Ani’s Love Story (So far)

Ani washing feet in Haiti

Ani washing feet in Haiti


Ani was so relieved when God healed her of her compulsion to use drugs that she told Him she would do anything He asked her to do, even if He asked her to scrub toilets with a toothbrush for the rest of her life.  She would do it with a smile on her face…”because He saved me.” Even now in saying that, tears still come to her eyes.

Ani Salisbury was born in San Jose, California, where she lived until moving to Ashland, Oregon, at age 12.  Later, in her teens, she returned to San Jose with her mother while her father remained in Oregon attempting to sell their home.  Due to a series of bad choices he made, her mother and father separated leaving Ani very angry with him.  She found herself not wanting to live in San Jose, and she did not want to live with her father, so she graduated high school early and moved out on her own at age 17.

Ani came to the Santa Cruz area when she was about 20, and she took a job as an assistant buyer at a retail store.  Soon after, she met and married her first husband.  Unfortunately, he was an alcoholic.  The relationship was troubled from the start and lasted only about a year and a half.  During that time, Ani’s recreational drug use morphed into full-blown addiction as she sought to numb herself from all the hurtful words he would say to her. Because she had so wanted her marriage to work, she never shared with her family the reality of what had been happening. They were shocked when she left her husband, and they initially took his side.  It was quite some time until they figured out what had really been going on.  Once again, she found herself all alone.

Ani’s aloneness led her to other troubled relationships, and at age 27, she was single and pregnant.  She knew something had to change.  She realized her drug use was not only affecting her, but that it was going to affect her child.  

When Ani was little, she had attended church and had an awareness of the existence of God.  As an adult, through the wreckage of her drug use, she had prayed many times that God would just take her out in her sleep…because she was “too chicken” to commit suicide.  She did not know Jesus at the time, she just prayed to “a god.”

One day, her son’s father invited her to a church he attended. She went and returned several times.  It was there she found the God to whom she had been praying.  His name was Jesus.  In desperation, she cried out to Him for help and asked that He heal her from her drug addiction.  And He did.  In the remembrance and re-telling of it, Ani beamed saying it was a “miracle” how God totally eroded the compulsions that made her an addict, something she had never been able to do on her own.  Eyes twinkling, she pronounced with pride how God has kept her clean for 21 years.

Ani initially attended regular NA meetings with her son’s father, but he was unable to stay clean.  That led her to make the hard decision that they could not stay together.  They separated but remained friends, however.  Another miracle in itself, she says.

It was at the NA meetings where Ani met her current husband. In a time of need, she reached out and found his phone number posted on a support list on the wall.  They connected and in time a relationship developed. They both had similar backgrounds and both were committed to their recovery.  They had learned wisdom in seeking wise counsel and attended counseling together before getting married to address the individual “baggage” they both carried.  With the new marriage came a new blended family. Her husband had two children of his own, a daughter now 27, and a son now 24.  (Ani considers them both “her kids,” not “step-kids.”) She had her own son, now 22, and together, she and her husband had a son who is now 20.

As she and her new family grew together in their recovery and healing and love for Jesus, more than her heart was opened.  She opened her home.  Thirteen years ago, her family adopted a 19-year-old girl who had been abused physically and sexually by her biological father.  The girl took their last name and became a full member of a family she never had.

Ani said that is her “Family Story.”  She said her “God Story” is so entwined with that.  She was so relieved when God healed her of her compulsion to use drugs that she told Him she would do anything He asked her to do, even if He asked her to scrub toilets with a toothbrush for the rest of her life.  She would do it with a smile on her face…”because He saved me.”  Even now in saying that, tears still come to her eyes.

Her husband had some church “baggage” from previously attending a “cultish” church with oppressive, legalistic teachings.  So, they met with the senior pastor at their new church for spiritual counseling.   The pastor presented the message of Jesus to them as had been presented to her so many times in life before.  It was not like some magical moment happened, but “it was like I had this pill stuck in my throat for years and suddenly it just went down.”  Although hard to fully describe, it suddenly made sense.  She trusted Jesus, not there in that office, but later at home by herself.  It was very emotional, and she said she still gets “goose bumps” when she thinks of that moment.

