A follow-up to Love and Perspective
When one couple of the Homeless but not Helpless group came to our church, some of the rest followed. Some of them claimed to practice Wiccan, one said she was a Satan worshipper, and they came to get help with food, since we were running a SHARE program then. But, they also came to services – not a requirement and not even on the same day as the food distribution, which I ran.
I came to know their names and their stories, and as Saint Pat has so eloquently said on her blog, the stories matter. These are people, many of whom were abused as children. Some of them grew up with wealthy parents; some grew up as outcasts; some were dirt poor.
Several family groups kept coming to church after the food distribution stopped. And, I fell in love with the children of one family. I became Grandma (I think my white hair prompted that name). They were baptized – the whole family – not all at the same time but as they came to realize that St. Anne’s was where they wanted to be and that the God they found at St. Anne’s was their God. Since they had worked with me in the food distribution, they asked that I be their sponsor for confirmation. So I became “godmother” to this family.
As I heard the story of Clarice being adopted by a dentist and his wife and growing up with all the privileges of middle class America, I wondered what went wrong. I still don’t know. This young woman was obese and living with a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and numerous other health problems. The daughters sat with me in church, and the youngest memorized some of the prayers and songs because she could not read. The son was a tremendously talented cartoonist, who lost or gave up his art ability when he reached puberty and developed schizophrenia. The physical, mental, emotional and social problems of this family were overwhelming.
But, they persevered. Other Homeless but not Helpless friends passed through their home, which they finally got with Section 8 housing assistance. Clarice learned which churches gave out food under what conditions. And, she used what amount of food budget she had to buy the perishables that churches can’t distribute easily. She fed anyone who was hungry. They began a garden and canned the produce of that garden.
Their home was often filthy. Housekeeping was not high on the priority list when you were interested in saving small animals from death, when you were interested in just staying alive with all the mental/emotional problems assailed you. We worked on kitchen cleanliness after a bout of digestive problems, and everyone cooperated. A compost bucket was kept, dishes were washed, food was put away.
They were frequent visitors to the various churches who gave monetary assistance with rent and utilities. They simply did not have enough income to cover the basic necessities. And, Clarice got to know the system well. Finally, someone who was helping people with social security and disability problems, got them qualified for a bit more money from various sources.
A budget was developed. An unexpected cold spell still brought requests for help with fuel oil. Clarice began taking her medicine since she could now get it through Medicaid. With a fine intelligence, she worked hard to quit using the financial resources of the community and make their budget work – except for food – and she still feeds everyone who comes by – and they come because there is food and acceptance.
Walking beside this family, wondering if I were going to get head lice from holding the daughters in my lap, thanking God that I have little sense of smell when I went into their home were not easy. Loving them was. How can you not love a little one who comes running to you with a bright face and arms outstretched for a hug? How can you not love when someone asks you to help them get on their feet? How can you not love when a schizophrenia young man stands outside your door talking with whomever he sees in the ether but returns to reality and gives you a big hug, carries heavy things for you, and becomes normal for the few minutes that you can connect? How can you not love when the couple gets married and calls you joyously after the service from the civil office? How can you not love when they join you at the communion rail with smiles and outstretched hands for the hope and love, courage and inclusion we all find there.
They are my family. I am godmother, Grandma. Now, I live several hours away from them. They call me to see how I am doing – thank God for cell phones. They call me to say that all the bills have been paid. The youngest calls and sings to me. But, they also call when that cold spell hits and the heating oil tank is dangerously low. I have a charge account now with their local fuel oil company. I get special requests at Christmas, but I don’t get frivolous requests, and I do get consulted about special purchases before they are made.
Drugs and alcohol have disappeared from their personal usage, but they don’t turn away those who are still addicted as long as they play by the rules of the house. Their pantry and freezer are stocked. Clothes come from the local thrift shops or the church clothing closets. They get therapy to help solve problems within the family. And, the oldest daughter is away for a few months in a home for disturbed teenagers. She’s learning anger management and how to handle her particular mental illness, but she’s determined to come home again. On a recent visit, she abided by all the rules and showed respect to her Mom.
I can’t do much now except the fuel oil, listening on the phone, loving them and praying for them. They are using, not abusing, the social services system to survive and be participating members of the community. They are a success story.
Joe’s son, Joey, is buried in the columbarium at St. Anne’s, and I figure it won’t be long before Joe joins him since Joe has emphysema and a bad heart that is slowly quitting. He doesn’t leave the house now; so the family no longer attends church; someone has to stay with him. I’ll be there to bury Joe just as I was there to bury Joey. They are my family. I will see them when I go back to visit. We give each other love and acceptance just where we are and as we are. Where love is, God is there.