How Homelessness Might Happen: Twelve Months In Heaven

Sixty years, twenty-one thousand nine hundred days, decades of employment history and life experience and still it seemed to be the end of the road for any career expectations.  It was a dismal time.  I had worked hard for seven years completing a dream to finish my Bachelor’s degree and then a Master’s degree in an area of study called Sociological Practice.  Technically, it’s an advanced degree in applied social research, but it provided me with the knowledge to address issues needing social change.  I was so proud of this accomplishment.  It never occurred to me that no one would hire me at my age. In American society aging is not respected but dreaded, and the only job available was that of adjunct professor where contracts are issued on an as needed basis. This inconsistency in position and in pay didn’t provide enough money to live on, so I applied to unrelated positions, but both my age and post graduate degree worked against me in a market where jobs were scarce. I was desperate and my family came to the rescue in every way that they could, but money ran out fast.  Since it was the beginning of summer, I considered moving to a camping area until I could get back on track.  This is all my oldest sister had to hear and she insisted I move to Florida to live with her to sort things out.

    It’s important to understand that moving to Florida was a last resort; a decision made out of fear. I hate heat, ocean air and am a Yankee Doodle down to my IU socks.  In leaving home, I had to sell all of my things and worse find homes for my cherished pets to live in a place that never experienced snow, or the beauty of changing leaves, or the abrupt break in weather where you use your heat and air conditioning all in the same day. These things were embedded in my soul and now I was forced to abandon them for an unpredictable future.  It was one of the most heart wrenching times of my life. Mere trust and faith and a big gangrenous pain in my gut goaded me, and like everything I approach in life it was, by process of elimination, the only thing left to do. Every part of me was screaming in defiance, but God nudged me in the direction of His plan.  Poverty and marginalization were my concentrations in graduate school and I wanted to put into practice everything I learned, and as it turned out, so did He. I was about to step into a piece of obscure heaven where miracles happened daily despite my disdain for Florida and an aching heart.

     I struggled through, demoralized by the fact that I had no job, no money and no hope of putting into practice everything I had learned over the last four years.  Creditors were put on hold, and at several points my car loan was in default and there was the threat of repossession. My sister, God bless her, was patient with the situation and let me live with her free from any obligation.  I will never forget her kindness and love during that terrible time.

     Her compassion did not start and stop with me.  She had joined a group that fed homeless people who lived in the wooded areas in North Central Florida. Individuals from the group once a week prepared something hot and served whoever needed sustenance.  Of course, this was right up my alley and it led to connections with all of the charitable groups in the area.  Yet, the misery of deep debt loomed and my trek back to solvency did not happen in Florida.  God continued to steer a ship called “Blind Devotion.”

     I continued to help my sister with her “feeding the homeless” group, which is what everyone called it.  But, with every new connection I was able to form relationships and found ways of offering my services, begrudgingly free of charge, to several other established agencies. I was desperate to find gainful employment and although I applied everywhere, offers were nonexistent.

     Finally, I landed a job at a gambling café.  If you know anything about Florida, you know that gambling is a draw to retired people and a great way for every charlatan to build what seems to be a legitimate business.  This establishment was no different.  After I was told payday was in cash once a week, it was clear this wasn’t a great place to work, but I was frantic about my car payments and insurance and it was a job.  Work there was demeaning.  Employees were mistreated and scammed and felt they had no other options.  After four weeks of this, depressed and having been cheated out of money for some made up infraction, I visited a friend who was the director of an outreach program under Catholic Charities. As I waited for him, I watched his meeting with a bombastic man who gesticulated his every word.  After they finished their discussion, my friend introduced me to his companion. Out of nowhere, this ostentatious person said, “I want to hire you to be my Assistant Director.”  My friend and I looked at each other in amazement. 

     I said, “How did you know I needed a job?”

     He smiled, “I didn’t.  The Holy Spirit just told me to offer you the job.  Now, we can’t pay you a salary, but we will pay your bills every month in exchange for your services.  What do you say?”  I was in shock.  It seemed odd, but everything in Florida was odd and taking him up on the offer allowed me the chance to escape the gambling café.

     Suffice it to say that while working at this agency, I made friends with some wonderful people who were genuine and wanted to make a difference for others less fortunate.  It also gave me the chance to work hand-in-hand with people in our society who have slipped into poverty and homelessness; a circumstance I could understand only too well.  But, this wasn’t meant to be my last stop.

     There was another agency that was looking for an Executive Director.  The same friend who ran the outreach center called me to let me know about the opening.  It had been around eight months and I had graduated from assistant to Executive Director.  My body stiffened when presented with this opportunity, as if in recognition of a destiny prearranged by my Creator.  Yet, I had an obligation to my own agency which was going through some major growing pains. There was an issue that needed immediate attention and we were just starting to make some headway. I felt that it would be wrong to leave, so I shrugged the new job opportunity off. 

