What is Faith?

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

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New Directions

Tonight's blog is short. I couldn't say this any better than these folks so I do hope you will watch.

Often times we run into skeptics. People who think either the homeless are just lazy bums, drug addicts or alcoholics. Every once in a while we run into that skepticism within the administration of of the shelters we visit.

One director of an Oakland shelter actually said "You hit that 5 year mark and there's no hope. There is no turning back. You're in the streets forever. You'll never get out."

Well ladies and gentleman, I am living proof that that, is a load of rubbish. But my story is nothing compared to the video above.

Talk to you all tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

There are things you do when you're homeless that you would never have thought about otherwise. Things you would be ashamed to do in a world of the housed. But there is no room for shame as a homeless person, only survival.

You search through trash for someones left over lunch. It doesn't matter that there may be coffee grounds on the sandwich. you haven't eaten in days so you brush it off and eat it anyway. It doesn't matter what it tastes like. you just need the nourishment.

Without the proper nourishment your hair begins to fall out a bit faster than normal. Your teeth rot. Of course they would, you can't brush them weekly, let alone daily. Your hair is slicked back with the natural oils of unwashed hair. The lice you picked up at one of the flop houses can be seen with the naked eye. There's no money for treatment, so you itch, constantly.

Privacy for the relief of bodily functions is a thing of the past. If you're a man, you don;t think twice about urinating on the nearest bush. A woman, learns to squat behind that same bush or if her knees are bad, you pee in a cup. Bowel movements are another thing. You use any public bathroom you can find. More often than not, you are stared at as you walk through a restaurant, office building, public library.
The abomination of bathing is a luxury that happens but once per week, and even then it is done in the most loathsome fashion. You search for public restrooms that have private family or handicap stalls. You lock the door. Strip off the clothes you have worn and slept in daily for the previous week. The socks are so stiff from sweat all the walking incurred and you must peel them from your feet. You cringe at the sight of your once white undergarments.
You examine yourself for ticks, fleas, any kind of hitchhiking bug. It is then you notice the blazing red yeast infection that covers the folds and creases of your body. You weep at the sight of your once flawless body that has changed not only with age and deprivation.
You turn on the water. Although there is a handle for hot water, it is not connected to anything so you bathe using only cold. It's not as good, but it's better than nothing. Out of your tattered backpack, you pull the sample bottle of shampoo the last mission gave you. There's barely enough in it to get the job done, but you use it anyway. It's all you've got.
You scrub with an old sock you use as a washcloth. The soap in the rest room stings a bit on the open sores but that's a good thing you think. It will help them heal. You're done washing as best you can. You dry yourself with paper towels. When there aren't any, you use the liners for the toilets. They soak up water pretty good. There isn't much to choose from, but you dress in the cleanest clothes you have.
You look at your hands and notice that even with all of the scrubbing, you still have dirt under your fingernails. You look up at the reflection that looks back at you and you wonder what happened? What went wrong? Where did the old you go? The person you see in the mirror is no longer someone you recognize. You pack up your belongings. Walk out of the place for just a moment you could have some privacy and begin your quest for a place to sleep.
In the city, sleeping is done in increments. Sometimes the weather is too cold to sleep at all, but mostly the police move you along. You cannot sleep on a park bench. You cannot sleep in your car if you're lucky enough to have one. You cannot sleep in a tent unless you pay for the privilege in a campground. As a matter of fact, it's illegal to be homeless.

We drove along the California coast the other day, looking for a place to park the van we sleep in, knowing that we had a chance of being asked to leave. The further along the coast we went from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, we knew that we would not be moved along. Along that 40 plus mile stretch of sand we counted 73 cars parked along the side of the road, all bedding down for the night.

We were lucky. We found a nice little nook that had a fabulous view of the ocean, on one side, the California coastal hills on the other. There were wild rabbits in our nook, gulls, lizards and ground squirrels as well, all preparing for bed.

As we watched the most spectacular sunset, I dreamt of being in my own private sanctuary, my own private bed overlooking this panoramic wonder, every night. Wouldn't that be incredible.
And then I came back down to earth and thought of how many of those people parked in their cars along the California Coast dream of preparing for any bed perhaps in a home they can call their own.
You can help. Please, donate the change in your pocket to your nearest homeless shelter.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I Left My Heart in San Francisco

As I write these words, it is the wee small hours of the morning. The sun is not yet up, nor is my traveling companion, but I have been awake for hours wondering how honest I should really be. Very, I decide. That's what this is about. The good, the bad and the ugly.

I realized quite accidentally yesterday that I have lead a very sheltered life. I was homeless for more than 5 years. I have been shot at, stabbed and beaten to a pulp while on the streets. Doesn't sound very sheltered does it?

I have done volunteer work at various shelters where I live in Portland, Oregon and in cities throughout this journey. But even with all of that, I was never frightened enough to have a full blown panic attack . Yesterday I was.

For the first time since this trip began, I was afraid to get out of my car. I have met several heroin addicts over the years. Those I have met have been in some type of recovery program, therefore clean. I had never met such a hardcore addict so desperate for a fix that when the opportunity arose, they shoot up then and there, not caring of the consequences. I hadn't met one, until yesterday.

As I drove to the beginning of the route I had mapped out for our daily walk, I was frightened at what I saw. Not only were there hundreds of people without homes, but many were drunk, shooting up or physically attacking one another. These are the homeless that the directors of the shelters call hard core. The people who sadly have not yet reached their bottom and only want the hand out, not the hand up. I cannot say if all of them were like that because I did not do yesterday's route.

My heart began to race, the tears began to flow and I could not catch my breath. As I drove past the hordes of homeless through the river of tears I kept saying I'm sorry, I'm sorry, over and over until it was almost a chant. I felt so inadequate, so useless. I was tired, overwhelmed, and couldn't get away fast enough from the scene that looked like something out of a Spielberg concentration camp .

I cannot remember ever crying so hard in my life. Ever. The tears still have not stopped. They have lessened over these last hours, but not stopped.

As I cry, I do not weep for those people, but selfishly for myself. I think "There but by the grace of God go I ." Normally I do not like those words. It is as if I am saying that it could never happen to me. But it did. It did happen to me and it wasn't until I was 3 states, 63 days and 1122 miles into this trip, did I understand that although primarily about the homeless, this journey is about me as well. That sounds arrogant I know because it should never have been about me, but right now, right this moment it very much is.

In obedience to God's calling, I am facing a giant I thought I had long ago killed and buried. My homelessness. I never understood so completely until yesterday, how much in denial I was over my past. How much I clung to that past, for fear of ever going back to that point of no return, of ever becoming 'hard core'. So right this very moment I can say with confidence that it is with God's grace, and only by God's grace that I am at all.

Will this deter me from continuing my quest? Heavens no! It makes me that much more confident that I am doing what God has asked of me.

