“I divorced in 2001 after 21 years. I waited 18 months before I even thought about dating again. My oldest daughter was already married and out of the house but I had my youngest daughter age 18, along with 2 of her friends, living with me when in October 2002, I decided it was time. I went looking for a ‘suit,’ thinking this would bring me the stability I was so desperately looking to have in my life. One night bored out of my head I went to Yahoo Personals (yup it was that long ago) and started trolling the ads. More than anything I was just looking for someone to talk with. I clicked into his profile and said ‘Hi.’ His response was, ‘Who is this?’ We exchanged words for about 20 minutes and made a date to meet for breakfast on Sunday morning. I made sure he understood it had to be after church, as I was on the worship team and Sunday was my weekly fix for peace and comfort. He kind of chuckled but said OK.
Sunday rolls around and we meet up, well after almost missing each other and chasing each other up and down the boulevard as we got our restaurants mixed up (that in of itself is another story). We spent about 3 hours together. He always told the story of how impressed he was with me because I came to eat! I had eggs, bacon, toast, pancakes, coffee, juice and hash browns. He always said he knew right then, I was his kind of gal. During breakfast we exchanged information about each other. It was an altogether pleasant morning. When leaving, Mike asked me something about church and I remember replying, ‘Oh! I couldn’t do my life without Jesus.’ We bid our goodbyes and went our separate ways.
When I got home my oldest daughter called and wanted to know all about Mom’s first date. I told her he was an extremely nice man but, yeah no. She asked me why. I told her, ‘I’m looking for a suit and he’s an ex-felon, an addict, an alcoholic, covered in ink, going through a divorce and currently unemployed. Yeah No!’ I will never forget her response. Without missing a beat she said, ‘Mom I think God has a different plan.’ After I quit laughing, I said, ‘we’ll see.’
At breakfast I learned that this man hadn’t gotten sober until he was 45 years old. He told me he had spent more than half of his life addicted, in jail or homeless. His first stint was actually at age 11 at the Youth Farm for boys. He had also served in the Marines for a short while as a very young 17-year-old, but spent more time in the brig than being a Marine. His crimes of course were around his drug addiction but that also included burglaries, auto theft, assault, and weapon charges. He told me, and his family verified, that he would disappear for long periods of time – sometimes years – and no one knew if he was alive or dead. All his life consisted of was getting that next shot or that next drink and he did whatever he had to do to accomplish that. He abandoned a son and a wife. He just didn’t care about anything but that next high.
I am not one to throw stones. I myself struggled with addiction, but when I met Mike I had about 14 years of sobriety. Still, he was just a little bit more than I wanted to take on. But God had other plans. On Tuesday I received an email from Mike asking me if I would share my faith with him. Sitting at my desk at work I must have read that email 20 times. I picked up the phone and called him. ‘Do you really want to enter this arena with me?,’ I asked. He said, ‘yes.’ He said there was something in my eyes and he wanted to know that peace. I promised to call him when I got home. We spent that night sharing my faith. Giving him scripture. Talking about my walk and journey. When we ended the call he asked me to come to his house the next night for dinner and I accepted.
At dinner I learned about his final breaking point with his past life. He happened by a friend’s house in the middle of a heroin bust. The police held him outside while they checked his information. Being a felon on parole, the very last place he was supposed to be was at this address. Mike was violated and sent back to prison. The DA also decided to charge him with the guns that were found on the premises. This made a ‘third strike’ for Mike and in California that meant an automatic life sentence. He told me sitting in his cell at San Quentin he began to say goodbye to all the things in his life he would never have again, or ever have the opportunity to have. Family, love, grandchildren to name a few. He figured he was going away for good. But God…
When Mike went to court his entire case was thrown out because the guns were not registered to him and therefore the judge ruled Mike could not be charged. He was released from prison immediately. He said he knew if he went back to his old stomping grounds, he would never make it. That it would be just a matter of time before he would be using again and running his old games. He took a deep breath and called his mother and asked her if she would let him come there. ‘You’re my only chance,’ he told her. After negotiating the conditions, Mike went home to his Mama. He also was fortunate that his brother-in-law had his own machine shop and was willing to let Mike come to work. Within a short period of time he had his own place and for all anyone could see, was on the right path. Addiction is a crazy disease. Addiction can steal everything from you. Mike was clean, working, and remarried when alcohol started calling his name again and he just couldn’t resist. He had no support system in place and his marriage was failing. One day he came to work extremely drunk. His brother-in-law told him he had to go. That he couldn’t come back until he was sober. Mike went home, got drunk, whined to his dogs, and realized there were no more bridges to burn. He always told me he decided his dogs deserved better, and that was what put him in a 30-day outpatient rehab center in Concord, California, which began his life of sobriety.
