Remembering Doug

doug1I had been working as the Director of Marketing at The Rescue Mission, a homeless ministry in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for a month when I met Doug. He was selected to receive a special basket of goodies from a local Christian radio station. Doug was nominated by some staff members who thought he could use some encouragement.

That was in February 2016. And a week ago, I was by Doug’s side as he took his final breath at the age of 50. What happened between February 2016 and November 2019? A lot.

Doug was such a likable guy. He was tall, had a southern drawl, and was just plain hilarious. No doubt about it, Doug was loved. And while we shouldn’t have had “favorites” out of the many homeless men we served, Doug was an obvious favorite. So much so that for the fundraising banquet in November 2016, Doug was The Rescue Mission’s shining testimony. His life had been changed.

Before the banquet, we filmed Doug telling his story. While I would typically interview a person for such a video, Doug didn’t even give me a chance to ask any questions. He talked, and talked, and talked. For three hours. I didn’t stop him. The video crew didn’t stop him. His story was so gripping and heartbreaking that we just couldn’t interrupt him.

That day I learned a lot about Doug. The five-minute video did its best to capture his story, but there was so, so much more. Doug went through things no child or adult should ever have to experience. Unfortunately, he turned to alcohol at a young age, and it ruined his life.

IMG_6623Doug found sobriety at The Rescue Mission. For awhile. Doug graduated the long-term program in February 2017, had himself an incredible job, and found himself an apartment. But by the time summer came around, Doug had relapsed.

Doug came back to The Rescue Mission and was OK for awhile. Then he relapsed again.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Thrown in there was a long list of health problems, some drinking-related and some not. There were quite a few times when we were told, “Doug probably won’t make it.” But until a week ago, he always made it.

He always eventually went back to being lovable Doug. Even without a filter, Doug was so lovable. After dying my hair dark one fall, he said to me, “Why did you do that? It makes you look old!” Naturally, I gave him crap about that for as long as I could. Doug was like my big brother at The Rescue Mission. I knew I could count on him for a laugh, a hug, and an honest response to anything I asked.

After three and a half years, I left my job at The Rescue Mission. At that time, I knew Doug was in Marion, Indiana. I knew he was in bad shape and drinking again. Sure enough, about a month after I left my job, Doug was back.

IMG_9803And on Friday, November 15, I received a call from a good friend at The Rescue Mission. Doug had been moved to a nursing home a few weeks ago. He had liver cancer. Hospice said he had only a few days to live.

I broke down on the phone, but there was a part of me that didn’t believe it. Doug had already had so many brushes with death, and he escaped them all.

My friend Brittany, who also once worked at the Mission, and I planned to visit on Saturday. However, I received a call Friday evening that Doug only had hours to live.

When we got to the nursing home and I saw Doug, I knew that was it. He wasn’t coherent. He was moaning. He was skin and bones. His skin was discolored. I burst into tears. It wasn’t the Doug I knew and loved.

The room was full of people who loved Doug, most of them from The Rescue Mission, and a few friends from Indianapolis. Doug didn’t have a relationship with anyone from his biological family.

As we stood in the room around Doug’s bed, someone pulled up the video from The Rescue Mission banquet in 2016 and showed it to one of Doug’s friends. Everyone else was talking to each other, but there was what felt like a scripted pause in the room and we heard Doug’s voice in the video say, “Who would there even be to tell if I died? Nobody.”

IMG_9807That night, there were 12 of us around Doug’s bed as he left this world to be with Jesus. Doug may not have been victorious in sobriety, but he certainly did know and love the Lord. And while I cried so hard that night that my eyes hurt for days, I was incredibly relieved and thankful that Doug’s battle with alcoholism was over. No more struggling. No more pain. Doug was at peace.

Doug will always mean the world to me. We got to experience a Doug that his family never knew: a sober Doug that loved us with all his heart, just as we loved him. He will be greatly missed.

“Those who walk uprightly enter into peace;
they find rest as they lie in death.”

Isaiah 57:2

 

My first year working for a homeless ministry…

dsc_0015bI still can’t believe I almost didn’t take this job. The only reason I was hesitant was because I had been at my previous job for only 8 months. Had I not listened to God’s obvious calling, I wouldn’t be at the greatest and most fulfilling job I have ever had. Yes, it took until I was 35 to find it.