You see I know what it's like to not have anyone beside you during your hour or years of need. Perhaps none of those people will believe me when I tell them here is a better life, but I will plant the seed. I don't have to stick around for the harvest. I know it will come and I will let God take care of the crop.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

You Could Break It (Be Careful with My Heart Part 2)

August 2, 1982; I watch as my frightened children are taken away by a man they don;t remember. the monster who sent us into the streets to begin with has changed, just as my parents had said. He can now give them all the material things they would need. All I have for them is love and sadly Love is not enough to keep them alive.

As the van disappears out of sight I fall to the ground sobbing uncontrollably. My heart will never be the same. My life will never be the same. What have I done? I am a horrible mother. I loved them so very much. I loved them enough to let them go and have what was left of their childhoods.

I cling to the infant remaining and I take from him now. I take the comfort I should be offering him. But I take, and as I take, I want death to take me, knowing I may never again see the part of my heart that shattered as I watched the first loves of my life go from me forever. But the beat of another heart, a tiny heart filled with love for me is keeping me from ending my life.

June 9th, 2010: It's a pillow. A silly pillow that for one brief moment became my babies at the moment of each of their births.

August 1983: I had gone into a K-mart to buy diapers for my rapidly growing son, peacefully sleeping in the seat of the shopping cart. I walk past the toy section. I pick up a truck. The kind with the barrel on the back that turns and rotates, changing the sand from the playground into mortar for the fort a little boy would play in. I run my finger over the wheels, the crank, the barrel itself and I think about my son that may be playing with this treasure someday.

I continue on my quest. I browse the girls section, looking for just the right dress. I find the one I am looking for. A pretty blue satin, the color of her eyes. It has lace around the pinafore, the sleeves the heart shaped neck.

I must go. I will be late. I toss the dress in the cart and walk as fast as I can to the dressing rooms. I choose the biggest one. It must be big enough to bring the whole cart in. I quietly close the door behind me. I take the truck and the dress in my arms. With my back up against the wall, I slowly sink to the ground. I almost didn't make it before the tears start.

I hold the truck and think of the son who should be playing with it but is no longer here. the son who will never know the fell of his mothers kiss on the scraped knee he received as he slid into home base. I bring the dress to my nose and inhale. I swear I can smell the fragrance of my daughter. The daughter who will never know what it is like to have her mother lovingly brush her hair.
The tears never stop. I walk past a baseball cap and I cry. I walk past a pair of ballet slippers and I cry. I walk past their favorite foods and I cry. I have not been complete for a long time.

He begins to stir. I quickly wipe away the tears. He mustn't know. He mustn't know that although I love him dearly, he isn't enough to fill the hole in my heart. He isn't enough to make me laugh. He isn't enough to make me happy. He isn't enough.

I lay back on the seat that night, with my son, barely walking, cradled on my chest. I hold him tightly as I recall the brother and sister he will never know. The rhythm of my heartbeat lulls him to sleep. It skips a beat now and then as I think of my children being tucked in by another woman. But he sleeps through the irregularities of the pulse.

April 3, 1984; It is the first day since February 2, 1979 that the roof over our head is our very own. It is the first night in a bed in more than 5 years. But we cannot sleep, each for our own reason. The bed is too soft. I have been sleeping in a car seat, a church pew or the ground. It is what I am used to. It is all I know.

Josh does not have the cadence of my heart to fall asleep to. He needs the sound he has grown so accustomed to. He needs the comfort of the arms that held him close for five days shy of three years. Quietly, I lower to the ground, with my sleepy child quieting as he curls his fingers in the security blanket of my hair. We sleep now. Me on the floor, he in my arms again.

It doesn't feel like home yet. It will in time. But not quite yet.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Here's to You Mrs. Robinson

I was adopted at age two and knew for sure my daddy was going to wait for me to grow up so I could marry him. What I loved most beyond his beautiful smile and belly laugh was his charcoal gray suit and matching Fedora. I love a man in a Fedora.
The elderly couple sitting across from me in Denny's was a sight to behold. He was in a chocolate brown pinstripe suit with matching Fedora. She was dressed in a cream colored suit and matching felt hat covered in satin flowers and pearls.
I don't know why, but I watched them for a while. She was quite demure, prim and proper. Her moves were dainty, refined and pure. He sat, sipping quietly at his coffee, gazing at this woman he was so obviously in love with.
When the waiter brought their bill, I knew I had to say something. I went to their table, smiled and told them what a beautiful couple they were. She beamed. He smiled and took my hand.
"Do you know the Lord," he asked?
"I do."
"I knew it!" He shouted and slapped his open palm on the table. "I knew it." He held my hand for a moment or two longer. "Now, what are you going to sing for me?"
"I'm sorry?"
"You said you know the Lord, now I want you to show me how much."
Well, for those of you who know me, I am a bit of a ham and love to sing. Especially praise songs. I'm not necessarily very good, but I love it. It was an unusual request but I complied. There in the middle of Denny's in Oakland California, I belted out "Precious Lord."
"Hot dog," he shouted. "I knew it. I knew you were a believer. Every been to Arizona?"
"Yes Sir I have."
"I was born there. Moved here, with my mama and daddy when I was a baby. Haven't ever been back. Tell me all about will you? I want to know what it's like."
"Well, I guess it depends on what part of Arizona you're from. It ranges from desert to mountains, to forest."
Slapping his hand on the table again, he says, "I knew it. Well, it doesn't matter. I'll see it when I get to heaven. What's your name?"
"Lynn McPherson"
"I am Pastor Robert Robinson. I have been a pastor for more than 60 years. This is my beautiful bride of 64 years."
I take her hand and the gentleness of her spirit touches my heart instantly. "It's so nice to meet you."
"It's a pleasure to meet you Sister."
"Mrs. Robinson," he addressed his wife. "What's the name of that song I love so much?"
Without hesitation, she replied with a smile. "Till we meet at the feet of Jesus."
"Sing it Mrs. Robinson."
She didn't belt it out like I did, but sing she did and it was obvious that well used voice was worn out singing praise to the Lord she and her husband so obviously loved. The sound was sweet, mellow and although raspy with age, was spot on in tune.
"Well Lynn McPherson," Pastor Robinson takes both of my hands. "The Lord is telling me you are to keep on doing what you are doing. He says you are doing his work and He wants you to keep on going."
I was astounded to hear these words from a total stranger. There was no way he could have possibly known what I was doing nor that I had been struggling as to whether or not to continue after this initial walk. But as he saw the doubt he gave my hands a little squeeze.
"You follow Him and He'll lead you right." He winks, lets go of my hand helps his lovely bride to her feet. As if rehearsed, together, they leave singing.
Through the storm, through the night,
lead me on to the light
take my hand precious lord,
and lead me home.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Heard it Through the Grapevine

I always wanted to be famous, but I thought my 15 minutes would come from my writing, not this. Of course the fame that I am receiving has nothing to do with seeing my name up on the big screen as I have wanted since my Radio City Hall days. It doesn't have a whole lot to do with the media either since we haven't received all that much attention.

