Monday, July 24, 2017

The Voyage

The voyage is not so much about the destination as it is the journey.  Though the seas may be rough, that's not to say they don't have value--for they always do.  Without the rough seas, however would we appreciate the tranquil beauty of calm waters when they arrive?  And if along the journey, we perhaps stumble and fall, and things aren't quite the way we thought they should be--there's a lesson lurking somewhere and behind the lesson, an undiscovered joy.  For in lessons there is truth, and with truth comes change.  And within the gift of joy comes freedom.  That joy gives us the opportunity to find our uniqueness, to celebrate who we are and the things that make us what we are--inside, where it really counts.  It seems that with every voyage, we find something we didn't know we had--a hidden strength, a newfound courage, or maybe we even find something we'd lost along the way.  Voyages are not so much about what we find when we finally get where we're going, but what we find along the way.  There was something we needed to see, something that needed to be learned and something we needed to find.  And perhaps because we took the voyage, we finally found the child within and got the chance to take the dance of life.  And maybe--just maybe--we were finally able to find our soul again and all the things that really matter.  When we get right down to it, it's really all about the voyage within--to find our way again so life is all we ever wanted it to be.  And therein lies the true gift--for when the final voyage is complete, we can smile and say, "My voyage was all I wanted it to be and I'm glad I made the journey, for now that mine has ended, it has ended without regret."

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The House My Father Built

I live in the house my father built and this story is not really about that house but it's a lesson for us in foundations.

My home has a foundation - a crawl space - and this house was built in 1960.  Many people who come here tell me our home is beautiful (and it is) but it's more than that.  Daddy built this house in 1960, back in the day when it took more than a year to build a home.  Daddy built houses with his bare hands and he took great care and pride in everything he built.

Daddy learned to built houses in a very simple way - first of all, he had a fourth grade education and dropped out of school to work so he could provide for his parents.  So, he learned how to build houses by getting books that taught him every intricate part of the house building process - plumbing, electrical, roofing, and so. He studied those books until he knew everything there was about houses.

And that's the story here about foundations - I had someone recently look at the foundation in this house to see what work needed to be done (and it's minimal).  Even though there is a minor issue, the person who looked at it said, "Ma'am, this is one of the best foundations I've ever seen in my life."  My father used concrete blocks and tongue-in-groove wood to build this foundation.

He built it on something that would last.

The foundation of this house is much like life.  What is your foundation?  Do you build your foundation on something that will last?  I build my foundation on God.  When your foundation is sure, and  you know the source of your foundation, you will weather any storm and come out on the other side of that storm with your foundation in place.

A foundation gives you something to stand on, so to speak. You can rely on a solid foundation to be your place of refuge and a very present help in times of trouble.

Foundations that are weak will inevitably (and quickly) break with the wind and the storm and the rains that come.

Your foundation also says a lot about you.  Another part of my father's foundation was not just the house he built-- it was also how he lead his life. If he gave you his word, he kept it. He went through hell and high water to honor a promise. He often did business, not with a contract, but with a handshake.  He built his foundation on being the same man behind the door as he was in front of it.  He believed that if a man spoke the truth his life would reflect the outcome of always telling the truth.  He believed that a man's "foundation" was in hard work, that it was a good thing for a man to work, which my father did earnestly - building and renovating houses by day and farming by night.

A foundation that is strong and secure will not crack when the rains come.  It will still be standing when the storm is over.

What kind of house are you building with your life?

Friday, July 21, 2017

Sundays with Patrick - Unseen Gifts

Now that Patrick was assured of his acceptance into the long-term program once there was an opening, he had to begin his life looking at the world through a different camera lens. 

Often times, God gives us the gift of humility not just as a gift but as a teacher.  Patrick slept in a dorm-like setting with other homeless man and instead of viewing that as a limitation, Patrick began to view it as a gift - an opportunity to learn about someone other than himself and it reassured Patrick of one very important lesson - he was not alone.

He met many homeless men whose stories were worse than his own.  Humility came in different ways - learning to get along with strangers, but also learning to listen to their stories with his heart and an open mind. These men touched his heart because just like Patrick, they had a story to tell but they needed something we all need, which is to be loved, accepted and embraced for who we are, without someone trying to change or make us into something we are not.

