When Damon first came to The Vine, he was homeless.
He had been coming to the Laundry-Shower Ministry that meets in back of the church, and a friend from there brought him to church one Sunday. The Vine was meeting in the basement then, and Damon describes what he felt as he stumbled down those stairs, “I swear, the hair on the back of my neck just stood up – you could just feel God’s presence.”
It wasn’t his first time in church. A few years before, Damon had begun asking big questions about the meaning of life, and found himself seeking God. He started going to a church, but ended up leaving after they discovered he had addiction problems. He felt judged there, rather than loved, and he took a break from pursuing God altogether for a couple of years after that experience.
Even his family had given up on him… and he had given up on himself, too.
He expected this would be what the rest of his life would look like – drugs, sexual immorality, homelessness.
But when he came to The Vine, he had a very different experience. He was welcome. “Even though I was in such bad shape, and I was so lost in my addiction, nobody treated me any different there! I used to come high, tired, dirty, stinky – it didn’t matter. Everybody still treated me the same.” Far from giving up on him, “Everybody saw me so differently at The Vine – they saw me the way God sees me, and that helped boost my confidence and give me the will to fight. And that was just a huge thing. That’s what made me feel comfortable and kept me coming back – just that acceptance. They let me come as I was, and they didn’t try to change me or anything – they just loved me! That was just a really good experience of the love of God.”
He remembers the first time he participated in a time of communal confession, and how he looked around at these older men “who seemed so strong and tough” getting down on their knees, repenting; and he thought: If they can do it, I can do it.
It would be a full year of coming to The Vine before he began to see any desire to change his lifestyle. Suddenly, “I started wanting to battle my addiction – just out of nowhere. The closer I got to God, the more I read Scripture, the more I felt this urge to change… When I was so heavily in my addiction, it didn’t matter that I was homeless. I didn’t care, until I started coming to church.” But it wasn’t the rehab he went to four times, or the detoxes the church supported him through that made the difference. He can only look back and say it was God.
He says this desire just began to take hold of him “like an internal force”, and all he had to do was surrender. “That’s when change started happening - when I finally gave in and was like, ‘Okay, there’s no reason to fight this anymore – this is a good thing. It’s going to be a painful process, but I’m going to come out better for it.’”
Damon was baptized after a year of coming down those stairs every single week, no matter how tired or dirty. “Every Sunday, I would gravitate toward church. It’s like I would try to walk away, but I couldn’t. I had to go back. I had to be there, no matter what.”
And he began to notice a change. He found himself beginning to care about his body – realizing the way he was treating it was not how it was intended to be treated, fully grasping for the first time the risks he was taking. “Everything changed after I got baptized. I could just feel a transformation happening – like my thought process had changed. I started questioning what I was doing, why I was doing it… I started questioning everything… and wanting answers. And I didn’t find those answers anywhere but the Bible – it’s the only thing that ever answered the questions [I had].”
Growing up a self-described “privileged” only child, he feels that homelessness was a very humbling part of his journey, but that God used it to bring him to himself. “I definitely felt like a lost sheep before I came to The Vine… My family had given up on me. They thought that I was going to be homeless, and eventually I would hit rock bottom and come to my senses. And that didn’t happen - I just kept going and going and going. I didn’t find my rock bottom until I found The Rock…I could see God had his hand on me for my whole life, but it wasn’t until I literally stumbled into The Vine [that my journey really started to take off]… The church was very supportive of anything good I wanted to do with my life.”
“Looking back and reflecting on the dangerous kind of behavior and habits I had, and seeing that I could have died, many times… Any time I stuck that needle in my arm, it could have been the last time. And that is scary. And now in my moments of clarity, I look back on those times, and it’s like: there has to be a God.”
He says he’s still far from perfect, and still struggles in many ways; but he is now working, and no longer homeless. Sometimes, he sees others that remind him of where he was a few years ago - “I can see [them] questioning and looking for answers as well – and when I see things like that, it helps me, because it shows me growth.”
Damon is now an integral part of the Laundry-Shower Ministry team, and enjoys serving and continuing relationships with many he had known when he, too, was living on the streets. “I feel like I bring something to the ministry where if you [had never been] homeless, you wouldn’t be able to bring those experiences to the ministry. I feel that’s really helpful – I love being part of it. When I put on that nametag, I’m just really proud. Marsha comes to me for advice and with questions on how to handle different things, and it feels good that I feel like I have some educated input on the things she is asking me. It gives me purpose, makes me feel useful – and that’s just good for anybody.”
Reflecting on his journey, Damon says he took the hard way. He never graduated rehab, and took his own life in his hands more times than he can count. But he sees the Laundry-Shower Ministry and coming to The Vine as a couple of major turning points for him, in what he sees as his own personal, designed-by-God recovery plan. “I kept failing at the ways my family expected me to recover, so God made another way. They didn’t really think God could do anything - they didn’t think he could do what he has done the way he has done it… Things could have gone terribly wrong – I could have lost my life. But I didn’t.”
Now, he wants others to know: “No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’re doing, no matter how worse off you think you are, just come. Just come and be a part of it. You never know when that miracle is going to happen.”