He's the one on the left. The first time we met Shane it was three weeks after Christmas. He sat down in our living room with a roughed up paperback of David Brainerd’s Diary that he kept turning over and over in his hands as though he was nervous, but I wasn’t sure he was. He wore black sneakers and black pants. Blake, a friend of our daughter’s, introduced him.
“He used to get me drugs,” Blake said by way of introduction. Rick had just put another log on the fire. We keep it going in the winter because it’s a drafty house.
I was reading White Noise for the third time and was at the part where a character named Heinrich is looking out the upstairs window with binoculars.
Shane leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, still flipping the book around. “Hello…” he said slowly, as though thoughtful about both syllables. It was obvious he was okay with silence. He was blond and confident, but then I wasn’t so sure, he was timid too—like he was trying to figure out what he was supposed to do.
Rick, motioning to the book, said, “Brainerd’s great. He gets tuberculosis and keeps going around preaching to the Indians. He sleeps on the ground in the middle of winter, coughs up half a lung, and then gets back on his horse to go preach more.”
“He gets the consumption,” I interjected. I had just finished Angela’s Ashes before I picked up White Noise and was having a hard time kicking the Limerick vernacular.
“Yeah,” Shane said, “I just keep reading it over and over, and the Bible.”
This was the first time we met Shane. He wrote a paper for a class that tells the story of how he met us, and it makes me really happy. His version makes Rick and me seem far too good, like we were glowing or something. We weren't glowing, but I will say that sometimes God just plain gives you love for people, and it's like an energy. When I feel this way, it can make me cry because it's so perfect; Jesus loving people through me. Here's Shane's story:
Meeting the James'
I have a story to share, but first let me give you some background. I’ve moved a lot. Growing up, I never really understood what home was, having moved 11 times by the time I was 11 years old. I have three sisters, no brothers, and my parents are together. For years I struggled with drugs and promiscuous living, hating God and hating myself. During some of my darkest moments, God came to me and revealed Himself to me—I realized that I had always gotten Him wrong and didn’t know it. After graduating high school, I was living in Pennsylvania (USA), and for Christmas I went down to Tennessee to visit my family. I used that time to get clean and really meet God. I was there for a month, and during that month I drew close to my parents. They love God, and I wanted to know Him better, so I stayed as close to them as possible.
I saw my dad reading a book called “Jesus without Religion” by a man named Rick James. I asked him about it and he shared with me that he had known Rick while living in Pennsylvania (that’s where Rick lives). He said that one of his regrets was not having gotten to know him better while living there. This made an impression on me—my dad was (and still is!) my hero, and if my dad revered a man that much, then he was certainly worth getting to know. I instantly had a longing to know this man, to be near this man. I can’t chalk it up to just riding on my father’s thoughts of Rick, it was as though somehow my dad talking about him triggered something deep inside me, something that had always been there, but asleep.
Now around that same time, my sisters made a Facebook page for me. I had always held off, didn’t want to subscribe to what everyone else did. But alas, they convinced me. As I was interacting on Facebook, all sorts of people I had once known really started reaching out to me, people I had hurt, people I had made fun of for their faith. This blew me away. God was loving me through Facebook!
There was one person in particular, Blake Goebel. He was someone I knew in passing. We would talk and be cordial enough, but never much more than that. I hadn’t seen or spoken with Blake in years. Our first conversation on Facebook went something like this:
Me: “Hey man, how have you been doin? Haven’t seen or heard from you in years.”
Blake: “yeah man it has been really long. I’m doing really well, I used to use a lot of drugs and wasn’t doing all that great, but I met Jesus and He saved me, I love him.”
Me: “no way man! I used to use drugs, just got clean, and now I love Jesus and he saved me!”
It was a beautiful instant connection. I don’t have any biological brothers, just three sisters. The relationship that was birthed via Facebook with Blake was instantly one between two brothers. Blew me away!
I was planning on going back up to Pennsylvania to get my things and say goodbye to my friends. My friends had always been my family and I needed to communicate to them all that had happened to me in the past month. I knew I couldn’t stay in Pennsylvania, too much of a bad foundation. I was scared to live there and I was scared to visit. I didn’t want to go back to who I used to be, I didn’t want to die… Blake, amongst others, was a Godsend. I needed people who cared about me like God did, who would look after me and have my back while I was up there for the two weeks.
