Carter Hendrickson grew up in a Christian home in Harlan and attended a small Christian school. When he went to a large public high school, he decided drinking and smoking pot was the way to fit in. He continued that pattern in college but escalated his marijuana use and experimentation with pills. Carter immediately fell in love with OxyContin the first time he tried it. It became a daily habit for him 10 years.
His first stint at rehab came before he withdrew from the University of Kentucky, and he had several after that. Following his last 30-day treatment, he vowed that he would never use again – except for smoking a little weed.
Carter managed bouts of sobriety and was able to finish his degree. After a bad run of three or four years, he ended up in a halfway house, which then was shut down. He was ready to try another treatment facility but couldn’t find an opening in Kentucky for six months.
Meanwhile, Lauren grew up in a Christian home in Kansas City. Her parents divorced when she was in high school, which hit her hard. Lauren had dabbled in drugs while in high school – acid, pot, alcohol and cocaine.
She moved out a week after high school graduation, while she was still 17 years old, and shared an apartment with her boyfriend. By July, she was pregnant. She didn’t want to get an abortion, but gave into pressure as she always did. Her rapid downward spiral was set in motion.
The day she first smoked meth was the day she packed up a backpack, left her boyfriend, quit her job and school, and lived out of her car. Her new boyfriend was a drug dealer, and she began shooting up meth at least five times a day to stay high.
After being arrested at least 25 times, Lauren now faced serious charges. She was with her boyfriend in a stolen vehicle, using stolen credit cards, when they led state troopers on a high speed chase at more than 100 miles per hour.
With the gas tank on empty and the car stuck in a farm field, Lauren took off running. Then, she just sat down. She was tired of her life.
After three months in jail, she was due to see the judge and faced up to 64 years in prison. But, for a reason unknown even to the judge, he cleared the courtroom to talk to her. He let her out as long as she agreed to stay with family.
Lauren went to live with her grandparents, who became a huge part of her recovery. They wanted her when she thought no one else did. Lauren lived with them for six months while trying to get into a treatment facility in Chattanooga. The judge wouldn’t let her go out of state and insisted on long-term, in-patient treatment.
Little did Carter and Lauren know that they would be on a collision course with God and each other – saving both of them through recovery. It happened at Heartland Recovery Program, a faith-based treatment facility set on a farm in Northeast Missouri. The complex also had a school, boarding school, restaurant, café, and creamery for the fully-functioning farm.
Lauren was there two years before Carter but had stayed after graduation to work with troubled girls at the boarding school.
“I immediately thought it was awful,” Carter said. “I didn’t think I could live on a farm but had no way to get back to Eastern Kentucky. The longer I was there, the more I realized I needed to be there. I was skeptical about people giving their lives to God, but I saw that they were happy. I wanted that in my life.”
Each completed at least 18 months of treatment – doing little other than work, Bible study, and sleep. After Carter graduated, they began a courtship and were married there.
They both continued to work in various roles at Heartland but decided to move to Harlan when a job opportunity opened up for Carter. He earned his master’s degree and currently works for Addiction Recovery Care as a utilization review specialist. Carter also is a deacon at Harlan Christian Church, where they both are members.
Lauren earned her cosmetology license, owns Southern Roots salon, and soon will open a boutique in Harlan.
They also were part of a group that started a Celebrate Recovery program in Harlan last fall. Carter’s parents were both very instrumental in his recovery, and his mom started the Al-Anon program in Harlan.
They’ve faced major challenges through prayer and each other. After their daughter was born, Lauren had complications that led to an infection, two surgeries, and doubt about having another baby. Two rounds of fertility treatments didn’t work. The couple considered IVF and adoption – both of which were unaffordable. As they were in the process of becoming foster parents, Lauren became pregnant. There were concerns immediately, and Lauren was put on bed rest.
After an abruption, the doctors had to take the baby at 31 weeks. During the delivery, Lauren lost five pints of blood, and the baby didn’t breathe for 38 minutes. He was airlifted to UK hospital. At 3 pounds, 15 ounces, he spent five weeks in the NICU with fluid on his brain. Doctors said he might not walk or talk.
The Hendricksons were surrounded by prayer. He has done everything they said he wouldn’t do – and he’s done it ahead of schedule.
Lauren and Carter say they are proof that a new life is possible for anyone, but you have to stop wanting it to happen and put it into action. And you have to have faith.
“In the Bible, Paul says he was the worst of the worst,” Lauren said. “That’s what I saw in myself. If God can do it for me, He can do it for you. Things take time, and they aren’t perfect, but God takes your mess and makes it into something good.”