As I stood in front of the window in the shop, as I had done many times over the past years and decades, I watched my children play in the distance. Once again my addiction had taken me to a place of no return – one more cigarette, one more drink, a beer, one more line of cocaine, more hits of crystal meth and another drink of liquor. This was my life.
10 years earlier, I met a lady down at Claytor Lake, fell in love and got married. We worked very hard. We built a shop, built a house, took our family and blended it all together. But as we worked, my addiction continued to get worse and worse until finally the love was gone. The happiness we once knew had diminished into the dark with sadness. A beautiful area that we had once created and loved had turned into a place of doom, destruction and death. The destruction I talk about was that of the lives we had once had and the death was of a spiritual nature so deep that I could hardly breathe. As a result of this destruction our marriage would never be the same and we were divorced months later.
That night March 12, 2002 standing alone watching my family that I had not been a part of for many years, I asked God to help me find the way out. I made my way back to the house that night and asked my wife, as she lay sleeping on the couch with my daughter, if she could help me. I said I didn't want to be this way anymore. She told me to go to bed and she would see what she could do in the morning. I awoke to a phone number not knowing that it was The Life Center in Galax, Va.. I called it, was admitted and stayed for a 28 day treatment program. 28 days is not a very long time when your whole life has been consumed with addiction in one way or another. For almost 30 years I had abused drugs in some shape form or fashion – drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana – the list goes on and on, but this time I was finally at my end. I had been throwing up blood for a good while and also passing it through my bowels. I was just waiting for the opportunity to die. Little did I know that I would be dying – dying to the old self and being born anew.
Not being able to read and write like others in my treatment group; I was very intimidated, but I continued on with my treatment and followed the treatment staff’s suggestions. I listened and worked very hard to do what I was told to do. But this time God did something for me that I could not do for myself (or would not have done): he removed my memory. I came to the point that I could hardly speak. Maybe I could put one or two words together, but that was really hard. I couldn’t even remember the way home, and I couldn't remember how to work on cars or small engines; even though that was the work that I had done all of my life. Nevertheless I was determined not to give up on my recovery.
One day I was struggling to read the “24-Hour A Day” book, which is one of our meditation books that we use in twelve-step recovery. It told me to go and give back what I had been given. I believed that to be getting a job at the Life Center. Fancy that – Michael Edwards counselor-assistant! – can't read, can't write, can’t drive their cars because of a ticket that I had on my license as well as being a convicted felon. Nevertheless it was God’s intention that I get that job. So, I guess they didn’t have a choice in the matter, nor did I. Not only was I blessed with a job in recovery, but while working there I was to rekindle a past relationship with a woman named Karen – a loving soul mate who has been a steadfast and supportive partner not only in our marriage but in the building and success of SOBER.
After a few months of working, they called me into the office and told me I could no longer work there. I had something that they called a barrier crime. I sold marijuana in 1979 and pulled a little time in jail. I had some probation but I had paid my debt to society. They said their was one way that I could keep my job. There was this guy in Charlotte, Virginia that had a barrier crime program, and if I would complete the program, I could get my job back based on his approval. So there I went.
What a trip that was to Charlotte! Remember I said I couldn't read. I was going down the road praying to God to find the road that I needed to turn on, but something happened;. and it was amazing. For the last 20-some years I had owned an apartment building on Pipers Gap Road in Galax, VA. Some of the people that I had worked with in treatment had asked if they could live there. The people that I work for said that was crossing boundaries and that I could not do it, but on this day God had a different plan. He spoke to me saying that I had a facility. Still being new in your recovery I wondered if I was hallucinating once again. I heard God saying that I have such a facility. but then I asked God what he meant. I found the road that I was supposed to turn on, and I arrived in town not knowing where to go. I was nervous. I looked at different signs and was unable to make out what they said. I pulled into a gravel parking lot. There was a guy who pulled right in front of me. I asked him if he knew where the office was that I needed. He said, “right over there is the office and I am the man you’re coming to see.” Once again God was doing for me what I could not do for myself.
