I left home when I was 12 — not in the literal sense of losing my home and family and being out on the street, but in moving away from my childhood home to a foreign country, which marked the beginning of a gradual process of alienation and a loss of the feeling of having an established "home" and "family" that I still, to this day, am dealing with the effects of.
I was 19 when I physically left my parents’ house, although I had left emotionally long before that, which I believe now was mostly due to my family’s spiritual disenfranchisement: the faithless agnosticism of my father and the divided loyalty of my mother between her husband and the Catholic Church. I was almost completely spiritually directionless, and I had few life skills or preparation for the real world, so when the rubber met the road, I was almost completely unprepared for the challenges that I would be facing in making a living on my own.
It wasn’t long until I found that I was really unable to be “on my own”, and that without my parents’ financial assistance, I would have been out on the street — and I was never far from it. When I did have a place to live, most of the time I slept on the floor because I had no money for furniture and barely enough money for food and utilities.
Along with this experiential and financial poverty came a paradoxical sense of entitlement that had been instilled in me by the Great American Dream: that I was supposed to have everything I wanted, that life would be easy and free, so why wasn’t it happening for me? I was unconsciously deeply resentful of not getting what I thought I was supposed to have and found it very hard to stay in a job for long. The kind of help and guidance I needed, especially of a spiritual nature, was absent, and after hitting the hard bottom of deep despair, discouragement, and disappointment, I was able to find Homeless Is Not My Choice ministry and I wasted no time in getting there.
It was more than just a shelter for the homeless, but a holistic healing/training program that worked to root out the causes of my emotional dysfunctions and gave me a solid environment in which to grow and bring out the talents that I would have in no way been able to manifest otherwise, due to just trying to survive. That was 20 years ago. Over time, due to the tremendous patience and love of dedicated ministers, I was able to gain new perspectives about life and what it means to have meaningful and exciting work, and to grow in self-respect and self-confidence. I was given the opportunity to develop my talents in music and technology in a way that I never would have had otherwise.
Most of all though, I was given a consciousness of dignity that had been lost in my early years, and I gained spiritual understanding of ministering to those in need. I have learned the value of sacrificing my own selfish desires for the good of others, and my children are raised with these high spiritual values. Whereas before I was in pursuit of my “self,” according to the values of the dominant culture, I now pursue things of eternal value, even the Fruits of the Spirit which are: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
My debt to all the staff and the Homeless Is Not My Choice ministry — who took me in and gave me a life to live despite my ingratitude, confusion, anger, and selfish entitlement — is enormous, and one I will be forever grateful to repay in service and love to all of those people who are in the same boat I was in, giving away freely what I have been given.