Soup, Soap, Salvation

Over 4 years later and Jeff’s words are still clear. “I never would have listened if you hadn’t fed me first.”

He wasn’t like most of the men who have come to seek shelter. They all come broken whether they admit it is another thing.

preach the Gospel Booth


There is no one type who comes. They aren’t all homeless as the assumption goes. Homeless only in that we’re the last stop on the proverbial block. Family and friends have tired of their empty promises or learned they can’t trust them not to steal and hock their widescreen t.v.

But Jeff had been living under a bridge. An overpass of I-95 to be more exact. He’d been out there sometime and I’m not sure what brought him to our doors. A moment of clarity, we say.

When we have an open bed and the most basic of criteria is met, men are accepted into our 6-month program. Most promise to stay but fewer than half will. We know that. We hope anyway.


Most of the time, the first thing the men will do after some filling out some paperwork is eat a good meal. We serve three meals a day to over 100 people each meal. Rare is the man who checks in and doesn’t gain 40 pounds during his stay. Rarer is the man who doesn’t need to regain some healthy body weight.

Serving FDNY during 9-11

Serving FDNY during 9-11



Upon intake, each man will get a voucher for clean clothes from our Family Store. He will be provided with all of his basic needs. A hygiene kit will be given so he can shave and have his own tooth-brush before the day is out he’ll enjoy a hot shower a be assigned a clean bed.

What person can give attention to instruction if he is hungry, dirty or tired.


There are no surprises here. Each man is made aware we are a faith-based program and there will be a Sunday chapel service and a bible study class he’ll attend. That is the extent of what we can require: attendance. Some will sleep through all classes including recovery groups. Again, we know but we hope.

Soup, Soap and Salvation is one of the early slogans of The Salvation Army. It continues to fit much of what we do, but it particularly is fitting to the Adult Rehabilitation Program. A program for men who have lost their way, often due to substance abuse issues, to receive guidance, purpose, meaning, and education to learn new ways to live.

Our desire is while they are with us they will come to a relationship with Jesus. We pray for them and with them. But our love isn’t conditional on their choices, just as God’s love for us isn’t.

SA poster


This year The Salvation Army is celebrating 150 years in existence. Often times, this week in May is celebrated as National Salvation Army week. I’m surprised I haven’t seen Willard Scott give us a shout out as he often does.

There is a lot to celebrate in that at the core of who we are, is this:

The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination. – Mission Statement

We can’t do any of this alone as it takes an Army to reach a village. This Army is mobilized in over 100 countries and we’re on wheels in the US (and many countries) to meet disasters with the first responders, serving up soup, soap and salvation.

For more information on beliefs and practices of The Salvation Army, or locations of service, go to

For the Wanderers

He was sitting crouched in a chair, the blue hoodie over his head. He stood to give me a hug as I walked toward him, this skinny kid with a talent for rhyme and a bent for drugs.

His voice is soft as always but the silence he used before gave way to quick words of It’s good to be back. It’s hard out there.

The night before we’d all sat in the chapel. I’d heard that maybe he’d come back and maybe that was him curled up on a cot, the 100th person in a 99 bed facility. Let him stay I said to Gavin. We know when anyone first comes in their body is a shell and their mind a sponge that has dried hard from the toll of addiction. He didn’t need a bible class. He didn’t need to try to make himself listen or sit up. He needed rest.

Our gathering that night was different. Rather than two bible study groups we joined together to recognize the Lenten season. For some, to learn what this kind of lent is and for others to be reminded of the symbolism. For all of us to understand it’s personal how we do this giving and receiving.

Some sat with open hearts and I suspect some sat with unwanted yearnings for the poison that wants to claim their life. The magic cure alludes them because it isn’t magic but it’s work and surrender which is a lot like work.

The closing song lingers, its words echoing in my mind from the moment I woke.

Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far

And he did. This wanderer whose face can’t even grow a decent stubble has come home.

He is just one but there are so many more. Some will come home to peace, to hope, and some will wander still.  But no wanderer is too far.

I’ve done my wandering and still do. I wander from gentleness and gratitude to cynicism and complaining. Both are equal poisons that threaten to steal what God wants me to have and to share. They won’t cause me to lose my family or a job like an addiction can but they can cause me to lose who God wants me to be.

Come sit at the table, come taste of the grace

I carry my burdens refusing to share and on days when they weigh me down I become that dried up sponge thirsting for grace.

It’s important to me not to think of how we’re helping these men who come through our doors but to consider how they are helping me. How alike them I am in wanting my will rather than God’s.

