Sanctuary is a wholistic, healing ministry that provides safe,
healthy, and nurturing environments for women seeking
to grow healthy beliefs, boundaries and relationship skills.
Participants are welcomed into loving home-based ministries,
provided premium spiritual and material food, introduced
to naturally healing therapies, encouraged to practice a craft,
and shown how to develop a sustainable business and livelihood.
The mission is to love women, facilitate their natural healing,
watch them bloom, and celebrate their radiant restoration.
I was saved several years ago when God used my father's ministry to build an “ark of faith” amidst a catastrophic storm in my life. My father – Bill Gram – has pastored Rehoboth and Green Valley Community Churches for over 35 years and it was his sermon "If My People” that spoke my story into existence after my mom committed suicide.
Tragedy & Loss: Tragically, my mom was sex trafficked in an underground pornography ring as a child. Consequently, her boundaries were severely damaged and she exhibited low self worth. Despite her earnest efforts to heal, she suffered debilitating depression for most of her life and relied heavily on psychotropic medication.
Since it was a parental figure – someone responsible for loving and protecting her – who sexually abused and exploited her, my mom struggled to form healthy relationships. However, she was extraordinarily beautiful, intelligent and talented and men were very attracted to her. For that reason, women envied, bullied and excluded her in different ways. Feeling hated and rejected, she lived a lonely life and struggled with intense bouts of depression. Given her inability to "self-sooth" at these times (a term associated with many psychiatric disorders), she often fell for the ploys of people offering comfort but seeking to take advantage.
Although I judged my mom harshly and we were estranged for most of my life, God gave me an authentic revelation of grace that completely healed and restored our relationship. In fact, she moved back to Virginia when I was in my late twenties and we had a better relationship than any other mother and daughter I know for the last seven years of her life. She was my best friend and I simply cherished our time together.
Honestly, she'd been doing a lot better until my son's father waged the second custody battle attempting to sever my relationship with our son. Though he did everything in his power to force me to abort the pregnancy - withdrawing all support and abandoning me to go it alone - he eventually changed his mind about wanting a family. The son of an extremely violent diplomat, he had his ways of manipulating the family court system to get what he wanted. My mom spent the last of her savings trying to defend me in what must have been a $200k court battle. After almost a year of costly proceedings, she started to get sick again. Mere weeks before the trial, I found her dead body in the garage and the custody battle became a land-slide.
Though the other side was granted two continuances in order to mandate more parental testing, which I faired quite well on, I was denied the single continuance I requested in order to deal with the aftermath of my mom's suicide. At the end of the 9-hour-long trial, they attacked my low income asking if I'd "applied to every McDonalds in Rockingham County". Of course, I could only answer "yes" or "no". When I tried to explain my work to found an environmental and social justice organization that made eco products and services more accessible to impoverished people, they laughed in my face.
Dazed & Confused: Within a few weeks time, I lost my best friend and primary custody of my only son, whom my life revolved around. It was gut-wrenching and my memory gets a little choppy and fragmented here. I recall that it was all I could do at times to pick up a garden mattock, head out back and dig. I'd dig and dig and dig – like someone dying of thirst. Or I'd pick up a violin and play. I'd play and play and play – until my fingers were raw and I was so stiff from sitting in one position that I could barely move. In between periods of desperate digging, blank numbness and maniacal fiddling, I remember wanting to found a healing garden called Sanctuary.
Of course, I was barely able to hold down a job, let alone found a nonprofit organization. Looking back, I realize that I was in complete shock and simply
unable to respond to the reality of what was happening. In fact, I lost just about everything I had left in the three years that followed my mom's suicide – including my job, my home, my unbelieving partner, and all of my unbelieving friends. I tell you honestly that if it hadn't been for my dad's sermons, God's word, and a hand full of His followers, I'm not sure I would have survived “the flood” at all.
