Please Know...

As I come to know the men and women of Kensington, specifically the homeless and addicted, their stories become increasingly sensitive and personal. Their collective story is what I am trying to share with you as my way of breaking the stereotypical beliefs that exist in regard to these fine people. Names are rarely their actual names and wherever I can do so, I might use the opposite pronoun (his/her, etc.) just to help increase their privacy.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Cloth Door - No More

I've shared with you from time to time, the stories of Demetrius and Cecelia.  I first met this couple in July of 2016 when I started visiting Emerald City.  I've given them rides, gone out to eat and visited one of them in jail.  I've sat in the doorway of their tent.  I've come to know them for the people who they are and not for the disease they have endured.  Here's what I wrote about one such encounter:

As of a couple weeks ago, Demetrius and Cecelia have moved on from Emerald City and their cloth door.  They live in an apartment with the help of some city programming and their own determination.  When I saw Demetrius yesterday, he said that they would like to have a housewarming party.  I asked him what they need most.  "Extension cords?"  His face beamed with that well known Demetrius smile.  "Yes!  Extension cords!  Man, you have no idea how badly we need extension cords!  The building is very old and has one plug in each room.  We really need extension cords!" 

And then Demetrius added this footnote:  "You can't imagine how fantastic it is to go from years of living in a tent to needing extension cords!!!"

Sunday, September 30, 2018

An Incredible Act of Kindness…

Today is Sunday.  Three days ago, on Thursday afternoon, I was visiting Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities and became very involved in a conversation with one of the residents.  When that conversation ended, I was focused on my love and concern for that person and not thinking about my Rubbermaid cooler sitting in the street near the curb and which had been recently donated to me for this purpose.  I hopped in my car and drove home.

Two days later, yesterday, I realized that the cooler was missing.  I immediately presumed that I'd never see it again and that I'd need to buy a new one for almost $70.00 so as not to disclose my own stupidity in not keeping track of donations. 

Upon arrival in Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities this morning, a man I've known for a few weeks immediately came up to me and told me that he had been holding my cooler for me.  This man is a dual addicted African American man, the likes of which would intimidate any suburban person.  And yet, here he was, letting me know that he was holding my cooler for me. 

Big deal!?

Well…  Yes!

This man held my cooler for me for three days in an environment a bit known for theft.  If that's enough, this man held my cooler through the weekly Friday "cleanout" committed by the City of Brotherly Love, a cleanout that requires the residents to move EVERY item in their position out from under the bridge and back under the bridge within 15 minutes of the time cleanout is done or risk losing all possessions.

And so…

This man, this African American Dual addicted homeless man, demonstrated so much kindness to me in keeping my cooler for me that I've been left humbled and speechless the remainder of this day…

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Tears For Cecelia...

Cecelia is a gentle spirit barely surviving in the urban thistle of addiction, prostitution, and trying to survive on the streets of Kensington while residing under a bridge.  I've known her for about 18 months.  I've come to know members of her family.  All love her and she loves them.  There does remain that river of despair that separates them from each other.  A bridge of love manages to keep them connected if but by the thinnest of thread. 

A couple of days ago, I saw Cecelia high as a kite, sitting in a chair barely aware of her surroundings.  My heart broke for her as I considered all that she could be and all that her family prays for her to become once again.  I touched her chin and she gazed at me through blurred sad eyes.  I reminded her of her family's love and I named each with whom I've had interaction by name.  There was only the mildest of reactions.  I stepped away.

No sooner had I gotten maybe 20 feet from Cecelia, that she slowly rose from her plastic chair, navigated past two tents, waddled up to me, hugged me and held on for maybe 20 or 30 seconds. 

I reminded her of her family's love, again, naming each one who I've come to know by name. 

She continued to hold on. 

I reminded her of God's love. 

She held on. 

I reminded her of my love for her in the Name of Jesus. 

She held on as if a broken kitten. 

A moment of silence and then…

Without saying a word, she let go and made her way back to her plastic chair…

I turned and cried.

Pastoral Care Under a Bridge - The Thorn in Pastor Martin's Side

People reading this may think that this blog is going to be about those well-intentioned men and women who visit Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities to provide pastoral care in the Name of Jesus.  That's a fine group of people but that's not who this blog is about.

This blog is about a man I'm calling Martin.  More accurately, I'm calling him Pastor Martin.  I've known Pastor Martin for the whole time I've been visiting these good people, these sons and daughters and moms and dads who call the underside of two Conrail overpasses "home."

Martin was ordained into the pastorate of God's church many years ago.  At some point since then, the demon of addiction found its way into his being and derailed his church pastorate.  Or did it?  One thing led to another on this all too well-known path and now Pastor Martin lives under these overpasses and calls them home.

