John Fuller: On today’s “Focus on the Family,” a reminder that no one is beyond the reach of God, even if they descended into drug addiction.
Mrs. Jacqui Strothoff: And you know, one thing that I’ve heard from addicts is that every single one of them thinks they’re gonna be the one that’s gonna stay in control. That drug’s not gonna control them and I was like everybody else. I thought the same thing. I thought, “Gee. I’m a smart girl. I know how to take care of this. I’ll just use this for partying.”
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John: You’ll hear how Jacquie Strothoff’s drug use spiraled out of control and how God intervened on today’s program and your host is Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we’re about to hear an incredible two-day testimony from a husband and wife team who were both drug addicts before they found the Lord and then found each other. Bob and Jacqui Strothoff spent two decades working with Teen Challenge and Outreach Ministries. They were managing centers for drug addicts and sharing Christ with drug users on the streets. That is tough missionary work. Bob has gone on to be with the Lord now, but tomorrow we’ll hear his story that thankfully was recorded.
John: And in the meantime, we’re going to hear from Jacqui today in a message recorded at Times Square Church in New York City. And parents, if you have smaller children nearby, you might want to use some ear buds for the content coming up. It does get a little graphic.
Jacqui Strothoff: You know, I think what’s important for me to say about becoming an addict is that, I think many of us, at least, used to have the notion that addicts became addicts because they were born in the ghettos and because they were people without opportunity in life or people who came from a hard-knock way of life and so, they turn to drug[s] and crime because of that, but that was not my case at all.
I was born in a very loving family and I was the oldest of six children. My parents were very good people. They were very moral people. They didn’t smoke; they didn’t drink. They didn’t run around on each other. They didn’t lie. They didn’t cheat on their taxes even. They were really very good people, but they didn’t know Jesus. And because they didn’t know Jesus, they couldn’t introduce Jesus to their children.
And I was very young when I recognized that there was an emptiness, not only in my life, but it seemed to me, in the lives of the people and the world around me. And my grandmother has still kept poetry that I wrote when I was just 11- or 12-years-old talking about the futility of life. I looked and I saw, so people got born and they grew up and they started working and they got married and they had kids and then they died. And I thought, what is the point here? You know, it seemed awfully silly to me and awfully futile to me. Even as a young child, I recognized that there had to be something more.
And in my search, I looked to the wrong kinds of people. I looked to people that were having good times and were using drugs and drinking and to me, it was a way to feel good about what I thought was a world that wasn’t so good. And I began drinking and using pills when I was 12-years-old. And at that same time, my family made a critical move from Pittsburgh to Maryland and I say “critical,” because I was mostly raised in my grandparents’ home and when we left my grandparents, I felt a very big part of me being torn out, as well. And when we came to Washington, D.C., then I began to drink more and do more drugs and try and fill that hole and that emptiness, you know, that I was so aware of in my own heart.
And I began to run with people that were, what the schools and parents considered the troublemakers. And in particular, there was a young man who was older than the rest of us. At this time, I was 15 and he was 21 and he had brothers who were still attending the same school I was in and he used to come around the school yard. And he had nice clothes and a car and he was good-looking. And all the girls used to talk about how cool he was and everything. And he started paying attention to me. And of course, I felt very flattered and I thought, you know, this was really wonderful.
So I started seeing this man against my parents’ wishes and started sneaking out of the house to see him and soon I became pregnant and before the age of 16, married him. I was very soon to find out that he was not the person that he had presented himself to be and I soon found that he was physically abusive and I used to get beaten very frequently, sometimes for saying the wrong thing, sometimes for nothing at all, but lived in terror of not knowing, because it seemed like the beatings would never stop and sometimes I really felt like I was going to be beaten to death.
When I was six-months’ pregnant, I endured a very bad beating that put me in the hospital and I was pregnant at that time with twins and they were stillborn and I was only 16-years-old and I had never seen my father ever raise his hand to my mother, but I never told my parents that this was going on, because I felt like I made my bed and now I had to lie in it. You know, I was ashamed. I was embarrassed and I didn’t quite … I was just a kid and I didn’t quite understand what was going on, so I never said anything to anybody.
