You Stayed WHERE Last Night?

When this man first came to our Easter Seals office last October, he had two requests for us: to help him upgrade his military discharge status and to help him draft a new resume so that he could find employment. He filled out his intake information and passed the form over to Mother Goose. He met with one of our VA specialists to discuss the DD214 form upgrade.

He walked into my office and sat down in one of my many soft chairs. We began to discuss his employment history, and Mother Goose took copious notes so as to gather as much information as possible. He spoke softly and answered all of my questions with poise and sincerity.

At some points in our meeting, he wrote down exactly what he wanted to say on the resume. Mother Goose was impressed with his eloquent capabilities and could only wonder how this veteran could NOT be employed.

And then he mentioned that he lives and sleeps in the basement of a nearby church. AND has actually been staying in that place since last March! And apparently he was OK with that most of the time…except when he’s walking through neighborhoods and could see families in homes living out their domesticity. He felt a degree of weariness at having to spend his nights in the basement of a church.

He told me how he serves as the watchman and the maintenance man and the custodian for the church. I asked how much they were paying him for his day and night services. “Oh nothing,” he answered.

Mother Goose could feel her feathers getting all ruffled at the thought of this man working for a church for eight months without any visible and monetary signs of gratitude…

Light of Liberty Church

“Does the pastor know that you are doing all of this work for the church?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” David replied.

“And?” I prompted him just a little to expound on this pastor. Could he possibly be a blind man?

“No, they haven’t paid me for my work, but that’s OK. The Lord always provides.”

Well, the weeks have come and gone. David has come into our Easter Seals office occasionally to visit a bit and use our computers. He has been working “side jobs” over the winter, and traveled to Milwaukee to help his sister move around New Year’s Eve. He was VERY sick for a couple of weeks. The pipes and plumbing froze in the church over a cold spell in January — he single-handedly cleaned up the flooded mess in the basement of the church including the very important restrooms for the congregants.

He called me last week to touch base with how things are going.

“Are you still sleeping at the church?” I asked.

“Well no,” he replied. “A woman who is important to the church family came downstairs where I was sleeping and said, ‘You’re still here? I thought you left months ago!’ so I folded up the cot, packed my things and left. I went to the Duncan.”

Mother Goose was very sad to hear this news. As a Veteran Supportive Services Specialist, I try so hard to make life better for anyone who comes to Easter Seals for help. Though I wasn’t jumping and flapping for joy to know my friend (and brother in the Lord) was sleeping and living in a basement of a church, at least he had a place to lay his head at night. Not wanting to appear ignorant, I didn’t inquire of him regarding the Duncan. But the next day at my office, I did inquire of everybody I knew.

“David is at the Duncan,” I asked. “Do you know where that is?”

One woman shook her head sadly. “Oh that’s a transient hotel. I’m not sure where it’s at.”

Another person said, “There’s a Duncan YMCA somewhere.”

Yet another joked, “It wouldn’t be Dunkin Donuts…”

When David called back on Monday, I immediately asked him, “My brother, you sounded really tired last Friday on the phone. You said you’re at the Duncan. Can you please tell me where that is?”

“It’s the Dunkins at Harlem and Circle. They let me stay there all night, but it’s difficult to get rest and sleep sitting up…”

The Dunkin Donut shop. He sleeps sitting up at the Dunkins.

“You slept WHERE last night?”

Mother Goose: A Homelessness Magnet

Perhaps it is my kindly and feathery bosom.

Perhaps it is my quick smile and hearty honk.

Perhaps it is true that Mother Goose is a magnet to homeless folk.

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that Mother Goose is becoming quickly and intensely involved in the rescue and welfare of those people who need basic needs such as food and shelter, transportation and employment. This comes as somewhat of a surprise to this old goose who has always had more than her share of children to care for and not enough time in the day to complete her ever-expanding “to do” list.

One of my many part-time jobs is to help our veteran service members in the community to find jobs, counseling, stable housing, donated dental care, fitness programs, yoga classes, meals, VA benefits — whatever they need to help with reintegration. Often I find myself helping them to get through today and into tomorrow in one piece. Easter Seals actually has a rapidly growing program directed specifically at our veterans and military families, and I am most grateful to be able to play a small part in these great programs.