When I first met Pastor Martin, I would not ever have guessed that within a very few months, I would begin to form a friendship with him which increasingly emphasizes pastoral care of the members of these communities that I visit and he lives within.  But I have. 

Pastor Martin is in good company with men of God who suffer!  Please take a moment to read this passage and follow the lettered footnotes I've added as I compare The Apostle Paul with the Pastorate of Martin.

2 Corinthians 12 New International Version (NIV)
Paul’s Vision and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh[A], a messenger of Satan[B], to torment me.Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me[C]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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults[D], in hardships, in persecutions[E], in difficulties[F]. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Pastor Martin's church is not made up of bricks and mortar[G], stucco, ivy, nor stained glass.  It has no organ, nor choir nor board of directors.  Pastor Martin's church is the purest form of church you might ever witness.  He suffers with his thorn and ministers and offers authentic Biblical counsel when the thorn allows him to do so.  He knows the sheep of his pasture otherwise known to the rest of us as the people of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Communities in a way that none of us who visit can do. 

If you are into pastoral care and you want to know how to best minister to these good people on the streets of Kensington, sit down with Pastor Martin as your peer in ministry and learn from him.  Your ministry will be better for it.

[A] Addiction                                                                                                                               
[B] How many times do we all refer to addiction as a demon?
[C] Over the years, Pastor Martin has been in detox and been "clean" for various periods of time.
[D] Pastor Martin and those with whom he lives, endure insults from drivers as they shout terrible things from the safety of their car windows.
[E] Persecutions: "the subjecting of a race or group of people to cruel or unfair treatment."  Pastor Martin and the community experiences some form of this almost daily.
[F] Hardships and Difficulties: Too many to list here, everything from living there to seeking help and resolution to the issues at hand and hitting road blocks with every attempt.
[G] Other than those that keep the rail line from crashing down.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Help Me to be Ordinary.

Dear LORD Dream Giver,

In this outreach to the fine people of the streets of Kensington and with the emphasis that You have placed on my heart for the men and women of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue bridge communities, PLEASE help me to be "Ordinary" and take the way of Faith.

In Jesus' Holy Name I Pray.  Amen.

Ordinary walked. And walked. Every time he got hungry, he opened his suitcase and ate. And every time he got thirsty, he opened it and drank. And every time he thought about his Dream, he decided to keep going. Time passed. Ordinary’s skin burned. His feet blistered. His bones ached. One day blurred into another. And then one day he got hungry and opened his case … and didn’t find anything to eat.

That was the day Ordinary began to worry. He called out to the Dream Giver for food. But he got no answer. Two days later, he ran out of water. He called out to the Dream Giver again. And again, he heard nothing. Fortunately, that was also the day Ordinary managed to find a trickle of water coming from a rock. At least now he was only starving. But if he was smart enough to find water, maybe he could find food, too.

Sure enough, it wasn’t too long before he spotted a strange bush with some strange desert fruit hanging from its branches. Ordinary tried one. It didn’t taste sweet, but it didn’t taste sour, either. So he ate his fill.

Still, the Dream Giver was nowhere in sight. More time passed. The longest hours and days Ordinary could ever remember passed. Desperately, he began to look for a way out. One day he followed what looked like a shortcut over a ridge. But it led to a canyon that ended in quicksand. He tried traveling at night when it was cooler. But he kept losing the trail. Every delay made him more determined to find a quicker route. But every attempt only led to another dead end. Again and again, Ordinary lost his way. Again and again, he cried out for the Dream Giver to show him the way. But no answer came. Why had he ever trusted the Dream Giver to guide him in the first place?

The day came when Ordinary finally gave up. He sat on his suitcase and refused to move until the Dream Giver showed up with a plan. But the Dream Giver didn’t show up that day. Or the next. Ordinary had never felt so lost and alone. He became angry. He got angrier and angrier.

And then a hard, hot wind began to blow. The wind blew all that day and all the next. Sand blew into Ordinary’s eyes. It blew into his teeth and ears. When the wind finally stopped, Ordinary stood to his feet. But as far as he could see, there was only sand. The path to his Dream had disappeared completely. Obviously, his entire trip through the WasteLand had been a Waste!

Hot tears coursed down his dirty cheeks. “You’re not a Dream Giver,” he shouted at the sky. “You’re a Dream Taker! I trusted you. You promised to be with me and help me. And you didn’t!” Then Ordinary stumbled in despair across the sandy Waste, dragging his empty suitcase behind him. His Dream was dead, and now he wanted to die, too.

When he came to a scraggly tree, he lay down in its scraggly patch of shade and closed his eyes. That night, he slept the sleep of a dreamless Dreamer.