At the end of his story, he once again asked me about my faith. I asked him if he had ever heard of Promise Keepers. ‘I have, but why are you asking?,’ he said. I told him the conference was in Stockton and my church had tickets. If he wanted to go, I would get him a ticket from Pastor. Much to my surprise he said ‘Yes.’ The following Saturday, Mike rode his motorcycle to my church, got in a van with 13 other men – all strangers to him – and went to the conference.
Just so you all can keep the timeline clear, this was 6 days, just 6 days after meeting him. I was on pins and needles all day waiting to hear from Mike. I finally called about 7:00. When he answered the phone I could hear the difference in his voice, I swear to you I could. ‘I’m floating about a foot off the ground,’ he told me. I asked if he felt like company. ‘Come over,’ he said. Let me tell you folks, God works in mysterious ways. When Mike opened the door (remember just 6 days after meeting him) and I looked into his eyes, I knew I was going to marry this man. He had given his life to God and had made a promise to return the next year with 3 men.
While I want this story to be told about overcoming, more than that, I want this story to be about the man he became. We married in January 2003 just 3 short months after meeting. Mike never, ever stopped helping people. He could be talking with you about the Big Book (from AA) and I swear he could say, ‘well if you go to page 64 of the Big Book it will tell you…’ and then he would repeat it word for word. He attended AA religiously and seemed to always end up sponsoring the men who just couldn’t get sober and stay sober. But with Mike they would find their way. He encouraged everyone, he was gracious, he was kind, he loved.
The picture above is all about sponsorship. Mike’s sponsor is the first guy on the right, then Mike, then the next two are men Mike helped get clean and sober and the last guy is sponsored by the man next to him. Mike believed with his heart and his head that AA worked, if you work the program. He believed in sobriety, he believed in God, he believed in brotherhood, he believed in family.
He took on my daughters as his own. He took on my grandchildren as his own. He never once spoke of them as ‘step’ – they were his, and he was Pops or Grandpa Mike.
He rode motorcycles until his back wouldn’t let him anymore. He joined Sober Riders Motorcycle Club and continued loving and helping.
His road name was Believer. Such an appropriate name. He BELIEVED. In second chances, in God, in family, in work, in brotherhood and most of all, love.
He restored his relationship with his family. This picture is him with his sisters and cousins. Notice he is the only male sibling!
He became a bar-b-que expert and ruined me for life for any restaurant that claims to do bar-b-que. He could never have enough smokers.
Oh, remember that Promise Keepers Conference? The next year Mike kept his promise and returned with not just the three men he promised he would bring, but with 12 men! He bought every single ticket. He watched that day as every single man he brought made it to the cross and gave his life to Christ. I’m telling you, he was magic.
If you would have met him before 1996, you would not have liked him. If he was related to you, your family and friends would have told you to write him off as a hopeless case. He was someone, I, like many of you, would have avoided if we met on the street. His Mama never ever quit hoping. She never ever gave up. That doesn’t mean she enabled him, she just loved him through it all.
I tell people today, do not lose hope. No one knows what tomorrow will bring. If Mike could make it and become a man of substance, a man people looked up to, a man who was sought out for advice or friendship, then perhaps, just perhaps, your lost one can be saved too.
Sadly, my husband died in September 2015. That’s another story to share for another day. Even during his long illness, he touched people every day. Granted it was on Facebook, but he wrote about his journey with illness and death. He showed more grace, courage, and love in those 21 months than most people show in their entire lifetime. Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever lose hope and as Mike ended almost every post, ‘Be a Blessing to someone today.’”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Cindy McMurray of Idaho. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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