Chances are, if you have been to a community meal, First Recovery, or attended Sunday services, you may have noticed our friend Mary. Mary has been participating in various events at FUMC since early last fall. She struggles with a traumatic brain injury and substance use disorder. Unfortunately, both have been exacerbated by physical abuse.

Cassidy Newman, our women’s coordinator for First Recovery, who previously worked for a treatment center, met Mary while she was receiving treatment. Cassidy was struck by Mary’s desire to help others and her compassionate nature. “Mary would give anyone the shirt off her back,” said Cassidy, reflecting on Mary’s time in treatment. While helping Mary develop a treatment plan for her return home, Cassidy discovered a significant problem. Mary was living with her boyfriend at his mother’s house, and Mary’s boyfriend subjected her to mental and physical abuse. Additionally, Mary was surrounded by heavy methamphetamine use in that environment. Not having financial resources or skills to survive on her own, Cassidy saw an opportunity to place Mary in a supportive environment.

Instead of returning to that harmful situation, Cassidy convinced Mary to enter a sober living program. This decision provided Mary with her own clean and safe space, where she thrived. However, these environments are not often permanent housing solutions. Over the years, Mary has moved between shelters, treatment centers, and experienced periods of homelessness, all of which have been detrimental to her mental health and sobriety. Mary’s substance use eventually landed her on probation in Putnam County, she was placed and living in a group home in Gallatin, Tennessee. Mary was making progress for seven months. However, the group home failed to notify her probation officer in Putnam County and neglected to transport her to probation appointments. They were planning to discharge her to a homeless shelter in Nashville when Cassidy felt compelled by God to step in.

Cassidy believed that God was calling her to be Mary’s caretaker. With a caring heart and the ability to teach, Cassidy started assisting Mary in overcoming obstacles and coping with her mental health, daily stressors, and substance misuse issues. She took on the responsibility of scheduling and advocating for doctor’s appointments, probation visits, and social services. While juggling work, graduate school, and other service commitments of her own, Cassidy, along with her fiancé Dustin, became Mary’s family. They became integral parts of First Recovery.

However, while navigating Mary’s legal issues, Cassidy discovered that Mary’s probation was violated while in treatment due to the program’s failure to report Mary’s treatment. Cassidy conducted an investigation and received advice from Knox County probation that she should hire an attorney for Mary’s violation hearing. Cassidy used her own resources to secure legal counsel on how to handle this violation. Mary and Cassidy understood that resolving this issue was crucial for her progress. However, Cassidy received a call from a fugitive task force insinuating to Cassidy that if she did not turn Mary into the jail, she would be arrested for harboring a fugitive.

The next day, Cassidy drove Mary to the jail in Putnam County, where she was booked and held without bond for months. During this time, Cassidy tirelessly advocated for Mary, visiting her in jail and trying to get anyone to listen to her regarding Mary’s situation. Every Wednesday, the First Recovery community gathered to pray for Mary’s release and safe return. Cassidy made countless trips to the courtroom, which initially proved unsuccessful. However, she eventually crossed paths with Nikki Payne, a social worker who had previously assisted Mary and was familiar with her story. Ms. Payne listened to Cassidy’s account and involved a Putnam County probation official and eventually the judge. Finally, there was a glimmer of hope.

In court, Cassidy assured the judge that she would take care of Mary, providing transportation to appointments, shelter, food, and proper management of her mental health medication. Cassidy would encourage Mary to actively participate in her own recovery and help teach her basic life skills that she was never taught, such as doing laundry. The judge, after delivering a lecture to Mary on her responsibilities, looked at Cassidy and said, “God bless you, Ms. Newman. The world needs more people like you. I am releasing care of Mary to you.” This sort of advocating is exactly what First Recovery stands for: Help, Faith, and Hope. The prophet Isaiah described God’s provisions in Isaiah 25:4. “You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat.” We believe God protected Mary in the same way and delivered her to safety. Thanks be to God for the healing that’s happening in our church and community with the assistance offered through First Recovery.

Since her release, Mary’s homecoming has been filled with joy and celebration. She was able to spend Christmas with her family (Dustin and Cassidy). Mary has attended every First Recovery meeting since her release, showing kindness and love to all she encounters. Mary and Cassidy still face challenges, for example, Mary doesn’t qualify for many benefits someone in Mary’s position would often qualify for because of Cassidy’s generosity of taking Mary into her home. However, they face these obstacles together, and God has provided ways for their hardships and needs. On February 1, 2024, Mary will celebrate one year of sobriety. She’s finding balance in her mental health, sobriety, and learning life skills that will help her maintain a fruitful life closer to God and filled with community.