As the time approached for me to leave for Pennsylvania I became very scared. I felt weak and vulnerable, but I don’t know if I’ve ever felt God’s presence more than I did on the ride to the airport. I remember thinking that the terror I was feeling was worth it if I got to be this close to God. Surreal, yet more raw and more real than anything I had ever experienced.
I arrived in Pennsylvania and my friends picked me up. I got back to the house and they had thrown a huge party for me . . . I was screwed. I did everything wrong. I smoked a cigarette. I shot up heroin. I slept with a girl.
I was so low I wanted to die… I had failed. I knew that God would have rescued me if only I had turned to Him and held on, but I hadn’t. I stayed up all night crying.
The next day Blake came over and picked me up. He knew I was a mess; I showed him the syringe. He just looked at me and loved me. “Well, we should probably get rid of that.” He took it from me and threw it away, almost with a smile on his face.
We drove around for a while, just talking and praying. It was awesome! He dropped me off and I slept well that night.
The next morning I woke up and had a candid conversation with God, which is really the only kind to have. I told Him that the plan was for me to be here for two weeks and then go back to Tennessee. I told him my logic and thinking regarding why this seemed to be the wisest option. Then I said, “Lord my life has not worked out the way I thought it would, and I won’t assume that my future will either. You know why I think I should leave, but I won’t assume that’s what you want. If you want me to stay I need three things. I know I need a new foundation—new friends and support. I know I need a new place to live. I can’t make it if I stay here. And I need a job. If you take care of these three things for me I will understand that you want me to stay, and if you don’t, then I’ll go back to Tennessee.”
Later that day Blake came over and got me. We drove around, as we had done the previous day, and then he asked me if I wanted to go to his girlfriend’s house. He told me that her parents had some weird open door policy and anyone was always welcome, that her parents were filled with love and were God-fearing people.
I knew Blake’s girlfriend, we had gone to school together for a time. Her name was Whitney. I said sure. He told me on the drive over that her dad had really been the instrument God had used to bring him to Jesus. He said that if it wasn’t for Whitney’s dad, he probably wouldn’t know the Lord, and that her dad was a wise man who saw people and saw their hearts. He spoke at conferences and colleges and wrote books. I was intimidated. I was afraid of what this man and his wife might see when they looked at me. I had so much to hide.
We pulled into the driveway and encountered a boy smoking a cigarette. This was Will, Whitney’s brother, Rick and Katie’s son. We talked for a minute and then Blake and I made our way inside. As you pass through one room and into another, it’s hard not to get the feeling that you’re in an art museum, or something like an art museum. Paintings were hung all over the walls, and pictures were artistically placed and put together to create greater schemes of pictures and designs. We walked into the living room. It was well lit with the same ambiance as the rooms we had already passed through. There were two people in the room, sitting with books on their laps, dialoging in small conversation with each other. I received a very strange, “well helllooo there.” I say strange because Rick’s tone is hard to communicate. Imagine a child’s voice, but in a man. Not childish, but childlike. A voice full of interest and innocence, love and joy—spoken so sincerely you could never initially assume it to be fake, only once your mind catches up with you do you start to doubt its sincerity because of how rare and unnatural to the world it is. Katie just looked at me smiling, her eyes kind of glowing a bit. Katie feels deeply but is more introverted than Rick. Her love is just as easy to see, it’s just communicated in a different way.
Blake said “hey” and sat down as though this was his own home; I was taken aback by all that was happening—this is not what I had expected...! Rick said I looked like someone. This would have been strange for anyone but me, I think. I look an awful lot like my dad, and I was told this often. I simply replied, “You may know my dad, I look like him.” They asked who my father was, I told them. It struck a bell but no initial recognition. We explored my dad's history some and it was quickly established that Rick knew my father, and actually had known him for quite some time, though Katie couldn’t yet remember him. At this point things actually came full circle. I realized that this was the Rick James my father had told me about while in Tennessee detoxing from drugs. This was the Rick James who’s book my father was reading, the Rick James my father wished he had spent more time with, the Rick James I had longed to meet and know. I was blown away! What was going on? I kept these thoughts to myself, although with great struggle, because my mind was simply blown away.
