Monday, February 23, 2009

Resting in the Lord

I want to share an excerpt from the book 'Tell Them Who I Am : The Lives of Homeless Women" by Elliot Liebow. The author spent many years living and serving in the homeless community in and around Washington DC.
The daily routine of the poor and homeless in our area is no different.

For some of the women, day-by-day hardships began with the problem of getting enough sleep. A few women complained they could never get any sleep in a shelter. Grace was one of them. "There's no getting sleep in a shelter," she said. "Only rest."

There was indeed much night noise and movement. There was snoring, coughing, wheezing, retching, farting, cries from bad dreams, occasional weeping or seizures, talking aloud to oneself or to someone else who may or may not have been present, and always movement to and from the bathroom. Grace was complaining about noise, and she found a partial remedy in ear plugs. But ear plugs could not help those women like Kathleen who were kept awake not by noise but by questions: Is this it for me? How did I end up here? How will I get out? But eventually, as the night wore on, there was a lot of snoring, and that meant that, Grace and Kathleen notwithstanding, there was a lot of sleeping, too.

Having to get up at 5:30 a.m. and be out of the shelter by 7:00 was a major hardship of shelter life. It was not simply the fact of having to get up and out, but rather that the women had to do this every day of the week, every day of the year (Thanksgiving and Christmas Day excepted), no matter what the weather or how they felt. On any given morning, as the women drifted onto the street, one might see two or three ailing women - this one with a fever or cough or headache, that one with a limp or stomach ache or other ailment - pick up their bags and walk silently into the weather.

The women especially missed Saturday and Sunday mornings, which looked just like Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. The occasional opportunity to stay in bed an extra hour or two was desperately missed. Not being able to sleep in, ever, especially on a weekend, was seen by many as a major deprivation that unfairly set them apart from the rest of the world. At 7:15, on a Sunday morning in the park, several women were looking for benches that offered some protection from the wind. The streets were empty of cars and people and the rest of the world seemed to be asleep. The women talked about how nice it would be to sleep in just one morning, just for the h*ll of it, or because you don't feel well, and how nice it would be to have a place - not even your own place, just a place - where you could go and lie down for awhile without having anyone else around telling you to do this or do that.


Along with perennial fatigue, boredom was one of the great trials of homelessness. Killing time was not a major problem for everyone but it was high on most women's lists of hardships. Betty could have been speaking for most of them when she talked about the problem. On a social visit to the state psychiatric hospital where, four years earlier, she had been an inpatient in an alcoholic program, Betty sought out a nurse named Lou. They embraced and Lou asked Betty what she was doing these days. Betty said she was living in a shelter. Lou said that was a shame and asked Betty how she spent her time.

"I walk the streets," said Betty. "Twelve hours and 15 minutes a day, every day, I walk the streets. Is that what I got sober for? To walk the streets?" Betty went on to say that she shits on a lot of park benches looking for someone to talk to. Many times there is no one, so she talks to the birds. She and the birds have done a lot of talking in her day, she said.

Do we complain about having too too many chores to do around the house or thank our Lord for the home which provides those chores?
Do we often wish for more "free" time or instead thank our Lord for our jobs, laundry, children, family, church ministries, etc.. which enrich so much of our time ?

Did you get to sleep in this weekend?

How did you sleep last night? Did you wake with praise and thanksgiving on your lips to our Almighty God or with complaints of a too-short sleep?
I am awakened often by a snoring spouse. In this fuzzy awakening, I pray for others who may be suffering much worse. Yet, my first reaction many times is aggrivation as I nudge him so he'll turn over - thus interrupting his sleep - instead of denying myself comfort and "offering up" the small suffering.

In the first chapter of Colossians, Paul writes, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints." Colossians 1:24-26.

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul said we all have roles to play. One is that we suffer with Jesus. In Acts, Saul goes to Tarsus and Jesus asks we he persecutes him. Saul, of course, did not persecute Jesus, instead, he persecuted the Body of Christ, the Church.

We know that there is nothing lacking in Christ's suffering, so we understand that Paul meant something else - that God has chosen to make our sufferings to be associated with Christ.
Saint Paul, like the mystical saints, was being mystical. Essentially, he said that if the way he was handling his own suffering pleases God, then he hopes he will bless others as a result.

