What is Faith?

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. ~ Hebrews 11:1

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reality Check

It was scary, terrifying, knowing that I could not wake up from this nightmare I was having.
During the night, nature calls and I unwrap myself from the sleeping bag I am cocooned in. It is 39 degrees and raining. The bathroom is more than 100 yards away and I go as quickly as I can, ducking as many raindrops as I can. The bathroom is cold. I look in the first stall and the toilet has not been flushed in quite some time. The second has the remains of vomit around the rim. The last stall has no toilet paper but I know I can find some in the first two.

By the time I get back to my car, I am wet, cold and awake. I climb into my now freezing sleeping bag and reach for the keys. I stop myself though because I haven't the gas to spare to run the heat. The frost from my breath causing condensation on the window. I shiver until I fall asleep again.

Although the seat lays back to an almost reclining position, there is still no way to put my feet up in the front seat of a Vega. At least it's a roof over my head. When I wake each morning my feet are swollen to almost twice their size. I walk around a bit, barefoot for I can not slip my feet into my sneakers let alone tie them. When I am finally able to do so, I put my sneakers on over the socks I have been wearing for the last three days. I have been wearing the same clothes for five.

I get the free cup of coffee offered at the rest stop I have been sleeping at for the last several nights. I don't drink it. I just hold it. My hands can finally get warm. I eat one of the two cookies I got along with the coffee. The other I wrap carefully in a napkin to be eaten for lunch. I don't know what I'll do for dinner. I don't know if I'll have dinner.

I take the empty coffee cup into the bathroom with me. I use a dime sized dollop of shampoo from the samples they were giving away at the church food bank. I rinse my hair with the coffee cup since the sink is probably just as dirty as the floor.

I spend hours each day walking. I never know where I am going. I just walk. I hope that someone, somewhere will look at me. Anyone. But they don't. They never see me. I am invisible.

Reality sets in. I am awake. I am alone. I don't remember how or when it happened. I only know that I am not like other people, and like it or not, this is now my life.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Lucky Lady

I have been visiting Seattle yearly since 1997. As most cities, it is exciting and beautiful, and fun to visit. I have my favorite places to go like dinner at Il Fornaio where I always order my favorite Butternut Squash Ravioli with Fried Sage. A decadent dessert is always served up at Dilettantes and the view from the Space Needle of the city in lights is a perfect ending to to any city excursion.

This time however, I did not see the city through the eyes of Dr. Frasier Crane. I head down Pine Street toward the famous Pike Street market, past malls, designer shops and fabulous restaurants. There by the fountain curtain we see anywhere from 5-20 street kids; an older woman in a wheelchair, oxygen tank in tow holding a sign that says "Homeless. Anything helps", and an African American pushing a shopping cart, overflowing with all of his worldly possession.

Today, my last day in Seattle, I traveled past many of the people I had gotten to know over the past few days and wished I could somehow do something more to help them all. I continued on my way heading towards the Space Needle and there amongst the poverty and degradation of street life is a small miraculous new chance at life. A chance called lucky.

Noel House is Seattle's largest shelter for homeless women, giving them a safe, secure and compassionate place to lay their heads and the ability to begin a new life. The shelter which provides beds for 40 women each night is temporarily located in the basement of Sacred Heart Church while it's new home, Bakhita Gardens, is nearing completion just a few blocks away.

She was born to a life of wealth, but at the tender age of 9 was kidnapped by Arab slave traders. Due to the traumatic events of being sold and re-sold over the next eight years, the name of this small girl was forgotten. The slave name Bakhita, which was the Arabic word for "lucky", was given to her. After years of being beaten horribly, scarred by scarification and tattooing, she was bought by a family from Italy.

After serving as nanny to the family's daughter she stayed behind in Italy after winning her freedom strictly because it was against the law in Italy to own a slave. She became a nun at the home where she had lived with the sisters for many years and chose the name Josephine. She spent the rest of her life attending to the sick and seeking justice for women, especially those who were treated as she was. With abuse.

"We see the same resilience and power she exemplified in the community of women we are so fortunate to serve," states the brochure of this extraordinary home. So with "lucky" Josephine Bakhita behind the scenes, so to speak, the Noel House is sure to continue growing strong and helping those whose majority of clients are mentally ill, in poor health and/or chemically dependent, many of which are survivors of domestic violence and other physical or mental abuse.

