Thrive
Podcast

Overview

This week on the podcast we’re talking with Rev. Stephanie Raglin, Director of Programs at the Hope Center, Pastor at Embry Chapel AME Church in Elizabethtown, Ky. and current Doctor of Ministry student at Asbury Seminary. In this episode, we talk about how Stephanie found God’s hope and grace in her darkest season, how she found healing, and now shares that hope with others.

Let’s listen!

Rev. Stephanie M. Raglin, Director of Programs at the Hope Center
Pastor at Embry Chapel AME Church in Elizabethtown, Ky.

Rev. Stephanie M. Raglin is the proud pastor of Embry Chapel A.M.E. Church in Elizabethtown,Kentucky and has served there since November 2015. She is a member of St. Paul A.M.E. Church in Versailles, Kentucky.

She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management from Midway College in Kentucky in 2004. She attended Payne Theological Seminary in 2007. She was ordained an itinerant deacon in the 141st Session of the Kentucky Annual Conference by Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie in 2008. In May 2010 she graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary matriculating in the Masters of Art in Christian Leadership. In the 143rd Session of the Kentucky Annual Conference she was ordained an itinerant elder under Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie.

Rev. Raglin graduated again from Asbury Theological Seminary with a Master’s of Divinity in 2015. She is currently in the Doctoral Ministry program at Asbury Theological Seminary, matriculating in the Preaching and Leading Cohort.

She is the Director of Programs for the Hope Center Recovery Program for Women in Lexington, Kentucky since 2002 and the Hope Center for Men and Women in the Division of Corrections of the Fayette County Detention Center since 2006. She is a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor in the state of Kentucky.

She served as the chair for the Kentucky Conference Women in Ministry from 2012-2014 and also the financial secretary for the 13th District Women in Ministry from 2012-2016. She served as marshal for the 2012 General Conference and lead marshal for the Kentucky Annual Conference. She is a member of the Kentucky Conference Board of Examiners and the Ministerial Institute for the African Methodist Episcopal Church along with previous appointments to the Kentucky Board of Dentistry, the Bluegrass Re-Entry Council, Women Leading Kentucky Organization and Women’s Coalition on Substance Abuse.

She was awarded the Kentucky Conference Lay Person of the year in 2008 and in 2015 and 2019 was awarded the Kentucky Conference Pastor of the Year. Also, she was awarded the 2015 Bluegrass Alliance for Women Impact Award in Fayette County Kentucky, which awards women annually for the roles they play in the lives of young girls and women. She was also awarded the 2018 Leading Ladies, LLC Community Status Award. She was recently awarded The Virtuous Woman in 2015, A Kentucky Colonel by Governor Matt Bevin. She was recently named to the National Association of Professional Women and also served as a member of the Kentucky Commission on Proprietary Education, the Child Fatality and Near Fatality Review Board, the Kentucky Association of Addiction Professionals (KAAP) and the National Association for Addiction Professionals (NAADAC) and Jubilee Jobs of Lexington. Currently she serves on the Kentucky Alcohol and Drug Board.

She is happily married to Mark A. Raglin and is the mother of three, Melanie, 26, Maya and Mykal 13. Her favorite motto is “Enjoy The Journey”. Her favorite scripture is Psalms 51.10 “Create in me a clean heart “O” God and renew a right spirit in me.” To God Be the Glory!

Heidi Wilcox, host of the Thrive Podcast

Writer, podcaster, and social media manager, Heidi Wilcox shares stories of truth, justice, healing and hope. She is best known as the host of Spotlight, (especially her blooper reel) highlighting news, events, culturally relevant topics and stories of the ways alumni, current students and faculty are attempting something big for God. If you can’t find her, she’s probably cheering on her Kentucky Wildcats, enjoying a cup of coffee, reading or spending time with her husband, Wes.



Transcript

Heidi:
Hey, everyone. Welcome to this week’s episode of The Thrive With Asbury Seminary Podcast. I’m your host, Heidi E. Wilcox, bringing you conversations with authors, thought leaders, and people just like you, who are looking to connect where your passion and the world’s deep needs connect. This week on the podcast, I’m talking with Stephanie Raglin, director of programs at the Hope Center, pastor at Embry Chapel AME Church in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and current doctor of ministry student. In this episode, we talk about how Stephanie found God’s healing, hope, and grace in her darkest season, and now, how she shares that hope with others. Let’s listen.

Heidi:
Thank you so much for taking the time to come by today. I’m really looking forward to our conversation, and learning more about what you do as a pastor, and then your work at the Hope Center as well.

Stephanie:
Great. Thank you for the invitation.

Heidi:
Yeah. So-

Stephanie:
I count it honor and privilege.

Heidi:
Yeah. So, if we could, tell me a little bit about you.

Stephanie:
Well, I’m from Simpsonville, Kentucky, which is right outside of Shelbyville.

Heidi:
Oh, yes. With the outlet malls.

Stephanie:
Yes, the outlet mall. Matter of fact, I live just about five minutes away from that mall. That’s where I grew up.

Heidi:
Oh my goodness. You live that close to heaven.

Stephanie:
Yeah. I’ve only been to that mall probably three times, though.

Heidi:
Okay.