The next morning, Ordinary heard something. Startled, he peered up to see a shimmering Somebody sitting in the branches of the tree. “Who are you?” he asked, as she climbed down to the ground. “My name is Faith,” she said. “The Dream Giver sent me to help you.” “But it’s too late!” cried Ordinary. “My Dream is dead. When I needed the Dream Giver most, he was nowhere in sight.” “What do you need that you haven’t received?” asked Faith. “Well, if it weren’t for the few springs of water I found,” answered Ordinary, “I’d be dead of thirst by now!” “Yes? And?” she asked. “If it weren’t for the fruit I found, I’d be a walking skeleton!” he replied. “Wait! I am a walking skeleton! I could die of starvation any minute!” “Oh, my!” Faith murmured. “And?” “Well,” huffed Ordinary, “a little guidance would have been nice.

Ever since I came here, it’s been one delay after another. I’ve been wandering in circles since I don’t know when. What a Waste!” “I see,” said Faith, nodding. “So what will you do now?” “Just tell me how to get back to Familiar,” he said. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But I can’t help you with that.” “That figures,” said Ordinary. “The Dream Giver sends me a helper who can’t even help!” “You might be right,” said Faith. “But that’s for you to decide.”

Then Faith walked away in a direction Ordinary felt sure was wrong. It wasn’t long before Ordinary began to have second thoughts. What if he was wrong? He wished he hadn’t been so rude to the Somebody named Faith. And he began to miss her. He realized that while they were talking, he had felt hope for the first time in a very long time. Ordinary jumped to his feet and scanned the horizon. “Faith!” he cried. But she was nowhere in sight. “Faith!” he cried again. But there was no reply.

Then Ordinary had an idea. He climbed the scraggly tree to the top. From there, he could see Faith in the distance. As quickly as he could, he climbed down and set off in the same direction. Later that same day, Ordinary was eating some fruit beside a trickle of water, when he saw his journey through the WasteLand in a whole new way. Food enough for the day. Water, when he needed to drink. A path to follow that led to Faith. How could he have been so blind? Even when the Dream Giver had been nowhere in sight, he had always been near.

That was the day, too, that Ordinary looked at his empty suitcase and decided it was time to leave it behind. He made a makeshift knapsack, took his Dream Journal and feather and ink, and walked on. After that, whenever Ordinary came to a scraggly tree, he climbed it to look for Faith. And when he had her in sight, he marked the direction and started walking again.

One day, Ordinary met some Dreamers returning to Familiar. They told him a sad story. They had crossed the WasteLand and nearly reached the Land of Promise. But then they encountered Giants so large and overwhelming that the Dreamers felt as small as grasshoppers. And the Dream Giver had been nowhere in sight.

The Nobodies sounded convincing. And he recognized their weariness. But as they continued talking, he saw something more: They had stopped trusting the Dream Giver, and now they were traveling in the opposite direction from Faith. 

When the Nobodies strongly warned him that what lay ahead was too hard, he saw something else. He had changed. His trip through the WasteLand had not been a Waste. Now he was prepared for what lay ahead, no matter how hard. “Travel safely,” he told the returning Nobodies. “But I’ll be going on.” 

As Ordinary pressed on through the desert, his Dream beat brightly in his chest again. And the more the sun blazed, the more Ordinary believed that he could find the Land of Promise, no matter how long it took—if only he took the way of Faith.[1]

[1] Wilkinson, Bruce. The Dream Giver: Following Your God-Given Destiny (pp. 31-33). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

She doesn't want to go outside tonight.

The purpose of this blog series has been to help the reader develop a better understanding of addiction and homelessness.  On a personal level, this series has served as my place to mentally and emotionally process the experiences I've had in Emerald City, on Frankford Avenue and Kensington in general in the preceding hours or days.  These writings along with prayer are my therapy in many ways.

Throughout these months, I've come to understand second hand the staggering differences between the sufferings of men and that of women on the streets.  All are suffering.  The suffering of women on the streets is easily tenfold that of the men.  Most men on the streets would agree with that as well.

Just yesterday, I was introduced to a song and video that portrays the experiences of addicted women on the streets.  Please note that the woman in this video has an apartment to call home.  The ladies I know have the underside of a Conrail overpass to call their home.