And then when this happened, when I came out of the hospital, I developed a very serious infection and had become delirious and my husband would not take me back to the hospital. And my father stopped by the apartment after not being able to reach me for a couple days and found me and he took me to the hospital. And by this time, the infection was all through my pelvic area and I was left sterile at 16.
My father sent me back to my grandparents to live and tried to get me back in school, which I did. And when I got into this new school, there were kids in that school who were using even stronger drugs. And I started doing some barbiturates and to me, I found something that could help me sleep and give me some peace. I was having terrible nightmares from the babies and from everything that had happened and I had felt a lot of pain and confusion and emptiness and the drugs, for me, helped make that go away.
And when I graduated [from] school and I started college and it was at my first year of college that I tried heroin for the first time. And when I did, I knew that I was going to be doing that for a very long time, because it made me feel peaceful and it made me feel like nothing else in the world mattered. Whatever I had become, whatever mistakes I had made and if I couldn’t find my place, you know, in life, it didn’t matter. All I had to do was do some heroin and everything would feel okay again.
And you know, one thing that I’ve heard from addicts that I’ve been working with for, it’ll be 15 years now, is that every single one of them, when they start to do heroin or when they start to do cocaine or any of the addicting drugs, every single one of them thinks they’re gonna be the one that’s gonna be able to control it. They’re gonna be the one that’s gonna stay in control. That drug’s not gonna control them and I was like everybody else. I thought the same thing. I thought, “Gee. I’m a smart girl. I know how to take care of this. I’ll just use this for partying.”
And I can remember going with my friends to Philadelphia to, you know, buy some drugs and I can remember seeing the young ladies standing on the street corner prostituting and it was cold and I remember thinking, “Boy, how sad, you know, that they’re out there doing that, that they can’t be smarter than that, you know, that they’re so stupid that they’d let somebody put them out on the corner, that they’d have to stand out there and sell themselves to get the drugs, you know, that they couldn’t be smarter than that.”
And then a year later, I was on the same corner. And then all of the things that I used to think when I looked at them (Emotional), I was standing there experiencing, because see, I wasn’t so smart. The devil was much smarter than I was and what he pulled me into and deceived me into thinking was something I could control and put down whenever I wanted, was something that just kept engulfing me and entangling me and engulfing me as the years went by.
And then I began to commit different kinds of crimes and hang out with some people that were into some very serious kinds of crimes and my family was beginning to wonder what was going on. Even though I wasn’t living at home, I used to go back to see them sometimes and I was looking worse and worse and they were wondering what was happening.
And when they finally found out that I was an addict was at their 25th silver wedding anniversary party and I had come up from Florida because I was to say a little speech at this party and I was the oldest and so it was my responsibility to sort of give them a kind of a speech. And when I left Florida, I was living with a drug dealer at the time and he was supposed to have fixed all the drugs, you know, in my purse that I was gonna need up there. [I] just flew up for the weekend and I was gonna fly back. But I was so high when I left that I took the wrong purse and when I got to my grandmother’s house and realized what I’d done, I just went crazy in the bathroom and I kept screaming about needing this medicine.
And she said, “Well, it’s okay. It’s okay. You know, we’ll take you to the doctor’s tomorrow. We’ll get you some new medicine.” And I kept telling her, she didn’t understand. Well, I was getting sicker and sicker. And the next day, I did go down to the hospital and tried to get them to give me just a quick fix, you know, of methadone, just to hold me over, you know, for a couple of days and they wouldn’t do it. And I had gotten some sleeping pills that I had brought with me and I thought, “Well, they were gonna let me talk to the director of the program,” and they kept stuffing me off and so, finally, I took a syringe off the tray near the emergency thing and I went in and I shot up the sleeping pills and I overdosed in the bathroom.
And finally, when they came to find me, I was just slumped over on the toilet, just blue and the friend that was there with me gave them my grandfather’s number, but nobody was left at the house. They were all at the party except one uncle. And he came down and I can remember when I was becoming conscious, looking up, and having him looking over me with tears just running down his face, asking me, “What’s the matter? You know, they told me you almost died. What’s the matter?” And how do you tell him? This was my father’s brother, you know. How do you say, “What’s the matter? Well, I’m a heroin addict. I’m a prostitute. I’m a thief. I’m a criminal. I’m a this. I’m a that”?
