How Tough Love Saved Rasheed from Life’s Breaking Waves

It was just a normal day at the beach for Rasheed . . . until it wasn’t.

He was playing around in the surf when he was suddenly pulled under by a rip current. They tell you not to panic when that happens, but panic he did. He managed to get his head above water just long enough to yell for help. A lifeguard heard him, and did what lifeguards so.

“Saved my life,” Rasheed says today.

That’s a clear example of a life-saving moment. But sometimes the process of saving a life can take a while. That happened for Rasheed too, but only once he had made a decision:

Don’t fight whatever—or whomever—is trying to save you. Let them do their job, and go along with it. Fight it, and you just might drown.

That was true on Rasheed’s near tragic beach adventure. And it was true of his multiple encounters with The Union Mission, where Rasheed resisted our “lifeguards” more than once.

Rasheed’s troubles started in high school because of “some terrible mistakes, man.” He didn’t want to elaborate, other than to say he had some “legal issues.” And he burned bridges with his parents, causing a major rift in his devoutly religious family.

His dad decided the Mission could help his son, so he dropped Rasheed, then 18, at our door and said, “Tell them to find you a room.” It wasn’t the first time Rasheed would be the recipient of some tough love.

But Rasheed didn’t want any part of the Mission.

“I got angry! I got kicked out after two days.”

A lifeguard can’t save a drowning man who’s fighting back.

Rasheed’s scrapes with the law resulted in almost two years of jail time between the ages of 18 and 21. When he wasn’t behind bars, he worked a couple jobs, but then lost them. He messed around with drugs and alcohol. He had bouts of homelessness, sleeping on friends’ couches or outside on public benches. A few encounters were downright dangerous.

“It was terrible, not having a place to lay your head,” Rasheed says. “Outside in the cold and the rain, not knowing where your next meal is coming from.”

He tried the Mission again at 21, but he still wasn’t ready to get with the program. He again resisted the “lifeguards” who were trying to help.

“Got kicked out again,” Rasheed says.

At The Union Mission, we are overflowing with patience and grace, but we do have rules and programs to follow. And when some people are resistant, not yet ready to comply, they are lovingly but firmly asked to leave. Today, Rasheed readily admits he was one of those guys.

But the third time was the charm. Rasheed returned to the Mission a year later, and this time was ready to follow along … almost. It took yet another exercise in tough love to get him there.

One rule for Mission guests is that if they have an income, they are expected to save a portion of it with an eye toward getting their own place someday — to living independently. Rasheed had a job and was making money, but wasn’t making deposits into his savings.

It was time for some more tough love.

Rasheed says his case manager “got on me, and I’m glad he did, because I was still messing up….”

“I needed that discipline. So I’m glad he pulled me aside and got on me. It humbled me and built me up.”

That’s what good tough love looks like. It can be humbling and soul-building all at once.

As part of our David Development Program for young homeless men, Rasheed got his act together. He started working the program—and God started working in his life, turning things around. Rasheed earned his high school diploma and then, at his mom’s encouragement, he enrolled at Tidewater Community College to study civil engineering. He’s participating in a work-study program at the school and loves helping his professor and his fellow students. And he repaired the damaged relationships with his family, and says things are now “wonderful!”

Rasheed ended up saving enough money to start looking for his own apartment. The Mission helped him find a great place to live in Virginia Beach. Our team checks in with him regularly to make sure he’s doing well, and to keep encouraging him to follow his dreams and to live according to his restored faith in God.

After finishing school this spring, he hopes, Rasheed plans to enter the military, following in the footsteps of his father and older brother. “They served, so I figured why not?” he says. “I want to be an engineer in the Army, maybe work on tanks.” He’d also like to continue his education. “I want to go as far as I can.”

Till then, he’s grateful that the Mission was patient but persistent with him, prayerfully trusting that a day would finally come when Rasheed would no longer fight back.

“If it weren’t for the Mission,” he says, “I might be homeless on the streets again, making the same mistakes I made before.”

“I can’t them enough for that!”

— with Mark Moring for The Union Mission

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