Stephanie:
Yes. But I grew up there. Went to school, went to church there. Went to the Baptist Church, and also went to the Church of God. My father was Church of God. My mother was Baptist. But when my grandmother died in ’74, then we went strictly in the Baptist church. Grew up there. Went to high school at Shelby County, and graduated in 1983. Graduated in the top 10% of my class, and so I was excited about that. Played a lot of sports when I was in school, and did well. Went to college.

Heidi:
What sports did you play?

Stephanie:
I played basketball, and of course I played softball in the summertime. My senior year in high school, I ran track, and qualified for the state and a few events, and so I was excited about that. Wished I had of ran the whole time, but I didn’t. Just my senior year, I decided to go all out. And so, while I was in high school, I sung with an interdenominational group called The Life Singers, which was founded by the late Colonel Harland Sanders. Which, you know about Colonel Sanders’ Dinner House in Shelbyville.

Heidi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie:
That was his wife’s restaurant.

Stephanie:
Yes. And so, had the opportunity. It was called the Life Singers, and so it was an interdenominational group that sung Christian music. We went and traveled the states singing. That was a great opportunity as a sophomore in high school, and was able to sing at his funeral at the Rotunda. Left there, and went to college. I went to Midway College. At that time, it was a junior college. Then I left Midway. I was studying paralegal at the time while I was there.

Heidi:
Wow.

Stephanie:
I played basketball. I was there on a music and basketball scholarship.

Heidi:
Nice.

Stephanie:
So I stayed there two years, and then I went to Georgetown College in Kentucky. Continued to play basketball and sing there. Only went one year there, and then I had a basketball injury, and so I didn’t go back the following year. I decided to go to work in the factory. I was also dating during that time, and met the love of my life. We dated for four years, and then we were married in 1987. After that, my first child came, when I was 27. She was a one pound, 15 oz preemie.

Heidi:
Oh, wow.

Stephanie:
Yes. And so, she spent 192 days in the NIC unit at the University of Kentucky Hospital. I could hold her in my hand, she was so small. But I was high-risk in the onset of the pregnancy, and so, I would stay. Go to the hospital every single day. She had setback after setback, and-

Heidi:
Oh, what a stressful time.

Stephanie:
It was. It was. But I’m glad to say today she’s a thriving 28-year-old, with no complications. Yeah, she was our miracle baby.

Heidi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.

Stephanie:
Yes. And so, after that, several years down the road, my husband and I had struggles, because I had an addiction. I was addicted to cocaine, on and off for seven years. On and off. If we knew then what we know now, we probably would have never divorced. But, I spent some times in and out of the criminal justice system on small charges. Not going to court. I had one drug charge. And so, after that I finally got my life together. Was at my wit’s end, and decided that it was time to make some changes. I wanted to change. And if I didn’t change, the other aspect was to die. That’s just how life was. Didn’t think I was fit to live, just based on where I’d been, based on what I’d been taught growing up in the church. And so, I got my life together in 2000.

Heidi:
God is good.

Stephanie:
He’s awesome. Even in spite of us, He’s… In spite of me.

Heidi:
Yes. Well, it’s in spite of me, too.

Stephanie:
Yes. In spite of me, yes. He had mercy on me. I let Him know that I made a promise that, “Lord, if you help me through this, because this is not what I intended to be. This was not my lot in life. That’s not how I grew up.” But based on some trauma that I experienced in my childhood, and the feeling of low self-esteem, low self-worth, not being able to share those things… You know, I carried that into adulthood. And of course when I got to college, I found out that, guess what? I can drink to fit in.

Heidi:
Oh, yes.

Stephanie:
To be a part of. Because I was already labeled an outsider, because I didn’t do those things when I went to college.

Heidi:
Yes.

Stephanie:
And so, in order to fit in, that’s what I did, not knowing what was coming after that. And so again, in and out. I still worked. I was in and out of my daughter and my husband’s life. We went through a couple of divorces during that time, because we still loved each other, even in the midst of what was going on.

Heidi:
So you would get back together?

Stephanie:
We would get back together. And so, we split up a second time. That’s when I went to a program in Louisville to get some space and get some help, and decided to stay, because I needed the time to be me, and to find out who I was. Went through some therapy for a couple of years, and started working in the field of nursing. I was a restorative nurse’s aide. I loved working with seniors, because I love people.

Heidi:
Yeah. It’s been obvious, just meeting you for the few minutes that we’ve talked.

Stephanie:
Yeah, I do love people. And what a way to give back, and giving them a shot of hope. Because some of what I saw in nursing homes is that sometimes family members just, they leave them. And so, they needed to know that, guess what? They still mattered. And so, I loved what I was doing. Then I got the call to move into the area of substance abuse, and-

Heidi:
Like, wait. Like a company called you, or you just felt in your heart-

Stephanie:
Well, at that particular time, I was going to what they call 12 Step meetings.

Heidi:
Okay.

Stephanie:
And so, again, I loved helping people, and I did that for a while. But I was moved by one of my mentors at that time, who said she had come to Lexington to a training here at the Hope Center, and had stated to me that… Because this was where I lived. This was where my family was… That, “Maybe you need to go back and apply for a job there.” But mind you, while I was in Louisville, I had started already working in the field. I was doing double duty. I was working at the assisted living home, and then also working in a recovery house.