I said, “I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I was just trying to make the pain go away a little bit.” So he got me to a methadone clinic and I did get some methadone to get through the thing, but by the time we got to the party, the party was over, in more ways than one. This was the first that my parents would know that I was a heroin addict.
And my father (Emotional) just fell down on his knees and took my hands and said, “Please, please let us put you in a hospital. Let us get you in a program. Let us help you. Let us do something for you.” And so, I did. I went back home with them and I went into a program for the first time.
I didn’t last there very long. I got sent out of there and through the years, I went from program to program to program. They had me in primal therapy when that first came out, that the state was paying $100 an hour for me to lay around on a couch and scream and try to remember what it was like when I was born and somehow I was gonna get resolved and then not want to shoot dope anymore. I mean, they had me in more kinds of treatment and therapy and program. Four times I was hospitalized in a mental institution. I was in and out of methadone treatment programs. And all I was trying to do was stop shooting dope. That’s all I wanted to do, was just stop shooting dope, because of all the other problems that the dope was causing for me. And nobody, nobody could seem to find a way to help me to stop doing that.
John: You’re listening to Jacqui Strothoff on “Focus on the Family” and in a few moments you’ll hear how she did find freedom from drug addiction. Now get a CD of this program for a gift of any amount when you call 800-A-FAMILY or request that CD at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let’s return now to Jacqui Strothoff and parents, her story is a little graphic. Please be advised as we continue on “Focus on the Family.”
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Jacqui: The last couple of years when I was living in Philadelphia, there was a dry spell. Drugs were very, very difficult to find, narcotics. That’s when the police were having their big operation deal where they were shuttin’ down all the importers and everything. And so, we had to try and think of new ways to come up with drugs and I thought, well, if we could get into the pharmacies, you know, without robbing them, but get in legitimately and get the drugs out and I went to a library and I studied all the books and all the pharmaceutical handbooks and everything and I went to the pharmacies as a pharmacist assistant and started to take the narcotics out of the pharmacy.
Well, that was great except the problem was that all the drugs that we were pulling out of the pharmacy were pure and there were a lot of overdoses going on. And at the time I was living with a man um … who did overdose and we were unable to bring him around to consciousness, but his heart was still beating and so, we just sort of moved him over into the corner and continued getting high through the night and bagging up the dope to sell and everything.
And then I went to bed later that evening and woke up very early in the morning feeling ice cold. And when I looked at him I saw that he was dead and that he was ice cold and blue. And the first thing I did was not get up and call anybody for help. But I got up and shot dope so that I could try and face, you know, what was gonna have to get on.
And then I called someone to help me to get his body out of the apartment to just go and bury him so that we wouldn’t have to call the police, so they wouldn’t come, so they wouldn’t take the drugs away from me. And we did that and we never told anybody for a long time that he had died or what happened until I had another nervous breakdown.
And at that time I started talking about it and then my parents told the police and we did end up going back and I did show them where we had buried him and so that his family was able to be told and they did have a memorial service for him.
And I just kept getting worse and worse and worse and this one particular week I went to Pittsburgh to see my family for Thanksgiving and a man named Frank Marcello came to visit my grandparents and he was my father’s best friend and he was an artist in Pittsburgh. And so, he said, “You know, I just did a book, Please Make Me Cry, by Cookie Rodriguez.” And he said, “Her life is so much like yours.” And he said, “I know that if Jesus could touch her and change her life, that He could touch your life and change it, too.” And I said, “No, no. I don’t want to hear about that. You know, it’s not that I don’t think there might be a God, but I don’t understand how a God somewhere far off, you know, could have anything to do with changing my life here or keep me from shooting drugs.”