That moment changed the whole trajectory of Ani’s life.  She soon enrolled in Bethany Bible College to obtain a church leadership degree.  The church she attended recognized her life-change and commitment and commissioned her as a minister even before she got her degree.  At that time, she had four kids, was going to school, and was leading discipleship groups.  They knew her heart and how “on fire” she was and told her it was not necessary to work so hard for a degree in order to serve.  She later went to her 30-year high school reunion and told her classmates she had become a pastor.  In disbelief, they were like “You???”   

A lot of challenges, growth, and life transitions followed.  Ani said she has had a great marriage and great kids; and even though it can be tough for children to grow up as “preacher kids” and go through all that rebellion, the majority of them are walking with the Lord now.  Some are wandering and searching, but she is confident they will come back.  “That’s what He promises.  I don’t worry about it.  I just pray.

Ani said her husband became ill with an undiagnosed source of chronic, excruciating pain.  After 8 surgeries and all sorts of “gnarly” treatments, the doctors still do not know the cause.  He was the family “bread winner,” a senior engineer in Silicon Valley, making great money, and then he had to go on disability.  

It was a scary time as her work at the church had transitioned from pastoral to administrative work, away from her pastoral heart for care.  She had given notice and quit the position she had for 11 ½ years.  The economy was in a downturn and jobs were scarce.  She decided to go back to school to become a hospice nurse feeling that God was leading her to work with older adults who were dying.  She later completed her nursing prerequisites and received her AA degree in Community Health Services at Cabrillo.  However, while preparing to transfer to a nursing school, she sensed God leading her in a new direction.  More on that a little later.

With her husband being out of work for the past 6 years, Ani said they should have lost their house.  Their provisions and survival has been a work of God.  Years ago at church, she did an exercise where she was asked to list all the things she thought she “owned” and then entrust them to God.  One of those things was her house.  God then moved her to open her home to others, and they have had many people live with them over the years.  A single woman with two children lives with them now.  Another single woman has been with them for 3 years.  Others have come and gone, staying for as long as they need.  In addition, every Monday night, a “Growth Group” meets at her home to study God’s word and share “real life” together.  It is a safe place for others to share their struggles and find support and encouragement.

Ani said one of her greatest “God Stories” was before she and her husband adopted their 19-year-old daughter and they were living in a mobile home in Scotts Valley.  For years, she had wanted a house and had “coveted” those of others.  God was dealing with her on that.  It took her several years to come to terms with what He was telling her- to be happy with what He has given her, with what she needs.  She finally came to terms with that and had not been coveting anymore when one day her husband came home and told her of a home for sale in a neighborhood she had previously “coveted.”  He had checked the price and financing and found they could qualify to make an offer. She resisted.  She did not even want to go look at the house- something she thought she could not have.  She had already dealt with God on the matter, and did not want to go.  But…she went.

They learned the man who owned the home had accepted a job in Washington and was traveling back and forth every week to see his kids.  His new employer was afraid he might quit his job, so the employer gave him incentives including money to help with inspections, closing costs, and the down payment on the sale of his house.  Ani and her husband looked at the house and found they were short $7,000.00 for the down payment.  This man’s employer paid the difference and all the inspection and closing costs; and, surprisingly, this man had turned down an offer from someone else for the same amount of money not long before them.

Before committing to buying the house, her husband checked with the CFO of his company to make sure his job was secure.  The CFO assured him things were stable and stated he also was buying a new house.  So, they signed the contract.  Two weeks later her husband received a layoff notice due to company downsizing.

Her husband came home in a panic trying to figure out what to do and concluded they would have sell the house.  They could not afford a realtor, so he decided they would try to sell it on their own.  Ani told him, “If you freak out, you are going to rob God of the opportunity to move in a huge way.”  God gave her the peace to trust Him, as He often has, in the weirdest situations where she should absolutely “freak out,” but she hasn’t.

The CFO was very apologetic and asked if there was anything he could do, but it seemed there was nothing that could be done.  He asked how much their mortgage payment was which at the time was about $4,000.00.  The following week, they received a personal check in the mail for $10,000.00 with a note that it was a gift and not a loan!  Her husband later received a severance package and soon found another job.  So, they came through this with $10,000.00 ahead and still had their home!  God moved again in a huge way and set the stage for how He wanted to use the square footage for His purposes.

