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Not In Time

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Last week I mentioned that my step-father was on hospice and I was soon to be traveling to see him and my mother.  I was too late.  I will now and forever will refer to him as my father.  He was much, much more to me than just a father.

I am thankful to have had a week with them this past January.

They loved to camp as often as they could and they did camp right up to the end of this summer until his breathing made it impossible for one last camping trip they always had before the rain and snow.

His name is John, my father:

John

This is my mother, Ginger:

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My father had an infectious laugh.  You know, the kind of laugh that makes you laugh no matter what the laughter is about.  He passed away on Tuesday night, in my mother’s arms as she was helping him into his wheelchair to get to the bathroom.  They were alone when this happened and trust me, it devastated my mother.  I am still going to Oregon on the 1st of November.  My mother needs me there, yet thankfully my aunt is with her now.  Her grief is beyond words.  They were married over 28 years and were best friends, true soul mates in every possible way.  Their love reminds me of the love I share with my husband.  I cannot imagine losing my husband and I cannot fathom the pain my mother is dealing with.

There are many stages of grief and each has its own time for every person.  No matter, the pain stays. It is not always so fresh and sharp, but it never goes away, that loss.  This blog is not about that.  Just a brief post about such pain, that I wasn’t in time to see him one last time, to feel his hug and hear his laughter, the deep pain of missing the one who is no longer with you and of being left behind.

I plan on writing a memoir of my father, in separate chapters.  With pictures.  It is a work coming.  And I will share it here.  It is a remarkable story, their love story, and how I met him before my mother did.  (I set the whole thing up!)  That first chapter will be titled, “The day I met my step-father, he gave me a 10.”

Love those you love fiercely today.  Do not put off what you do not have to.  For now, my concern is caring for my mother and staying close during this most difficult time of extreme grief.

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What If’s

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It seems to me, at least this morning, that worry equates to “what if’s.”  I have been fortunate in my life in that I have never lost someone  intimately close to me before.  Everyone I love is living, including my 94 year-old grandmother.

Things are changing, because I am getting older.  So is everyone else.

My step father was recently placed on hospice.  The inevitable is coming, and it could be any time.  I will be flying to Oregon in two weeks to spend time with my mother and my step father, also helping out any way I possibly can during these four days.

I have been filled with worry for my mother.  All the what if’s.  Like, what if my step father passes while I am there?  What if my mother completely falls apart?  I am very concerned about her living alone so far away in their little house in the country.  You know, all the important what if’s.  Of course, they are all important, right?

But…God.  I was reminded this morning by His heart nudging mine that He is God regardless of what is going on.  He is faithful.  He provides.  He does not change.  He is good and He knows the future.  He is God and He changes not.  My job (our job) is to remind ourselves, nourish our own souls by these truths (His truths) and to rest in His care, His promises.

Letting-Go

I am leaving my “what if’s” in His hands this morning.  This is a continual, daily process.  A choice I must make.  He changes not.  He has never failed me before (nor anyone else I know) and He never will.  We can go through our lives worrying and fretting, praying and picking up the burdens again, but regardless, God is God and He is faithful.  Our jobs are to remind ourselves, “work out our salvation,” feed our spirits with His truths and trust that He has everything under control that concerns us and those we love.

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Homelessness: Desperation, Addiction or Scammers?

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I live in a relatively small coastal town.  It is not unusual to bump into people you know where ever you may be.  It is also very easy to recognize the homeless: new panhandlers and regulars.  Over the years I have learned how to recognize the differences between true homelessness and its desperation, as well as those sign holders who make their living for their addiction or even the liars, cheats, lazy scammers.

It completely pisses me off infuriates me when I see how many scammers and addicts have taken over our parking lot exit ways and streets.  I used to feel so sorry for them all until my encounter with the deaf-mute man at Jack in the Box many, many years ago.  I will get to that in a minute.  But, what really irritates me is our city police who do nothing about this growing epidemic.  We have an ordinance against such panhandling, yet these lowlifes people are everywhere…so are the cops, who choose to ignore.

Let me share some photos that pull at my heart strings (possibly yours as well):

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Those who do not hold a sign, but rather bring their pets (my heart turns to mush over animals) and a bucket/container.  I always imagine their story.

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^How about the ones WITH a sign, bundled up in blankets WITH their pet(s)?  This always makes me sad…for the dog.

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Now, we move forward into the audacity of some.  Some idiots people will actually give money to these types because they think their nerve is funny or others even applaud their honest acknowledgement that the money they receive will be for booze or drugs.  These type of sign holders truly anger me, and I feel disgust over the many who support their lifestyle.