I am currently working with two veterans who are in the homeless category.

homelessveterans

Tonight I will begin to tell you about David, a Marine veteran who served in the late seventies/early eighties.

He speaks quietly, politely and with a great reverence for God. He studies his well-worn Bible in all of his spare minutes — I gave him a rubber band to hold it together better. He is a minister of Biblical truth, but I’ve never heard him raise his voice to a preaching decibel.

David originally came to our veteran program at Easter Seals for two reasons: to upgrade his military discharge status and to obtain help in drafting a resume. We welcomed him! Believe it or not, it is VERY difficult to find veterans who will admit that they need help with anything. It is not part of the military culture to ask for assistance from anyone except perhaps a brother in arms.

Most veterans have a form from the Veteran’s Administration called the DD214. It describes the circumstances of the service member’s exit from active duty. Most have an Honorable Discharge status. Unfortunately, some have a Dishonorable Discharge. There are many other types of categories for veterans, but I had never heard of David’s status before: The Good of the Service Discharge. I tell you, Mother Goose learns something new about military life every single day!

David enlisted in the Marines and left for boot camp. He graduated from this basic training and proceeded to move on to his next assignment where he would learn a “trade” within the ranks of the Marine Corps — it could be anything from infantry to engineering to truck repair or navigation. There are as many specialties within the Corps as there are in civilian life.

For reasons I don’t quite understand but having something to do with a woman in his life, David went AWOL from the Marine Corps. He disappeared for awhile, and then he turned himself in and apologized for leaving without leave. They were glad he came back — apparently they were actually quite forgiving and asked if he’d like to stay in active service. He made the decision that he didn’t want to be in the service anymore, and so they went through a process of mutually agreeing that it would be better for everyone if they just cancelled his contract and send him away. For the good of the service…

Have you ever heard of this before?

I know you’ll want to return to hear more about Brother David and how this former Marine became a homeless warrior for God. As usual, Mother Goose has got some really great stories to tell you…

Is There An Answer to the Dilemma of Lawrence?

Dear and kind-hearted readers, what is the solution to chronic homelessness in America? Wow, Mother Goose, that’s pretty huge for this early in the morning. Can you tone it down a bit?

OK.

Our friend, Lawrence Little, returned to our home on Monday which is the day after Sunday which is the day that we brought Lawrence to church with us. He sat at our kitchen table and drank a large mug of hot chocolate with Husband Goose. (Mother Goose was not present for this meeting as she occasionally works at a part-time job…) Recounting the previous day with our church pastor, Chuck Colegrove, Lawrence said that indeed the pastor did take him into the city to The Safe Haven Foundation, but there is a two-week waiting list to be allowed into their program.

Mother Goose is indeed grateful for all of the help that our church has shown Lawrence in the past eighteen months. Here is an excerpt from my pastor’s email describing just some of the care they have provided to our friend:

We have helped Lawrence on several occasions since first meeting him back in the Fall of 2012. We paid for 1 month of housing while he was seeking a job, paid for bus passes on 4-5 occasions that he secured a job or was about to secure a job….you’re right, helping with money isn’t necessarily the best option….when we’re able to, we help.

I’m hoping that Safe Haven will get him on the right path. He’s had several opportunities in the last year with jobs but can’t seem to hold it down.

Chuck has also offered to write a referral for Lawrence if he needs something like that to speed up the housing process at Safe Haven. Thank you, Chuck, for all you do to bring joy and love to a dark and fearful world.

I may have mentioned that Lawrence does his “rounds” through the city — knocking on the doors of kindly people who have helped him in the past. Husband Goose described him as having a “rolodex of helpers” in his head, and I believe that is an accurate picture of how he survives. One day at a time, one handout at a time, one bit of help from his friends is enough to get him to the next day.

Obviously many people have shown him love and kindness. Many people have directed him to job opportunities and housing opportunities. I am sure that somewhere in this large city he has at least one case manager who has filled out the proper intake forms and has done everything to get him into the system of public care. He has had money in the past — according to his story, he used to have a LOT OF MONEY in the days when he was a street performer doing break dancing on a cardboard mat on Michigan Avenue…

He’s an artist as well.

Lawrence has been prayed for and preyed upon. The mean streets of Chicago can be rough — a stark contrast to the kindness of the people who God puts in his life to care for him in manifold ways every single day.

Is there an answer to homelessness in America?

