Tag: economic struggles

Thanksgiving | Real People, Real Struggles

Provo Food and Care Coalition

“Do you think they’ll let us in?” I asked my husband.

“Of course.  It’s not like we have to show a homeless bag to prove our status.” he snickered.

We got in the soup kitchen line and received heaping masses of salad, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, ambrosia, turkey, ham, and rolls.  And man, was it all good.

We hoped to find connection here.  From past experience, we’ve learned that sometimes serving without connection isn’t very fulfilling.  So we scanned the room to find some empty seats to occupy, and break bread with the poor and transient.  What would it be like to have their experience with them, instead of lord over them, serving?

Stephen wouldn’t talk to us at first.  Just a nod here and there.  Maybe he was embarrassed.  Maybe he couldn’t hear.  Maybe he couldn’t talk.  Maybe he wanted his space to eat quietly.

It wasn’t until Keri, who smiled at us and started up a conversation, did Stephen come alive and join in.  Keri and Stephen have shared several meals together over the last year at the Food and Care Coalition.  They didn’t know each other’s names, but they knew each other’s faces.

Keri was packing up her extra food she wasn’t able to finish, and a little bit more, to take home.  “Do you have a place to go?” I asked.  “Yes.  Because we’ve been able to eat for free here the past year, I’ve been able to make our rent payment.  They serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner everyday here – no questions asked.”

She was radiant.  She was friendly.  She was grateful.  She had recently come out of chemo.  Her son, Sam, was with her.  A teenager.  By his shifting weight and rolling eyes, I could tell he was embarrassed by her telling us her story.  I can only imagine what the last year of his life must have been like.  Likely no dad around, a very sick mother facing death, absent from his life as she fought for hers, maybe not always knowing where his next meal would come from.  By her friendly and gracious spirit, Keri defied my preconceived notions of the type of person that would be in a soup kitchen for Thanksgiving.

“Can I get you anything else?” one of the volunteers asked us after our plates were empty. I forget his name, but I can still remember his face.  40’s.  Handsome.  Clean and presentable.  You could say your typical middle-income guy.  He probably owns a house in the burbs, two cars, and a family.  But he admitted that he’d been laid off several months ago, from a University job he assumed he have forever.  As he looked around, it was as if his face was revealing his fear that perhaps next year, he and his family would be here, not as volunteers, but as a family needing a warm meal.

Provo Food and Care Coalition

Marjorie was sitting clear in the front all by herself at an otherwise empty table, enjoying the entertainment on the stage (volunteer singers).  She wore a read sweater and had a red bow in her silver hair.  Age had hunched her back over.

I sheepishly pulled into the seat next to her and simply said, “hi.”  “Hi” she quietly but happily replied.  “I saw you sitting here all by yourself and thought that I’d like to get to know you.”  As her kind brown eyes flooded with tears, and then mine in like reaction, she said with a glowing smile, “Well aren’t you a sweetheart!”  Her cheeks were almost as red as the bow in her hair.  She was beautiful, and I told her so.

She was visiting from Kansas her daughter who was in the food line serving.  She wasn’t homeless, or even poor.  She was just old – which appeared to be as lonely and crippling.  She was a different kind of outcast.

Marjorie and I connected, soul to soul.  When time and space no longer separate us, I’m sure we’ll be friends.  I may have made her day by talking with her, but she made my day by asking if I was a student at the local collage.  ; )  (I had to explain that I’m much older than I look!)

I so wish I had captured Marjorie’s portrait.  But it didn’t feel right to ask.

The guy in the Lynyrd Skynyrd hat was hard-looking.  Like, Stephen, he didn’t seem to want to talk at first.  But after Daisy, the seeing-eye puppy in training, came over to visit our table, Todd opened up like a little kid with a big grin on his face.  Who doesn’t love puppies!  This Thanksgiving was not the first time Todd had been here.  Though he never said how long he’s been coming, I got this impression it had been quite awhile.  And when he told me he had no place to go to, I likewise got the feeling he had been transient for awhile, when he said, “they make it harder and harder to even sleep on the streets anymore.”

Daisy the Seeing Eye Puppy in Training

Unlike Todd, it was D’s first time.  While he was eating his feast, it was Keri who told him about all the facility offered.  In addition to meals, he could shower, get internet service, and in the summers, tend the garden and eat of its fruits.  D was thrilled… how had he never heard of this place before, he wondered.  D has lived out of his car off and on for years so he can pay child support with whatever money he does make.

While D and I were talking, a gray haired man came up to our table to sit down.  His eyes didn’t look right, he walked with a severe limp, and he was signing to us.  Not knowing sign language, I stupidly looked at him and said, “I don’t understand.”  He persisted anyways, as if he didn’t really care that I couldn’t understand.  He seemed just happy to be ‘talking’.  But suddenly, he put his hand up, as if to say, “stop”.  Then he bowed his head in prayer over his food, and dramatically began signing his prayer.  It was so very beautiful.  I wanted to take a picture so badly, and I wrestled with myself, It’s too sacred, it would be rude.  But it’s so very beautiful.  So I took the picture, for better or for worse.

sign language prayer

My take away from this day was prominent: “But by the Grace of God, there go I.”  And there go you, and your family.  Not that these people don’t enjoy God’s grace.  They surely do.  They are beautiful and warm and friendly people.  None complained – it was amazing.  Keri especially touched my heart ~ after all she had been through, she was so gracious and loving, forgetting about herself and extending herself to others.  She was a true inspiration. She understands the real value of life… people.  In a world of gross consumption and rat racing, I found a peace in many of these people that is not often found.

