“I know that no matter what I throw at them, they are going to support me and love me and speak truth into my life.” - Laura, UGM Crisis Shelter
Tom and Debbie Davis are volunteer mentors at UGM’s Crisis Shelter. For a year, they served in the kitchen, led chapel services and provided childcare. That’s where they met Laura, who soon became their first mentee.
From the beginning, Laura had some tough admissions about herself.
“I did meth, heroine, alcohol and domestic violence. I prostituted. You name it, I did it. I got pregnant when I was twenty-five and used through my pregnancy because I was scared to admit I had a problem and scared I’d fail as a mom. My parents brought me to Anna Ogden Hall when I was twenty-four, I filled out the application and then I ran. And then when I was twenty-five, right before I got pregnant, I filled out the application again, sat through orientation, and then ran again.”
At twenty-seven, Laura went to prison. She says that’s when it clicked that she needed long-term treatment. “That’s what finally led me to UGM for real,” she says.
Laura felt an instant connection to Tom and Debbie. “I went into Program knowing you had to have a mentor by phase two, and I had mine by pre-phase. I asked them while I was still at the Shelter if they would be my mentors because I just really connected with them.”
They bonded over a particularly dark pot of coffee. Laura says,
“Tom loves Jesus, Debbie, coffee and horses. Debbie loves Jesus, Tom, crafting and coffee. I love Jesus, Tucker [her son], Tom and Debbie, and coffee.”
Tom says, “One reason we like mentoring Laura so much is because of who she is. She’s got a great personality, she’s a hard worker. We have to share hard things with her sometimes. We have to point out some things, and even if she doesn’t like it, she’s able to take it in and use it. It’s fun working with her. She’s got a great sense of humor.”
Laura says the three of them usually meet once a week and have regular, long phone calls as well. "It is so helpful to have them," she says. "Tom has forty-one years sober and that is something I can look up to. I get the spiritual aspect from them, and the recovery aspect. It’s an amazing combo.”
Mentoring at Union Gospel Mission is a profoundly impactful way to give. You’re not a counselor, you’re not a program facilitator, you’re not in a place to make decisions for a person. You’re just available, walking through life, sharing life, giving examples of how to have faith in all situations and how to live in community.
Tom and Debbie are a prime example of this unique role. They have welcomed a stranger into their lives and made her a friend by being vulnerable about their lives and available for her journey.
Their decision to mentor together is unique; not many have chosen to mentor as a couple. It also seems uniquely effective. Debbie has the female perspective and Tom has the male perspective. “I think it’s nice for Laura to see that there are men who follow Christ," says Debbie. "They may not be perfect, but they’re working on it and they’re committed to doing God’s will and to walking with him. They’ve struggled, but they’re on the other side. We’re open about our struggles. We’re not perfect. We share how people actually live. When she’s living day by day, she’ll have some new information to fall back on when it’s tough.”
Their partnership has also been impactful because of their different backgrounds. Debbie does not know the recovery journey as well as Tom does, and she sees the benefit in having both perspectives at their meetings. “It’s really neat to have the recovery person and the non-recovery person.”
Tom is grateful to be able to share his recovery journey. “I’ve been sober for forty-one years, and so I don’t struggle as much as I did forty years ago, but you still struggle, you get worried, you get fearful, you get angry. The difference is that I became a Christian thirty-three years ago, and that’s what makes the difference in the struggle, having Christ in your life, and you can go to him, and you can go to the Bible, and you can pray. I think especially with people newly in recovery, they can feel like the lone ranger, I’m going through all this stuff, and it’s really uncomfortable, I must be really weird. And we’re like, no we never get it all together, we get better, we get more mature, but we never get it all together.”
Tom worked for Spokane County Juvenile Court for twenty-nine years and was familiar with UGM’s Juvenile Detention ministry. His experience has helped both him and Debbie dive into their role as mentors with confidence. They didn’t get into it for the glory of it or for good feelings. They simply wanted to show Christ’s love to anyone who needs it (anyone and everyone).