But he talked to me a long time about it and asked me at the end if I would pray with him and if I would, you know, accept Christ and I said, “No.” I said, “My life can’t be changed.” And I said, “And certainly can’t be changed by some God somewhere.” That was Thanksgiving weekend. Two weeks later, I was in my apartment and I had been doing cocaine and morphine in combinations for several days in a row, so I wasn’t eating and I wasn’t sleeping and I was having all kinds of lack of oxygen to my brain.
About three or four days after that, the man that I had been living with came to the apartment to find out what was goin’ on, why I wasn’t answering the phone, why he couldn’t get in. And when I looked through the little peephole of the door, I saw someone that looked like they were from the “Untouchables.” Like, I saw someone with a machine gun and all dressed in black and everything, because I was hallucinating so badly. So I went and got my gun and I started shooting at the door.
So he went and got my mother and parents–and my parents and the police and I got taken out again. Went to the hospital again, came back a week later and started the same thing again. This time, my little brother came over to try and get me out, only I let him in and I had just done a shot of the cocaine and for some reason, I mixed it with wintergreen alcohol and I have no idea in this world why I did that, but I shot that and I didn’t feel anything and I thought, “Well, that would be okay” and so I mixed some more up and then I shot it up in my little brother and he died immediately in my arms. He stopped breathing.
And I dragged him out to the balcony of the apartment, and I started screaming for him to breathe and I remember looking up into heaven and screamin’ at God to help him breathe. “God, help me and God, please help him breathe.” And then the next thing I realize, there’s men in white coats all around and they took him away and they put me back in the mental institution.
And at that time I was addicted to cocaine and heroin and barbiturates and methadone. So, they had me strapped down in a little isolation room with a guard standing by the door. And I wasn’t allowed to have any visitors.
But the day that they were burying my brother, this man, Frank Marcello (Sobbing), got in and came in with my father and he stood by my bed and he said, “Jacqui, do you remember at Thanksgiving when I was telling you about Jesus?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well, He sent me here and He told me that if you’ll give your life to Him, that He will change you and that He will raise you up from this bed and that He will use you to glorify His name and to help other people.”
And I don’t think it was that I really believed so much what he was telling me, but I think it was more that I had nothin’ left to lose. My family had shut me out. I had no place to go when I got out of there. I had no home. I was down to 90 pounds. I had all kinds of diseases. Nobody would speak to me. I had all kinds of warrants waiting out there for my arrest. I had nothin’ to lose, you know? So laying in that bed, I accepted Christ. I said the sinner’s prayer. I asked Him to forgive me of my sins.
And when I got out of that hospital, I went into the program “New Life for Girls” where Cookie Rodriguez had been praying for me for two months. From the time my brother died, Frank called her and said, “I want you to start praying for this girl.” And he told her my story. So, when I finally called her, she said, “Oh! (Laughing) We’ve been waiting.” (Laughter) She said, “We knew God would send you.” She said, “We’ve been waiting for you.”
And I was so high and I got on the bus to go to that program. I went straight through the stop and I ended up in Harrisburg and I called her up and I said, “Well, gee, that’s okay. I’m just gonna get on the other bus and go back, you know, to D.C. You don’t have to worry about anything.” And she said, “Oh, no, no, no, no. We’ll drive right out there and we’ll come get you.”
So, she came and she got me and I was so high, she just put me straight to bed. Well, I woke up the next morning and I look out the window and all see are trees everywhere and birds singing and everything and I thought, “Oh, my gosh. What did I do? Where in the world am I? I’m used to concrete and bricks and truck noises and people yelling.” And I thought, “What did I do?”
Then the next thing I’m aware of is, these people are over like in a Bible class in this thing and then there’s these other people on the other side in this little prayer cell. And remember now, I have no religious training, no religious education and I’m thinking, “Who are they? Where am I?” So all of a sudden, somebody says, “She’s up. She’s up.” And they run and they get Cookie.
So she comes flying up, you know, this little woman. She goes, “Okay. Everybody, everybody over here. We’re all gonna pray for Jacqueline and God’s gonna touch her body and heal her and she’s not gonna suffer any withdrawal.” And I said (Sarcastically), “Right!” (Laughter) Okay. So I was already starting to have cramps in my stomach. She puts me in the middle. She puts all these people around me and they start prayin’. And I’m just standin’ there afraid to move.
