Waste Not, Want Not

This morning as I was munching on a crispy yet chewy English muffin, I had a flashback to my childhood. You see, I had saved the English muffin after finding it in the toaster the other day, forgotten by whoever put it there (maybe me). Thoughts of my mom came to mind.

Raised during the Depression (she was born in 1922), my mother understood the importance of frugality. She and her family reused everything before “renew, reuse, recycle” became a cool slogan. They weathered some tough years…six daughters, a mother and father, and a farm. (Plus siblings from my grandfather’s first marriage; I’m not sure how many of them lived with my mom, because she was the baby of 11 children.) My grandfather lost not one, but two, farms during the Depression. One of them belonged to his brother. You can imagine what great family dynamics that situation created.

So the flashback to my childhood was a scene of my mom taking burnt toast out of the toaster. Rather than throwing it away, she scraped off the black with a table knife and then put a little extra butter on the toast. I remember choking down many pieces of toast that were rescued from the toaster. I didn’t dare complain because I would get one of those “mom” glares. “Waste not, want not,” she said. “Eat what’s set before you and say nothing, for conscience’ sake.”

When you think about it, those are really pretty good words to live by. Oh yes, and perhaps one of the most important sayings she taught me was, “Save your money for a rainy day.” Because rainy days eventually come to everyone.


Too Much Heaven?

As I tooled down the interstate in my sporty red Ford Focus rental car, feeling a bit trendy as I listened to Sirius radio, a song came on that took me back to my  college years:

“Nobody gets too much heaven no more,

it’s much harder to come by, I’m waiting in line

Nobody gets too much love anymore

It’s as high as a mountain and harder to climb…”

I smiled as the falsetto voices of the Bee Gees sparked a memory. The brother of one of my college friends used to sing the lyrics as, “Nobody gets too much hair in their armpits …”

Funny how, thirty plus years later, I still think of that goofiness every time I hear that song. I love how, for just a moment, I’m transported back to a much simpler time in life…before the daily responsibilities of work, home, marriage, raising kids, and paying bills took over.

It’s those small mental vacations that make what could be viewed as a humdrum routine just a little more fun and bearable.

Breakfast with Rose and Homer … and Denise

I met Rose and Homer on the streets of downtown Indianapolis on June 21 while searching for a restaurant for breakfast. I wanted something cheaper than the $20 Omni restaurant’s breakfast buffet, and I’d done Starbucks the day before.

I asked a valet where a certain restaurant recommended by the Omni was (it was supposedly famous for omelettes), and he gave me directions. I’m still not sure whether he told me to turn right or left. (I kind of glaze over when people give me verbal directions.) Anyway, I traipsed up and down Illinois Avenue. The valet told me to turn left after the skybridge, which I did. Turns out there are quite a few skybridges on Illinois Ave., so I should’ve clarified which one.

The first skybridge was at Maryland Avenue (the valet had told me to turn on Washington Avenue), so I kept going. I saw a huge skybridge up ahead but could not find a street sign, and the name of the street was not emblazoned on the brick sidewalk. I turned around and walked in the opposite direction. I passed a Steak ‘n Shake, looked inside and saw all the people waiting (a Nazarene General Assembly was in town), and kept going.

I passed by the Omni, the Crowne Plaza Hotel (and skybridge to Union Station) where I’d attended a copywriting seminar for 2 days, saw a homeless person sitting on the sidewalk, and kept going until I came to the first street. It didn’t look like I was in a place where a restaurant would be, so I turned around and went back in the direction I’d first walked.

I passed by Steak ‘n Shake once again, and it was still crowded. So I kept going and once again came to the intersection where the huge skybridge was. A woman sitting beside a newspaper dispenser asked if she could help me. I looked at her and could tell she was homeless — she was wearing lots of clothes (warmer than the weather called for), her hair was greasy, and she was holding a cardboard sign (I’m not even sure what it said…maybe “Please help.”). She smiled and asked if she could help me.  I asked what the cross street was. She said, “Washington Avenue.” I thanked her and proceeded down Washington Avenue, where the restaurant was supposed to be, just past yet another skybridge, according to the valet. By this time my feet were tired, as I was not wearing my walking shoes, so I looked down the street, thought, “Hey, that skybridge is too far away, and I really don’t care by now what I eat,” and returned to Illinois Avenue. I crossed the street after noticing a Panera sign, went in there, and ordered a breakfast sandwich, orange juice, and coffee. While I was sitting there munching on my overpriced breakfast sandwich and beverages, the thought occurred to me (God’s whisper, I think): “Hey, you really should take that woman to breakfast at Steak ‘n Shake.”