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^Ever seen one of these?  I have seen a few in our town.  It greatly bothers me when I see such sign holders because our children can see them, the children who are at the age of reading well for themselves. Not cool.

Moving on, I appreciate the people who hold signs like this:

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or even this:

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…yet, I will NOT give them a penny.  They are willing to trade a service for food.  Really?  Sometimes I have given them a Happy meal.  Or offer them a job.  Most of them have turned down any job offered because “they can make more money holding a sign for a few hours.”  Seriously?  THAT infuriates me.  And we cater to this epidemic.

How about this one:

panhandler

These type of sign holders like to make you feel guilty or recount a scriptural truth concerning blessings.  Many religious people who love God will give to these types.  Panhandlers truly have learned the art in how to manipulate us all in some way or another.

Anyway, on to the Jack in the Box deaf-mute man, who I was pleasured to meet many years ago when I drove through Jack in the Box with my kids for milkshakes.  He greeted me at the order window holding a sign made out of cardboard which read:

“PLEASE HELP.  CAR BROKE DOWN ON WAY TO AIRPORT.  HELP MY FAMILY HAVE A HOTEL FOR TONIGHT.  I CANNOT SPEAK OR HEAR.”

As I was reading the sign he held in front of him, he was using hand gestures and facial expressions to pull my heart strings.  I gave him all the cash in my wallet (I think it was about $16) and used my debit card to pay for our milkshakes.  I also bought the deaf-mute man milkshakes for his entire family (family of six).  My kids and I felt so good and were just glowing during the drive home, feeling like we had helped this family.

Well…it was about two weeks later my kids wanted another milkshake and as we entered that same Jack in the Box driveway I saw the deaf-mute man once again.  Except this time, he did not see me.  He was hanging out with a group of sign-holders under a tree towards the back of the parking lot with their camper.  He was quite vocal.  He could also hear quite well.  He was even listening to tunes with ear buds, rocking out.  I spied on him for a few moments and my kids were dumbfounded as pissed as I was.  He was laughing and seemed to be having a great time conversing with the others.  I saw red!  I did all the math and felt so dumb.  I had been completely fooled by a “scammer.”

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Since then, I have a somewhat guarded heart and attitude towards sign holders.  I have seen documentaries about their addictions.  I have learned all about their “ways.”  There are so many resources in our county (as well as all over the United States) for the homeless including shelters, food pantries and meals provided through various churches and centers, our public schools serve lunches during the summer to ANYONE, the ACE program provides medical care, and we have donation sites everywhere.  Truly, if you are homeless in my town you CAN find a bed, clothing, food, shelter and opportunities for rehabilitation and jobs.  We have a few transitional housing centers to help families get back on their feet.  There is even a “river community” of people who are provided services for their needs- they live in our local river bottoms.  Usually when we give money to a sign holder or panhandler, we are only enabling them and feeding a bad habit/addiction.

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But…what about our heart strings?  My own has come to recognize the truly needy, the ones who do not hold signs, the ones who strive everyday to find hope.  We can be that hope sometimes.  Not in an enabling way, but rather much like a guardian angel whose paths cross with such at a particular moment in time.  I have crossed paths with one particular man over the years and just the other night.  He has a shopping cart filled with what little belongings he owns, covered with a blue tarp.  He slumps terribly.  He is very dirty and always sunburned.  He never holds a sign, he never asks for anything.  He just walks.  Sometimes he rests.  He travels miles in one day.  I wonder where his destinations are?  His clothing and shoes reflect he cares about his appearance even if he cannot locate a shower.  His hair is trimmed neatly.  A few years ago I passed to him a Von’s gift card I had received worth $25.  His eyes danced.  They even sparkled.  I KNEW hope came to him that day. I saw him again the other night when I was getting gas.  Once again I felt that urgency and pull in my heart to give him what cash I had in my wallet.  I found a $10 dollar bill.  It was as if he recognized me when I handed it to him and said, “God bless you.”  His eyes danced and sparkled again.  He was so thankful.  I KNEW he was so thankful.

Only we can decipher between true homelessness desperation, addiction, enabling or the scammers.  Follow your heart, but try not to let it be manipulated.  Let go of guilt, because there are resources available.  I know I am thankful every single day for what I have.  I take nothing for granted, honestly.

So, when your heart strings are pulled, let the song play.  Otherwise, grab a milkshake once in awhile for you and your own family.

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