deATh's door!

death: you did it again
death: you surprised us this weekend and took two more homeless friends
death: you are so callous
death: you lie in wait, just like my son's gecko, which pounces on the poor crickets and gobbles them whole
death: you are so relentless
death: you continue your ruthless savage ways while gaining momentum
death: you are causing us to mourn and weep yet again...

It seems death constantly surrounds me these days.
It seems my primary job has migrated into being a grief counselor.
It seems the longer I stay working with the homeless and poor, death's frequency will only increase!

Fred and Michael prematurely passed away this weekend. I mourn their lost potential and forgotten gifts. They were both relatively young. They were both homeless and only in their forties! Their names have been added to an already high mortality rate!

I can relate to the old lady watching her husband, friends and family die one-by-one; wondering who will be next, and when it may happen! The only difference is; her circle decreases, while my circle increases, because new homeless folk enter my life nearly every single day!

The picture I paint is bleak; because there’s no denying life’s frailty when homelessness descends upon you.

My purpose is not to reflect on the why, how, where or when: that can be summed up in one phrase: many, if not most, homeless people are individuals with compromised immune systems.

Instead, I am reflecting on WHO! We are talking about a group of men and women who are often ignored, forgotten and despised! It is a tragedy! Whereas some receive an honorable service in a church or funeral home, many are simply tossed into a potter’s field; receiving no funeral, no memorial service and no-one grieved or remembered a life once lived. We have tried to hold a few over the years, whether within CCO or outside on the loading dock where they laid their head at night.

I am about to reflect on a few men and women who have touched my life; they have also impacted many others who have had the privilege to know these unique individuals. This is my seemingly insignificant attempt to remember and honor some people whom death has captured and taken from us! Whereas they may be just mere names to most, to the few of us that knew them, they have left a lasting impression and have taught us invaluable lessons…..

Curly and Louie, over ten years ago you both captured my heart with your faith and knowledge of God’s Word. Alcohol consumed you and the midwinter freeze overcame you. We mourned and held our first services for these chronically homeless street warriors

Nick , your life showed me the perversion of justice. You were illiterate, mentally ill, chronically sick and homeless, meanwhile this power hungry bureaucratic beast who arrogantly proclaimed "help for all", threw you out into the park and deemed you unworthy! As a result, you died alone under that cold damp tree! The King of kings deemed you worthy and has now secured you a mansion to call your own!

John was known as "Johnny Stone" and "John the Baptist": one spoke of his younger glory days and reputation, the other of the drunken prophet proclaiming "there's thieves in the temple!" We communicated, via letter, while he was in the Joint and I discovered a new John; a man full of faith, hope and love! He battled the bottle daily, until he died among his homeless buddies in the pouring rain by the loading dock. By candlelight, less than ten of us met for a highly emotional, yet beautiful, memorial service on that chilly dock. Together we held hands and shared tears, cookies and chicken in front of hundreds of Aragon concert goers!

Ashley, you were so young, quiet and innocent, you shocked our small community with your mysterious premature departure! I look forward to seeing your shy smile in your resurrected state!

Sanchez, oh how you hated and despised me bitterly. You felt I had wronged you – maybe in ignorance I had! When you saw me, you would scream at me and call me every vulgar name under the sun! You were tortured by a severe mental illness and alcoholism. Then one day that bitterness transformed into a strange and awkward friendship. Then one day you simply disappeared; we didn’t know until months later that you had been freed from the dominating forces that overpowered you!

Pattie died yelling, screaming and dancing before her Lord. She would laugh, point to the sky and shake all over praising Jesus; "it's all for Jes-us! Yes, it's ALL for Jesus" She lit up street, her church and the dinner guest program with her flamboyant colors and vigorous joy. She fell into His arms in the midst of her unique way of glorifying her Lord and Savior.