I don’t know if there is anything else that can be done except for this one thing:

We must not lump all of God’s homeless people into one big category and call it The Homeless Dilemma.

Each and every one of those people at the busy intersections and sitting along the avenues with their cups and their cardboard signs is a real person with a history of good times and hard times. Each and every individual who wanders the streets looking for a way to get somewhere else has a story to tell.

They have souls that require as much nourishment as their physical bodies.

They need a hug and an ear to listen to them — they say they need money, but what they might need more is a short-term connection to someone who might give them hope for another day.

Hope is a survival tool for those who have little else to carry with them.

My friends, do what you can. One person at a time is enough. Give them the time of day, give them a hug, give them a mug of hot chocolate, but whatever you do, give them hope.

Mother Goose thanks you.

This is not Lawrence.  I have never photographed my friend, not wanting to seem exploitative in any way.

This is not Lawrence. I have never photographed my friend, not wanting to seem exploitative in any way.

The Church Welcomed Lawrence Little

free church

Lo! and Behold! The Goose family arrived at Free Church (an inter-denominational church meeting at the Lake Theater in Oak Park at 9:00 on Sunday mornings for fellowship and worship), and our friend, Lawrence Little, was greeted by several people. Indeed he had visited our church on several occasions and knew many of the regular attendees.

“Hey, how are you, Lawrence?” “Good to see you!” “How have you been?” “So glad that you’re here this morning!” They are a friendly and caring group of individuals.

Lawrence stuck close to my side as we walked through the pre-worship crowd in the lobby of the movie theater. He seemed wary and edgy. I was reminded of a puppy in an unfamiliar environment although it was plain that he had been here often. His eyes darted around as though he was looking for someone or something.

“Would you like some hot chocolate, Lawrence?” Mother Goose asked.

“Oh no thank you. I’m fine. Natalie, will you please talk with Chuck about maybe he can help me?”

“Yes, of course, I will,” and I looked around for our pastor. He was busily working his way through the lobby and chatting with people and heading for the auditorium.

“Good morning, Chuck,” I said. “We’ve brought our friend, Lawrence, this morning. Will you be able to talk with him?”

“Of course,” he answered. “Let’s meet right here after the service.” And he smiled and walked off towards the auditorium, announcing to us all that we were ready to go in now and the service would be starting very soon.

Mother Goose turned to Lawrence. “See?” I looked into his eyes. “Chuck can meet us afterwards and we’ll talk about Safe Haven and helping you out.”

We walked into Theater 7, greeting friends as we entered. We sat near the front as we always do, close to the band. The music started as we were removing our coats, scarves and hats. For the first time in my life, I saw Lawrence without his many jackets on. He was so much thinner than I would have imagined. I would even call him scrawny. I wondered if he wore the many large coats to make himself look bigger and more formidable as he lived and moved about on the streets…

We sang some beautiful songs to the Lord and heard a really good message about love and marriage. I looked over at Lawrence and smiled. I tried not to look too intently at him, but Lawrence seemed genuinely moved and praying passionately.

I was truly happy that he was there with us. I felt very protective of him. I felt like I was his sponsor (if there is such a thing). Though other people recognized him and had greeted him, only one woman had actually hugged him and stopped walking just to chat with him and follow up with him. She asked if he had found work, and if he had found housing. She really seemed to care if he had made the phone calls that she had suggested to him. She smiled at him and treated him as a brother.

Other people just walked on by.

One man stopped to listen to our chatting with Lawrence about heading downtown to Safe Haven. Apparently, they could not accept “walk ins” and he would need a referral from another place in order to be put on their waiting list for housing. Apparently, their office was not open on Sunday. Apparently, there was nothing that Mother Goose could do to help.

“Lawrence,” I said. “We are going to have to go home and get lunch for the kids. Pastor Chuck will be here to help you in just a few minutes. Is it OK if we leave you with this man for now?”

“Oh yes,” he said, nodding and with a small smile. “Thank you, Ms Natalie.”

The next day, Lawrence came back to our home for more hot chocolate and a visit with Husband Goose. You’ll want to come back to hear the rest of the story, right?

Driving Lawrence to Church

When Mother Goose stepped out the front door of her warm and cozy home on Sunday morning, the frigid winter air made the insides of her nostrils tingle. From childhood, she always liked that sensation, and this unusually cold winter had provided lots of frozen side effects that only a goose could enjoy.