But with over 40% of Noel House funding coming strictly from donations, finances are still needed to be able to continue the incredible work that is being done here. So let luck be a lady tonight and help this very worthwhile shelter from the storm of life.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Follow the Other Brick Road

Yesterday, I wrote of the mistake of taking God out of God's plans. I had been talking about the plans I made, when the reality is I can make all the plans I want to, even for the right reasons, but they may not always coincide with what He has in mind.

If plans change, it is not necessarily because of human error, nor is it because God changed his mind. For me, I believe God is in effect saying "Thank you so much for what you have done, but I think I'll take it from here."

I can not see the whole scope of what God will do here from beginning to end. I only know that I move forward one step at a time knowing that God is in charge of those steps. The path I start on may not be the path that God wants me to go on, so He guides my feet in another direction.

This excursion began with beautiful rural farms, spring blossoming in every nook and cranny. Each step of the 112 miles we have already traveled was a sight to behold. But when I got past the beauty of what I was seeing, I realized what I wasn't seeing. I wasn't seeing homeless people. It did not meant that they didn't exist. It meant that there were no shelters for them and they had found other places to go. If you'll be patient with me for just a moment, I will explain that.

"Okay God. This is your baby. Put in my path the people you mean for me to talk to. Guide my steps along the path you want me walk on, not the one I chose." It was a simple prayer. It was all it needed to be. I said the words and God absolutely took it from there.

As you know we have been staying at a rest stop in the town of Marysville, Washington. Yesterday morning I began a conversation with a woman who was putting on her make-up. I am not sure how it came about that she told me this, I only know the conversation turned to the homeless.

She happened to be from Vancouver, B.C. and was traveling for the weekend. "My husband and I had to get away. Sometimes I think we shouldn't go back but then where would we go. It's the same everywhere I think. We had the Olympics so we aren't as bad as it is here in America, but it's coming. The government made a change in medical care. Now so many of the mentally ill, who are Schizophrenic and bi-polar and others, are now being denied the meds they need so badly. The government raised the bar so if you can cope at this many milligrams, you don;t need the meds. Then they are loose on the street."

"On Wednesday, we came home to our neighbors house having burned down to the ground. The old lady burned to death. Her son who was one of those who needed the meds, didn't get them. He went crazy. He barricaded his mom in the house and then set it on fire. He admitted he stood there watching her pounding on the windows to get out. He just stood there and did nothing. The thing is, it could have been prevented. He needed the meds and the government said no you don't. You're fine without them."

I eventually got around to asking her about the lack of homeless. "I know they are there. I have been through the city many times and seen them. Why are there only a handful now? You guys must be doing something right up there." I really wanted to know. I felt we could learn from them. Her answer was not what I expected.

"Oh we have them alright. We have hundreds, probably more. I work across the street from a homeless shelter. It used to be that I could walk out my office door and there they'd be. Some of them shooting up. Some of them already drunk. Some of them looking a bit lost."

"Then we had the Olympics, and I guess the government sent them away. They put them up in a few townhouses for the duration. I guess they didn't want the public to know that we had homeless people here. But that failed. There are the hardcore homeless. Do you know what I mean?"

"I do." I told here what I was doing and finished by saying, "I know we will never end homelessness. There will always be the hardcore's, but even the hardcore's need to eat. They need medical care, clothes, even food for their animals."

"I suppose your right, but it bothers me that they live off of us, off of the government."

"You know this can be said about any race, any religion, including Christianity, even the homeless, but there are the select few, that give the rest a bad name. But do we not help any because of the few? There are those who living in the streets that genuinely don't want to be there. Do we give up on them because of the minority that do want to be there?"

"But what can we do if the government won't help?" she asked me.

I gave her a flyer which led her to the website and this blog. "There's plenty we can do. 85% of all homeless shelters are donation based. Because of the recession, donations are down. I'm not saying don't give to the panhandlers. What I am saying is give to the shelters. The more we donate, the more homeless they can help, including the ones who need the meds and have no way of getting them."

I don't want to get preachy here. You all know by know how I feel about helping our neighbors when they need our help, and whether we want to accept them, the homeless are part of our community and therefore our neighbors. If you do nothing else...PLEASE...listen to them. Listen to their stories. There is always a story behind every face. Always.

I am just one person. I can not do it alone, but I am trusting that God will in fact lead me down the other brick road to the people I am meant to share this information with. Those are the people that will share this with their friends who will share it with their friends. The domino effect only instead of knocking this over, we will knock homeless out of the ball park.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Imperfect Me

I went online today, looking for a passage from the Bible, in order to do a blog on imperfect people. I could not for the life of me find that passage. I searched and came up with others similar to the one I was looking for, but not THE one. Somewhere in the back of my head I kept hearing this little voice saying, 'go out to the van and get your Bible. You'll be able to turn right to it.'

