By Tom Drexler
July 6, 2016 — The first Ignatian Spirituality Project (ISP) retreat for
those experiencing homelessness and recovering from addiction took place in
1998. Since then, we have heard countless powerful and transformational stories
from our retreatants. With the recent publication of "Stories of Hope" (available
on Amazon), we can now share these stories with the world. Our hope is that people will read and share this book far and wide (all sales go to cover the cost of producing the book).
Blending elements of Ignatian Spirituality and the 12-step
recovery program, ISP retreats are an effective resource in laying a foundation
of hope, community and healing for those living on the margins. By offering a
safe space in which to share their stories, our retreatants come to see that
they are not alone in their struggles, that they are loved both by God and by
those on retreat with them.
Those who can best attest to the power of ISP retreats are
those who have made them. Below are excerpts from evaluation forms that retreatants are asked to complete at the end of each retreat; these and many other powerful testimonials are included in the book:
The following story from Stephen Hopkins, a member
of our Washington, D.C., team, offers a powerful witness to the ISP retreats and God’s grace:
I grew up in the Anacostia area of southeast Washington,
DC. Coming up, I made some choices in life that sent me down the wrong path. In
that spiral going down, I got involved with drugs, and a whole lot of other
things that just led me to more drugs. My life was chaos. I’ve been shot three
times, I’ve been stabbed, and that still didn’t get my attention to stop using.
I continued to use more. I was in and out of prison, I would come home and I
would still use. I was on parole and I would still use. Just take the
consequences, send me back to jail, that was my attitude. All my life
everything I’d done was about self-destruction.
It took me a long time to finally say that I needed to
change. I came home from prison the last time, and I had made up my mind this
was it. I had lost everything, so when I came home I had nothing to come home
to. I went into a transitional program to continue my sobriety and move on in
my life. That really helped me because my thirst for change was there, but I
needed a lot more as far as my spirituality part.
The program sent me to an ISP retreat, my first retreat, at
the age of 56. The retreat experience was about serenity. It was so peaceful
there, which was something I really needed. The peace and quiet gave me time to
think of where I’m at and what I need to do with myself. The guidance I got
through learning to listen to other people, not trying to do it my way, it
helped me with all of that. The retreat opened my eyes up to show me that I was
right where God wanted me to be.
I came to realize that the presence of God in my life meant
a lot more today than in the past. The only time I would grab God was when I
was in trouble — “Oh, God, get me out of this.” Now I grab hold of God to take
all of that off my shoulders. When I can’t carry it with me, I give it to God
and let go. I don’t even think about the drugs, my lifestyle is changing.
When I first joined the ISP team, I was afraid to share my
story or lead a group, but then I realized that I was in God’s house. There’s
no wrong in how I do this. He’s going to lead me in the right way. That gave me
confidence in speaking to guys, and taking on my responsibilities. I want to
give back. This is my way of giving back. I just ask for God to lead me. I take
a couple of deep breaths, relax, and I let it flow. I let God lead. I don’t
drive anymore, I let God do all the driving.
Today I live a lot better than I used to live. I have my
own place, I go to ISP spiritual groups, I spend time with my family. I’ve
learned to give back to God, to give God some time out of the day, to talk to
God in my own way. My addiction has made me who I am today. I’m a person trying
to have a better relationship with God.
My mother got sick recently and I got in my feelings about
that. I had to remember who the architect of this is. He knows best what needs
to be done. My selfishness had to get out of the way. I asked for some prayers
with the guys in my spiritual group at ISP. And I came to realize that God gave
me the key to love, the key to love is my heart. I had to go into my heart and
give it to God.
When you look on the face of man, you look on the face of
God. I want to treat people in that Godly fashion. I look at the Godliness in
every person because I want them to see it in me. No matter how much chaos and
negativity is in a person, I’m going to recognize the God in them and show them
the God in me.
There are currently teams of ISP volunteers
offering retreats in 29 cities across the U.S. and Canada, and the program
continues to grow.
Tom Drexler is Executive Director of the Ignatian Spirituality Project.