Glancing up the block, she spied a familiar figure shuffling along in the middle of the street. Bundled in several coats and hats, it was undoubtedly Lawrence Little. Had he been watching from a safe distance for her to emerge from the house? Without a watch, how would he know that it was almost time for Mother and Husband Goose to leave for church? Was it again “coincidence” or another miracle of timing?

“Good morning, Lawrence!” Mother Goose called out in a very hearty manner. “Would you like a ride to church?”

He nodded and smiled.

Mother Goose is always concerned about whether people have eaten their breakfast. “Did you eat breakfast?” she now asked Lawrence Little, the homeless man who just rode the “L” all night long and slept with one eye open to watch for bad guys who might hurt him or steal something from him.

“Yes, ma’am, I did. I had coffee and donuts this morning.”

Mother Goose smiled brightly into the darkly sad face of Lawrence Little. “Was it OK last night?” she wondered out loud.

Lawrence Little nodded. “I met this lady,” he said. “See, she told me that she’d let me stay at one of her apartments for five months and all I need to pay her is $40.”

“Wow,” I answered. “That sounds really good for you.”

He nodded and smiled.

Unfortunately, Mother Goose has heard this similar story from Lawrence Little before. He always needs just a little bit of cash and then he’ll have shelter from some kind lady somewhere. The names change, the addresses of the apartment buildings change and the dollar amount changes, but it’s still the same plot.

I invested in a lot of Lawrence Little last year…

And that is the dilemma that we face when we encounter men and women who are homeless. Is it right to give them money when they explain that they are “just this close to a breakthrough and if you could just help me just one more time”?

I couldn’t resist asking, “Lawrence, do you have any of that twenty left that I gave you last night for shoveling?”

“No, Ms Natalie, I had to spend it on the trains all night long and then breakfast this morning.”

That may be the case…

He told me that they don’t let you ride for just one fare all night long. But last time I checked you can transfer around on trains for a long time before a conductor will conduct you off the train platform, especially on a cold winter’s night. Anyway, not wanting to be a jaded suburban goose I didn’t push the situation any further.

Chicago-Loop-SEcorner

Instead I told Lawrence about a place where he might be able to secure some decent transitional housing — Safe Haven. I looked up the address and the phone number on my smart phone while we drove to church in our warm comfortable goose mobile. I passed the piece of paper to Lawrence hoping that after church, he might jump back on that public transportation, arrive at the Safe Haven, check in and live happily ever after…

Seriously, Mother Goose?

Lawrence Little Joins Us Around the Table

After our homeless friend, Lawrence Little, finished shoveling, Husband Goose invited him in for some hot chocolate. Lawrence was grateful! We offered him something to eat also, but he had already eaten his dinner. So we sat around the kitchen table visiting about this and that.

hotchocolate

Lawrence Little has family in the area, brothers and sisters, but they are not closely in touch with one another. His dear mother lives in Vance, Mississippi, but he couldn’t remember the last time he saw her. His father left the family when Lawrence was just five. He has only two memories of his father — one memory was of his father beating up his mother. He wistfully mentioned that someday it’d be nice to get a bus fare to go and see her…

We talked a lot about God. We talked about Lawrence’s faith — that even though he is homeless and the days are hard and the nights are dangerous and the winter is cold, God is still good and God is always with him.

He told a story about a lady he met who didn’t believe much in God or His love. “Where’s your God?” she asked. Lawrence pointed to the grass, to the sky, to the trees, to people walking around, to cars driving by. “My God is alive and He’s all around me,” he explained to the lady. “If not for my God, I would be under the ground and not be seeing all that is around me.”

Wanting to prove God’s existence even further, Lawrence began to audibly pray that someone on the street would ask him to shovel right there in front of the unbelieving lady. Up walked a man who said that he’d pay Lawrence $60 to shovel his front and back sidewalks and driveway! The lady’s eyes got big and round as she witnessed an answer to Lawrence’s prayer right then and there.

After finishing his hot chocolate, Lawrence asked what time it was and proceeded to hug us all goodbye. We told him that we hoped we would see him in Free Church the very next day…

Did Lawrence meet us at church? Will he find shelter and a hot meal somewhere down the road? Is there real hope for chronically homeless people like Lawrence?

