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Lives intersect in Thanksgiving wedding

Homeless friends turn lives around

Posted: Sunday, December 05, 2004

 

  From left to right, bride Susana Urbaez, Pastor James Noriega and groom Brian Ostertag presents Mrs. and Mr. Brian Ostertag to the congregation. Nov. 25, 2004, at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Seattle. Down on their luck, Ostertag and Noriega met on a cold December night in a Seattle homeless shelter. The years since then have brought dramatic changes in their lives: Ostertag got married, and Noriega, a newly ordained pastor, performed the ceremony. Ostertag met Urbaez via a Christian dating site on the Internet. It was the same site where Noriega met his wife, whom he married last New Year's Eve, and he had suggested his friend try it. AP Photo/Seattle Post-Intelligen

From left to right, bride Susana Urbaez, Pastor James Noriega and groom Brian Ostertag presents Mrs. and Mr. Brian Ostertag to the congregation. Nov. 25, 2004, at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Seattle. Down on their luck, Ostertag and Noriega met on a cold December night in a Seattle homeless shelter. The years since then have brought dramatic changes in their lives: Ostertag got married, and Noriega, a newly ordained pastor, performed the ceremony. Ostertag met Urbaez via a Christian dating site on the Internet. It was the same site where Noriega met his wife, whom he married last New Year's Eve, and he had suggested his friend try it.

AP Photo/Seattle Post-Intelligen

SEATTLE (AP) Down on their luck, Brian Ostertag and James Noriega met on a cold December night in a Seattle homeless shelter.

The years since then have brought dramatic changes in their lives: Ostertag got married this Thanksgiving at a downtown church, and Noriega, a newly ordained pastor, performed the ceremony.

"Today is a perfect example, between Brian and Susana, of the grace God has for us," Noriega said during the ceremony at First Presbyterian Church that united Ostertag and Susana Urbaez.

Ostertag met Urbaez via a Christian dating site on the Internet. It was the same site where Noriega met his wife, whom he married last New Year's Eve, and he had suggested his friend try it.

Urbaez, 42, had posted her listing at the urging of her 18-year-old daughter.

Urbaez said she was attracted to Ostertag, also 42, by his honesty.

"He told me about his past. That struck me. It really touched my heart."

Placed in a group home as a troubled 12-year-old and imprisoned at 18 for robbery, Ostertag spent the next two decades in and out of jail, in group homes and on the street.

After last being released from jail about four years ago, Ostertag was sleeping on the streets of Pioneer Square and noticed the Union Gospel Mission on Second Avenue. He went to check it out and learned about its residential program combining therapy, drug and alcohol recovery, computer skills and academics.

It was just what he needed, Ostertag decided.

Katherine Standifer, a pastor who worked with Ostertag at the mission, said, "He's had such a difficult life. (The marriage) is such a blessing."

The chain of events that led Noriega to the same shelter and the same recovery program started in 1996, when his high school sweetheart and mother of his two children divorced him.

"I never really got over the divorce," the 38-year-old said.

Drugs became a salve and Noriega soon had a serious methamphetamine addition. He lost his job at a Puget Sound shipyard. The former family man eventually ended up in prison.

After his release, Noriega turned to friends and family for help but no one would take him in. On a chilly December night several years ago, with nowhere to go, he was sitting on a bench in Occidental Park and noticed a line of men outside the Union Gospel Mission and walked over.

He soon met Ostertag, who was in a dorm on the same floor. They became friends, graduating from the program on the same day and joining the shelter's paid staff two years ago.

"There are some definite depths of our souls we share," Noriega said. "We grew up together, basically, in a new life, muddled through it, fell on our faces, day after day, in a good way, trying to get it right."

As Noriega told the wedding guests, "It's not a coincidence that this marriage is happening on Thanksgiving."

They followed the ceremony with a holiday dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pies baked by Ur-baez.



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