The Tom Challenge 12-14-16

I haven’t written on my blog in quite some time. In fact, a while back I changed the settings of my blog to private. I suppose because I’ve used this blog with the intent to make a difference, however sharing some of the details of my life would have been best served to be kept quiet. I made the decision that just for today, I’m changing my settings to public in the hopes this story will encourage those reading this to make a difference. 

I was on my three mile walk this morning despite the frigid 15 degree temperature. My walks are so important to me. I use the time to reflect and more importantly pray. Not only for myself but the so many people who are on my prayer list. It was very cold this morning. In fact, so cold the wind was hurting my face. I couldn’t wait to get home to the warmth of my mothers house. I began to think of all those who weren’t as lucky to have a home to go to. Those who are homeless with not a warm place to look forward to. 

It’s no secret that I am very passionate about helping those in need. I’m very passionate in bringing awareness by encouraging others to open their hearts to the needs of others. As I reflected I thought of the many days I served feeding the homeless at the shelter in San Francisco. Four days per week, my church opened their doors for those in need. Tuesday’s and Thursday’s they served breakfast and lunch and allowed their “guests” to shower and do their laundry. Wednesday’s and Friday’s it was breakfast only but every day our guests left with a care package of snacks, socks, toiletry items and new clothes if they needed them. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Even more rewarding were the “guests” who became our friends. My friends. 

I was thinking of a gentleman I served with this morning. His name was Tom. Tom was a very tall, older gentleman with such a happy, giving heart. He was always smiling. He exuded so much gratitude and had a way about him that somehow lit up even the darkest room with a light of happiness.  If Tom wasn’t cleaning, he was helping the sisters, if there was a clean up activity at our church, Tom was the first one there to volunteer. He was always at mass and always willing to volunteer at church when needed. He helped the “guests” with anything they needed. He was a listening ear and always offering support to those in need. 

One Saturday, a church group I belonged to met at the church to make care packages for all of our “guests” for Easter. These care packages were filled with every necessity you can imagine. Not surprising, standing next to me working away was Tom. As usual Tom was not only volunteering his time to help but he was also very intuitive to my needs. I was fighting cancer at that time. The group brought in pizza for lunch so Tom and I took a break and sat together for lunch. Tom was very inquisitive about my cancer and exuded such a caring attribute that he melted my heart. Words can not describe my surprise when Tom began to share his story.  

Tom was not a volunteer at all, rather he was a “guest” of the shelter. In fact, he had been homeless living on Turk Street until a few months prior to meeting me. Turk Street is a very bad area in San Francisco. The sisters had helped Tom rent a room at a hostel. He was so grateful for everything they had done for him. They bought him dishes, pots and pans. Everything he needed for his room. He couldn’t have been more grateful. You see, Tom had been diagnosed with cirrhosis of his liver. He had been given about a year if that to live. He was very sick, yet he never showed it. Instead, he spent his days giving back. Tom shared that he had qualified for a liver transplant. After much thought, he opted to decline. I was shocked and asked him why he would do such a thing. After all, a liver transplant could save his life. I will never forget Tom’s reply. He looked at me with a big smile on his face and said “Velma, I’ve lived my life. I’ve had a full life. I haven’t always made the best choices and life hasn’t always treated me kind, but I’ve lived. I can not deprive a young person who might need a transplant of living theirs. What kind of person would that make me?”  I felt the tears roll down my face. There standing before me was the most selfless man I had ever met. I hugged Tom and from that day forward he became my friend who I looked up to. 

I’m sharing this story because I’d like to challenge those reading this today to take the Tom Challenge. Tom gave up a liver transplant to save his life in order to save someone else’s. What selfless act are you willing to do?  I’m not asking you to give up a liver, kidney or anything drastic but how about giving up an hour of your time to serve those in need, send an encouraging note to someone or just take the time to listen. There are so many things we can do to make a difference. The question is, how selfless are you? Just for today I’d like to encourage you take the Tom Challenge and make a difference. The reward you will receive will be far greater than the deed. 

