Hollywood Nights

Two years ago today was the best day of my life. I finally made it to Hollywood for a screenwriting awards ceremony and live read held by the Oscars (The Academy Awards). I was one step closer to making my dreams come true. And for the first time in my life, as I stepped out of the parking deck and onto Hollywood Boulevard, I felt a sense of belonging. Of course I was wearing my power outfit (black skirt and pink, dressy tank top) and my favorite Nine West (five-inch) heels. (I plan to take over the world in those shoes. They’re that fabulous!!) I will never forget how I felt as I took that step and looked at the Stars below me. The sunshine and air hugged me, my soul was overcome with peace, and a smile I didn’t recognize appeared on my face. I was finally home.

Back to belonging… Continue reading “Hollywood Nights”

shoes like hers

Last night I took my mother to a Mexican restaurant half way between her apartment and mine. I was starving and knew I’d better eat before I went grocery shopping and spent all my money on junk. As we walked to the door to go inside, there was an older lady sitting on the bench. She had dark skin, dark eyes, and gray hair that was a stringy mess. She was wearing a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and those shoes you wear in lakes and oceans. She appeared to have no teeth, either. She smiled and said hello. I smiled and said hello back.

I wasn’t sure what her deal was–if she was just poor or homeless or what. There was another woman sitting on the bench with her but they didn’t appear to be together. That woman was put together better, cleaner, and appeared to be waiting for someone. She was sitting on the opposite end with her right leg crossed over her left, facing to the left, as if she was trying to avoid eye contact or even so much as look in the other woman’s direction.

Mother and I went inside, ordered, and ate, all the while looking for and hoping that the lady on the bench was just waiting outside for someone she was meeting for dinner. She never came in, but the other woman did. I asked mom if I should buy the lady some food and get it to go and give it to her when I left. She wasn’t sure what to do. I also wasn’t sure if she’d eat it, what she’d like, or if she’d still be out there when we finished. I resolved to speak to her upon leaving and ask her if she would like something from Dairy Queen next door–if she was still sitting there. I felt bad for the woman and wanted to do something though I didn’t know her circumstances, but didn’t have any cash. I figured this way I could ask her if she’s hungry and what she’d like from Dairy Queen.

When mother and I left, the woman was still sitting there, smoking a cigarette she must’ve bummed from someone on his or her way inside the restaurant. I looked at her and she said “You have very pretty hair. You’re pretty. I bet you have a boyfriend, don’t you?”

Me: No.

Lady: You don’t date?

Me: No.

Lady: You just haven’t met the right one yet.

Me: I’m really not into that.

She looks to mom. “You’re pretty, too. Are you two sisters?”

Mom: No.

Me: She’s my mom.

She lady was overcome with a look of shock. “Mother? You don’t look old enough to be her mother. How old are you, sweetheart?”

Me: 37

Lady: Well you don’t look old enough to have a daughter that’s 37.

Mom: Thank you.

The lady went on to ask mom if she had any more children. She then told us she has two sons, the youngest being 40. I couldn’t help but wonder where they lived, if they have any type of relationship with her, and why she was seemingly alone or homeless though she has family.

Mom and I walked to the car, and I still didn’t know what to do. I drove over to the woman and asked her if she was ok. Before I could ask her if she’d like some food, mom asked her if she had somewhere to go. She claimed she was good and was just sitting there waiting on her family to get there. She told us to have a good night and insisted we leave her. Although I did not want to, I obliged. From the looks of things, she was used to people leaving her. My heart sank into my gut as I slowly drove away, looking behind me to see if someone came.

I can’t stop thinking about that woman. Is she poor? Homeless? Was she really waiting on someone? Does she see or talk to her sons? Why was she on that bench? Where had she been before? Where was she really going? And why was she so nice, friendly, and complimentary with everyone that passed? I hope she is ok. I hope she has eaten and has a safe place to lie down at night.

I don’t know her situation or circumstances, but past experiences and observations have shown me that people are not what they seem. Those who constantly try to build others up are broken inside. And those who say they are ok and don’t want anything are actually not ok and need something. I wish I had known what to do. The lady told us to leave, so I felt the respectful thing was to grant her wishes. She may not have wanted anything but she can’t stop me from praying. If you could, say a prayer for her, too, and the many others who wear shoes like hers.

I hope I see her again–only with people who care about her. If I see her and she’s alone, I hope I can do something for her. I hope she’s more receptive to it–even if it’s just a cheeseburger and a milkshake.

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

May God put angels in our paths and give us eyes to see them, hearts to love them, and clear directions on how to help them.