When I finally came to terms with the fact that I was losing my little bird sanctuary by the North River, I curled up in a ball and read my Bible. I read and read and read, like someone starving to death. I'd tried to read the Bible earlier in life but it had never made any sense. I'd approached God's word looking to prove something I thought I already knew and my arrogance had blinded me. It wasn't until I invited Jesus's spirit into my heart that I understood how to approach God's word correctly: on my hands and knees in prayer. It wasn't until I asked God to show me what I was desperate to know that the "scales fell off my eyes" and I literally saw light flood out of the pages. It wasn't until I read, "you are precious to me and I have loved you with an everlasting love" that I conceived of the wisdom of my Father's love.
During this time period, I'd often wake up still clutching my Bible from the night before. I'd look out my bedroom window at the rising sun and hear the horses from a neighboring farm gallop across the ridge. I'd watch robins splash around in the puddles on the cistern and gold finches frolic among the milk thistle that had grown up in my gardens – and I'd pray. I'd pray and pray and pray. And I'd hear Jesus say, "not one sparrow will fall to the ground outside of your Father’s care. So be not afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows".
A Prophetic Vision: I remember savoring passages from the devotional my dear Aunt Terry delivered – God Calling. Although the authors of this best-selling, daily devotional remain anonymous, the forward describes them as two poor, depressed women who made a commitment to sit down together every morning and listen for God's voice. Reading their poetry was like having honey drizzled into my eyes every morning, and I'd bless. I'd bless and bless and bless. In Jesus's name, I'd bless everything I could think of. And every time I did, I felt a warm, tingling sensation sweep from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. It literally felt like every cell in my body was burning hot, white light.
Finally, God told me in His word to get up and move, that He was with me. It was the middle of January when I walked outside and looked at my little sanctuary from the road. An “Angel of Comfort” statue stood in my front yard surrounded by mosaics of river rocks I'd collected over the years. I glanced at the stream bank where my son had spent so many sun splashed afternoons rooting around for little-boy treasures. I saw the ash stump, which was all that remained of the tree a family of big horned owls had nested in the previous winter.
I knew that I'd have to believe in God's promises with all my heart to take the next step. Hot tears streaming down my frozen cheeks, I looked up at the sky and in a barely audible voice, I whispered, “God, I choose to stand on your promises.. but Jesus you're going to have to carry me... because I'm too weak to put one foot in front of the other.”
I'll never forget what happened next. In my mind's eye, I saw the whole sky split wide open – just like “a veil being torn" in two. I saw what looked like thousands of blurry figures behind cloudy curtains. And if that wasn't crazy enough, I heard thunderous applause. Now, I know what you're probably thinking. I mean, let's face it – I'm an easy target. And I'm sure if a lot of professional pill-pushers had their way, I'd be locked up in a green padded cell right now instead of writing this testimony. The thing is, that vision came to pass.
In less than six months time, I found myself seated at the opening night of Polyface Farm's newest documentary Polyfaces. Piedmont Community College's auditorium was completely packed that evening and when the host asked the small Polyface team to stand up, guess what I heard? Thunderous applause. Gasp. Just like "Ruth gleaning in Boaz's field", I stood – eyes wide open – in complete awe of God's grace. And I realized that it was no crazy hallucination I had that bitter cold January day, it was a prophetic vision.
But before I get into a "land" literally "flowing with milk and honey", let me back up a little and tell you how God "prepared the soil" for what Joel Salatin might describe as a burst of "blaze growth".
Agro Therapy (Healing the Mind)
Before the worst of "the storm" – shortly before my mom committed suicide and my dad preached the sermon that saved me – God drew me to Him in a most peculiar way. He used agro therapy (a fancy term for gardening) and dazzled me with gorgeous gourd vines that climbed right out of my compost pit. It was love at first sight and I went head over heals for these curly curcubita.
Before long I was ordering books, taking soil samples, transforming my son's pet terrarium into a miniature greenhouse, digging mounds for seedlings, and harvesting bamboo for structural support. To be honest, it was all pretty superficial at first – just common growing knowledge I'm sure. But as I dug deeper, I began to see parallel truths between the material and spiritual realms. In fact, the material truths God showed me in my garden illustrated the spiritual truths in my dad's sermon exactly.
