FARGO — The harsh sound of jail bars closing behind Marni Pinks awakened her forever.
How had she, who’d given her life to Christ at age 8, gotten so far from his grasp?
“We both ended up in jail,” Marni Pinks says of the journey she and her husband, Chris, were on, leading up to that fateful weekend. “We went in (to jail) on Friday, and when we got out on Monday, I looked at (him) and said, ‘I don’t want to be like this.’”
Thinking of their two young children, she says, all visions of continuing on as before were wiped away. It was over. It had to be.
“We decided we had to change everything,” Pinks says, beginning with their friends group. “We Googled churches, and I called everyone I knew and said, ‘I love you, but we need to have a different life.’”
She remembers the day they walked into Prairie Heights Community Church and turned firmly into a new direction — one not filled with drugs and despair but hope and healing.
“Everything in our lives changed,” Pinks says, noting that both entered and completed addiction treatment. “And, day by day, we continued to get better. We were getting to know Jesus more and more.”
What went wrong?
The couple’s fall, from Marni’s perspective, began early in their relationship.
“When we married, we weren’t strangers to the bar or any kind of partying life,” she says.
Chef’s school gave her a direction, and for a decade, she worked in that industry, later starting a promising career with Sprint that lasted another 13 years. But during her second pregnancy, Chris learned he was ill, requiring treatment that led to a dependency on pain medications.
Soon, Marni was put on pain medications, too, after throwing out her back. Both became addicted together, she says.
“The doctors finally decided to take us both off of them, but you can’t do that in a day,” she says.
They began seeking mainly opioids illegally. One night, a friend’s husband who’d been robbing homes for drugs borrowed their car, Marni says.
“The cops raided our house, and theirs, the same night, to find out we had medication that wasn’t ours. That’s a felony, so we ended up in jail.”
It’s a night she’d rather forget, but can’t, because it’s part of her story — not only of regret but redemption.
“I don’t know why God decided to save us, but he did,” Marni continues. “Now, I work for a church, I’m a district-licensed pastor and God has done so much in our lives.”
A pastor’s perspective
The Rev. Beth Nelson, lead pastor at Prairie Heights in West Fargo, says Marni “was immediately very honest about the story God was writing in their life” at their first meeting.
“I couldn’t get over her bravery in being so vulnerable with her story, to just own it, and say, ‘This is where we’re at.’”
Seven years later, including six with Marni as a staff member, Nelson says that Marni’s “full surrender” continues to be evident.
“She’s super passionate and tenacious. I love her energy and the way that she helps people who have been in the darkest of days and moments know that they have purpose, and that they’re worthy of God’s love.”
Recently, Nelson had the pleasure of watching Marni baptize her own daughter, Ivy.
“Just the growth I’ve witnessed in her, and the way that Jesus is working in this family, it’s undeniable,” she says, adding that “God is using their story for his glory,” proving, “There’s no part of our story that goes void when we connect our life with Christ — even in the most shameful, hardest parts.”
Though some might see the Pinks’ story as distanced from their own, Nelson says, “I just believe that all of us are one decision, one paycheck, one moment away from having that kind of story.”
And even if one’s story isn’t as dramatic, “We all have one, and God wants to work in every story.”
As Marni shares hers, she says, it opens a bridge for others to share theirs.
A friend’s perspective
Jennifer Peters met Marni through church while volunteering there.
“I was hearing about this awesome gal named Marni,” she says. They later became more acquainted and started meeting occasionally for coffee.
“I just think that what she has experienced in her own life, and how her life has been transformed through her faith, shines out in who she is as a person. She has the biggest heart, and just loves to serve people and love on them,” Peters says.
Recently, Peters learned that Marni, despite working a full-time job and being committed to her family, also serves Meals on Wheels to the homebound one day each week during her lunch break.
“She does the same route every week so she can continue to get to know the people she’s bringing these meals to,” Peters says.
And it’s not just a quick stop, either.
“She’s building that relationship, and I know they’re being blessed by it,” Peters remarks, adding, “Some days, she might be the only person they get to see.”
It’s an example of Marni’s commitment to others, no matter what it takes.
“She’s an overcomer,” Peters says. “She’s going to do for other people what people have done for her, because she knows what that means, and how life-changing it is.”
It’s a “no strings attached” kind of love, Peters concludes. “She serves openhandedly and often, simply out of the goodness of her heart.”
The fruits of fidelity
Marni admits to being a “crier,” with a leaky tear duct. In the days of addiction, she says, she would “cry every day because I did not know how to get out of the mess” they were in.
She also remembers crying out to God in desperation, saying, “God, help me. I don’t want to go to jail.”
In the end, she admits, “It’s what I needed because it scared me to the core. I remember sitting there, and how much I missed my kids, and realizing, ‘I don’t want this.’”
At the time, they were 6 and 2.
Saying goodbye to her circle of influence was not easy, she says. Some were like family. “That was a really hard journey, to rebuild that life after 38 years.”
But Jesus filled in the gaps, she says, and, thankfully, she and Chris were on a parallel path, leading straight to God.
“He’s so active in the church now, and supports me so well, and I support him,” Marni says. “I couldn’t have done it without him.”
Marni knows not every parent in a situation like this has felt the support needed to help free them.
“My heart breaks for those that are so sick they can’t choose their children over whatever is happening,” she says, expressing gratitude that her parents were there to help with their kids during their weakest moments.
When they finally turned to God, she says, each good decision seemed to bring blessing, just as the poor decisions earlier had brought the opposite.
“I just want people to know there is hope in the dark, scary places,” Marni says, quoting Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
“You’ve got to take that first scary step,” she adds. “But once you do, the waters part. Once you take that step, God intervenes.”
Marni knows what it’s like to be in the throes of addiction, to show up at a food pantry for help with groceries after losing a job, and to spend a few nights in a hard, cold jail cell.
“All I know is that I had nothing left. I had no fight,” she says. “So I, 100 percent, surrendered and asked God for help. God can do amazing things with a willing heart.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on June 25, 2021.]