Barb Exter

Hi, I’m Barb Exter. I am on the Board of Directors of Firm Foundation Recovery. I’m currently employed as a compliance officer for Creative Financial Group. I do a lot of volunteer work for The Journey Church, including working in the auditorium, doing food distribution, and Code Red. I do some administrative work and all kinds of stuff that keeps me really, really busy in my very little spare time.

I love to read books and I also started taking guitar lessons in 2020 and piano lessons in the beginning of this year. I took organ lessons when I was age 13, so I knew how to read music, but I decided to start taking piano lessons and I’ve absolutely loved it. Even bought myself a keyboard and I lose track of time practicing.

I was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware. I had a relatively normal childhood. I have an older brother and an older sister. We had a very loving family. I have absolutely wonderful, fond memories of growing up. There were all kinds of videos that we put on to a DVD that I watch every so often to bring back those memories.

My father sadly passed away in 2014 from dementia and Alzheimer’s and my mother passed away last June at age 94.

What was wonderful about that experience is that the lady who was taking care of my mother before she passed away goes to The Journey Church. Before she got really, really sick and we couldn’t communicate with her, her caretaker talked to her about Jesus. She would read Bible passages, and I would read scripture to mom when I was there. At one point her caretaker asked mom if she was ready to put her faith in Jesus, and she did – at 94 years old! The caretaker called me on the phone ecstatic and said, “You can’t believe what just happened!”

When I was a child, my family went to Grace Episcopal Church in Wilmington. I went to Sunday school every week. After all the hymns and prayers were over they took the children out and we all followed like a little Pied Piper over to the Sunday school. I did that until I was 13 years old. I went to confirmation classes. I got confirmed.

Slowly, I can’t put my finger on it, but at some point our family drifted away from church and just attended Easter and Christmas.

I drifted away with the rest of the family and, when I got into high school, I was having some struggles with finding myself and not feeling good about myself. So I started going back to church, which surprised my family. I would get up on Sunday morning and drive to Grace Episcopal Church. I did that for a couple of years until I went away to college. Then I stopped going to church.

I went to college, I got out of college, got a job in the financial services industry and have been working in that industry since the 1980s. Hopefully I will retire in a few years, so I can put my energy into volunteer work. Between the ages of 17 and 57, I only went to church on holidays.

My first husband  was born and raised Episcopalian, and we would do Christmas and Easter. My second husband was actually Jewish, his dad was Jewish, and his mother was Christian. They didn’t celebrate either religion, but he was more on the Christian side.

Even though I had already put my faith in Him, I wasn’t trusting Him with my life. I finally just said, “I’m done. I can’t do this on my own. It’s in your hands now.” I immediately felt better and started getting my life back together. I hooked up with a health coach, quit drinking, went on a super diet, lost a whole bunch of weight, started serving in church a whole bunch more.

Fast forward to around 2014 or 2015, and my husband’s brother had gotten involved in the church called the Lewis Church of Christ. He was working with one of the pastors and said that he was going to get baptized and we were invited to his baptism. We drove to the church, and it was a really cool church. They had contemporary Christian music, a very dynamic pastor who brought the message and the scripture to life. My brother-in-law was baptized, and we all went out to lunch afterward.

When we got home I said to my husband that I wished there was a church like that near us because I think I would go. He said, “Well, how about that Journey place? You know, it’s right down the street, used to be a sporting goods store. It says, Real Church for Real People. You should try it.”

I went to The Journey and kind of fell in love with it. I didn’t go consistently but would go every other week. I started really listening and paying attention and it seemed like every message said something to me. It’s like everything resonated somehow, either in my past or my present, or what I was thinking was my future.

I started going more consistently, and my husband would go with me once in a while. I met a lot of people. I didn’t start serving right away, but I was just going to the gatherings.

At that time, my husband was struggling with drug addiction. He went to a rehab facility in York, PA. When he was struggling, I started going to church more because I didn’t know what else to do. Everything else that I was doing was not working. The only thing that I could do was try and put my faith in in God and pray and hope that something would change.

My husband goes into rehab. I’m going to church. He comes out of rehab, we’re fighting, struggling. He relapses. I started going to Nar-Anon (12-step program for families & friends of addicts). That meeting gave me some insight into the mentality of an addict. His first rehab was in 2015, and then there was detox, and then the second rehab was in 2016.

One particular gathering I went to at The Journey was on January 9th of 2016. It impacted me so greatly that I had to write down what I was feeling. That was the day that I actually completely and totally put my faith in Jesus. Whenever I read what I wrote then, I know exactly how I felt at that moment on that day. Here’s what I wrote on January 9th, 2016.

“I’ve been looking for something more in my life. I grew up in the Episcopalian church, baptized and confirmed there. However, as I got older, I found that too much of it was built on tradition and not as much on teachings. So I grew apart from the church. In the last year I faced difficulties in my life, ending my marriage.

My husband struggles with drug addiction, putting a great strain on our relationship. Back in July, I decided to look for a sanctuary and, selfishly, to feel better about myself. That is when I first attended The Journey Church.

When he finally tried to get better at a rehab facility, I got serious about becoming a better person myself. In attending Nar-Anon, I learned that I’m powerless over his addiction and that I need to get myself better as well as give up trying to have control over him. In addition, I started attending Journey regularly. It seemed like every gathering spoke to me in a different way and I felt myself starting to surrender.

