“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – 1 Samuel 16:7
We met Marsha on August 29, 2013.
We had plans to meet her at a restaurant, along with a local pastor who had gotten to know her over the years, share a meal and hear her story.
When she didn’t show up we decided to see if we could find her. We drove around the eastside of Flint hoping to see her. It was well worth it.
Marsha had a beautiful story to tell.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, we were informed of some very heart breaking news. Marsha, who we referred to as Stacey in a previous Flint Stories Project blog, was found dead in a vacant house on the eastside of Flint.
I would love to tell you that that’s not how her story ended. I would love to tell you she reached her goals and dreams in life like she wanted. But I can’t tell you that.
What I can say is that Marsha was worth more than her downfalls, more than her flaws and more than her circumstances. We walked away from our first meeting with her blown away by her spirit, by her hope, by her honesty and by her smile.
Her story can’t be summed up in only a couple of sentences. I encourage you to read her story here.
But I can say that her life wasn’t always easy. She didn’t always make the right decisions. And she didn’t always have a way out of that life. But she didn’t choose that life. She wanted more. She wanted to be clean. She wanted a less shameful, more fulfilling way to make a living. She wanted, for once, to go to bed at night feeling an overwhelming sense of peace.
I pray she has that peace now.
I don’t know the details of her death. But my heart breaks that her life ended like it did.
After our first meeting with Marsha, we had the opportunity to meet with her a few more times. We became a small part of her story, her journey. She was working on getting into a program to help her take the next step in life. She was trying to get clean and sober in order to take that step.
Still, it seemed that life was against her. But it didn’t stop her from trying. She wanted a better life for herself.
Hearing this kind of news is never easy. But we wanted to share it. We wanted something to come from it. We want the reaction to be something like “We can and should do better to help” rather than “Oh, it was just another homeless person.”
I hope we don’t turn our cheek to people or circumstances we are simply not aware of. There is always more to the story. We just have to take the time to listen.
Because it could just have easily been you, been me or been someone we know. Life is unpredictable. Life can take harsh twists and turns that we just aren’t prepared for.
I hope we choose to continue to find value in every life. I hope we choose to see past someone’s circumstances and see their heart, their dreams, their purpose.
I hope we take away understanding.
Marsha had a lot of powerful things to say when we talked. But two really stood out.
“It’s not that me and (Steve) want to live like this or choose to actually live like this, you know what I’m saying. If we could get a way out with work and guarantee that we would have a way to get jobs … the thing is I did try to get help for my addiction. I did go into rehab one time,” Stacey said will full sincerity. “But when you come out of rehab and you have no place to stay and you have to live on the streets, it’s kind of hard to do what you to make money without being under some sort of influence. You get tied right back into the addiction because it helps you get through what you are doing.”
I hope we take away grace and gratitude for what we have. I hope we aren’t quick to judge when we see someone on the street living a life we don’t fully understand.
Because Marsha’s dream was to live a better life than one on the street.
“Hopefully the future holds opportunity for me and (Steve) to live what we call a normal life. We’d give anything to have nothing to do but sit and watch TV, because at night we go to bed with no money and wake up with no money and have to start hustling as soon as we get up,” Marsha said in 2013.
We will always be thankful to Marsha for sharing her story. We are thankful for her willingness to be bluntly honest with us and to share her heart and help give us a better understanding of life on the street.
For that, Marsha, we thank you. May you now rest in peace.
That local pastor that introduced us to Marsha was Steve Gibson. We asked him to contribute to this blog, because he had powerful things, moments, stories to add.
Last thing he heard was that Marsha had recently cleaned up, had her teeth fixed and had been clean for a few months.
There will always be a hope that we could have done more. But right now we are simply trying to give a small glimpse of who she was, because she was a beautiful person. It’s our way of giving tribute to her life.