Love Your Kids Unconditionally 7-22-16

I posted this on my Facebook two years ago. I thought it was worth blogging about. These girls were so wonderful and so full of happiness and gratitude. Their circumstances were bleak. They were shunned by their own families yet they exuded such a positive spirit. My heart went out to them. All they had was each other. I should mention they were only teenagers.  I couldn’t imagine turning my back on my children. They touched my life in so many ways that day. 

I’m really weak today so I ran downstairs to Safeway to buy some drinks and  food to build up my immune system. While standing in line two young girls came up and stood in line behind me. They had a huge bag of bagels and donuts. They were clearly gay. I tried to make room on the counter for them to put their bag down. For some reason, I don’t remember why but I apologized saying. “I’m sorry. I’m just really weak today”. What happened next cracked me up and certainly gave me a new perspective. One of the girls replied. “Omg tell me about it! We are homeless living in a shelter and all we’ve had to eat is a bowl of cereal! But they gave us some money at the shelter so we are loading up on bread!” These girls were young. I looked at them and asked “why are you homeless?” One of the girls, Alice, an African American girl,  shared she was from Sacramento and her parents kicked her out when they found out she was “queer”. Her words not mine. My heart went out to her. Kimberly, a stunning Mexican boy turned girl, shared she became homeless when her parents found out she was a transgender. The thing about these two girls was they were so positive and so happy. And despite their circumstances they were more worried about me begging to share their bag of goodies with me to get my energy back. They were funny, happy and even more so filled w so much gratitude for all the blessings they do have. I had five dollars in my wallet and I handed it to these girls. They were so over joyed and grateful. Kimberly, the transgender said “omg we are so blessed!!!!! Yesterday we found a bag someone accidentally left on a cart and it was filled w cookies. Today we got some money to buy bagels and donuts and now you hand us five dollars!” We had a nice visit. I don’t always understand why people are gay, transgender, etc but what I do know is it’s not for me to judge. We are all the same. I also know that these two girls were a blessing today. Despite all their adversities and challenges. They were happy, grateful and willing to help others. Now in my book that says a lot. I may be facing my own challenge but there is always something to be grateful for! Today I’m grateful for meeting Kimberly and Alice!

One of the things that has stood out in my mind about these two girls was they shared how hard they had fought not to be this way. That’s so sad. Unfortunately they come from a culture that doesn’t accept them. What has bothered me the most and has forced me to pray for them is their positive outlook on life. Their gratefulness, their kindness and their sense of humor. Something they obviously learned from their parents. As parents I believe we should love our children unconditionally. Right or indifferent they are a blessing from god. Kelly and Alice are no different. It really is sad that their parents can’t bring themselves to accept them for who they are. I love my children. I will love them always and forever. Unconditionally no matter what. Carole, a dear friend,  posted this quote. I thought I’d share as a reminder to all parents, especially those w children who are “different” should regard their children as a blessing and love them unconditionally no matter what!

St Jude 12-25-15

Today I received an awesome surprise. It’s no secret I’m Catholic and am a strong believer in the intercession of the Saints. St Jude is my go to Saint always. The Saint for impossible/hopeless  cases. 

Last year I met a homeless man named James. We became friends. I wrote about James on one of my blogs. I met James last year around thanksgiving time in front of the Safeway downstairs where I was living in San Francisco. James was fighting bone cancer. My heart went out to him. He was so nice and in so much pain. One day I went downstairs. James was at his usual spot. He was very sick that day.  He was recovering from one of his chemo treatments. He broke my heart. I sat down w James that day and together we prayed. I was wearing my beautiful, silver and gold St Jude necklace that meant so much to me. He was so hopeless that day and in so much pain, I took off my necklace and gave it to him. He needed hope more than I did.  I told James that my prayer was that St Jude would intercede for him praying  he would be healed and I prayed the lord would bless him w abundance and w a place to call home. He was so touched. He began to cry and asked me to put the necklace on him so I did. I cried so much that day when I got home. James’ pain and suffering broke my heart. 

