I don’t always feel like hearing someone’s story. Sometimes I am busy.
Sometimes I have other things on my mind. But never did it cross my mind that if I don’t hear what he or she has to say right now, I will never get the chance again. Well…it does now.
I was in the Willard Learning Center at Watered Gardens, a place where I help teach people who have been through hell how to get back on their feet. Some are homeless and still active drug users; but others live here, which means they have taken some very significant steps forward. If you are a resident, you have to be sober and attend classes, such as the ones I teach.
I was testing out the new projector when Josie walked in to clean the desks. At Watered Gardens, if you want food, clothes, a shower, or anything else, you have to earn it. A strong work ethic is something they begin instilling in individuals the second they walk through the door.
The concept is sometimes shocking to people who have been living on government handouts for years, drinking and drugging away their days. Living on the streets or under bridges, many anxiously await the first of the month when Uncle Sam indiscriminately puts more money into their accounts. Recipients can get fifty cents cash for every dollar of food subsidies, and then it’s off to buy the drink or drug of his or her choice.
I introduced myself to Josie and could immediately tell that she was doing well. Clear eyes, coherent speech, and a sharp mind meant she had overcome many of the demons that drag others to the grave.
We began to dialogue and I asked her some benign questions: Where are you from? What brought you to Joplin, Missouri? etc. It didn’t take her long to sense my sincerity and then she started to tell me her story. Everyone who ends up on the streets has a story, and I am yet to hear a single one that begins in a happy, healthy home. Josie’s story was no exception.
“My mom died recently,” she told me. “Before they put the casket into the ground, I walked up to it with a black rose clasped behind my back. Then, with the preacher standing right beside me, I placed the rose on her casket and said, “I hope you rot in hell, you b—-.”
Josie then told me about her step-father who molested her from the time she was 2 until she was a teenager. Her mom would stand in the doorway and watch.
She started drinking at just 12 years of age to try to silence the pain. Running away multiple times proved fruitless. The police would always bring her right back to the people who were supposed to love her more than anyone else on the planet. But they didn’t love her. They violated her.
But her story didn’t end in disaster, as many do. She stopped drinking before it consumed her, which amazed her counselor. She was now in a relationship with a kind man and they were just about to get their own apartment, which is a major accomplishment for someone who has been homeless.
Watered Gardens had given her a safe place to earn life’s necessities and be around people who helped her to grow.
She then paid her boyfriend one of the most significant compliments I can imagine coming from a lady. “Even at 50 years old, he makes me feel pretty.”
I thanked her for sharing her story with me and asked if I could share it with others. I then asked her if I could be praying about anything specific for her. She told me she had a blood clot that her doctors were concerned about, then I gave her a hug and she left the classroom.
I saw her a week later at Watered Gardens, but for the next few weeks noticed that she wasn’t around. So many people who come here are transient, though, so you never know how long someone will be around.
About a month after I met Josie, I was walking up to the front door and passed Joshua, who was locking up his bike. Joshua is an incredibly nice guy and a regular at Watered Gardens. I have run into him other places as well, including a grocery store on the opposite side of town. He puts a lot of miles on those tires.
I stopped to ask him how he was doing.
“I’m just trying to make it, Brian. Life just knocked me down pretty hard.”
I told him I was sorry, then asked what had happened.
“My girlfriend died. We were only 3 days away from getting our own place. She died in her sleep…in my arms.”
His next four words broke my heart.
“Did you know Josie?”
Yes. Yes I did. But I had no idea the two people were connected. I was so glad that I had taken advantage of the only significant encounter I would ever have with her on this side of the grave. And it didn’t surprise me a bit that Joshua was the one about whom she had spoken so kindly.
He fought back the tears as he finished fastening his bike lock and I told him how sorry I was. I also told him how well she had spoken of him. I tried to offer him some comfort and walked on into the building, where every week I do my best to take time for Josie.
*For information on how you can make sure someone like Joshua or Josie has a safe and clean place to sleep at night, along with training and mentorship, please check out their “One Night” campaign with the link below. You can help sponsor the bed I chose (bed #1) for 1 night a month and have an enormous impact on somebody’s life. Feel free to contact me with any questions.