The day that the power plant exploded in Tuscon, Arizona in 1959, it caused damage all around the perimeter, knocking nearly everyone and every unbolted thing to the ground, blowing out windows and ear drums for a solid mile in every direction. The blast could be heard and the smoke could be seen all the way in Casas Adobes nearly 10 miles away.
In the immediate aftermath, fourteen-year-old Hallie Stubbs, who lived across the street with her family, was found on her knees, crying uncontrollably and screaming. Her mom assumed young Hallie was scared for the same reason that everybody else was. But that wasn’t exactly true.
Little Hallie had been told by her church and parents since she was a toddler that if she had any sin in her life and didn’t get it out by the time Jesus came back, God would be mad at her and his Hand of Judgment would come crashing down to damn her to an eternal hell. She knew she was no angel. She figured God was eager to cast her into a lake of fire. When the blast occurred on that August morning, Hallie thought the world was coming to an end.
And so it turned out Hallie wasn’t scared for her life. She was scared for her afterlife.
The event shook her to the core. She wanted out of her life of extreme pressure to make God happy, or another way of looking at it, to keep God from being so dog gone mad all the time.
When she turned 18, she was armed with a driver’s license, legal status as an adult and a heart full of get-me-out-of-here. She wanted out of her parents house and out from under the ominous hand of her church. Against her mom’s pleading and warnings that it was too dangerous, she packed her car and drove to Los Angeles. Hallie was making a run for it.
A few weeks later, Hallie’s mom arrived in L.A. with Hallie’s sister, aunt and niece in tow. “The Lord told me to drive up here to pray for you,” she said. They held hands in a circle around Hallie and prayed for her protection in “this sinful city.” After they were done, she turned to Hallie and said, “Be careful, Honey. If not, you could be looking down the barrel of a gun.”
Four hours later, Hallie was doing just that.
Around midnight, she was visiting with two friends in an apartment lit by a single candle when one of them decided to go across the hall to her own apartment to check on her sleeping children. Through the door she left open, a man walked in, pointed a gun at the two remaining women and told them to get on the ground. Hallie felt strangely calm as if he was just there to take a few things and leave. The other woman made some sounds as she cowered in fear and the gunman made it known in no uncertain terms that he was fully prepared to kill them both if she didn’t shut up. “I already killed five men and escaped the penitentiary. Two more ain’t gonna matter!” he shouted.
He put his gun to the back of Hallie’s head and started unzipping her dress. That’s when Hallie’s fear kicked in. She knew she was about to be raped.
In the hysteria, he turned the gun on the two women on the floor and began blasting away.
Just then, the woman who had walked across the hall returned. The gunman got up and pointed the gun at her and forced her against a cabinet. When she reached on top of the cabinet for the vase to throw it at him, he fired several rounds, killing her on the spot. In the hysteria, he turned the gun on the two women on the floor and began blasting away.
After the earsplitting shots subsided, Hallie lay on the floor engulfed in a wave of shock and began to think, “Hmm, dying this way wasn’t that bad. I barely felt anything.” It wasn’t until she heard some gurgling that she came to. She sat up to see both women had been shot to pieces. When Hallie looked at where she was laying, the bullets had missed her by inches all around her head and body.
Was it a stroke of luck?
To numb the pain of the incident—and her life—she contacted a friend who was a drug dealer and ordered up the hard stuff, having never tried a drug in her life. He arrived with cocaine and heroine. She first injected the cocaine into her arm and then the heroine. She was an immediate addict. Her first doped words after the cocaine entered her blood stream were, “No one should be able to feel this good and live.”
Hallie was in love. She finally had something in her life that made her feel good. She wanted more and more, in ever increasing amounts. The nice young lady from Tuscon who spent her life in church was now on dark street corners using dirty needles, injecting toxic chemicals and doing it all right under the nose of the police.
Over the next 12 years, she overdosed 10 times. She shouldn’t have survived one. Her method was to find a vein, insert the syringe, empty the contents of the heroine/cocaine cocktail, then do it all over again—four more times. In other words, she wasn’t just pushing herself to the edges of life—she was crashing over the line like a mack truck through a brick wall.
What made it all the more dangerous was that each time she overdosed, nobody else was with her. She hit the floor completely alone and her body went into convulsions as it warred with the drugs to stay alive. Miraculously, Hallie lived through each one. Every time she marveled that she stayed alive without help from anyone else.
Lucky once again?
One night she sat in the corner of her apartment with her friend, Becky and as they watched the drug deals taking place down on the street, they talked about their lives as addicts and hoped for a day when God could save them from their exhausting struggle to find more drugs and their awful life in the shadows. Becky, who was also raised in the church asked if she could lead Hallie in a prayer. There in the moonlight, the two sniffling addicts prayed to a God neither had talked to in a long while.
Later that year, Becky met the logical fate of anyone who plays Russian roulette with her life: she died of HIV after using an infected needle.
Hallie used unclean needles nearly every day.
Showing up on her mom’s doorstep, Hallie was strung out and broke. She was desperately sick from the withdrawal and begged her mom for a mere ten bucks to go down the street and buy some heroin so she could feel well again. Her mom said no. Hallie refused to steal from her mom even though her mom had plenty of money. She climbed into a bed and cried as her body seized and wrenched. Her mom sat with her all night and prayed for her daughter, frail, wasting away and quaking. “I rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus Christ. Now, Holy Spirit, rain down upon my girl, Lord God. Pour down your mercy!”
Back in L.A. she found a new source of drug money by walking into department stores and “boosting” expensive clothes. It was all going along very smoothly until she got careless and the police carted her off to jail.
How does one get clean after all she has done? How does one stay out of hell after that?
She should have been sent to prison, but miraculously, she was given an opportunity to go to rehab instead. She spent an agonizing 11 months getting clean. When she got out, she got a job and felt good, except for one thing. She still hadn’t figured out what to do about the God problem in her life. How does one get clean after all she has done? How does one stay out of hell after that?
One afternoon, she was getting her hair done by her niece, Sandy, who had just become an ordained minister. During their conversation, Sandy was talking about faith, one church girl to another. As she talked, she mentioned different things about God being a God of love.
“You keep saying God is a God of love. What do you mean?” she asked Sandy.
“What do you mean, ‘What do I mean?’” Sandy replied. “God loves you. That’s what the cross is about. You know that.”
Sandy looked at her a moment. Hallie looked back like she had just heard that up is down and down is up. “Hallie, don’t you know God is love?”
Sandy kept talking but Hallie was far, far away. She was lost thinking about the life-altering idea that God was not a God of condemnation and never was.
“I want to know this God,” she told Sandy.
“But I thought you knew God,” Sandy replied.
“Not like that.”
On the way home, Hallie started making the connections. It was a loving God that kept her from being murdered in the apartment that night, who was with her all those nights as she overdosed, who kept her from contracting HIV when the virus was ravishing the drug community, and who ushered her toward a rehab center instead of prison.
All her life, she thought of God as the one who was waiting for an opportunity to condemn her. Suddenly she viewed God as the one who was always waiting to protect her. She no longer felt like running from God, but running to God. She couldn’t get enough of the idea that no matter what she did, no matter how awful the sin, on the day that she received Jesus as a little girl in Arizona, her future in the arms of her loving God was secure. The feeling of relief was too marvelous for words.
Now all she wants to do is serve Him. She attends the Rock, volunteers in Rock Kids with the babies—and loves every minute of it. “The way I see God today is so different, I can’t even recognize the version of Him that I lived with in my mind for all these years,” Hallie says. “When I hold the babies in my arms, I just love them. I think about how God does that for us. And I think to myself, I get it now. I really get it.”