Heidi:
I think that’s amazing.

Stephanie:
Yes.

Heidi:
That you were working to become clean, and were clean, but wanted to help others.

Stephanie:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Heidi:
I think that’s amazing.

Stephanie:
Yes. Yes. And so, I did that. I didn’t want to come back to Lexington at that time, because I didn’t know if I was ready to come back to Lexington, because this is the area where I used drugs. And so-

Heidi:
And it’s so important to change locations sometimes.

Stephanie:
Yes. Well, and that’s true. But what I’ve learned over time is that it’s not so much where you live. It’s how you live when you get there.

Heidi:
Okay.

Stephanie:
So, during this time I was also continuously building my relationship with God. It wasn’t like the God that my parents instilled in me. Even though it’s the same God. But they told me about God, but I began to know God for myself.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
And build a-

Heidi:
That’s an important thing.

Stephanie:
Yes, and building the relationship with Him. And so, you know, I think that was the turning point in my life, is when I began… My parents prayed for me. I know they did. I had great parents. I have great parents, and I thank God because they’re still alive and well.

Heidi:
Oh, good.

Stephanie:
But they instilled in us who God was, and they prayed for us. They talked to us about the power of prayer. But knowing about building that intimate relationship with God, I didn’t know that until later on. But because of that, I was able to come back to this area, because I became comfortable in my own skin.

Heidi:
Yes.

Stephanie:
And I took the job at the Hope Center in 2002, and I’ve been there ever since.

Heidi:
That’s awesome. I want to get to that in a minute. But before we do that, I want to ask you, what are some… You said you’re growing, and I’m assuming still are, because it’s a continual process. What are some of the things that you did and still do, to learn more about God, and grow in that personal relationship with Him?

Stephanie:
Well, the first thing I had to do is I had to identify who God was for me. Because I’m a true believer that God can be anything that I need Him to be, at any given time, because God… It’s not just a monolistic God, but He’s a trion God. And because of that, God is all about relationships. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And so, my prayer life got real active, you know? Not that I didn’t know about prayer, because I did. But in the streets, per se… And I wasn’t living in the streets, but I was in the world… You know, I made a lot of bargains with God. I only prayed to God when I needed something, or I was trying to get out of something.

Heidi:
That’s easy.

Stephanie:
That was very easy. Yeah.

Heidi:
I still do that sometimes.

Stephanie:
Yeah. Yeah. But I was only praying to God, and I know and understand today that there is a two-part thing that happens when you’re in the presence of God, and that is I’m talking to God, I’m praying, but then I need to spend time listening, and finding out what God’s will is for my life. Because I didn’t know what my purpose was. And so, when I got that concept… That it’s more than just me talking to Him, but it’s about me learning to listen, learning how to be in His presence, learning how to hear that still, small voice, and knowing the difference between the spirit of the Lord and the spirit of the lower power as well… Because the enemy will still try to come in and kill, steal, and destroy.

Stephanie:
And so, when I was able to do that… Being on my own helped me to do that. And I believe, too, that that’s how God has landed me where I’m at today, is because the distractions went away. Because my husband and my current… My love, my husband now… That’s a story within itself. But in 2000, when I came back to this area, and I began to take the job at the Hope Center, we were trying to reconcile at that time. But, and this was the time that his father was sick, as well, and I had asked him the question. I said, “If I were to be a preacher, what do you think about that? Would you mind being married to a preacher?” He said, “No. I don’t want to be married to a preacher.”

Heidi:
Oh, okay.

Stephanie:
And I said, “Okay. That’s fine.” So then, the thought of God calling me to ministry at that time was out of the way, because I really wanted to be with him. I still was in love with him, and…

Heidi:
Yeah. So how did God redeem your marriage, then?

Stephanie:
Oo wee, that’s the mystery of God. He works in mysterious ways. Yes, He does. And so, you know, him and I didn’t stay together. I went back. I moved to Lexington.

Heidi:
So this was in 2000?

Stephanie:
This was in 2002.

Heidi:
2000… Okay.

Stephanie:
Mm-hmm (affirmative), in 2002. And he stayed in Midway, because that’s where we met, on a blind date back in 1983. And so-

Heidi:
I just love that.

Stephanie:
Yeah. I was 17. Yeah. He was 22. I played basketball at the… It’s a university now. A girlfriend of mine was dating his cousin, and so we decided to… We were all together one night, and I didn’t know him, and they just kind of put us together and said, “Hey, why don’t you all hang out together?” And we did, and so-

Heidi:
Did you know that night that it was something special? Like, you were just kind of like-

Stephanie:
Well, it was just kind of hanging out, but I knew there was something there, because he was tall, dark, and handsome. You know? And he drove a sports car, yes, and he was already… He was at the University of Kentucky at that time. And so, he was already what I envisioned, because my father was very… I wanted somebody like my father, because my father was, he was well-to-do. We didn’t want for much growing up, if anything at all. My father had a blue collar job, and he took care of the family. He drove a nice car. You know, we had nice things. And so, that’s what I wanted.

Heidi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie:
Not knowing that love came from the inside out, and not in material things, at that time. However, and so we started dating after that. But in 2002, when I took the job at the Hope Center, it was the job for me at that time. I worked on the night shift. But again, I loved helping people. And watching the women come in at that time… Because I was the nighttime monitor. That’s where I started.