It’s now been one year that I have been the Marketing Director of The Rescue Mission in Fort Wayne, Ind. I know that no job is perfect. But to be honest, I believe that this is as good as it gets. It’s the first Christian organization I’ve worked for where they actually practice what they preach- love, grace, and mercy, all while also having a firm foundation in TRUTH. I didn’t think it was possible.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned this past year, my first year working for The Rescue Mission, whose mission is: “To provide, through the power of Jesus Christ, a home for the homeless, food for the hungry, and hope for their future.”

14650670_10153778882461573_435273107762062935_nLesson #1: Christian women can be nice, non-judgmental, loving people

Seems kind of obvious, doesn’t it? While I’ve known many nice, non-judgmental, loving Christian women, I’ve known far more who weren’t, especially in the workplace. My faith has been completely restored in fellow Christian women this year. Don’t get me wrong, we do NOT always agree. There have been tough conversations. Women have hurt my feelings. I have hurt other women’s feelings. But we have the conversations that are necessary to move past them. I work with the most phenomenal women. I couldn’t ask for better women to have in my life, and the example they set has improved my faith and my walk with God.

Lesson #2: Everyone thinks they’re an expert on homelessness

20170113_142108-1New ideas can be groundbreaking. But they can also do more harm than good. I’ve learned this year that everyone has an idea of how to “solve” homelessness. These ideas typically come from people who haven’t even spent any time with the homeless. The Rescue Mission, on the other hand, is on the cutting edge of everything related to helping the homeless. We feed them. We give them shelter. We welcome them into our programming and show them how to find real change. But most importantly… we talk to them. Every single day. Our organization has been doing so for more than 100 years. And yet random people in the community think they have better ideas on how to help the homeless.

Lesson #3: Enabling is everywhere

real-change-logoI learned early on that enabling the homeless to stay homeless is very prevalent in our society. I sort of understood, but didn’t fully understand until I had a conversation with one of our residents.

This gentleman, in his 50’s, explained to me that people in town were keeping him homeless. Because they gave him everything he needed, he could easily stay homeless without being held accountable for anything. He could drink. He could do drugs. He didn’t have to get a job. Luckily, someone from The Rescue Mission offered him REAL CHANGE, and he entered the program. He told me, “With those people giving me everything I needed, I would have been homeless for the rest of my life.”

It’s tough to hear, especially when people’s hearts are in the right place, but it’s true. The whole idea of “toxic charity” and “when helping hurts” is a real issue. If you want to help the homeless, direct them to a place where they can change their lives. Don’t put a bandage on the problem. Don’t keep them homeless.

Lesson #4: Because of the nature of our clientele, there will be heartbreak

“Relapse is part of recovery,” they told me early on here at The Rescue Mission. Still, that didn’t make it any easier when people you grow to love and have so much hope for end up relapsing. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

But the worst heartbreak of the year, for me, was when one of our older residents relapsed. He had fought alcohol addiction from a very young age. He lost everything because of it. He had been sober for two years at The Rescue Mission, and for some reason, one day he just left and didn’t say goodbye to anyone. This was heartbreaking for many of us. He was so caring and loved the Lord. But he left. And he relapsed, and it lead to his death.

I didn’t expect this kind of heartache when I started working here. In one year we had three memorial services for men who died. But what I do know about those men is that they loved Jesus. I know that each of them is now with Him. Their battles with mental illness and addictions are over. Praise God for that!

Lesson #5: God works miracles in the homeless

fb_img_1467557409741Earl. Kha. Doug. Samantha. Shannon. Robert. Aimee. Jennifer. Kurt. Derricia. David. Renee. Dave. Mary. Rose. Demetrius. Vickie. Megan.

Those are the names of either residents who have completed the long-term program at The Rescue Mission in the past year, or residents who have told me their stories for newsletters and videos. And let me tell you, to put it bluntly, these people have been through hell.

For some of them, ending up homeless came because of addiction. For others, homelessness was due to mental illness. And still for others, it was devastating trauma that left them homeless. Some are in their 20’s, others in their 60’s. But their stories, as brutal and heartbreaking as they are, have taken a turn. They each ended up at The Rescue Mission. They each learned a new way to live life with a faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe in miracles. When I see the transformation in these people, I am blown away that God is so powerful that He can take a woman who was once sexually abused by her own father and make her into an amazing mother with a job and a house. He took a heroine dealer and user and made him into a young man on fire for God. He took a Vietnamese refugee, who spent 20 years in prison for attempted murder, and made him into one of the hardest and most ethical workers at a factory in town.

staff-collageI can’t wait to see what next year brings. I know there will be heartache. I know that 4th quarter (our “Super Bowl” season) will make me want to tear my hair out. I know that I’ll probably grumble when our CEO sends me a text about work before 8AM on a Saturday. But I also know that God is using us to do His work, and I have never felt more purpose in my life.