I was being a bit lazy, so I ignored that voice. I felt I was justified since I walk enough every day. After 30 minutes of searching to no avail, I gave up and went to the van. I returned with Bible in hand a bit damper than I would have been had I acted at the first urgings of the voice, and sure enough, I opened right to what I was looking for.

Luke 3:23-28. The 'Imperfect' lineage of Christ. Judah fathered Perez with his daughter-in-law Tamar, thinking she was a prostitute. Salmon married Rahab, a former prostitute in Jericho. David had an adulterous affair with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba and through that infidelity fathered Solomon. So Jesus' own family tree is filled with people known for their mistakes.

I have been somewhat dissatisfied, that this walk is not going as smoothly as I had planned. I
have been disappointed that not one person in this state has been willing to walk with us yet. I have been disillusioned with the plans I made for this trip that have not as of yet come to fruition.

I disregarded the fact that each person I have shared with has passed this information on to someone else. I ignored the fact that KGMI talk news radio in Bellingham did an interview with us on the second day of this walk. I was disappointed that the media here in Washington was not picking up on this as fast as Oregon and California. I looked past what WAS happening so far in the first six days of this trip, and only looked for what wasn't happening.

This morning, a man came over to our table and talked with us. It turned out he was an associate pastor of a large church here in Marysville. He asked about my Bible and why it was so important to me. I told him that I was on a mission. I couldn't go anywhere without if for it was His trip not mine. It was through His urgings that I was being guided to the lives He would touch through me. It was His children I was walking for not just mine. It was His outcome I was walking for not mine.

With those words that God meant for me to hear, I realized that it makes no difference in the grand scheme of things, if future generations remember what I am doing here. What matters is that the present generation knows that God cares enough about them to send as His messenger this imperfect person who forgot that it was not she who was in control, but He.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Home Sweet Rest Area

I planned this trip perfectly. I spent hours every day for months, preparing for every worse case scenario. I accounted for bad weather. I accounted for places to shower, places to cook, places to sit and talk with the homeless that I am trying to support, and when we would need to stop and fill up with gas. I even planned where to go to church on Sunday each week. I dotted all my I's, and crossed all my T's. I left nothing out. Or so I thought.

My oldest son calls every evening. He's proud of what I am doing, yet worried about me. After all last time I was homeless I was a tad bit younger. He always asks the same questions which of course make me smile. Am I taking care of myself. Am I doing okay? How many miles did I walk.

Today, I had to tell him I walked zero miles. Every muscle aches and not from walking. You see the one thing I did not account for was sickness. I have the flu. I have slept more hours than I have been awake and wake up only long enough to eat, use the rest room and crawl back into the front seat of the car, look out at the beautiful trees before me, and go quietly back to sleep.

This evening, I am sitting at the Haggen grocery store in Marysville, Washington. It is here that I am eating a bowl of much needed soup, and am able to log on long enough to write this short blog. I will make up the miles tomorrow hopefully, but for today I bid you good night. Sleep tight, for I assure you I will do the same.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Cows, Bunnies and Carburetors, Oh My!

This was a thrilling day. I once again outsmarted Google Maps with my superior intelligence and outstanding wit, but alas, my understanding is Google is not always smarter than a fifth grader therefore, neither am I. I did discover however that Google does not account for road closures, construction detours and road name changes. My eyes do.

Entering Blaine Washington from the Canadian border at 3 mph, I was amazed at how many awe inspiring things have been missed each time I have crossed the border at 60 mph. There were so many things to see, and being an amateur photographer, after taking 30+ pictures in the first hour, I thought perhaps I should limit myself or I would never get to Tijuana.

I also decided on the first day, to drive the next days route because the first walk had me going 4 miles out of the way unnecessarily. So far Google has misdirected me three times, and I missed my street once. Since I have always had this innate built in compass which has yet to fail me, (a trait which I do not believe any of my children have inherited) I have decided to follow my own instincts, even the dangerous ones. So my schedule listed on the website has been changed just a bit.

So far the days have been fun, for the most part beautiful; a bit dangerous at times, and absolutely unforgettable.