It does have to do with the grape vine of homeless shelters. Some of them seem to know we are coming. I don't see how since plans have changed tremendously. It never dawned on me in the planning of this trip how much we would change as well.

I get about 5-6 hours sleep per night. Patrick requires much more. He is not a morning person, I definitely am. The moment my feet hit the ground in the morning, I am on the move. It takes him about half an hour before he can think coherently. He is very slow moving, very methodical and exact. I on the other hand am ADHD and ALWAYS on the go. I hate sitting unless I am doing something. I am a fly by the seat of my pants kind of gal. I take chances. ALL the time.

Some of the changes weren't all that bad. Difficult to get used to, a little unhealthy but nothing major, like not being able to cook. The rest areas don't allow it, we surely can't cook in a Safeway parking lot so the idea of healthy affordable meals kind of went out the window. We eat fast food a lot. I know we can do salads at most fast food places, but salads aren't affordable. We are on a very limited budget so we only eat from the cheapskate menu. Nothing much healthy there.

One of the biggest changes for me on this trip was sleeping arrangements. I thought we would be able to have separate tents. Didn't turn out that way. I wimped out and decided I could not just pitch a tent on the side of the road. Rest areas don't allow it and at $35 per night, campgrounds are not in the budget. But God has a sense of humor.

I always thought the next time I would share my sleeping quarters with a man, it would #1 be with my husband and #2, it would be in a bed, not the front seat of a mini van. Sleeping just about literally nose to nose with a virtual stranger is a little unsettling. How can that be I ask myself? I have known him for such a long time.

Patrick and I have been friends for over 25 years. But for more than half of that, our friendship has been via phone. We see each other for about two weeks every other year, but that's it. So this is taking our relationship to an all new level, and as I said, plans change.

Not being able to put our feet up. That's a big one for me. My feet are swollen all the time now, and sometimes so much so that I can not put on my sneakers. But I keep going because that is what God has asked me to do.

Not being able to stay at rest stops anymore. That is the newest change. Not knowing where we are going to sleep on any given night is more than a bit scary. I probably don't get more than 4 hours sleep a night now. I remember keeping my ears tuned into everything before. Old habits are hard to get rid of out here, and now I can just about hear an ant crawl across the dashboard, so every little thing sets me off and I am at full alert with the falling of a leaf. But these are simple changes compared to what has changed with the plan itself.

I committed to walking from Canada to Mexico. After about the second day, I realized not only was Google maps sending me on false roads, or just plain old out of the way time after time, when I was walking in the rural areas, it seemed all I was doing was enjoying the view and communing with nature and the flora and fauna. Well that's all well and good, but I wasn't out here for a vacation.

So I listened to my gut, and plans did change, and the use of the van became more than just a place to rest our weary feet. We began driving past much of the rural area, waving to the cows and bunnies along the way, and spending our much needed time walking through the cities.

Instead of walking step by literal step, where once we would have only spent 4 hours walking through Seattle, we spent three days talking with people we are trying to help. Where once we would have spent 5 hours going through Portland, we spent 3 days talking with the people we were trying to help. Where once we would have spent 4 hours walking through Sacramento we sinstead pent three days talking with the people we are trying to help.

This trip isn't about me. It's about them. It isn't about what I am doing. It's about what can be done. It isn't about the notoriety. It's about speaking up when attention needs to be paid. It's not about being courageous. It's about doing what God has called me to do. It's about helping those who can't or don't know how to help themselves. I have no doubt that these plans from my gut, were plans from God.

Now my gut is telling me something else. "Keep going" it says. Keep going. Don't stop at the border of Mexico. Keep going to every homeless shelter, in every major city, in every state of the US. It is so badly needed.

Is this from God? I don't know. I didn't know if the Canada to Mexico trip was from God but I went anyway. Can I physically do it? I don't know, but I didn't think I could physically do this trip either and although I ache all the time, I am doing it. Can we afford it? I can tell you that if it is from God, he will provide everything we need to continue just as he has. The manna trickles in most of the time but it's always there. Sometimes he comes through at the eleventh hour, sometimes it's twelve 'o' one, but He always comes through.

If it's not from God? Well, He will make that perfectly clear as well and He will give me my next assignment. The grapevine will continue to grow as the word passes from city to city, shelter to shelter, person to person. And as that growth takes place, more and more people that want to do the right thing will join in this campaign. So maybe it supposed to happen, but maybe someone else is supposed to take over where I left off. Who knows?
God does. That's who. I have faith in that. Know why? Because my God is HUGE and He can do mighty things with those vines.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Silence is Not Always Golden

These were his instructions to them: "The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. ~ Luke 10:2

As I am sitting in Denny's writing this blog there is a woman entering the restaurant. She enters at the same time each night. She is a slim petite woman but you'd never know it. She wears 4 coats, two sweaters and a few different blouses. She has two pairs of sweatpants, 2 dresses and a pair of jeans. A wool scarf is wrapped around her head, a baseball cap on top of that. Calloused hands push the shopping cart that carries all her worldly belongings.

She walks past the four filled tables including ours. The staff knows she is there. They look the other way as she makes her way to the restroom. It is there I find her constructing a makeshift shower of bottles filled with water, a dirty towel and a half inch piece of soap.

She looks up and sees me. Quickly she gathers her items. I tell her she needn't leave. She stops. She looks at me, opens the door and looks around. She signals for me to use the restroom. She will stand guard. I do what I came to do and as I come out of the stall, she is holding a Styrofoam package with the label Denny's on it. Room service has arrived. It arrives nightly.

I leave and go back to my table. She passes a few minutes later smelling of Irish Spring, carrying her still hot dinner. No one acknowledges her but everyone knows she is leaving. I smile at her but she doesn't see. She looks at no one. I will be back tomorrow evening. I hope she will too.

On thing I don't understand is why more people don't "look the other way" and help. I call them 'Silent Samaritans'. They people that do what is right without anyone knowing they are doing such as the staff at Denny's. They could have asked her to leave. They could ask her that each night, but they don't. She sleeps in the bushes outside the restaurant and although they never asked her name, they are still doing what little they can. Maybe no one else noticed this, but I did and I applaud them. I give them a standing ovation.

The Carrows across the street is collecting ties. Bring in a tie for the homeless Veterans that are trying to look for work and you get a free piece of pie. It isn't much and it may sound silly to you, but it's not silly to the men who receive the ties.

There is a small cafe in Mount Shasta, California that serves hot coffee and freshly baked bread to the homeless that grace their doors. There is never a charge. In fact, there is a table reserved just for them. Not one hiding in the back, but one right in the front window.

