The Face of Homeless

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Eons ago, when I was still in my teens, a friend and I walked out of the Fulton County Stadium on a sweltering Atlanta night and came face to face with a “begger”. Up to that moment, we had been goofing around: laughing, singing, having fun watching the Braves lose another one. The frivolity of the evening ended when I encountered homelessness for the first time. Prior to that summer night, I had been naive enough to believe everyone went home to a warm dinner and a comfy bed. And then this man approached us, “Excuse me, can you spare some change? I’m homeless. I’m hungry.” The look of him…the painful pleading in his expression, the desperation in his quivering voice, his dirty, wrinkled clothing…stopped me in my tracks. I wanted to make his life better but felt helpless to do so. A lump lodged in my throat as I reached for the fifty cents in my pocket, “This is all I have, I’m sorry”, I said. “Thank you, ma’am. Bless you,” he said.

My friend grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “Why did you do that? Why did you give him your money? I can’t believe you fell for his trick. He’s just here to get people to feel sorry for him. He has the same opportunity everyone else has, all he has to do is get out and get a job but he doesn’t want to work. It’s easier for him to beg than it is for him to go to a job every day”.

On the drive home, my friend and I had a heated discussion about poverty and opportunity. We didn’t see eye to eye on the subjects.

Later than night, cool, dry and tucked safely beneath my covers, I cried for the man we had encountered outside the stadium. I couldn’t get his face out of my mind. His skin had the ashen look of poor nutrition, his eyes were hollow from hunger. I knew he didn’t live that way by choice. No one does.

I’m ashamed to say, I haven’t done much to help the homeless over the years. Donations and food drives have been the extent of my giving and service. But I know someone who has done so much more. Vitelle Webb’s life and work is an inspiration to all who know her. She has written a play about her own personal experience with homelessness. The Face of Homeless will be onstage in Atlanta this coming August 3, 2013. Vitelle is also the founder of the Feed the Homeless Tour. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Vitelle. Here’s what she told me….

The Face of Homeless is my life and experience, portrayed on stage. It is also the stories of a few other lives as well as real life situations that have been experienced by many. The show exposes various circumstances involving homelessness. My hope is the stories of our characters, Gary, Violet, Shelia, Mark and the others will help people to understand that homelessness can happen to anyone. Too many people have a stereotype of what they think homelessness is; a preconceived idea of who the homeless are. People think of the homeless as being an old man digging through a trash can and asking for change to get a beer. Our hope is this stage production will reveal the truth about who the homeless are. With our show, we hope to encourage people who are going through or have gone through similar situations as well as bring awareness to the community of what homelessness really consists of and that it exists in our own backyards.

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The Feed the Homeless Tour is a non-profit organization I founded seven years ago to help meet the basic needs of the homless from state to state. We provide such things as food, clothing and hygiene items. We assist people with finding jobs and housing and connect them with other organizations that may be able to help them based on specific needs. We never turn down someone in need due to a lack of identification or age and gender. We strive to end homelessness and have done so for many people!

Our stage production, The Face of Homeless, is one of many fundraising efforts to support Feed the Homeless Tour goals. It is our first stage production and we anticipate many more. After our Atlanta area premier on August 3, 2013 we will travel the country bringing this production to all fifty states, helping the homeless of each state we visit.

Tickets can be purchased at: http://www.FaceofHomeless.eventbrite.com

Note to Vitelle,

I want to thank you for what you’re doing to help others. God gave you a big heart and a willingness to sacrifice your time for your brothers and sisters. You are living proof that we can take our life experiences, both positive and negative, and use it to benefit others.

I wish you much joy and success as you continue your journey.

Danita

Lusk, Wyoming: Small Town, Big Heart

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Recently, my daughter Lindsey came across a story I wrote several years ago. The story I had penned was the retelling of an unintentional weekend spent in Lusk, Wyoming. Lindsey suggested I post the story on my blog….

A Small Town’s Big Heart

My husband, Dick*, placed the last of our duffel bags in the trunk of our car while I buckled our two children in their car seats. Lindsey was four years old, Garrett age two. The kiddos could barely contain themselves and neither could I. For weeks we had been planning a camping trip to Mount Rushmore and the time had finally arrived. It was early summer 1991 and our little family was in need of a fun weekend. The previous eighteen months had brought about many changes for us: A move from our home in Georgia to Louisiana and then another from Louisiana to Wyoming. The moves had been difficult for all of us and were especially unsettling for Lindsey and Garrett, who had been accustomed to having family live nearby.