 

 

The least of these

Laws. The world lives by them. The government controls with them. The religious judge by them. No matter who you are or where you live, laws impact your life–whether you realize it or not.

In this day and age, too many people concern themselves with the laws or rules they think everyone should live by and follow. Police officers and other law enforcement think you should follow criminal laws–though sometimes lawyers will argue and turn guilty people innocent or point out a seemingly-guilty person’s innocence. Christians think you should follow the Ten Commandments–though the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ abolished them and came to show us grace, mercy, and salvation. Muslims think you should live by the Koran and so on.

To a point, we should follow laws. They bring us order and an understanding about what is and is not acceptable and tolerable in society. But where other laws or rules are concerned–ones that won’t hurt someone–that’s where we need our conscience, moral compass, and compassion. Compassion is key.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” It has nothing to do with what the laws or rules say. It’s about grace and mercy.

Since the writing of the Ten Commandments, many followers of Christ have been about obeying the laws more than embracing the reason Christ came to begin with: to abolish the law and save us from our sins through His blood shed and sacrifice of body. There have always been those people–the ones who care more about following the rules and less about loving their neighbors and showing compassion. And sadly, there will be some until Christ’s return.

Christ showed us how to respond in compassion when the scribes and Pharisees once brought him a woman who was caught in the act of adultery. They handed her over to Jesus and told Him that the law of Moses commanded the woman be stoned. They responded by asking Jesus what he had to say about it–fishing for a reason to accuse Him of something.

So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?”
She said, “No one, Lord.”
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” (John 8:7-11)

The woman committed adultery. She broke the law. And the followers of the law, the scribes and Pharisees, wanted her killed for it. They showed no understanding or compassion. They obviously didn’t understand who Christ was or why He was there. And they wanted Him to obey the laws of Moses, the rules by which they lived. And how did Jesus respond? By reminding them that none of them are without sin in their lives. And He did it tactfully and tastefully and without condemnation, not focusing on the woman’s wrongdoing or what the law says or even pointing out the things they’ve done wrong. He showed them they were all equals, and they left–probably because they didn’t want to hear it. (The truth hurts sometimes.) He stood back up, asked the woman where her accusers were, knowing very well they left. And when she said no one has condemned her, He told her He wasn’t either, and to “go and sin no more.”

He showed her compassion. Why? Was He ever a prostitute? No. Did he ever commit a crime? No. Could he completely understand what she did or why? No because he was never caught in the same situation or in sin. But he showed her compassion. He showed her grace and mercy and not only spared her life but saved it from those who wanted her stoned. He had pity on her and showed concern for who she was, why she was doing what she did, and the condition of her soul–even though he could not relate. He simply cared. The law didn’t matter there. And in certain situations and circumstances, it shouldn’t matter with us, either, believers and unbelievers alike.

There are a couple recent rule or law breakers I want to mention–two I think who are noteworthy and certainly have my respect.

One day during my recent trip to California, I was sitting in this pizza shop at the bar, drinking a beer and watching TV. I had already eaten but had time to kill and wasn’t sure what to do. It was a weekday and lunchtime, and many patrons came in for a couple slices and a pop. They came and went as I passed the afternoon on the stool, pretending to drink the day away while sipping one beer. After the rush came through, and those who were staying were sitting at various tables, a man walked in the door. He had on shorts and a camo jacket. He was dirt-stained, but I could not tell if he was homeless or had been out working somewhere. He had his left sleeve pulled up and he was scratching his arm. He passed the pizza counter and went around the bar towards the soda fountain and bathroom. I thought he was going to ask to use the restroom before he ordered food. By the time he got over there, an employee was standing there to greet him. It was then I realized the man was homeless. He asked the owner if he could have some water. And although he could have told the man to leave because they’re not allowed inside establishments to beg, he kindly pulled a cup from the stack, filled it up with water, and handed it to the man. The man grabbed the cup, took a drink, and headed for the door. I never saw him again.

Sure–to you and I–this gesture doesn’t seem like a big deal. But that’s because we have water or can get some if we want or need it. But to a man who has nothing, who lives on the streets and doesn’t even have a change of clothes, that cup of water could’ve saved his life. It could’ve been the one cup that kept him from dehydration. We will never know. And that pizza shop employee could have ordered him to leave (and got him in trouble for coming in to begin with) but he didn’t–not even after he gave him the water. He showed him kindness and compassion. And the water and cup weren’t free. Someone was paying for it. If I had asked for water to go with my pizza, they would have charged me for it. But the guy ignored the laws and broke the rules to show compassion for another human being. It was beautiful.