A truck stop outside of Sacramento opens its doors to the homeless between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. each and every night. They are charged a dollar for a cup of coffee and a couple of eggs. If they don't have it, they get to eat anyway.

There is a homeless shelter in Eugene, Oregon where the homeless themselves delivers meals to families that can't afford to buy enough groceries for the month. It makes them feel good that they can do for someone else.
There is a church in Hillsboro, Oregon that opens its doors to the last, the lost and the least each and every week. No strings attached, just show up and "let us love on you." That's their motto.

What I want to know is why aren't more people being "Silent Samaritans?" Why can't more people "love on" the last, the lost and the least.

I am a Christian. But homelessness doesn't care what religion you are. It doesn't care what color you are. It does care whether or not you help. So, it shouldn't matter if you are Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Atheist.
You help because it's the right thing to do.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sister Act

Be our Guest. Be our Guest. Put our service to the test.

The services offered by Sister Libby of Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento, CA are in deed put to the test every single day. You'd never know it though. In fact, L&F seems to run so smoothly I expected to see the guests start dancing to choreographed musical number. As much as it seems that way, having formerly served in the armed forces, I know that Sister Libby, works incredibly hard and runs a tight ship.

What impressed me was not the fact that Sister Libby works hard. It wasn't the fact that she makes it look easy. It was the fact that Sister Libby takes the time to greet each guest as often as possible. She knows the majority of her hundreds of guests by name and she is genuinely concerned about each and every one of them.

Be our guest. Be our guest. Get your worries off your chest.

Yet...She took the time to not only meet with me, but she walked with us the 3 miles to one of the many homeless shelters in Sacramento, before heading off to her very full day of running from one portion of the L & F compound to the other.

Mustard Seed school: A free, private school for children 3-15 years where they find a positive nurturing environment, gentle hands and education.

Daily Bread Day Labor: A job and placement referral program which gives guests of L & F the opportunity to learn or participate in a new trade such as construction, landscape or moving.

Sister Nora's Place: A long term, overnight shelter serving chronically homeless and mentally ill women.

Mary House: A daytime shelter for women and children where life goals are assessed and plans put into place to become independent and self-sufficient.

Genesis: This program offers a "new beginning" in the life of those with various mental health issues, including counseling and mental health referrals.

Dining Room: Over 5,000,000 meals have been served possibly the only meal they will have all day, in the L & F Dining Room where 600-800 homeless guests are served each day by volunteers from churches, local businesses, and even former guests themselves.

Guest Health Outreach: Staffed by a Registered Nurse and volunteer doctors this health clinic is possibly the only time many of the L & F guests will receive medical attention all year.

Jail Visitation: Staff and volunteers visit inmates, provide bus passes, clothing vouchers, toiletry kits, backpacks and referrals as needed when released from jail.

Animal Emergency Services: Kennels are available for those guests with pets, so they can eat freely as well as job search, knowing their pets are in good hands.

Sister Libby loves them all, but there's a twinkle in her eye when she talks about Friendship Park. You must be homeless to be able to partake of the wonderful activities and benefits of Friendship Park. You can take a shower, get a hair cut, do a load or two of laundry or just sit and relax in the sun on one of the many park benches.
The needs that must be met to run an organization like this are overwhelming, yet somehow, just and the nemisis Matthew 14:13-21, Loaves and Fishes, God provides. With the overwhelming increase in homeless, more needs must be met daily. Click on Matthew to see a complete list of what items are needed.

I don't know if Sister Libby will ever retire. She loves her job too much, and as you can see, her hands are full, but even full, they are always open to greet the next guest.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Every Blessed Thing

I apologize for not writing for the last few days. Several reasons really. The most important one being I hadn't taken a day off since I left on April 18th. I took some much needed time to just spend with God, in prayer and contemplation as well as having a bit of relaxing fun.

We drove from San Francisco to Fort Bragg and back, stopping at every little nook and cranny we could. It is truly awe inspiring to watch the Pacific Ocean at various parts of the coast. Sometimes the waves are small, gentle and soothing. Others the waves are thunderous, roaring and angry. It's sort of how I felt before this little diversion.

California has sent very mixed signals. In Redding and Sacramento we were so well received. Everyone we met with was excited that we were doing this and wanted to help us in this endeavor. Right now though, not so much. Mostly we have been met with....Oh, that's nice. Have a good walk, but we have been nixed by just about everyone including the homeless shelters we are trying to help.

It makes it a bit frustrating and I had been wondering whether or not I was doing the right thing. Had I lost sight of God's plan in this? Had I really heard God correctly or was I doing this for some unknown reason that only God knew the answer to. Should I give it up and go home or keep on keepin on? Was I doing anybody any good out here? I know you've heard this a bit before and I may feel the same way again before the end of the trip but for right now, I have new answers. Answers that came in the nooks and crannies of our off the beaten path expedition.
Have you ever watched a sandpiper? They are courageous little buggers, venturing out in search of what sustains them. Trusting their needs will be met, they meander through the newly dampened sand pursuing little treasures the ebbing tide has brought them. The moment the water begins to advance, their tiny little feet scurry as fast as they can go so as not to get dragged under. They know instinctively when to turn and run. When not to follow something that can do them harm.
The seals bask in the sun, knowing when it's time to rest. They too trust that their needs will be provided. They know when it's time for fun and as I watch a mother seal disciplining her cub, it is evident that they too instinctively know what should and shouldn't be done.
Even the plants along the coast know which way to face for their daily sustenance. Towards the sun. Yet in my humanness, I don't always trust my instincts. I often balk at things asked of me and like a child, stubbornly dig in my heels and resist everything my Father is asking of me. Fear takes over, or laziness as the case may be sometimes and I stomp my foot and say "No. I don't wanna!"
Well. In opening my Bible this last weekend I was reminded of men far greater than I, that never saw the results of the actions they took because their heavenly Father asked them too. Abraham, Moses, Noah, Joseph, John the Baptist...the list could go on.
When we left the place we slept at last night, we took a wrong turn and somehow ended up going over the Golden Gate Bridge. Let me just tell you that I dislike driving in cities immensely. (I can promise I will never again complain about Portland traffic after San Francisco.) I intended to go through San Francisco next week, but I was going to walk through it not drive through it.
Thirty minutes later, we got turned around and went back over the Golden Gate bridge and the very first exit was a vista point. Instantly our metropolitan ordeal was forgotten and we were enamored with not only the bridge itself, but the history, the size and technicality of this Herculean scaffold. After snapping 100 or so pictures (One can never have too many pictures of the bridge) on my return walk over the bridge, I ran into the only other walker I had seen and he too was taking photographs.

I smiled and said "I'm glad I'm not the only tourist out here!"

With this awesome English accent he said, "It's Brilliant! You don't walk this daily then? On vacation as we are?" I told him what I was doing and before I could even finish what I was saying, he handed me a $5.00 bill. "Brilliant" he said. "It's a blessed thing you're doing."

