Baby, It's Cold Outside

Homelessness in the 21st Century is a Crime
A Christmas Story
Yesterday morning, I went with a young minister to the shelters and day-shelters for the city's homeless. Why do we call them the "City's" when in reality, the City certainly does its best not to claim them. They're rousted from certain areas and are kept on the periphery of society. But, she knew them by name. I gotta tell you, I was humbled by it because I know what it is to not have a place to stay. I'm also ashamed. I know what it is to be homeless, but I've turned a blind eye to it and really it is a crime. We can change the face of homelessness. Truth is--some are.
     Tabitha Ropert-Mitchell is a minister at the Midtown Family Worship Center in Houston. Her church is a food distribution center and is committed to feeding and helping the homeless. Yesterday we passed out hats and gloves, toiletries and this young woman paid for our parking since it was Friday and the meters were not free. Armed with a bag of quarters, she made sure we could get to our task and not fumble for change. She thinks ahead. I like that about her.
     But, here's the real Christmas story. I learned that earlier in Rev. Tabitha's life, she suffered a stroke. It left her with short-term memory and she can often be heard to say, "Now what did I just say?" But, every day, she remembers to do this job. Every day, she puts her own disability aside and thinks of others. God bless her. And, it is my intention to bless her in every way I can.
     At one shelter, which houses women and children, we handed a stripped colored hat to a little girl not more than 5 or 6. With her snaggled-tooth grin, she thanked us. I felt my heart melt. She was mine for an instant. But, that smile made me feel like I handed her the best present she had ever received. As she walked away with her siblings (a 2 year and a child about 9 or 10), she turned back and just smiled.
     Last week, my friend and father of my youngest son, died. He was only 61. One of the places he volunteered for was Lord of the Streets, a place where people can get legal advice (Bobby was an attorney), medical treatment, food and perhaps housing. Up until his struggle with cancer kept his attention elsewhere--living, Bobby went faithfully to Lord of the Streets a couple of days a week.  The only way I knew about it was that after my radio program, he asked for a ride. This was about the time that the cancer was taking its toll and I took him there. I wasn't surprised--exactly. As a criminal attorney, he was always helping people. I knew that about him, but this was his work. He just did it.
    Same with another friend. Sister Mama Sonya is not only my friend, but a fellow-storyteller. She and her husband share a birthday and instead of gifts, they always ask for something for others. This year's request was the hat and gloves for men, women and children--and then she collaborated with Rev. Tabitha to give them away. They gathered only about 300-400 hats and gloves and those we gave out yesterday. It wasn't enough. We hope to gather 1,000 the next time. But, I know that is not enough. So, why try? Insane, huh? If it is never enough ...
     Sometimes the best story is the one already told. Loren Eiseley gives us the answer.

The Star Thrower
Once upon a time, there was a wise man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing. He had a habit of walking on the beach before he began his work.
     One day, as he was walking along the shore, he looked down the beach and saw a human figure moving like a dancer. He smiled to himself at the thought of someone who would dance to the day, and so, he walked faster to catch up.
     As he got closer, he noticed that the figure was that of a young man, and that what he was doing was not dancing at all. The young man was reaching down to the shore, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean.
     He came closer still and called out "Good morning! May I ask what it is that you are doing?"
     The young man paused, looked up, and replied "Throwing starfish into the ocean."
     "I must ask, then, why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?" asked the somewhat startled wise man.
     To this, the young man replied, "The sun is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them in, they'll die."
     Upon hearing this, the wise man commented, "But, young man, do you not realize that there are miles and miles of beach and there are starfish all along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!"
     At this, the young man bent down, picked up yet another starfish, and threw it into the ocean. As it met the water, he said, "It made a difference for that one."

We do it because it matters (especially when we don't forget). We do it because we can. I would say, we do it because we should, but I'll let you be the judge. But, just in case you can't, you can help someone who can. Share a roll of quarters with Rev. Tabitha. Her address is 2424 Hamilton, Houston, Texas 77004. Make checks to the Midtown Family Worship Center. Why? It makes a difference. Merry Christmas.


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