Patrick became joyful over a simple, menial task such as being given "bathroom duty", meaning he had to clean the toilets.  Not a pretty task but nevertheless one that Patrick embraced as a lesson in all things tagged "humility".

Patrick learned gratitude when the lunch menu was soup and bread. It's like he said, "At least we have food to eat."  Pretty simple but often a small gift we take for granted.

One day when I went to visit Patrick, I, too, would meet another homeless man that touched my heart.

Patrick introduced me to his "new friend" - a man in his early 40's who had been diagnosed with Parkinson's and whose family just threw him away because they didn't want to deal with his illness.

We are all walking in the grace of God and as we get up to begin the day, we don't know what that day will bring.

For the young man with Parkinson's, he needed a light to shine within his own darkness and soon Patrick became one the young man's first beacons of light in a world that had cast him away.

Sometimes when we think God doesn't hear us or we think He is silent, what we really learn is that He is often working behind the scenes and it is His "unseen hand" and His "unseen gifts" that are holding us up on the road of life and bringing us into the harbor, safely home.

Patrick was approaching the harbor to find his way home.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Robbi's Song

Have you ever met someone who so touches your life and changes you that regardless of what happens, you never forget them?

If so, then I'd like to tell you about Robbi.

In the 1990s I taught writing classes the local community college.  Every summer, they had what they call "kids college".  This particular summer, the instructor scheduled to teach a journalism class bowed out at the last minute and the department asked me to teach it.

I walked into the classroom that day and there was a little boy in a wheelchair - inquisitive, bright and eager to learn.

That was the day I met Robbi, a young boy wound up in a wheelchair because of a disease that he should never have had.  And thus, began a friendship that transcended journalism.  I met his mother, Robin, and we began a journey of love and friendship.

Robbi believed - even though he was in a wheelchair at the age of nine, that his light would change the world.  He wanted to write and to use his pen to bring that light into the world.  To the world who didn't know him, he was a crippled little boy in a wheelchair but he was so much more than that!  Robbi was not defined by his disease--quite the opposite!  He reached out to people and tried to encourage them and often he would tell his story to help them.

He couldn't use his hands so he turned on his computer by saying, "Wake up!" and he shut it down by saying, "Go to sleep!" 

I remember one of the best Christmases I ever had.  Robbi and his mother were pretty much homeless that year - they had been homeless before - and they were staying with a friend.  I opted out of a family gathering to spend Christmas Eve with them and so we did.  I brought my favorite homemade soup and we sat at the dinner table, the three of us, talking about God and life and the blessings even in the hard places. 

Robbi was a light in the darkness because of his courage and his willingness to allow God to bring beauty out of the ashes and embers of his life--Robbi was a beautiful soul who knew more about life at a tender young age than some people know when they're ninety.

And life is not always about how long you live as it is about how you live while you're here.

Robbi personified the word courage - courage in the midst of long hospital battles, courage under fire within the disease itself and courage to make a difference and change people's lives in, and through, his life.

Robbi was my friend and he was also my family.  His song - the one he gave to the world - is a message of hope and light for all of us - that regardless of what comes - regardless of the darkness that sometimes come - we can be a beacon of light for someone else.  If ever there was a mascot for courage, that would be Robbi.  To me, he was not a young boy, crippled and in a wheelchair. He was the tallest person I knew for his courage, his grace, his love and his lessons.

We will often know who a man is by how he "runs through the fire" when he's being tested or going through a trial.

Robbi was a man long before "he became a man" because of who he was and how he lived.  Robbi, his mother and I drifted apart for a few years and one day, social media being what it is, I found his mother on a professional platform. I wrote to ask if this was "Robin, Robbi's mother" since their last name is a commonplace one.

She wrote me back and said "she was indeed Robbi's mother". However, a young man who changed my life, her son, who brought so much life and light into a dying world had passed from this life into the next.

I walked out on my land the day she told me the news and wept for a young boy who embraced me with so much love - who touched my heart with his personal story, his courage and his grace.  Robbi had the courage to be a man in the difficult places, he had courage under fire and he had the courage to use his life to transform the life of others.