Please come back next time to hear the REST of the story…

The Return of Lawrence Little

The earth circles around the sun, and a homeless man reappears on the doorstep of Mother Goose.

So many of my most astute and loyal readers will remember my three-part series last year regarding Lawrence Little, a homeless man of God who came into my life and forever changed my view of homelessness in America. Go ahead and click here if you’d like to review that story…

Mother Goose has been referring to 2014 as The Year of Miracles, and I’ve been privately documenting miracles, “coincidences”, and random happenstance circumstances since Thanksgiving. Maybe THAT’s why Mother Goose hasn’t had time to write stories for my adoring public!

Anyway, I would certainly consider this “chance” meeting as one of my miracles…

Winter at our house...

Winter at our house…

The Land of Oak Park has received an enormous amount of snow this winter, and the polar vortex has moved into our village to stay. Often, I will finish my inside-the-house-chores in the evening and then don my warm jacket, boots, hats, scarves and gloves and mittens to go out to attend to the daily snowfall.

Last night was no different — I had just begun to sweep the soft fluffy flakes off of my porch when I heard a voice calling out, “Hello, ma’am!” Out of my peripheral goose eye, I noticed a bundled up man walking along the sidewalk. I greeted him with a “hello” but certainly did not want to engage in night-time conversation with a stranger so I didn’t look at him…

I continued with my frenzied sweeping of the downy flakes of snow as though it was the only thing that mattered.

And when I looked up from my focused and serious work, the man was walking towards me and my porch, and I looked full on into his face for the first time — in about a year.

“Ma’am, it’s me, Lawrence Little. Your grandfather’s name is Lawrence, I know it is. Ma’am, could I do your shoveling for you? I’ve been living on the streets and it’s been a horrible winter, and I could do this work for you…”

As he walked closer into the porchlight, I did indeed recognize him. We shook hands warmly and smiled at each other. Yes, indeed, it was my dear homeless friend, Lawrence.

Of course, Mother Goose can never say “no” to Lawrence, never could, never will. I handed him the snow shovel and went inside to ask Husband Goose for $20. “Lawrence Little is here,” I honked excitedly. “He’s going to shovel for us!”

Handing the cash to Lawrence, we began to catch up with our lives over the past year. He’s still living on the streets, sleeping on the “L” at night — the elevated train that transports commuters and travelers over 100 miles of track in, on, under and over the city of Chicago. It’s a dangerous place to sleep, especially if you are a kind-hearted, harmless, homeless, and rather short-statured man as Lawrence is.

I asked him about his church, Life of Liberty Worship Center. He said yes, he’s still going there now and then. He asked me if I had found a church home yet, and I gladly reported that we were attending a church that meets at the Lake Street Theatre in Oak Park.

“Oh FREE CHURCH!” Lawrence knew immediately who I was talking about. “I know the Pastor there. His name is Chuck, and his wife is very tall and beautiful.”

“Urshanna,” I helped him with our pastor’s wife’s lovely and unusual name.

“Yes, and I was walking past the laundromat, and the Lord told me to go inside, and they were wearing red T-shirts and she offered to pay for my laundry. I laughed and said ‘Well, I don’t have any laundry, only the clothes I’m wearing’ and they were very kind and she called her husband and he came to the laundromat and gave me money so I could stay in a hotel.”

He continued to tell me how he sometimes attends worship and though I’ve never seen him there, he knew all the details of our church service and the names of other brothers and sisters there.

What an amazing miracle!

Please stay tuned for my next story about Lawrence Little — we enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate together at the kitchen table. Yes indeed we did.

The Lawrence Little Dilemma Continues…

You could have heard a pin drop in the Goose Family living room when Mother Goose announced to her dear husband that her new friend was a homeless man. In fact, not only did I hear pins dropping, but jaws dropping as well.

When he had recovered from shock, Husband Goose asked in a fairly steady voice, “Do you think it was a good idea to invite a homeless stranger into our house?”

Mother Goose smiled and spoke quietly, “I knew that he was not dangerous.”

“You know, the village police would advise against that sort of hospitality.”

“Yes, I’m sure they would, but I just knew it would be safe.”

And indeed Mother Goose does NOT invite every stranger into her home. It is VERY risky, potentially disastrous AND dangerous to just open the doors and allow every beggar and homeless wanderer into the security of our homes. There are safe places for people to spend their nights and get good meals if they are in need.