They asked about the books I had, there was a Bible I always had in my back pocket and a collection of David Brainered’s journals in my hand. We settled on David Brainered for a while. They asked about my reason for having his journal. I told them I was encouraged by his faith. He was young, had had an intense salvation experience, and I wanted to be like him. Rick and Katie loved that! If you don’t know who David Brainered is, he lived in the late 1700’s and was a missionary to Indians on the east coast of America. He died very young, before 30. Rick and Katie had visited his grave.
The topic of David Brainered led from his story to my own. Rick and Katie pried easily into my life. I say easily, because their care is profound, border-line super natural. I found myself just wanting to share everything with them. They didn’t judge me, they just loved me.
I must have spoken with them for an hour or two. Blake left halfway through the conversation and went out side to hang with Will and Whitney. Once I was done talking with Rick and Katie, I went outside and found Blake and the others in a loft type area located above the James’ garage. It was decorated with pictures, spray paint and tapestries, a miniature reflection of the home itself; a funny example of how kids are like their parents.
We hung out up there for hours, talking about ideas, theology, art, insects. Swapping stories and experiences, it was hard not to cry. It was safe, I could be me without destroying myself—I was accepted so easily without having to prove my worth and value… it felt like home.
Over the next two weeks I was at the James’ a lot, like every day. I couldn’t be there enough. Life back where I was living was still very hard. I felt so lost there. Almost like I didn’t know those people at all, my relationship with them exploited as fake and counterfeit compared to my new relationships at the James’ home.
Two weeks raced by me as though I was standing still. Before I knew it, the time was nearly over. I woke up one morning with only one more day before I was to leave for Tennessee. I talked to my dad and he wanted me to call him by 8 pm that night to line up the best way of driving down the next morning. There was a problem though… I didn’t want to go. I wanted to stay and be in this community that loved me so much, this home I had found, or rather had been given to me. But I couldn’t stay. I had no job and no place to live.
I remember talking with God, telling Him how I felt. After much wrestling about it in my own heart, I understood that He was telling me that He loved me, that He had brought me this far, and that I could trust Him with my future—He always knows the right thing to say. I felt peace; God knew the conditions I’d asked Him to meet and they were lacking, so I felt I had my answer.
I went through the day with so much peace. It was unreal, but I continued hoping, maybe God would lead someone around me to offer me a job or a place to live, but nothing happened…
I went by the James’ home that night to say goodbye and to pick up a book Rick wanted me to have. It was 7:30 pm. I needed to call by dad in half an hour. I was out of time and out of hope, my heart felt flat.
Rick and Katie called me into the living room. They sat me down and sat across from me, just beaming, in usual form. They didn’t talk for a minute, just sat there loving me, silently. Rick and Katie started talking about how much they loved me, what a blessing I was to their family and how great it was to have me around. I didn’t know where they were headed, most of the time they’re not headed anywhere, they just like loving people, but there was a point to this. Finally, Rick said that he and Katie wanted me to move in, to live in community with their family and to work with Rick, doing odd jobs and traveling with him when he spoke. I was speechless. I had given God three requirements to fulfill if he wanted me to stay. Initially, I hadn’t even wanted to stay, I wanted to get the heck out of the state. Not only had my heart changed, God had met every one of my requests 30 minutes before I was headed out, in a single action! I had a place to stay—with the James family. I had a new foundation—every Christian I knew at that time hung out at the James’ home. And I had a job—working along side Rick James! How did this just happen!?
I called my dad in tears, telling him everything that had happened, the conversation I had with God when I first arrived, the conversation I had with God that morning, and the offer the James’ had just made me. Needless to say both my parents saw the hand of God; they released me.
This story took place over four years ago. I stayed with the James family for a year. They loved a heroin addict back to life. I’ve moved away from them several times, but I always find myself back in their house. It’s the closest thing to a home I’ve ever had. This very moment as I finish writing this story, it’s in “Shane’s room,” located at the James’ residence, and Rick and Katie will help me edit this. Will is a brother to me. I travel with the James family on vacations. I spend every other Christmas with them.
There’s a passage in the Bible—Mark chapter 10—that states well all that this has taught me, and how what I have with this family reflects what I will one day find after this life is over. I’ll write it out for you:
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.”
I have certainly received 100 times more than I had before meeting Jesus. Jesus has saved my life, and given me life. I can’t help but be excited for what’s ahead!
Grace and peace.