Next time you're awakened by a snoring spouse - how about taking time to thank God for your spouse and the warm bed which you share and then praying to God for those who may be awake that very moment in a crowded, noisy shelter or on the street shivering under a threadbare blankets and cardboard.

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always. Amen!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reaching out in love

This past Saturday two groups of us split up to feed our brothers and sisters in different locations in downtown Grand Rapids. What a blessed Valentine's Day it was!

One group went to the park as is done every Saturday. The other group of us went to the Vern Barry Place - Dwelling Place Apartments - on S. Division. We served and conversed with about 50 brothers and sisters, all of whom were thankful and happy to see us. One brother, Sterling, who we have come to know over the months in the park was happy to see us in his place of residence instead of outside where it was cold.

Part way through our Valentine lunch in the community center at Verne Barry, my husband (who had been serving soup in the park) stopped in. He mentioned that they had about 25 people stop by the park for food and conversation - a smaller group than other Saturdays.

I didn't think much about the fewer people until later that afternoon at home. Many times I have been told by various people that the homeless or poor in Grand Rapids are far from starving. Brothers and sisters we meet in the park have told us what a generous community Grand Rapids is and how many places provide meals throughout the week.

When friends find out what we're doing, some say - "why don't you just let the shelters take care of them." or "You may get taken advantage of." or "why stand out in the cold?"
I couldn't help thinking that day - is what we are doing each Saturday that important?
How could I think this when I've seen so many people have come together in the Holy Spirit to contribute to this ministry. That is certainly a witness of Christ's love.

Later that night, I was meditating on the next day's (Sunday) Gospel, Mark 1:40-45
"A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,"If you wish, you can make me clean."Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything,but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;that will be proof for them."The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.He remained outside in deserted places,and people kept coming to him from everywhere."

My eyes were opened to the deception of my earlier thoughts -" is it really that important that we're in the park each Saturday?" These thoughts were negative, not lovely or good. They were obstacles to the Lord's peace within me. The enemy was tempting me to doubt God's call.

Immediately, my heart spilled out St. Paul's words to the Philippians -
"whatever is true, whatever is honorable,whatever is just, whatever is pure,whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,if there is any excellenceand if there is anything worthy of praise,think about these things.Keep on doing what you have learned and receivedand heard and seen in me.Then the God of peace will be with you."

Further encouragement came the next day at Mass when Fr. Tony spoke in his homily about the lepers -untouchables - in today's society. Are we aware of the many "untouchable lepers" right here in our own community - the homeless, the sick or mentally ill, the poor, the neighbor with whom nobody talks, the elderly man or woman at church who comes and goes without so much as a hello from anyone, the alcoholic relative, the homosexual, the son or daughter who feels misunderstood?...

Anyone who is ostracized, forgotten or seen as unimportant is like a "leper".
In other words, WE SINNERS are all lepers at some point. Then what happens when we begin to live at children of God? WE make others feel like lepers!
How often do we ignore them when our Savior, Jesus Christ, embraced them? HE is calling us to embrace them also.

Sure, many of the people we meet on Saturday can get a meal elsewhere. It's cold out, and they don't need to leave the warmth of the library to meet us.
BUT - they are leaving the warmth of the library. They are choosing to meet us as we meet them where they are. They come for hot soup or a sandwich, but stay for conversation. We may be the only diversion from their daily routine of trying to keep busy. We may be the only people they talk to who are not homeless. Yet, we may have some of the same problems at present or in the past.
Possibly, we spread hope and love. Possibly, they open our eyes to the world as it really is - the injustices that happen each and every day in our "Christian" nation.

Personally, I can't not go to the park every Saturday because God has tugged on my heart to go. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers..."
What happens when we're together and after we depart from each other is up to the Holy Spirit.

Every one of us who have been baptized have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring God glory and further His kingdom. How will you use your gifts today?

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always. Amen!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


DEAR JESUS, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.
-daily prayer of Mother Theresa

Monday, February 9, 2009

The gift of giving


St. Paul said in Acts 20:35 -"In every way I have shown you that by hard work of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

How will we GIVE of ourselves today, this week, this month, this year?