And as for me, every once in awhile I pull out a picture of a little boy in a wheelchair who will forever be in my heart.

We all need to know who Robbi was - Robbi's song (his life) lives on.

Shine on, Robbi, shine on.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sundays with Patrick - the beginning

This was the start of a new beginning for Patrick – a new journey on an unexpected road. 

Suffice it to say, Patrick was frightened, well, terrified would be a better word but who wouldn’t be?  Patrick had just gone from living in a tent to a homeless shelter surrounded by other homeless men and their untold stories.

It’s like I told Patrick that day – and many times there after – sometimes you have to let go of the past so you can put your feet in your present and walk toward your future.

Forms—there were so many forms to fill out!  And I filled them out for Patrick.  They ask all kinds of questions, but they have to and when it comes to working with the homeless, there best not be any surprises.  Or as I also told Patrick that day, “Son, just tell the truth about your past on these forms and it won’t come back and bite you in the butt.”

This homeless shelter turned out to be Patrick’s place of hope – the one place where he could lay his head at night and not be judged or rejected.  Rejection is often a big part of the homeless population because so many of the homeless are rejected for one reason or another – often many reasons.  And sadly, as I would learn on this journey with Patrick, often the homeless are rejected by their own.

One of my first lessons that day – and along the journey – was that people are judged by their past and their circumstances because as I’ve often said, people judge what they do not see and they do not know. Judgment often comes because people refuse to offer compassion and hope to someone who is different for whatever reason.

We met the chaplain that day and Patrick asked me to tell him about his past – and one of the things I said to the chaplain was simply this, “It’s not this young man’s fault.”

There was a long-term program that if Patrick was accepted into it, it would change his life and help him get on his feet – on his way to a better life. However, Patrick didn’t meet the criteria.

He looked at me rather helplessly and said, “But I don’t meet their criteria.”  I said, “Son, it doesn’t matter.  This is in God’s hands.”

God often does the impossible and that one statement was the beginning of changing Patrick’s journey – and his life – because you see, here’s the thing:

Patrick was accepted into that program against all odds.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Sundays with Patrick

This begins the story - my true story - of how I helped a young man who was made homeless and was sleeping in a tent.  Patrick changed my life and I hope that as I share his journey - and mine - in Sundays with Patrick that it will bring a blessing into your own life - and now, the beginning of Sundays with Patrick--

"A man's past is simply that--in the past. It's gone like rain that beats down on the earth and then dissipates into nothing.  The past is meant to be left there--it doesn't belong in today.  In order to move forward you must first leave behind the remnants of your yesterday."

 Most of us would never know where to begin if we had to pitch a tent and live in it--even for a night.  And for most of us, too, we cannot even begin to wrap our minds around a life like that but sad as it may seem, it happens.  Oh it's fun if we think about it in terms of camping in a RV Park or out in the wild west for a vacation, that sort of thing, but what would any of us do "if" a tent was our home?
Patrick spent time off and on in a tent and when life came crashing down around him, I offered to help.  What was this young man's darkest moment turned out to be his shining light.  I like to tell people to look "for the light" shining in your darkness, whatever it may be.
A long time supporter of the local mission, I took Patrick there to help him begin the journey toward his "turnaround".  He had been in a long season of disappointment, hurt and abandonment and then "hope" stepped in when he went to the mission.
A mission is not for everyone.  We all have issues and some of them are best handled elsewhere but for some, like Patrick, a mission is their lifeline to a different kind of future.
He needed an anchor, someone to care and to show him that his past didn't matter but his today mattered so he could change his tomorrow.  Someone once told me that yesterday is a cancelled check, tomorrow is a promissory note and today is "cash in hand".  I took that to heart and always remembered it.
We often throw away today because we cling to the cancelled check of yesterday and we don't realize that tomorrow is really not promised to anyone.
That first day at the mission, Patrick was afraid, well, okay, a better word was terrified, but then who could blame him?  He was thrown into the rushing wind of chaos and change does not come easily for anyone, especially anyone who has been in a tent or on the street. 
Being homeless is cold and lonely and sometimes the homeless become filled with a bitter venom because they have been "thrown to the wolves" so to speak. 
Patrick was rescued that day not because it was me but because God acted through me.  I will always believe that.  My mother once told me that I couldn't help everyone and she was right (Mama never told me anything that was wrong).  None of us can help everyone, neither can we save every person, but the sad reality is that oftentimes we don't save who we can--we don't rescue the ones that need to be rescued and we don't rescue them with the only ingredient that really matters.  Love.  Love is all that matters.
In love there is hope and there is a safe haven, if we love for the right reasons and love with an open heart and open hand, without expectation of what might or might not return to each of us.
This is the story of Patrick's beginning and his journey toward a different destination.
"Never burn a bridge that you might have to walk back over again.  Put a candle on the bridge and let it help you find your way home."


