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Thomas Stops ‘Fighting With Himself,’ Embraces God

Smiling Rescue Mission Volunteer

Thomas grew up in South Oxnard with his mom and two sisters. “I was the only boy in the house,” he said. “I learned how to be a man from the streets. It was pretty rough. I was 12 years old and in a gang already, drinking daily, missing school. By the time I was 16,
I was already strung out on heroin.”

By the time Thomas was 18, he had his first child and had another at 20. He was then in an accident and was prescribed pain pills. “After that, I was nonstop on the drugs for a very long time. Come 10 or 12 years later, I’m still associated with gangs, drinking heavily, doing a lot of drugs, all the while knowing God.”

God had been in Thomas’ life since he was young because of his grandmother’s influence. “I was raised that way, so I always had that feeling that, ‘I know I’m doing wrong, but I’m doing it anyways.’ That went on for a long time.”

Twelve years ago, Thomas left his family. “Everything came crashing down,” he said. “I ended up on the streets. Everything was just a downhill spiral. I was doing things I shouldn’t be doing. I was going to jail. I had another child who was taken by CPS.”

But during a stint in jail last year, Thomas started reflecting on his life. He had met a woman and she was pregnant with their baby. “I was just thinking, ‘This is enough.’ I’d been in and out of programs for the past six to eight years, but I never took it seriously. I was in jail, expecting a baby, and looking at (a nearly four-year sentence). I got down on my knees and said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore, Father. Help me. What do I have to do?’”

Thomas ended up serving only three months in jail, but the judge was clear. “He said, ‘This is your one chance. If you run, if you do one dirty thing, that’s it.’ I knew I needed to make the right decision. I prayed, and I asked God to let me get this right.”

Thomas, now 45, decided to go to the Mission in an effort to stay out of trouble. He arrived at the end of 2018. His girlfriend, with whom he now has a 10-month-old, entered the Lighthouse program. “This place is awesome,” Thomas said. “I’ve never felt better in my life. I see my daughter every weekend. I’ve been so blessed being here.”

Looking back, Thomas sees that he’s been battling for decades. “I’ve been fighting with myself my whole life,” he said. “I’ve known the stories of the bible since I was a child. My grandmother would take me to church on Sunday. I know Jesus Christ—I just never really embraced him. A pastor told me one time: ‘You need to stop walking with God while holding the hand of the devil.’ It makes sense now. He’s my best friend. I have a relationship with him. I speak to him. I do what I can to hear him.

“Of course, I’m still trying to get better. I still say things I shouldn’t say, I still act how I shouldn’t act, but I’m not doing drugs and I’m not drinking—and I don’t want to. For 30 years I gave my life to alcohol and drugs and gangbanging, and for what? It’s given me nothing. It’s taken everything from me. I’m just blessed that the Lord has given me a second chance—a third, fourth, fifth chance—to get it right.”

Thomas said he knows he still has a lot to learn. “Even when I leave, I know I won’t be fully equipped, but I’ll be ready to face the world,” he said. “I’m just grateful. I’ve been sober for 10 months. That’s the longest I’ve been sober in the last 30 years. I’m glad that I’ve finally figured out that I don’t need to numb myself all the time. It was hard growing up without a father, but now I realize I had a father the whole time. He’s always been there. He’s always had my back.”

Thomas is planning for his future, and hopes to take the culinary training he’s received at the Mission out into the world. “I have plans, but I’m not going to get in the way of God’s plan,” he said. “I want to live just a normal Christian life. I plan on graduating and staying in touch with the staff and the men who I have met here. I know when I leave here, I’m not leaving here the same man. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for me. It’s going to be awesome.”

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