Incredibly, God used these venerable plants to speak to me in ways nothing else could. Much of the “seed” my dad sowed through his ministry over the years was activated just by handling the vines, which were very much alive. It seems I was able to absorb some kind of dynamic energy that unlocked an ancient wisdom in every cell of my body. The revelations that continue to stem from what I can only describe as a photosynthesis of the mind have proven absolutely crucial to my "healing and restoration".
To read more about these revelations, please click on the link: The Growth Process
Animal Therapy (Healing the Body)
Even though I lost just about everything a person could lose in "the flood", miraculously the "ark of faith" my dad helped me build landed at Polyface Farm in just a few months time. God's promises had manifested right before my eyes and His Son's excellent spirit had ushered me into a "land" literally "flowing with milk and honey” .
It was time to saddle up and ride; to put all the spiritual lessons I'd learned into practice. I'd have to develop the physical strength, agility and endurance necessary to "run the race". I'd have to learn from new role models God was bringing into my life. Ultimately, I'd have to trust God completely and let Him work to heal my broken body.
The Land of Milk & Honey: I wish I could say that I pranced into Polyface town on that beautiful dappled mare, but it was more like a humble mule of homelessness. Not to mention, the land was “full of giants”, just like the Bible said it would be. Talk about a high-stakes balancing act on a real tight rope. Fortunately, Jesus really had gone ahead of me and prepared the way. It was like the job was made just for me and all I had to do was what I did best. Even so, I had my doubts.. and other people did too.
I remember working late one afternoon when the Salatins darted into the low-lit office to escape some kind of crowd. I asked them what they were up to and they said that they were interviewing the 40 pre-selected candidates for next season's batch of interns. Curiously, I asked them what kinds of questions they asked these candidates? Joel said, “well, you know.. we ask them about their parents, what they do for a living... that kind of thing”. Teresa chimed in, “you know, we make sure they come from good stock”. Gulp.
I recalled my dad's sermon, “Open Door”, in which he masterfully spun scripture together to convince that, “what door God opens, no man can shut”. Holy gourd, Jesus had carried me into “the promised land” under His own fleece – or "robe of righteousness", however you prefer to look at it. I remembered His instruction "to be shrewd as a serpent and innocent as a dove." Well, shrewdness had never really been my strong point, so all I could do was pray and ask Him to cover me while I took good stock of the people who knew how to make it.
Of course, I later read in God's word that children aren't to be held responsible for the sins of their parents if they choose "the truth, the life and the way". Aside from that, my mom had a lot of truly wonderful qualities that I'm thankful to inherit. Although there are no perfect parents in this world, she loved me very much and it's my choice to take the best of what she modeled and leave the rest. It's also my choice to take other people's fearful and prejudicial thinking with 'a grain of salt' and to give "the new creation" a little time to prove them wrong, if necessary. See? There it is – my thicker skin (refer to The Growth Process).
Plus, the parent who actually raised me is not only a genuine believer, but he's become an incredible minister over the last 35 years. This story is nothing if not a testament of that. And amazingly, God used him to speak another chapter of it right into existence! Have I mentioned how thankful I am for me Pa? Very.
Hidden Valley: Speaking of bucking the odds, it was around that time that I was welcomed into the home of an Equine Body Worker in Bath County and introduced to animal therapy. There I was – without a home of my own – but safely and comfortably nestled inside the “smoke-house” of an old, beautiful historic farm estate. I reckon it used to be a cabin for curing meats of different kinds, but my hosts had turned it into a lovely guest cottage. The built-on porch overlooked the grassy meadows of Hidden Valley, which has been one of my favorite places in the world since I was 'knee-high to a grasshopper'.
Grooming and caring for the animals was so comforting to my spirit and simply delightful to my senses. I'll never forget the smell of the horses inside the barn. Sometimes I would stop combing, lean my body up against the horse's belly, and just breath. It felt like my entire nervous system reset when I did. The energy flowing from the horse's massive body seemed to completely overpower mine in the most wonderful way. My gracious hostess even let me ride a time or two. It must have been her most stubborn gelding she instructed me to climb on bareback. A slight glint of amusement in her eyes, she insisted I take command of that horse and make it do what I willed.
