Peer Highlight: God's Love for Richie
Updated: Aug 9, 2021
I had the privilege of speaking with Richie for this month’s highlight. After listening to his story, I came away awestruck by God’s awesome grace, sovereignty, and faithfulness shown in his life. To tell Richie’s story well, I’d like to focus on three specific stories in his walk. But note that these stories are just a glimpse of what God’s has done in his life. Richie spoke to me for nearly an hour without a break. It was a challenge to decide how I should tell his story faithfully.
Before going into the first story from about a year ago, Richie told me, “I’ve done twelve years in prison; I’ve done five years in treatment centers. The rest of my adult life was spent in addiction. Before that I was an adolescent, and I was abused. I never had a job in my life, I never really had nothing. I thought I was nothing. I’ve always thought I was going to be a failure... until now. I’m thirty-eight years old, and I’m finally coming into an understanding of who God wants me to be. So, I’m digging in [to God’s word] and surrendering completely to Him.”
June 9th of 2020, Chad Neuharth, one of the founders of Rise Up, saw Richie walking across the street from his house. Richie had moved in to his friend PJ’s place, which was across the street from Chad. This was a coincidence that Richie now understands as God’s sovereign power. Richie looked like “the walking dead,” so Chad asked if he could come over and pray. After praying, Chad then invited him over to Bob’s Place, where Tiffany has a prayer ministry. This was when Richie started to get a stronger idea of who God really is.
Soon after, Richie made a fake “pass” to the doctors, where he planned to get a fix with his girlfriend. On the way there, his girlfriend’s car broke down. Richie’s gut sank as he realized that his lies were about to catch up to him, and with it, some very serious consequences.
During this time, Richie was in court for 3rd degree possession. The minimum sentence was looking like 90 months in prison. Richie knew that being caught in this lie could work against him in trial. With a tow truck on the way, too many questions were going to be asked. Richie was trapped. “Everything that could go wrong did go wrong. And I knew, this was God.” Richie prayed by the side of the road, asking God for forgiveness. Then Chad drove by. Seeing Richie by the side of the road, Chad pulled over to offer them a ride. When they went back home, Pam, the Faith Family treatment director, was waiting with a UA cup. Still convicted of his sins and the lie he tried to get away with, Richie shared with her what happened that day. Pam smiled and told him that he didn’t need the cup; he found the Lord!
The next day, Richie felt alone. He prayed to God asking why he couldn’t be loved by anyone. Richie was thinking about a love he could share with a woman, but God knew that he needed a more substantial love in his life. The next day, early in the morning, the four-year-old daughter of Richie’s close friend wanted to see him. Richie was at Bob’s Place at that time. When they arrived, the daughter hugged him and cried “Richie, I love you so much, and I miss you every day.” Richie saw God’s love take the form of this young child’s love. He realized that he had to live for God completely.
A couple months later, in August of 2020, Richie was notified that he had court on Monday. Since coming to faith, Richie started surrounding himself with believers. Chad had also stepped in to be a support during the court trials. As Monday loomed in, Chad decided to communicate with the defending lawyer to see what was going to happen. The lawyer had amazing news. They were offering Richie sixty-eights months stayed time and three years' probation with no fines. Richie praised the Lord. God was working in Richie’s life in the most incredible ways, from reintroducing Chad into his life as a concerned friend and Christian, to sending the young girl to tell him that he is loved, and then again at court with a significantly reduced penalty. Praise the Lord for His great love and mercy!
For the next five months after June, Richie was on fire for the Lord! God blessed him with the reduced sentence. He had good friends, an amazing support group, a job at Bob’s Place, and a girlfriend that he loved. But with all these blessings, Richie’s focus shifted from the God who blessed him to the world around him. “God was testing me. ‘Are you going to focus on the giver or the gifts?’ And I failed the test.”