Andre; you and Connie, rocked our world with your violent arguments. Such a fragile couple; so full of hate yet full of love, pulling one another down while screaming for mercy! You lived the contradiction by always protecting each other while assaulting each other. Yet every night, you two always snuggled together in dark rat infested alleys, battling the deathly cold. Andre, you faded into the night! Connie resurrected to become human again, while Andre gained his resurrection body.

Freddie, the perpetual grandfather student who edited papers and loved to learn! You were so intelligent, yet often so foolish! You were grasped by your secret alienating addiction, yet embraced an energetic hope and inspired us all. You were an intriguing mystery who mysteriously passed.

Juan, your former glory days of gangs and violence gave way to a body which was riddled with chronic illnesses and faulty kidneys. I only knew the fragile you! Emergency rooms and the local ICU were your second homes. I sadly had to watch your humiliation as they carried your 350 pounds down and up 4 flights of stairs. We were able to get you housed, and shortly after, you were freed from your failing body while being able to shower in your own shower!

Clyde , my first memory was when you socked me square in the nose. Twice! Violence was your way! Yet forgiveness and reconciliation happened, and I discovered Clyde the faithful protector and ally. We became friends, but your lungs began to hate you, control you and they took your life! I went to your funeral and discovered you were blessed with a beautifully supportive mother and family.

Laverne, you were a protector of Beth (my wife). You two had known each other for years when Beth and I started hanging out. There was a deep and emotional history; where there had been much weeping, struggles and love. You loved me too, but you’d always say to me with a touch of seriousness; “you better not hurt my girl, or I’ll kill you!” Laverne was someone who gave her opinion and would faithfully stick by her friends through whatever circumstance. Though her homeless struggles had been deep and painful, she was blessed to have conquered many of her “demons” and was able to pass away in her own place.

Danny , the victim of victims! Always bullied until death became your final bully! You were too young and were never given a chance! Yet, your loving heavenly Father now embraces you!

There are so many more homeless friends and acquaintances that could have been mentioned. Sticks, Ben, Robert, Michael, Deb, Eugene, Freddie and so many more; you are loved and missed. Their stories are all so different, yet they were all united by the common bond of homelessness; a community of rejected individuals who live, breathe, love and die together. Fred and Michael were both ironically honored and saddened to be members of this unique group. They both passed away in the arms of their homeless community and their surprising premature deaths caused them all to grieve, try to cope with another fallen comrade and deal with their own fear.

YET…..
….. there is hope…..
….. there is mercy…..
….. there is grace…..
….. there are promises…..
….. there is love…..

These spiritual realities are from the God Almighty. The kingdoms of this world have degraded, rejected and neglected these homeless men and women, yet when Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, he portrayed a kingdom that elevated and accepted the poor and disinherited. He spoke of blessing for those who are poor and those who mourn. He spoke and lived a life that turned all worldly norms upside down and he walked the compassionate path of non-conformity and revolutionary love.

Most of these people may not have lived the life we expected them to live! Some of them lived lives riddled with heroin, crack or alcohol. They may have delved into prostitution or fornication. Some robbed, stole and shop lifted. A few even committed acts of violence, preyed on the weak, were gang-bangers and rotated in and out of prisons! Some of their lives were consumed by nearly all of those things, but they all lived lives of regret! They hated what they had done, was done to them, what they continued to do and were struggling to overcome! They were a group of people who would endlessly cry out to Jesus, screaming "Lord, have mercy on me; a sinner!" They were convinced they had no part in His Kingdom, they were convinced hell would be their destination, but every night they would pray with genuine tears begging for His forgiveness, His mercy, His love and His grace! They realized they were incapable to make on their own, they realized they needed mercy!

The Gospel truth gives me irrefutable hope, because God’s love, mercy and grace sings of the beautiful promise that the Apostle Paul recorded:
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy victory?
O death, where is thy sting?”

Though my homeless friends lived unjust, painful and difficult lives, I cling to the Hope that I will rise in my resurrected body to meet many of these homeless friends. Yet, this time, we will be living in a new earth and new heaven where there will be
….. no more injustice
….. no more partiality
….. no more suffering
….. no more conflict
….. no more death
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