It is blessed thing indeed, but not because I am doing this. It is a blessed thing because God is doing this. Because it is His journey, I must thrust that with God's help, it will be far greater than what I can imagine. I may never see the results, but I must trust, that God will nurture those seeds until they produce the fruit He wants. I must trust that He will provide for us all, Patrick, myself and the homeless we meet, whether through grants, donations, an invitation to dinner or even someone from a foreign land offering encouraging words such as "Brilliant!"

Thursday, June 10, 2010

HOPE in Eden

It is early evening. Their quest is just beginning. One by one, they gratefully accept the equipment needed for the evening's event. Silently they move through the streets of Sacramento, diligently moving in procession throughout the hour long trek, never complaining, carrying their nightly existence in a space not much bigger than a bread box. Thirty five to forty more minutes of assembly, then they can rest, but never peacefully.

They sit and talk of better times. They talk of the possibility of a future in Eden. They long for Eden. They fight for Eden. In Eden there is a new beginning. In Eden there is hope. In Eden there is a confidence that will Help Our People Excel.

Morning comes quickly. Overlooking the inviting river view that goes unnoticed, they carefully pack their equipment. Thirty to forty minutes of dis assembly. Silently they move through the streets of Sacramento, diligently moving in procession throughout the hour long trek, never complaining, carrying their nightly existence in a space not much bigger than a bread box. One by one they gratefully return the equipment they will need again for that evening's event.

They work hard for this nightly ritual. They work hard for a place to rest their head. They work hard for a place to call home. They work hard in hopes of Eden.


I'm sorry sir. I know the boys are having fun but you must take down the tent. But it's in my own back yard. I'm sorry sir but to have a tent up for more than 24 hours is illegal. But it's just for the weekend. I'm sorry sir. It's illegal.

Safe Ground is a tent city within the confines of Sacramento. There is more of a sense of community within these 32 tent residents than there is in many of the cities I have traveled through these past 52 days. They work together as a team. They protect their own. They love without question, without judgment. They are a family.

But Safe Ground isn't always that. They have had people spit at them; throw bottles at them; urinate on their tents. Ridicule is a daily ritual. Prejudice and hatred are tossed at them hourly. They try hard to ignore, but it isn't always easy to do.

The rangers for the most part leave them alone, but they must travel to the depths of the state park in order to find sanctuary even for one night. They must move their tent homes each day, for in the state of California, it is illegal to have a tent structure up even in your own back yard.

There is a solution. Eden. It's a piece of land that no one uses on the outskirts of Sacramento. It could become permanent housing for these 32 residents of Safe Ground. A place where they can have a bed, running water, a self-sustaining garden. It could be the safe place to go at night and sleep without fear. It could be home.

You cannot have more than 5 people in a two bedroom apartment sir. It's illegal. But I have four kids. Sorry sir. It's illegal. But I can't afford a bigger place. Sorry sir. It's illegal. The rent would be more than I make. Sorry sir. It's illegal.
You cannot live the way it's affordable sir. It's illegal.

You cannot live in your tent sir. It's illegal.

You cannot sleep in your car sir. It's illegal.

You cannot sleep on the park bench sir. It's illegal.
You cannot be homeless sir. It's illegal.

Everyone deserves the right to an affordable home. Be the change.

Be Careful With My Heart

FLASHBACK - A recurring, intensely vivid recollection of a past traumatic experience.

I don't know if the memory that sent me into an hour long crying jag last evening was a traumatic experience, but it was one of utter helplessness. It may be too long and involved to go into here, and although I am not a woman of few words, I will give it the old college try of making it into a Readers Digest Condensed version.

If you have read the excerpt from my book Finding My Way Home, you will already know that when I left my first husband, he was not my husband at all. I had tricked him into a divorce, but yet was still living with him. As I find with many of the women interviewed on this trip, it was fear that kept me there. It was a spur of the moment decision that had me actually walking out the door and I never looked back. Not until I was married to husband #2

Dave was caring and generous to a fault. He made me happy and I hadn't been happy for a long, long time. He was at work the day I found out I was pregnant. Although we weren't married, back then I didn't care. I loved him. He loved me. He was a kind and gracious step dad to Dominick and Val, so why not create a family together.

I had been cooking in one of the few homes we had during our homeless years. We had only been there for a week or two. It was bliss being able to play Susie Homemaker which was all I ever wanted to do besides being a writer. I reached over the stove to the cabinet where we kept the spices. It was then the unthinkable happened to me.

The pressure cooker exploded with such force, it knocked me on my feet. The pain of the steaming food sticking to my stomach was unbearable and my neighbor came running at the sound of my screams. I was rushed to the hospital where it was found I had second degree burns over most of my stomach. The doctors had to surgically remove the elastic waist of my panties that had melted into a small portion of my stomach. X-rays were taken and medication was given for the pain as well as some sort of ointment to spread on the burned area. The following morning, I received the call.

"Miss McPherson. Why didn't you tell us you were pregnant?" I didn't know. I continued to have my period for the first five months of my pregnancy so if it weren't for the protruding belly, I would never have believed them. Because of the x-rays and medication, which I stopped taking immediately, I was told the best thing would be to terminate the pregnancy. The baby could be deformed if carried to term.

When Dave found out I was pregnant, he made the decision to pack up the few belongings we had acquired and head to Woodford, Virginia, population 43, which had been his home since childhood. He had a sister there who was a nurse. If anything happened to the baby she would be close at hand. It sounded logical to me, so we packed up the kids and headed to our new home.

As we began, he thought it would be fun to take our time and see the country. In looking back it was the beginning of the end for us, but I didn't know it then. It was an adventure and it put us on the streets again because hotels were not affordable, but I wasn't afraid this go around because he was by my side.

We would stop every once in a while in some remote town at some remote gas station, 7-11 or the likes. Sometimes we would stop at a church. Dave would tell us to wait in the car. he'd be right back. He was always true to his word, never taking more than a few minutes. He would start the car and we would drive off, continuing on our destination.

It was late November when we arrived. The cold winter had set in early. But the dregs of autumn were still clinging to the trees and it was a sight to behold. But even the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains could not have prepared me for what was waiting for us in Virginia.

Although we were welcomed with open arms, there was an underlying mistrust that I did not understand for years. It turned out they knew what Dave was like and thought perhaps I was the same. They had to learn for themselves that I was not and in time, they came to love me as one of their own. I had to learn what my husband was really like.
Anne, Dave's nurse sister insisted I go to the doctor. It would make her rest easier knowing the baby was okay. Hazel, Fran, Anne and Jody, Dave's mom and sisters, all pitched in the $15 it took to go to the doctor for my first prenatal visit. I was 5 1/2 months along by now. The doctor was not the bearer of good news. In fact he suggested that there may be difficulties with the birth. The baby was large and although he could not diagnose it right then and there, he felt there was something wrong with the baby. It would cost more money for the testing, which of course we had none so the tests were not performed.