We lived on a tight budget while in Cheyenne. After paying rent, utilities and the other basics of living, there was little money left. Frivolous purchases and leisure trips were not an option. But we had decided we could manage a three-day camping trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I had the budget worked out: $8.00 per day for the camp site, $40.00 for gasoline. Food, snacks and drinks we were bringing from home. Between the two of us we would have $90.00 for incidentals.

As we drove north of Cheyenne on Interstate 25, Lindsey and Garrett sang from the backseat, “We’re going to Mt. Rushmore!” The early morning drive was clear and crisp. The wide open spaces and the blue Wyoming sky were breathtaking. I remember feeling far removed from the lush green hills of Georgia, and marveled at the varied and magnificent beauty of the country we live in. Time in the car passed quickly, and when Cheyenne was two hours behind us, we turned east onto a two lane road toward Lusk, Wyoming. We weren’t far from Mount Rushmore now! We continued our eastward drive and passed thru the little town of Lusk without giving her a second thought. Yet almost as soon as we left Lusk, I noticed something. More accurately, I noticed nothing. There were no homes, stores or gas stations anywhere in our line of vision…and we could see clearly across acres of fields and pasture. We had driven several miles before I saw the first lone, rusted mailbox on the side of the road, but there was not a house in sight to go with the mailbox. I began to wonder what people did to entertain themselves. How did anyone ever get to know another person out here? I realized I hadn’t seen a school or a church building, nor had we seen another vehicle since driving thru Lusk. At that moment, I felt very isolated, as if we were the only people on Earth.

Lindsey and Garrett were getting restless so I began playing a game with them. A game we had come up with… the “Looking for a Herd of Buffalo Game”. Or as Garrett called it, “Looking for a Hurricane of Buth-A-Lo”. Just after we started the game, Dick said, “I think there’s something wrong with the car“. The words were still on his tongue when the car shivered and died. Unwilling to accept or believe our misfortune, we sat in stunned silence for a brief moment.

I spoke first, “What will we do?”
Dick said he was almost positive the timing belt had broken, and sure enough, checking beneath the hood proved he was correct. While Dick was outside the car, removing tools from the trunk, I sat inside with the kiddos and tried to maintain a positive atmosphere. For the past couple of years, it seemed even our best intentions had gone sour. This trip was solely for Lindsey and Garrett and we were about to disappoint them. I realized they were too young to remember much of what I had told them about Mt. Rushmore, but I had shown them photos and they knew they were going to see big faces of United States Presidents carved into the side of a mountain. And they were excited about sleeping in a tent.

While Dick worked under the car’s hood, I said a breath prayer that God would help us out of this predicament. Before long, Dick stepped around the car to the passenger window and told me there was nothing he could do to repair the car. He also said we would have a difficult time finding a timing belt considering our location. “I guess my only option is to start walking…but which direction should I go”? As if on cue, at that very moment, we heard a soft rumble. Soon, an eighteen-wheeled big rig truck came into view on the Eastern horizon. Before long we recognized the unmistakable blue and white of a Wal-Mart truck. My first thought was that he would probably pass us by. We were from suburban Atlanta, where truck drivers don’t stop for stranded motorists. But he did stop. And he offered us a ride back to Lusk. We told him Lusk was about forty miles in the direction we had just driven from. He told us we were correct, but that we would find nothing for sixty miles or more, if we tried to go east. “You best hop on in,” he said. The four of us piled into the cab of his big truck. Garrett was ecstatic to be riding in a big Wal-Mart truck. Lindsey was concerned about leaving our car “all by itself”. Our new friend assured Lindsey our car would be alright. “People in Wyoming are the friendliest I’ve ever seen,” he told Lindsey, and that satisfied her. Soon enough we were back in Lusk. Smooth as silk, the driver pulled the big rig to an idle stop in front of a small truck stop. As he climbed out of the truck, he said he knew the manager of the restaurant and would explain to him our situation. The driver said he knew for certain the truck stop manager wouldn’t mind if we hung around for a while. He also felt certain someone in the restaurant would know where we could get the parts needed for our car. So while Dick and the driver spoke to the manager, the kids and I sat at a table. A waitress offered us Pepsi….on the house. Before long, Dick came to our table without the driver; our friend was back on the road. Dick had good news, “There’s a kid here who has agreed to drive me to an auto parts store just over the Nebraska line. I promised to give him twenty-five dollars.” Immediately, I did the math. We would have $65.00 left. On top of that, Dick would need money to buy the timing belt. Mount Rushmore would be out of the question. I thought of Lindsey and Garrett’s disappointment and wondered how I would make it up to them.