Sit in the school of silence and ask our Lord this question. He won't wait to answer - if we can remain silent long enough to listen!

This week's post was inspired by the words of our deacon in yesterday's homily as he shared a story about giving.

Giving just to do something nice is much different than giving out of our love for Jesus. Since Christ loved us first, we can freely give from that love. This giving is one of the greatest gifts in life. Giving through the grace of God brings true joy, and true joy is deeper and longer-lasting than general happiness, which is usually fleeting amid the trials of life.

When I find myself unhappy with something or someone, it is usually because I have taken my focus off Christ (the ultimate giver) and instead focus on my own wants first (getting). This distinction can be subtle to our human eyes. We can fool ourselves into believing we're really thinking of others when we're not.

That's why it's so important to pray and stay in the Word of God -the Holy Bible - and partake in the Sacraments that Christ gave to us for strength on our journey.

In the park each Saturday, I have seen brothers and sisters that are unhappy with their momentary place in life. The joy is gone from their eyes. Some have strayed far from our Lord. They are searching and don't yet realize that only Christ will bring them true happiness regardless of their state in life.

Others, if one looks closely enough, project the joy of the Lord, realizing that He is with them in their struggles. Having others to meet them where they are helps them along.


Through your love and support -many sisters and brothers are hopeful. They are hopeful because they know people care about them and their needs as individuals.

One woman receiving care from DeGage took time to help me bring in over 10 big bags of new thermal underwear, scrubs and regular underwear. These were donated by many who chose to give of their treasure to others in need. This woman thanked and hugged me. As I was fastening my seat belt in the van, I looked up only to see her at my window with her hands together in prayer mouthing "thank you" and then looking upward, lifting her hands in praise to God. Had people not given, she may not have taken the opportunity to give praise God.

In praising God, we allow the Holy Spirit to shine through, which then lifts us up.

So, giving brought not only the gift of warmth for body, but also warmth for the soul!

"But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Hebrews 3:13

Open the eyes of my heart, Lord...
Driving down Division Street or any other big-city street in our country, it's easy to see many brothers and sisters walking from here to there. With a quick glance, most of these men and women appear to be wandering without a purpose. After meeting and talking with some of them, we realize that they are not all wandering aimlessly.

Many are walking with a purpose - to the library to read or look at the want-ads on the computer, to the bus stop to catch a bus to fill out job applications, to an area church for breakfast and/or worship, to a friend's house to visit, to the bar for a few drinks, to anywhere other than Division Street where the dark realities of life continually slap them in the face.

For many who want to stay sane and safe, there only choice is walking. If they stay in one place on the streets too long they will freeze or get beat-up/mugged, shoved aside by shop owners, kicked out of the library for falling asleep, etc... The missions put them out by 7:00 a.m. each day, and they can not return until dinner. For those who are looking up, they want to spend as little time as possible in the missions.

Not all those walking around and into the park for lunch are homeless.

One kind older gentleman, Richard, who we've been privileged to befriend does have a permanent place to rest his head. He lives in a nursing home not far from downtown. He walks around most days to keep busy. He stops by for lunch each week not only for the homemade soup and sandwiches, but for companionship.

His mother died a few years ago at age 90. After taking care of her most of his life, he is now alone without any other family. He taught history for many years, but is now unemployed. He really wants to get another job, but isn't having any luck - like most people searching for jobs these days! From our conversations, it's evident that he is lonely.

Setting on the park bench in the sun eating soup together this past Saturday was almost like sitting with my dad. Richard actually knows some of the same people my parents know. We have some other people in common from the teacher arena. I've been thinking for some time now about visiting the elderly in nursing homes, but just haven't. There's no excuse on my part except selfishness.

Now, our patient Father has placed this nice man before me. He gave his address before I even asked. So I then asked him if our family could stop by from time to time for visits, possibly bring dinner. He really liked the idea and gave me his phone number -again before I could even ask. As we left, he smiled and said, "see you next Saturday!"

In giving, we have received an unexpected precious gift - friendship.

Is there anyone near you who is alone and in need of a friend? How about giving your time by sending a card/flowers or inviting them over for a cup of tea and conversation?

