On Sunday, May 22, I was invited to speak to members of Fairfax Presbyterian Church (FPC) in Fairfax, Va. as part of their “Change” weekend. Each year the youth of the church devote a weekend focused on a particular charity and do volunteer work and fundraising for that charity. The organization chosen for this year was Mission Muffins, the workforce development program I have been putting together for the past year. We began operations at the beginning of April and the willingness of the young people of FPC to help move us forward was very humbling.
Following is the text from that talk:
The Seeds of Change
Good morning, and thank you for honoring Central Union Mission and Mission Muffins by making us the focus of your ‘Change” weekend. I have been asked to tell you about the changes in my life that led to the creation of Mission Muffins.
We’ve all heard the Albert Einstein definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
I lived a very insane life for almost 40 years, constantly doing the same thing with the absurd expectation that something different would occur as a result. The only things I ever actually changed were my physical location and circumstances, constantly uprooting myself and my family to relocate to a new place with the intention of a fresh start with the firm belief that I would be leaving all my troubles behind.
Unfortunately, every time I arrived someplace new, there I was, and – as I would learn late in life – I was the problem I was always trying to get away from.
It wasn’t until I was lying on the floor of a shower stall in a cheap motel in south Florida in August of 2009, hovering near death from self-inflicted wounds to my neck, that the path to real change was suddenly revealed to me.
When I was out of options, and almost out of time, I whispered, “God, please forgive me,” and those four words opened up that path. While those were the only four actual words that weakly escaped my lips, those few words spoke volumes to the One who had been standing by waiting to hear them. Those four words were acknowledgement of my inability to live my own life; those four words were an expression of a need to release myself from the heavy burden of sin I had carried for so long; those four words were a plea for mercy, grace, and forgiveness; those four words were the words of surrender – surrender to a new life; a better life; a richer and more rewarding life; a life lived with a purpose other than my own selfish, self-centered, self-gratifying, sinful lifestyle.
Those four words were the words of surrender to change.
Many people focus outwardly to effect change, but real changes must take place within ourselves, and must come about as a result of our active, enthusiastic, grateful, and humble surrender to, and relationship with, God.
Change also means allowing God to bring new people into our lives in the most unexpected ways.
As a result of my sinful lifestyle of willful disobedience to God, I received a sentence of 57 months in federal prison, and it was in that most unlikely of places where the first people God would place on my path of change would be encountered. Like me, they were men who had been seduced by evil to a degree that had violated not only God’s laws, but the laws of society as well.
Those who were placed in my path had also realized what had been missing from their lives and together we encouraged each other as we allowed God to work within us.
Not all of the individuals placed on my path would be those who were actually in prison with me. I met a woman who befriended me early in my prison years who – with the help of her husband – would play a critical role in my relocation to Washington upon my release, and to the Central Union Mission where I have lived, volunteered, and worked as a staff member for almost 2 years.
For me, the seeds of change were planted when I asked God for forgiveness while I lay near death on that shower floor. Those seeds germinated as my case made its way through the judicial system, and they were watered and took root while I was in prison and began to grow strong and branch out. And the changes that began as small seeds planted in the soul of a broken man were now becoming identifiable and distinct.
A new life had grown out of those seeds of change, and that change continued when I left prison.
This past Friday – May 20 – marked the second anniversary of my release from prison, and tomorrow – May 23rd – will be the 2nd anniversary of my arrival at Central Union Mission.
Since becoming a member of the Central Union Mission family, the seeds of change which had been planted have continue to grow within me and I understand quite well what the Bible means when it tells us in second Corinthians 5:17, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! “
As each day passed in the Mission, I began to become more and more involved in the lives of the men the Mission was trying to serve, and in a matter of a few months, the Mission began to become less of a place I needed to be because I had nowhere else to go, and more of a place I recognized as somewhere God wanted me to be to serve Him and to glorify His name.
For my part, I had the Holy Spirit residing within me, and I was comfortable with the person I was allowing God to make me. I had discovered in prison that that was what was important, not the physical location or environment in which I lived.
While working on the kitchen staff at the mission, I met many individuals who were taking time from their busy lives to try and help effect change in the lives of the men of the Mission. I met people from Capitol Hill Baptist Church who would take me in as a member of their congregation and would give me the encouragement and confidence I needed to stand before 950 people, offer my testimony, and be baptized.
I met wonderful people from St. Brendan’s church who have supported the Mission in general, and myself in particular, with their friendship, kindness, generosity, and Christian love.
I have met wonderful people from New Hope church in Lorton, which was my sister’s church before she moved to Jacksonville last December with her husband and my nephew, but I still consider their Pastor and several members to be my friends, and I spent many wonderful Saturday nights in fellowship and worship there.
I have met kind, hardworking, engaged, and concerned individuals from Grace Covenant Church of DC who have become close, special people in my life.
And I was introduced to a group from Fairfax Presbyterian Church, led by Nancy White, who used to come work in the kitchen with me on the second Saturday of every month, allowing me to heap piles and piles of onions, carrots, potatoes, and other produce upon them to slice, chop, and dice. Well, the kitchen days are over for me, but not for them apparently, because a large group wearing Mission Muffins t-shirts came to visit yesterday and, in addition to putting together boxes for Mission Muffins, they cut up potatoes, carrots, and onions which allowed the kitchen staff to serve a much greatly enhanced lunch than time would have permitted without their help. Another group also helped sort clothes in our clothing room.
Nancy White was not in that group yesterday due to her father-in-law’s funeral, as you all know, but was instrumental in them being there nonetheless. When I contacted Nancy several months ago and told her about the changes that were continuing in my life at the Mission, she was immediately on board with words of encouragement and offers to help. Without people like Nancy, Mission Muffins would still be simply an idea in an old man’s head, but instead, it is a small – but growing – part of Central Union Mission’s new efforts to create workforce development programs that help change the lives of men served by the Mission by preparing them for entry into the workplace in various areas. Nancy has truly been one of God’s instruments of change for Central Union Mission, myself, and so many others over the years as you all know better than I.
The Mission is fortunate to have the support of volunteers such as Nancy and all of the others from Fairfax Presbyterian as well as all the other churches, offices, homes, and organizations who participate to effect change in the lives of others.
On a personal level, I am truly blessed and honored to have all of you placed in my path by our great God to work together to help change lives, learning in the process that the lives that are impacted in the most significant ways are our own.
Change is a wonderful thing when it is God who is directing the change. Keep making changes in the lives of others, and the changes within yourselves will never stop. Your lives will be lived more fully when you add value, through change, to the lives of others.
I appreciate this opportunity to be here this morning and I thank you for your time.