I am usually a quite cautious goose, but for this one time, I was acting out of an internal conviction and heart-felt compassion for this one particular man who I immediately recognized as a Christ follower, a brother in the Lord.

Nonetheless we have a new policy in our home: there will be no homeless people allowed into the house. Period. And that includes Lawrence Little. And, of course, I respect that and will support the policy.

I called Pastor Michael Wright of The Liberty Worship Center on Washington Street in Oak Park the very next day. He was as kind and helpful as Lawrence had told me he’d be. He invited us to his church and offered to bring us a gift of a nice study Bible in the meantime. I thanked him graciously, of course, and then asked him about Lawrence, explaining our concern for him as well as the best way to proceed in this new relationship. I had some suspicions that some of the problems Lawrence had alluded to over our lunch were of a very serious nature, and probably beyond my capability to fix.

“First of all,” the pastor began, “Lawrence is harmless. I’ve known him for more than six years and he is completely harmless. However, he has struggled in the past with addiction. He’s been coming to our church for a long time, and is known and loved in our congregation. However, Lawrence has approached every single one of us often for money and promises of work. He needs to realize that people can only help him to a certain degree, and then he must allow God to do the rest of the helping. We are not God, and we cannot be God.”

“Pastor,” I said, “I have given Lawrence money and he has come back to our home for more help, for more money. I do not have any work for him to do, and I have exhausted my resources for him. On the other hand, I feel bad for him and his circumstance.”

“Mother Goose, you are a very kind and loving person. I can easily tell that you are a giving person who has a large heart. But please do not give Lawrence anymore money. This situation is very similar to putting out food for a stray cat who will continue to return to your doorstep as long as you put out the food. And do not feel bad about saying ‘no’ — do not feel guilty for turning down his request. Allow God to work now. And the next time you see Lawrence, please tell him that we’ve missed him at church, and that if you are going to be visiting, he’d better be there too!”

Pastor Michael laughed a bit at that, and we bid each other a cordial goodbye.

Mother Goose hung up the phone with a real sense of peace. I felt that between the new family policy of no homeless people in the house and the Godly and wise counsel of the pastor, I could now establish some boundaries with this needy friend. I knew that he would return to our doorstep. and I felt equipped to deal with the situation in a firm, but loving fashion.

Homelessness in our country is at an all time record high. The shelters are filled to overflowing in Chicago and its suburbs. We have beggars with their regular posts at street corners, intersections, sitting along the sidewalks downtown, sleeping in doorsteps and on the trains and park benches everywhere.

Homeless3

The heart of Mother Goose breaks especially for the women and children who have no where to go and seemingly live only by the kindness of strangers. I give and give and give because it’s the right thing to do.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” (Matthew 25: 34-40)

This is how Mother Theresa describes the situation: “Whenever I meet someone in need,” she said, “it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”

How much doing is enough? How much giving is enough?

The dilemma of Lawrence Little is that we all want to help in some way. But like the Pastor said, we are not God. We can help in our own small ways or even big ways, but we cannot fix the bigger problem. I could give him every dollar in my checking account and he would still come back for more — offering to do work for me, of course.

Dear and kind-hearted readers, love your neighbors and care for the poor and downcast. Share your hope of heaven with them. Give them a cheeseburger or a giftcard to get their own lunch. Trust God for all things. Pray for wisdom and guidance from the One who loves us with an infinite and everlasting love.

Lunch with Lawrence Little

(Is Mother Goose a fool? Am I a saint? The story continues…)

Mother Goose was dozing on the couch when the sharp knocking on the door startled her to wakefulness. I had been plagued by a stubborn headache all morning on Wednesday and was resting my head. Oddly, my good dog, Fran, did not bark. Mother Goose got up slowly from the couch and made her way to the front door, noticing the time on her phone said 1:00 pm, and it was still Wednesday.

It didn’t take a rocket scientist to guess who was on the other side of the door. Mother Goose knew it would be Lawrence, and then also remembered that she didn’t have a job in mind for him to work on. There was obviously no yard work, no shoveling to do, no cleaning or painting. Maybe he could clean the steering fluid puddle off the driveway? Nothing was coming to mind as she turned the handle on the front door.