I felt really bad that I had bypassed that woman in the first place. So I scurried out of Panera, practically ran across the street…and saw a woman engaged in conversation with the homeless woman I’d passed by. I approached them and saw a homeless man joining them…I hadn’t noticed him before. I said, “Oh, hi…I wanted to take you to breakfast,” speaking to the homeless woman. But the other woman had beaten me to it. She had already invited the homeless woman and her companion to eat with her. She said to me, “You’re welcome to come along with us.” She introduced herself as Denise from Canada and then introduced Rose and Homer. I introduced myself.

The four of us went to Steak ‘n Shake. By now the crowd had died down, and we didn’t have to wait but a minute or two to be seated. We sat at a 4-top, and the waitress was friendly. She recognized Rose; I’m not sure whether she recognized Homer. Denise wanted to pay for everyone’s breakfast, but I insisted on taking Rose’s check and mine. We all chatted as waited for our breakfast to arrive. (Yes, I ordered a full breakfast after my mini-Panera one.)

We talked about where we all were from. (I don’t remember exactly where Rose said she was from. All I remember is that she said she has bipolar disorder, and somewhere during the conversation we discovered that she has two daughters, age 5 and about 2, and she said they were living with a Christian family.

Homer said he was from Kentucky. True to his Southern roots, he ordered biscuits and gravy. Denise ordered eggs and hashbrown medallions. I ordered eggs and shredded hashbrowns. Rose ordered the hearty breakfast with eggs, potatoes, and onions in a casserole-type concoction.

Denise asked them gently, “Is there anywhere for you to stay, like a shelter?” I asked about whether they could go to the Salvation Army or another homeless shelter. Rose replied, “We want to stay together. We love each other,” and she smiled at Homer. I asked if there wasn’t a family shelter where they could stay, and evidently there isn’t.

Rose said that someone had paid for them to stay at the nearby Westin Hotel for an evening, and that was really nice because they had a place to shower. She said the Westin was nice to them and let them sleep on the benches outside their building. (They use cardboard for mattresses.)  I looked at Homer and said, “That’s pretty tough on your back, isn’t it?” He is 68 years old, and he nodded. Rose is 37.

A discussion ensued about social services for the homeless. Denise mentioned that in Canada the homeless have access to places to live, food, medical care, and she remarked that hospitals across the country are of about equal quality (she said the medical care there is excellent, contrary to many reports we hear in the USA). She lives in Brampton, between London and Toronto, Ontario (a road my family has traveled).

I said, “You guys pay pretty high taxes, don’t you?” Denise looked at me with a knowing smile, and then she said, “Well, yes … but we (Canadians) think differently from you Americans. We have great roads, medical care for all, and good social services. Plus, we don’t have this pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality.” Hmmmm… food for thought.

As we waited for our meal, Rose and Homer (mostly Rose; Homer is a man of few words) talked about how life is a struggle for them. They anxiously await Rose’s Social Security disability check each month, which is sent to a credit card. She and Homer have been together for 4 months. They don’t own anything other than the clothes on their back, a small blanket (which Rose tucked under the newspaper dispenser and said she hoped it was still there when they got back), and well-worn wallets. Homer is on medication for acid reflux and high blood pressure. Rose is anemic and hypoglycemic (kind of a tough combination for someone who does not have predictable mealtimes or access to fresh vegetables when the SS disability check dwindles).

Denise was appalled by their tale, and so was I. I asked if Indianapolis has a street paper that homeless people can buy for a cheap price (like a quarter) and sell for a profit. (Nashville has The Contributor; their vendors pay 25 cents a copy and sell the papers for $1.00.) Rose and Homer didn’t seem to know the answer to that.

Denise was much more up-front about her Christianity and the reason she was taking Homer and Rose to breakfast. She mentioned that Jesus commanded us to care for one another, to love one another, and that Homer and Rose had the “stamp of God” on them…that they are children of God and God loves them.

I sat quietly and listened as she talked. When she went to the bathroom, I asked Homer and Rose, “So…how many times have you been testified to/preached at lately?” I thought Homer was going to snort coffee through his nose. I told them I believed that they are God’s children and carry the “stamp of God,” only I call it the “image of God.” I said I agreed with what Denise said.

When the meals arrived and we had all eaten a bit, Denise said to Homer, “This may be a little rude, but would you mind if I tasted your biscuits and gravy?” (I was surprised at this. I’ve never asked to eat after a homeless person, though I have sat across the table from several of them.)

