Purpose and Sacrifice: Gracie's Story

This summer, I bought a 1983 Westfalia camper van. It’s a house on wheels — it has a stove, fridge, and two beds. It also needed $1,700 in repairs as soon as I got it and doesn’t have A/C. (Yikes!) In just a couple months, this van has provided this life lesson for me: It’s incredible what we sacrifice when we have a purpose.

For me, the purpose was to make memories with my family. My kids are at that amazing age where they are starving for adventures with mom and dad, and just the thought of sleeping with their siblings on the top bunk of our camper is enough to keep them up at night with excitement. For those we serve at Visalia Rescue Mission, a purpose is only as good as the sacrifice one is willing to make. 

I was reminded of this just this morning, as I listened to one of my colleagues and VRM graduate, Gracie, share her story with Visalia’s Breakfast Rotarians. It wasn’t the first time I heard her story and it wasn’t the first time I had to fight back tears. She shared her “rock bottom” moment from 2011 when her home was raided by police and an officer told her, “Take a good look at your kids. You won’t be seeing them for a long time.” While Gracie didn’t realize it then, this moment gave her a purpose, and she was willing to sacrifice everything to get her kids back.

Over the past couple months, I’ve had the opportunity to share some best practices of homeless ministry with groups throughout Visalia. We review the three categories that ultimately classify a person as “homeless”, address why we will never “end homelessness”, and discuss why “hand-ups” are better than “hand-outs”. While sharing again this morning, I was able to look at Gracie and thank God she came to VRM’s House of Hope upon her prison release, where she sacrificed eight months of her life for her one purpose: her kids. Today, not only does Gracie have a restored relationship with her children, but she has also grown in her relationship with the Lord — a relationship that began here.

There are amazing organizations and services available to the lost and needy in our community, and I am proud to say VRM is continuing to implement new policies which best serve the whole individual: meals, shelter, and life-change in our 12-month Academy. I am often asked questions along the lines of, “How can we help someone choose the hand-up? How can we encourage them to choose the help they really need?” Quite simply, help them hit rock bottom as quickly as possible.

What do you think would happen if those panhandling in parking lots and street corners stopped receiving one handout at at time (to the tune of $150 a day)? What would happen if a hungry person didn’t get “delivery” on that street corner and made a choice to visit us for their next meal? What would happen if a drug addict didn’t have that dollar to go buy their next fix?

Call us crazy, but we think people would quickly find another purpose. 

Gracie did — and it has made all the difference.


Ryan Stillwater

Ryan is a longtime Visalian — a graduate of Redwood High School and Fresno Pacific University with a bachelors degree in Christian Ministries. Intrigued by the partnership between the Visalia Rescue Mission and the City of Visalia, Ryan began putting his vision on paper as VRM's Oval Venue Coordinator in August 2013, and has sparked the interest of many throughout the community. Ryan and his wife Amy (a Mt. Whitney High School graduate) have been married for seven years and have three amazing kids — ages 6, 4, and 4.