I love being a wedding photographer. It's incredibly rewarding, and taking pictures for such a special day in the lives of my clients is a joy to me. Sometimes, however, you want more variety as a photographer, and I've been itching to try my hand at something different. The idea came a few months ago to start capturing and sharing stories of the people around me through photography. Everyone has a story, and I believe they are meant to be shared, from the youngest to the oldest. As this idea began to grow, I wasn't sure what or who to start with. My friend, George, is a member of our church in Sudbury. One Sunday, he was sitting in front of me, and I couldn't help but watch him worship. He has shared his incredible story with me before, but I wanted others to hear it. A lightbulb came on. George would be the first person whose story I would feature! I presented the idea to Kristin and she was immediately on board. We planned that I would photograph the person while Kristin ran the interview, and since she enjoys writing and sharing stories as well, there couldn't be a better match for this project. I would bring the person to life through pictures, and she would bring the person to life through words.
That being said, below is our first story to share of our friend, George. Enjoy!
It was quiet in the halls of First Baptist Sudbury as we prepared for our interview. We found our spot to sit, grabbed a drink of water, and set up for our recording. In the back of the church, an older man walked through the glass doors. It was George.
This was my (Kristin) first time meeting George and I was excited about the interview, although I didn’t expect for his story to leave the impact it did on me. He has a deep but kind voice, and as we prayed before we began, I could tell that this – sharing his story – was something special for him too.
George was born in 1944 in Keystone, WV, a coal miner’s city. It wasn’t long before him and his mother and sister moved to Lynn, MA. His birth father was absent from his life growing up, and his stepfather was present but abusive in more ways than one. George didn’t understand why his mom never attempted to escape the abuse, and thus he experienced countless nights of crying himself to sleep. This was George’s environment up into his early teenage years. When he was 14 years old, his mom gained the courage to leave the relationship, and she sent George and his sister to stay with their grandfather.
George quickly made friends with his new neighbor, Leon. Little did he know at that time, Leon would be a dear friend for many years to come. He remembers the fun times they shared together, like when they decided to make some extra money by joining the nearby Episcopal church choir. George laughed as he reminisced and described him and Leon wearing those funny choir robes. In their mid 20s, they were the "dynamic duo" that was inseparable at parties and dance halls. George was known as the teddy bear; Leon, the ladies’ man.
When George was 16 years old, he and his family moved to Roxbury. He made a decision to quit school and work full time, his first job being a dishwasher. Roxbury was a change in scenery compared to where he grew up in Lynn, and one experience in particular could have drastically changed the course of George's life.
The day before his 18th birthday, as he was returning from work one evening, crowds of people and police cars were gathered near his home. He dropped off his things at the house and told his mother he was stepping out again to see what was happening. She urged him to stay at home, but curiosity was too great to keep him inside.
As he approached the scene, he noticed two kids in the back of a police car, and both began pointing at him. Immediately, with no knowledge as to why, the police took George into custody. He soon found out that he and his friend had been falsely accused of attacking and robbing a group of kids in another part of town. Arriving at the police headquarters, he underwent questioning from the cops and was held overnight. George spent his 18th birthday in jail.
Not long after, he appeared in court, and due to differing opinions between the victims, he was kept in custody for 6 more weeks before the next trial. Because of his clean record and the sovereignty of God, George escaped a 5-year prison sentence and was given probation instead. Relief swept over him. After spending those 6 weeks in prison, having been falsely accused of a crime he did not commit, he made the decision to leave Roxbury and go back to Lynn to live with Leon. As he finished sharing this chapter of his life, George stated, “When you think you’ve gone through a lot, you never realize you can go through a lot more.”
He and Leon soon found themselves living a lifestyle centered around two things: drugs and alcohol. This lifestyle lasted for 18 years. "I was running into hell," George said, as he described those years of his life. During this time, however, he was not only still able to work as a dishwasher but was also hired as a computer operator trainee. He completed his jobs with ease while at the same time working under the influence. To his amazement, he did not lose either job because of it. Looking back, it was the providence of God that kept him working where he was, because George was meant to meet someone that would change everything about his life.
After years of partying and drugs, he came to a crossroad in his life. His sister had become ill, and one day after visiting with her at work, he decided that life was no longer worth the pain and brokenness he was experiencing. George packed up his things and walked home with every intent to end it all. There he sat on the edge of his bed, making a hangman’s noose. Thirteen loops. As he stood up to hang the rope, however, he felt a strong resistance and something so real that he couldn’t move any further. He sat back down and wept. God intervened that day, although he did not know it at the time.
George went back to work and ended up getting help through a psychologist who worked with him through past and present issues. While the advice was helpful, it wasn't the cure. One day, however, a new trainee walked through the doors of his company. His name was Peter Higgins. As George began teaching the class for that day, suddenly a feeling rushed over him. He didn’t know how to explain it, and boldly he asked his trainees if any of them had experienced something like this before. With great conviction, Peter spoke up.
“I know what it is.”
“What is it?”
“I believe the Lord is calling you.”
George didn’t respond well to Peter’s answer, and frankly he wanted nothing to do with him or The Lord. Yet on April 30, 1982, he found himself walking down the hallway to talk with Peter…
- TO BE CONTINUED -