Love Among the Ruins
HE got burnt out of his ranch home in Keswick, CA, losing most of his belongings and his two beloved pit bulls in the Carr Fire. SHE got burnt out from living in a dysfunctional living situation that left her vulnerable to a local Redding gang that ransacked her trailer five times.
They both would meet at the Mission where God would soon unfold a plan for their future that neither of them expected…including being adopted into a big, all-enveloping family.
At 3:00 am, on a smokey, sweltering morning, David Huntington loaded what was left of his belongings into the one car that was left on the property after the Carr fire incinerated everything—including his truck and his two pit pulls.
Fortunately, no humans perished that day. He tries not to think about the fate of his beloved dogs, Bruno and Missy.
David’s loss was profound. He had called the sprawling ranch where he had worked as a caretaker for eight years, home. He considered his time at the ranch his second chance in life after years of substance abuse and related criminal behavior landed him behind bars for a combined 15 years.
Early on during his addiction years, he told his ex-wife, who by then had managed to free herself of her own meth addiction, “Please, take the girls and go and give them a life.” His ex-wife did just that, marrying a Navy officer who would give them the stability they needed…and a future. It was a bittersweet moment for the man who had always wanted to be a good father but was derailed in that desire by his addiction.
Three years after the fire, The Mission gave David a chance—call it his third chance—to start over. While there, he renewed his relationship with God and found something else he didn’t quite expect: the love of a good woman. He lived out his newly kindled faith in the only way he knew: by serving others. For him, it was just a natural outgrowth of the deep gratitude he felt…towards God, and the Mission. “I’m not quite a full-blown believer yet,” he says almost apologetically. “I mean I still cuss, I still smoke but I know now I’m just not here for myself. I’m here to help people. And it’s what I’ve been doing at The Mission.”
Cathi’s story is a convoluted one. Complicated might be a better word for it. Which is understandable when you’re a single mom raising 11 children, many of whom have led troubled lives, including drug addiction, molestation, and domestic violence. (Two of her sons died—one as an infant of crib death and the other right after being released from prison. The third son is still incarcerated for a crime to heinous to talk about.)
In dysfunctional families, all too often Mom finds herself in the middle of the mess and, as such, she doesn’t always know if she’s hurting or helping. Her own guilt muddles the situation and boundaries get blurred. Whatever the reasons, after her own children were grown, Cathi spent an additional 15 years of her life helping to raise her grandkids.
It wasn’t easy. After one daughter with whom she was living, went back to her abusive boyfriend, her daughter terminated her lease. Cathi was on the verge of becoming homeless. The Mission saved her from that fate, though her first go around there was challenging. It was a big adjustment for this mom of 11 who had always been surrounded—for better or worse—by family…working in a caregiving role for either her children or grandchildren. Suddenly, she found herself alone…surrounded by strangers.
Things went a lot smoother her second time at the Mission where she landed after yet another dysfunctional situation with one of her daughters.
As far as finding true love, well, that seemed to be an elusive quest for Cathi. In her own words, her “picker was broken.” After a series of failed relationships, she finally came to the point where romance was relegated to the back burner; actually, it had been pushed off the stove altogether. So, Cathi made a pact with God. From then on, Jesus would be her “main squeeze.”
Until, that is, she came to the Mission and met David.
At first, she and David were “just friends.” Then one day her burly, rough-around the edges male friend told her he was going to marry another woman at the Mission. As his good friend, Cathi was concerned. Everyone knew the woman “had issues” on top of which she had told others that she didn’t even love him. “He was such a good guy,” says Cathi, that it just hurt my heart to think he was getting involved with this woman.”
Suddenly, out of nowhere, the concern she had for “a friend” turned into something else altogether. Within 24 hours love was in the air—except for one minor detail: David was completely unaware of his friend’s amorous feelings towards him. It was time for some strategic maneuvering.“I had to chase him,” exclaims Cathi. “Because he wasn’t doing anything. Clearly, he was missing all the signals. So, I chased him, even though my girlfriend kept telling me, ‘Stop that! Let him chase you!’”
