A man named James: Becoming homeless saved my life

Wife’s death sent man into downward spiral; Place of Grace helping him up

By Amanda Thames
for the Place of Grace

EAST ROCKINGHAM — The life and times of a man named James begins with a love story.

Nearly 30 years ago, James was in his early 20s and met a woman named Sonya while playing pool at a friend’s house.

“When we started dating, she started cooking and I just kept coming back for more,” James laughed.

James admitted to being wilder in his younger days. He lived “deep in the projects” and felt Sonya helped ground him. Along with Sonya’s child from a previous relationship, the couple raised four of their own children. James fell more in love with Sonya every single day and, like most love stories, theirs was bound in love and built on a foundation of family.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com People don't become residents of Place of Grace Rescue Mission in East Rockingham for its luxurious conditions or extreme privacy. They come to try and get on a path towards a better life.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
People don’t become residents of Place of Grace Rescue Mission in East Rockingham for its luxurious conditions or extreme privacy. They come to try and get on a path towards a better life.

“She was my world,” James said.

Then, after 25 beautiful years, the unthinkable happened.

While at work one day two years ago, James was told Sonya had been admitted to the hospital after suffering a stroke. When he arrived, she was in a coma from which she would never wake up. James and his children made the decision to take her off life support.

“I said, ‘I can’t let her suffer like that,’” James recalled.

After Sonya’s death, James said he gave up on life. Sonya was his best friend, the one he spent most of his time with. He didn’t have a group of friends to rely on, he’d always just had her.

“I didn’t have nobody to talk to, I didn’t want to be around nobody,” James said. “I just went downhill.”

James remembers asking God why he took Sonya instead of him and said, while not in his right state of mind, he wanted to die. James took a knife to his wrists and stopped taking his diabetes medicine. He filled the empty void with alcohol, even once drunkenly walking the train tracks, awaiting an oncoming train, saved at the last second by a policeman.

He was living with family who were aiding his drinking habits when he decided to stop cold turkey.

“I got tired of drinking,” James said. “I wanted to make a change for myself.”

Now, James has nowhere to go but up. And he’s getting a helping hand from the volunteers at a shell warehouse building in East Rockingham.

Place of Grace Rescue Mission

In November 2014, the homeless shelter named Place of Grace Rescue Mission was created thanks to a combined effort of Place of Grace Tent Ministry and Richmond County Rescue Mission.

According to its website, “Place of Grace Rescue Mission positively impacts homeless men, women and families in Richmond County by meeting physical, emotional and spiritual needs.” Rita Gibson, secretary of Place of Grace, is extremely excited about the future of the shelter.

“Jesus commands us to love one another and when I see the work that individuals and groups are doing to help others at the Place of Grace, I see that love in action,” Gibson said. “I feel humbled and thankful for the opportunity to be part of that.”

Gibson spends multiple nights per week at the shelter and has gotten to know many of the homeless personally. She enjoys spending time with everyone there and hearing each of their unique life stories.

“Being homeless doesn’t make them any less human,” Gibson said. “[They have] the same need for love and compassion as the rest of the human race.”

Family first

James has two grandchildren, ages 7 and 8, whom he thinks of daily. In fact, they are the reason he’s trying to get back on his feet. They currently live in Columbia, S.C. area with their mother and he’s saving up to rent a car and visit them soon. Eventually, James plans to have a place of his own where he can live with his grandchildren so he can “give their mom a break.”

James is also currently learning to read and write. As a child, he had to drop out of school so he could work to support his family cutting wood. Now he said it’s difficult for him to find a job without these skills.

Gibson said they’re currently working on training programs to be offered to the homeless living at Place of Grace, which should help James reach his goal.

Even though some think being homeless is a worst-case scenario, James said he knows it could be much worse. Even now, when he has a couple extra dollars and sees someone in need, he gives it to them. He’s seen in the past how money affects others and doesn’t want money to control him once he has it again. He knows some say “you never know if they’re going to buy alcohol with the money you give,” but said you never really know what they want.

“You can’t judge people,” James said. “You never know when you might be in need.”

James said he does a lot of thinking at Place of Grace, remembering Sonya and wondering about his children. He does a lot of praying, thanking God for his life. He feels blessed and said God saved his life for a reason.

James believes most people don’t really understand just how precious life is, but after all he went through, he knows now.

Amanda Thames is representing Place of Grace Rescue Mission in order to raise awareness for Richmond County’s homeless by telling their stories. 

Previous Place of Grace coverage on PeeDeePost.com:

* Nov. 23: Place of Grace, Rescue Mission merge
* Nov. 6: Place of Grace moves out of tents, into building
* Nov. 3: RCC students donate to Place of Grace
* Oct. 7: Grace period for tent city ministry
* Sept. 21: ‘It works, it works, it works’
* Sept. 5: Volunteers spur opening of tent city


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