We finished our meal, and Denise and I paid for two meals each. Denise had to leave because she was late for a meeting. Rose asked for my phone number. I talked to her and Homer a bit longer, and I gave her my business card. She said, “I’ll call you sometime and let you know how we’re doing.”

I hope to hear from her. Here’s a prayer for all the Roses and Homers out there:

Dear God, please be with the Roses and Homers of the world. Help them to encounter friendly faces and compassionate hearts.

God, remind me each day that we humans are much the same — everyone needs love. Help me to love and work for justice for my fellow human beings.

O God, help Rose and Homer to know that you love them and will take care of them. Help me and other Christians to feel our responsibility to help the less fortunate. Help our government to never forget its responsibility to help the poor.

I pray that you will change the mindset of many Americans from “This money is mine, and I worked hard for it” to “God, this money is yours, and I am just a steward of all that I earn.” Or at least change it to, “Help me appreciate the blessings I have, and give me the grace to share with others.”

God, remind me that I can always share with others, even if it’s only a little bit of my time, a few dollars, or a meal.

Bless Homer and Rose in their journey. I pray that things will get better for them.

Thank you, caring God. Amen.

Early Morning Prayers

The following song by Michael W. Smith is running through my mind this morning:

“Oh God, you are my God,
And I will ever praise you.

Oh God, you are my God,
And I will ever praise you.

I will seek you in the morning
And I will learn to walk in your ways,
And step by step you’ll lead me
And I will follow you all of my days …”

This song illustrates for me the essence of faith, trusting in God even when you are confused, afraid, wondering about what lies ahead.

Yesterday I received bad news regarding a couple of people I care very much about. One, a friend from church, Gabriel, had a brain biopsy and got word that a malignant tumor, removed a couple of years ago, had returned, and this time it’s probably a higher stage tumor. Yet in the face of this news, Gabriel displayed his typical sense of humor and deep courage. “Live from St. Thomas,” he wrote on Facebook, “it’s Tuesday niiiight!” and then he reported on the results of his biopsy.

Since I met him at an all-church retreat nearly two years ago, Gabe, age 43, has been the epitome of faith…a cheerful and positive spirit, grateful to God for each day he has been given. He finished his first year of teaching last year. (That in itself is evidence of his fortitude and faith.) He hiked joyfully with a group of us going to the Stone Door, near Beersheba Springs, a United Methodist camp/assembly. Joyful is the word that comes to mind when I think of Gabe. And trusting God every step of the way, even in the face of bad news. He mentioned that he had witnessed to 3 people yesterday. Always thinking of others, this man. Would that I could face the potential of my own demise with such courage and grace.

And Terrie, a Facebook friend and longtime acquaintance since high school, shared the news yesterday that her brother, Michael, age 53, died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. Her family has been through so many losses. Her father died in the past couple of months, and she lost her mom to cancer a few years ago. Before that, her 22-year-old sister succumbed to cancer. Her family is on my mind this morning.

My heart is also heavy for a family in my former congregation as they are dealing with the loss of  their mother, also a wife and grandmother of two. Nancy was a sweet, quiet woman who trusted God despite many difficulties in her own life: the death of a teenage son, her daughter’s experience with breast cancer, and then her own struggle with cancer that invaded her life last fall and progressed quickly.

John and I attended the funeral and were so touched to see sides of Nancy we didn’t know, such as the fact that she was a gifted artist. We recall how she wrote sweet notes to our Daniel when he was in a 30-day residential 12-step program at the end of his senior year of high school. She gave him two fleece blankets, which came in handy during a cool snap in April…said she’d been saving them for a high school graduation present but felt like he probably needed them more just then.

Thoughts of these tragedies in the lives of others gives me perspective on the small stresses I face each day. I fall short, I get grumpy and snap at others,  I fail to appreciate the blessings that surround me every day. Love is a gift. Life is a gift.

Dear God, I thank you that as Martin Luther’s hymn says, you are our help in ages past and our hope for years to come. Please bless and surround these people I’ve mentioned with your love. Help me to follow their examples of trust during bad times. Thank you for your love for all the world, for each of us, though we do not deserve it. Your grace and love make life worth living. Help us all to get through this day and to appreciate the simple gifts in our lives. Amen.

And of course I want to close with a song:

“There is a balm in Gilead

to make the wounded whole;

There is a balm in Gilead

to heal the sinsick soul.

Sometimes I feel discouraged

and think my work’s in vain,

But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again…”

(African-American spiritual)

Lord, revive our souls…give us strength for the day and hope for tomorrow. In your precious name I pray, Amen.