The A Team

White lips, pale face
Breathing in snowflakes
Burnt lungs, sour taste
Light's gone, day's end
Struggling to pay rent
Long nights, strange men

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
She's stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries

And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
'Cause she's just under the upper-hand
And goes mad for a couple of grams
And she don't want to go outside tonight
'Cause in a pipe she flies to the Motherland
And sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly

Ripped gloves, raincoat
Tried to swim and stay afloat
Dry house, wet clothes
Loose change, bank notes
Weary-eyed, dry throat
Call girl, no phone

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
She's stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries

And they scream
The worst things in life come free to us
'Cause she's just under the upper-hand
And goes mad for a couple of grams
But she don't want to go outside tonight
'Cause in a pipe she flies to the Motherland 
And sells love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly

Now angel will die
Covered in white, closed eye
And hoping for a better life
This time, now we'll fade out tonight
Straight down the line
Straight down the line

And they say
She's in the Class A Team
She's stuck in her daydream
Been this way since eighteen
But lately her face seems
Slowly sinking, wasting
Crumbling like pastries
They scream
The worst things in life come free to us
And we're all under the upper-hand
Go mad for a couple of grams
And we don't want to go outside tonight
'Cause in a pipe we fly to the Motherland
And sell love to another man
It's too cold outside
For angels to fly
Angels to fly, fly, fly
Angels to fly, to fly, to fly
Angels to die
Songwriters: Ed Sheeran
The A Team lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Sunday, August 19, 2018

You Are A Role Model!

I couldn't find her at first and I was starting to wonder if I would.  A guy friend of hers told me that she was in her tent.  I had called into her a few times with no response.  I now knew why.  She was very dope sick and refusing to date for income to buy her needed medicine.  

With her friend's help, I found her dope sick and on her mattress inside her tent.  I told her that I had her requested case of bananas.  She was very thankful.  I pulled my car up close to her tent.  Even with her growing dope sickness, she gathered her strength and insisted on carrying the 40-pound case of bananas into her canvas home.  We said goodbye with a hug and I went on my way to my home.

Four blocks away, with rain starting to fall, I saw again an inspirational woman standing on the dashed line on Lehigh Avenue selling nearly frozen bottled waters.  With the light being red, I was able to tell her about how she's been observed by the women of Emerald City and how they are starting to think that maybe they too can sell a product rather than sell themselves. 

She smiled a smile the ingredients of which I cannot yet explain as I looked at her and said:

"You are inspiring the ladies of Emerald City to know that they do not have to date to support their needs.  I too have been inspired by your determination to support your family with dignity and honor and respect and love. 

You are a role model!"

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Bananas and Gator Aid on a Street Corner

About three weeks ago, two seemingly unrelated happenings were, umm, happening simultaneously a few blocks apart.  When the thought of these two events merged in one lady's mind, she began to see that day when she can put dating in her past.

Happening #1

For the past three weeks, a woman who is not addicted but is struggling with life has been selling bottles of very cold water from a cooler at the corner of Lehigh and Aramingo.  A woman selling products at a street corner is an unusual site.  I stopped one day to congratulate her on her efforts.  Our conversation wondered into acknowledging that she has that most unfortunate option of dating.

"No. That's not one of my options. I have a family to feed and will do so with as much dignity as I can."

Happening #2

My friend Beth suggested to me that I investigate buying bananas from Produce Junction on Chichester Avenue on my way into the city.  Their prices are fantastic!  I can get 40 pounds for $11.50.  I shared the ideas with several men and women in Emerald City that if they could reimburse me that amount, they could sell the case at street corners and earn maybe $40.00.

One of the women of Emerald City pulled me aside at my last visit and said this:

"I've seen that woman selling waters and you've told us about the possibility of earning money with banana sales.  I'd like you to pick up a case of bananas.  I'm going to buy a case of Gatorade.  I'm going to go into business as soon as you can bring me the bananas.  I'll pay you back.  I'm sick of dating!  I'm sick of doing that disgusting stuff with up to 15 'men' a day just to survive and buy my medicine.  I'm going to sell these bananas and Gatorade at a good corner that I've identified and stop selling myself.  All I need is the bananas, the Gatorade and a cooler."

Tomorrow morning, as I make my way down Chichester Avenue, I'm picking up donated water[1] and two cases of bananas.  One of those cases will be given to this Emerald City resident who wants to stop selling herself for the sake of her medicine. 

I do need to find a wheeled cooler for her efforts.  It needs to be large and this style with the handle in the middle so as to allow hauling of a box or case of product on the top.  

Thank you.

[1] It's ironic that of the two people who donate water to this Relational Ministry, they both live on Chichester Avenue.  To the best of my knowledge, they do not know each other.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

A Song for and A Visit with Emily

The good people who I visit are asking me for song sheets that I started distributing a few weeks ago. 

Maybe three weeks ago, I distributed forty copies of one song's lyrics to those who I sensed would welcome it.  One of those copies was welcomed by Emily, a poet who has lived in these bridge communities longer than I have visited.  Emily has experienced tremendous losses in recent years.  These sadnesses and other ingredients that make up her life's path thus far led her to addiction, residing under a bridge and other activities that fill the days of women on the streets. 

