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From the Grip of Addiction to God’s Beloved Treasure

Orlando, Florida

“We concentrated on staying high and getting high and things you had to do to get high,” says Joanne Ranucci. “We were all on the same page, we were getting our drug. That was number one.”

Joanne’s life had become a statistic. In her 40s and living in a homeless camp in the woods, she had just one thing left...drugs.

“My kids are gone; my great love of my life is gone,” says Joanne. “I was a disappointment to my family. This is what was expected of me.”

As a child, Joanne had a learning disability and struggled in school. Though her parents tried to help and support her, Joanne couldn’t shake the feeling that she couldn’t measure up to her four siblings.

“I could see the sadness in my mom and dad’s eyes when I’d bring home report cards and they were always Ds and Fs, you know,” says Joanne. “So, you know, I just knew I-I was a disappointment to them.”

So as a teen, she distanced herself from her family, rebelling against her parents and experimenting with alcohol and drugs.

“I found out that it made me feel good and-and, feeling like the disappointment I was, it kinda took the edge off,” says Joanne. “And when the alcohol was wearing off, I would fill, and I knew I could keep filling it by getting another beer, another bottle, another hit and it—I'd be okay temporarily.”

At 14, she began dating a 19-year-old. He was everything to her. And as soon as Joanne turned 18, she went to live with him. Three years later she found out how much she meant to him when she got pregnant, and he left her.

“I thought I'd finally achieved something, a family and I’d be happy,” says Joanne. “And then when he left me—and he was my great love, you know, my first love, my great love, and when he left me, I was stunned.”

Joanne’s mother stepped in to raise the baby as Joanne dove deeper into drugs and alcohol.

“I didn’t have to think about anything else, being different from my siblings, ‘cause they were smart, and they were successful, and they had families and they were doing everything right,” says Joanne. “I never thought I could have that.”

During the next two decades, Joanne would marry and divorce twice, have four more children, lose custody of them and eventually wind up living in a homeless camp in the woods, supporting her addiction through prostitution. Outreach groups tried to help those in the camp find freedom from addiction, but for Joanne...

“I didn’t want to be reached,” says Joanne. “This was my lot in life. This was it for me. I knew I would die of this. I-I knew. And I accepted it.”
It would take the better part of fifteen years—and the deaths of many friends—for Joanne to see her life as it was...

“People started dying around me that I really cared about, like family,” says Joanne. “I stated getting like, ‘Wait a minute. There’s got to be more. You-you don’t have to live like this.’”

So, when one of the outreach groups who’d tried to help Joanne for years offered her housing in an apartment, she accepted. But when she overdosed and got evicted two years later, they spelled out her options.

“If you go to the woods, you know you’re going to die. Or you trust us. Take a leap of faith. We’re here for you. We never left you. We-we'll go through this with you,” they say.

“And with those words I knew I was truly loved and cared about. And I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take that leap of faith. I will. I’ll do it,’” says Joanne.

They helped Joanne get into a rehab program, where she met a Christian woman who gave her a Bible and began sharing with her about Jesus.

“I didn’t know God. I knew ‘of’ Him, but I didn’t know Him. She would teach, you know, about God and His Word, and it looked like everything I was searching for my whole life,” says Joanne.

Over the coming weeks, Joanne spent every moment she could reading the Bible and discovering how God sees her.

“I couldn’t put the Bible down. I knew the words were true ‘cause I was feeling it inside of me,” says Joanne. “And this is where God happened to me. This is where God happened and showed Himself. He showed up. God showed up.”

Discovering that God loved and accepted her, just as she was, Joanne made a decision.

“I gave my life to Christ in the rehab,” says Joanne. “That’s what I was looking for all this time. All this time, it was right there. It was right there. And He-I was touched by the hand of God, I was touched. And never—nothing was ever the same.”

She says God took away her desire for drugs and alcohol and also helped her restore her relationships with her family.

“I buried myself,” says Joanne. “I buried my past. I buried that old person who was lost and sad. I buried that person. And here I am.”

Today, Joanne returns often to the homeless camp where she used to live, to share the hope she found in Jesus Christ.

“He accepts me. He’s proud of me. I’m not a disappointment. I’m God’s treasure. I’m His daughter,” says Joanne. 

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