A week past my due date, I woke to find Dave had gone. He left a note on my pillow explaining he had just gotten a truck driving job in Springfield, Missouri with a company called Prime. He left me with $100. He would send more when he could. I was devastated. He never said a word just up and left me with his family who although nice, treated me as a foreigner. I was to find out much later, that they knew what Dave was and thought I was the same.

I used that much coveted money to rent a car to take my kids and I to Missouri. I didn't really know how far it was. I didn't really care. I just knew I didn't want to be alone when the baby was born. In my naivete I thought it would only take a few hours to get to Missouri, not a few days. But arrive we did, much to the dismay of my husband.

Two days later, in this strange town, my water breaks. Within 30 minutes my contractions were 3 minutes apart. We go to the nearest hospital which turns out to be Osteopathic. I am told I may die. The baby is large and breech. A C-section is not an option in this Osteopathic center.

Nine hours later, the doctor finally put his whole arm inside of me and turns the baby around.
I push and he says stop. The umbilical cord is wrapped around his neck. If I push, I will kill him. the pain is unbearable but finally after an incredibly painful delivery, 27 stitches later without the aide of Novocaine I am holding my 10 pound 14 ounce baby boy in my arms. There is no outward deformity.

The joy is short lived however. I am released 6 hours later. Dave picks us up. Loving father, caring step father. Everything we own is in the van.

"Where are we going?" I ask.

"I don't know. But I just think this isn't the place for me."

We leave Missouri and 100 miles down the road, Dave opens his wallet which is filled with 20's, 10's and 5 dollar bills. He had just robbed a gas station.

Flashforward: June 9th, 2010.
We can no longer stay at rest stops. Due to budget cuts, the rest areas south of Sacramento are closed. An LDS church has graciously allowed us to park the van we sleep in in their lot. It is dark here. No street lights to keep us awake until exhaustion has set in. It is quiet here. A gentle breeze is flowing through the open window. The crickets and frogs sing their nightly aria. The stars are in abundance in the dark. It is so peaceful.

I lay back in the seat of the van that has been my bed for these last 50 days. The mini travel pillow I sleep with is cradled on my chest instead of beneath my head. I find myself gently, tenderly, lovingly caressing this pillow. It is then I start to cry.

I flashed on that day 29 years ago when my small baby boy, born while homeless lies on my chest, cradled in my arms. I cling to him, regretting at that time that I allowed him to be born into such a life. I caress his tiny form knowing that I have brought him a life of pain. What have I done? I am a horrible mother. I have three children now that I adore and can not provide for. Will this little one go hungry to? No. He is lucky for I can provide the nourishment he needs with my own body. I cannot do the same for Dominick and Val.

It is then, while caressing this tiny being so dependent on me that I decide that I must do what is right for my children. It is then I decide I love my children too much to continue giving them this nomad life. It is that night, on what should have been such a joyous occasion, that I my heart begins to shatter.

August 2nd, 1982; I watch as my frightened children are taken away by a man they don't remember. The monster who sent us into the streets to begin with has changed, just as my parents had said. He can now give them everything they need. He will can give them a roof over their heads, food in their bellies and an education. All I have for them is love and sadly love is not enough to keep them alive.
As the van disappears out of sight I fall to the ground sobbing uncontrollably. My heart will never be the same. My life will never be the same. What have I done? I am a horrible mother. I loved them so very much. I loved them enough to let them go and have what was left of their childhoods.

I cling to this infant and take from him. I take the comfort I should be offering him. But I take, and as I take, I want death to take me, knowing I may never again see the part of my heart that shattered as I watched the first loves of my life go from me forever. But the beat of another heart, a tiny heart filled with love is keeping me from ending my life.
June 9th, 2010: It's just a pillow. A silly pillow. A pillow, that for one very brief moment became my babies at the moment of each of their births. The babies that I loved enough to give them a better life. The babies that somehow through the grace of God, I was reunited with seven years later, and who have never left my side to this day.
God is a God of comfort, and I thank him for believing in me when I did not believe in Him.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

It's a Numbers Game

To qualify for financial aid in California you must meet the following maximum requirements:

A single parent with one child - $10,800 per year or $900 per month.
A family of 3 - $13,440 per year or $1150 per month.
How about a family of 5 - $18,360 per year or $1530 per month.

I am here in California and I check the local papers on rental units daily. I have yet to see a bedroom large enough for a family of 5 for less than what they are allowed to earn each month.

And we wonder why there are so many homeless families.

I am sitting in a park right this very moment writing this blog and there is a family of 4 living in a camper over their pick up. That is two adults and two children living in less than 100 square feet of space. They are lucky. It was a gift from his parents so it is paid for. No one can take this home away from them.

Now lets move on a bit.

The population in America is 309,457,000. That's a lot of people. There are 39,100,000 people in America living below the poverty level. Where do all those people sleep? Well...I can assure you it's not in homeless shelters. There are less than 42,000 spaces available for families across the entire country.

Interesting fact this:
There are 29,707,872 millionaires in America. Almost as many millionaires as there are poverty level people. So what I want to know is why there are so many in the poverty level? Why are there so many people homeless.

The bible tells us to tithe. 10% of our earnings. Take it one step forward and the bible tells us to make offerings to those who need it. Even famous Dave Ramsey says to live on 80%, tithe 10% and donate 10%. So let's take those numbers.

If 10% of all of the millionaires (2,970,787 millionaires) made an offering of 10% of $1,000,000 ($100,000) that would be $297,078,700,000. Did you read that right? It took me a few tries to wrap my head around that one. The magic number is two hundred ninety seven BILLION seventy eight MILLION seven hundred thousand dollars. Go ahead. Do the math yourself. I'll wait.

Da da da da.. Da da da. Da da da da Dum de da da da da. (Insert Jeopardy theme song here)

Came out with same numbers didn't you? Tried it a few times before you believed what you were seeing didn't you?

So...let's go back to those 2,970,787 millionaires. That is an average of 59,415 millionaires per state. If those millionaires per state pooled their money together to build housing first transitional houses, that would be an average of $5,941,500,000.00 dollars per state. Close to six billion dollars per state. Gee, I wonder how many affordable homes could be built for that?

Now the chances are pretty slim that these millionaires are going to part with that money so let's put it on you and me terms.

I am asking for 1 penny per mile. That is $18.63 cents total, to your nearest homeless shelter. If 10% of the population in America pitched in that amount it may not be as much as the millionaires can do, but it is still $576,518,391 or $11,530,367 per state. Come on America. We can do it!!!

What if you can't afford that? Let's do this. How many of you buy a cup of coffee from the jolly green giant at least once per year. Let's be honest now. Maybe it's not coffee but you've bought something there, right? For arguments sake let's just say every body does. So if everybody in the U.S. contributed the cost of a venti latte once per year, we would have raised $1,203,787,730 or an average of more than 24 million dollars per state.

