BEDFORD — The rush of cars along Industrial Boulevard is little more than a murmur in the serenity of the Community Garden. Dirt and leaves sail through the air as Marcus pounces onto an overgrown patch of soil, ripping unwanted foliage from the earth. Underneath the overrun trestles of the adopted plot, morning sunlight dances across the dirt as he shifts vines and upends weeds. In the span of an hour, a dense green heap of invasive mint gives way to rich brown earth, eager to yield a bounty of formerly hidden fruits. The cinderblock bed, which Marcus is clearing as a favor to another gardener, is not unlike the man himself.
Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Marcus made his way to North Texas by the path of the vagabond. Bounced across the south by a series of poor choices, potent addictions, and pernicious employers, the gardener once languished in abandonment. He’d been addicted, hungry, and homeless. He’d hated, feared, and worried. After two and a half years of volunteer work with 6 Stones, however, he’s more stable than he can remember being. Something good has grown out of the hard-packed soil that was his circumstance. Something deep-rooted and flavorful.
Marcus has found purpose.
“A whole lot has changed for me, even with my life, coming here. Everything — my perspective and everything — has changed. I have changed for the better,” Marcus said. “I feel like, if I can give this person some food, they won’t go hungry tonight. That’s my goal. I don’t want nobody going hungry. I know how it feels to go hungry. I’ve been there. I don’t want to see that happen to nobody.”
In the years he has served here, Marcus has learned how to care for others. More than that, he has learned that he — a man who owns very little — has something valuable to offer. By digging into the earth, embracing the dirt beneath his fingernails, and braving the sweltering heat and unforgiving sun of Texas summer, he has been transformed. But, as Marcus would gladly tell you, seeds don’t blossom overnight. The soil has to be made ready first.
Bad Seeds and Rocky Ground
When Marcus left Louisville in the 1980s, he did so under the watchful eye of his aunt. She had intervened in his erratic homelife to protect his mother from his addiction to crack-cocaine and heroin, and he willingly loaded himself into her car for the drive to Tennessee. It didn’t take long for him to settle into a new routine with new suppliers, however, and Marcus continued to grapple with substance abuse. In his own words, he simply didn’t care about anyone but himself. His family had tried and failed to rescue him, and he was well on the way to self-destruction. But then he met a girl and started a family.
“She’s the one who helped me get off of drugs,” Marcus said. “She told me if I didn’t get off of drugs, that she would take the kids away from me and I would never see them again. So I took all of my drugs and everything to the police department in Tennessee and I gave it to them. They didn’t lock me up, they wound up giving me a fine of $2,000. I wound up paying that, didn’t have to go to jail, and I’ve been off of drugs ever since.”
His battle began in that police station. He’s been clean for seven years and sober for two, but climbing back up from the depths of addiction is difficult and time consuming. The marriage would eventually dissolve, but Marcus credits his first wife for pushing him toward rock-bottom; the only place where an addict can think clearly. His wife threw out all of his possessions during one of his stints in jail, and he eventually moved away on a bet after their divorce.
“I had to leave a lot of stuff behind,” he said. “I left some of my family members behind. I left my Dad behind. I wound up having to go back for his funeral. But I love being here in Texas, now. I love it.”
The road to Texas was fraught with difficulties and desperation, and Marcus relied heavily on churches for support in the lean years that followed. His ex-wife had given him the motivation to quit the habits that had been killing him from within, but he knew that he would need something more to sustain him through withdrawals and temptation.
“God always plays a part. If it weren’t for him, I don’t think I even could’ve got off of [the drugs]. It took a lot of reading the Bible; going and just walking into a church and [sitting] down. I’d walk up to the pastor and tell him I needed help. And they gave me help, too. Everywhere I turned into a church, they would help me.”
Alone in The Lone Star State
Marcus and his daughter arrived in North Texas with next to nothing. His only connections in the area were his former in-laws, and he found himself trapped in the same cycle of poverty that claims thousands of men and women every year in America. Without resources, it’s difficult to obtain resources, and Marcus had left everything in Tennessee. When he quit his job at Cracker Barrel, he did so without realizing that he could transfer to a Texas location, and he soon found that local stores were unwilling to hire him because of the uncertain terms of his departure. Now a single parent, Marcus struggled to survive with a child in tow.