Heidi:
Okay. So, you started at the very-

Stephanie:
At the very bottom. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because I didn’t have… Grant you, I didn’t finish college.

Heidi:
Right. That’s right.

Stephanie:
So, I didn’t have a college education. I had an Associate’s degree at that time. And so, I started out at night, and I had went into the office of the director at that time, and I told her that after a short period of time of being there, that I wanted to learn as much as I could about the organization. And so, if there was anything that became available, other shifts, that I would be interested. Because I just believe in knowing the whole scheme of things.

Heidi:
Absolutely.

Stephanie:
And so I was able, after, I don’t know… Less than a year, I was on day shift.

Heidi:
Oh, wow.

Stephanie:
And I was working with the clients, and just worked my way up, to now where I’m the director of programs there, over, what? The last 17, 18 years.

Heidi:
Wow.

Stephanie:
So, I took over the men and women’s division in the corrections in 2006, and we have a permanent housing for women that I supervise as well. Now I oversee an intensive outpatient program, insurance provider. And so, get to do all of that. And so, working with men and women on a daily basis.

Heidi:
Yeah. What’s it like for you to have been in the shoes of the people that you’re ministering to?

Stephanie:
Oh, it’s amazing. But when I hear their stories… I didn’t go through anything, when I hear the stories of the people that I work with on a daily basis. Mind you, I was only out there… And I’m not minimizing it, because it was a terrible time for me. Never would I have thought… That’s not one thing that I’d said, that, “I’m going to grow up and be an addict.” But to watch the men and women come into the programs beat up and beat down, without a shot of hope, and then watching their lives transform over time… It’s a long-term residential program, and so it’s not that we see them for just a few days, and then they’re gone, but we get to spend at least six months when they stay in the process. And watching them walk in mangled, looking at every crack in the floor, hopeless, and then watching… I like to call them roses. That’s what I call the girls.

Heidi:
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie:
I’m reminded of a rose that’s in the ground. The ground is hard around it, and there’s cracks in the ground, and it hasn’t been tilled or soiled, and the leaves are brittle. But then, once you begin to pour water on the soil, and remove the weeds that have began to choke the rose bush out, the old petals, the deformed petals fall away, but the new branches come, or blooms or buds. And so, that’s what I get to watch the women do. And that’s what I call them, because that’s how they come in. They come in beat up and beat down, and they turn into the beautiful roses that God had intended for them to be.

Heidi:
Yeah. Before our interview today, I was on the Hope Center’s website, and you have a testimony up there. And so, I was watching some of them. Can you tell me about one… You have many, I’m sure… But one that has just meant a lot to you, and you’re like, “This is why I do what I do”?

Stephanie:
Well, gosh. Just to pick out one? There’s many. You know, the reality of recovery is that no one can ever tell who’s going to make it and who’s not. I can sit and tell you… Because you can’t judge a book by its cover.

Heidi:
No.

Stephanie:
And I can’t personally tell you that one person, this person will, and that person won’t, because of what I see on the outside. But we’ve come to the realization that recovery is not about how much time you have in the process, but it’s about the quality of sobriety that you have. But if I had to pick one person out of many, I’m thinking of a young lady that came in… And I’m going to use my recent memory.

Heidi:
Okay.

Stephanie:
That came in knowing who God was, but based on a lot of trauma in her life, she was just torn completely. Not only was her spiritual health torn, but she also had a lot of medical issues, due to her addiction, and low self-worth. She walked with her head hung down a lot, and she didn’t speak much when she came in, and she was most definitely scared of me. They say I walk with a spirit of authority. That’s what they say. And so, but they tell me over time that it’s not so much that they might have been scared of me then, but they have so much respect for me, because they can see the love and the compassion that I have for them.

Stephanie:
I do carry tough love. I do. It’s not about patting individuals on the hands.

Heidi:
You have to.

Stephanie:
Yes. Because you have to understand, the population that we serve is more than just dealing with the substance abuse, but you also have to deal with the mental health. You can’t treat one without the other. We believe in a holistic process, treating that whole, and providing a continuum of care for all aspects. Because it’s not the drugs and the alcohol that you’re dealing with, because they’re not using when they come.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
It’s about the issues of trauma, the abuse, the emotional abuse. Whatever they bring. Losses that they haven’t dealt with.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
And the loss could be even the drugs and the alcohol.

Heidi:
Right, and their life didn’t turn out like they-

Stephanie:
That they-

Heidi:
That they want.

Stephanie:
That’s exactly right. And you have those, that… Because the disease of addiction does not have a respective person. It hits all walks of life. And so, I’ve had opportunities to see doctors and lawyers and nurses, all the way down to someone that never worked a day in their life. Those that had somebody always doing for them, and those that had to figure out how to do it from themselves. Those that have been in the throes of addiction because it’s been a vicious cycle in their households for many, many years. It was the only thing to do. That’s all they knew.

Stephanie:
And so, but this particular young lady, I watched her from a distance, but she had a yearning for something different. She had one of those a-ha moments, when she came to the realization that the God that she knew today was totally different than the God she had been taught. Not the condemning God, the fire and brimstone type God.

