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My friend Dan often talks about his father’s 1955 Ford Thunderbird — a beautiful, turquoise convertible. He showed me a black and white photo of him as a kid smiling in front of it. He looks happy. For years, Dan didn’t know his grandfather was an alcoholic. The story goes, his grandfather would pass out in the snow in front of their Michigan home and Dan’s father would be the one to get him into the house. If only all of our memories were like the Thunderbird and less like the burden of an inebriated parent. 

In the age of Instagram (or Instabrag as a friend calls it), it’s so easy to believe the friends and family we follow live only happy lives and are only making happy memories — meals are homecooked, dirty dishes don’t exist, and we’re all perfect angels who don’t lose our temper or sleep on the couch some nights. Let’s admit it, if Instagram was recording 24/7, we’d look a little more, well, human.

There’s a famous Bible story about a homeless man, which is usually something we know a little about at Visalia Rescue Mission, but in this case, he was homeless, naked, living in a cemetery, and was possessed by demons called, “Legion.” We don’t know how long he had been living this way, only that it was a “long time.” We do know, however, that this man at one time had a family.

When Jesus healed him, the man did something very interesting — he begged to go with Jesus. Jesus replied, “No, go back to your family, and tell them everything God has done for you.” 

What did the man do? He went “all through the town” and shared the news with strangers.

This story struck me so differently as I read it this last time. I immediately thought of the men and women in our programs. Their memories are filled with abuse or stealing from their loved ones. They are filled with regret for leaving children or dropping out of school. They’re filled with violence and incarceration. It must have been similar for the naked, homeless man. Why else would he beg to go with Jesus? And why else would Jesus tell him to go back to his family?

As I write this, four of our own residents will be graduating from our Life Change Academy an hour from now. If you watch their interviews on our YouTube channel, you’ll only hear from three, as one of them doesn’t want their family to know where they are. I imagine they can relate to the homeless man in Jesus’ story. 

Dan found a ’55 Thunderbird on eBay this week in need of restoration. I know little about cars, so I asked a friend who does and told him about Dan’s desire to restore it, paint it turquoise, and gift it to his father. He understood, but then showed me the other side of the coin: “Sometimes things are better left in the past.” He’s may be right in this case. You never know what memories would surface when that junker roars back to life. 

For many of our residents and homeless guests, they’re still living in the past, unable to forget, unwilling to forgive. That’s why we’re here — to walk with people through the restoration process and tell them what Jesus told the healed man: I know your past. I know you’re scared to go back. But don’t relive the past! Invite your family into your present and what God has done for you!


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.