And all of a sudden, I can feel it. And it’s like a heat starting at the top of my head, going all the way down through my body. And it felt like it was glowing and it was warm. Now, I didn’t know what that was, but I liked it. (Laughter) And all I knew was that my stomach didn’t hurt anymore and I was starting to feel good. A little while after that, I’m sitting up in Cookie’s kitchen and I’m eating beef stew. A little while after that, I’m out in the backyard with the girls and I’m playing volleyball and I’m thinking, “Boy, this is strange.” (Laughter)
And the deal was that I was gonna stay 24 hours and then if I still wanted to leave, she was gonna put me on the bus. But you know, 24 hours later, I was sitting in a chapel service. And Demi, her husband, said, “Jacqui, I want you to stand up and thank God for bringing you here and the new life He gave you.” I said, “Okay.” I stood up. I raised my hands. I said, “Thank you, Jesus, for the new life You gave me.” And down I went. And then I thought I was the one goin’ crazy. (Laughter) I didn’t know what was happening, but you know what I knew? I knew there was something going on in my heart that had never, ever happened before.
Because I started to feel a fire burn all the filth and all the sin and all the pain and all the loneliness. (Applause) And the longer I laid there, the lighter I felt and I felt like I was new. I felt like I was newly created. I felt like a virgin again. I felt pure. I felt clean. I felt decent and good. And I knew that the Lord Jesus Christ had touched my life (Weeping), had changed my heart. And the thing that was so overwhelming to me about it was, that He accepted me as I was. (Applause)
You know how your parents will say, “Well, when you get your act together, you can come home.” Or “When you get off drugs, you can come see us.” Or “When you get it straight again, we’ll be your friend again.” And Jesus didn’t say that. He said, “Just as you are now, in your filth and in your sin, that’s the way I died for you. I love you now as you are” and that’s the way He accepted me, but that’s not the way He left me. (Audience Response) Praise God! (Applause) That’s not the way He left me, just the way He found me. (Applause)
John: Well, unfortunately, we’re gonna have to end Jacqui Strothoff’s story today on “Focus on the Family,” but we will be back next time and you’ll hear how she met her late husband, Bob and his story of drug addiction, which was supported by a life of crime.
Jim: Oh, man, Jacqui’s emotion there and her heart, I hope that connected with you. Isn’t it amazing that God can take a woman who was strung out on drugs and cleanse her from that addiction. That is our Lord. Jacqui’s story is such a great reminder of that truth and let me just say, if you are feeling something, something stirring inside you, if you feel like there’s something missing from your life and if what Jacqui experienced is what you want, why don’t you take a moment to talk to the Lord right now? You don’t have to close your eyes or stop your car. The Lord is right with you and He wants to forgive you of your sins, just like He did Jacqui and accept you as His child.
In the New Testament, the Apostle John tells us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s what the Lord did for Jacqui. That’s what He will do for you. Just ask Him.
John: And after you’ve had that conversation with God, give us a call or connect with us online and let us know. We have a free booklet about becoming a Christian and growing in your spiritual life. It’s called “Coming Home: An Invitation to Join God’s Family.” And it’s gonna give you details on what you can do next to continue your faith journey.
Jim: Please call us. We’d love to hear your story and encourage you in your new walk with Christ.
John: Our number is 800- A -FAMILY and if you’d like a CD of today’s presentation, we’d be happy to send that to you for a donation of any amount. You can also read that booklet online and request the CD there, as well. That’s www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And this reminder that we have caring Christian counselors here on staff at Focus on the Family if you need to talk with someone. Now next time, you’re going to hear more of this incredible story as Jacqui’s husband, Bob shares.
Mr. Bob Strothoff: I can remember doing a bank robbery and looking out the window and watchin’ the cars go by. And the only reason I was robbin’ this bank was to get money for narcotics. And I looked out the window and I saw the cars going by and I saw my image in the window with a ski mask on my face and I said, “This isn’t Baretta;’ somebody’s gonna come in and kill me.”
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John: It’s an amazing story of lives saved by Christ, next time on “Focus on the Family.” On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller.