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rethinking homelessness

once again, i’ve been mia. i’m just coming off of an intense couple of months where i think my car and my clients saw me a great deal more than my husband did. it ended after a week where i was covering as the administrative assistant in the office while she was on her honeymoon and then going to see my clients, then the following week i’d see my clients and then run off to church to do the administrative duties for vbs (vacation bible school). those two weeks i’d leave the apartment around 8-9 am and sometimes not get home til around 11pm. it’s taken the better part of the last two weeks to recover and i can’t say that i’m at the top of my game yet. sleep is a precious commodity for me right now…i want lots of it.

anyhow, this last week, my eyes have been opened in big ways when it comes to how i help with the homeless. there is an orlando middle school teacher who has voluntarily gone homeless for 30 days. he is doing this for two reasons – the first is to raise awareness. the other reason is to raise money. he is asking for people to donate – any amount – and all the donations will go to benefit local charities in orlando that assist the homeless and to orange county public schools. he keeps nothing. for the full “effect”, he took only the clothes on his back and his id. he also took his iphone and charger so that he could use it to make video blogs each day to talk about his experiences.

thomas started his journey the night of july 4th. he created a facebook page to post his updates and at the present time, there are close to 3000 people following that page. you can check it out here:https://www.facebook.com/hungryandhomeless

each day, thomas somehow teaches me something new. first, i didn’t realize that the stigma of homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol is far from the truth these days. many are what’s considered the working poor – those that do have a job, but don’t make enough to support themselves in some sort of stable living quarters. there’s also a great many that are veterans. you’d be surprised at how many i’ve seen in the months of volunteering in orlando. another thing – when the homeless ask for money – it’s usually not for food (there are lots of organizations that feed the homeless), but to get basics – shampoo, toilet paper, sunscreen (it’s definitely needed here) and other basic products. they’ll use it to pay for a night at a cheap motel if they can get enough.

today – i had the chance to put some of what i’m learning into practice. after work, i stopped to pick up a few groceries. when i emerged from the store, there was a young man approaching random people in the parking lot. it is pretty safe to assume that he was seeking assistance. he looked like he had been having a rough time. after loading my purchase in my car, i drove over to where he had just been rejected by another person and lowered the window. i asked him if he would like me to get him something to eat. he hesitated and then politely declined. he then stated, “what i really need is money”. well…..i almost never carry cash and i told him this. but i offered to look, adding that if i did find anything, he’d be lucky. i opened my wallet and began to look through the various compartments. would you know…..folded neatly in my wallet behind some business cards was a $5 dollar bill that i thought i had lost a few weeks ago! i smiled as i handed it over to this young man. he thanked me as i wished him a blessed evening.

but that’s not the end of the story. almost home, i turned onto a side street that would take me to my husband. i noticed two very disheveled men on the opposite side of the road with their bicycles and a bunch of bags that i knew would be their every belonging. i pulled the car into an adjacent lot, parked the car and grabbed a couple of bags i had in the back seat. i put together a small kit of items that would be useful…..some shampoo, some bars of soap and toilet paper. i would normally add other items, but it was all i had left on hand. i drove back to where the two men still sat and again, lowered the window. i yelled out “i don’t have any cash left on my, but i do have some things here that you could use.” the one man came over to the car, took the bag and smiled really big, he thanked me and returned my wish for a blessed evening. i drove away, thinking of how one man’s journey to raise awareness for homelessness has changed how i approach them.

i pray that God protects the three men i met tonight and that they felt God’s presence in our brief encounters.

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Posted by on July 10, 2014 in it's just me, My Walk With God

 

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listen to me

what do you do when you are talking to someone and you come to the realization that you haven’t been heard?

i have been going through a lot lately and to be honest, i have been having a hard time finding joy in much right now. i have a lot of years of practice at hiding things – i can appear to be happy and most would never know the truth. but there are a few individuals that can spot my true feelings and, if they take the time to do so, will try to coax those feelings from me. last night was one of those times.

someone that has known me for more than a minute came over to talk to me last night. they commented that they haven’t seen a real smile from me in a while. initially i was reluctant to respond, but i also knew that if this person was going to take the time to notice, maybe they would take the time to listen. so as i’ve done many times over the years, i slowly let my guard down. as the tears began to fall, i began to open up.

let me explain something first….it isn’t always easy for me to tell people the things that are hidden deep within my soul. going back to when i was a small girl, i was the one expected to listen to others’ problems, but no one really did the same for me. so instead, i retreated into the special world of books and poetry. when things became especially difficult, i’d either head outside to the back yard where “my tree” was, it was in the farthest corner of the yard and it was mine. it was in plain sight of the back of the house, but everyone knew when i was under my tree, it meant i wanted to be left alone. if the weather wasn’t conducive for me to go there, i’d go to the farthest corner down in the basement for solitude. when i went there, it wasn’t always so obvious where i was and one had to really look to find me. when i was in my safe places, i could let my guard down and cry. i could talk to God in a way that only little girls could because i knew He would listen.

it has only been during certain times in my adult life that someone has come into my life and has somehow managed to read me like a book just from one look at my face. i could probably count on less than one hand the number of times that has happened. the person i was talking to last night is one of them. or so i thought.

anyhow, i began to pour out my heartache. i still left a couple of things so painful hidden only because i still haven’t figured out how i’m supposed to even talk about them. my listener was quiet, only asking questions if i paused for a long period. sometimes they didn’t say anything but waited. after sometime, my listener began to talk about only one aspect of the things that were so painful for me. and that seemed to be the main focus. i kept trying to say that that one thing was important, but there was so much more, which i’d already shared. i couldn’t seem to get the point across that there were multiple things that were causing my joy to disappear from my being. it didn’t take long for me to realize that my listener really wasn’t listening. the more i tried to steer the conversation in a different direction and put more focus on the rest of what i’d shared, the more it seemed i was not being heard. i’m glad i wasn’t asked if i felt better after talking with my listener, because i don’t know if i could have lied to this person and said i did. this was someone you just don’t do that with. so i left with the feeling of being in the same place as i was prior to the conversation.

so – i have to ask….are you really listening?

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2014 in it's just me, My Walk With God

 

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the smell of a rose

Monday was a fairly normal day for me. Came home from a relaxing few days away with David. Got my paycheck, went to the bank and went to work. My client (a new young lady) was AWOL (can’t give details) so I went shopping for dinner. When I arrived at Walmart, I noticed a smallish figure sitting on the sidewalk against the building. The person (I was unaware of gender at the time) was sitting, hugging their knees to them and their face was almost hidden with the hood of their hoodie up.
An hour later, the same smallish figure was in the same spot as they were when I arrived. After loading my parcels into the car (including milk, meat and frozen foods) I drove around so that I could pull up to talk to the hooded figure.
I rolled down my window and asked if they needed help. I offered to get a few items to provide nourishment. This person asked if I would be willing to purchase a new pair of sweat pants. “I need something clean to wear*.
I said I’ll park the car and would go shopping. To my surprise, this small figure was a woman. At first glance, I thought it was a man because there was an excess amount of facial hair that made one think so. Tracy is 42 and has been on the street for several years. Throughout our time together it never crossed my mind that I had perishable items in the trunk of my car or that David had no clue what I was doing.
Tracy had a friend with her named Carl. He, unlike Tracy, was quiet. As we went about the store, I realized that Tracy had some problems. I don’t know if it was nervous energy or if she had some sort of mental disorder. Whatever it was, she definitely had something going on. Tracy was dirty. Very dirty. And she didn’t exactly smell too good. The smell that came from her was nothing short of sour. At times the smell would waft from her like a heavy vapor. I wished I could bring her home with me and let her take a long shower. Then she could smell good, even for a few days. I resolved that I wouldn’t let her poor hygiene keep me from being a good testimony and I continued to exhibit patience and kindness.

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One thing I felt was God appearing through her was her desire to want to do something for me despite her having nothing. She thanked me many times, adding “God bless you” all the time. My reply was always to let her know that my meeting her was my blessing. I also told her in reply to wanting to do something…. “when you get on your feet, show someone else some kindness”.
First order of things…..get some food. In a gesture that surprised me, Tracy was concerned about getting the least expensive items. She wasn’t concerned about having deli roast beef or pricey cheeses. She was happy with bologna with some cheap mayonnaise, a small loaf of bread from the bakery and a couple bottles of water. I told her to grab a candy bar and when she spotted some little prepackaged cakes, I told her to get one of those too.
The process of finding the sweat pants wasn’t nearly as easy. She wanted the ones that were about $7.00 but we couldn’t find the right size for her. I convinced her to check in the women’s section (she wanted the men’s pants). Every pair I held up for her wasn’t right. Mostly the concern was that the material was too thin. Tracy finally said she would get a pair of the men’s pants in a larger size and she would pull the drawstring tightly. After we found a pair that would be suitable, we made our way to the registers to pay for our purchases.
Purchases completed, Tracy asked if I could get something for Carl. He tried to decline this idea but I insisted on getting something for him from McDonald’s. No matter what I said, he would only ask for some french fries and a milk. I got them for Carl and after asking if Tracy what she wanted, got her something too. While waiting for the order, Carl actually spoke to me. He asked some basic questions about me. The two questions most important…. “Are you a Christian?”  I replied I became a follower of Christ in 1988. Then quietly he queried “do you help a lot of homeless people?” I wished I could tell him I helped everyone I came across that was in need. I didn’t lie. I told Carl I helped whenever I could.
When the  food was ready, I helped Tracy and Carl to a table. Despite how badly Tracy smelled, I reached out to her and gave her a big hug. I held on tightly for a long time, assuring her I wouldn’t forget her. I gave Carl an equally big hug, asking him to take care of Tracy. I left them and as soon as I got into my car, I cried. They were tears for a woman who I wanted to save but didn’t have the means to do so. I cried because I wished I could have done so much more than I did. I cried to God…. I asked for His protection over Carl and Tracy. I went home and as I shed more tears, I told David about these two special friends.
I’d be lying if the smell from Tracy didn’t linger in my head for a bit. But, I knew that in God’s presence, she would smell as sweet as the most precious rose.

 

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home sweet home

“home sweet home”…..for some of us, there are no truer words. for others, that phrase is something that is just out of their reach…..

last night, i went to downtown orlando to meet with other volunteers that would be “working” with straight street orlando, a nonprofit group that feeds the homeless behind a church twice a week. i typically will go on tuesday evenings with one of the teens i’m mentoring, but last night, i took david with me. while the other volunteers are passing out drinks and meals prepared by some of the volunteers, i will go around and fellowship with those being ministered to – asking what their name is, are they from orlando and how long have they been there. i shake lots of hands and give lots of smiles and a bunch of hugs. i let them know that i am happy to have met them. i am trying to let them see Christ through me as i show them i care. i “love on them”, as my pastor would say. 🙂

i have talked to many people since i started going to straight street, but last night was the first time that i was moved to tears. as the founder of straight street was giving a short message from God, i was sitting near a young couple who sat very close to each other and were holding hands – very tightly. every so often, you’d see one of them look at the other with tenderness and love. as i watched them, my heart began to break. i couldn’t seem to look away – until the tears started to fall. by this time, pj was offering up prayer and i was grateful for the moment – this allowed the tears to fall without much notice. i grabbed david’s hand – he would understand. since coming to america, david has become very aware of the homelessness – especially in the central florida area. when pj was done, i wiped the tears from my eyes and told david i wanted to get a photo of the young couple that touched my heart and was determined to meet them and talk to them. i went over to them and introduced myself and my husband and asked if we could take their photo. i explained i would be writing about the homeless situation in my blog and wanted to share their story. they agreed to have their picture taken and to letting me share it, along with their story.

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meet albert and sara. he is 23 and she is 25. married three years. he is a navy vet, being discharged july of 2013. albert has a wonderful smile and a great attitude. sara is a bit quieter, but is very sweet. they’ve been on the streets – this time – for three weeks. albert stated they had been staying at his biological father’s house (i never asked why he kept referring to him as that) until he kicked them out. oh sure – they can still use his address for mail and for applications asking for a physical address, but they cannot live there. the night before we met, they had to move from the place they were sleeping to higher ground because we had heavy rains on monday night and there was flooding in many areas – including parts of orlando. albert told me that he has experienced homelessness since coming out of the navy last year. and he can’t seem to find a job. he wants to work. he is willing to do what it takes so that he can provide a home for he and his wife. while talking with them, i was made aware of a painful fact that shook me to the core. while there are plenty of shelters for individuals and for families with children, there are none in the downtown orlando area for married couples that have no children. the closest shelters for couples without children is somewhere between 7 and 15 miles away, depending where you go. traveling back and forth to a shelter that is that far can’t be easy when you don’t have the money to make that round trip on a daily basis. albert isn’t bitter. he IS on the other hand, grateful for making sure that he and sara are always fed, stating that “God is taking care of us”. i had a hard time walking away, but i wanted to spend time loving on others. i had blessing bags to give out and i’d already spotted a few i wanted to share them with. so i moved on.

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this is joseph. while he didn’t share his story, his face captured my heart and i asked him if we could take his picture and share it. he said yes and we just talked for a few minutes.

orlando is said to have approximately 15,000 people that are homeless. 15,000!!! that number is staggering in my mind!! oh sure – florida is the sunshine state but open your eyes folks….it’s also in hurricane alley. we do get rain. and believe it or not, it can get cold here during the winter and sometimes the early spring months. and you know what? people want to go somewhere safe. they want a pillow under their head and a mattress of some sort to lie their weary bodies down on. they want to know that they are sheltered from the elements – rain, cold, bugs, etc….there’s even the danger of people taking advantage of their situation. there are assaults, rapes, and yes, murders. i’d read last night a homeless man that straight street had ministered to one night  was stabbed to death not too far from where the feeding takes place. apparently there had been a fight between this man that was referred to as “barney” and another homeless man. this happened a few years ago – it probably made the news but i don’t watch the news. i’ve met a woman who had a baby two months ago. her son robert was a preemie and weighed a little under 5 pounds at birth. when i met her, robert was 6 weeks old and at his checkup weighed 7 pounds, i picked this tiny baby up and cradled him in my arms. he was so small. as i sat on the bench by his parents, i cried out in my heart. i kept asking God over and over to protect little robert. this isn’t supposed to be how life gets started. robert should be sleeping in a crib surrounded by little toys. he shouldn’t have to be made to brave the elements – especially since he was born so small. i don’t know the story of why his parents are homeless or how long they’ve been on the streets. from their appearance i wouldn’t be surprised if they’ve been there for quite some time. but i won’t say that it’s fact as i don’t judge a book by its cover. they may not be handling their own situation well and are just trying to cope with no home while caring for a tiny infant.

throughout the evening i passed out blessing bags til they ran out. introduced myself to many and let them know how happy i was to have met them. i met one man whose name i cannot recall that accepted my offer of a hug and i was the one to walk away feeling blessed. i met another man who declined a blessing bag. when i asked if he wanted a hug, he replied, “i could really use one right now”. so i reached out and hugged his weary body. this was the first time that i was close to a person that smelled of alcohol that didn’t make me want to turn away. it was as if God took my usual reaction to the smell of alcohol away so that i could be what i needed to be for this man. he told me he’s from north carolina and wanted to go back. he couldn’t find an agency to help him fulfill that one wish. he stated he can’t get help from his family back there because they don’t have the resources to get him home. he shared he’s having medical problems. i don’t know why, but i offered another hug, and this time i held on tightly for an extra moment or two. before i walked away, i reached out and touched his face. i can still see the sadness in his eyes.

david was so moved by the things he heard and saw last night that he wrote a poem:

Glory of Cities

You love us when we’re fighting. We were proud
to fight for those who’d never know our name.
You cheer like fury when you’re in the crowd
and we parade before you, hale or lame.
But when we come back home, behind the lines
you draw (and we once drew), we don’t exist.
As once we did, you fail to see the signs;
and though one flag by all of us is kissed,
we forage for our food in dark back yards
where churches give us all that they can get,
or offer crumbs of comfort now and then;
we learn to struggle wounded through the shards
of shrapnel flung by cities which regret
we live in them – as though we were not men.

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God Makes You New

http://bible.com/r/2B.43 I just finished day 251 of Rick Warren’s Daily Devotional Bible reading plan at YouVersion.com

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2013 in My Walk With God

 

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Make Healing Choices

http://bible.com/r/2B.40 I just finished day 248 of Rick Warren’s Daily Devotional Bible reading plan at YouVersion.com

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in My Walk With God

 

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A Renewed Obedience

http://bible.com/r/8J.E I just finished day 14 of She Reads Truth: Nehemiah Bible reading plan at YouVersion.com

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2013 in My Walk With God

 

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