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Colonel - The Homeless Vet

Homelessness is something that just should not be. In the journey of my life I've had a lot of opportunity to interact with the homeless - and to love them.

In another story, for another time, I'll share with you Sundays with Patrick and my journey to help a homeless young man change his life.  Inside the story with Patrick, I met a man who people simply called Colonel and this is his story.

When I would go visit Patrick on Sundays, one day under the breezeway, a gentleman with long, silver hair walked up to Patrick and Patrick said, "Hey buddy.  Let me introduce you to someone."  He turned to me and said, 'This is Colonel."

Colonel wasn't his real name but that's the name he used for a very good reason - he was a Colonel in the United States Army and he was homeless.  

Colonel had been homeless and on the street for more than 3 years when I met him.  Colonel tucked at my heart strings and on each visit, I would talk to him about his life - and why he became homeless.

Like so many, Colonel became homeless because he was just thrown away.  And Colonel was sick - sick on the streets, without a physician to treat his diabetes or his congestive heart failure.  There was no one to look in on Colonel out there on the cold, lonely streets of homelessness.

I remember the day I met Colonel for the very first time.  I went back to the comfort of my home, some 2 hours away and wept.  I wept for Colonel and for all homeless people but especially for all the homeless vets, men and women who serve our country and wind up with the clothes on their backs, walking the streets, looking for food, eating out of dumpsters, and sleeping under the bridge or in a cardboard box.

This is America and homeless vets are everywhere.

After Patrick graduated from his long-term program, that mission closed and now, Colonel would not even have that place to come for food and solace.  What next for Colonel?

So I went back to check on Colonel.  It was bitterly cold and that mission had closed - I was concerned about all those homeless men out in the cold so I took blankets to try and find the homeless men who were now on the street.  And I went back to find Colonel.

He wasn't hard to find--walking on the street with his backpack.  He was sleeping at the police station at night, thanks to the graciousness of the police department and wandering the street by day.

He was so grateful for those blankets and tucked them safely into a hidden place so he could help the other homeless men out there on the street.

Colonel and I became friends as I listened to the story of what happened to his life.  On another day, not long after that, I drove back over there, stopping at the grocery store and loading up on groceries and bottled water - and simple things that would be easy for him to eat on the street.

God always made it easy for me to find Colonel and today was no different.  I  handed him the food and the bottled water over the fence of the abandoned mission.  He looked at me and smiled, "You're my guardian angel."  I don't know about that but what I do know is this:  Aren't we all supposed to take care of our own?

I would not see Colonel again for several weeks and when I did it was at the bargain center near the now closed mission.  I went there to visit the former Chaplain of the closed mission who was now working at the bargain center.  There was Colonel, sitting on a sofa in the bargain center and he rushed to give me a hug.  This was the day that I would never forget. He looked at me with his inquisitive, sad blue eyes and said, "I've got to get off the street, I've got to get off the street. I'm sick.  I've got to get help for my diabetes and the congestive heart failure.  I ain't gonna make it if I don't get off the street.  I'll work, I'll do any kind of job."

That day I hugged Colonel tightly and told him I loved him and he responded in kind with a heartfelt "I love you, too."

That was the last time I saw Colonel.  A few weeks later, my friend the Chaplain, texted me to say that Colonel had suffered a massive stroke and was in the hospital, not knowing that he was really in this world.

He died shortly there after.

I can only conclude this piece by saying what is in my heart:  Colonel is no longer homeless for there are no homeless vets in heaven.