I returned home 6 months ago from biking across Iowa then circling Lake Tahoe on our tandem on a charity ride and despite a wound boot was probably in the best biking shape I've been in the last 30 years.
Then three flesh eating bacteria (likely from the streets of Skid Row) infiltrated my foot and nearly destroyed my foot and more.
Well, I've ended up with lots of treatments and most importantly ended up learning patience and more by spending the last 6 months in a wheel chair.
My first day in the chair while going to a meeting on Skid Row I was carrying a folder full of important papers in my lap. As I crossed the intersection, I hit a bump and dropped all the papers. As I tried to pick them up, the light turned yellow then red and a troop of fast cars and angry drivers began honking.
Within an instant I became that guy in a wheel chair on Skid Row stopping traffic and hollering at cars!
I've discovered ramps that were out of code, even at high end buildings. I've encountered many heavy, nearly impossible to open doors that are supposedly handicap accessible. There were plenty of bumps and cracks in the sidewalk and on the streets that will absolutely throw you out of your chair and onto the pavement.
I've had a hard time making eye contact and getting service at restaurant counters and the other night at a local event, found it impossible to network with other folks who were standing around tables and talking. When the ball room doors opened, I found no way to pass by the tables and chairs in order to find a chair so I sat back by the entrance and felt invisible as I waved my hand when an award I was supposed to pick up for a friend was announced.
Yet, the wheel chair had also become a bit of a secret weapon. I am able to approach people experiencing homelessness, especially if they happen to be in a chair, much more ably even than I could before.
The other night as I was struggling up the sidewalk to get to a meeting, I passed hundreds of people and the only one who said "Hi, I'll pay for your foot, sir", was a man who was homeless and sitting next to a fence. On the way back from the meeting I was heading for a big hill to my car and a young man appeared from Pershing Square and asked if could push me up the hill to my car. His name was Will and he said he sleeps on the bench in the park. I handed him my card and some cash and invited him to URM.
Just before a cold spell, I went out on the sidewalk in front of URM to invite folks into our emergency cots. A young man was peering through the windows to our cafeteria. I asked him if he had a place to stay and he said, "Yes, but I'm hungry."
When I returned with 2 sack lunches, he said, "I didn't tell the truth. I have nowhere to stay."
He followed me into the Mission, received a cot, then later joined our recovery program.
I had foot surgery a couple of weeks ago and I'm hopeful of being upright again, at least in a wound boot or orthopedic shoes.
But I am thankful for the experience. Many of our precious guests experiencing homelessness are disabled and face the obstacles I've described above every day.
My weakness is my secret weapon.
"9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
2 Corinthians 12:9-11
Some traumas can hurt a life for a season — others take a lifetime to heal. When Michael was 5, he fell into a river and almost drowned. He recovered physically, but from that day forward, he could no longer speak without stuttering.
“That made my school years very difficult,” says Michael, now 68. “I was terrified of being asked a question in class or to read something out loud.” And the older he got, the more he isolated himself. “I always made sure I worked in jobs where I didn’t have to directly deal with anyone. I never personally answered phone calls or made small talk, other than to say, ‘Good morning.’” The only remedy he found to ease his discomfort was alcohol. “I started drinking when I was 21,” he recalls. “Alcohol made me open up a bit more. And it was fun for a while. But alcohol affected everything that’s happened in my life since.” Like his relationships.
He married at the age of 23 and was divorced five years later because of his drinking — and didn’t see his daughter again for almost 40 years. Other friends avoided him for the same reason. So he isolated himself more and more. “I knew I had a problem. It was just easier to sit at home, crank my music up, and drink,” he says.
Over his lifetime, Michael went through various treatment programs to overcome his drinking. Nothing worked. Not even when, he says, God miraculously cured his stuttering in 2011. But finally, in July 2012, he was out of money, out of work, and out of his apartment. He came to Union Rescue Mission to try to get sober one more time.
“The Mission has given me the structure I need to stay sober,” he says. “I’m also finding that their 12-step principles, based on Alcoholics Anonymous, combined with Christian principles and the Lord Jesus Christ, have made a real difference. I pray every day and my faith is getting stronger. I even bought my first cell phone,” he says with a smile.
But perhaps most rewarding, Union Rescue Mission has helped him reconnect with his daughter after almost 40 years. “Now we connect at least once or twice a week,” he says. “That’s made a big difference for me and her.
“I have so much to be grateful for,” he says. “I was a little slow on the uptake, but I have a higher power to draw on now.
The day is etched forever in Phillip’s mind. The wound will never go away.
Phillip grew up in the projects near downtown Los Angeles. One day when Phillip returned home in the afternoon, the house was empty.
“Your family’s gone. They got evicted,” a neighbor said. “They’re not coming back.” He was abandoned — and he was only 8 years old.
“My mom left me,” Phillip, 53, recalls. “That hurt so much. I wanted to close my eyes and never wake up. I was so upset, but I didn’t know how to ask anyone for help. I never had a home after that.”
At first, Phillip slept in stairwells or outside a local school. His only warmth came from the sweater he wore. Sometimes authorities would take him to juvenile hall or place him in foster homes, but he never stayed long. He preferred the streets, sleeping in abandoned cars, in a laundromat, or in storage rooms . . .
But the lack of parental guidance took a toll.
“No one ever gave me direction,” he recalls. “So when the light turned red, I just kept going. When the iron was hot, I touched it. I played with fire and got burned. I didn’t know any better.” As he grew older, he took to living in alleys, on dead-end streets, under bridges, or in the doorway of the Los Angeles Times building. He remembers the security guard there who would wake him each morning with 40 cents to get a cup of coffee. “I loved that guy,” he says. “He treated me like a human being. He was my only friend.”