Ole Fashioned Hard Work: While staying at the horse farm, I commuted to Polyface where I started small but steadily grew into more responsibilities. In other words, I volunteered for all the jobs nobody else wanted, which really paid off. Before long I was driving a box-truck filled with frozen meat all over Virginia and Maryland.
Making these deliveries often involved moving a ton or more of meat all by my lonesome and I'm not even going to lie and pretend I didn't beg God for supernatural strength every morning I left the farm. He was faithful and always delivered. And when the hard labor became overly exhausting, I never had to say a word. Someone's husband would show up too early or the last couple of sister-in-laws picking up would start carrying empty coolers back to the truck.
Frankly, I'm so glad I needed help at times because I really enjoyed getting to know and fellowship with those people. Barely able to pull myself back up into the cab and polish off another 16-hour-delivery-day, I always left feeling so encouraged and thankful to serve them. We had so many heartfelt conversations and more than one customer teared up in thanks for the grass-fed chicken stock. Such a simple thing – chicken stock – unless you or someone you love is sick and dying. I remember finding my mom literally eating rotten food shortly before she died and I came to understand the importance of “eating what is good”.
Food NOT Drugs: For almost four years, I consumed a farm-fresh diet of whole foods including golden eggs, hardy herbs and vegetables, pastured chicken, pork and beef and actual "curds of milk and honey". Would you believe that I didn't have so much as a cold during that time? In fact, I never felt better in my life. And I really enjoyed learning about the 'slow-cooking' methods best for preparing grass-fed meat, which tends to be very lean.
Essentially, God was helping me develop a whole relationship with food. He was showing me how much honest, hard work went into producing safe, healthy, and wholesome food and reciprocally, how that kind of work demands premium grade fuel for the body. In fact, consuming nutrient dense food is not a luxury but a necessity for anyone committed to cultivating the excellence required to accomplish God's mission for their life. Thus, I was learning the very practical reasons for one of the two guiding principles of design: function.
At the same time, God was delighting my senses with the rich colors, textures and intoxicating scents of the natural world, including highly nutritious food. I mean, have you ever dug up a dusty clump of rainbow colored carrots? As an artist, this stuff is irresistible. And I guarantee you that the sensory experience of growing your own food will change your relationship with the earth and ultimately, your own body. Thus, the second guiding principle of design: beauty.
Well, what's so special about grass-fed meat anyway – besides the price tag? Good question. I worked for a company that designs landscapes using native plant species, which aren't showy like popular ornamental varieties. In fact, a lot of people just think of them as weeds. But as I studied the native plants I was potting up in the nursery, I realized that they have incredible healing properties. And truth be told, they're likely the original source of the psychotropic medication that pharmaceutical companies conjure up. Not to mention, they're exactly what Polyface's livestock consumes on a regular basis via the 'rotational grazing' technique its become famous for.
Well, why not just eat big whoppers and take Big Pharma's 'magic pills' to feel better? Another good question. Because those pills are not what God designed, they're what humans designed and most likely just to make a buck. In fact, clinical trials for psychotropic drugs are very short-term and nobody really knows what harm this Frankenstein is capable of in the long run. But I have my suspicions – after watching my mom cycle on and off various psychotropic medications for years. Something would work for a while and then stop working and she'd have to switch to something else and deal with the new side effects. When she finally got fed up with it, she went off the drugs cold turkey and was dead a few months later.
So you see, one person's weed is another person's healing perennial. And if you're eating a grass-fed diet – a real one, because there's a lot of false advertising going on – you're getting trace amounts of medicinal plants in your meals every day. Over time, this safe, natural diet amounts to wholistic and preventative healthcare, which is something we should all be considering much more carefully in light of our nation's healthcare crises and rising depression rates.
Kicking Bad Habits: This is when Dr. Caroline Leaf "walked her little poodles" into my life and introduced me to Holy Spirit led mind gardening. Dr. Leaf has been a neuro brain scientist for over 35 years and is now a full time minister. I cannot begin to describe how thankful I am for her spirit-filled work.
