I'm Grieving!

I’m grieving....

In the past month, I know 4 people who passed away! Each of them spent lengthy times of homelessness in their lives! They stayed in shelters, huddled up in tents, slept in the park, lay on loading docks and rode the trains. They all experienced something no one plans or wants to go through. I was privileged enough to shelter them at CCO a few times and I was also honored to have played a little part in helping 3 of them move from homelessness into housing. 

All 4 were regulars in Uptown. They helped make it the diverse rich community it is. For various reasons, they all came into Cornerstone where they all blessed us, and like anyone, they caused us grief at times too. I'm glad to have known them, to call them friends and family and my life was enriched by each of them. 

Even though Uptown was their stomping ground and they all experienced homelessness in this neighborhood, they ran with their own unique set of friends and helped remind me of how lethal poverty and homelessness can be! Their deaths urge me to keep on fighting for equality because they remind me how short life is. Life is especially short for those who struggle with poverty and homelessness. Stats show that people who are poor have a lot lower life expectancy than those who have more. All 4 of my friends died younger than 65. 

Jesus came to "proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and to set the oppressed free", therefore, I believe if anyone claims to follow Jesus, it is imperative to fight for those who face the devastating and fatal effects of poverty and homelessness. The deaths of my friends encourage me not to forget about, and to really advocate for, those who stay in shelters, tent cities, and for anyone sleeping rough. 

The deaths of my friends urge me not to forget how awful the struggle really is! A few years ago, Kelly (pictured below) lost a foot and some toes on his other leg due to frostbite! He survived a few more years after being rushed to a local hospital with hypothermia and frostbitten feet! If it wasn't for the ambulance, Kelly would have frozen to death that night. When this happened, Kelly was sleeping on a park bench covered by not enough blankets! His feet were exposed. People who wonder why we hand out tents and fight for those living in Uptown Tent City, Kelly's story shows us how fatal and lethal a Chicago winter can be! Tents save lives! Shelters save lives! Kelly reminds us that as wealthy neighbors complain about how hot or cold it is, the poor are just trying to survive. Many who sleep outside pray every night that the Lord would be merciful enough to allow them to wake up the next morning. 

There is a beauty that is found in homeless communities, where people are so compassionate and generous to one another. They help each other survive! Even though they lack so much, they give beyond their means. I see this happen every day, where they lift one another up and won't let the weak perish. Phelps (pictured above) depicted this, he was extreme and had a heart of gold! Whether he lived in the park, with us at CCO or when he got his own crib, Phelps made sure those around him were safe, warm, fed and clothed. He stood up for the weak, wouldn't allow bullies to mess with his crew and always took people in! When he finally got himself an apartment, he took in so many people that we joked with him because his home became a mini-shelter. Phelps was a deeply compassionate advocate that often got in trouble trying to help those alongside him. I believe, by his acts of kindness and generosity, Phelps prevented tragedy and helped his buddies survive!

Earlier this week I went to Phelp's funeral where I was reminded of how he depicted the spirit and generosity of Uptown! He embraced the diversity, stood up for the weak and showered compassion on all he could. I reflected on all 4 of my friends at his funeral, and they all taught me how to be compassionate with the little they had. They forgave each other and helped one another survive in a hostile climate that was trying to take them out! This month, Uptown mourns and many are grieving. 

"Death, you won again, you took them too soon!" 

I grieve because poverty and homelessness have lethal consequences. 
I grieve because the barriers to safe housing, health care, and treatment are enormous. 
I grieve over this country's love of incarceration rather than harm reduction and restorative justice. 
I grieve because profit is the goal, power is the motive and the poor and dispossessed are ignored. 
I grieve because I've seen too many of my friends die far too young! 

....yet, with all odds stacked against them, the countless stories of survival and resilience continue to amaze me and this causes my grief to be mixed with rejoicing and hope! 

I rejoice because despair hasn't settled in and hope remains!
I rejoice over all the fellowship and community that does exist! 
I rejoice because of how the weak are constantly lifted up and encouraged to keep on pushing onward.
I rejoice over how a diverse group of people comes together to refuse to let the bullies bully or be defeated.
I rejoice because there's a love that is strong, and this gives us so much hope.

Beyond what's temporary, I eternally rejoice because of the love Jesus has for each and every person struggling to survive. He died on the cross to right the wrongs and flip this world's injustice upside down! His death and resurrection give all who are struggling hope! The poor and homeless in His Kingdom are elevated because in Him the "first shall be last and the last, first"! His death and resurrection help me rejoice in the fact that these 4 are now in the loving hands of the One who said, "blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God." (Luke 6:20) I rejoice in the reality that Jesus loves these 4 brothers with a forgiving merciful love that is beyond all my comprehension! 

Rest in peace Kelly
Rest in peace Leonard
Rest in peace Martin
Rest in peace Phelps 
You all are loved and missed..... 
Jesus, they are yours! 

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