“It’s easy to dislike people as a group,” says Tom. “The homeless, criminals, child abusers, drug addicts, the mentally ill, etc., but so often when you get to know people from these groups on an individual basis, you find them likable, talented and full of potential. You often see that you could have been in their position, if you had had their life. The folks at UGM represent all these groups, and through the grace of God, you find yourself liking them and loving them, and wanting to help. And what’s best is that through the power of God, you actually are able to be a small part of changing their lives.”
Debbie agrees and says she’s learned a lot about our guests. “A big eye-opener for me is that a lot of these women are struggling with their addiction, often smoking, having food issues a lot of the time, and since they’re not using drugs, they’re eating better and eating more, so they’re putting on weight. They’re quitting smoking, and they don’t have men.” She laughs. “We all have men issues. That’s a big struggle for a lot of them. They don’t have a home, they don’t have a job, they may not have their kids, and if they do, they’re learning how to parent them in sobriety. These gals really have every issue imaginable.”
For Tom and Debbie, it was this deep understanding of the challenges Laura faced that kept their hearts full of compassion for her when she called them on January 4th.
“On January 4th, I told on myself for a relapse.” Laura had relapsed on Christmas, and the weight of the lie had become unbearable. “That is my 'rigorous honesty' date,” she says. “I started to admit that I had lied throughout my program.”
Tom and Debbie took it in stride. Laura was back at the shelter on a time-out from her program. They said, “Okay, kid, where do we go from here? What are you going to do now?”
Laura says they suggested she read Galatians, Ephesians, and Philippians. “It talks about stealing,” she says. “And I suddenly remembered this time I had stolen $600 from my parents. And I wrote that down. I started to make a list. And the ball just kept rolling. That was when I really started to dive into God’s word. I made a list of the secrets that were keeping me sick, it was a whole page long.
"There is a sense of freedom in getting rid of your secrets. 100%.”
Crisis Shelter staff helped Laura find a job at Christ Kitchen, where she can work and earn a little money while she continues to learn how to trust God and her community with this new vulnerability. She paints a word picture of a little girl holding a balloon and then just letting it go. “Today, I am walking in a freedom I have never walked in before. It’s freeing to trust God. I’ve always been one to hold on to everything. I feel like I’ve been given the gift of letting go.”
Union Gospel Mission’s whole-person approach to addiction recovery does not focus solely on sobriety. It focuses on healing the wounds that may have made an addiction appealing in the first place. The Recovery program focuses more on healing the heart and mind than on the behaviors that manifest.
Laura’s journey may not be a straight line, but it is one where God is at work.
“Recovery is such a process,” says Debbie. “We laugh, we cry, we open up the truth about situations that were formally hidden. But really the whole mentor process is more about letting the Spirit guide us. Walking in the Spirit with Christ is the only way to do this because we are just not going to know all the truth, what to trust, what to say next. God is so faithful to help reveal the truth, give insight, wisdom and actual words to convey to our friend in recovery. It is really a process of layers being peeled off to reveal truth to our friend in recovery and truth revealed to us as mentors. Two steps forward, one step back. Then another step back, another forward. They build on each other for a completed journey. Our hope is in Christ for the one in recovery and for us as mentors.”
Laura is surprised and blessed by the reception she’s had after letting Tom and Debbie into her truth. “We still meet once a week. They never left! It was really hard to call and tell them, ‘Hey this is what’s really going on.’ But they’re not dumb, they knew. They’ve been around the block. I have not lost my parents, or my son or my sister, either. I feel more support now that I’ve gotten rid of all my secrets than I have before. They love me more! They are a huge inspiration in my life.”
“Volunteering is such a joy,” Debbie added, confirming that their relationship with Laura has not changed. “As Christians, we always feel so blessed when we feel the real joy from walking in the Spirit, walking with Christ, serving our Father.”
Tom and Debbie spent years dreaming of volunteering at UGM. They knew the organization well and had anticipated their retirement greatly, knowing they’d finally have time to really invest in lives. But Tom says he has still been surprised by the joy it brings and the significance of the impact UGM is making on the community.
“Being here, serving in this way, has caused my love and respect for this organization to grow immensely. We love UGM through and through.”
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