“Me and my daughter, we slept under a bridge for two years,” he said. “I told myself, after that, I [was going] to get myself straight with the Lord and get an apartment for me and her. I won’t sleep under any more bridges.”
“More than once, I have went hungry. I have ate stuff off the ground. That’s something that I’ll never do again; I hope that I don’t have to. As long as I have the Lord in my life, I won’t eat off the ground. I’ll eat out of His hand before I eat off the ground again.”
During his season of homelessness, Marcus relied on local food pantries to provide for himself and his daughter. The New Hope Center was one of them. He eventually found work, and even a fiance, but the relentless march of poverty continued to hold him back. Desperate for transportation and unable to renew his license, he was caught driving with a suspended license. Facing fines beyond his means, Marcus spent another brief season in jail before being sentenced to 120 hours of community service. 6 Stones offered to credit him with matched volunteer hours, shortening his sentence. So he came here.
“I didn’t know I was going to meet people that would touch my heart. That would guide me. That would show me things that I had never known,” he said. “Right then, I didn’t have nobody. It was just me, work, my fiance and her mom. We were going through problems at the time, and I didn’t have nobody to turn to.”
Knowing that he needed something, but unsure what that something was, Marcus confided in Hank, a volunteer counselor at New Hope. Their conversation led Marcus to understand that, while he’d known about God for a long time, he had never understood the core message of the Bible: that human beings are flawed, and that we all are in need of grace and rescue. Something connected for Marcus, and he determined to give all that he had over to the God who ransomed him from death and into life. Marcus trusted Jesus Christ, and transformation followed.
Seeds for the Sower
Once rebellious and addicted, Marcus became a staple of life at 6 Stones. When he wasn’t riding his bike to work, he was riding it here, to sort cans and plant seeds in the Community Garden. He’s so enamored with his work here, in fact, that he sometimes needs to be reminded that his other job has to take priority over volunteering. For a time, he rode his bike to work and to 6 Stones with comparable regularity. Now that he’s settled into an apartment and partnering with Community Ministries to serve his neighbors there, however, only Saturdays are reserved for his most sacred rite: a walk to the community garden, and a morning of tireless harvest.
“I love doing the garden. I love planting seeds. Because that’s what God wants us to do: we plant seeds,” Marcus said. “He plants seeds in us, so I’m going to plant seeds for Him, to give back to the community.”
“To come from not having nothing, to now — I’m getting to the point to where I’m having something — that’s a big change for me. And I give this place the credit for it… this place put me on the right path.”
“They push so hard to help people. I was like ‘why can’t I do that?’ And that’s what I started doing. Every day I come in here, I’m going to do something a little bit harder, to help someone in need.”
Marcus is by no means successful in worldly terms. He lives in a second-chance apartment complex, surrounded by others attempting to escape a history of poor decisions and paying an exorbitant rent for a one-bedroom at which most of us would scoff. But every night, he goes home and drops to his knees to thank God that he has a place to call his own. Even when he was sleeping on the floor with insects as his companions, his prayers were filled with praise rather than pleading. Each time he volunteers, Marcus goes home to thank God for allowing him to continue helping others, to keep growing hope for people who are fighting the battles he has won through Christ. His desire is that no one else has to spend a night on the streets or eat off the ground. He donates 100% of his crops to the New Hope Center.
“I’m not worried about what I don’t have. I’m worried about what somebody else don’t have. If I can do something to change their life, I have changed a person. I just love to change people. As I’m working on myself, why not help somebody else?” Marcus said. “I might not have everything that some of these rich people and stuff got, but I’m rich in my heart with Christ. And I’m going to stay that way. I won’t turn back.”
For Marcus, the goal is not to join the middle class. It isn’t to live in a nice home, or to eat lavishly. Marcus doesn’t need to “have it all.” But he doesn't need to. All he wants is to love God and love others, and his joy is found in that purpose. In that sense, Marcus is the richest person I know.