This experience made Thanksgiving fulfilling, in a way that doesn’t involve stressing over what food to make, getting it made in time, serving everything warm, a mess of dishes afterwards – the result of hours and hours of preparation, only to be over in 30 minutes.  No, that all came on Sunday!  With the kids and grand kids.  And that was worth every second : ).

Kemp 2012 Thanksgiving


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Let My Tragic Lesson Be Your Reminder

Sacred | Art by Angela DiGiovanni

Several months ago when a client kept insisting to Mark and I that she sent a check, we chalked it up to the old cliche, a sort of stall tactic. But when she called and said that it had been cashed, we became concerned and had the situation investigated. It turned out someone had stolen our mail and forged our name to deposit the check into his own account.

Because the bigger issue was federal mail fraud, the police decided to prosecute the man who did this. We knew this man, and we were astounded that he would do this. He was nice to us. He was friendly toward us. He had recently suggested we barbecue together. He was our neighbor.

It turns out that he had additional court related situations other than ours, as well.
This is what dual nature looks like. Where your friendly neighbor can become so desperate he is willing to commit mail fraud, forge your signature, and steal from you. This is what desperation can do to a man.

Because he was an immediate neighbor, we had to see this man frequently. We were told we weren’t allowed to talk to him or approach him in any way. It was hard. It was awkward. My heart went out to him. I wasn’t mad at him. I know what desperate looks like. I know what utter despair feels like.

While circumstances were slightly different, as we did not intentionally steal money to use it for our own gain, we have faced our own accusers when after failed investments in the market crash, friends and family lost money… a lot of money, unrecoverable amounts of money, people’s nest eggs, people’s equity. I live with despair over it every single day, even years later now. We live with a bad reputation and assumptions and judgments that may or may not be true about us from people who were very dear friends at one time. From others, we also live with indescribable mercy, that humbles to the core. It’s one of the most brutal and shameful experiences of my life and has left irreparable damage to my soul.

So I didn’t want to approach him to yell at him, or question him. I simply wanted to see how he was doing. I wanted to tell him that we forgave him. I wanted to help make his burden lighter. This all might sound corny, but when you’ve been to the bottom of despair like we have been, the last thing you want is for anyone else to go through it. It is one of God’s ways of teaching us compassion and mercy, I think; our deepest aches in life become our greatest opportunities of service to others.

We had stopped seeing him around, and I started having premonitions of him being dead in his house, that he had killed himself. It was so unlikely to not see him for so many days, so that is where my mind went. It went there because I have felt that level of despair, where you just want to go home from where you came because you can’t take the shame anymore. Life can be so hard, cruel, and complicated, and so I worried for him.

I called the detective in charge and begged him to come to his house to see if he was
alright – that his car had been parked for three days in front of his house, but that we
hadn’t see him come or go. I told him my fear, that perhaps he took his life. It was then the detective told me that his car has been parked and we haven’t seen him come or go because they had booked him in jail. My heart rended for him. For his family. What had we started? What could we have done differently to have remedied this course in a more civil and dignified way? It was too late, and out of our hands as it was the police who were prosecuting him, not us.

He got out on bail and was back home days later. We were still under order not to speak with him. Eventually he got evicted and so our lives weren’t crossing paths anymore, yet we kept ‘running into him’ in different towns on different errands. I asked God why we kept running into him. What were/was we/he supposed to learn? Was I supposed to say anything? What should I say? Tell him you forgive him, let him know how you feel, was the answer I received. But I didn’t do it. I had four opportunities. But all I could think of was the order we were given to not speak to him or approach him in any way. He could be dangerous.

Yesterday was his sentencing.

He never showed up to court.

He was found dead.

As you can imagine, my heart is heavy. I share this story because I hope it has an impact. If we can be merciful to someone, let’s do it. If we can forgive someone, let’s do it. If we can tell someone we forgive them, let’s do it. If we can lighten someone’s burden, let’s do it. Life is hard, precious, and complicated. Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt when we can. We don’t know the level of fragility of a human life and soul. Our ‘rightness’ will never be more important than another’s human condition.

Or a child’s dead father.

Or a wife’s dead husband.

Or a parent’s dead son.

May his soul find peace, and may God have mercy on him.

Please pray his family may find peace and comfort.


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What I’ve Learned in Four Years of Marriage

Mark and Angela Wedding Day

Our Bitter-sweet Wedding Day

We’re much too old to be celebrating only four years of marriage.  But it’s the second go-around for both of us.  I never would have thought in a million years that I would be in the second marriage club.  But alas… here we are. It can be a stigma to live with – a certain vibe that subtly exists in the universe, that a second marriage just isn’t taken as seriously.  And with it comes all kinds of assumptions and predictions about our fate.  Typically, which end up being true.