Here is what Steve had to say:
When I met her, she was walking alone on the streets of Flint…looking, desiring, hoping, and wishing someone would simply love her. Yes, she was looking for some kind of “Crazy Love.” Someone who would walk with her…talk with her….be with her….and fill the emptiness inside her. Someone that would not reject her and would tell her she was OK just the way she was.
She soon found a young man who would temporarily fill that void; his name was Mike. He had his own set of problems, yet together; they would take care of one another. They both had serious addictions; his came from the pain meds due to a serious sports injury, hers was to cover the pain of rejection, loss, and abandonment.
She wasn’t thrilled with giving me her name, until a second, third, fourth, and beyond visits with food and clothing…then she began to trust. Reluctantly she said, “My name is Marsha.” Mike would also open up as he realized my intentions were not to harm, but to help them both. I would finally hear her story for the first time while sitting on a street corner and eating a sandwich with them both.
Alone, no family support, depressed and lonely, she lost everything she had and would live the next years of her life on the streets of Flint, Michigan. The only thing that covered her pain was found on those streets…one led to the other until a drug so readily available and affordable for even her…she would sell herself to heroin. As Marsha described it, “after the first hit I was hooked.” There was no turning back. As time would go by Marsha would go in and out of rehab, but without family and/or friend support, once she would get clean, she would have no where to go…except back to where she was so familiar…the streets.
One hot afternoon, my daughter had made homemade sugar cookies and she and I went to find Mike and Marsha. I knew they would be grateful as they always were for anything I could do for them. We found Marsha between clients (Mike was out painting to make extra money); her skin was weathered from the hot sun, and she was in need of some personal care. I pulled up in my truck, rolled the windows down, and I watched my daughter hand her some clear wrapped homemade cookies with a cold bottled water. I will never forget her words as she said; “No one has ever made homemade cookies for me.” Things most of us take for granted was unfamiliar territory for Marsha. We soon left her and she would be on her way to work for the rest of the day.
There were many such events in my life with Mike and Marsha, but one would be particularly different! On this day, I found her on a street corner reading. I pulled up and realized she was reading the book, “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. We began to talk about this “relentless God” who cared for her. A God who pursued her; a God that had not turned His back on her; a God that would overwhelm her with His great love! In fact, He was more desperate than ever to reach Mike and Marsha. It was that day, after an awesome time talking and praying, that Mike and Marsha both accepted Jesus in their hearts (on a street corner). I would continue to see them struggling “in their world” to make a life for themselves. They would be turned down by one rehab center after another. I would make calls for them and the answer was always the same…”we’re full.”
In spite of all their demons, they always wanted me to pray with them and talk with them about the God who still loved them in spite of what kind of life they were living. I lost touch with Mike and Marsha as winter set in. They would go on a safari everyday to try and find a warm place to be. It was like “hitting a moving target” to find them. Then the day would come that I had feared…my heart broke as a friend sent me a text yesterday that Marsha was found dead in an abandoned house. As I write this, I still have no idea what has happened. I have not been able to find Mike. Did Marsha overdose? Did she freeze to death? Did a client murder her?
There are so many questions left nagging at my heart, but the one image I will have until I go to my own grave, is Marsha sitting on a street corner reading the book, “Crazy Love.” In spite of everything she has endured and been a part of, we serve a God that was crazy in love with her. Contemplate these words found in Marsha’s book:
“God is love. Crazy, relentless, all-powerful love. It’s crazy, if you think about it. The God of the universe–the Creator –loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. Does something deep inside your heart long to break free? Are you hungry for an authentic faith that addresses the problems of our world with tangible, even radical, solutions? God is calling you to a passionate love relationship with Himself. Because the answer to religious complacency isn’t working harder at a list of do’s and don’ts–it’s falling in love with God. And once you encounter His love, you will never be the same. Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything.”
Rest in peace my friend Marsha…your life has taught me many lessons!
This is the 11th story in the Flint Stories Project. Please continue to check back for more stories. Feel free to contact us at Flintstories@gmail.com.
Everyone has a story. We are listening.