Having the Cascade Mountains to the east of me has been as breathtaking a view as my own Mt. Hood. The Hood is so striking that 19 years later I am still in awe each time I see it, but the Cascades are something that is heart stopping for miles up on miles, beginning with Mt. Baker, to Glacier Peak to the Crystal Mountains.
While walking along enjoying the view on Old Hwy 99 in Sylvania, WA I came across a most unusual sight. One which excited me almost as much, simply because it was so out of place against this spectacular backdrop. A row of carburetors sitting on posts. Silly I know, but it was just so unusual I had to take a picture. (See above)

In another part of the days walk, I came across a very narrow bridge. It was two way and the white line I was following only gave 6 inches between me and certain death. Well maybe not death but certainly broken bones. At one point, there were two over sized pick ups that were coming from opposite direction. I held my breath and turned sideways trying to squeeze my deluxe edition sized body into a six inch space. DREAM ON!!! I always wanted a smaller derriere, but this was not quite the way I wanted to get rid of it.

With baited breath, as I was waiting for my demise or the trucks to pass, whichever happened first, I glanced down and there sitting at my feet was a quivering bunny. He was just as scared as I was and I fancy did not want to die alone. The trucks passed, we both took a deep breath and continued on our way. I turned to look back, wishing in my moment of terror that I had remembered my camera. Oh well. As I looked, there in the middle of the bridge sat the bunny and I may have been hallucinating, but I do believe he waved an ear at me.

Several miles later, I came across a herd of cows. There must have been close to 500 of them scattered about on the 50+ acre ranch. There was a huddle of bovine, surrounding a pick up truck. Many that were in the back 40 were running at a full gallop towards the pick up. It was feeding time and no one wanted to miss out. I continued on this very rural road and came across a solitary cow. She stood there watching the others but did not budge. As I stood still watching her, I noticed beneath a nearby bush the tail end of a much smaller version of this dairy queen. She turned and saw that I was watching her. She came close to the fence and although I had nothing to offer her, she allowed me to pet her for a second, and after snapping a picture, Bessie went merrily back to her calf.

Now these two things may not seem so exciting to you, but to this city girl it was the most amazing thing. I pet a cow that wasn't in a petting zoo; I rescued a bunny; came close to great physical impairment and came a cross a cemetery of car parts, all within two hours time. Gee what will I do tomorrow I wonder?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I Forgot

We woke to a shroud of fog, engulfing us in a penetrating cold blanket. The kind where you find yourself damp within moments of being amongst it. It's the kind of cold that makes you stay inside, comforted by the warmth of a fireplace and cup of hot cocoa.

I had forgotten what it's like to be cold ALL the time. The bone cold that pierces your inner core. When you are homeless, if you're lucky, you may stand warming your hands over an open fire, but there is no inside for you to go to in order for the rest of you to be warm. It's the kind of cold that makes you believe that even if you lived in the tropics you may never be warm again.

I had forgotten that there is no privacy when you are homeless, yet you feel invisible because no one will meet your eye. If you can scrounge the $1.50 it costs to take a shower at the YMCA you have even less privacy. The shower doors are clear and there you are exposed to all who enter. They see the filth of daily living in the streets. They see the bruises. They see the scars. They see the ribs of starvation, but they don't realize that you are starving for more than just food.

I had forgotten how alone you feel especially on a bitter fog covered morning such as this. You realize what wrong choices you have made in life and out of desperation, you try to bargain with the God in which you did not believe. "Get me out of this and I will do whatever you want."

Of course you don't mean it and He knows that, but His heart is breaking just the same, watching you go through what you are and although you don't believe in Him, He believes in you and will carry you through this time of horrendous trials. But you don't believe that, because you have been programmed to believe that if there was a God, you aren't worth his time.

Maybe if you get cold enough or hungry enough or even lonely enough you will believe that He will help where people can not. All you need do is ask.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oh Canada

The rest area we had chosen to stop at was serene, beautiful and dark. No lights shining in our van window, surrounded by the monumental pines that are so well known in the Pacific Northwest. Albeit the traffic was only one hundred or so yards away, it was muffled by these viridian behemoth beauties and all we heard was the lovely night aria of the frogs and crickets nearby.

It was a peaceful sleep considering it was in a reclining but yet somewhat upright position of the front seat. Truth be told we were exhausted and slept through morning to be awakened at dawn by the sound of a torrential downpour. I would have preferred sun, but when I saw the lacy veil of rain breaking through the boughs, I could not help but think what a wondrous day this would be. And so the adventures begins.

