Reference: Mercy Home for Boys and Girls
Many years ago, I spoke about a time when I met a priest who had MS, and his ability to minister and administer the sacraments moved me so much that after seeing him that first Sunday on his crutches, I swore I would never complain about my HIV status ever again.
I had to meet him, and to know him. Fr. Jeff became my spiritual director. Those were the years just after I had been diagnosed and I was facing many challenges and trials, the one thing that made the difference for me, I believe, was my faith in God and the men who led me on into life, from where I had been.
Fr. Jeff was a man of many talents and he introduced me to books. These books still sit on my bedside table decades later because they mean so much to me in my ministry to my boys and to the many who come to this blog. You will frequently hear me talk about Margaret Craven’s ‘I heard the Owl call my Name,’ the most important book that I always return to when I need spiritual direction. The other book, [pictured above] is a second book that changed my life. And it is a book that I take very seriously and from this book I have learned much in how I foster my boys and work in my mentor areas.
One day Fr. Jeff handed me this book, because I guess he felt that I was starting to see myself as an orphan, having been kicked to the curb by my friends and family. No One to Call me Home tells the story about the mission and ministry of the Rev. James J. Close, and his work with homeless and or troubled kids who happened along his path. I identified with many of the stories from the book, and in those days I needed as much help to find myself and my life as I could get.
Many of the men of faith that I encountered in those days always pushed me to live my faith and learn how to make wise decisions and start to build a life that would be a success, It seemed to me, in hindsight that that was what Fr. Jeff and the other priests of my parish had done for me. They helped me build a foundation, they fostered my faith life and my physical body. They asked me to pray and to come to church. Because that was where I would find God at the table. Still to this day the sacrament of the Eucharist is very important to me.
I had been sober for some time, and I was attending meetings in Miami, and the priests of the parish took care of my spiritual needs when it came to my sobriety. I had many issues that I was dealing with and it seemed this ‘orphan’ was as broken as many of the kids that wandered into Mercy Home. I needed to figure out how I was going to live, pay for food, and pay the bills on time and still have a little left over to get around. Life was a daunting prospect in those days because I was so sick for most of those years, yet I found the strength and the time to come to church every week, even if someone had to come and get me by car.
I was lost for a long time. And Fr. Jeff kept me on a very short leash and that was useful to me for many reasons. I never made a decision or made a move to do anything without having passed it by someone for comment or advice. I never took for granted the fact that I had a team of full time advisers to help me live. Many of my friends did not work to build this infrastructure for themselves, but I did. I do believe that had it not been for the men and women who were put in my path at the right moment, I would not be where I am today.
Last night I was reading from the book and I happened upon the story of Sam and the lengths he went to to erase every shred of his past by changing his name, and I chuckled because I did the very same thing – to rid myself of anything that spoke of my parents or their lineage. It was an attempt to start fresh without being tied to the past. I could not live up to the name I was given, and at that time, I was so sick, I did not want my parents to have any power to do anything to me, had I died. I did not want to end up in some unmarked grave, the dark little secret banished to spend eternity in a place they chose, so when I turned 30 that is exactly what I had done. That decision was surely one of the last nails that I drove into my father’s casket. There were a few more to come…
I may not have ended up in a home for boys, but I was surely living on the street with no place to go and no one to help me save the men and women I met during those years, who helped me find a place to live, that I could afford, I had medical care that was the best I could ask for. My doctors moved heaven and earth and I had access to every drug that came off the production lines. And most importantly, I had friends in sobriety that took taking care of me very seriously. A few of my friends had keys to my apartment and they would come and go as they pleased, David cooked, and Logan did the driving, and Jon was my spiritual connection to Church.
I had a lot of issues, and I was sick, and on the terms of family, I was on my own, because nobody wanted to know me from Adam, and that abandonment was a serious issue for the whole of my life from that point on. I have moved well past that stage in my life, and I learned about what was mine and what wasn’t mine.