The interview went very well, and in a short amount of time the guy said, “go on to work I'll send the letter. I think you will do fine in whatever field you choose to go into.” Headed back home on the same four-lanes, I had somewhat of a vision. I saw the faces and I heard the cries of the people that I had worked with before asking if I have a place for them to stay. Then I knew what God was talking about. I did have a facility. I had this old apartment building which was not paid for.
Without hesitation I went up to my mom's house to tell her what just happened to me on the road. She looked at me with disbelief in her eyes and said that there was no way I could pay for the building and do what I said that I was being led to do. Nevertheless, the building was paid off two years later. I stopped at the apartment building on the way home and told everyone there what my plans were for the future and that they probably needed to look for another home. I told other people at work as well as friends and family what I was preparing to do. I asked for help.
One lady gave me a book on incorporation. Remember I told you I couldn’t read. Nevertheless I struggled with the pages and continued reading the book until finally I came up with an idea. This could be a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. I figured if I did that, people would come out of the woodwork and give me money and help. Little did I know the ride that I was in for and what a ride it has been – the ups and downs the valleys and crevices. But once grandpa told me that the faith of a mustard seed could move a mountain, but you better take a shovel and a wheel barrow, So by faith alone, I stepped out
Soon after I started, Eldon Shoop and his wife, Shirley, called me up said as a result of them having sold me some property, there was something called property gains tax. So they were able to give me $20,000. That was the boost I needed. I started tearing out walls and changing things around the building. People began moving out. I knocked out the walls of the apartments, ripped up the carpet, took out the appliances and just changed everything .
One day Iwas pulling the nails out of the the boards that I had knocked down, straightening out the nails and packing up the boards. A guy walked in and said, “what in the world are you doing?” I told him that God told me. “what had built it once would build it again.” I still use some of those nails and boards to this day. .The next day the same guy came and gave me 11 boards and two 5-pound boxes of nails. That is pretty much the way it's been ever since.
Through great sacrifice from my wife Karen, my family, friends and myself, one man's vision given to him by God and the strength and the courage given by faith, enabled us to take a 28,000 ft.-square building and convert it into living quarters for 13 men in recovery. This also includes a small apartment for my wife and me, a large dining area and kitchen facility as well as a day room downstairs. The acre or so of land has a 24 x 40-foot picnic shelter on it now. There are also two large bird aviaries, horseshoe pits, a prayer garden and a meeting area. We have a resource center which is open to the public, complete with computers and printers, software and books.
It is amazing what God can do if we are willing to pick up our cross and follow his path. We have had the help and support of many churches in our area with donations, materials and hard labor – most everything that one would need. For the love of Christ we are able to touch countless lives.
This past year, 2011, not counting $49,600 of a technology knowledge grant, our budget here was around $57,000. Our total rent income would've been $60,000 if all residents could have paid. Instead we received about 27,000, yet all 13 bed stayed full. Over $30,000 was not received due to people not being able to find jobs and pay their way. Most of these guys have now found jobs and either moved on, are still in the house, or trying to grow a little more .
Four people were sent to us through some means of alternative sentencing. As a result of our program, we were able to save one of our counties $48,000 in fees that they would've had to pay the regional jail for incarceration. For three other people from another county we were able to save the public around $36,000. These seven guys got jobs, paid their fines and restitution, paid taxes to our community and our state and now have homes and are reunited with their families.
For the year 2011 this one facility, a gift from God to all of us, changed over 25 lives of men. Functioning on less than $60,000 of operational expenses we put back into our community over $110,000. We provide a meeting place free of charge for civic organizations, training coalition groups and many others. Thousands of lives are being touched and transformed through a vision given to this humble servant almost 10 years ago.
Thank you God most high for the grace and mercy you have showm this humble servant. Karen and I have worked here, lived here and built this facility one day at a time over the past 10 years with God's guidance and strength given to us by faith.