Now not everyone is a Brad or Angelina. Speaking of which. I think it's great they are one of the first people to step up to the plate and donate $1,000,000 to the victims of international or national emergencies. What about some of those other people that entertain us in many ways that are now millionaires. Have they all donated to these international or national disasters? Probably not or the media would have glorified them in their moments of generosity.

Look, I know Brand and Angelina have done amazing things and I am not trying to single them out, but they are the names that are first and foremost in the media so they are the ones that come to mind. There are many famous people who do wonderful things for third world countries and people who stepped up to the plate when Katrina hit, but why??? Why does it have to take a national disaster for someone to help?

How many of those famous people have forgotten their roots? Click on the pictures above to get a larger view of those we all know and love who were once homeless.

What about the 3,900,000 homeless people here in the US. Doesn't that constitute as a national emergency?

What about the 300,000 veterans that risked their lives for us. What are we risking for them?

Remember all those kids you are saving in other countries as well you should!!!! Don't forget about the 1,600,000+ kids here that need your help too.

I don't know if what I am doing here is making any difference or not. I don't if my words will fall on deaf ears. I do know however that in order for this to work, I need every one's help . It has to go viral or it won't make a difference. So PLEASE. If you want to help. Give up that latte just once and then send this blog to everyone you know.

I will know when this goes viral when the Brad and Angelina's of the world donate $1,000,000 to their nearest shelter.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Sister Sister

So many sisters! So many wonderful, beautiful, unique sisters at Sister Nora's Place in Sacramento, California.

Sisters, Sisters
There were never such devoted sisters,
All kinds of weather, we stick together
The same in the rain and sun.
Two different faces, but in tight places
We think and we act as one.

No truer words were ever written than those, when it comes to Lizzie and Deborah, two very special residents of Sister Norah's Place. Women who stay behind the doors of this sanctuary can stay for as long as they need. Forever is just fine with Sister Libby who runs Sister Norah's and more, but we'll go into that another day. Right now, I want to share about these two beautiful ladies.
Lizzie married young had kids young and became a heroine addict young. She did many things she wasn't proud of during her addiction, including loosing her three children. Some of those things landed her in prison. Several times. She would have done anything to support her habit. She would have done anything to kick the habit too, but she just didn't have the strength to do it alone.
"I was just plum wore out when I went to prison the last time. It was third strike you're out and I thought I was gonna be behind bars forever. But then a miracle happened."
With California's Proposition 36 - treatment, not jail program - Lizzie was given a final chance at life. Life without drugs, life without fear and life with her children that were adopted out years previously. With tears in her eyes she talks about the reunion with her children after more than 15 years apart. One child has been in prison for 12 of those years, but through perseverance and a lot of hootspah, Lizzie was able to get a special pass to see him.
"I saw my boy again," Lizzie said with tears in her eyes. I never thought I'd see that day, and the good Lord willing I'll hug him again someday too."
Lizzie has been drug free for 5 1/2 years now. That may not seem like a long time to you or I but to Lizzie that's forever and she is rightly proud of all of her hard work. She doesn't take all the credit though.
"It's the Lord Jesus that done it for me. I never coulda done it alone."
Lizzie helps other women at Sister Norah's. She takes them under her wing and loves them back to health the same way other women did for her. She mentors many including her closest friend whom she calls sister, Deborah.
Deborah was 13 when her parents forced her to marry. It was an abusive relationship and carries the proof with her every day. A 7" scar along the side of her head was given as a wedding present. Having been raised in a household where beatings were the norm, Deborah didn't think to call the police, or if she did, she thought better of it, thinking the beating would be worse.
After 3 years of almost daily beatings, she decided to end her marriage. Her husband came home drunk one day and passed out on the bed. Deborah tied him to the bed and beat him with a cast iron skillet until what was left of him was unrecognizable. She then had the first stiff drink she ever had in her life, picked up the phone and called the police.
"I just killed my husband," she told the dispatcher. "Come get me." She sat calmly and waited for the police to arrive. Apparently the scar on Deborah's head wasn't enough proof for the courts that he beat her, and she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life.
Deborah was released after serving 17 years. Having no family that wanted her, no friends that remembered her and no place for a murderer to go, Deborah turned to the streets. It was in the streets, she turned to drugs.
"They made me forget. Forget that I was unlovable," says Deborah.
Prostitution was what she turned to next. She had to have a way to support her drug habit and it was the only thing she knew she could do.
Somewhere in all of this, she met a man. A man that adored her in spite of her. A man that loved her enough to get her out of hell and give her the life that she so wanted. She married this man and spent the next 12 year in bliss. It was during those years she found God. It was after her husband died, she lost him.
"I didn't want to know nothin. My man I adored and adored me was gone and I had nothin again. I went back out into the streets, to the drugs and to the sex. I didn't care what happened anymore."
It was the love of Lizzie that brought Deborah out pf her self-destruct mode. She came into Mary's house which is a day shelter for women who just want a bit of privacy. Lizzie and Deborah hit it off instantly and with a bit of help from Lizzie and a lot of string pulling and hard work, Deborah was rewarded with a room of her own at Sister Norah's
It is here, through the love of Lizzie that Deborah found God again. She talks of Christ as the only man who loves her more than her husband. She talks of Him as other best friend along with Lizze.
Lizzie and Deborah spend their days knitting, painting, singing, doing each others hair. All the girlie stuff they never got to do before. Although the creative part is fun for them, it means business too. The blankets they knit are all for babies and are donated to local shelters, hospitals, and people who have no money and wouldn't otherwise have them.
The drawings they do often get transferred to t-shirts which are also donated to the Mustard Seed* kids and the clothing closet at Loaves and Fishes.** Deborah's artwork can be seen at the top of this page.
These two women who have been through hell and back live their lives fully now and each day is a wondrous delight for them both. They adore each other and although they may not share the same blood, the same blood runs through their hearts.
Sisters, Sisters
there were never such devoted sisters.
* & ** will be written about in the near future, so please stay tuned.

Feet, Do Your Thing

979 miles. That's how far we have come to date. Doesn't sound like very far for 49 days of travel does it? Actually it is. That's an average of 19.97 miles per day. In Chico California, I have met several men who walk twice that in any given day.

Women can stay at the Sabbath house in Chico, for as long as they need to, no questions asked. They have few requirements. They must be clean and sober, drug free and willing to work on getting out of their situation. Goals are set for each woman and through care and one and one counseling, are able to change the direction their lives have been going in.

Chico does not however have a shelter for men. I find that typically opposite of what we have found to be the norm. But the men take it in their stride. They know that at the Jesus Center, during the day, they can get a hot meal or two, a hot shower and a respite from the cold.

