Tess’ Story: Turning Messes into Messages


My life from the outside looked pretty good--I had a job that I liked... But the big catalyst for everything was my drinking,

I always felt afraid to try things because I was afraid I would do them wrong, and now I just see them as opportunities.

“I realized that by numbing myself off from negative feelings, I was numbing myself from beauty, too.” 

When Tess came to Simonka Place, a ministry of Union Gospel Mission of Salem, she felt stuck in a cycle of anxiety and hopelessness—trapped by false beliefs that had, unfortunately, been nurtured over her lifetime. 

At 17, Tess realized that alcohol could remedy her perpetual anxiety. But alcohol is never altruistic—not long after, it reared its dark side and her dependence on it picked up speed.  

“My life from the outside looked pretty good. I had a job that I liked…” 

Eventually Tess moved to Oregon to start over. Things got a little bit better when she went to rehab and was near her mom and dad. But addiction came back with a vengeance.  

This time, she couldn’t keep up, and Tess became homeless. 

When she got to Simonka Place, she was “very broken emotionally and spiritually.” 

Healing is never linear. While at the Mission, Tess’ progress was often two steps forward, one step back. But she persisted. 

Once she settled into the New Life Fellowship program, she began realizing the importance of long-term recovery programs. Slowly and steadily, the layers of her anxiety were peeled back and true healing began to take root.  

While at Simonka Place, Tess learned: 

  • To “be still and know that He is God.” 
  • To see the world through a positive, healthier perspective. 
  • She is not in control—God, ultimately, is and for that she’s deeply grateful. 
  • God can use hurts and suffering for good. 
  • She can live without fear.  
  • To care for others, including herself.  
  • It’s okay to make mistakes. 
  • She’s excited to repurpose her brokenness to help others. 
Tess Warren and Johnna Norton 3
Tess works with Chef Johnna during work therapy.

Today, as God continues to sanctify her, Tess eases up on the strong grip she has on her life. As she leans on the compassionate support of her mentors, friends, and staff at the Mission, she is growing more confident and independent.  

Ironically, Tess can say homelessness was the best thing that ever happened to her because it led her to Simonka Place. 

“I hope people will support the Mission because of what it did for me–it really allowed me to take the mess of my life and turn it into a message.” 

We love you, Tess.  

“And provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” Isaiah 61:3 

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It’s not about me. It’s not my story. It’s about the One who shines through me. May God shine through me every day.
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