned for me. There are times when I cannot get enough of my devotionals because they are based on Christ! Christ knows just what I need; he gives me inner peace.