“Ok. I guess the kids and I will wait here for you,” I said.

Dick had something of a puzzled, choked-up look on his face when he said, “You don’t have to wait here. The town has a fund for stranded motorists. A sheriff’s deputy is on his way here…right now…to take us to a motel. They will also give us vouchers for meals in a couple of the restaurants. This is unbelievable…a free motel room”.

In minutes, the deputy arrived and drove us to the motel; a very old, seldom used facility. But it was clean and welcoming. I was humbled by the kindness and generosity of the people in this little town. The deputy told me to call him when we were ready for dinner, he would send a car for the children and me so that we wouldn’t have to walk. He promised to drive by and check on us from time to time as well. Soon, Dick and his teenaged chauffeur were on their way to Nebraska and the little ones and I were settling into our room. As promised, the deputy drove by to check on us throughout the day and evening. He also gave us a ride to a restaurant in his official vehicle. Lindsey, being four-years old and aware that bad guys ride in police cars, was wide-eyed with concern. Garrett, in the meantime, was loving the adventure.

Just before nightfall, Dick returned, empty-handed. He had arrived at the Nebraska store too late. The store was closed for the evening and worse, would be closed the next two days for a holiday. Nothing, it seemed, would be open until Tuesday morning. There was nothing we could do but sit it out and wait. I had to admit, things could have been much worse. If we had to break down, Lusk was the place to do it. The kiddos were having the time of their lives, not at all bereaved over missing Mount Rushmore. We were the only occupants of the motel, so we had set up the tent in the parking lot. So to them, We Were Camping! Excitedly, they told their dad about riding in the police car and “walking a long, long way to play in the city park”.

That night, the four of us slept soundly between cool, clean sheets. The next morning, we were considering a walk to a nearby grocery for breakfast items, when someone knocked on the door. A kind man had heard of us, had heard we would be in town a little longer, and he wanted to be certain we had everything we needed. He also gave us gift certificates to his restaurant. Words were difficult, I was so overwhelmed with emotion. I choked out a thank you and sat on the side of the bed and cried tears of relief, embarrassment, thankfulness and humility. We had done nothing to deserve this kindness. God was pouring out His mercies on us thru strangers. He was answering those prayers I had whispered to Him while broken down on the side of the road.

Eventually, we made it to Mount Rushmore. But not that weekend. That weekend we had lessons to learn: Loving a Neighbor, in our case a traveler, as yourself. Being kind to others. Giving of yourself for the benefit of another. Extending kindness…and receiving it.

I’ve thought of that weekend many times during the past two decades. It still amazes me. My family experienced miracles that weekend. God places angels everywhere and He works thru them. Look carefully for them, because they don’t have wings and a halo. Sometimes they look like a truck driver. Sometimes a burly sheriff’s deputy. Another time, they may look like a truck stop cook sporting a grease covered apron.
And sometimes they look like Lusk, Wyoming.

Danita

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The Thing About Forgiveness

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“Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.”
― Will Smith

One of the biggest misconceptions about forgiveness is that it says to the offender: I’m Ok with what you did. Or: You’re not responsible for what you did to me. We think somehow that forgiving a perpetrator is letting them ‘off the hook’; that we are surrendering to the offender. Not true. Saying I Forgive doesn’t indicate a willingness to be misled again. It isn’t saying: I want that person in my life again. Forgiving someone who has wronged you or hurt you simply says: I will no longer allow hatred, anger, angst, fear and disgust tether me to the offender. I will no longer let the toxins of the offender hurt me.

Another false: The offender needs to ask for forgiveness. Wrong. The offender doesn’t have to ask for your forgiveness before for you can hand it over. And personally, I don’t feel we have to say I Forgive You directly to the offender. I think we can say it out loud in the privacy of our cars or bathrooms and that will be sufficient. Or send a text. Mail a letter. Because really, forgiving your offender is for your benefit, not his. Besides, some offenses are just too vile to consider personal contact.

Unforgiveness and bitterness can seep into your soul and strip the happiness out of your life.
Forgiveness is powerful, so, “Let it go and be amazed by what you see thru the eyes of grace”.

