It started with a phone call in March of 2008.
I was sitting in my office in Franklin, TN where I had lived for seventeen years. I operated the local branch of the largest privately funded mortgage company in the United States. I worked hard, had been very successful and won numerous awards and recognition by our home office.
But beginning in July of the year before, things had begun to slow down. There were rumblings within the industry and they became an earthquake. I had not closed a loan since October of 2007. Applications kept coming in, but fear had gripped the industry and loans simply weren’t being approved like they once were.
By March the decision had been made to close my office. I had been living off savings for almost six months. By May 2008…I’d lost my home.
This began a long, six-year journey through the darkest days of my life.
My daughter was ten years old when this happened. Her om and I had divorced in 1999 and I was content being a single dad and devoting myself to my only child. She was all the family I had, and I was happiest just spending every moment I could with her.
I had a modest house in the country, on five acres. We had a garden where we planted vegetables. On cottony summer nights, we chased lightning bugs and kept them in a mayonnaise jar in her room. We had two beloved Springer Spaniels – Bonnie and Cooper—and a precocious cat named Giacomo. I felt alive on those every-other-weekend visits and for the two months in the summer when she stayed with me full time. She was, and is, my world.
Yet in May 2008, the rest of that world of mine began to unravel. My daughter had a place to live -her mom had remarried several years before—but losing my home meant not having a place for her to come for the weekend anymore. Making matters worse, her mom’s husband had returned to his chemical dependency and my daughter was enduring horrors on an almost daily basis.
I couldn’t find work in Nashville and I couldn’t leave, because my little girl needed me.
So, I stayed.
Staying meant sleeping in my car, hidden behind a church on Franklin Road in Nashville. It meant showering at the county recreation center, and sometimes making a meal out of the sample kiosks at the grocery store. It meant working every odd job I could find and still not having enough for more than a tank of gas and a meal every day or so.
But I stayed because she needed me. Her life was a nightmare and I was the only barrier between her mom’s abusive husband and my daughter. So, I stayed.
I have been asked many times, how this affected my faith. Did I question God? Did I shake my fist at Heaven and curse under my breath? I’ve had folks ask me if it was somehow a mystical period of isolation with God, where I heard only his voice and drew closer to Him, like a mendicant. I’ve been told that I was being punished for some unknown sin and I’ve heard I’d been especially selected for a lonely walk with only God as my companion. My answer to all these is… “Yes.”
Yes, it affected my Faith. Sometimes for the worse, much of the time for the better. It stripped it down. It forced me to ask questions that I had always wondered about but never asked. It taught me about suffering. It taught me about gratitude. Mostly…it taught me that God will permit the painful things in our life because they so often result in our betterment. So much good came out of my six years of homelessness.
My daughter saw, beyond a doubt, that literally nothing short of death would separate her from her daddy. That no matter what it meant to me personally, or how much it cost me in terms of money or comfort, I would always be there when she needed me. Always.
I learned so much about homelessness. So much about what it does to a person’s soul. How lonely it is. How soul crushing that loneliness and isolation is and what it does to you long-term. Things I’ve used when I’ve spoken to other homeless men. Lessons forged in a fire only they understand.
I learned the truth behind one of my very favorite quotes. Something that Dr. Falwell used to tell us at least once a week when I was a residential student at Liberty University many years ago. He would say; “You do not determine a man’s greatness by his talent or wealth, the way the world does. But by what it takes to discourage him.” He sometimes said it this way: “You don’t measure a man by what it takes to knock him down, but by what it takes to keep him down.” I learned that it takes a lot to keep me down. During that six-year period, I completed my bachelor’s and walked across that stage to get my degree…while still homeless. I rediscovered my love for writing and have published six books now. I met one of my heroes, Zig Ziglar and have become friends with his family.
In 2014 I was hired by Liberty and I work here in Virginia now. My daughter lives with me and is a music major.
But sometimes I still wonder why. Why? Why did I have to lose my career and my house and six years of weekends with my daughter? Some answers I’ve found over time, but in my quiet moments I still wonder why.
I was thinking of this last week as I was pondering this article. I remembered a story from my daughter’s childhood. She was four years old and had contracted a strep infection on her skin. You couldn’t even see the rash, it was invisible. You could feel it, but just barely. It felt delicate but rough…like a kitten’s tongue.
She didn’t respond to oral antibiotics and the pediatrician was concerned and eventually they admitted her to Vanderbilt Children’s hospital. The course of treatment was simply going to be four days of IV antibiotics along with assessment by an epidemiologist.
Her mom and I took her in to Vandy around 2pm on a Monday afternoon. I was tasked with, maybe the toughest thing I’ve had to do as a dad. I had to hold her down while they inserted and IV needle into her leg. My daughter was and is a daddy’s girl and she trusted me then as she does now. She knows I won’t let anything hurt her. But that day…I had to. I had to hold her while she cried and begged me “Daddy make them stop” as they placed the needle in her leg. She cried. And her 6’ 4” 250-pound, college hockey player daddy cried too. But I turned my head, so she couldn’t see my tears. I had to be strong. I had to let her feel a little pain, in order to avoid the greater pain of an untreated infection.
I was thinking about this last week and it made me cry with each memory. But I suddenly thought how this was so much like what God had to do during my six years living in my car. He knew the plan, but I did not. So, when I cried out to Him; “Daddy make them stop hurting me…” He too had to turn His head and keep me in place until the process was through. I lost so much but then, I gained so much. Would I ever want to go through it again? No. But would I go back, and undo do it if I could somehow? I can say confidently…No!
So often we can’t see anything but the darkness we are trapped in, and we can’t see God working. We wonder why He isn’t making the pain stop or taking away the troubles. But just as I had to do with my little girl, He is always…only, letting things happen for our good. Even when they don’t seem that way. He is still our Father, He is only wanting the best for us. And, I believe, sometimes our temporary pain hurts Him worse than it hurts us. But remember…just as it was love for my daughter that made me hold her while she felt pain, it is His love for you that will bear you up and get you through to the day of victory. Trust in His love.