Ani had been leading a discipleship group and felt God was leading her to do something “radical.”  She did not know what.  She wondered if it was something like moving somewhere else and buying property to take in orphans or maybe going to the “mission field.”  There was a young college student in her group who said she knew of someone who needed to be adopted.  The girl was 19-years-old and had been sexually abused by her biological father since she was 3.  The girl had left home when she was 18, had an eating disorder, and was in very bad emotional and psychological shape.  Her remaining family had taken her to a psych ward and basically just dropped her off.  Ani and her family invited this girl to their home and to go with them on a family camping trip.  At the end of the trip, they “just knew.”  Her husband asked the girl if she was looking for roommates or if she was looking for a family.  The girl said she was looking for a family.  She moved in and has been family ever since.  She took Ani and her husband’s last name, they helped her attend college, and her husband walked her down the aisle.  She is married now, has two babies, is a nurse, and is doing great!

There’s more.  Eight years ago, Ani and her husband opened up their home to a woman with two kids whose husband was strung out on drugs.  He had a gun in his house and needed psychological help.  Ani sat with the woman in her truck while the SWAT team went into her house to get the husband and take him to a psych ward.  He was in the ward for a month or so, and the woman and children lived with Ani for several months.  The woman wound up getting back together with her husband for a while and had another child.  As he got clean and sober, the woman’s own problems became more evident.  She was not willing to address them, and they ultimately separated.  Now, oddly enough, Ani and her husband are good friends with that man when they had not been before.  Recently, she was working in her garden when he came to visit with his new fiancée.  She laughed to herself thinking there she was sitting in that truck waiting for the SWAT team to go in and get him, and now here he is sitting on her couch and they will have dinner together next week.  “Life is just so crazy.  You never know what God is going to do with somebody’s life.  It’s amazing!  Take the most down and out person who’s totally acting psycho with a gun, and they end up being a really good friend of mine eight years later.  Now, he is clean and sober.  He’s the director of a regional non-profit over the hill, active in church, and active in an accountability group and Bible study. Awesome!  It’s really awesome!

In the midst of Ani’s “Love Story,” she had an encounter with God when she was in a very dark place.  She reached out to Him, found Him near, and believed.  She gave not an intellectual or emotional assent but  a surrendered and receptive will.  Into that, God has empowered and expressed a response.  She allowed God in, and He totally unraveled her and set her on a new course.  The stories of her life demonstrate His love for her and how He has expressed His goodness and love through her to so many others.  So, what is God’s “Love” to Ani?

God’s Love to me is peace.  It’s security without safety, if that makes sense?  That’s come up a lot for me recently.

I just realized that at the end of life, there’s this huge…and that’s why I was drawn to hospice, too…there’s this huge open door for people where when you realize that life is finite, that what you have to look forward to is just 6 feet under, or that’s what people think anyway…and you can offer something better.  It’s such a gift to be able to offer.

Through that (college) course, being with a bunch of secular people, and being able still to stand my ground and be a believer and express my love for God and His love for me and how I’ve seen Him work in my life and how I have that hope…even though times will be tough here on earth, absolutely, being a believer doesn’t mean life is easy, but I have that hope of being able to spend eternity with Him where there are no more tears and there is no more pain, where I’ll be able to worship Him…to have that hope of not just having my life and what matters here but when I die…to be able to share that with other people…

