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'Teacher, pastor, counselor'
'Teacher, pastor, counselor'

The first time he cries is because of what he did to his mother.

It is still painful, hard to talk about and tears flow freely as he tries to gather himself in the small room where he is giving a public confession.

The second time is when he tells you about seeing Jesus. He trembles at the memory. He talks slowly and gradually, his voice gathers strength and he sees the disbelief in your eyes.

"It was just like I was looking at you right here," he says. "It was just like the pictures you see of Jesus with the long hair and flowing robe. It was a door in my chest and I looked down and saw Jesus walk right into my heart."

It was then, he says, that his life changed forever.

It is a perfect metaphor, one usually delivered from a pulpit by a professional preacher who can spin the tale in a revival tent for a big turn on the collection plate. But this is Easter Sunday so perhaps we need to cut him some slack because the absolute reality is that something made him change, something lifted him out of the gutter, so maybe we should all listen closely.

He cried for a third time later, but we don't want to talk about that yet. We don't want to give away the ending.

We all have a story, a path filled with turns and twists that is our life. This is Paul Mead's story.

We all have made wrong turns, tripped, fallen, but Mead didn't just take a wrong turn, he fell off a cliff - almost literally.

It was 30 feet off a roof while working construction as a young man. He broke both his ankles and spent the better part of a year in a wheelchair. It was clear he would never work construction again or play sports.

What followed was a windfall of more than $500,000 in a settlement from his employer's insurance company. He invested half and kept the rest in the bank.

With the injury came the demons. He found himself depressed, lonely, lamenting his injuries, and the fact he would never play sports again.

Sadly, the story is almost a cliche after that.

Mead tried crack cocaine and became "instantly addicted" he said. He blew through $250,000 in a year. He moved from his small hometown in the Catskills to Albany where he lived in hotel rooms and spent his days smoking crack. He was spending $600 to $1,000 a day on drugs. He was soon broke.

"I was helpless, hopeless and could not stop," said Mead. "As long as I had $20, I was going to buy crack."

He described going to Price Chopper and filling up a carriage with meat and walking right out the door. He would trade every $100 worth of beef for $50 worth of drugs. He did the same with cartons of cigarettes. He got caught a lot and spent a lot of time in jail.

"My father told me I would be better off dead because I was killing him," said Mead.

His mother moved out of her home and lived with a friend so he couldn't find her.

He remembers living on the street in Albany with only a pair of pants, a T-shirt and shoes. That was it. No underwear, no socks.

It was Dec. 4, 2002. Mead had been living on the streets for 10 years. He was at rock bottom.

"I was sitting on Clinton Avenue in Albany," said Mead. "Cold, wet and freezing, homeless, hopeless and looking across the street and saw a phone booth."

Over the years, Mead had tried it all, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, rehab, halfway houses and he had always gone back to drugs, to the street. This time he called Teen Challenge in Syracuse.

Teen Challenge is a worldwide Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that provides a faith-based cure.

He told his drug dealer that he was leaving, that he was getting off drugs for good.

"He held out a big bag of crack, 3-1/2 grams, what they call an 8 ball and he rubbed the bag between his fingers and said, 'Are you sure?' "

You can tell that vision is still with Mead, even today.

"It was hard," said Mead. "Several times on the drive to Syracuse I wanted to turn around. My mind could not escape the picture of that cocaine."

You'd like to say that was the fork in the road that changed his life, but it wasn't. Mead married his wife Sharon, relapsed and the marriage was annulled. He came back to Teen Challenge and kept at it.

He was in a church in Syracuse while working and living at Teen Challenge and heard three words over and over again: "Teacher. Pastor. Counselor." It was then that he saw Jesus.

"I had no idea what it meant," said Mead.

He came to Hudson Falls five years ago through his connections at Teen Challenge. He was allowed to live with a local family and work at the church as a volunteer janitor. He wasn't qualified to do much else. He started taking seminary courses from an online organization called Global University.

You see, it would have been unfair to put the Rev. before his name when we started this story. It would have been a shame to spoil the ending.

It would have been unfair to give away the final destination of the journey from the mean streets to Teen Challenge to volunteer janitor to the senior pastor of Gospel Lighthouse Church in Hudson Falls.

That is where I found him when he told me he wanted to tell his story. That is where we started when he shook my hand and started to talk about his life.

He looked ordinary, average, a vanilla milkshake of a man with a Mountain Dew cap and black Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt.

The casual attire, he admits, was by design, a point he wanted to make to his interviewer that Paul Mead is a regular guy, nothing special, one of the flock as they say in the religion game, a NASCAR preacher who gets out the word in just over an hour and is home in time to watch the good old boys trade paint.

But nothing seems further from the truth.

Not with his story.

"I have experienced the favor of God over the last five years and you know, I don't know why," Mead says. His eyes water up again. He is humbled. "Gosh, I've been given so much. I'm really nothing special. There was a time in my life I got to a place where I knew I had to turn right and I turned left anyway. Today, I turn right.

"Even now, it doesn't make sense," said Mead. "God has taken the least likely candidate to share a mission of hope."

What ever you want to believe about the reasons, the motivations for Mead to turn his life around, this thing is for certain - the journey is anything but ordinary.

It was earlier this month that he was installed as pastor. He tells you 187 people were there including his mother and father. He tells you of the applause and the cheering and how he had never heard anything so loud.

And he tells you of the card from his mother.

And here is where the tears start again for the final time.

"I love you with all my heart," he says choking out the words from his mother. "I'm proud of what you have accomplished."

It is an amazing story and what better day than Easter to share the story of a man who was raised from the dead.

Ken Tingley is Editor of The Post-Star and may be reached via e-mail at tingley@poststar.com.

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