I ran in to James on many occasions after that and every time I did he would hug me and tell me he wore his necklace every day. He would tell me he’d never forget me. It was our connection. 
I think of James often hoping and praying he’s well. I also pray I’m able to see him again some day and he will have been blessed with the miracle I’ve prayed so much to happen for him. I thought of James the other day and I even thought of my necklace. I wondered how he was and found myself praying for him. 

Today I opened my gift from my brother and Mari. Inside a beautiful,  black,  velvet satchel was a beautiful bracelet w a cross on top with an inscription all in Latin but even more special was a St Jude necklace. I haven’t wore one since that day I gave mine to James. I haven’t been able to bring myself to replace it. I was so touched by this very special and unexpected gift. It came at a time when I needed hope and guidance the most. I have no idea what prompted Mari and my brother to surprise me with this very special gift but my prayer is that good days are ahead. I also pray it’s St Jude’s way of sending me a sign that not only are things going to be ok with me but all will be ok with my dear friend James. He’s praying for us!!

Wherever my friend James is today, I’m sending him a message.  “I think of you often and I hope you’re ok. Merry Christmas my friend…..until we meet again”.


Another Day In Paradise 3-4-15

I wrote this blog two years ago. Today I’m 15 years sober. I’m still climbing out of the pit but my passion for helping those in need or even being a voice of hope and inspiration hasn’t changed. A friend send me a text this morning saying “another Day In Paradise”. It sparked this memory and caused me to refer to this blog as a reminder of just how blessed I am. Despite the challenges in my life, I am living another day in paradise. 

Today is my sobriety anniversary. I have been sober for 13 years. It’s hard to believe that 13 years have passed since I woke up from a three day blackout in the back of a police car. I was on my way to jail for throwing a cell phone at my boyfriend. I had spent the weekend consuming an unimaginable amount of alcohol. In fact, my last drunk consisted of three fifths, a bottle of wine, a half gallon of whiskey along with many cocktails at the bar. I washed it all down with cocaine. It was Sunday, March 4th, 2002 when I entered reality. I had no idea what I was doing in a police car, I had cut my arms, legs and and face with a knife and all of my eyelashes from my right eye were gone. I suspect I burned them with a lighter. Who knows. The journey has been long but through the grace of God, I am able to celebrate my thirteenth year of sobriety. 

Between the years 2000 & 2001, my ex-husband and I went through a nasty divorce. It’s amazing how two people who fell in love and raised a family together could become so bitter toward one another. Divorce in any relationship certainly brings out the “ugly” in each of us. My divorce was no different. I find the humor in it all by referring our divorce as “the War of the Dunkins”. If you’ve ever seen the movie “the War of the Roses” that was my ex husband and I. We fought over everything, however unlike the movie we didn’t have the chance to swing from the chandeliers.  The divorce was so stressful and made me feel like such a failure that I found myself drinking every day for over a year. Of course, being the class act I thought I was, I rarely drank before 5:00 pm. I often refer to myself as the “Joan Crawford” classy drunk who never missed a cocktail hour. Looking back, I find myself so embarrassed. 

We all have stories, my story however belongs on TLC debuting as a mini series. The past few years have been a difficult journey but somehow I’ve managed to get through it without the use of alcohol. I have God to thank for that. 

I spent the morning volunteering at my church today feeding the homeless. Rather than celebrate my recovery, I find it more rewarding to give back. My story at times may seem overwhelming and more often than not, I feel sorry for myself but some how volunteering my time feeding the homeless brings so much happiness that even for just a few hours I’m able to focus on someone else’s story. I’m quickly reminded of how lucky and blessed I really am.