Essentially, Dr. Leaf's scientific research proves the Bible is true, which states that we should "take all of our thoughts into captivity" and hold them up to the light of truth. Her clinical practice shows that "the brain is plastic" in the sense that the mind can change the brain with sustained belief, which describes Biblical faith.
In fact, Dr. Leaf developed a daily Brain Detox Program, which takes as little as 7-10 minutes, and involves pulling toxic thoughts, planting healthy new thoughts via scriptural "seed", and growing healthy new patterns of thinking – just like gourd plants in a garden. Her clinical research shows that it takes between 3-6, 21-day cycles of daily mind gardening to firmly establish healthy, new beliefs and as any gardener will tell you, that's a full growing season.
When I practiced Dr. Leaf's program, I started with "worship, praise and thanksgiving" every morning, just as she instructed. In other words, I did NOT curse God's creation. Rather, I blessed my brain in Jesus's name and thanked God for His magnificent creation. I told Him that I knew He had "great plans" for me and that I wanted to take better care of "His Sanctuary" so that I had the ability to carry them out. And because I knew that my desire aligned with His will, I was able to kneel "boldly before the throne" and claim His healing power.
More specifically, I asked God to prime the well in my brain and create an abundance of chemicals like Dopamine and Norepinephrine – the ones I knew I'd need to kick the habit. And He delivered. I was able to quit smoking almost effortlessly. The few times I experienced withdrawal, all I had to do was close my eyes and ask Jesus for a hit of the chemicals He'd ordered my brain to manufacture au natural. When I did this, I could literally feel the chemical bath wash over me, after which the withdrawal symptoms subsided instantly.
At the same time, I found myself designing an elegant dance studio in my basement with an adjoining kick-boxing station. Instead of smoking, I'd lace up my boxing gloves, twirl over to the punching bag (which looks kind of like a big black cigar) and light it up. You wouldn't believe how well this kind of aggressive and heart-pumping fun works to circulate feel-good chemicals throughout your body. Thus, a natural remedy for the "ruminating thoughts" fear and anxiety cause: speed your body up and your mind slows down – not to mention your thoughts get a lot more clear and focused.
Celebrating Success: True to God's word, my dad's sermons, and the revelations God gave me growing gourds, Jesus's spirit unlocked the door to health, wealth and vitality. During my three and a half years in "the land of milk and honey", I never failed to meet my responsibilities. To the contrary, I went 'above and beyond' every single day, my work roles steadily expanded and my salary over doubled, right along with sales for the deliveries I made. My body healed rapidly as I did my very best to make a valuable contribution to Polyface's world-class team. What an honor and a privilege it was. Thank you Jesus.
Best of all, I established rich relationships with countless of other believers committed to putting Biblical wisdom into daily practice. I was so blessed by them, especially the hostesses and their precious families. I benefited
enormously from the know-how they shared – whether it was sending me off with a scoby and directions to start my own Kombucha culture or telling me about an inexpensive hydrosol technique for making herbal misters. Together, these wise, earthy women formed an expansive, grass-roots circuit of spiritual light. And I was a busy little honeybee collecting pollen from all the bountiful blooms within this gorgeous garden of human souls.
I eventually moved into a newly renovated home with an open floor plan and plenty of natural light. The west-facing front porch overlooks green rolling hills and a mountain chain that resembles the earth's backbone and musculature. Shortly after I moved in, two Bald Eagles put on a big air show right out front where there's a spectacular view of the sunset. And would you believe that the house sat here empty since right around the time I lost mine – like it was waiting just for me? I tear up when I think of the scripture I read so many a'homeless night: "Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest?"
I've lived in Middlebrook for two and half years now and the full, finished basement has become a dance studio, an art studio and even a gourd-working shop. There's a shed outside to store gardening supplies and cured gourds that are ready for crafting.
Avid gardeners themselves, my landlords encourage me to grow whatever my heart desires and generously supply whatever they can to make it a functional and beautiful place to call home. Incredibly, they have a statue in their garden – about the same size as mine – that looks like the archangel Michael. I often refer to them as "angels disguised as landlords".