When Emily read the following lyrics, she looked up the song on YouTube.[1]  Later this afternoon, I will be sitting with Emily in a prison visiting room as she is awaiting her court date next week. 

Here is the song sheet and link to the song that touched Emily's heart:

This is largely a self funded ministry.  I'm running dangerously low on funds to keep going and pay my own bills.  Please consider helping me with the expenses related to this relational ministry.  To learn more about giving, please click here.  

[1] This was the first time of which I am aware that with her own initiative she reached out to take a look at something related to our great Christian Faith.  

Saturday, August 11, 2018

An Evening with Pastor Sam

It had been several months since Pastor Sam and I had sat down and chatted about the stuff of our lives.  From our earthly perspective, a spontaneous moment opened and we talked superficially and ridiculously deeply with each other for the next five hours as we sat in his efficiency style apartment.  I kicked off my shoes and relaxed in the comfort of his home.  During that time, a few neighbors stopped in.  Some of these neighbors stopped in to see what they could get from us while others gave of themselves from deep inside their hearts. 

Pastor Sam was pleased to show me around his one-room apartment:

"Over here, I keep my food and extra food for neighbors who may stop in and need a bit to hold them over.  I don't have a lot of extra but I make it available.  Here, I have clothes: extra shirts and pants, more than what I need and available to anyone who may need some.  I keep it washed and folded.  As you can see and feel, this apartment is damp and dusty.  I wash all of these clothes every week, even if they have not left the shelves.  No one ever takes more than they need for the moment.  My neighbors are wonderful that way, even in the midst of their situation."

Just then, a man came by to do some sweeping of the public areas of this most unusually designed apartment complex.  Pastor Sam, told him that the sweeping could wait until the next day since he and I were in a rather deep and personal conversation.  The man understood.  Pastor Sam went on to tell me his story of how God became so very real in his life and how, through an incredible path of events, he was ordained as a pastor in his denomination. 

At about this point, a lady neighbor stopped by to visit.  Pastor Sam shared with me and her the depth of a recent conversation between the two of them that had him, a pastor in his 50s "under spiritual arrest by God into total silence" as this lady 20 years his junior quoted and expanded on scripture to him for a couple hours the night before. 

Before our three-way conversation closed, we sat together on Pastor Sam's floor and prayed with and for each other and our friends. 

There is so much more that I'd like to share with you about this evening that lasted about 5 hours in Pastor Sam's apartment but I can't because of the personal and awesome nature of what transpired between the people mentioned and others who live in neighboring apartments.

And now a confession…
The "neighboring apartments" mentioned above are tents occupied by men and women who are misunderstood, marginalized and despised by so many people on the outside of addiction and homelessness.  Pastor Sam's "apartment" is this piece of sidewalk between columns 2 and 3 on the south end of the Conrail overpass over Frankford Avenue at its intersection with Lehigh Avenue.  It was in this location on this night where friends talked and laughed and cried, shared snacks and sodas and hugged and prayed in all the exact same comfort as in any living room in any house in America.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

You are not a 'w' and the world is round!

"I am NOT a Whore!"

"I am NOT a Whore!"

"I am NOT a Whore!"

These words rang out in anger and through tears, shouted by one of the ladies of Emerald City at the person who had just called her such.

I was too far away to know the details of what was going on.  My immediate response to the men and women around me was "Oh how I hate that 'W' word!"  

One man asked… "That 'W' word?" 

"Yes.  That 'W' word that sounds like it should be an 'H' word.  For that matter, I hate the 'P' word and the 'H' word that really is an 'H' word!"[1]

One lady who overheard my rant actually laughed at me as I put those words in the same realm of offensive words as the dreaded 'F' bomb.

I continued…  "No lady here is a W, P or H… Everyone here is a human being worthy of dignity, honor, respect, and love."

"Oh, I bet you say that to all the women." One lady chimed in with a grin.

"Actually, I do because it's true.  It's true of the women.  It's true of the men.  Everyone here is a human being worthy of the highest dignity, honor, respect, and love."

A couple of people simply said, "Thank you."

A couple others seemed to have just been exposed to a new thought on the same plain as "The world might be round."

You are not a 'w' and the world is round! 

Genesis 1:27 New International Version (NIV)

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
New International Version (NIV)
Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[1] Please don't look for an explanation in this footnote.  I'm sure you can figure it out.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Miracles can have roots buried deep in the dirt of the streets of Kensington.

Melanie has known addiction and homelessness for at least two of her 3.5 decades on this earth.  She's known being parentless due to addiction on their part for longer than that. 

The following true story picks up within a day of where my novel styled blog left off…
Melanie was arrested and now sits in a local prison.  The specifics of her arrest are irrelevant to this true story.

I visited Melanie today.  As I write this account, I will be alternating between the emotional father/daughter relationship that is developing between us and the reality of our factual relationship.