I began volunteering last week and since then, my life has taken on a new perspective. I’m happy again and every day I look forward to going back to my new “job” that pays me in rewards and blessings rather than with a big paycheck. I’ve met some wonderful people, I’ve cried many tears, I’ve swept floors, wiped spilled milk from tables, served oatmeal, assisted the sisters in handing out clothes and I’ve hugged people who live on the streets and haven’t bathed in several days and despite their adversities and challenges, they are filled with a sense of gratitude for what they do have that it’s hard for their gratitude to not be contagious.  

I have travelled quite a journey these past 13 years, I’ve been up and I’ve been down but somehow God has seen me through it all. Thirteen years ago I was rock bottom, ironically thirteen years later I’m rock bottom again. The good news is with gods help I was able to climb out of the pit of addiction and all the demise that came along with it, I suspect he will help me climb my way out of this pit too and who knows, in a year from now I’ll be able to look back and say “look how far I’ve come” and once again be able to say God carried me through this challenge too. A good friend once told me “Velma, you’re rock bottom. There’s nowhere to go from here but up”. I may be rock bottom but I’m moving on up!!!

In the meantime I’ll keep moving forward and take this time to ask anyone reading my blog to give back to your community. Whether it’s volunteering your time to help those less fortunate or even donating clothes or money to your favorite charity, please do so. It’s such a rewarding experience. My song for today is “another day in paradise” by Phil Collins. I chose it because sometimes when we feel like our lives are in disarray and we feel sorry for ourselves, remember there’s always someone else less fortunate and our lives really are another day in paradise.

The Book of James 2-10-14

On December 28th I flew home to San Francisco after spending 11 days home in Quincy, Washington with my family. The following day I began radiation treatment. The following week, I found myself at the State Disability office. There had been a mistake on my paperwork that needed to be resolved. Ahead of me was a young man. He was asking the woman at the front desk many questions. I could tell he was confused and overwhelmed. For some reason I reached out to him. I offered to help him with his paperwork. The young man shared he had just returned from a 28 day stay at a rehab facility for drug addiction. His name was Jim. Jim shared he was a flight attendant as well as a nurse. He had been battling addiction to prescription drugs. He was very emotional, scared and overwhelmed. My heart went out to him since I am no stranger to addiction. I have been in recovery from alcohol addiction since 2002. I am now 12 years sober. I remembered how I felt when I was released from the rehab facility so many years ago. I not only shared my story, but I did my best to offer words of encouragement. Jim felt hopeless and I felt the need to encourage him not to give up. He was so grateful. Since that day, I text Jim words of encouragement once or twice a week and he does the same for me.

A couple of weeks ago I went downstairs. I had a few things I needed to buy at Safeway. As I approached Safeway I couldn’t help but notice a homeless man sitting with his dog. He looked sad and I sensed he felt hopeless. He had a sign that read “anything helps. God bless you”. I felt this pain in the pit of my stomach. The look on this mans face touched my heart so I walked up to him and said “I’m walking in to Safeway, is there anything I can get you?” He looked at me and much to my surprise he answered “I’d love a blueberry yogurt.” I couldn’t believe it. He could’ve asked for anything but instead all he asked for was a blueberry yogurt. As I walked in to the store I could feel a lump in my throat, not to mention, a tugging at my heart strings. My heart kept telling me not only to buy this man yogurt but I needed to give him money. I bought him 2 Greek blueberry yogurts and for some reason I asked for $20 cash back after I paid for my groceries. In addition to that, I asked the checker to give me the change as follows: one -$10, one – $5 and five – $1’s. I have no idea why but when I left the store I walked towards this homeless man. I handed him his yogurt and as I handed him the money I told him I didn’t know why but I felt the need to help him. He looked at me and reached out to me. He hugged me and said “God bless you”. I asked him what his name was. He answered “James”. James shared he had been homeless for the past 3 years after a streak of bad luck professionally but the good news was he had just qualified for housing. Unfortunately, the circumstances it took for him to be moved in to a home were less than stellar. He had been diagnosed with two types of cancer. My heart sank when he told me this and for some reason I began to cry. I told James I had never been inclined to give a homeless person more than a couple of dollars but something inside of me kept saying “you have to help this person”. I stood there crying and James reached out again and gave me a hug. He told me I was a good person and he knew God was going to bless me. I walked home that night praying for James asking God to bless him in a miraculous way. I haven’t seen James since that night but I find myself praying for him everyday. James touched my life that night in more ways I could have ever touched his. He reminded me not only to be grateful but to be compassionate toward others.