But desperate times call for desperate measures. There was little time for traditional courting roles. Cathi knew what she wanted and went after it…or him, to be exact. It only took a few days for David to wake up (with the help of a “little birdie” who told him of Cathi’s feelings towards him) at which point he realized that he felt the same way.
Within just a few days, he broke off the relationship with the other woman and popped the question to Cathi—in classic to-the-point male style.
“We need to get married…because I love you.”
The civil ceremony over, Cathi and David still wanted to say their vows publicly at the Mission—in front of all the good friends they had made among both staff members and guests.
After they exchanged their vows, the couple and their wedding guests tripped the light fantastic to Randy Travis’s Forever and Shania Twain’s, From This Moment On. Fitting songs for two people who had lived a hard and disappointing life yet were still able to find true love in their latter years.
As a wedding gift, a fellow guest made sure they had a honeymoon by collecting donations for them to stay at the Best Western for one night along with a dinner at Cattleman’s.
“It was our first time away from the mission in six months,” says Cathi. “So being alone with each other, being able to talk to each other and having the time together was awesome. And it means even more, because these people [Mission guests] had no money, yet they gave of what little they had to bless us.”
The couple’s deeply felt gratitude puts things in perspective for many of us whose idea of a honeymoon might be a little grander in scale. For David, finding Cathi was Providence shining down on him, erasing all the shame and pain of a life not particularly well lived. At least for much of it. As he unabashedly expresses, Cathi made him feel like a new man.
“She’s the woman that I’ve always wanted, declares David. “Up until now, I’ve been with bad women and they didn’t talk to me or conversate with me and here this beautiful woman just pops right up and loves everything I do. And she listens to me and understands me and wow, it’s just awesome! And I’ve always been looking for that kind of woman—a woman who loves me for me. I finally found her after all these years. That’s God.”
For Cathi, she found her knight in tarnished armor. A flawed man, but a good man. A man who has promised to be “on her like glue” for the rest of their lives.
“He’s a gift to me, too,” says Cathi. “Unlike a lot of men I’ve known, my husband doesn’t mind sitting right next to me or holding my hand, or nothing. Even when I was sick, he refused to leave my side. He really is on me ‘like glue’ and it’s a wonderful feeling.”
And speaking of glue, when it comes to having a dream, Cathi is a “material girl in a material world.” She’s what’s known as an “upcycling artist”—an art form that involves taking an old pair of jeans, cutting them up, gluing and sewing pieces together and then making something beautiful out of all that material. Just like God has done with her mismatched life.
Her dream is to have a creative coalition where women all sit together working on their individual projects—be it painting, making jewelry, upcycling old jeans, or whatever—while they talk about their lives, pray, and make friends. For Cathi, it’s all about making connections.
Making connections is something both Cathi and David have done in spades at the Mission. They’ve made many friends—both with fellow guests and staff. David now works part time at the Mission as an AARP-subsidized employee. He also continues to volunteer, as does Cathi. Anything the Mission needs, he volunteers for. Because he is grateful…so very, very grateful.
It wasn’t always like that. “You’re so down with when you first come, you’re so rough and you don’t know what to do,” says Cathi. You’re scared to death. You can’t think straight. And to have everything turned around for us like this…to the point where a staff member tells us ‘We’re your family now,’ well, it’s just, beautiful.”
Despite their deep gratitude for the Mission, and for the family they found there, Cathi and David had a dream—one that we all have had at one point or another, and that’s to one day have their own home. That dream came true when just recently they were able to purchase both a truck and a beautiful trailer to live in.
The Mission gave them both the time and the spiritual support they needed to get on their feet again…to regroup and build a life together—a life they might never had if God had not intervened to bring two lonely, disparate people together in a way that only He could do. As Cathi is fond of saying, “That’s so God.”