And here's another one of God's fingerprints: there was a well established mound of Lamb's Ear on the east side of the house, which is sheltered from the gusty winds that rip and roar across those grassy hills. It's a powerfully healing herb for some of the skin conditions I have, which is the very boundary of my body. And to the left of the property stands my "Angel of Comfort" nestled within a rock cove where a blood-red variety of Peonies bloom every Spring.
It turns out that Peony roots are medicinal and are said to treat just about every psychosomatic condition I've ever experienced. One of the last things my mom stitched was an embroidered patch of Peonies, though I didn't realize what they were at the time. She had planned to make my sister and me super-heroine capes that concealed secret little love notes in each patch. She didn't get them finished, but it doesn't matter, I've got mine.
Thank you sparkle-mommy. It is my deepest desire to honor you
for the compassion pouring through you, even in death.
"When you feel the sun warming your skin, my embrace is in that warmth.
When rains come and wash over you, my touch is in the soothing water that heals your soul.
When the wind blows through your hair, my fingers are stroking your head, caressing and comforting you.
When you feel the earth beneath you, supporting your stands, my shoulders are within offering you support and strength.
When the colors of a sunset dance before your eyes, you will see me dazzling you with the sparkles from my dance shoes.
When you see the unconditional love in a pets eyes, my loyal love for you will be shining through.
My touch will be everywhere for you to feel, if only you will believe your own hearts."
~ Debra Mae
Art Therapy (Healing the Spirit)
Essentially, God used agro therapy to heal my mind and animal therapy to heal my body. He also used new role models, fellowship, hard work, adequate rest and incredibly healing spiritual and material food – the very best in all the land. In doing so, He's authored a powerful testimony. I want to be clear however, that these natural healing modalities – in and of themselves – were not responsible for my "healing and restoration". Rather it was Jesus's spirit of humility, my willingness to let Him lead me into unfamiliar territory, and God's grace that He extended through others – over a course of time and with committed practice.
I guess you could say that this incredible experience helped me understand the importance of Jesus's first commandment: "love the Lord thy God with all your mind, body and soul".
[My first gourd vase]
From what I've observed, this is the one that 'have nots' struggle with most. On the other hand, 'haves' seem to struggle with the second commandment: “do unto others as you'd have done unto you”. Ultimately, these two kinds of people need to be in relationship with one another in order to develop empathy, to learn from one another, and to grow in real love.
The Finishing Process: In learning to practice these commandments together, Jesus's spirit is making us into inwardly beautiful and outwardly functional works of arts. Just like a gourd vessel, there are no two that are exactly the same, for we all grow up differently and make our own mistakes to learn from. I guess you could say that we're all very special that way. In deed, it is our very humanity that gives us each a totally unique purpose, passion and ministry to share with the world and it's the same light that shines through us all.
That light reveals how self righteousness completely deprives us of the opportunity to learn from mistakes, which we must in order to grow. With that said, the final part of my healing journey is still unfolding as I practice using wood working tools to craft gourds into garden lanterns. Though some people might see it as an insignificant hobby, gourds are actually mentioned in the Bible. In fact, I believe God gave me a passion for them because the process of growing, curing, cleaning and crafting gourds can be such an incredibly fun, effective, and hands-on teaching tool.
As I practice carving the prepared vessels in my shop, I imagine that I'm designing beautiful artistic patterns in the hard shells just like the ones God is designing in me. And the end result? A gorgeous garden lantern that functions as a powerful symbol of what Jesus can do when we call on His name, claim our Father's grace, and ask Him “to heal and restore our land" au natural. I see that the testimony shining forth from “the new creation” within me is “the sprout that He planted” and what it truly means to "become a light unto the world”. I know, deep in my soul, that my spiritual healing will come from helping others realize God's love for them.
Thank you daddy, for showing me the way.
It is my deepest desire to honor you and the beautiful light of truth shining through you.
[This gorgeous gourd lamp is not my own,
but stay tuned.. my first lantern is in the making.]
“O afflicted city, lashed by storms, without solace, surely I will set your
stones in antimony and lay your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your pinnacles of rubies, your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.”
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