God uses the humble to confound the proud, perhaps.

We sit at the table together, he and I. This man-child who hasn’t given up. Who is ready to stop wandering. He has come home to grace and hope.

Discomfort Zone

He said it was out of his comfort zone. That when he came in for recovery he decided to do things that were different. It didn’t feel good but he wasn’t sure he remembered what it was like to feel good. The good that was healthy and lasted longer than the alcohol induced good.

He would try. He would try this day by day and it didn’t feel comfortable. It wasn’t anything he was use to. But that was the point.

comfort zone

I was thinking it might be nice to run away. Just me and him, my him, in that little place near a beach that lives only in my mind. Run away from emails from people wanting me to intervene for them, to put aside rules and override staff.

Messages I doubt she’ll remember she sent as its ramblings were surely written under the influence of something other than sanity.

Family wondering if we’ve heard from a brother who was once a part of this place but now has been out of contact for a few years.

This isn’t comfortable and I wonder if that’s the real point of ministry; to get a glimpse of how God must shake his head at our empty promises made with bold-faced words. Our profession of belief that turns cold when we realize more than words are required.

“Jesus clearly taught the twelve disciples about surrender, the necessity of suffering, humility, servant leadership, and nonviolence. The men resisted him every time, and so he finally had to make the journey himself and tell them, “Follow me!” But we avoided that, too, by making the message into something he never said: “Worship me.” Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk-free; actually following Jesus changes everything.” – Richard Rohr

The music washes over us soothing and embracing as hands raise with voices, this worship is comfortable and easy and this is loving Jesus, yes? Harmless and risk-free as Richard Rohr wrote. This is the kind of Jesus I want, the one who loves everyone and we all win because we’re singing these songs and feeling His spirit. In this room. On this day.

I’ve been wrestling for weeks now. Wanting to live in that last paragraph, the comfortable Jesus. I’ve been wanting to walk away and too many days have been going through the motions. If I’m brutally honest, I want out. Out of making decisions and out of living by others. Out of being places I’d rather not be, of going places not chosen by me.

And there it is: me.

He said it was out of his comfort zone. He would try this new way. It didn’t feel comfortable, but that was the point.

 “If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” Matthew 10:38-39, the Message

Linking up with Jennifer Dukes Lee to #TellHisStory

We’ve been revived

I reckon some would call it revival and in one definition of the word it would be.

Like a plant thirsting for water, when finally the watering spout tips into it’s soil, it’s leaves turn up as they are revived.

We starve ourselves, not from food as we seem a most glutenous group of humans we Americans. But we starve our souls from the very thing that lifts our eyes, our heart, our spirit. We try filling it with work, money, family, distractions and, yes, even church.

We know we are hungry for more but more of what?

There is a God shaped vacuüm in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus. – Blaise Pascal

This is what we thirst for. This the only one who can fill that vacuüm that has already sucked everything else dry and finding no revival, no life.

old-fashioned Salvation Army revival

old-fashioned Salvation Army revival

As a kid, revival meant spending a lot of nights at church. There would be spirited singing, hand clapping and, at times, tambourines shaking. The old people seemed to come alive and the kids….when your dad is the preacher you just learn the rhythms of meetings.

I can’t say as I especially liked revival meetings. But they seemed necessary to bring new folks in and shake up, or wake up, the regulars.

Oscar Roan  Oscar Roan



We haven’t used the word revival in years. But we bring a speaker in every year to bring new life to the men.

It’s not that they don’t hear God’s word every day.
It’s not that anyone outside of God’s own spirit can bring new life to anyone.
But there is something to be said for a different voice. A fresh word. That new flame.

Oscar comes to us every year. He travels the country speaking to other ARC’s, in prisons, youth camps, wherever the invitation is extended to share his gift of speaking, and he is gifted.

It seems just when we’re feeling satisfied and comfortable, this word comes to overturn our pride and call us to repent of our comfort and to bring a reawakening to our soul.

His words cut hard but are true. There’s no prosperity teaching from this man unless you consider the cost of God’s call to leave everything profitable. He reminds us this is the only profit we should want because it is all we need.

He speaks to the hearts of each one as he takes the story of Lot and his rebellion and makes it our story.

How Lot chose a life away from what he’d been taught and how God never abandoned him but gave him one and then two and a third chance and saved him when the whole city around him was destroyed for their wickedness. (Genesis 13-18)

His words are so plain when he doesn’t preach of an easy life but that “it’s going to rain” so expect it. And when it rains God is with us.