This morning I walked to the bank to withdraw the money from state disability that had been deposited in to an account the state had set up for me to receive my benefits. I withdrew the money to deposit in to my personal account so I can pay my bills. I’ve become a regular at Bank of America since becoming disabled with breast cancer nearly a year ago. The tellers have all been so wonderful and supportive as I’ve fought this nasty disease. One of the tellers even gave me a pin in the shape of a pink bow a few months ago. As I waited for the teller to withdraw my money, an employee was assisting a gentlemen. He was frustrated and the young female employee was doing her best to assist him. She walked away for a minute to do something and when she left the gentlemen looked at me and in frustration said he couldn’t take it anymore. I looked at him and said “things could be worse”. His reply was “I don’t think so. I just want to give up!” Earlier this morning I had seen the following quote on Twitter.

I liked it so much I saved it. I read it to this gentlemen and encouraged him not to give up. He told me he had given up on hope, God and people. He didn’t believe in anything anymore. He was now living in a shelter and didn’t know what to do. I said “don’t give up! Things will get better!” He looked at me with a defeated and discouraged look on his face and replied “I don’t think so”. I knew exactly how he felt. After all I’ve found myself rock bottom for the past two years. At that moment, the female employee had returned and was trying to assist him. I turned around to finish my transaction. When I was finished the gentleman was gone. The employees thanked me for my help. The female employee shared the man had left. I ran out the door and saw this man crossing the street. I chased him and when I caught up to him I handed him a $20 bill. He looked at me and said “no you don’t have to do that!” I replied “yes I do!” I put the bill in his pocket and said “I hope you will start believing again!” He was so humbled saying “thank you”. I reached out my hand to shake his while asking him for his name. I couldn’t believe it. His name was Jim. I told Jim to start believing and to remember there are good people in this world. He said “yes there are and you’re one of them”.

As I walked home I remembered a homily my priest had told us many years ago. He told the story of a homeless man who was sitting outside of a bank. Everyone who walked in and out of the bank ignored him and treated him like he was garbage. Only one person stopped to help him. As it turned out the homeless man was actually Jesus. The moral of my priests story was always help others in need. You never know when it might be Jesus. I never forgot that homily and have used that story as an inspiration to help others. Unfortunately, the past few years have been so challenging that I found myself forgetting to help others while busy thinking only of myself. Feeling sorry for myself and missing out on not only my blessings but the opportunity to bless others. The more I reflected on the events at the bank and Father Mario’s homily, I remembered Jim at the disability office, James the homeless guy in front of Safeway and Jim the hopeless, non believer at the bank, I realized in all three instances I had a tugging at my heart to help these people. All three men were down on their luck and all three men had something else in common, their name. While two of them referred to themselves as Jim they were all James. I wondered what this all meant. I opened up my bible to the book of James and the first thing I read was “James, a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ”. I went on to read the entire book of James but the chapter that really stood out to me was James 2 verses 1-7 & 14-16. I am attaching a link on this blog today. I hope you will take the time to click on the link and read chapter two. If you’re a believer you will understand why I find myself so touched as I write this. In my opinion, I’m not a saint, I’m just a girl who did the right thing and I feel good about it. You see, I didn’t change these men’s life in anyway, they actually changed mine. They reminded me that any time we have the opportunity to be compassionate towards others, we need to act on it because while we may be a blessing to the person in need, the real blessing comes to ourselves when we take the time to think of others and remember, you never know if the person you walk away from or choose to ignore is not just a homeless guy, rather he’s Jesus. And I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to miss out by walking away from the most high God just because he was down on his luck or homeless and receiving the greatest blessing of all.