Heidi:
That is life changing.

Stephanie:
Yes. But God could be… Again, because I teach the spirituality class there, teaching them the difference between religion and spirituality, because there is a vast difference.

Heidi:
A huge difference.

Stephanie:
When that concept hits home for a male or a female person in recovery, that’s a a-ha moment. When they are able to identify who God is for themselves. And, you know, paint that picture of who He is, and that it’s this God that loves me for exactly who I am, and even in the midst of all the things that I’ve done, He still loves me. He still has mercy on me. He’s just and He’s kind and He’s gentle. And so, that’s the message that we teach. My boss tells me all the time, “Why are you going into ministry, when you’ve been preaching all this time?” I say, “You’ve got to answer the call. When God says, ‘Move,’ you’ve got to move.” And so, her life today, oh, it’s awesome. The relationship that she has with God, the obstacles that she has overcome. Just being there in the process is, it’s amazing, and that’s what keeps me there, watching the lives change. Yeah.

Heidi:
Yeah. That is amazing.

Stephanie:
Yeah. Her head is hung high. She doesn’t walk like this, and she opens up her mouth. Because you have to let them know that they’ve got a voice.

Heidi:
Yes.

Stephanie:
Yeah.

Heidi:
Yeah. That’s beautiful. That’s amazing. What does your day to day job look like?

Stephanie:
Oo wee.

Heidi:
I’m sure it can vary widely.

Stephanie:
Wow. What day of the week? If I’m talking about the Hope Center, again, it used to be that I was very in the throes of the program, and so I was taking care of the day to day activities, running the program, the peer-driven model community. Because it’s a therapeutic community. It’s women in recovery, men in recovery, helping men. Because who best knows the process, than those who have gone through it?

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
And so, overseeing that, and the staffing and the scheduling. That was my main job. But now I’m kind of in the middle now. I’m administrative and programmatic, and so I get to sit on the other side and see how the bills get paid, and I’ll try to help make sure that we’re providing great services for the clients. You know, always looking to tweak the process, for lack of a better word, to make sure that it gets better. Always try to make it better than what it was, to ensure that we meet that client exactly where they are. Have a set model, but not a cookie cutter process, because everybody’s needs are different. And so, what might work for one, may not work for somebody else. And so, I go to a lot of meetings. I go to a meeting to go to a meeting.

Heidi:
But you’re kind of the advocate.

Stephanie:
Yeah.

Heidi:
Right?

Stephanie:
Yeah. I go to a… Which, I’m honored to be able to do that. I go to a lot of trainings. So I not only have meetings with inside of the Hope Center, but a lot of community partner meetings. Some meetings with the city, meetings with other agencies, other collaborating partners and grants, opportunities that we partner with. And so, work with a lot of judges. I work with P.O.s and lawyers. When I say P.O.s, probation and parole, because we do have a Department of Corrections contract.

Stephanie:
And so, we deal with the clients who have been a part of the criminal justice system, along with… And so, you take the institutionalization of being incarcerated, along with substance abuse, mental health, and you tie all that, that’s a lot that has to be done. But it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. Behaviors haven’t developed in just a few days, not even six months. But if we can give them the tools that they need, then we’ve done our job.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
We lay them at your feet, and it’s up to you to pick them up and take them with you when you go. Apply them, and then take them with you. Yes.

Heidi:
The statistics I read about the recovery through your program are amazing.

Stephanie:
Yes. We pride ourselves. We don’t do our own statistics. We partner with the University of Kentucky Center for Alcohol and Drug Research, that compiles reports for us. The Hope Center is a model, along with the Healing Place in Louisville, for the Recovery Kentucky models. And what that is is, they took our facility, the women’s facility… Because we have both men and women. So, we probably have close to 800, maybe more now. Because we have a new building, too, that we house every night. And so, the men have a shelter, but the women’s program is a freestanding program, based on tax credits and a lot of grants and other funding sources. And we didn’t want to have a shelter, either, because we have the Salvation Army.

Heidi:
Right, right.

Stephanie:
And so, they took our building… When we built this building, back in 2000… Because it opened in 2001, because it opened in 2002… we only opened with 56 beds. But there’s an old adage. “If you build it… ”

Heidi:
They’ll, yeah.

Stephanie:
“They’ll come.”

Heidi:
Yeah, they’ll come.

Stephanie:
So our numbers rose over time, and we still were incurring a waiting list, and the need was great. We went from cocaine and marijuana to the meth, and then to the opioid epidemic. And so, back to meth, and fentanyl and all of those things are on the rise today. And so, what happened is that because of Governor Ernie Fletcher, along with the Executive Director of the Hope Center, which is Cecil Dunn, and another very giant in the community, who has since passed on, is Mr. Don Ball, and Kentucky Housing Corporation, with other partners with the Lexington Housing Authority, Federal Home Loan Banks in Cincinnati, we’ve been able to model these buildings across the state of Kentucky. And so, there are 17 of these now.

Stephanie:
But the difference is, they took our building, the women’s center building, and they doubled it in size. Those were the recommendations we made. We met with developers and contractors, and, “What would you do differently?” “Make it bigger.” And so there are, again, 17 of these 100-bed facilities across the state.

