If you've ever attended a 6 Stones event, you've probably met John Moody. He's the resident grill master, the consummate volunteer and the near-ubiquitous face at our main offices in Bedford. If there's a chance to serve, John is hard at work before the volunteer registration even opens. But it wasn't always that way.

A disabled army veteran, John returned to his native Mississippi after intensive back surgery and a Parkinson's diagnosis in 2006. It was the last deployment in a career that spanned multiple tours of service in the Middle East.

“This was my life! I didn't want any other life.”

“I was in a very dark place. Very. When I was still in the army, I had my C3-C4 fusion of the spine. May of 2006, while stationed in Germany,” John recalled. “Months later, the problems that I was having before the surgery came back. But differently.”

“On my birthday — August 26th, 2006 — I was diagnosed: very early stages of Parkinson's disease. I saw my entire career just disappear. Just be snatched from me all in a matter of thirty seconds. From there, it was kind of like I was lost; didn't know what I wanted to do. What was I going to do with the rest of my life? This was my life! I didn't want any other life.”

It's not uncommon for veterans like John to have trouble settling back in to civilian life. In his case, especially — discharged due to medical complications before his intended retirement — home was far from comforting. It was a place that felt like Plan B, a dangerously stagnant environment that lent itself to unhealthy rumination.

“They say an idle mind is the most dangerous thing in the world. Gives you that time to just think and think and think,” John said. “The most dangerous thing is an idle mind of a veteran who does not have a support system. He starts thinking about those things he went through. And that's what was going on with me when I got out, because I didn't know where I was going to go.”

“I had seen what happened with other veterans. They drink it away. They do this, they do that. I'm like, I can't live that way! My father was a victim of that. He was a Vietnam vet. He mixed his alcohol with his drugs. I didn't want to go that path.”

So he chose a new one.

“I was trying to find and understand my purpose.”

“I decided to just up and move. Out of thin air. The last Friday in March of 2012. Five o'clock in the afternoon. I drove from Jackson, Mississippi to Texas. I left at five and I crossed the state line at nine-fifteen that night… I was homeless, I'll say, for about three months until I found an apartment down in Hillside Village. That's when I met Mr. Felix Woods and he told me about one of the cookouts they were doing down at the park.”

“He put me onto 6 Stones. We ended up from there putting a little team of cooks together who enjoy the things that 6 Stones does,” said John. “We started doing that at all the events, manning the grill for 6 Stones.”

He's still here and grilling. And painting. And gardening. And gathering food supplies. Even before John came to faith in Christ through his volunteering at 6 Stones, he was filling his time with kindness. Something about this organization resonated with him, and we became a part of his self-imposed therapy of service.

“Everything 6 Stones stands for is how I was raised growing up, hearing it from my grandmother. 6 Stones is a nonprofit organization version of what my grandmother did when she was back in Jackson, Mississippi. One person, out of a 2-bedroom shotgun house,” he said. “The stuff I do with 6 Stones helps me keep her in my heart, and to keep going.”

But there was more than nostalgia at work in his heart when he began serving with us. There was a desire, a desperate search for something more. A drive that is common to all of us: to know who we are. Why we are. “I was trying to find and understand my purpose,” he remembered.

In that regard, John is no different from almost every other volunteer. There's a misconception that volunteer work is undertaken to fix a certain set of problems in a certain set of individuals. In reality, it heals us all. Each of us is lacking something, be it financial or physical, spiritual or emotional. But we're not just broken. Each of us has something to offer our neighbor, as well. Sharing ourselves with each other is what makes us truly whole.

“There've been plenty of times where it ran through my mind: I just wanted to give up. There've been plenty of times where I honestly wanted to commit suicide,” John confessed. “But I'm always proud to talk about where I've been and where I've come from to get to where I am now. I still got a fight to go. I've still got a battle to fight.”

Years of pouring back into the community, coupled with a newfound faith in God, have helped to soothe much of the emotional and spiritual turmoil that upended John. A combination of his strong will and excellent upbringing, alongside dedicated efforts to serve this community, have removed the sense of purposeless-ness and fear that darkened his life for years following his discharge.

“This garden makes me feel happy, even if I'm not out here doing anything. I look at it as my place of peace.”

John credits a host of people encountered through 6 Stones for that progress, but one in particular: Annette Lee, the woman who orchestrates and organizes every major happening in our Community Garden.

“She's one of the main reasons why I look at things differently,” John said.  “By the time I met Annette and her husband and Tricia [Moore] and her husband, I was about ready to give up. This was a waste of a trip, coming from Mississippi to here. But this garden? This garden makes me feel happy, even if I'm not out here doing anything. I look at it as my place of peace.”

Almost more frequently than you can find him behind a grill, you'll spot John Moody in the community garden. He is available for any and all maintenance, large plantings and small projects. No matter the work — indeed, even if there is no work to do — the garden is an essential part of his routine.

“It's a positive place. You don't bring your bad vibes to the garden,” John said. “I would leave it out in the car and I would leave the car and forget what I was upset about. Because this is a community here.”

“I'm fellowshipping with my brothers and sisters… all of us with the same cause, almost. Bettering our community through food.”

“How I am now is completely different from when I first got out of the army.”

In the military, John did plenty of grilling. He helped to feed the other soldiers in his unit by cooking for them. This is different. This is being part of the process from the beginning. Learning to grow and nurture a variety of foods that go directly back into the community through food sharing and the New Hope Center. Sharing that knowledge with others.

“I've learned enough — and I'm still learning — but I've learned enough to actually be able to pass it on to someone else who's here in the garden who might be new at it or hasn't done it in a while.”

The garden is a place for every kind of person imaginable. Master Gardeners, local families, volunteers from big corporations and men and women in their first year as Americans all work the soil together. It doesn't matter what tragedies or pain lay behind them, nor what challenges lay ahead. They are here to grow, to learn and to heal.

“How I am now is completely different from when I first got out of the army,” John said of his transformation over years of service. “I came to 6 Stones on a completely different path. But 6 Stones brought me in and welcomed me with open arms, no matter what… this is where I am now because of 6 Stones.”

“When I think of 6 Stones, I'll see not only an organization but a people who value the same love that Jesus had for us.”

John has been dreaming, lately, of beginning his own non-profit to serve veterans and young people who lack resources. Now a student at Brown-Mackie College, he currently operates a volunteer cooking crew, which he recently named “The Power of One” in honor of his now-deceased grandmother.

We take almost no responsibility for the way his life turned around once he turned toward God and others.

If you'd like to read more about the Community Garden and New Hope Center, visit the official Garden page of our site.
Video soundtrack credit:
Doxent Zsigmond / CC BY 3.0

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