(This redemptive story is shared with formal permissions from Heather Meyer-Russell and HeartReach Center)
A month ago I felt my heart warm as I heard from behind me a familiar upbeat voice say with genuine excitement, “Hi, Mrs. Ford!” It was my friend Heather running with one of her kids on her back as she headed for the ballfield to make it in time for her next co-ed softball game.
I first met Heather Meyer in 2005. She was an intelligent, friendly, and lovable 11th grade student in my English class at Wasilla Lake Christian School. She was the type of student one might assume would reach success in life by becoming some type of high-level professional. When there was an emergency during my class and I had to leave suddenly, I chose Heather to keep the class going on task because she was confident, respected by all her classmates, and fully capable. She stepped in without missing a beat, saying “Sure thing, Mrs. Ford!”
In early 2006 I began my dream job as the Director of Client Services at HeartReach Center and was rather surprised that my first client happened to be my dear former student, Heather. Her story was full of drama that ended up derailing her from her future goals of joining the Air Force and pursuing a medical career. She chose a path that led her away from the close-knit family she came from, and never allowed her to pursue a professional career.
At age 17 Heather had become pregnant from a one-night stand out-of-state but was dating a young man here in the Valley. She and Chris were very in love, and he thought he was the father of the baby. She wanted that to be true, but eventually it was confirmed that he was not the biological father. Chris still welcomed the role of fatherhood in Noah’s life and the couple lived together. Heather became a dental assistant.
Chris was very charismatic and likable. I invited them to dinner at our house one night. My husband hit it off with the young man and Chris attended a Men’s Winter Retreat with him. Sometimes they met us at church on Sunday mornings and sat with us. We hoped to be a positive influence in their lives and to mentor them in their early parenting years. We also hoped to see them grow in their relationship toward marriage since they seemed like such a great pair and by 2010 were parenting two children together, having had a second child. The reality of adult life was becoming stressful for the young couple, and as it became more stressful, alcohol and drugs became an issue for the two of them.
The relationship became tumultuous and unhealthy; soon domestic violence entered the relationship. The home became an unsafe place for the children and Heather’s parents stepped in to obtain custody of the children in April of 2011. Once Heather lost custody of her children, she became very depressed and drank more heavily. By October of that year, she began dealing drugs. She and Chris were separated but continued to have severely volatile interactions.
In December of 2011, Chris was murdered by a friend, which put Heather further into despair. She began running up to $5,000 a day in drugs from Anchorage to the Valley. By this point I was completely out of regular contact with Heather and did not know what was going on in her life.
One evening, while picking up my luggage at Anchorage airport, I passed Heather as she headed in the opposite direction. Over the years we had spent so much time together there was no way she wouldn’t have recognized me, but instead there was a total absence of recognition. It was very unsettling to me, and soon afterwards I learned of Heather’s drug problem, explaining why she treated me like a stranger that night. All that could be done was to pray for her.
Several years passed and one Christmas season Heather reached out to re-connect with me. She told me she had just spent a year in prison in Eagle River and was now on an ankle monitor and working at a local restaurant. She shared how she had gone off the deep end when Chris died and how bad things had been for her. She said prison was the best thing that could have happened to her because it was where she got clean and truly found a relationship with Christ. She had also met someone new, and they were going to be getting married as soon as they were able to do so. She wanted to build a relationship with her children again and knew it was going to take work to gain trust back from her family.
In 2017 Heather experienced another tragedy. Her 11.5 year-old son Noah was killed in a car accident. Heather’s faith and addiction were both tested, and Heather’s faith in God won. She was supported by her family, friends, and church community. She made the choice to
walk through grief this time with the help of the Lord rather than drugs.
She and Tim married in 2018 and now have two children together even though miscarriage has been a painful part of their story. They have successful jobs and Heather has remained sober. Heather attends Church on the Rock and felt a call from the Lord to go back to Hiland Women’s Prison to lead a Bible Study for the women who are currently incarcerated.
Heather’s testimony demonstrates the powerful work of God in someone’s life who has tried to deal with trauma by the way of the world, found it completely empty, and then changed direction in a total surrender to Him. She allowed herself to grieve—and still grieves as a mother always will at the loss of a child— but she grieves as one who has hope. It’s the kind of hope that believes she will see her son again someday in Heaven, the kind of hope that knows, not wishes. Her faith is solid and sure and has stood the tests of time and tragedy.
In agreeing to have her story told, there was one thing Heather wanted to make sure of—that I didn’t portray her life as perfect now or to imply she doesn’t have problems or experience loss: like all of us, she does. The facts shared, though, do attest to the redeeming power of God when someone gives their biggest hurts and failures to Him. Heather definitely has a hopeful story to share and a relationship with God that has proven to be real.
The reason my heart beats more happily whenever I see Heather is from knowing what she’s been through and where her life is now because of her decision to lay it all at the feet of Jesus. Even though she’s been through so much pain, joy beams out of her. Having collected many of my own griefs over the past eleven years, I’m looking to Heather as a model for how to give it to God and trust Him. She’s the teacher now and I’m the student.
I am so thankful for the work God has done in Heather's life. Please pray for her as she minsters to other women who are currently incarcerated, and pray that God will work mightily through her.