Oscars words are directed to the men but they are reaching every heart there and mine is pierced all over again knowing the bitterness that has been in my heart. Knowing the resentments I haven’t let go and knowing how this is like Lot choosing another way rather than God’s way.

There is not enough room in our chapel to contain the men who’ve come forward to pray and night after night this happens. The aisle fills up and they are clinging to the podium and to each other and we see the very spirit of God move in to restore life to our soul for we have been revived.

You’d be surprised

You would be surprised.

If you walked through the doors of our Center, the place called Adult Rehabilitation Center that sounds plain and ordinary like maybe it’s for physical therapy or something, but if you walked through our doors and see what we see, well, I don’t think I can explain it fully.

I wouldn’t have known before and I’ve been around this type of work most of my life.

Ft. Lauderdale ARC

Ft. Lauderdale ARC

The faux fireplace in the day room adorned for the holidays

The faux fireplace in the day room adorned for the holidays


Here’s the expectation: a homeless shelter, with homeless looking men (i.e. dirty, smelly, unwashed), sleeping on cots in a big room. At night they line up to be fed from a soup kitchen because, you know, we’re The Salvation Army and we have soup kitchens.

I’m not sure what the expectation is of the day time. Maybe that the homeless men just hang around outside or go hold their signs at intersections or loiter around convenience stores until it’s time to get in the soup line.

Alumni Sunday

An offering of dance in our worship service



visiting a nursing home

visiting a nursing home

Yes, you’d be surprised.

Surprised at the professional, college-degreed men who no longer have insurance to pay for the 28-day treatment programs and are looking for another chance at recovery.

Surprised at community that exists among these men and how they mentor the new men, helping them find their way in their first days.

Surprised at the level of care provided through the counseling staff and work therapy program.

Surprised at the cleanliness of the facility and how organized this place is.

Surprised at the brightness that has returned to their eyes and the smiles on their faces when they are greeted by name.

Surprised by their willingness to read scripture in a public meetings when they’ve never held a bible.

Surprised at the recovery meeting requirements for them.

Surprised at how we celebrate holidays, sobriety and every day.

Surprised at the number of family members who want nothing to do with them until they “fix” their problem.

Surprised how much they look like your brother, or uncle or co-worker.

Surprised at how God’s grace and love can change a wretch like me.

He Names Miracles

It is the ordinary that God turns into extraordinary.

The ordinary day, ordinary word, ordinary photo.

Every year we take pictures of the residents of our Center and hang them on the Christmas tree in the activity room. A simple grade school project of gluing the photo to a construction paper background, punching two holes to thread ribbon through and hang. I’m not sure why we started doing this. It just seemed to be a good thing, the right thing to do.

Often the men send the photo to a family member; a child, a parent, a proof of life photo.

This year we did it differently and their pictures were put side by side, staff mixed in with residents to fill in an outlined Christmas tree.

We put it in the most visible place possible. We wanted everyone to see the smiles and joy this collage of faces, including two dogs and cat, brings to everyone passing by.

We posted it to Facebook and the comments started with Carlos saying this was a tree of miracles. Miracles with names.

xmas tree of photos

There are named miracles in the bible, The miracle at the Wedding at Cana. The miracle of the bread and fish, Lazarus raised from the dead, the various healings: the blind man, the lame, the leper, the woman with an issue of blood, and so on.

Except for Lazarus, these names are impersonal. The names describe more the event than the person.

What makes a miracle?

reading scripture

“reading” (signing) scripture

Carlos M

former program graduates join us for worship

former program graduates join us for worship

Is it a drug that cures hepatitis C or cancer? Or Is it a drug that takes away the headache you’ve had for days with no relief?

Is it a little girl who walks away from a plane crash that killed her parents and sibling?

Is it finding your keys?

Are all miracles the same size? Big?

I’ve never known a person to have been healed from a disease in a miraculous way. Meaning, I’ve not known a person riddled with cancer one day and cancer free the next moment. I’ve heard others telling those stories but I’m not a witness.

I’ve prayed for that kind of healing, for family and friends I’ve prayed with an earnest heart for God to heal them and he answered no. No in this physical, earthly life.

Prayer walk on the new property

Prayer walk on the new property

Henry and the guys are Tebow-ing

Henry and the guys are Tebow-ing

Three years ago we walked the property recently purchased, land that will give us space to build an updated and expanded Center for rehabilitation, and prayed for every part. We prayed for the future, for the possibility, for the funding. The money needed is huge and I think to myself it will take a miracle for that so we keep praying. Three years plus, we keep praying.

Are miracles always worked instantaneously?

Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher, was called the miracle worker. She taught this deaf and blind girl to communicate. Not in an instant but over time, she worked a “miracle” and gave future generations hope.

I lean toward belief that God is the miracle worker. The only one who can do what is thought impossible.

Maybe I’m being too generous when I call them miracles. Maybe telling them they are miracles is a stretch. Maybe. But I’m willing to take the chance.



I want Dean and Matt and Steve and Sean and Johnny and Eric and James to know they are miracles. I want Mike and Chris and Art and Randal and Blair and Jeff to know what they tried to change in their strength was done in God’s power.

I want Carlos and Wilbert and Ramon to know what man can’t do, God can and he’s doing it in them.

I want to call His miracles by name and announce that our God is a miracle worker every day.

“Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.” Matthew 19:26 the Message

When we see His miracles, we see Him. He is tall and short. Black and brown and white. He has  a Jersey accent and Philly and he says Feliz Navidad as clearly as he says Joyuex Noël, Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah.

“The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish.” John 1:14 the Message

This God who is too glorious to be seen by human eyes, has made His word flesh and blood and moved into our midst. We tell of His glory that is around us. We pray you will see and know this Everlasting Father, this Prince of Peace, this Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Five-Minute Friday {welcome}

“Welcome. We’re glad you’re here. Not of the reason you’re here, but you’ve come to the right place.”

He said these words every week, every Sunday. He stood at the front of the small chapel, had every new man who had checked in that week stand and give their name and where they were from. Then he said the same words, week after week and every time, the words were true.

“We’re glad you’re here.”

There is little else we need to know about these men. We know enough. People don’t come to us because life is good. They come when our doors are the only ones that say, “Welcome”.

Ft. Lauderdale ARC

When I think about our task, the one that has our arms outstretched to others who’ve been turned away, when I think about that, I am overwhelmed. I know us. We’re ordinary folks. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. A lot of mistakes. We aren’t always kind in our tone and at times we have to say hard things. And I know, without a doubt, it is only God’s strength and grace that gets us through. It is only his mercy on us that extends to others sharing our need.

Alumni Sunday


12 Traditions play

What I know is that we’ve all stood in a place where we needed the arms of Jesus to spread wide and say, “Welcome.” Not once, but over and over he is calling that quiet welcome of peace  that will satisfy, that will calm our fears and ease our pain.

In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in. Romans 11:32 

Linking up with Five-Minute Friday hosted by Kate Motaung. Join the word party.

Looking both ways

There is one last celebration we’ll have with the men before the year ends. It’s one they are required to attend. It’s the one day out of the year no passes will be given. We gather them close to us, under our protective roof as if we can physically keep them from harm.

New Year’s Eve will be celebrated with music, prayer, games, food, laughter. We’ll light candles as symbols of His light in our lives.

It will be celebrated in sober fashion and this will be new for some.


We will look back at 2014 and peek at opportunities ahead.

This is a one day at a time program, a one day at a time life, so we will only look ahead at what can be when each day is lived taking the next right step knowing each day is a gift, not a guarantee.

The Salvation Army calls these New Year’s Eve meetings Watchnight. Watching one year fade into the next, mindful of the hope and promise a new year can bring.


watchnight 6839

We had a time of sharing Sunday. A time to give thanks for the start of new traditions, new lives, new hope.

“This was my first sober Christmas in 15 years. I have love for others because God loves me.”

“From an ex-crack head to a bank account all through God leading me in recovery.”

“I’m trying to walk a new walk but I still have old ways. I had the best birthday and Christmas….I have nothing but I’m happy.”

“Addiction is the only battle we surrender to and come out winners.”

“This is the best Christmas I’ve had since I was a kid.”


Their words humble me. They fill me with gratitude for a Savior who loves us, every one of us. A Savior who never gives up on us. A Savior who restores us, redeems us.

This is a hard time. We all know that. The holidays bring challenges for many of us. Grief is mingled with joy and when the gifts and decorations are packed away, when the family heads home, we are left in the silence. Silence that can envelope us like a thick fog weighing heavy clean through to our soul. The night that is silent but not holy.

Need God

We gather these men who know how to party and try to show them a new way. The new way that is needed in our lives too. One that doesn’t lead to destruction but leads to true celebration.

Will you remember our community as you celebrate this year? Remember these men in your thoughts and prayers, asking God to still their souls when they want to run. Pray for their families that there will be peace. Pray for their desires to be fellowship with God and not self-medicating. Pray we will be equipped to face the days that come with wisdom and grace.

This is the work of God and his Holy Spirit. While we are looking both ways, God is only looking at one: at what’s ahead in Him.