In reality, I've never known Melanie free of the demon of addiction.  I've never known her real and somewhat dimpled smile nor the glow of life beaming from her deep blue eyes framed by a head of red hair.  These new to me aspects of Melanie were evident as I saw her sitting in the prison visiting room and as I struggled to open the second of two security doors that separate residents from the demon living in the outside world. 

As I opened the door and went through one last security checkpoint, Melanie spontaneously called out, "Thank you for visiting, Dad!  It means so much to know that somebody cares."

For the next 30 minutes, we small talked and Faith talked and movie talked.  We talked about family and how she has none of her factual own.  We talked about court and her determination to be done with her former ways.  We talked about the power of prayer and the Bible and other worthwhile books.  We talked about that day, perhaps two or three months away when I will pick her up late at night on her day of discharge.

So where is the miracle in this story? 

The miracle is in the breaking of the stronghold of the power of the demon.  Where the medical establishment was powerless or unwilling to step in to solve this opioid issue of its own making, the legal establishment stepped in to save the day and, perhaps, set Melanie on an all-new course in life.  Sadly, this leaves Melanie and thousands upon thousands in her similar situation with a criminal record where an extended medical record would have been much more appropriate.

Miracle Number 2

Here's what I texted to close friends shortly after I learned of Miracle Number 2:

As I text this I am sitting in my car with the steeple of old Christ Church to my left in a parking lot having just visited another of the young ladies of the streets of Kensington who is a deeply committed Christian and was doing great in her walk away from opioids until a medical procedure thrust her back into addiction.  

She was hospitalized just a few days ago with a severe infection that had the potential to claim her life.

Yesterday, the medical team did some further studying to determine how they were going to treat this potentially fatal condition. 

The entire infection was completely gone!

The doctor stated to this dear young lady formerly of the streets that this is an absolute bona-fide genuine miracle and can have no other explanation attached to it.

Today, I have had the privilege of visiting a Christian in prison and visiting a Christian in a hospital. Both are looking at how God intervened in their lives.

I cannot believe that I've had the privilege of experiencing such Earthbound Glory...

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Thank you, Beth.

What I am about to share, I do so with no sense of inflated ego nor pride nor any other such viewpoint in this life.  I share this with you out of a pure and humbled heart that our God and LORD has allowed me to come alongside men and women, addicted, homeless, relatives thereof and dealers thereto and been able to share with them to the best of my feeble ability the simple and profound fact of facts that the King of the universe adores them for being exactly who they are: His beloved children!

Before I continue on much farther, I need to explain to you that today's activities are bathed in the light of an apparent stalker/rapist/murderer who has claimed the lives of at least two women on the street and nearly claimed the life by severe choking of one woman I've written about extensively in this blog series.  These are the street facts of the situation.  The factual reality facts are possibly different but basically the same.  The street understood facts are the facts that set the lighting and tone for what plays out on this real life stage for the men and women of Emerald City and the Frankford Avenue Bridge Community (not to mention the other pockets of such communities that I've not yet visited nor mentioned in this blog series).

Having been visiting these communities for over a year now, previously distant men and women have begun opening their lives to me in ways I would never have imagined months ago.  As you read that last sentence, you're probably assuming that I mean the addicted and homeless people of these communities.  Yes. That's what I mean.  Much to my surprise, I also mean, albeit to a lesser extent, the men and women who run the drug distribution process in these communities. 

It's one thing to hear a man or woman describe their pain and why they consume what they consume.  It's another thing altogether to hear a man or woman explain why they distribute what they distribute and as they acknowledge their recognized reality that they play a part in burying your sons and daughters.  And yet, there I am, in some roll I never would have guessed ten years ago when I moved back here that I would be a listening ear focusing on the anguish of the addicted and their dealers.

Now hold those thoughts as I switch gears and share with you a very tiny segment of today's events…

Thanks to Beth, a friend here in Delaware County, I've discovered that I can buy a case of bananas (60 - 70 total) for $11.50 at Produce Junction on Chichester Avenue in -Umm - Chichester, Pa. (That's a great place to put such an aptly named avenue!).  That's ridiculously cheap!  I've purchased three cases so far for my typical distribution. 

It got me thinking…

If I can buy these bananas for such a great price, can I resell these bananas at my cost to a willing lady who's at increased risk of assault, rape and murder and she, in turn, sell them to passersby on a street corner, earn $50.00 profit and not need to go out on one or two dates, which may unintendedly be with the current Kensington Stalker?

I figured it was worth the $11.50 gamble.  I bought one more case than what I needed and presented the idea to several ladies throughout this day.  I first thought of the woman who suffers from a non-addiction related medical issue that does not even permit her to date due to extreme pain that ravages her body.  When I found her, she was desperately dope sick and more concerned with messing her pants than selling bananas so as to raise funds for the purchase of her medicine.