The other situation involves someone I am not even sure of: the maintenance crew of the apartment complex I live in.

Outside my apartment door on the adjacent walls are emergency exit signs and light fixtures. On top of each one is a plastic spikey thing which is there to keep birds from nesting. Businesses frown on birds taking up residence (and making messes) in places where humans congregate, especially in places where they are trying to entice people to live. And every week, the lawn crew and various maintenance people are doing work here–mowing and cleaning and fixing things for residents. And atop one of the signs rests a nest, a bird family from which I gather will be hatching eggs very soon. It’s a good sized nest, one that has been there (and clearly ignored) for a while. I see it every morning, amazed that they have not torn it down and happy that they’ve let the family live. The crew is supposed to clean things like that up, get rid of them, etc. But they have shown compassion on another living being (and her family) and let her stay there though they could get in trouble for neglecting it. They showed compassion towards some animals though their rules instruct otherwise. “His eye is on the sparrow,” you know, and I’m sure they appreciate it.

Again–this might not seem like a big deal to you or I–but we aren’t birds. We haven’t just built houses in areas where we aren’t sure of the safety of our surroundings. Have you ever had your home destroyed or taken away from you by someone who was instructed to do so? What a horrible situation that would be! God bless the crew who ignores this with every visit, who shows compassion and allows the bird family to live there though they are not welcome. Jesus will reward them the same as the guy who gave a cup of water to the homeless man.

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

“The godly are concerned for the welfare of their animals, but even the kindness of the wicked is cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10)

May God remind us that we are all equal and not above showing compassion to one another. May He humbly remind us that we could at any time become the ones in need.

Goodnight. Much love. God bless.

The sparrows

Even though I’ve lived a somewhat difficult life thus far, I will admit that I am certainly taken care of; blessed; have many things to be thankful for. It took a trip to California to realize it and take my mind off my problems and focus more on the needs of others. And for the past two weeks, I cannot stop thinking about the strangers who crossed my path: the homeless.

When I mention the homeless in California to friends (at home), some of them immediately think of the panhandlers who hold up signs in hopes of playing the emotions of passing motorists and scoring a few bucks. Those folks aren’t homeless, and if they are, they choose to be. Many of them have more money than those who contribute to their laziness and lies. They just don’t want to work. But out in California, where the sun always shines and most people seem happy, there are real homeless people (not that Ohio doesn’t have them) on the streets–and they don’t have signs or stand on the corners begging for money. And sadly, to find a few in a short distance wasn’t uncommon. I came across many in my eight-day visit. Several I will never forget.

In a five-block radius in Hillcrest, San Diego, I came across at least five homeless people. They mostly looked the same; they had dirt-stained skin, dark teeth, and dark eyes. They had messy hair and wore raggedy clothing. Some carried bags while some pushed shopping carts. They all wore layers of clothing though the weather was warm. Two of them who appeared to be schizophrenic, sat against walls and electric boxes on the streets, screaming at everyone and no one at the same time. They seemed to be tortured and battling some demons. A couple guys approached me to ask for money, but I was advised to not even so much as make eye contact with any of them. Being in a strange and unfamiliar place by myself, I followed my friend’s advice. There were several others who really stood out among them.

The first one was an older man who appeared to be in his sixties. He had white hair, a gray and white beard, and looked to be about six feet tall and 220 pounds. I first met him while walking up the street to a restaurant for breakfast and almost tripped over his legs on the sidewalk. He was sleeping on the corner in front of the Episcopalian Church on my friend’s street. He didn’t move a muscle as he lied on the cold, hard concrete under the church sign that hid most of his body. I would later come to realize that man slept in that same spot every night.

The second one who stood out was a similar situation. We were at Pacific Beach bar-hopping, and I decided I wanted to see the ocean at night because I had never seen it. Fascinated by sound of the crashing waves though not being able to see anything, I started to step off the sidewalk into the sand towards the water and I almost tripped over another man’s legs. He was lying in the sand, completely covered up, and had his head slightly propped against the cement wall that separated the sidewalk from the sand. He looked uncomfortable but was fast asleep as though he did that all the time. He may very well.