Heidi:
That’s amazing.

Stephanie:
Yes.

Heidi:
What a legacy.

Stephanie:
Yes. Yes. And so, our model is a 12 Step model, based on the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. We’re not affiliated with AA in any way, shape, form, or fashion. And then we use a curriculum called the Kelly Foundation, which applies the 12 Steps with individuals able to go through a 12 Step process of finding out about them. You have to find the problem.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
When you know the problem, then you… When you identify the problem, then you can find the solution. And the solution is not the person. The solution is to find a power greater than yourself, and that power can restore you to sanity. And so, yeah. That’s…

Heidi:
That’s amazing. So, if somebody is listening to this podcast, if they themselves need help, or… What should they do?

Stephanie:
Well, they can call the Hope Center. They can call 859-252-2002 for the women’s program, or they can call 859-252-7881. That is one of the main building for the entry to the men’s program. If they want to go to the website, it’s www.hopectr.org. Also, they can also Google Recovery Kentucky, and find programs such as ours in any region of the state.

Heidi:
Okay. All right. I’m assuming they can do the same if they’re listening, and they’re not in Kentucky.

Stephanie:
Yes. Yes. Most of our programs cater to those in Kentucky. Our program, we do take some out of… There are fees for out of state individuals, but it doesn’t cost to come to these programs. That’s the beauty of it. We partner, again, with drug court. We partner with judges. Some may be court ordered, but if they are court ordered, there are fees for the court order. If they have income, of course they pay based on their income, but otherwise, they get six, eight, nine, 10 months of recovery services, and all they have to do is work on themselves.

Heidi:
Right. So, how can us as the community… Not just the seminary community, but the larger community… How can we work with the Hope Center?

Stephanie:
Well, it’s been amazing, because the Asbury Seminary has, some students have come and done volunteer work at the Hope Center. Actually, they found out that… Some of my friends that were here found out that I work there, and so they brought a vast majority of people to come, and we planted flowers and mulch with the clients at the women’s center. That’s been several years ago, but there’s plenty of opportunities to volunteer, to bring food. We always accept clothing donations, because most people come and they don’t have anything.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
And so, we never turn down a donation. We also take monetary donations as well, but anything you can imagine that you might need-

Heidi:
They’ll need it.

Stephanie:
… they’ll need, as well. Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Heidi:
Yeah. That’s cool.

Stephanie:
Yes.

Heidi:
So, we’ll link to all of this in our show notes, so that people don’t have to remember. They can just click when they’re listening to the podcast.

Stephanie:
Okay.

Heidi:
But you talked about being called to ministry. How did you experience your call to ministry?

Stephanie:
When I think about, if I had to depict a person in the Bible for who I am, who I was, it would be Jonah. My life was like Jonah, because as I roll the tape back in my life, and reflect on growing up and being in the church… And I loved church. I loved to sing. I just loved being in the house, and listening to the choir and watching the preachers. But God had a calling when I was a kid. I see that now. I didn’t see it then. I just thought it was just something that I did, you know?

Heidi:
It’s easy to see, looking back.

Stephanie:
I can recall, I used to go in the kitchen and get my mom’s wooden spoons out of the drawer, and I would go into the bathroom. I was supposed to be taking a shower, and I’m standing in the mirror and I’m preaching, mocking the pastor. And I would be singing in the mic, and I would have dreams of preaching in the pulpit. But I never told anybody about that. You know, just thought it was just fantasy.

Heidi:
You probably didn’t know what to do with that.

Stephanie:
I didn’t. I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. As time has gone on, and I came back to the church, rededicated my life back to God, I got real active in the church singing, directing choirs. Because that was my heart. Prayer ministries and things of those natures, I mean, I taught Sunday school. I did all of that. And God kept tugging at me then, but I wasn’t listening.

Heidi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). As He does.

Stephanie:
Yes, yes. And He would place people in my life to say, “Hey.” I can remember that there was, we call them Presiding Elders in our district. I’m a part of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, and he kept saying, “When are you going to let me sign that paper?” And I was like, “What paper?” You know? And he said, “Your license to preach.” And I said, “Nah.” I said, “That’s not me. That’s just not me.” And then other people have said that, “God had an anointing on you.” But I didn’t, I still… I wasn’t trying to believe that. There’s no way.

Heidi:
The community sometimes knows, can see it before you can see it.

Stephanie:
Yeah. And even the inception of the rules coming out of a Baptist church, is that women are not called to preach.

Heidi:
Right. Yeah. So that was something you had to reconcile, then, too.

Stephanie:
Yes. Yeah. And so, and I didn’t do that until I joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. And grant you, when I joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church, ministry was not in my view. My husband was an AME, and so I wanted to go to church where he went to church. That’s the reason that I joined the AME church. Not because preaching was… That was a more farfetched thing from my mind. If you had told me I’d have been preaching, then I’d just, like, “Yeah, right.” But nevertheless, the calling got stronger.

Stephanie:
Again, my husband and I were divorced, and I had been in a relationship with another gentleman, and I got pregnant. Didn’t think I could have any more children. My first daughter, Melanie, was high risk, and so I was not on any type of birth control. Didn’t think I could. And it happened. I was by myself for that entire pregnancy.

Heidi:
Oh, wow.

