I remember vividly the day my entire world changed. It was January 24, 1997, the day my husband, James R. "Jamie" Peebles Jr., died in a car accident.
We were going to my mother-in-law's house, and Jamie was driving. Suddenly, he laid his head on my shoulder and said, "Pam, I don't feel well."
With the car still in motion, I threw the gearshift into park, jumped from the car and began screaming for help. The next sounds I heard were tires squealing and cars crashing against one another.
I walked out of the Forsyth County jail on February 17, 1994. The judge released me and told me I was free to go. It seemed he did it against his better judgment because he spoke rather harshly to me as he signed my release orders.
"Young lady, you've done a fine job of wasting and ruining your life. Go ahead and finish the job."
I was jubilant to be free but afraid that maybe the judge was right--that I would die in the streets. I had been a prostitute for more than 13 years, and I was afraid I was doomed to the same destruction as the other women I'd known. Yet I continued working the streets.
My mother was unable to care for me when I was born. As a result, I became a ward of the court and was placed in the foster care system in Washington, D.C., where I remained until I was 20.
I grew up in an emotionally and physically abusive home. At 13, with only the clothes on my back, I ran away. I spent my first night as a runaway in the cold, sleeping under a car and later, under a house.
Before running away, I had been living in Aiken, South Carolina, but the court relocated me to Washington, D.C. There I was moved around from a foster home to a group home and then to another group home.
It was Saturday morning, and I really wanted one of those flaky biscuit sandwiches from a local fast-food restaurant. Nobody makes 'em better than this place!
My husband and I had a busy day planned. We'd just swing by the restaurant, pick up our order, which we'd called in, and get on with the numerous tasks at hand.
We weren't expecting to be delayed by a hit-and-run accident. A car had entered an intersection on a red light. An oncoming vehicle swerved to avoid a crash and was forced up onto the median where it leveled a street sign.
When our kids were young, "pillow talk" was always special. This was a time to sit in intimate half-light at bedtime and ask how things were--really were--if signs of reticence or sadness were detected that day.
We would gather any untied threads of the day, talk about them and pray these things into the Father's hands. Confessions, hopes, ideas and fears were expressed then as at no other time.
Trust was built into our relationship that stood us in good stead in later years. One kind of pillow talk we engaged in allowed me to relate to our teen daughter when the distance between us seemed great.
Fifteen years prior to the wonderful day when I was born again, my husband, Al, and I were in an automobile accident that resulted in a serious injury to my back. I spent those years with searing pain as my constant companion.
Though both Al and I are Jewish, it never occurred to us that God was alive and willing to be my healer. Unbeknownst to us, my husband's secretary, Joan, and her church family were praying for my healing.
One day Joan approached Al and invited us to her church for a healing service. He was not comfortable with the idea. He thought of her as a "religious fanatic"--but all I heard was the word "healing," and I was all for that.
Growing up in the Roman Catholic Church, I attended parochial schools and sometimes went to Mass six days a week. But I lost faith in the church when, later in life, I found myself divorced with two small children and excluded from communion and the other sacraments.
My twin sister urged me to attend her church and gave me a copy of The Book. At age 31, for the first time in my life, I began reading the Bible.
At the same time, a close friend persuaded me to see a psychic, and I soon became hooked. I was enchanted with the New Age movement because it made me feel as if I had special powers and was in control of my destiny. At church, I felt like an outsider--a divorced single mom in the midst of all those happy families.
In 1952, at the age of 2, I was stricken with polio and cerebral palsy. I was placed in the hospital, and my doctors recommended that I undergo exploratory surgery on my brain so they could determine what was causing my symptoms.
Thankfully, my parents would not consent to this surgery. But for 16 years I was in braces that covered nearly my whole body. I also endured four operations.
I can remember going to my aunt and uncle's house and attending church with them. My uncle was a minister.
Candace Lang Like millions of children who grow up without a dad, I dreamed of what the ideal father would be like. He would have the wisdom of Ward Cleaver, the compassion of Charles Ingalls and the indulgence of Mike Brady.
After I became a Christian, I realized that God had used my need for a father as a catalyst so that I would seek Him, even when I was young. If I had not had a need, I might never have known Him.
In a tangible way God showed me that He is a father in every sense. He reminded me of the times He had watched over and protected me when I thought I was alone.
Today, most people have heard of agoraphobia, which is an abnormal fear of being in open spaces. But 26 years ago, this problem was unknown where I lived.
At 15, my life came to a standstill. I suffered severe panic attacks wherever I went. Shaking uncontrollably and feeling faint, I'd get a compelling urge to run from wherever I was. Eventually, I became housebound.
No one knew what was wrong with me. I thought I was losing my mind, and for two years, I cried out to God for help.
One day I was praying beside my bed, just enjoying the Lord. Suddenly, I felt a current of divine love flow through me, flooding me with peace and joy. I was euphoric!
At first, the only difference I noted was that I couldn't stop singing. Then I had the sudden urge to venture out to the mailbox.
I did, and I didn't panic! The shackles that had bound me began to fall away.
No one realized that I was experiencing agoraphobia. Clinics, treatments, counseling--none were available to me. But I had a Great Physician, and there was nothing unknown to Him.
I have learned that we don't always need to understand the problems we face. What we need to know is that the God in whom we trust is bigger than the problem.
It was a long, exhausting drive from my Lafayette home to my mother's bedside in the small Alabama town where I grew up. Nothing in my years as a pastor's wife or my experience as a registered nurse had prepared me for this journey.
Twice in 1997, the Great Physician had intervened, astonishing the medical doctors, who had offered no hope. Prayer had prevailed, and my mother's life had become a living testimony to the entire hospital staff of God's miraculous healing power.
Shuttling back and forth across the endless miles for the last few months had taken a huge emotional and physical toll on me. Mother's wish not to live with me during this time was a decision that I honored but agonized over.
During my childhood our family lived on a farm in Corinth, Mississippi. One day while I was working in the cotton field, a truck driven by a good-looking boy came along, and although I did not know him, I made the remark: "Do you see that boy? I'm going to marry him one day, and I will not be a farmer's wife but a doctor's wife."
Three years later, Howard Thomas and I were married. Eventually he decided to become a medical doctor and started attending college. We went to church regularly but were not born again.
We began drinking and frequenting medical fraternity parties. I felt guilty but did not stop.
On a Thursday in June 1987, three days before my due date, I was disappointed when my doctor told me he thought my baby would not come for another week. My husband, Andres, and I had been trying to have a family since we were first married two and a half years earlier, so even a few more days seemed like a lot.
On Sunday morning I awoke with light cramps. At daybreak, my husband and I began timing the contractions as we got ready to go to the hospital.
When the doctor examined me and listened for the baby's heartbeat, I sensed that something was wrong. Quickly, I was prepared for a Caesarean section.
My life as a grandmother started with a whirlwind of excitement, much like Steve Martin's in the movie, Father of the Bride Part II. I identified with his situation because two of my daughters were in labor at the same time and gave birth 66 minutes apart.
I'll never forget the Thanksgiving Day when Kathy, my oldest daughter, announced that she and her husband, Foster, were going to have a baby after waiting five years. A month later Dori, my youngest daughter, announced that she, too, was pregnant.
OK, I thought to myself. I have two pregnant daughters. No problem. I was to have a grandchild born in July and one in August. I often teased the girls, saying: "You better not have your babies the same day. And if you do, you better have them in the same hospital!"