During the January 9th gathering, pastor Mark, as always, asked us to close our eyes and pray. Then he asked us to raise our hand if we were ready to put our faith in Jesus. Just then, a calm, serene feeling came over me and I was overcome with peace. I realized that I have little or no control over my life or the lives of family, friends, or acquaintances.

Tears filled my eyes, and I raised my hand. That was just one moment, but surrendering and having faith are not actions that happen just once. I have to remind myself constantly throughout the day and night that I have relinquished my control and handed it over to Him.

Anytime I feel like I’m relapsing back to my old self, I try to put the song, “Jesus Take the Wheel” into my head. Last weekend’s teaching felt like it was written for me. “Leave, search, and carry the one,” were the words I needed to hear. It was not by accident. They felt like they were directed to me. It was because of my surrendered faith and more awareness of having Him by my side.

I’m confident that serving, attending gatherings, working with the church, and volunteering will help those moments of potential relapse become fewer and strengthen my relationship with Jesus.”

That was January 2016. My husband and I decided to get baptized together. I was baptized twice before, once Episcopalian and once Catholic, so why get baptized again? I was zero years old the first time I got baptized, so I thought that now I know what I’m doing and why I should be doing it. On November 16th of 2016, we got baptized together. He was still struggling with addiction. It was right after that that in December that he went back to rehab and got out in late January of 2017.

I had started serving in the church. He started serving some and then he relapsed again. He finally succumbed to the addiction on March 30th of 2017.

At that point I kind of ran on autopilot for a little while. I was still going to church and serving a little bit. But I literally spent about a year hiding, drinking too much, eating too much, not going places where I should go, barely getting to church, barely functioning at work.

After about a year of that I remember sitting on the floor in my living room to say my prayers. Finally, I just threw out my arms and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t carry this anymore. God, I’m turning it all over to you.”

Even though I had already put my faith in Him, I wasn’t trusting Him with my life. I finally just said, “I’m done. I can’t do this on my own. It’s in your hands now.” I immediately felt better and started getting my life back together. I hooked up with a health coach, quit drinking, went on a super diet, lost a whole bunch of weight, started serving in church a whole bunch more.

And I started getting involved with the recovery community by going to the Strength and Recovery meeting at Journey. I had previously known some of the people that ran the meeting, but they invited me to come because that meeting was for family members and people who were struggling with any kind of addiction.

They said that even though you’re not drinking, you’re not in recovery, you’re not an alcoholic, not a drug addict, but you’re a family member and there’s lot that you can contribute. You probably have a lot of recovery you need to do on your own. Recovery is not just for addicts. Recovery is for trauma, recovery’s for anyone who needs structure in their life.

The first three steps of any 12 step program are, “I can’t. He can. I think I’ll let Him.” Until you surrender, you’re not going to get better. I started working with some of the family members. I had conversations with people about the guilt that was weighing on me about what I could have done, should have done. Thankfully, everybody that I talked to, said “Barb, it doesn’t matter. It’s always been out of your hands. It’s never been under your control.”

The Strength and Recovery meeting was where I met my friend, Zack Bib (President, Firm Foundation Recovery). It was kind of funny how we met. He came into the meeting all covered in paint and I asked him if he was a painter and he said, “No. I’m a contractor.” I said, “I was hoping you were a painter because I have some painting I need done at my house. But I also have a lot of work for a contractor there.” So he started doing some work at my house and we got to be very good friends.

After a couple of months of that, around July of 2019, Zack came up with this vision of creating a Christian-based inpatient recovery center. We had a general meeting where anybody who was interested in becoming involved in this project got together and talked about it. We didn’t have a name. We didn’t have any money. It was just this fabulous idea to do recovery differently. The way it’s done right now isn’t working.

We formed a Board of Directors and I joined the Board. Zack and I are the only original board members, and we currently have a fabulous board where everybody’s working hard. That’s where I spend the majority of my time is working with Firm Foundation. As a matter of fact, I’ll be over at the Attack Addiction 5K Run tomorrow at the Firm Foundation table.

Present day and future. After studying and reading The Purpose Driven Life and all different kinds of publications, I think that even though it wasn’t something I had planned on, my purpose will always be to try and find other recovering addicts that I can help. To help family members of addicts that don’t understand, don’t know what to do, don’t have any resources.

There are tons of resources for addicts. You can go to rehab. You can go to detox. You can go to 12-step meetings. But the family members, I feel, have suffered the most, especially those who have lost somebody to an overdose. They have the same  questions that I had. What could I have done differently? What should I have done. If I had only taken away all their money. If I had only taken away the car keys. If I’d only put them in another rehab. You’ve got all those “what ifs,” and you can’t keep dwelling on the “what ifs.”

You have to go to the place where you say, “It’s in God’s control.” I finally came to a realization that God took my husband away from me so that I could recover myself and expand my faith, and get stronger in my faith, and get involved with others, and help other family members that are dealing with the same things that I dealt with.

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Brandon Robinson

Brandon Robinson

I remember being in church and going up to the altar and crying. I was so tired of the life I was living. I needed help. I felt a sense of peace at that time and knew that if this Jesus thing can work for some of these other guys, then it can definitely work for me.