Book Trailer for Letters From A Whoremonger’s Wife

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Justin Israel Waggoner did an awe inspiring work in developing, creating and directing this trailer for my book, Letters From A Whoremonger’s Wife.

Garrett Able, thank you for putting your voice to your letter….Remarkable job!

Christina Alexandersen, thank you for being such a great supporter and also for suggesting Justin for this project.

Thank you to the actors, while I don’t know your names, I am very appreciative of your time.

Remembering Santa Ray

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I’ll never forget the first time my children visited Santa Ray at Cumberland Mall. Santa laughed a big belly.. Ho! Ho! Ho!… as Lindsey and Garrett walked away from their session with him. He smiled broadly as the kids exclaimed,”That’s him! That’s the real Santa! We saw the Real Santa, Mom! He knew Nanny and Poppy! He’s the Real One”! Santa Ray was my second cousin, and when he saw us standing in line to meet him, he decided to have a little fun. As my children approached Santa’s throne, I heard him say, “Well look who it is! It’s Lindsey and Garrett. I’ve been waiting for you two…and there’s your mommy Danita! Oh, I remember delivering toys to her house when she was a little girl. How are your Nanny Helen and Poppy Grady doing these days? Ho! Ho! Ho! I remember your Nanny Helen when she was a little girl, too! She was a rotten one every now and then! A couple of times she was so mean I wasn’t sure I would be able to leave toys for her. But she always got to acting better right before Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!”

Santa Ray loved family, kids and motorcycles and he loved to laugh. He’ll be missed by many, especially the moms, dads and grandparents who looked forward to sharing his special mix of mischief and merriment with their children. But none will miss him more than his family and friends, those of us who had known the big belly laugh and the contagious sense of humor long before Ray Daniel became Santa Ray.

We’ll miss you, Santa.
May you rest peacefully in the Arms of Jesus.

The Love Blueprint

I want to encourage you this Friday afternoon….if you’re struggling with the end of your marriage, or the end of a relationship of any kind, remember this: Life gets easier after the drama.

A couple of nights ago, my son and I appeared on an Atlanta TV station, discussing my book, Letters From A Whoremonger’s Wife. On the show, we didn’t focus too much on the hurt and humiliation a family experiences under the thumb of a narcissist. The show’s host guided us toward the healing aspect of forgiveness, and forgiveness is important. We didn’t really talk of the Sunday mornings we were subjected to screaming and cursing on our way to church…or the disgust we felt while we watched the man of our house…the one who spoke to us so angrily..warmly greeting and hugging church members as he handed them a church bulletin. So I want to touch on that here, today. If you’re experiencing similar scenarios in your life…if your spouse, boyfirend, girlfriend, friend…is belittling you, betraying you, bullying you, forcing you to change who you are…I encourage you to move on. A selfish, manipulative person doesn’t change…not for long anyway. Get out, forgive them and don’t waste another precious moment of your life on someone who doesn’t value the person you are.

On the show, I mentioned what I call the Love Blueprint. 1 Corinthinians 13: 4-7.

This is what love is

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Better things are ahead for you.

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. Yet that will be the beginning.”
Louis L’Amour

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Twanglish Lesson: Junder and Yunder (Not A Law Firm)

A humorous bit of Southern-ness…

Real Southern Men

Twanglish Lessons is your semi-unregularly posted guide to mastering the finer points of the Official Language of the South. Remember: it’s not English; it’s Twanglish.

We know what you’re thinking: “Where in the world have our Twanglish Lessons been these last few weeks? There are millions of Real Southerners out there whom we can’t understand without your tutelage and sage wisdom.”

Fear not, dear reader. We, the guardians of Southern idiomatics, have been roaming the countryside far and wide in search of those increasingly rare and insightful bits of Twanglish with which to sate your ever-growing hunger for knowledge.

(Seriously, easy on the knowledge hunger. You don’t want to gorge yourself and trigger a nasty bout of knowledge retching. Unless you’re on Jeopardy. Then, just make sure it’s retched in the form of a question.)

How far have we gone in our quest for more Twanglish? We’ve traveled to this…

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The Collateral Damagae of Another Whoremonger

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Be careful who you love.

This morning I heard from a friend, just before she entered a courtroom for a hearing that will change her life.

“Prayers please. I’m a mess”, she said.

I attempted encouragement, but I knew my words were inadequate. I knew what she was feeling, thinking. I also knew time, not words, would help. I felt helpless, heartbroken for her…I wanted to do something, so I offered words; knowing they would make no difference to her today.

