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In the Nick of Time
Drugs, alcohol and multiple relationships consumed her life, and nothing she did could set things right. But when she came to the end of herself, there was God.

I was very bitter, very angry and very mean. Nobody loved me, and I wanted to keep it that way. To protect myself, I turned off my feelings. I figured if nobody could get close to me, then I would not get hurt. At the same time, I did not care how much pain I caused others. I hurt a lot of people that way, some of them really badly, but it did not matter to me what I did or who I did it to. The more people were scared of me, the better I liked it.

Pauline Cardinal
Indian Life file photo

Then one day, a friend introduced me to something that was stronger than all my hate. I did not know what it was, but I knew it was something good and that it was reaching out to me, as bad as I was. And I knew in that moment, I had to have it.

I come from a large family. There were nine boys and five girls. By the time I was born, many of my brothers had already moved away. My growing up years were pretty miserable. My parents never did drink, but I grew up with a very bitter attitude toward everybody, even myself. I felt I was not worth very much.

I rebelled against my parents' authority when I was a teenager. I wanted to live life my own way. I did not want to answer to them or anyone else. As for God, He was someone totally foreign to me. I felt I could never reach Him, so I did not bother trying.

I was 15 when I left home. That is when I started drinking. I went from one relationship to another, always searching, but never finding. Many times I would get fed up with it all and try and start over, but things always ended up worse off than before.

A couple of years later, I went back home and started high school again. Here I met a guy from a nearby reservation. We got involved with each other. When I found out I was pregnant, we both quit school and started living together at his parent's home. I tried so hard to make it work, but it was a losing battle. My son, Terrence was four months old when I left his father.

One of my older brothers helped me to move to Slave Lake. Once I was settled in an apartment, I got a job and life seemed okay. But it was not long until I started to drink again. After that I was introduced to drugs and I started doing a lot of heavy stuff. For the next year I went really bad. I sent my son home, because I did not want the responsibility of taking care of him. All I lived for was myself and drugs. Nothing else mattered. Eventually I had no friends left at all, and I lost my job and my apartment.

Luckily, my son was with my mother during this time. She knew I was really messing up, so she finally convinced me to move back to Bonnyville. I could tell from the way she kept after me that she really did care about what was happening in my life.

Back home, my sister and I got an apartment together and did fine for a little while. Then I got a job at a tavern, and here the cycle began all over again. My mom or my sister would take care of my son, while I worked. Sometimes I did not get of until two or three in the morning, and then I would go partying until daybreak. When it was over, I would come home and sleep. Often, my sister would have to break into my apartment and take my son because I would be passed out and could not take care of him.

At this pointing my life, I did not care about anything. I hated what I was, but I did not have much hope of changing. I often thought of suicide. At times, I figured even my son would be much better off dead.

The crowd I was running with at this time was pretty rough. Customers did not dare cause me trouble or my friends would fix them. We were all into a lot of drugs. Sometimes I think about that now and I am surprised that I never got caught in any of those dealings, because I used to carry it with me and sell it in the tavern. Other times, some of the parties would get out of hand or I would drink too much. Sometimes I did not even know how I got home. I would just wake up in my apartment in one piece and unhurt. I'm just amazed at all that. I guess the Lord was protecting me even in this rough life-style.

Taking all those drugs and drinking so much alcohol began to have its effect on me. I had visions of going insane. I used to see people coming to take me away. This is when I began thinking of ways to kill myself so I could get away from it all. I had no hope. Even the drugs and drinking were unable to help me forget anymore.

Desperate for a change, I decided to try a new start again. I quit my job and moved to Edmonton. I was afraid I would mess up again, yet somehow I felt this time was going to be different.

I stayed at my brother's house, where his wife's brother, Kevin, was also staying. He had just become a Christian and he was always talking about God's love and Jesus. I felt sorry for him because I thought something had snapped in his mind from all the drugs he had been taking. He talked a lot about this religious stuff, but I did not pay much attention. If he bothered me too much, I just told him to shut up ad leave me alone. God was okay for him, but not for me. I needed something else. I did not know what, but I was sure it was not God.

As the days and weeks went by, I began to notice a definite change in Kevin's life. He was not drinking or smoking, and he had a kind of peace about him. He looked so happy. I began to want what he had, but I figured it could never happen to me.

All this time, Kevin kept inviting me to church. Finally, to shut him up for a while, I agreed to go. When we got there and found a seat, everything felt so different. I wanted to turn around and run, but something told me to stay. I do not recall what the preacher said; I only remember feeling so loved. I felt that happy fluttery feeling like when you go out on a date. It felt so good being there, yet I could not understand what was going on.

The next night, I went back again, and when the preacher asked people to accept the Lord into their lives, I did. I asked Jesus to forgive me and to come into my life, and I could not believe the love I felt. At that moment, a burden was lifted off me. I felt new inside and clean. I knew right then that Jesus was really real and that He loved me.

In the days that followed, I had a real hunger to know more about God. I got a Bible and tried to read it, but there was so much I did not understand. Sometimes it was very discouraging, but through it all God kept loving me.

After a while, I moved back to Bonnyville to get away from the city. When I got there, I learned one of my girlfriends had become a Christian. I was happy and excited for her. She said a missionary couple told her about the Lord, and that they were trying to start a native church in Bonnyville.

When she said this, I thought, Oh, oh! Trouble! More white people trying to help us poor Indians. I was afraid for her, but I trusted the Lord to take care of her.

One day my friend invited me to join her for a ladies' Bible study. I went out of curiosity mostly. When I met the study leader, she blew away all my ideas of what a missionary was like. She was fun. She was real, and she had a genuine love for my people. It took me a while to trust her, but when I did, she became my friend.

Once I started going to the native fellowship, I really began growing in my Christian walk. My life was changing. My family could not understand what was happening. Some thought it would never last. The rest thought I was just plain crazy. When I got baptized, my mother disowned me. That hurt a lot, but I had to do what God wanted.

I was beginning to feel better about who I was as a person, as a native, as a woman and as a mother. There was so much I had to learn. God had to really drill it into my head that He loved me and that because of His love, He was going to take care of me and heal all my emotional hurts. At times, I would fight against Him and wish He would just leave me alone, but He did not. He just kept chipping gently away at the problems in my life until they began to clear up.

Because of my desire to learn more of God's Word, the missionary suggested I go away to Bible school. I thought he was crazy at first, but I finally went. It was there I learned a lot about God, His Word and myself. I learned how to be responsible, especially for my son. I even learned how to cook.

When I look back at where the Lord brought me from and see where I am today, I can only praise Him.

After graduation in 1985, I moved back to Bonnyville again. I took a secretarial course and then worked this past year for an Indian organization. In these past two years, I also had to face something I could not face before. My parents were divorced. I had to learn to forgive and love the way Jesus did. I have done that now, and my Mom and I are closer today than we have ever been. She respects me and what I am doing. I think she is even proud of me.

When I look back at where the Lord brought me from and see where I am today, I can only praise Him. He believed in me and loved me and died for me. And He cared enough to come into my life in the nick of time and turn me around, when no one else could. For all of this and so much more, I return His love. I probably would not be around today if it were not for Him.

Pauline Cardinal was a staff member of Indian life for several years. She is now married and lives with her husband, Erik Mawer, and their children in Iron River, Alberta.

Originally published in Indian Life, July/August 2004. Reprinted from Indian Life, January 1988.




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