And there was Lawrence smiling brightly.

“Please, won’t you come in?” asked Mother Goose as though she were inviting the President to enter her home.

He stepped across the threshold of our home with a look of surprise.

“Would you care for a cup of coffee?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am, I would,” answered Lawrence Little, the homeless man who was looking for work in the general area of a friendly goose.

“Did you find a place to stay last night?” Mother Goose asked as calmly as if she had homeless people over to her house for lunch all the time.

“Oh, I ended up staying far away from Oak Park last night,” Lawrence replied. “Sometimes I just sleep on the el, but it’s hard to sleep when you are on the el. You have to keep looking over your shoulder to see if anyone might rob you. Of course, I don’t have anything to rob…” His voice just trailed off.

Lawrence carries no backpack, has no baggage, just the clothes on his back. The “el” is Chicago’s elevated train system. There are many routes or lines of this mode of transportation: red line, green line, blue line, brown line, pink line, etc. The blue line runs all night and is known as a semi-safe place for homeless people to spend the night if they aren’t close to a homeless shelter or can’t afford one.

I had asked Lawrence if he’d tried staying at the Oak Park homeless shelter. He said that it’s like winning the lottery to get in. Many people try, but few are chosen.

Mother Goose led him to the kitchen and had him sit down at the table. She poured him a cup of orange juice, set it in front of him and asked if he’d had anything to eat yet today.

“Yes, ma’am, I had a sandwich.”

“Would you like some bacon and eggs?” asked Mother Goose.

“Yes, ma’am, I would. Thank you so much.”

The hands of Mother Goose shook as she scooped the coffee grounds into the coffee maker and then poured in the water. She was trying so hard to appear casual and confident as they made small talk about his family and hers, his life on the streets and hers in a house with children. Mother Goose knew very well the potential for danger in this situation.

But he talked and talked, and Mother Goose listened and made agreeable conversation whilst she melted the butter, fried the bacon, cracked the eggs into the pan, split the bagel and put it in the toaster. Mother Goose is very good at listening to folks make small talk and making breakfast for people — she can practically do both in her sleep…

“What church do you go to, Mother Goose?” Lawrence asked.

I looked him square in the eye and said, “Lawrence, I love the Lord, but I just don’t do well in church. The people there just don’t seem to understand me.” Dear reader, you can read an allegorical account of my latest bad church experience if you just click here.

“Oh, I know all about that,” he said. “But I have such a good church now. Maybe you’d like to visit our church — it’s right here in Oak Park.”

He gave me the name of his church, the address where it’s located and the name and phone number of his pastor.

bacon and eggs

Mother Goose set down a bacon and egg sandwich in front of Lawrence, and then wrote down all of his churchy information.

I asked about his family, of course. His mother moved to Jackson, Mississippi many years ago. She has a whole set of problems of her own. He says that she loves him, but says that he has to work out his own life on his own. He also has an older sister who is a doctor, he said. He didn’t mention a father.

“I’m forty-five years old,” Lawrence announced.

“How long have you been unemployed?” Mother Goose asked politely.

“Since 1998,” he answered. “I used to work at the Jewels in the Chef’s Kitchen, but then I got into some trouble because my mother, she was having some problems. I’m a momma’s boy, I’m the youngest, you know. I made a lot of bad choices, and that’s how I ended up here.”

“But things are getting better,” Lawrence continued as I tried hard to process all of this conversation and this unusual situation I was in. “I have a place to stay. The lady there said I could stay for thirty days if I’d just get some work and pay her some money. And here’s my Illinois ID card.”

He showed me his card which had an address and his picture on it. He told me the name of the landlord and the address of where he could be staying if he could just come up with the rent money for one month. I shakily scribbled it all down on the opposite side of the paper as the pastor’s name and number.

Poor Mother Goose was beginning to feel very overwhelmed. The bagel sandwich was quickly disappearing, and Lawrence was talking about how kind she was, and how they were friends now. Mother Goose got out her wallet to give him some money to help him with his potential rent payment.

“I have to walk over to the school and get my daughter now,” I said.

“Oh I understand,” said Lawrence. “Ok. Thank you so much for the lunch. It was so good. Which way are you going?”

Mother Goose put on her coat and shoes at the front door. We walked down the block together. He asked when he could come back and do some work for me. “Well,” I said, “Tomorrow is my daughter’s birthday so I’ll be busy with that. Maybe Friday?”