"Dear LORD, please show me who these bananas should be entrusted to."  I prayed.

Shortly after that prayer, the most petite resident of Emerald and Frankford meandered past me wearing a street length long flowing black elegant summer gown.  She was carrying her all too typical rather oversized purse in preparation for her long night of back to back probably scheduled dates.  I'd seen her maybe one other time. 

This blog is getting a bit long so allow me to summarize…

"Hi, most petite daughter of your heartbroken parents and frightened family.  Would you like to sell a case of bananas and cancel a couple of those dates tonight?"

"Sounds great!  If I can't sell them, I'll make smoothies.  Either way, I'll be giving you $11.50 on Tuesday."

Why did this sound slightly reminiscent of days in my childhood long since past?

She returned to her tent so as to inject one last dose of her medicine in order to numb her mind and body to the anguish of selling herself to 'men' who don't give a rip about her as a human.  After several attempts of sticking the needle into her hand at the base of her thumb,[1] she needed to dispose of that first dose (a $5.00 per packet cost and I don't know how many packets were represented in that syringe.)  of heroin because her own blood had clotted firmly in the tube.

I brought the case of bananas to her tent that she shared with a man who is or was involved in some aspect of the drug distribution process.  I explained to him what the idea was for this case.  He liked the idea and thanked me for caring about the dangers the ladies of the community face on an hourly basis each and every day.

Shortly thereafter, I said my goodbyes and made my way home.  As I was leaving, she was still trying to find a vein for her medicine.

Will she sell or smoothie those bananas?  If she makes a profit and avoids one or two dates, will they have been dates with the current Kensington Stalker who would have raped and/or killed her? 

Only Heaven knows…

I'm just thankful to our LORD that I've been able to be a part of this journey. 

And, by the way, you may have saved a life tonight so I need to say:

Thank you, Beth.

[1] You try doing that some day!  That would hurt beyond words and yet she needs to do so multiple times each day.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Tonight, this blog is my refrigerator door!

I gladly and proudly place these four forever to be treasured works of love and art on this blog as if this was my refrigerator door for all the world to see and read and marvel upon…

These four sides of two cards drawn last Sunday by a resident of Emerald City serve as a powerful statement of Faith: a spiritual life preserver holding strong by a thread within a sea of relapsed addiction, homelessness and dating. 

Imagine if you can and I'm not sure I could if I had not witnessed these events in front of me over three days of visit in a period of five days…

Day One: She shared with me her firm and growing Faith in our Savior in the midst of her medically induced opioid relapse…  She expressed a sincere desire to attend church with me the following Sunday. 

Day Two: She was waiting for me when I arrived to look for her on Sunday and she gladly attended Urban Hope with me.  
Day Three: She asked to sit in my car's passenger seat so we could talk privately.  She gives me these cards while using the passenger side makeup mirror to apply her makeup for her afternoon of dates that she despises.  She sees no choice but to 'date' as her only means of financial provision to support an addiction that was handed back to her by an incompetent medical provider.

In the absence of any other source of funding for her medicine which she has nearly no choice but to consume, I have no way to tell her to stop dating or change her plans for the night.  

I remind her of her Faith and she simply says "That's all I have left."

2 Corinthians 12:9 New International Version (NIV)
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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.


Friday, August 3, 2018

From Neurosurgery to Addiction… From Incarceration to Full College Scholarship…

Two Stories: One of Heartbreak The Other of Inspiration

As I visited Emerald City last night, among many activities of the evening, the call went out among the community that there was an overdose with CPR in progress up one of the side streets.  Narcan is in full supply in Emerald City.  One container was grabbed by its owner as he ran up the street a short block away. 

When I arrived at the side street, a young woman who I barely knew said with obvious and yet humble pride that she, along with others, saved this guy and he had already run away.

I asked her if she'd like some water and a banana after saving the life of this man.  She thanked me.  As the conversation continued, she reminded me of her name and lost college status as a 4th-year med student specializing in neurosurgery prior to the demon of addiction knocking on her door.  As she shared this, I recalled the same conversation with her months earlier.  I asked her if in her studies she had heard the name, Dr. Eugene Spitz.  She said, "Of course!"

I shared with her how Dr. Spitz's two daughters had been in my high school with me years ago and how we routinely went swimming in his home's pool.[1],[2]  She thought that was cool but was more thoughtful, and rightly so, with her realization that tonight's save of this young man was her 12th for 2018.

As I reflect back on this conversation, there seemed to be a sense of reawakening in this woman's spirit as she connected in her mind the lifesaving that she had just done with the life saving on a much larger scale that she would have done as a neurosurgeon if the demon had not come knocking. 