I have loved Canada since I was a child. My parents took us through the cobble stoned streets of Quebec, the excitement of Montreal and to the rural wonders of Nova Scotia and now that I love on the west coast, I have had the pleasure of discovering Vancouver, Victoria and Mayne Island.
I discovered these treasures quite by accident when I sent away for a brochure on an Inn called Oceanwood in Maine, USA. What I got was a brochure from Oceanwood in Mayne Island British Columbia. It was the best mistake I had ever made and go back as often as I can to enjoy its delightful owner Jonathan, beautiful grounds, breathtaking views and the most scrumptious meals with freshly picked herbs and vegetables from the owners garden.

Springtime is a sight to behold. Lilacs and dogwoods beckoning a welcome to the dawn of the new season and the highway's surrounded by emerald lushness that lead to the bustle of the metropolitan Vancouver, where the excitement of a big city is not as overwhelming as some but still as fun filled as the Big Apple, or Windy City.

The night life is the same as every big city. There are night clubs, dance halls, even strip joints all open til the wee hours of the morning. You can enjoy Irish music, Disco dancing, hip hop, rap and even the big bands. Then you take a stroll with someone you love and walk hand in hand among the fountains and parks. You take in the sights and there amongst the wonders of the big city you will find a night life you never knew existed.

The homeless are not as prominent as in Portland, Seattle and L.A. but they are there. you need to look a little closer, but beneath the interurban waterfall you see a small tent city. It will be gone by morning, but for now, they can sleep where the cascading water drowns out the noise of the city. Under the fragrance of the lilac, comes the odor of one who has not showered in a week, maybe more. The stench of alcohol permeates the bouquet of spring in the park where your children played just that afternoon.

Homelessness is not only in America. It is around the world. Whether caused by a natural disaster, recession or even drugs and alcohol, as a world united, we can fight the battle together to prevent further homelessness and to help those who currently have no home. This calamity may in fact happen to anyone of us. No one is immune. To find out how you can help, please click here: http://www.change-for-life.org/

Special thanks to Courtney at H & M Video. Your hospitality was commendable and I wish you well in all your endeavors.

Monday, April 19, 2010

So long, Farewell, Aufwiedersehn, Adieu

My family and I have our occassional spats as all families do, yet we are very close and get together as often as possible. This last weekend however, was an emotional roller coaster for us all. This is the first time in YEARS that we have been apart for more than a few weeks. Even though I am not moving away nor am I going to be gone forever, we shed a few tears.

In addition, it is the birthdays of four of the six females I love dearly. The youngest granddaughter, Belles is 3 today and is just beginning to understand birthdays. I don't think she will miss my presence, but I will miss hers.

Lexi will be 13 in two days and very much the beautiful young lady. She is tall, stunning and beautiful in every way shape and form. She will miss my presence and I very much wanted to be part of this very special coming of age birthday rite. She understood my being away and is very excited for the outcome of this walk, so much so that she will be joining me for the final days.

Shyla will be 9 and although she is the daughter of my daughter-in-law and she does not share my blood, I think that for the first time in our 4 years of being part of each others lives, she is finally understanding that blood has nothing to do with how much I love her.

My daughter, who will be 36 soon, knows how much I love her and although we have had our share of spats over the many years of her existence, we never stay angry long and I am very proud to have her as a daughter, warts and all. (Just kidding. She is a beautiful young lady and has no warts, just a few scattered freckles). Although we will be apart for her birthday, she will be in my thoughts on her very special day as will they all.

So what has this to do with my walk. Well...nothing really, except that for the last few months I have been so busy preparing for this, that I wasn;t able to spend as much time with them as I would have liked. My concentration was on this walk. Here it is day one of this already adventurous journey, and I find myself concentrating more on missing my family then where my feet are taking me.

Our adventure began with a 27 hour trip to get to Seattle when it normally takes 3. The van we are traveling in broke down in Olympia. I don;t think it is coincidence however that we broke down in front of a mechanic. Had we left on time on Sunday and not 4 hours ater, we may have broken down in the middle of a country not familiar to us with no means of transportation. God had other plans in mind however, and several hours and $421 later, we were on the road.

It just goes to show that whether my mind is on what it should be, or whether or not this van brakes down, even whether or not we have food to eat, everything is in His hands. He will take care of us even if it is not in the way He had planned.

Good night all.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Story Behind Every Face

We lost everything in hurricane Katrina. Everything that meant anything. I don't care about things. Someday we'll get them back, but now my daughter and I are homeless. My son; my husband. They perished along with everything else. Nothing can give them back to us.

I tried to tell my mom what was going on but she wouldn't believe me. Her new boyfriend wouldn't stop hitting on me. Then I got pregnant. She told me it was my fault. She chose him over me, her own daughter. She kicked me out. I'm only 15. I have no place to go. Where do I go. What do I do now? What's going to happen to me and my baby.