She’s been with me all morning. I’ve seen her face every hour. Images of our history keep floating thru my thoughts: soccer games, soccer practice, scouts, school meetings, field trips, church, dances, parties. Why did her love affair with the love of her life end today? This way? Death would have been better than this. I knew the answer to my question before I asked it of myself: Because she was fooled by a lying whoremonger; a narcissist. She dedicated her life to him and their family. Their businesses. She thought of herself last; everyone else came first. None of that was enough. Not for him. It never is, not for a selfish man or woman.

She is hurting today. So are the children. Thinking of them, I was reminded of a letter my son wrote, in the days of our own life changing event. A letter my friends’ husband actually responded to. He was incredulous, unable to believe Crisco had done such things. Yet, this man was already living a similar, destructive, secretive life. But he thought he was different; he felt he would never be caught. Garrett’s letter should have been an indicator of things to come, a warning; a lesson to learn before losing the most precious, important people in the world. But he thought he was above it all, smarter than the rest. He was wrong.

Fathers, Who do you think you are?
By: Garrett Able

Written yesterday at 4:17 PM, August 4, 2009

Fathers, who do you think you are?

Who are they exactly? Dad, Father, Pops, all these names are talking about the first true hero in our lives, the first real “Man”. As kids we are always saying, “My dad can beat up your dad!!!” And the rebuttal, “Well, MY dad can lift that car and put it on your dads head!”

As kids we are so in love with our fathers. As we grow older we become more and more like our fathers because our admiration towards them is more than we can understand. It is so strong sometimes, you take on every characteristic of your dad. And to a loving father, this is the greatest sign of admiration! Of an unconditional Love that runs so deep…the jelly sandwich he made you the night before last was the most amazing bit of food you ever ate. And the one tomorrow will be better even than THAT one. What I don’t understand, is why do some wish they had a better life?

I was seven when my dad showed me his better life. Instead of doing what most dads do and leave their family, my dad was sick minded enough to take me along. Her name was Lorraine*, she lived in Pine Log, not far from my house. My “Father”, my “Hero”, would take me “fishing” but before we got to the lake we would pick up this woman from the country corner gas station. She would then join us and once we got to the lake I would take my rod and fish while my father left me. I was seven. A child. Once he had his fill of filth he would retrieve me. Tell me, ‘don’t tell mom I had a friend.” This continued for the longest time, this secret life I was forced to share with my father, all the while I was there watching, listening and hurting. I was seven years old when I became a bigger man than my father. On the way to tennis practice, we all ended up at the country corner store one evening…my mom, me, my father and Lorraine. I turned to my mom and told her, ‘this is dads’ friend”. She asked me what I meant and hell broke loose in the store when I described the relationship between my dad and this woman. In front of me, my father denied what I said. In essence calling me a liar. My father broke my mothers’ heart through me because he didn’t have the balls to tell her himself.

This happened two more times, (that I’m aware of), the most recent was two weeks ago. I am 19 years old. Except I feel like I have been 25 since I was 12. My father had a wife who would NEVER leave him. A BEAUTIFUL wife, a loving daughter, and me. His “Buddy” he called me. I am successful, smart, funny, talented, loving, compassionate towards others…but he didn’t want me enough to stay, or any of us for that matter.

The Love that ran deep has only made a scar. I am nothing like my father. At twelve I knew I didn’t want to be like him. My hero died on the beach of Lake Allatoona.

So this is to you fathers out there: If you are faithful, stay that way. You will be rewarded greatly with Love and happiness and moments where your children want to squeeze you because they love you so much. And kisses from your wife that make you melt like it’s the first kiss you ever had. You will see your children grow and look at you like, “There is Superman, he is sitting right there in front of me…across the table and he is my Dad. MY dad.” Your daughters will mold who they want to LOVE out of you!!!! You, who cuts the lawn and drinks out of the jug of milk and chokes on it when your beautiful wife comes into the kitchen and catches you. DON’T LET THAT GO!!!!!!!!!!

To those of you who are not faithful, it’s time to rethink the pros and cons. YOU WILL BE DISCOVERED!!!! YOU WILL BE UNVIELED!!!! YOU WILL BE MADE TO LEAVE!!!!! Because you are WORTHLESS!!!!!

But I do Forgive him.

If you are tagged it’s because you either already know, can help my mother deal with this, or because I think you should know.

Garrett Able

Yes…please, be careful who you love ~