Richie stopped going to the meetings and Bible studies. He grew paranoid of his girlfriend, and eventually ended it. As his relationship with God grew more distant, his anxieties and fears became more present. By November of 2020, Richie relapsed. He was at one of his lowest points. Depressed and afraid, Richie contemplated ending his life. A butcher knife in hand, Richie was ready to seriously hurt himself. But then he received a text message from PJ. It was a video from the same girl that showed him love five months earlier. She was holding a photo of Richie, and she was saying how she missed him and loved him. Richie was touched again by God through the love of this little girl. While holding the knife, Richie fell asleep unharmed.
When Richie woke up, he was scared. He felt that he was going to hurt himself, and if he didn’t, somebody else was going to hurt him instead. He needed help. Richie walked to Chad and Tiffany's around 8pm with the butcher knife because he thought people were after him. When Tiffany saw him, she offered to pray for him. This wasn’t just a case of being high and mentally unstable. “It was spiritual warfare. Just like fasting for God, meth makes you fast for the devil.” Unstable and scared, Richie needed a place to stay. Chad helped him find a place with a mutual friend in Chaska. Over the next few months, Richie struggled with his addiction as he stayed with friends or took part of programs like Teen Challenge. After a grueling four months, on March 10, 2021, Richie was sober.
While typing this story, Richie requested to have a shout-out to his close friend and brother in Christ, Brian. During this four-month relapse, Brian was a constant source of encouragement and
accountability. When Richie was stranded at a casino, Brian came and picked him up, bought him food, and brought him to Bob’s Place for prayer. When Richie was wearing the same shoes for four days straight, Brian found him and brought him to another believer, who washed and rubbed his feet. “When I needed help, Brian brought me to the places I didn’t want to go to, but needed to go to. The brothers in Christ who loved me and prayed for me.”
Richie’s life is filled with God’s grace, but sometimes it takes a long while to see it. He regretted the time he spent in prison during the last days of his mother’s life. Again, he felt worthless, and no good. May 9, 2021, which was Mother's Day, Richie went to pray in the graveyard where his parents are buried. “God, how can I make amends with my parents? How can I make it right?” Then God revealed His sovereignty and power through an incredible realization. While his mother was alive, Richie was on path that was killing him, so God put him in prison. And each day he was in prison, his mother spoke to him while he was in a sober mind. His mother rested knowing that her son was safe from danger while in custody. God knew everything that was going to happen and He made a way for their relationship to be rebuilt. “I was sober in prison every day! We got to talk to each other. We wrote each other letters. We had great conversations! It was intimate. If I was out there using, I wouldn’t have been around. I wouldn’t have gotten to know her. Prison saved my life. Prison helped me have a relationship with my mother and father. And it was real.”
This month marks the sixth month of sobriety for Richie. He has found himself to be busy with several Bible studies, prayer groups, and one-on-one meetups with his mentors. He’s also joined a sober softball team called the “Sober Sluggers.” If it seems like Richie is going overboard with all these different activities, he is! But he’s doing so intentionally. “My whole life has been dedicated to my addiction, and to the streets. In order to get my recovery, I need to put as much effort and dedication [towards] the positive; I need to go to Him for everything, to dedicate my life to God.”
Richie is incredibly grateful toward everybody that has helped him get to where he is today. He’s thankful for his family for giving him “tough love.” And he’s thankful for his brothers and sisters in Christ, for being there for him, even when he didn’t want them to be there. And he’s grateful for God, for His unconditional love, His eternal presence, and His sovereignty.
Richie’s story is filled with examples of God’s love and mercy, demonstrated both directly through miraculous events, and indirectly through friends, family, and community. Rise Up Recovery’s mission is to help people who want recovery get connected to the help they need. Richie was able to rely on friends for a safe space to stay while he looked for help to recover. Not everybody has the same privilege. Rise Up Recovery’s emergency room and board program, Providence House, addresses this exact need. Our prayer is for God to utilize Rise Up Recovery and reach those who have no place to go. And through the grace of God, rise up from the grave of addiction.