James Flaherty was one of the first friends we made on the street in Modesto. On hot days, Aaron and I used to walk the parks with cool drinks to share. In a way, it was the first version of the Ninth Street Café. A simple act to foster relationship. James was the first one I recall sitting, staying and talking.
We connected first through our mutual love of singing and playing guitar. James had been to one of our early BBQs and remembered me playing. I soon learned that James’ talent on guitar far surpassed my ability. He was good. He loved to write songs. He was happiest when he was singing.
James was a regular fixture in our lives for a season. He talked about how life on the streets was so discouraging. How good it was to meet up with Christian friends to share, talk and just do things together. We had lunch together every Tuesday for a while. James loved a good Chinese buffet. Well, James loved food.
James worked. For a while he worked at a local church as a janitor. He aggressively pursued recovery from addiction. He built a website for his friends on the street to tell their story. His concern was that many homeless people pass away and no one knows about them. He wrote and recorded music. He had been in a few bands. His last record he recorded with us at our church building.
James had problems. He had a mental illness that sometimes controlled him and made him act in a way that did not represent his true heart. We had to work things out between us more than once. Even in this, he was a good friend.
Several years ago, James made the choice to return east where most of his family live. He was able to reunite with some of them and build new relationships. It’s also a lot less expensive than California.
James passed away this last May. I think of him often, his cheerful (loud) greetings, his infectious smile, his heart to worship and his heart for others. This is a song he wrote from the album “Hi, I’m Homeless,” recorded at New Hope Christian Fellowship in Modesto. This is the first song he played for me and has always been my favorite.