Shortly thereafter, I was at a recovery group dinner at Urban Hope celebrating the 7th anniversary of this group.  Among the many activities of the evening, there were brief testimonies from various men and women.  One of the men shared that, following many years of incarceration during which time he earned two associates degrees he has been living in transitional housing for the past couple of years.

In about 3 weeks, he will be moving to his own apartment for the first time in many years (decades?) so as to begin at least two years of Biblical studies thanks to a full scholarship from Eastern University!  I graduated from Eastern in 1990. 

In Summary:        

Within the course of a couple hours last night,

  1. I conversed with a demon derailed would-have-been-neurosurgeon who knew of Dr. Spitz, world-renowned neurosurgeon, my sixth-grade class mate's Dad and founding board member of the high school from which I graduated.  She lives addicted and homeless under a bridge and bears all the burdens of a woman in such a situation.
  2. I was inspired by the testimony of a formerly incarcerated man who will eventually graduate from Eastern University and do so with a full scholarship, the college from which I graduated. 

Summing Up my Summary:

When you take time to get to know someone, anyone, you'll be amazed at how much you have in common. 

[1] Dr. Spitz and my Dad were founding board members of the school when it started in 1972.  I was one of the original 7 students when classes started. 
[2] Whenever I think of Dr. Spitz's one daughter who was in 6th grade with me, I laugh at the comment she made one day as we ate lunch together.  "Chris, you are a boy so that makes you my boyfriend but I don't love you."  

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Elli and her Dentist

John Jack was proud of his associate's degree with which he served the people of his community as an assistant to a dental hygienist for over 10 years.  After thinking about it for a long time, he entered dental school and graduated somewhere between the top and the bottom ranking of his class.  He remained proud of his associate's degree and wanted to retain a remembrance of those days in his title on business cards and on the sign on his new office door.

Here begins the true story of

Elli had been living on the streets of Kensington, addicted and homeless for over a year.  She knew days of little food and sleep and a never-ending run of humiliating and potentially dangerous 'dates.'  She got to the point within her soul where she decided enough was enough.  With a great deal of effort, she managed to get into a detox and rehab program and was doing great, great beyond her and her loved one's expectations.

Once out of rehab, with a counselor's guidance, she set a course for further recovering of her life's goals which now included a very real knowledge of her LORD's love for her and deep commitment to Jesus as her personal LORD and Savior.

One of her first physical goals selected for achievement was to tend to her dental issues.[1]  She made an appointment with a local dentist who had just opened his own office near her home.

Following a thorough exam, Dr. Jack Ass., DDS advised Elli that the best course of action was to remove all of her remaining teeth and create a full set of dentures.  Elli was saddened about this but agreed that in this time of starting over with her life, completely new teeth fit that theme.

As a newly opened dental practice, Dr. Jack Ass., DDS's schedule was far less than full.  Elli had not eaten anything since the night before and agreed to have her teeth removed right then and there.  The procedure went well and the pain which followed was horrendous - for Elli that is… Dr. Jack Ass., DDS didn't feel a thing.

In an obvious violation of his dental Hippocratic oath[2], a version of which I, the author of this blog could find, Dr. Jack Ass., DDS provided an opioid-based pain reliever to Elli. 

Elli is back on the streets, 



crying,  - NO, -  wailing in my arms two nights ago in agony that consumes the depths of her soul, over the loss of her fight for sobriety and the apparent need to 'date' in the sight of her LORD and Savior so as to provide funding for an addiction that she beat and that Dr. Jack Ass., DDS ignorantly pushed her back into once again.

[1] Addiction and street life really do a lot of damage to teeth and gums. 
I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability and judgment, this covenant:
·         I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those dental professionals in whose steps I walk, and gladly share such knowledge as is mine with those who are to follow.
·         I will apply, for the benefit of the sick, all measures which are required, avoiding those twin traps of overtreatment and therapeutic nihilism.
·         I will remember that there is art to dentistry as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.
·         I will not be ashamed to say “I know not”; nor will I fail to call in my colleagues when the skills of another are needed for a patient’s well being.
·         I will respect the privacy of my patients, for their problems are not disclosed to me that the world may know. Most especially must I tread with care in matters of life and death. If it is given me to save a life, all thanks. But it may also be within my power to take a life; this awesome responsibility must be faced with great humility and awareness of my own frailty. Above all, I must not play at God.
·         I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart or a cancerous growth, but a sick human being, whose illness may affect the person’s family and economic stability. My responsibility includes these related problems if I am to care adequately for the sick.
·         I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure.
·         I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.
·         If I do not violate this oath, may I enjoy life and art, respected while I live a re-membered with affection thereafter. May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of my calling and may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help.