There was no room for a tree, stockings, or Christmas lights. In fact neither electricity nor plumbing was available. The tight quarters allowed for the occupancy of one, and at night darkness overcame the space. This place is one Bobby Hayden knew well, because he lived there for a decade – his home was a cardboard box.
Peddling outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles he would pull in over $100 on game days – the worse he looked, the more he raised. Heroin and cocaine were his drugs of choice and kept him numb with no vision of life outside of the box. Handouts fed his addictions until true help arrived in the form of his neighboring box mate’s mother. She saw a vision for Bobby’s life that he could not see – one anchored in hope and faith.
The road from a cardboard box to Carmel, Indiana, was not easy, requiring a time of healing through a year-long rehabilitation program and a loving family he hadn’t seen in ten years. As Bobby’s life became anchored in faith, God took up residence in his heart and transformation unfolded – no more drugs and a vocation encouraging youth through music and his bold, lived-out faith. A sense of purpose and calling was also born with the creation of Cardboard Box Ministries, which enables Bobby to reach others through his inspiring story and uplifting music.
This Christmas season, Bobby and his ministry partner, Lexi Laconi, hosted the first Christmas Gift Indianapolis on Dec. 19 at the Bitwell Center in downtown Indianapolis. I was in awe as hundreds of homeless men, women, and children poured in to receive not only tangible gifts but a message of hope and a glimpse of a new way of life – one embodied in the party’s host, a former homeless person who had lived their struggles. A delicious lunch, clothing, haircuts, gifts, coats, and shoes with the offering of foot washing prompted smiles while conversations were deep and often tear-filled.
Bill, a well-dressed father of six and grandfather of five held back tears as he shared his story of losing his job and being unable to provide for his family. As we parted ways with a hug, I looked into his damp eyes and said with confidence, “Bill, I’ll see you next year – not as a guest but as a volunteer.” He beamed and assured me he would be back to help spread the love he had just received. It was a moment that roared with hope and instantly reminded me of what this season is all about.
That was my favorite 2015 Christmas memory – one made possible through my friend Bobby Hayden, a former addict who once lived in a cardboard box.