Stephanie:
But I was also on complete bed-rest. I couldn’t work.

Heidi:
Oh, wow.

Stephanie:
Even though my job wasn’t stressful, wasn’t physical. You know, I worked my mind more than I did anything. But they put me on complete bed-rest. That was the time, then, that God began to really speak to me.

Heidi:
Hmm. You had lots of time.

Stephanie:
Hoo, I had plenty of time. But I didn’t realize at the time… And I was angry. I had a lot of bitter moments during that time. But God, again, always had a ram in the bush. And so, while I was by myself, without the father of the twins around, God placed other people in my life. My mother-in-law, who has passed on to glory just a few months ago, which is my current husband’s mother, my mother-in-law of all. I love, bless her heart. She lived 93 years.

Heidi:
Oh, wow.

Stephanie:
And so, she came and lived with me, and she fed me and she cooked for me, and she helped keep the house and the kids. Now, grant you, I wasn’t married to her son anymore.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
Her son was married to somebody else. But that’s the love that we had for each… She was a great mother-in-law. And so, it was during that time that I wasn’t able to go to church. And in our church, in the AME church, we are appointed by the bishop. And so, appointments are for a year. And so, there was a new pastor that came to town, and-

Heidi:
While you were on your bedrest?

Stephanie:
While I was on bedrest. And she came to see me. When she came in… Now, grant you, I had never seen her before. She came and she introduced herself, said she was the new pastor. And she immediately told me that God had a higher calling on my life, just looking at me.

Heidi:
Wow.

Stephanie:
And I’m looking at her like… I said, “You don’t even know me.” Those were my words to her.

Heidi:
Right. “And how do you know, because I’m not sure myself.”

Stephanie:
Exactly. And so, we shared. She talked and we shared and we prayed, and she prayed. And she taught me a lot of things that I didn’t know, in reference to being in a relationship with God. I didn’t know about praying and fasting, and looking for discernment. And so, I began to do that. It’s just amazing. I was able, after a short period of time, to go back to church. I went back to church, and I was back doing what I normally did. You know, and we would still have conversations about the call, and what that entailed. And I still, I said, “But how do you know?” You know?

Heidi:
Yeah. That’s the question.

Stephanie:
She said, “Just pray, and ask God for discernment. If you’ll do it, do this, and just wait on God. You’ll know.” And I was in church on a Sunday afternoon. I was in worship experience, and I was sitting in the back row of the church. There was a preacher that had come to preach that afternoon. It was for Missionary Day. Now, grant you, I had already had conversations with my pastor at that time, just asking her all kinds of questions that I needed answers to, that I just wasn’t getting those answers.

Heidi:
You were really just searching.

Stephanie:
Yeah. I was still looking for an answer, and she said, “Just wait on it. Just wait. You’ll know.”

Heidi:
It’s the hardest thing.

Stephanie:
And when this preacher came, it was a female preacher. When she came to preach at the church that afternoon, she began her sermon talking, and she was preaching on living clean in a dirty, dirty world. That was her sermon topic. I’ll never forget it, as long as I live. But then she diverged from her sermon, toward the latter stages, and she said, “I don’t know why I’m going here, but God has spoken to me, because there’s somebody in this church that is looking for answers.” And every single question that I had talked to my pastor about, she addressed. And I thought-

Heidi:
Oh, my.

Stephanie:
… “Oh. My. God. Are you kidding me?”

Heidi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie:
And the more I sat there, the more agitated… It wasn’t agitated. It was just, I got fidgety in my seat, and I could feel something coming over me, and God was speaking to me then. And the more she talked, the more antsy I got. And when the invitation to Christian discipleship came… And I kept sitting. I didn’t move… They were getting ready to close it out, and finally, God spoke, and said, “Move.”

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
And I finally threw up my hands, and I said, “Okay, God. I surrender.” And I got up, and I made my way to the front, and exclaimed to the church that I had a calling on my life to preach, and I was ready to accept my calling. Tears just flew. I cried and I cried. I will never forget that. That was June the 6th of 2006, six months after my twins were born.

Heidi:
Oh, wow.

Stephanie:
Yeah.

Heidi:
That’s two huge things at the same time.

Stephanie:
Yeah. And, you know. I took off running after that.

Heidi:
Because you came to Asbury shortly after that.

Stephanie:
I first went to Payne Theological Seminary for a year, in 2007.

Heidi:
That’s what I liked about you. As you’ve told your story, your whole life, it’s like you wanted something, or felt like God was calling you to do it. You learned as much as you could about it, and you just run straight toward it.

Stephanie:
Yeah, I went for it. I preached my initial sermon in August of that year, and I was admitted on trial to the annual conference a year later. Started going to the board in the church, and then I went to school at Payne Theological Seminary, which is the AME church’s seminary. That’s one of our seminaries. But it was online.

Heidi:
Okay.

Stephanie:
And I wanted something more close to home, because that was in Wilberforce, and somebody told me about Asbury. And so, I sent a little memo to, actually it was Tammy Cessna that I met. She sent me information about the mission’s process, and all those things, and invited me to the campus. And when I came to Asbury on campus that day, I could feel the presence of God on this campus. It was like I was treated with royalty. They pulled out the red carpet. I mean, people were just so nice and friendly. And by the time I got through that day, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. And so, I was accepted, and I came in in the Masters of Christian Leadership, and met some great instructors here, professors. I was doing some online, and I was also coming to the classroom. Sometimes during the day, sometimes at night. Still working. Then, by this time I had my first charge. And so, it was twice a month.

