Just 14 months apart-that is how close these sisters are.
They were born and raised in Camp Verde, AZ. Their mother had unconditional love for them, even though she had extreme health issues that eventually led them to be her caretaker and fending for themselves. Their dad was a horrific alcoholic who was physically abusive and abandoned them when they were young girls. Lost and alone, they had to face the world with heavy responsibilities at home and learning to survive in the outside world.
Dena, though younger, was the role model. At 7 years old, she began to drink and smoke weed. A few years later, Dani followed in her footsteps. Their home life felt like a prison as their mother became disabled. Dena continually searched for scapegoats from this burden. While introducing her tempting lifestyle to Dani, they both fell into the trap of men, sex, and drugs. Imprisoned to this fast life, destruction and confusion soon followed them. They both kept running from their life and any emotions attached to being at home.
Dena finally left home with a serious hate for her family and a yearning for a new one. Looking for acceptance and love in all the wrong places ultimately led her to her first lock up in juvenile hall with a gang initiation.
She found her family, but it wasn’t the one she was looking for.
This lifestyle led to prison at the age of 15 for assault with a 3-year stay, getting out at 18. At the age of 19, she had her first child. Then in the next few years, she had 2 more children. Eventually, she lost custody of all three girls and they were adopted into three different families.
Dani was slowly following in her sister’s footsteps. She was at home taking care of her mom who was now deathly ill. Trying to keep her mind occupied and not bombarded with the burden of caretaking, she continued to use drugs. Shortly after, she became pregnant with her first child, but this wasn’t enough for her to stay clean. Her life was swirling out of control which led her to jail. There, she found out she was pregnant again with her second child. Dani ended up in prison 4 times and had a third child, during one of her terms in prison. Again, just like Dena, she lost custody of all three of her children. During this destructive process, they both continued to fall back into drugs.
Battling raging addictions, they continued to stay tight as sisters. Nothing could come between them. They went through a lot of pain in their life, but still knew they needed one another. This bond has been steadfast through each prison term, hardship, and trauma.
Dena, was on her last stay in prison from 2008-2015. Tired, worn out, done with prison life, she had an epiphany. She was continually asked if she could be prayed for, but Dena declined. She was against finding God in prison and then, forgetting Him at the door. A ministry came onto the prison yard and held a night of worship for all to hear. The song “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me, played loud over the speakers. A spark was lit in Dena’s heart, she felt a nudge within, but ignored it. She kept pushing God away.
Upon her release, she made her way to a halfway house. She immediately realized her sister Dani was still trapped in the fast life, hopeless, broken, and still on drugs. Dena’s heart broke for her sister and she began to cry out to God.
No more pushing Him away. She needed Him. They needed Him.
She asked God to help them both be free from this painful addiction. The next day, Dani called her from jail and said I’ve been arrested.
From that moment on, life changed !
Dena knew she needed more than a halfway house. She was introduced to House of Refuge Sunnyslope. Her mentality was “I wasn’t going to stay long; I don’t even know how to keep a job!” She didn’t love herself, had no faith, no hope, and just needed a refuge. Her heart quickly changed as she discovered that God loved her and the staff and volunteers would love her until she could love herself.
She found a committed community that was dedicated and devoted to loving her in a way that began to change her. Bible studies touched her heart, love started breaking down walls of hostility, and her mind began to transform. She was changing.
Dena got a job – the first one ever in her life! She had multiple health issues including breaking her leg, and she was surprised that the staff walked alongside of her with support and love. In 2016, she accepted Christ into her heart and began to discover the foundation, being Christ, in which she began to build her life on.
LOVE CHANGED HER!
Lisa, the Program Manager at the time, challenged her to go further in her walk with the Lord. She began to fiercely pray for her girls. Blessing upon blessing began to come upon her. She not only kept her job, but received a promotion, had her driver’s license reinstated, and purchased a vehicle. She took on the extra responsibility as House Manager at the ministry, went to church and shared the Word of God. She was creating a brand-new life with His help.
Then she received the greatest gift from God. The cry of Dena’s heart was to know where her girls were and if they were ok. God made a way. Communication opened up and reunification began. The adopted families were open and willing to work with Dena to cultivate relationships with her children. Today, not only has she received restored relationships with all 3 girls but they have received restored relationships with each other.
Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Dani was not far behind her sister. She received letters in prison with encouragement and scripture, knowing and feeling the change that was taking place in her sister.
She wanted what her sister found – Change and love!
During the four years in prison, from 2015-2018, Dani found herself on her knees, looking up, and asking God to help her, change her, lead her. For the first time she held a job in prison. She went to church, took classes, earned certificates, and had her mind set on a new life. Dani became a good steward over what she was blessed with. The more she prayed; the more God positively changed her circumstances. Chains were breaking off of her family, restoration was taking place, and she had hope in her heart for the future ahead. Her mind was set to rise and shine with the Lord leading her forward.
James 5:16 The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
1 Pet 3:12 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer.
This was the only answer in both of their hearts. Their prayer was “God deliver us from this addiction, take it from my sister and I.” He did just that. The addiction was taken and the fast life was over.
Dani was released to House of Refuge Sunnyslope and followed the steps of her sister, but this time they were positive steps. Though Dena had her own place by now, she supported and loved her sister through the process of the program. Dani quickly had a job, discovered a sisterhood within the community, and put everything into God’s hands. She was able to be real about her struggles and found hope and healing in the midst of pain. Things she had desired her whole life, she began to find.
House of Refuge Sunnyslope helped to further encourage Dena and Dani toward healing. Restoration was interwoven not only through their lives together, but also through their lives with their children. Like Dena, Dani is beginning to develop relationships with her three children.
House of Refuge Sunnyslope was the vehicle God used in their lives, to submit to Him and to submit to a program. Out of this obedience, healing, love, unity and peace were found. God radically shaped and shifted their hearts and today they are reaping the rewards. Now, they live together, pray together, and have great work ethics. They have both experienced love through Christ, through community, in sobriety, and their new life.
Dena – “Thank you Lord for giving me back the people and things that I lost long ago. Thank you, HRS, I love you from the bottom of my heart and wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for you.”
Dani– “Thank you Lord for restoring things that have been broken, lost or destroyed. Thank you HRS for everything. I am forever thankful. Don’t change a thing because what you do, WORKS!”
Their prayer: “Thank you Lord. Thank you is just not enough. You’ve restored, healed, taken away and renewed us! You’ve created two new women desiring a new healthy lifestyle that is pleasing and honoring to You. We love you and want to serve you with our lives. Amen.”