What this means however is that they way. They walk a lot. They walk holes in their shoes, holes in their socks and often walk holes in their feet. Blisters are an every day occurrence for most homeless people. They can be caused by many things also indigenous to homelessness. Walking too much, improper socks and improper shoes.

There is nothing the Jesus Center can do about the walking too much. In order to build a men's shelter they need hundreds of thousands of dollar just to build. That figure does not include the upkeep and staff to support the shelter.

The Jesus Center does have a store for the homeless and low-income families. Anyone can go into this store and get all the clothing they need, including shoes. What about socks? Well that's a different matter. They keep running out due to the amount of miles put in on a daily basis by the homeless men of Chico.

When I asked the Jesus Center what they needed, they could have asked for the astronomical amount needed for the men's shelter, but they didn't. To them there was something much more important for their men.


Please donate or send socks to:
1297 Park Avenue
Chico, Ca 95928

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Help or Get Out of her Way

By now, everyone who has read my blog knows that I ended up living in the streets because of domestic violence. When I was married there were no laws to protect battered women. The laws didn't change until 1984. There were no shelters to be safe in, no agencies that advocate on your behalf. Seems pretty sad to me that we have come so far as a nation but yet these laws were only passed just over a quarter of a century ago.

What I have discovered on this trip however is that it doesn't matter how many laws are passed to protect women, they still get battered. Restraining orders are often worth nothing more than the piece of paper they are written on.

I have talked about what it's like to be in the streets or what it's like to sleep in the front seat of a car or even how it feels to sleep in the same room with a hundred other men or women. What I haven't talked about yet is what it's like to go from hopeless to home.

In 1984, when I finally transitioned into a small, and I do mean small apartment in San Jose, California, it actually took months for me to be able to sleep in a bed. I got so used to sleeping on the ground or on a church pew or when I was lucky in the front seat of a car that being in a bed was actually overwhelming. I still ate things you didn't have to cook because that was simpler.

The biggest transition was people. You get used to being by yourself; doing everything alone and sometimes even talking to yourself for you are your only companion. Different degrees of paranoia set in and when you transition back into society, it takes a lot for you to even say hello. You get so used to looking over your shoulder that trust is no longer an option.

You move into a home and suddenly you have people in your life that just a few short days ago did not know you existed. Do you trust them? You are friendly to them but you don't trust them, so the wall goes up. They may not see it, but it's there like this invisible force field that no one can penetrate.

I sleep with my doors unlocked. Always. Windows are open. Always. I know it frightens many of my friends that I do this. Knowing the reason behind it doesn't make them any less uneasy for my safety. For me, and many of the women I have met over the years who do the same thing, it is actually a safety mechanism. If he starts hitting, I can't always get out if the doors are locked. It takes a few seconds, sometimes more to open a locked door and at times that extra second can make a difference between safety and a broken jaw.

The most difficult transition however is a combination of street and domestic violence gut reaction. You either don't trust men at all or you are so desperate for love, for human touch, that you trust them too much.

I met Patrick, my traveling companion, 11 months after I got out of the street. It took me close to 10 of our 25 year friendship to trust him. Patrick has always said when it comes to me, "You either help or get out of her way." Sadly, right this very moment it's often get out of my way. I am discovering on this trip that in some respects I still don't trust him. We have talked about this and although he understands, I think it still hurts him.

I didn't know how much of an issue men still were until this trip began. Let's get real here. Although I am a very strong women in so many respects, when it comes to relationships, not so much, especially with men. I know, that I know, that I know he would never hurt me. He loves me and yet, I want to be with anyone else, anywhere else, but here with him. He graciously gives me the space I need which in this van is hard to do, but he finds a way.

We are in California. An area where I spent more than half of my homeless days. An area where at different times in those 3 years, I was shot at, stabbed, raped, and beaten and left in the road for dead. I am frightened to be here in this state and I am not even in the area that these events happened. It is because of those events of my past that today I cannot sleep near Patrick without hating what he represents to me. I am frightened to be so close day in and day out with this man I have known and been friends with for years.

With so much violence in our world today, rape seems to have so little meaning. I hate the word. It seems to be used so casually. Most people think it's about sex, but they are wrong. It's about control, shame, violence and terror. It is because of the many homeless women who choose the streets because of those violent acts, that I choose now, today, this moment to share this part of my story.

I wrote this letter about 20 years ago and I don't think of it often, but every once in a while I do. Today I am.

I write this letter to you so that you will remember me always because I think of you every day of my life.

I could go into all the gory details of what happened but I won't because you were there so you already know what you did to me. You used sex as a violent weapon when sex was meant as an act of love.

Words cannot begin to express to you the pain, the degradation and humility I felt while you were raping me. You were turned on by it. I wanted to die. You denied me any rights as a person. By the time all of you were through with me, I was a very different person than I had been a few hours earlier.

I had always been one to trust people and you took that away from me too. Each of you who took a turn at violating my body, violated every aspect of my life. You turned my world inside out in less time than it takes to take a bath.

The permanent damage you did was not to my body but to my mind, to my life. You didn't just savage a woman's body. You savaged a whole person and everyone I am close to. You took away my dignity; you took away my freedom of choice; you took away my soul and left in its place a shattered scrap of relationships and feelings that came before you and have come since.

The people who knew me and loved me no longer know who I am. My friends, who knew of what you did cannot look me in the eye. When they do sneak a quick look, it's one of pity. My parents have never been able to accept what happened. They refuse to talk about it.

I have three children. Because of you, they have never known the freedom of confidence because I have none. They have all grown up cynical and unable to trust because I have passed on to them what you forced upon me. You deprived them of the carefree happy childhood they deserved.

How long will I be a person who is withdrawn, distrustful and always stays in safe places, even now? I loved once. Before you, I could express that freely. You have stifled that.

For years I have not been able to have a sexual relationship. I may never have one again because with the mere act of being naked, every moment of that brutality is brought back. I cannot look in the mirror without shame. Every time I shower I am reminded when I would scrub my flesh until I drew blood and even then I could still feel your slime on me. I can still smell the foul odors of your bodily fluids. You haunt my dreams at night. I cannot get rid of you.

I could tell you about the fact that you will never be punished for what you did, but you already know that too. If there had been a trial, you would have had time to prepare and defend yourself. I wasn't given that opportunity. I have been through a lot of pain in my life, but nothing, none of my experiences prepared me to deal with how you violated me.

I am sure you are just aching to know how I am doing after all these years. I'm not doing well but then again I don't expect to do really well ever again. My life is going on but thanks to you it will never be the same again.

I share these thoughts publicly not for sympathy, because I fully accept what happened to me and know that the events of my past are what have prepared me for my life's calling. I share them knowing full well, there may be even one woman out there who needs to hear that they are not alone and there is hope.

These words may not reflect that, and you may not yet feel it, but believe me, there is a God out there watching over you and his name is called love.