free indeed a story of redemption

Free Indeed: A Story of Redemption

When Milisa Van Steenis was growing up, she saw the consequences of addiction firsthand. Her parents struggled with addiction for most of her childhood, and she told herself it would never happen to her. She enlisted in the army reserves and spent two years in active duty as a combat medic before leaving the military in 2003.

As a veteran, Van Steenis knew the value of freedom; it was important enough to defend. However, when it came to Van Steenis’s own life, true freedom proved harder to attain. She applied her medic’s training as a medical assistant in Ohio, earning enough to support herself and her two daughters. Then she shattered her ankle in an accident.

“I had two surgeries on my ankle, and my body got so used to the pain medication my doctors prescribed,” Van Steenis says. “I didn’t even recognize the withdrawal symptoms when I had them; I just knew I needed more meds. When my doctors wouldn’t give them to me, I started buying drugs.”

In November of 2013, the Fayette County of Job and Family Services took Van Steenis’s daughters away, giving her one year to get clean. She couldn’t do it. “I failed all my drug tests,” Van Steenis says. “My daughters were 13 and 14, and I lost permanent custody. I couldn’t contact them.”

With the loss of her kids, Van Steenis also lost her hope. “I went to jail about a month after they took my kids away, and I was in and out of jail for more than a year,” she says. “I just didn’t care anymore. I actually liked going to jail. I got fed; I got to take a shower; I was safe.”

When she wasn’t in jail, Van Steenis lived on the streets, eating food out of trash cans and finding drugs where she could. She overdosed three times, spent a week in the ICU with double pneumonia, and finally hit bottom in 2016.

Van Steenis called a treatment center in Columbus, Ohio. She left her town and her life behind, committed to loosening the chains of her addiction. “As soon as I got to the treatment center, I felt like I was home,” Van Steenis remembers. “But I didn’t think God would want anything to do with me. I’d done terrible things.”

With the help of case managers and counselors, Van Steenis learned of the deep, relentless love of God – and the freedom He was inviting her to accept. As she detoxed in the treatment center, she finally felt hope again. “After a month, I moved to a homeless shelter in Columbus,” Van Steenis says. “I got a job in a restaurant, and after a while, I could afford an apartment. Then I decided I wanted to work with people like me – people who struggled with addiction and felt like they couldn’t get out.”

When Van Steenis began to seriously consider going to school, she kept seeing commercials for IWU on TV. “After the fourth or fifth time seeing the same commercial, I thought, ‘Okay. That’s what I’m going to do.’ I felt so much peace about it; I knew it had to be from God – so I started classes right away.”

Today, Van Steenis is in proud possession of an associate degree in human services, and she recently started IWU’s Bachelor of Social Work program, where she was able to transfer 38 credit hours from her military training and experience. “I’m not stopping until I have a master’s degree in social work,” she says with a smile.

Van Steenis works as a clinical administrative coordinator at a successful company in Columbus, and she has high hopes for future advancement. “My boss is so supportive here,” she says. “She wants me to shadow social workers here, do my clinicals here, and eventually move up to be a case manager.”

As she reflects on her life, Van Steenis sees redemption in every detail. She’s sober, has a steady job, owns a home, and – best of all – sees her daughters regularly. “My kids are so proud of me now,” she says. “I know God has me exactly where He wants me.”

This July, “freedom” has taken on a deeper meaning for Van Steenis. She recognizes the importance of our nation’s freedom and the sacrifices required to protect it. But she also knows the freedom of Christ, which has released her from bondage and invited her into extravagant love.

For if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Happy Independence Day. May freedom ring across the nations and into the centuries.

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