So, through that course, I realized there is this void…like when people are diagnosed with a terminal disease and the time they spend in hospice.  Before I went to Haiti, I was working with my mom’s best friend who had grown up in a church but with some kind of twisted views with the way you dress and if you wear make-up and jewelry and that kind of weird stuff. She was at odds with her daughter and granddaughter, and was still so afraid to die.  At 78-years-old, having COPD and emphysema, she was still hoping she was somehow going to get a heart and lung transplant because she was so fearful of dying…being able to explain my peace that I had that I could go today, and I’d be happy to go today, that I wouldn’t have fear of going today, and being able to somehow, like through osmosis, being able to transfer that to her little by little in sharing Scripture with her and by God planting other people in her life like somebody who gave her a Bible…Her daughter was a strong believer, but they had butted heads so many times…being able to facilitate she and her daughter making amends and she and her grand-daughter making amends and she and God making amends…and having it all come together at a point where she was able to help plan her own memorial, to the point of picking out the Scripture and the photos she was going to have in her photo montage, and picking out these little tea pins to go in the bulletin because she always did these teas…and then being able to officiate it, and have it be not only a reflection of her, but a reflection of God, and have two men come up to me afterward and say that was the best memorial they had ever been to, where’s your church?  Just to be able to walk with her from the first step of that diagnosis to the very end was not only very gratifying for me but also for her whole family, and for her too.

And so, God had kind of been working on me, before I went to Haiti…and through my step-dad, too, who had grown up Catholic and had Alzheimer’s and was fearful of dying and fearful of Purgatory.  I said when Jesus was on the cross, he didn’t said to the thief ‘Today, I’ll see you in Purgatory.’  He said, ‘I’ll see you in Paradise.’  To be able to ask him about his fears and to be able to ask him about things his wife could not ask, for whatever reason, or others in his family could not do, and have him feel safe enough to be able to cry and tell me what was going on.  That made me see that pastoral heart that God gave me, still with people who may be near the end of their life but maybe not at the hospice part, because I learned in my class people don’t use hospice until it’s too late.”

And that has birthed in Ani an idea to pursue forming a non-profit organization.

When I came back from Haiti and got this virus and was in excruciating pain…not being able to walk or get our of bed…coming to terms with the limitations God was allowing on my life…asking Him where, then, was He directing me if I was not going to be able to go to school, if He’s closing that door…the difficulty I have turning a page or not being able to write, even walking some days, kind of negates 12 hours on a nursing floor…and having me look back at those experiences with my step-dad and my mom’s friend, and more recently, with an alcoholic friend of my sister’s who had meningitis and was in a coma.  They had asked me if I would come and talk to her.  Even though she couldn’t speak, they say they can smell, they can hear in a coma, so I prayed with her and read Scripture to her and talked with her about being repentant, how it doesn’t matter if you trust Christ when you’re 6-years-old or when you’re 20 or right now when you’re here with me.  Her mouth was trying to move and her eyebrow was going up and down…she couldn’t move her hands, but her eyebrows and her lips were just trying to go, trying to go, trying to go.

It was interesting to hear some judgment.  Her aunt was on the phone with my sister at the time and could hear me praying with her and said to my sister, ‘She’s not a believer’ as if to say there’s no hope.  There’s always hope.  You never know what that person is doing with their last breaths…that conversation they’re having with Christ.  It doesn’t have to be with me, it can be with Jesus.  My sister was devastated when she got off the phone, and I had to explain to my sister it doesn’t matter.  My sister’s friend died two days later.  She was not any more responsive than she was with me when I sat there with her and prayed and held her hand.

My idea is to start a non-profit and work with hospitals and doctors and families of people who are dying of a terminal disease…because hospice cannot come in until they are not using any curative measures any more.  But what if you are diagnosed with cancer and you are given 2 years to live…and they are struggling in those 2 years of coming to terms of ‘my life is coming to an end’?  Everybody wants to end well.  Everybody wants to end well.  I don’t know of anyone who just wants to die and piss everyone off…and I think when you are given that final date, you suddenly realize nothing else really matters.  There’s nothing worth arguing over.  There’s nothing worth holding a grudge over.  There’s no money, no thing, worth holding on to that is more valuable than a person or a friendship or a relationship, or more importantly, your relationship with Christ.  To be able to open that door and offer that to somebody and offer them that peace.  And so, with the degree I already have and with being a commissioned minister, I don’t know that I have to go back to school…which is kind of what God was knocking me over the head with…’I’ve already given you what you need.’

