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Overwhelming Grace

By Ryan Klinker, June 21, 2023

Nursing graduate says God saved her from a life of addiction and homelessness to give her a second chance at Liberty

Since giving her past of addiction, fear, and darkness over to the Lord, Whitney Harris (’23) has forged a new life for herself while earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) through the Liberty University School of Nursing.

Harris said walking across the stage at Commencement brought a wave of thankfulness and humility, a true reminder of how far God has brought her.

“In that moment, I was overwhelmed with God’s grace, knowing that I am so undeserving of this life, and it’s only by His grace that I was there,” she said. “He helped me, and He has been here with me the whole way. He gave me the strength to do it. It’s a gift from God.”

Harris grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., 31 miles from Los Angeles, with parents who were part-time missionaries in West Africa. Going to church every Sunday was a family rule, but as a teenager, Harris started to rebel against her religious upbringing.

“I started avoiding religion, avoiding God, and I really didn’t want anything to do with Him or the church,” she said. “I started resenting my parents, feeling that I was forced to go to church, even though that wasn’t the case. Nothing about Jesus attracted me, and I was very much attracted to living in the world. I felt like freedom came from doing whatever I wanted to do, and so that’s what I pursued.”

This led to underage drinking and smoking in addition to partying throughout high school and for many years afterward. She eventually began using methamphetamines daily. Her parents had moved to Africa for full-time mission work, and she tried to convince them that she would dig herself out of the hole of addiction — a hole that was getting deeper and deeper.

“My family knew that I was far from God, they knew I didn’t want anything to do with Him, but they just kept praying on my behalf that I would come back like a prodigal child and come back to God,” she said. “I told them I would get out of (addiction) myself and to stay in Africa. But at that time, I felt like I was dying on the inside.”

Over the next few years, her substance abuse increased, including prescription medications and heroin. She started living out of her car because she couldn’t afford rent.

Today, she sees this time in her life as a period of blindness.

“I was very, very far from God, and I know that I was completely blinded by the enemy,” she said. “God’s Word says that the enemy blinds the minds of the unbelievers to keep them from seeing the glory of Christ, and I was completely blinded from anything spiritual.” 

Despite trying to get clean multiple times and checking into multiple rehabs and detoxes, Harris would repeatedly leave these facilities to give in to her addictions. She would end up homeless, doing things she never thought she’d do to get another hit and feeling numb to the world around her.

In 2018, a family friend offered to buy Harris a bus ticket to a rehab clinic in San Francisco, and Harris accepted with a renewed fortitude to change her life. She packed what she had onto the bus and began the journey, but when the bus stopped for passengers to get off and take a break, she came back to the parking lot and found it had departed without her. A kind man offered to drive her the three hours to San Francisco, and unbeknownst to Harris, the man was a Christian.

“He started driving me down south, and the whole time he only talked about Jesus and God,” she said. “He told me about his church, his ministry, and his grandkids, and it was a seed that was being watered in my life that kept pointing me to God. This random man I hitchhiked with was a servant of God who pointed me to Him. Even when I was still a sinner, when I was so dead of my sins, Christ was still there for me.”

Harris made it to the clinic and spent the next five months in the program, and has remained clean since then.

A few weeks into the program, Harris was confronted with a different type of obstacle: a positive pregnancy test. She asked God for clarity. She knew that her decision would change the course of her life.

“I remember sitting outside and crying out to God because I was so hurt,” she said. “I was weeping and felt this deep anguish, sorrow, sadness, and an overwhelming fear of my future. I barely knew who the father was. I didn’t know what to do. I just said, ‘God, please help me. I can’t go on any longer.’” 

God gave her an answer.

“I felt Him answer me so quickly and say, ‘Come with me, and you will never have to go back to this life again,’” Harris recalled. “I felt like He was calling me by name, and I remember just sitting there thinking ‘I’m going to follow Jesus and leave this life of sin, and I’m going to pursue Him with everything I have.’ I meant it; I wasn’t holding anything back, and I was ready to leave the whole world for Him.”

She walked back into the clinic and started to read a Bible that was in her room. She felt as if the words were breathing new life into her lungs.

“I was being set free from all the sin that I was entangled with for all of my life,” she said. “I read that I was forgiven, and that just blew my mind. I was overwhelmed by His grace; I still am to this day. God just covered me in mercy because I was, and am, so undeserving of His grace and His mercy. How can you love someone like me who has done what I’ve done? At that moment, things started changing, and my heart was regenerated by the Holy Spirit.”

Harris celebrates at Commencement with her son, Maverick, and his adoptive parents, Dana and Darren Murph.

Knowing that she could not provide for a child at the time, Harris decided to put her baby up for adoption once it was born and soon saw God open a door in Charlotte, N.C., where she connected with the adoptive parents, Dana and Darren Murph. 

“They’re the most wonderful, beautiful, loving, humble couple I’ve ever met,” Harris said. “They welcomed me into their family. It was more than just an adoption or a transaction; it was the pure love of Christ being shared.”

In 2018, while still pregnant, Harris decided to attend College For A Weekend (CFAW) on Liberty’s campus, where her sister was studying at the time. 

“I was walking around the campus, I thought that maybe I could come here,” she said. “God was kind of tugging on my heart to go here, so I applied and then Liberty accepted me.”

Harris gave birth to her son, Maverick, a few months after her visit, and she remains in contact with both him and his adoptive parents. In the delivery room, the comfort and encouragement she received from the nurses gave Harris a desire to become a nurse herself.

“They really impacted my stay as a patient and they influenced my life,” she said. “I can still picture them to this day. In my heart, I said I wanted to be that nurse to someone. I want to be someone who truly cares, loves, and serves.”

Whitney Harris meets with School of Nursing Interim Dean Tracey Turner. Harris said many faculty members, including Turner, were her mentors.

“I applied (to LUSON), which was a big stretch because my GPA wasn’t good and I had my background (with drug abuse), but I just prayed and I got the letter saying they accepted me into the program,” she added. “In moments like that, I’m just overwhelmed with God’s grace because of all my sins from my past and what I’ve done. He made a way for me.”

Over the past four years in Liberty’s nursing program, Harris said God has blessed her path with professors and other faculty who have strengthened her both as a nurse and a believer. 

“The nursing faculty are filled with love and the Holy Spirit. I love every nursing teacher, they’ve really influenced my (time) here,” she said. “They will always emphasize we’re working unto the Lord and explain how to do that as a nurse. I’ve really loved the devotions they do in class and how they train us to acknowledge that we’re not here just to do our jobs, that we’re ultimately here to do it all for God.”

She has also been inspired by her classmates and fellow Liberty students.

“I feel like God has given me a second chance at life here at Liberty,” she said. “I never had the college experience (at the usual age), and being here surrounded by Christians, I’ve been so encouraged in my faith and my life.”

With her BSN completed, Harris is now praying about the next steps in her career. She hopes to find a way to combine nursing with helping others in the same situation that she once found herself, people who are “without hope.”

“I really want to minister to people in addiction, and I want to tell them what Jesus has done for me,” she said. “I just want to go where God wants me to go and use my testimony to give people hope, knowing that He has the power to break any chain and change any life.” 

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