My wife's been pretty sick. We don't have insurance, so I took a second job just to pay the medical bills. Then I lost the better paying of the two. I found another job but they each just pay minimum wage. It was enough to put food on the table and buy the medicine my wife needed, but it wasn't enough to keep the house from being foreclosed on. Now the four of us sleep in our car. My wife isn't going to get better here. The kids don't get to be kids. I don't get to be hero and save the day.

My story's an easy one. I had my own construction company. It was small but it kept me going. Kept a rood over my head. Had a nice truck. Money in the bank. Then I fell off a ladder and broke my back. The cost of insurance when you are self-employed was through the roof, so I never bought any. When you own the company you don't take out workers comp on yourself either. But without it, I had no income coming in at all. My savings, house, car. They all went to pay the medical bills. I wish I had spent the $400 a month on insurance now.

Now I have nothing and disability doesn't even get me a studio apartment, so I'm out here waiting in line for bed every night.

He was kid and loving. A good father. A good provider. Every woman's dream. But when he had a few, he was...well he wasn't so much fun anymore. I got a restraining order, but it's just a piece of paper. So I left. I went to a shelter for a while. hey found me a place to stay. A sort of witness protection program, but he found me anyway.

He promised he'd change. I gave him a second chance. It was pretty good for a little while. Then he started going out with his buddies again. He beat me so bad I couldn't open my right eye for the longest time. Lost some of the vision in it too.

I had no place to go. The shelters were all full. Witness protection had a list. I stayed with a few friends but when he came and beat down the door, they told me I had to leave. I couldn't blame them. That's how I ended up here. I've been here for about 3 years now. It's actually better than living with him. At least here, they kind of take you in and you become one big happy family after a while. We take care of each other.

I'll take frozen toes over broken ribs any day.

My dad left when I was just three. Mom and I went to live with her brother in Phillie. Mom left one day for milk and never came back. Things were okay for a while, but when I was 12, things changed. I had a baby when I was almost 13. I named her Hope. Uncle Doug made me give her away. Said he didn't want a bastard living under his roof. Even without Hope, there was still a bastard living under his roof.

I couldn't stay. I'd rather be out here than to keep being his bitch so I left when I was 14. I've been out here for 5 years now. I steal a lot. Only bread and peanut butter. A girls gotta eat. Sometimes I take Tampax, but that's it. I turn tricks now and then but I hate it so I only do it when I'm really down and out. I found out when I was 16 that you could get paid for blood, but you had to be 18. Got a fake ID.

Never got into the drugs. Sometimes I wish I had, but I never had the nerve. I figure I'm screwed up enough already and drugs would just make it worse.

Someday I'd like a house, but I probably won't ever get it. Who'd want somebody like me anyway?

Know how old I am? 54. I look a lot older don't I? War'll do that to you ya know. Age you before your time. Liquor'll do it too. I didn't start drinkin cuz I like the stuff. I can't stand it, but it helps you forget. At least for a little while.

I was just a kid in Vietnam. Thought it would get me a lot of girls if I wore a uniform. All it got me was pain. I saw more sh** than any kid ever had a right to see. I wasn't the same when I came home. They knew that. Everybody knew, but they sent me out again.

27 years I served in the Marines. Was proud to do it. I ain't the only one who's change though. America's changed. There's a lot more hate than when I was a kid. Lot more stupid people trying to run the country. They make all these grand speeches about how much they care and how much they want to change things for us. For all of us they say, not just the Vets. They's just a bunch of liars. I ain't so proud no more.

truth is, I want to be out here. Nobody bothers me out here. They all think I'm nuts so why not let em keep on thinkin it? I ain't nuts though. Just tired a all the bull sh**. Everybody should be tired a bullsh**, but nobody wants to do nothing about it. So I keep to myself and life is grand. And if you believe that darlin' I got me a rusty colored bridge to sell you out at Tony Bennett's place to sell ya.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Deep and Dark December

It was just before the holidays. The traffic was thick. I was behind the lead car at the red light on 185th and Highway 26. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I noticed there were at least a dozen cars behind me. The woman in front of me was chatting on the phone as so many people do these days. Off in my own little world, I did not acknowledge the man holding a sign that asked for a job, until the light turned green.

Prepared to move, I looked forward. It wasn't until the light turned red again and we had not moved, that I noticed the car i n front of me had put her hazards on. Cars behind me honked. I shrugged. What could I do? I couldn't go anywhere. The car in front of me was broken down; the car behind was too close for me to go around and the traffic on the right was just as thick.