I asked Ani if it is hard sometimes for her to really believe God loves her.  She said, “I think the hardest thing is…I struggle all the time with…I’m a worker bee…and I think somehow I have to prove my worthiness…and that’s not the way God works.  I was worthy the day I was crying out to Him on my knees as an addict.  He loved me as much then as He loves me today when I’m serving Him with my whole heart.  There’s nothing I can do to earn His love or make Him love me more today or tomorrow…and I struggle with that all the time, you know, just because I’m a worker bee.”

 I asked Ani what’s the best thing in believing God’s love for her.  She said, “The amazing things He has done in my life.  The amazing stories I get to share.  The miracles.  The story of my adopted daughter.  Being able to go to Haiti.  Those are things I never would have been able to imagine I could do or would be worthy enough to do.”

I asked Ani how she would explain the “reality” of God’s love for us to someone apart from the theoretical or philosophical.  She giggled.  “I was just having this conversation with someone yesterday.  My sister has a friend who is here visiting from near Shasta, and she’s a believer, but she doesn’t attend any church.  She was talking with somebody else who wasn’t a believer and used an idea I had presented to her which she presented to this other person.  People want to choose all these different pathways, and they think all paths lead to God…and all paths don’t lead to God.  God says wide is the road and narrow is the gate.  I have a son who is exploring new age stuff.  Rather than discourage him from exploring it, I kind of participate with him in exploring it so he can see why it doesn’t pan out…Buddha didn’t claim to be God, Buddha was a prophet…Muhammad didn’t claim to be God, Muhammad was a prophet…Jesus is the only one who claimed to be God.  He’s the only one.  And then somebody said, well, it came back to science…taking all the science courses I did for the nursing, you get down to science… You can’t deny what God’s done in your life.  Nobody can take away what God has done in your life…and the miracles He has done in my life.  Your personal story is something someone can’t argue with.”

When asked if there was any particular Scripture of importance to Ani, she immediately replied, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11).  “Just thinking about that God’s plan is never to harm me, that any hardship I encounter, it’s never God’s plan to harm me…God’s plan is to refine me and to prosper me and to grow me and to strengthen me and to stretch me…but never to harm me.  We live in a fallen world, and things happen, and I can choose to go through those hard things with God or I can choose to go through them without God.  It’s always going to be better with God.”

Ani laughed and said she cannot even begin to imagine the goodness God has planned for her future.  She said her hopes and desires include that God will heal her pain and she is thankful for the wisdom and care of her doctors.  She also hopes God will heal her husband’s illness and restore her partner fully to her, even though she realizes God has strengthened both of them through the tough circumstances.  She added she would love to see all of her kids walking with the Lord and serving Him and that it is “really cool” to see one currently getting “re-ignited” and “fired up.”

I asked Ani if God has ever had a message for her that He has either whispered or shouted.  She smiled and said she tells her husband, “God told me…” and her husband just says, “Well, how do you argue with that?  God told you…”  She said, “God speaks to me through His word, but God has also spoken to me audibly on a couple of occasions.”  In one trying time when she cried out to Him, and He answered.  God did not say what would be done or how it would be done.  God just said, “It will be done well.”

She said it is hard for her to be still to hear God’s voice.  That is one reason why she relishes working in her garden.  She said when she has her hands in the soil, she feels grounded, and the garden is a place where she talks with God and works out her frustrations, or if she is sad.  She said gardening is her “new drug.”  “I work things out with God in the garden.  That is where we wrestle.  That is where I talk to Him, and I pray, and I cry.  We talk.  We talk out in the garden.”

Ani said, “Yes,” she knows God loves her.  “I know God loves me because of His active presence in my life.  The way I am blessed in how He has allowed me to be a vessel that He works through…(and as tears form in her eyes)…It feels like such a privilege.”

And as we concluded, I asked Ani if there was anything she would like to add.  She responded with a smile, “I’d still scrub toilets with a tooth brush.  I’d do what ever He asks.”

***

Ani has served in women’s and children’s ministries and in short-term missions.  She has led ministry teams to Haiti, led and hosted discipleship and growth groups, cared for the ill and terminal, opened her home as a refuge to many, and loved the wounded and torn.  God loves her.  God’s love lives in her.  God’s love is expressed through her.

Please remember her in prayer, for her physical healing and that of her husband and for the development of the new ministry God has put on her heart.