     If an opportunity is presented, its validity should be tested and my test is to look for at least three signs.  Three weeks passed since I heard of the opening at the other agency, when I got a phone call from none other than the Executive Director of that agency.  She had heard about my work through other professionals in the area and wanted me to apply for her position.  A chill ran through my body and thoughts of a second sign lodged in my brain. As my insides shook, I told her that I would think about it and call her within a week.  One of my favorite workers and friends, who himself was without a home, begged me not to leave. It would mean another form of abandonment and it just seemed impossible.

     However, the current situation was deteriorating.  My predecessor, though he was living in another state, still had a huge influence over the Board and me. We had a major disagreement about an issue that I believed would have moved the agency toward certain devastation. Everything worsened and in a snap I found myself out of a job.  There was no doubt, this was my third sign.

     For the next twelve months, I existed in heaven.  The new agency was under the umbrella of my own Catholic parish where I only answered to the pastor.  It was in this place I learned that even though our personal desires of home and hearth lie elsewhere, God puts you where he needs you sometimes by force and under His specifications.  My new position had no benefits and a very small salary, but at this point I accepted whatever came my way.  But on the flip side everyday, alongside my employees and volunteers, I witnessed miracles.  Our hope for the betterment of the lives of our clients was of the utmost priority and prayers for them never went unanswered.  The power of God was our reality and it lived in the spirits of all those who stepped foot onto that campus; workers and clients alike.

     The previous background was necessary to lead to a story that exemplifies most days in my new home. Tales are aplenty, but this one stands out most in my mind; one which I believe depicts the incomparable miracles experienced non-stop at this agency and it blessed our hearts for weeks.  We were given a federal emergency solutions grant that was meant to help people sliding into homelessness because they lacked the funds to pay their rent or mortgage.  This usually happened due to an unforeseen hardship such as a car repair or an illness.  The grant funds were getting low and we had another six months before it could be renewed, so I put us on a strict budget where only a certain amount of the grant money could be used per week.

     One week, Mike, one of our most trusted interviewers came to my office and said, “Elaine, I know you have us on a budget and we have used up this week’s allotment, but you have got to make an exception for this case.”  Understand that every day the interviewers were faced with making decisions that had lasting effects on people’s lives, and they took this responsibility seriously. Mike’s new client, I’ll call her Alice to protect her identity, was eighty-five years old and had only her social security.  She had been living with her daughter and son-in-law and that morning they told her she would have to leave by the end of the month because they needed her room to start a business. Up to that point, Alice had been giving them her social security check so she had no savings and she had no other family to help her. As Mike left me the file to look over, I read her history.  I wept and prayed that God help us find a way to help her.

     Keep in mind as I relay these events that personal information was kept confidential and nothing was ever discussed with other clients. The next morning I received a phone call from one of the clients for whom I was getting ready to sign a check.  She explained that she and her husband looked over their finances and realized that they only needed help for two month’s rent.  That gave me some money for Alice, but she needed the equivalent to three month’s rent.  Later that afternoon, another phone call came in from another client who was receiving a check the next day.  He informed me that he earned more than anticipated that month and only needed money for one month’s rent.  That was it.  We had it and I was in shock. Alice could move into her own apartment.  She had no furniture, but she had a place to live.  As you can imagine, there was a celebration in the office that day.

     But the miracle does not end here.  On day three of this wonderful adventure, my assistant director called me to come down to the thrift store.  There he introduced me to a woman who wanted to donate an entire bedroom set to us, but under the condition that we not sell it but give it to someone in need. It took a second for the brilliance of this “condition” to set in. My heart did a double take and my assistant’s eyes welled with tears.  Alice would now have a bed to sleep in and a place to put her clothes.  I reveled in God’s mercy and those of us at the agency had the unparalleled gift of witnessing a contemptible situation righted.  We succeeded in our purpose and there was nothing like it.

     It’s significant overall to point out that although my soul was so happy for Alice, it was still beaten up from homesickness which seemed to never lessen. After that and a few other miracles, I made the decision to head back to my home in Indiana.  I might have stayed, but the distance from my children and home was taking its toll in a physical way on my heart.  Besides, it turned out that I was just a placeholder for the man who would take on heaven after me. His credentials were perfect.  To this day, heaven exists on that campus where God’s people are assisted by very special angels moving about attending to each individual chore.

    I am now happy and home in the Hoosier State and this is the miracle of what I learned.  Our paths are not always to our liking and do not fulfill just our dreams.  If we have real faith, and we desire to do God’s will, our future may not be what we had imagined, but perhaps is meant to serve a grander purpose; His purpose, and that is a mystery meant to remain unsolved in this lifetime.  The joy was for Him, and my sacrifice brief, and I can say that for twelve months of my life I experienced the unqualified wisdom and purity of giving as part of a collective consciousness arranged by God.  The bumps and bruises on my ego because of my depressing financial state were separate from the spiritual successes achieved over that last year.  In heaven, the Creator cares only for the soul’s accomplishments, where money and material gain are of no importance. Yet, I was rewarded after returning to earth with a job in my field of study and a constant flow of income, and a new future under the pen name, E. M. Duesel. Looking back after much reflection, I understand that I was removed from this earth to do His will exclusively and my life now, under my own control, does not compare to twelve months in heaven under His.