I guarantee that in the act of giving, you will find a joy beyond your expectations.
"The joy of the Lord is your strength." - Nehemiah 8:10

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always. Amen!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


We are looking for volunteers to make/serve lunch in the park on the following Saturday dates as I will be out of town:

April 4
April 11

Set up at 11:00 a.m. Stay until 12-12:30

Many brothers and sisters come to the park now since they know we're there every Saturday serving lunch.
We also go into the library, walk around the different floors to let people know we're there serving lunch if they are interested.

Please prayefully consider sharing time with those whose friends are few and far between. Call me at 915-2414 or e-mail for more information. Thanks!

Monday, February 2, 2009

World's Apart - Yet So Much the Same

What a SuperBowl game!
Sunday night, my family gathered at my house for a SuperBowl party. I'd never thrown a football party and didn't consider it until my sister said "Hey. We need to have a party. Let's have a party!" So, knowing I just purchased a cute little crock pot for dips - I needed a good excuse to break it in. What better way than a get-together.

After Mass on Sunday, I loaded the kids in the van and we drove all over town finding good food to eat. Chili, meatballs, pigs in a blanket, apple pie, chips, dip, crackers, sodas...all the staples of having a party. Rushing home to prepare everything, as well as getting the house in order for guests was paramount. The kids cleaned and I prepared food. We had a streamlined operation and by 5:00 PM everything was ready.

As I stood back and watched the kids munch on the food, my house fill with people who are close to me, and watching football on a nice new television I reflected upon the experience we had the day before and said a quiet prayer of thanksgiving for all I have.

My family (along with my sister and her three girls - two of which are teenagers) headed down to Veteran's Park to help serve a light lunch to the homeless of Grand Rapids. This was our first time there, and I had no idea what to expect - and neither did the kids. I simply asked them to dress warm, offer a smile and use their manners. While it was cold outside, we were bundled warm and ready to serve.

It didn't take long before a few people came out from the warmth of the public library to grab a cup of soup, sandwich and hot chocolate. Some stayed only for a moment, as they were not dressed to be out in the elements. Others - while you understood they were cold - stayed to talk and share a bit of their life stories. I could feel the gratitude, the thanks and sense of hope. There was positive energy - in light of the circumstances for each one of the people we met.

The impact was made upon my nieces and the discussion afterwards about those we met wanting to get a job to help get them out of their current situation. Such as not being able to afford the bus pass to look for work or having to fill out an application for a job and not having a permanent residence, to the challenges of having a cell phone with pre-paid minutes and running out while you wait to hear from a prospective employer. The challenges go beyond the situations that may have brought them to being homeless - the addictions that envelop their lives - but even if they were to defeat the one aspect, how do you actually climb out of the hole that seems so deep? Katie and Sarah were able to see just how deep the challenges run and I think it made them understand a bit more.

I think, too, that the kids were able to really get an understanding that while we live completely different lives, we all want the same thing: Someone to talk with, someone that is willing to listen, someone that can not stand in judgement; someone that offers compassion and a smile and makes them feel appreciated and needed at the same time.

One man, Bernie, challenged us - "Why do you come out here, freeze in this weather to hand out food?" My immediate answer was for the friends, the conversations and the enjoyment and satisfaction of serving. Yet, Amy was a bit more to the point of the "Holy Spirit is moving."

I consider too - how serving - giving of my time and energy may not be just because I want to - as opposed to maybe I'm being led to. I'm not an overly religious person. In fact, my struggles with faith and the Church often leave me exhausted. I wish I had the faith that would allow me to undeniably say with whole hearted confidence that the Holy Spirit moved me to serve. The Holy Spirit was the driving force. But I cannot. I think it is more of a self centered approach for the feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment I gain. I'll be honest - I am not purely altruistic!

So, for those who may want to help out on a Saturday morning - please do - for whatever reason that motivates you! Perhaps the more often I volunteer, I'll see the Holy Spirit. I only have to be willing to have my eyes and heart open. Maybe the spirit moves you. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe this is the path that will aide in helping those like me, who struggle with faith to find the answers we seek.

So, from the comfort of my home, I look outside and think of Andy, Richard, Bernie, David and those whose names I didn't catch, and I hope they are warm today. I hope they are one step closer to finding their way to personal satisfaction and renewed faith...just like me.

Jenny Frasco