Over the last 13 years I have learned a great deal about myself and about life. I keep returning to the books that were given to me because they keep me grounded and remind me of when I first began to read them and I can see, so many years later, the lessons that stuck for me and how these books have shaped the man I am today. And I reflect…
I knew what it was like to have No One to call me Home, in those years, even if I was much older that some of the boys that ended up at Mercy Home, but I had been through all of many of those stories from the book. Coming from an abusive home, having addicted parents who did their best, yet at the same time, they fell short of doing the right thing when it counted or mattered. I know today that parents are creatures of their upbringing and that children are subject to whatever upbringing that their parents had. Issues were black and white, there was no gray area.
I knew what it was like to grow up before my time, and finding myself in situations where I as a young child, found myself in the position of caretaker to my brother. I hated day care, and I would rather have gone home after school which is what had happened. My parents gave me a key to the house and my brother and I would come home after school, and this was when I was in grade school. I definitely was my brother’s keeper…
I learned how to cook, I learned how to clean and I learned how to take care of a home, I was a veritable Betty Crocker before I left my childhood. Was it the right thing, or the wrong thing? I had everything a child could want or need. The dysfunction came when my parents came home from work. Family was a secret, you never spoke to anyone what you saw inside your house to anyone else. I could identify with many of the kids in the book, as to what they had witnessed as children in their homes, except they ended up at Mercy Home, and I ended up where I had arrived when Fr. Jeff handed me that book and he said that I could have it. It’s the little things that matter to me today.
In those days, people with AIDS became orphans, because of the inability of many to be able to cope with the arrival of AIDS into their lives. Peer pressure and social gospel was a hard lined gospel. Over night, over a series of hours, families, relationships and partnerships were destroyed upon the news that someone they loved, knew or socialized with was diagnosed with AIDS. We became another segment of orphan children. I was 26 and I surely was not a man by any stretch of the imagination. But I grew up very quickly.
My years with Master Todd, came well before I had met Fr. Jeff. When Todd moved West and I returned to Miami in 1995, the priests of my parish became the next teachers, leaders and mentors for me. I went through many incarnations of self over the first ten years after my diagnosis. It took that long to learn my lessons, and build my boundaries. It took me eight years to find my ‘place’ in the grand scheme of things and in the universe.
From 1994 until 2001, I foundered in the great big sea. It was one thing after another, I was sick, but I was sober. That was a gift. I was lonely and the one I wanted to be with at that time, did not want to be with me, monogamously. So I made a series of really bad decisions. And they almost cost me my life. Lessons learned there for sure.
I got sober again in 2001, TODAY in fact is my SIX YEAR sober anniversary. December 9th 2001, Troy took me to my first AA meeting after my long suffering slip into the pit of hell. And I am sober today!!
I guess that is why I picked up the book, off the bookshelf and read it again, to maybe remind me of where I had been, as an orphan in a great big world. I had to relearn many lessons and I had to find my way into the world again. And it was fate and the hand of God who put me in the right place at the right time, to meet Fr. Jeff and be blessed to know him and be ministered to him. I have many fathers on earth, and I have a Heavenly Father in God, and I am still alive, and today I am sober by the grace of God and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.
This afternoon Ms. Nikki called to wish me a happy birthday, which was really nice. She gave me my medallion last Tuesday, she’s a great friend. I put the link to Mercy Home at the top of this post, if you would like to donate to their ministry. I just thought that it was important to mention this book to you because from it, I took learned many lessons on how to love and to be of service to my boys.
Being a foster parent or a mentor takes a lot of work. And it isn’t easy, but I think I have done a good job with my boys. You just don’t walk into a situation knowing all the variables and life on life’s terms can be daunting, but we have persevered and we have had success, and so I know today that Fr. Jeff gave me some very important tools to use in my life today. And reading is fundamental, sometimes a very small book, yields great truth and lessons in love and miracles. I know today that there is someone to call me home now, because I know what it was like to have no one…