The third situation, which I have been thinking about since, was at Ocean Beach. Being daylight and in the habit of looking down in front of me as I walked, I noticed a little girl crawling around on the stairs leading to the shore. She was about two years old, had long, blonde hair, and was wearing a long-sleeve t-shirt and some pink corduroy pants. The bottom six inches of her pant legs were completely black, and her clothes were covered in sand. She seemed to be playing by herself–though I assumed she was with someone. There was an elderly woman sitting on the nearby wall who had long, white hair, dirt-stained skin, and was dressed in layers. She looked like the bird lady from Mary Poppins and she seemed to be staring into space. I walked down to the ocean to get some pictures. When I turned around to get a complete view of my surroundings, I noticed a little boy about the same size and age playing around the wall between the little girl and the old woman. They didn’t appear to be together, but I didn’t see any other adults near that boy. I wasn’t sure what to think. After taking pics and heading back to the street to go for a walk, the woman calmly stopped me and asked if I’d seen a little boy. I assumed she meant the one I saw momentarily, so I turned to look for him. Turning back to tell her no, I realized she walked away. On the sidewalk where she had been sitting was a metal cart with four wheels, the kind elderly people use to push their groceries into their apartments. In the cart sat that little girl like an animal in a cage. She looked down at something she was sitting on, having a conversation I could barely hear and not at all comprehend. My heart was crushed. It was obvious the two children were with the elderly woman and the woman had lost the boy and thought the little girl was safe in the cart. I hope she was. And I hope the boy was found.

These situations not only flooded my mind with thoughts and questions but also gave me an appreciation I had never had and a pain in my heart I’d never felt. I will never be the same. I began to think about the lives of these folks, wondering what lead to their current situations. It sent my mind into the universe like a shooting star. I can’t stop thinking about it.

Why did the first man I almost tripped over sleep at the door of the church every night? Did he feel safe there? Was he afraid of the streets, too? Did he think God would keep him safe if he slept in front of His House every night? Was he hoping that passersby or the clergy would show him kindness and generosity and provide him with some food or shelter? Maybe he felt safer there. Maybe he felt closer to God there. And maybe he was. Maybe he hears God speaking to him there. Maybe he prays for the people who visit the church. We will never know.

And what about the man in the sand? How could he sleep with his head propped up on the concrete wall? Was he not concerned about possible bugs or other life crawling on him as he slept in the sand? And how could he sleep with his entire body and face covered up with clothes? Wasn’t he hot? Or did he just need complete darkness? Did it drowned out the sound of the waves and seagulls? Was he not afraid of his surroundings? Did he feel safe? Did he think this was the safest, most comfortable place for him? Was this just a place of peace for him? Was the man drunk or passed out or was this his normal routine? Does God talk to him there? Does he talk to God there? We will never know.

And what about the children and the old woman? Who are they in relation to her? Were they her great-grandchildren? How did she end up with them? Where were their parents? Why were they homeless? Did the children know they were homeless? Were they being fed? Did they have a safer place to sleep than the street corner or against a wall in the sand? Was the old woman mentally ill? Why wasn’t she hysterical when she couldn’t find the boy? Did she find him? Will these kids grow up with any normalcy? If they end up in a home with a family, will they recall the times of homelessness? Will God protect them? Does God protect them now? Does the old woman talk to God? Do the children?

There were so many thoughts flooding my mind when assessing the situations and circumstances surrounding the souls, but a line from a song silenced them. “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” I wondered if they knew God was watching them. He was. He is. And in that moment, I felt as though they knew. It calmed my heart.

I admire the homeless. They seem to be the most mindful individuals alive. They live in the moment.

Jesus said “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?…Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-27,34) Of all the things I’ve seen homeless people do, worry is not one of them. They live in the moment, go about their day, take what they get, and are appreciative of whatever that may be. May God bless them abundantly and help us be more like them. May God continue to look over them and provide each and every day.

In regards to the homeless, which Mother Teresa served most of her life, she said if they go hungry or thirsty or without basic necessities, it is because we did not care for them as we should. We will be to blame. She was right.

When Jesus returns, He will separate the people of all nations, putting the righteous to the right of His throne. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Mathew 25:34-40)

Is God speaking to the homeless? Are they listening? I will never know. He is, however, speaking to me. Am I listening? What can I do? I am not entirely certain, but I do know that when praying for opportunities to do good, God always provides.

May the good Lord give us minds like the homeless, hearts like Jesus, and a servant’s attitude like Mother Teresa. May He open our eyes and ears to the poor, homeless, unloved, unwanted, and rejected and show us obvious ways to help.

May we all go to sleep tonight thankful for what we have, mindful of those who have less, and full of prayers for opportunities to “store up for ourselves treasures in Heaven.”

