I was walking down the street one day in November 2011, when I passed an old lady with a dog. I’d never seen her before, but she stopped me. “Excuse me, young man,” she said. “God has plans for you. You can reach people others can’t. So whatever you do, get on the right side of God and stay there. You remember what I said.”
I’m not used to strangers stopping me on the street, so I kept walking. But a few steps later, I turned around to take another look at her. She and her little dog were gone. But what she said haunted me.
While I believed in God, He wasn’t important to me. After all, I thought, I’d led a great life without Him. I earned a lot of money as a private contractor, laying carpet, tile, and hardwood flooring, as well as doing drywall and painting. I had a great home and a girlfriend who was carrying my child.
So, no, God wasn’t that important — but crack cocaine was. Although drugs had never been part of my life before, suddenly I was spending almost $300 a day on crack, and it was beginning to tear my life apart.
I don’t know whether that old lady was an angel or what. But God used her to get my attention. If God had something for me to do, I knew I’d better get clean and figure out what He wanted. So two months later, I checked into Union Rescue Mission.
Two months after that, my girlfriend gave birth to my child. My baby lived for five hours and died. Then a month after that, my girlfriend died of a brain aneurysm. I know one thing, I couldn’t have endured that much sorrow if it weren’t for Union Rescue Mission.
I still don’t know what God has planned for me. But I’ve been here for almost two years now and I’m clean and sober. The Mission has completely transformed me. For the first time, God is number one in my life. I know I could leave today and never touch drugs again. I could leave and rebuild my career. But I remember what that old lady said. And I’m not leaving this place until God pats me on the shoulder and says, “Here’s what I got for you to do.”
So what’s my New Year’s wish for 2014? God’s pat on my shoulder.
For a long time, I’ve joked that I want to be a skinny biker dude — you know, one of those skinny guys riding their bicycles around town. It was a joke, because as someone battling Type 2 diabetes, and major heart and kidney problems, I had no hope of that ever happening.
In July 2012, I got my heart fixed, but by December, my kidneys had failed. I feared that my lifelong work on behalf of people experiencing homelessness was coming to an end. It was hard to face that. The number of people living on Skid Row continues to grow. It’s as bad as I’ve ever seen it. And the desperation here is even worse. It broke my heart to think I’d have to give up this work.
But last February, my dear wife donated one of her own kidneys to me. Her gift saved my life. With a new heart and a new kidney, my health has improved dramatically. I no longer face 2014 with fear — in fact, the URM team and I have big plans! A new jobs program for our guests. Moving more families away from Skid Row. Helping hundreds more people gain new housing.
And my New Year’s wish? Well, I’m biking again. I want to be that skinny biker dude I used to joke about!