His gentle spirit

Advent’s Peace

It was the big bang. No theory here when it feels as if the very cosmos is bumping and smashing and whirling into itself. From Middle America to Australia to our very Center for care. Everywhere something hurling at us threatening to knock us down or at least suck the very air out of our lungs.

“What’s the theme this Sunday?” Peace, I say. Peace.

The air is thick with the irony of this. He half smiles and says, “That’s perfect. That’s perfect for our Advent theme: All this Glory.”

His voice held the slightest trace of sarcasm but more of him said this in convinced truth.

In the middle of our mess there is majesty

It has been a trying week and it’s like God, isn’t it, to prepare us for what’s to come. To allow us turmoil before a message of Peace? As if he’s asking us, really? Do you really know my peace?

We have struggled to feel this peace, the one that brings calm to our soul and spirit. But his words are true and He is Peace in the midst of this mess. He is the reason we say, All This Glory.

We made a tree of pictures this year. Past years we’ve taken photo’s of the men and hung them on the tree but we had a different idea. The kind that I throw out to Randal and he makes it better, makes it work.

xmas tree of photos

He painted the outline of a Christmas tree on the glass wall separating the main activity room from the dining room. A place where everyone would see. We took photo’s of the men and staff. Just casually walking around one day snapping them on my phone. We missed a few I’m sure and some staff declined. Then we filled in the tree with their faces.

men pg 13

page 10

Perry JOY


I took a picture of our tree of pictures and posted it to Facebook. A few of the men commented but it was Carlos who wrote, “All we got there are miracles and dreams come true.” Carlos knows because he’s one of those miracles. Over three years clean and sober, an encouragement to many.

Others joined in agreeing this is the Miracle Tree and so it is.

men's pics page 2

Because chaos and noise and friction and anger and fear can try to stop peace, they can try to prevent miracles, but the Rescuer has come. In the middle of a messy stable or messy heart, there are miracles and where there are miracles, there is Peace.

The Prince of Peace. Immanuel, God with us. Because, of course, He is.

Check out some of our activities during Advent season on our YouTube channel.

Our Right Jolly-old Selves

The countdown is on and pace is stepped up. The weekend was a whirl of busyness and it’s Monday already.

I’d like to say, “Stop. Just for a moment. Deep breath in, hold for 7, out for 8. Be still.” 

But I know better because I know me and I’d think, “Are you crazy?

So go ahead and get your rush on. Start your day feeling behind and plunge headfirst into a week that will spin faster and faster because, ’tis the season.

to you from me

JOY wreath

Before you do, bookmark this page because I’m going to share some jolly with you. Yes, jolly. The word only used at Christmas and most often when reading The Night Before Christmas.


employee xmas luncheon

Randall and Jenny

Tree topper made by Randall

Tree topper made by Randall


Here in our palm tree decorated part of the world, in our community of men trying to sort out life and understand what this season is really about, in the midst of life, we’ve been jolly. And we want to share some of it with you. Most of it in pictures.

Our nostalgia tree complete with working train

Our nostalgia tree complete with working train

Randall completed our program over 5 years ago. He works for us with the title of “Special Projects” which, in large part, means he’s my right hand man. He is responsible for all the decorations. A florist by training, he puts great care into all he does. He adds a lot of jolly along the way.

"My sweater's uglier." No, my sweater is uglier!

“My sweater’s uglier.” No, my sweater is uglier!

employee xmas luncheon


This year’s ugly sweater party looked a little like an explosion in the Christmas department at Michael’s. Then there was the After Party when I took leave of my senses or succumbed to peer pressure or just wanted to show I can be fun (when I choose and on my terms ;)) All I know is our store supervisor walked in with a box of new shoes that had been donated, shoved them in front of me and said, “Here, try them on” and a chorus of voices sang out in unison “Put them on, put them on!” So, yeah, I did that.

red platforms

Trying to keep my balance

Trying to keep my balance

Sitting seems safer.

Sitting seems safer.

And then Sunday, when we celebrated JOY in our Advent service and it filled the room and our hearts and we knew this Christ Child came to show us joy is what stays when happy is fickle, playing hide and seek with our emotions.

I want you to know joy can be found. Sometimes it’s jolly and silly and sings horribly off-key while touching the hearts of old people bed ridden in a nursing home. Sometimes joy is found among the animals in a smelly stable. And sometimes it’s found in a rehabilitation program at The Salvation Army.


Jolly ol’ joy for all who believe.

For a look at some of our celebration, check out our YouTube videos. I promise, it’s all joy.