 

 

True Poverty

(Here it is: my first post on my new blog–a blog I paid for. I feel this tremendous pressure to write something brilliant, something deep, something meaningful. I need to make every word count…I hope it doesn’t disappoint (me))

Throughout my life, I have admired the work and wisdom of Mother Teresa–Saint Teresa in recent years. I am not Catholic and do not fully believe in the Catholic Doctrine, but I’ve always wanted to be like her. She had a true servant’s heart, an unmatched faith, a simple life, and a resume that would prove all of that a million times over. I have no doubt when she met God at the pearly gates, He said “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” (Matthew 25:21)

One of the things I always loved about her work and one of the reasons I wanted to become a nun at one point was to live a simpler existence and truly make a difference in the lives of others. It sounded glamorous to leave this first-world country and its problems behind, move to the third world, and perform simple but meaningful acts such as bathe and feed the poor, homeless, and dying, give them some dignity by showing them someone cares, and allow them to transition into the next life with peace of mind and soul.

The details I wasn’t entirely sure of. The struggles I’d never predict. And the Catholic faith’s focus on poverty and the poor wasn’t something I completely understood. I just dreamed of leaving all the first-world difficulty behind and walking away from the hustle and bustle of the money-chasing, drama-loving sinfulness of our culture and people for that of humans with legitimate, basic needs. It sounded much better to feed, clothe, house, and pray for the sick, homeless, and dying rather than deal with and be forced to interact with spoiled, mean-spirited people who don’t seem to lack any basic needs. The day would be certainly different if we could all choose who we spent it with. Amen.

Back to the poor–

As I said–I never understood the faith’s focus on the poor…until recently. I always thought the poor have it easier than the rest of us because they have fewer distractions, fewer responsibilities, and fewer things to get between them and God. They are more thankful for what little they receive, and they see more miracles than anyone because their positions in life never give them reasons to be proud, boastful, or think they don’t need God due to any perceived power, riches, or money in their possession. They never see themselves as gods. I saw the poor as God’s favorite, His chosen people. Thinking the focus of all organized religion is money, and believing that the Catholic Church probably has most of it, I understood the focus on the poor–or so I thought. What I didn’t realize was I did not fully understand the meaning of poor. As a middle-class white girl in a first-world country, my thoughts when thinking of the poor were strictly based on money and material possessions. This was the error in my thinking.

During a recent trip to California, I found a cute used bookstore in Hillcrest, San Diego, called Bluestocking Books. I had gone in there several times, trying to convince myself I had enough room in my bag or suitcase to purchase a thing or two to take with me. Books have always been a guilt-free purchase with me, and I didn’t want to go home having spent all my money on food. Upon my third trip to the store, while trying to decide which book to buy, I came across another Mother Teresa book called One Heart Full of Love. Aside from the fact it was my third trip, and three is a holy number, I love to read anything and everything on/about/with Mother Teresa. There was no decision to make. It was a no-brainer. And looking back, I know it was a divine appointment and a book I was meant to purchase.

Throughout this book, Mother Teresa talks about the poor. She tells us of some of the work she has done then asks us if we are taking care of our poor. She asks us if we know our poor, recognize them, and see and meet their needs. She points out that the poor could be in our own families, live in our houses, be our neighbors, our coworkers, and so on. She then says the most profound, honest thing about poverty and the poor I have ever heard. It definitely pulled on my heartstrings and gave me an understanding I didn’t even know I was looking for.

She said “It seems to me that this great poverty of suffering in the West is much harder to solve. When I pick up some starving person off the street and offer him a bowl of rice or a piece of bread, I can satisfy his hunger. But a person that has been beaten or feels unwanted or unloved or fearful or rejected by society–that person experiences a kind of poverty that is much more painful and deep. Its cure is much more difficult to find.”

It was then I understood what they meant by poor. It was then I realized so many more people are poor and suffer from poverty than I thought. It was then I realized I am one of them. With tears running down my face, I related to this more than I was ever willing to admit. If I’m being completely honest, I’ve always felt like one who’s been rejected by society–for many reasons I won’t go into right now. But I know that pain and it sucks. And I feel for everyone who can relate to any of this.

What can we do about it? How do we deal with the spiritually poor? Feeling the pain as its truth stared me in the face, I want to solve the problems of others. I want to take away their pain. I want to share their burdens and let them know they are not alone. How can this be done? The first thing I know to do is to pray.

“The Lord is close to all who call on him, yes, to all who call on him sincerely.” (Psalm 145:18)

If you suffer from spiritual poverty or can relate to any of these problems, take heart. Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Mathew 5:3)

Mother Teresa believed the beginning of love is a smile. Let’s start there. Smile at your neighbors. You’ll never truly know how poor they are.

Goodnight. Much love. God Bless. And many, many smiles.