This week, I had the privilege of encountering a group of people unlike any others I had met before. This was a special event, hosted by our partners over at Teen Challenge, and it was limited in terms of attendance. This Pastors Conference was, as the name suggests, primarily for pastors, church planters, and leaders in ministry. It’s an honor to be grouped amongst these pillars of faith, and my plan on this particular retreat was to take advantage of this opportunity and mine this group of leaders’ vast resources of knowledge and faith for any information, strategies, or nuggets of good advice that I might be able to apply to my work here at Serving California. What I received was far greater than what I sought, and that’s what I want to share with you here today.
I’m always looking for stories of faith and transformation, because miracles never get old, and God is always good. In this line of work, especially, we are surrounded by the miraculous to such a degree that it almost becomes commonplace. Almost. Talking with one such couple – Gus and Roxanne – initially seemed like it would have no place in any sort of discussion of supernatural events. We exchanged pleasantries and I asked Gus what his background was; a typical “So what do you do?” inquiry about his job. Gus said that he is a substance abuse counselor and this piqued my interest because, hey, it’s an interesting job.
Usually, people don’t go into the field of recovery for no reason, and Gus was no exception. He admitted that prior to becoming a substance abuse counselor he had been a liquor distributor with a background in marketing. He had also had a sizeable cocaine problem. He confessed that his wife, Roxanne, who seemingly inexplicably was sitting right next to him, had divorced him after he was arrested, and it was that arrest and stint in jail that led him to get sober, confront God, come into relationship with God, start a new career helping others and start a new relationship with his ex wife. Gus had called Roxanne shortly after his confrontation with God and his new life to tell her “thank you” for what she had done – for calling the cops on him that night long ago and forcing him to hit the rock bottom that catalyzed change in his life. Then they got to talking, started dating, and eventually got remarried.
This bewildered me, and I asked Roxanne what she had been thinking when all of this happened; when her husband essentially disappeared into addiction and ended up in jail. She said that, honestly, she wasn’t thinking about Gus at all during this time in her life. She was focusing on herself, and doing what she needed to do to support herself, her children, and stay sane. A rekindled love connection was the last thing on Roxanne's mind when her former husband called her up to say thanks, and this skepticism and “I’m taking care of myself now” attitude is what I immediately liked about Roxanne.
It’s also evidence of the supernatural at work in their relationship, and it immediately conjured to mind the scripture in Mark 10 - "What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." It seemed that, in this case, God was the underlying foundation that was going to keep these two together, even if they needed some time apart to fix some things before that could happen.
It’s so interesting to me that there are, all around us, these kinds of stories amongst our neighbors. And the cause and effect that's present in Gus and Roxanne's relationship – the "getting weak to be made strong" (2 Corinthians) can be the same cause and effect in our work. Our conversation concluded with Gus pontificating on the journey his life took him, all to end up here – in a new line of work, in a new type of relationship with his wife, surrounded by faithful people he never would have known before – and he said it better than I ever could. “Why is it,” he wondered, “that now I feel love for others and want to help people who are the way that I used to be? Is it ego? No, it’s because of what I’ve gone through. I’ve experienced the love of the Lord and now I’m filled with His love – and it’s His love that overflows, and it's His love that compels me to do what I do now.” It’s my great privilege to encounter the Gus and Roxannes of the world, and I firmly believe that together, we can do so much.