I don’t have a husband, or children, or even a cat or a dog. But thank you, God, for my career and place of employment. I have never been so fulfilled.

“Look to the Lord and His strength; seek His face always.”
1 Chronicles 16:11

The homeless in our hearts

Sometimes I feel “homeless.”

Especially going into the holidays, I hear a lot of people talk about going “home.” They’ll visit their parents in a familiar house with familiar sights and smells, and it will offer a sense of comfort throughout the holiday season.

I have no home. Before the age of 18, we had lived in six houses and four different cities. Dad’s jobs moved us around a lot, and I didn’t really know any differently. Since then, I have changed my address 13 times, including two countries, three states, two dorms, and eight apartments. I am 34 and I’ve lived in 19 different homes. For me, home HAS to be “where the heart is,” since I technically have no physical childhood home to return to.

Although I sometimes feel “homeless,” I really have no idea what it’s like to not have a place to call home each night.

This week is Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Never before has this week been so important to me as it is this year. Twice a week I stare into the faces of the homeless around Fort Wayne. I know them. I talk with them. I laugh with them. They are real people. My heart has never hurt more for American homeless people.

Screenshot_2014-11-18-11-16-06-1
Breakfast is ready to be served at the Rescue Mission!

I’ll be honest. Some days when my alarm goes off at 5 a.m. and I have to head into the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission to serve breakfast, it’s the last thing I want to do. But I never, ever regret going. The people are so thankful for a hot meal, and I know that a lot of them are counting on me to be there. There’s one particular man who always spots me from down the hall, smiles, and yells, “Natalie’s here!”

But sometimes, when my bed is warm, and I know I could actually sleep in another few hours… it’s tough to get up.

Why do I still go? It’s simple. Obedience.

I remember being on a boat in Lake Victoria with some friends last year, heading out to the monthly jigger clinic we helped run in a village. The first few times we went, we took lots of pictures on our long journey to the village. But by this time, probably our 7th time going, we were less than enthusiastic.

“It’s all about obedience now,” my friend said to me. “It’s not exciting anymore. We do it because it’s what God wants us to do. It’s the right thing to do.”

She was so right. It IS the right thing to do, whether it’s exciting or not.

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the Lord against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake. For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’” Deuteronomy 15:7-11

Some homeless people are drunks and drug addicts. Many of them are sober. Most of them are super friendly and incredibly thankful for a hot meal. Their stories are incredible. Some have always lived a life on the streets. Some had it all- a house, cars, jewelry, swimming pool- and then lost it. But God doesn’t tell us what type of poor people to help, He simply says to help.

We need to help these people, not because they’re cluttering our streets and sleeping under bridges, but because God commands us to. So what can you do to help? There are three main ways:

Volunteer your time
Regularly. Not once a year. Not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas, but regularly. Most shelters literally have to turn volunteers away on holidays. That’s not when they need your help. If all you can do is once a month, then at least that’s a start. Sign up with your local shelter to serve a meal with your family or church group. Or do what I do, if you have to, and just go by yourself. Like anyone would, the people love seeing a familiar face, instead of random volunteers. By volunteering regularly, that is how you form relationships. That is how you make a difference.

Financial Support and Donations
I don’t want to bash national homeless organizations, but I highly suggest you invest your money in local efforts to help the homeless. Call your local shelters and rescue missions and see what they need. Maybe it’s just money to help pay the bills. I know the Rescue Mission here in town is in need of more cots, as the winter season approaches. Each cot is $65, and they need 46 more. Find out what the needs are, and contribute what you can.

Pray for the homeless
Their lives are a constant struggle. Whether or not it is their fault that they are in that position doesn’t matter. We have to pray for these people, who are loved no less by Jesus than He loves anyone else. Let’s keep the homeless in our prayers and certainly in our hearts.

If you need a little more motivation to help the poor in your community, don’t turn to blogs, Facebook, and motivational books. Turn to THE book and see what God says about it:

“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
be he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”

Proverbs 14:31RealChangeBox

“Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”

Proverbs 28:27

“A righteous man knows the rights of the poor;
a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”

Proverbs 29:7

“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?”

Isaiah 58:7

“If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday.”
Isaiah 58:10