Seeing that no one had moved through the third traffic light color change, I watched as the homeless man put his sign down and walk to the stalled car. He knocked on the window. The driver looked up and saw this slightly grungy man and completely ignored him. He shrugged and walked back to his sign. People behind me became more annoyed and the honking continued. I got out to see if I could help in any way. The yound lady rolled her window down for me.

"Can I help push you to the side of the road," I asked? She nodded and said it would be nice.
I turned and noticed the homeless man although previously ignored, was already in place to do so. As he and I struggled, we could not make the car budge on the incline. As the other dozen plus cars watched, honked and cursed at us, we tried one more time to no avail. Finally, a man in the eighth car back got out and helped us. We moved the car and the homeles man went back to his sign, not waiting to hear the words thank you.

My car was now first in line. I glanced at the line of cars waiting to get to their destinations. I looked at the homeless man and smiled. People honked. I didn't care. It was the homeless man who was first to offer help. Being formerly homeless myself, I knew what it was like to be ignored. Someone needed to acknowledge him and I knew God was nudging me to do so.

I went to him and said, "I can't give you a job, but can I buy you lunch?"

He smiled and said, "Thank you, but I can get fed at a lot of places. It's getting cold out. I can use gloves or socks. He lifted his pants leg to show that he had no socks at all, just bare feet in tattered shoes.

When I left him 20 minutes later, because of a small donation made to the Yetzer Ha-Tov Foundation, he had his gloves as well as three pairs of socks. I watched carefully as he placed his new treasures in a small box he had taken from his backpack. On it were the handwritten words "My Glove Box." He was a little embarassedwhen he realized I was watching him.

He sheepishly smiled and said "I used to have a car. I always kept gloves in the glove box. Now I can do it again." He thanked me and told me I had made his day. I don't really know if he understood this, but with tears in my eyes I said, "No sir. It is you who have made mine and I thank you."

It was just one more sign God was giving me that made me know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was being called to do something more than buy a pair of gloves and socks for someone I didn't know. I had to somehow get the attention of the nation to "Be the change" and help the homeless all around the world. And so, on a cold day in December, The Change-for-Life seed was planted.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Humpty Dumpty

My name is Charles Alexander Wentworth.* That's a lot of name for a piece of shit like me. I am 72 years old and been living out here for close to 20 years now. I used to be a doctor if you can believe that. A damned good one at that. At first, being a doctor was kind of glamorous.

I fixed the broken arms of future Joe DiMaggio's. I kissed little girl's scraped knees and made them feel better. I was well respected in the community and had the admiration of just about anyone I met as long as I wore a white coat and stethoscope. Then I went to Nam.

I had seen death before. You can't be a doctor and not see death, but I had never seen death to this magnitude. I had never willingly killed anyone before either. In the role of medic, I unwillingly became God. Making decisions in the blink of an eye that cut me to the quick. The hurt my very being. In battlefield situations, sometimes the wounds are so grave, that to attempt treatment is to deny care to those who might yet live. The man is lost - a casualty before he even stops breathing. Then it becomes an act of mercy.

I knew what everyone was thinking. I was a sonfoabitch. If I masked misery as mercy and ended a life, I was being cruel. If I let them endure pain and terror of seeing their entrails lying on the ground beside them, wasn't I being even more cruel? I couldn't live with the decisions because no matter what I did, I was wrong. No matter what I did, I was being cruel.

I tried being a doctor in the real world again. The world without human carnage, Napalm, and the stench of burning flesh. But I couldn't do it. Each time an ambulance came through those doors, all I saw was the pieces of the men I couldn't put back together again. Physician heal thyself was not a concept I could wrap my head around. How could I kiss anybody else owie and make them better again if I couldn't do it for myself?

So I took the chicken shit way out. At least that's the way my family saw it. I didn't want my wife to have to put up with night terrors for the rest of her life. I didn't want my children to see their father fall apart right before their eyes. I walked away from it all. I walked away from my practice, my friends, my family. I even walked away from God. Oh I still believe he's there. I just think now he's the sonofabitch.

They label it PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think it should stand for 'Put This Sonofabitch Down'. You see I'm dying. I began dying on that field in Nam and He cannot be merciful enough to end my life. I don't have the guts to put a gun to my head and pull the trigger, so I am killing myself slowly but surely with booze, drugs, cigarettes. One of them has got to do the trick sooner or later.