Stephanie:
Then I graduated in 2010, the first time.

Heidi:
Okay. And you came back for the M. Div.?

Stephanie:
And then I came back for the M.Div., and graduated in 2017.

Heidi:
And now you’re here for the DMin.

Stephanie:
And now I’m here for the DMin.

Heidi:
So, what are you studying?

Stephanie:
I am studying now preaching and leading.

Heidi:
Okay. And your dissertation?

Stephanie:
My dissertation is evaluating the disparities of men and women clergy in leadership roles in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, namely, the 13th Episcopal District.

Heidi:
That sounds fascinating.

Stephanie:
Yes.

Heidi:
Yes.

Stephanie:
I’m excited about it. Being-

Heidi:
So in three years, I’ll have to have you back on, because I’ll want to know what you find out.

Stephanie:
Yes, yes. Being a woman in leadership in the church, and looking at it… And God has blessed me to be ordained, and an itinerant elder in the church. And those have happened right at the same times that I’ve graduated from here.

Heidi:
Wow.

Stephanie:
And so, again, my mentor, Maxine L. Thomas, who is also a Beeson Scholar, and was an adjunct professor here at one time… She encouraged me to come back. And so, I appreciate her pushing and nudging me to continue to strive for excellence. And so, I’m at my third charge in the church. I’m in Elizabethtown. You know, God… I started out small, and God has blessed me to elevate me there. I love people, and I’ve learned early on that when you love people, they will love you back.

Heidi:
Yes.

Stephanie:
I love pastoral ministry. I love watching even the lives in the church, because I know that even those of us in the church, we come with our own demons.

Heidi:
Oh. Yes.

Stephanie:
And I’m just a firm believer that true worship can’t happen, until we are able to address the demons that lie inside of us.

Heidi:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie:
And so we have to… Again, just like I have to meet people where they are at the Hope Center… Even at the church, you have to meet people where they are in their own brokenness. And so, yeah. I love it. Yeah, I love pastoring.

Heidi:
Which is an affirmation of your calling, too.

Stephanie:
Yeah.

Heidi:
So, as we wrap up our conversation today… Which I have thoroughly enjoyed. I feel like we could just keep talking more all afternoon. But our podcast is called the Thrive Podcast, and we close the podcast with a few questions that we ask everybody. So, since it’s called the Thrive Podcast, what the… Excuse me… What’s a practice, spiritual or otherwise, that’s helping you thrive in your life right now?

Stephanie:
For me, it’s continue to have that prayer and meditation time. Again, with life being busy, with the church and with work and the family life… And thank God I have a partner for ministry in my husband, that my hat is off to him, because he’s very supportive in ministry. He’ll tell you, “I’m not the pastor. She is.” But he supports me very much. But to have that time, allow me to have that time to be able to be in God’s presence. And I still have to grow, because that, some days are better than others.

Heidi:
Right.

Stephanie:
But I truly believe in trying to keep my spiritual tank full.

Heidi:
Absolutely.

Stephanie:
Because when you’re pouring out and pouring out, it gets to the point where you have nothing else to give. And while being in class these last two weeks, I was sitting there and I was listening to one of the professors, and we were discussing habits that sustain ministry. And one thing that struck me, resonated in my spirit, was, I love ministry, and I love what it does, and through the workings of the Holy Spirit. And so, it’s not so much that I want to burn out, but I don’t want to rust out.

Heidi:
Oh, right.

Stephanie:
I don’t want to rust out.

Heidi:
That’s a good point.

Stephanie:
And so, I try to enjoy… My motto is, “Enjoy the journey.” If you know anything about me, if you hear, see any emails from me, that’s what you’ll see in my line, is to enjoy the journey. I got that from a preacher that preached my first ordination. That’s what he told us. No matter what, because sometimes on this journey, you might feel like… And I have. Feel like I’m all by myself.

Heidi:
Yeah. And you literally have been all by yourself sometimes.

Stephanie:
Yes. But in the midst of that, I know that God is with me, and that He’s not going to send me any place that He hasn’t already prepared a way for me to get there. He’s already provided for me. And so, I’m reminded of Jeremiah 29 and 11, that says, “‘I know the plans that I have for you,’ declarest the Lord.” Plans not to harm you, but to give you hope, to prosper you in hope for future. And so, that’s what I hold on to.

Heidi:
Yeah. Yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time-

Stephanie:
Thank you.

Heidi:
… out of your busy schedule to come by and talk to me today.

Stephanie:
Thank you. I appreciate it. God bless you.

Heidi:
Hey, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me for today’s conversation with Stephanie. She is a gift, and I’m so grateful for our conversation, and for the power of hope. If you or someone you know needs help with addiction recovery, we have links in the show notes, so check that out. And if you need the resources offered, please reach out. As always, you can follow us in all the places. On Facebook, at Twitter and Instagram @asburyseminary. Until next time, have a great day, y’all, and go do something that helps you thrive.