“Oh thank you, Mother Goose,” he said. “I’m just so happy that we are friends! Do you know I can draw pictures? Maybe I could draw a picture for your daughter.”

We said “goodbye” and parted ways. He continued to talk as I walked west and he walked east. I knew that I needed to tell somebody really soon about my new friend, Lawrence.

That evening I said to my dear husband, “I made a new friend today! He’s a homeless man.”

You won’t want to miss the next chapter of my story, “The Lawrence Little Dilemma”.

The Lawrence Little Dilemma Begins

Mother Goose didn’t really plan to invite a homeless man into her home for lunch.

And yet, the truth of it was that here she was in her kitchen making coffee, frying up bacon and eggs, and toasting a bagel for a man who had been living on the streets for the past ten years.

Sometimes, Mother Goose has to just shake her head at the unlikely turns that her life takes!

On Tuesday, as she was climbing the front porch steps after a long emotional tutoring session with the squirrels, Mother Goose heard a man calling out, “Ma’am, excuse me, ma’am, do you have any work for me to do? I’m homeless. I haven’t eaten in two days. I’m a man of God. I just need to do some work so that I can get into a hotel tonight. Do you have any work I can do for you, ma’am?”

Mother Goose turned to look at the middle-aged man walking up her sidewalk. He was dressed in a Carhartt chore jacket, baggy light-colored Carhartt overpants with a black stocking cap and gym shoes. His face looked a little tired, but he smiled at Mother Goose when he reached the bottom of the porch steps. He looked clean enough and didn’t have a beard. He didn’t smell bad and seemed to have his teeth. Most homeless folks really look homeless, but this man looked pretty “normal”. Mother Goose hates to use that word, but my readers will surely understand…

Normally, I do not strike up conversations with strangers who are walking by. I greet folks with a hearty “How ya doin’?” and then let them pass by my house.

We live just two blocks from the western border of Chicago, near a neighborhood where shootings happen regularly and gangs own the blocks. Territories are staked out and street corners are occupied. I drive through the Austin neighborhood everyday on my way to work — I am curiously drawn to these streets and the people who have little choice but to live in such extreme conditions.

Unemployment, drug deals, violent crime and guns are the real facts of life for these folks, and yet there are families who live on the residential streets of Austin. There are little kids who walk to school, and moms who pray that their children will arrive safely.

I typically stay in my car when I’m in the Austin community. Perhaps you read the story of the time Mother Goose rode her bicycle to an oasis within the neighborhood, the Garfield Park Conservatory

Unless I’m going to a meeting where we are working out ways to connect military families and veterans to the social services and VA-sponsored services they may need in their community, I try to be as safe as possible and just keep driving.

However, if I’m waiting at an intersection and see a homeless person walking between the cars trying to collect some change, I’ll immediately reach into my purse for whatever I can find. I drop the money in their cups — they say “God bless you, ma’am. God bless you.”

homeless

When Mother Goose looked into the eyes of this homeless man at the bottom of her front porch steps, her heart was filled with compassion for him and his circumstance. “I don’t have any work for you,” she explained. “But I’d like to help you anyway.”

Opening her wallet, she found some bills and handed them to the man. He smiled gratefully as he reached for the money, and said, “Thank you, ma’am. My name is Lawrence. Thank you so much.”

Softly, Mother Goose replied, “Oh my grandfather’s name was Lawrence.”

The homeless man beamed knowing he had made a connection. “Well, there you are,” he said. “I knew we had something in common. And what is your name, ma’am? I’d really like to do some work for you. Could I come back tomorrow for some work? I’d sure like to do some work for you.”

I told him my name and said that if he’d come back tomorrow, I’d find something for him to do.

Though I am a very giving person, even this was way out of the box for Mother Goose. This is called beginning a relationship with a homeless man. It starts with the exchange of names. Now it is no longer anonymous donations in an empty coffee cup. Now it’s personal. Now there are expectations and hopes and suggestions of help to come. Now it gets real. Now there’s a commitment of sorts.

Some people would say “Now this is an open can of worms.”

Mother Goose said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Lawrence. Around noonish?”

(Please return tomorrow to hear more of this story…)

Important Stats for a Goose

  • 63,048 honks to date

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