"It is now the moment to recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our counry in return." ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

*Out of respect to Mr. Wentowrth we have changed his name for the purpose of this story.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Lexi and Rocky Balboa

At 12 years old, I was the hero of Victoria Lane. The one all the other kids followed, not because I was beautiful, since I am very plain. Not because I was smart, for although I have a fairly high IQ, I was also dyslexic and ADHD which therefore made for not so smart choices. I was the leader because I was afraid of nothing.

I was always the tom boy of the family. The son my father never had. Even though I am sure I owned them, I don't remember ever playing with Barbie's. Give me a Tonka truck any time and I am a happy camper. Although I did not excel in sports, I loved them just the same and could never understand why girls could not participate in football, basketball and hockey.

While the gang wanted to go rowing in the Greenwich pond, I was the one who manned the oar, flexing my rippling mosquito sized muscles. I was the envy of the block including the boys. I told the best ghost stories so of course I was invited to all the slumber parties where no slumbering was done simply because I had scared the bejebeez out of them all, and left them quivering in their Bobby Sherman pajamas.

I loved a good challenge and was never one to walk away from a dare, even at the detriment of my own well being. I dare you to swallow a live ant. Done. I dare you to swipe the new David Cassidy album. Done. I dare you to punch Jamie Andrews in the nose. Done. I dare you to tell Mrs. Johnson the science teacher that she needed to go on a diet. I dare you to skip school. I dare you to run away from home. I dare you to drink the entire pint of Apricot Brandy. Id are you to play chicken in your brand new Cougar XR7 convertible. All done. No questions asked.

My unspoken mantra had always been "Do not tell me I can not do it because I will prove you wrong." To my recollection, there have only been two challenges I have not been able to conquer in my life time. One was walking to the top of Multnomah Falls in Oregon.

Did I ever tell you about how we came to Oregon? I think maybe I did, but in case not, let me tell you now. My kids and I wanted a change. We had been in California for a long time and were wanting something a bit more rural. How do we choose from the thousands upon thousands of cities in the US? There was only one way that I knew of. Put a map up of the US and throw a dart. We have been Oregonians since 1992.

My family and I have done a lot of exploring here in Oregon. We call these explores 'God trips.' We never really knew where we were going to end up, we just in the car and went.
One of our God trips led us to the discovery of Mutlnomah falls. We never even knew of their existence until by happenstance we came upon the cascading wonders after 5 hours of 'turn right here mom...turn left here...let's try this street.' We did the touristy thing and of course took in the surrounding falls but the falls and the lodge were what caught our attention the most. We all wanted to climb to the top.

My children's steps were brisk and they often backtracked to see if I were still coming. Being 150 pounds overweight, my steps were a bit more gingerly, and sadly I only made it half way to the overlook bridge. The crest would have to wait for another day or perhaps decade.

Flash forward 18 years. My granddaughter Lexi and I went on a God trip this past Monday and ended up at Multnomah falls. I had been training for this upcoming long explore of mine and was feeling a bit cocky. We made it to the bridge with no problems. Not only did I not huff and puff, but we carried on a conversation the entire way! We both looked at the sign that explained the top of the falls was only a meager mile away. Onward and Upward.

Upward being the key word here, neither of us had any clue that the 'mere' was actually one and a quarter mile straight up!!! Lexi, being my biggest fan was a valiant and true cheerleader. As I got stopped every so often to rest my tetchy knees, she cheered me on. "You can do it Grandma. It's only a little farther."

Drenched from the unexpected snow, sleet and torrential rains, 18 years after my first attempt failed, Lexi did her best Rocky balboa dance of victory as we stood on the deck that overlooked the surging water below us. Although we were teeth chattering frozen, soaked to the skin and exhausted, we were elated that WE DID IT!!!

We had a celebratory cup of hot cocoa in the dining room overlooking the beast we had just dominated. We chatted excitedly about our next victory and were both saddened by the fact that for the first time in her 13 years we would be separated for some time. Four months is a long time to a 13 years old and to this 54 year old as well. Although she is not able to make this trek with me, I know she will walk each step in spirit.

The other challenge I can't conquer. Do not do anything to bring attention to the McPherson name. Well...we all know how that one turned out didn't we?

By the way. I surprised Lexi yesterday when I told her that I had arranged for her to fly out and walk from San Diego to Tijuana. It will be awesome to do the Rocky Balboa dance of victory together. Da da da da da da da daaahhh. Da da da da da da da daaahhh. Da da daaahhh. Da da daaahhh.