Statistics (depending on which ones you read) say that 67% of second marriages fail, and even higher when children/step-children are involved.  The older the children are, the more likely the second marriage will end, and usually within the first three-to-five years.  I’m not gonna lie, it’s a tough predicament – being a step-parent. Everything I’ve ever read said I needed to act as if I was the Fun Aunt, and nothing more.  Yet we must cohabitate and try to live functionally together.

I often felt that being a step-parent (of children still living in the house) required all of the responsibilities of a parent, without many of the rewards.  I’m sorry if it sounds brutal, but I’m just being honest.  My step kids know that I love them and I know that on some levels they love me.  But, because they were older when their dad and I got married, we never had any of the natural bonding that happens between parents and children.  It’s just the reality of the situation, and a stress for both step-parent and step-child.

Mark and I got engaged in a precarious time – when the real estate markets were crashing all around us.  Since that was our business, it was a big deal for us.  Between trying to financially survive in such a turn of events, being a new blended family, and not having the support of our families for our union, we’ve had our share of really hard times.  I’ve been reflecting today on how and why we’ve made it this far.

First off, we are truly united in our understanding of this life and our goals for living, now and in the future.  We are united spiritually, with Christ and His example as the focal point of our example to follow (not that we haven’t made many mistakes), we bond intellectually, we share a love of entrepreneurship, business, and learning, we laugh together, we have friendly competition.  We’re best friends.

Not that this works for everyone, but we are attached at the hip.  We sleep together, eat together, work together, go everywhere together – we laugh and say that about the only time we aren’t together is when one of us is using the restroom, but sometimes not even then (ew, tmi?).

I love his company and our comradery.  We’ve survived so many things together in such a short time – things that would often tear couples apart.  But somehow we have this fierce loyalty to each other.  (Maybe because all the odds were against us, and we only had support in each other.)  We trust each other.  We believe that we both want the same thing, even if we believe in going about it in different ways.  When that happens, it requires trust and patience, and somehow we have it for each other.

He’s a good man.  So when I don’t agree with him, I just remember that, and then there is nothing left to try to control.  When I’m being overly particular (often), he lets me be.  He sits back, laughs, and watches me go.  And we don’t take each others bad moods personally – we give each other the space to be, to feel, to go through whatever it is we need to, without offense.

I think we must let our spouses be – and stop trying to control their every move, desire, and feeling.  We would never be so controlling with anyone else in our lives, we would never have so many expectations with anyone else. Why cage the love of our lives when all they need is a safe place to land?  If they can’t find that place with us, they may find it with someone else, or in something.  Our fears do nothing to invite solace for our mates – they only repel and push and prod.  And when people are pushed, they push back, or take flight.

Let us control our fears, bite our tongues, trust that we want the same things, be okay with getting there a different way than our way, provide compassion and acceptance, and a safe place in our midst.  We’ll feel better about ourselves, and we’ll have better marriages.

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Gustov Klimt: The Tree of Life

This morning I shed some major tears over my battle with infertility.  I cried because tomorrow I will be a 35-year-old, childless woman.  I cried because I also realized, for the first time, that I’m scared to have a baby.  I have so many fears surrounding having a child, that I’ve kept hidden from myself.  But it’s all surfacing now.  And I’m wondering how much of my own fears have blocked my body from doing what is most natural.

Because I’ve always wanted children so badly, I’ve always had a fear of not being able to have children.  I have fears about not actually being the mother I intend to be.  I have fears about being an old mom, and especially about Mark being an old father (he’s 16 years older than me).  I have fears about giving birth to an unwell child.  I have fears about not being able to provide for my child the way I want to.  And the truth is, since I’ve been married, life circumstances have not been all that favorable to bring a child into.  Do I have a subconscious block from getting pregnant and keeping a growing fetus in my womb?

If this is true, then I want to throw a tantrum right now.  Well, the truth is, I already threw a tantrum this morning.  Many, many, many mothers have children intentionally, and unintentionally, wanting the child they carry, and not wanting the child they carry.  So why should I be any different?  Why would my thoughts contribute one way or the other, when so many other mother’s thoughts were irrelevant?  Yet somehow still, I am open that my fears are a contributing factor in my struggle.  Am I that powerful?

I don’t want to throw tantrums.  I don’t want to think life unfair.  I want to surrender to life and it’s curve balls.  Or at least, what I perceive to be curve balls, only because I had other plans that life did not have for me.  I know I sound like a I’m open to being tossed around by circumstances.  Maybe I am.  Maybe I finally am.  Maybe I’ve held on too tightly to the idea that I am the one and only designer of my life.  Boho Girl recommended this book some time ago, and this morning I read this passage from “Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life“, and it kind of shifted something inside me:

“[Life] is the last word.  Life interrupts us when we are at our most self-assured.  Life diverts us when we are hell-bent on going elsewhere.  Life arrives in a precise and yet unplanned sequence to deliver exactly what we need in order to realize our greatest potential (I know this!).  The delivery is not often what we would choose, and almost never how we intend to satisfy ourselves, because our potential is well beyond our limited, ego-bound choices and self-serving intentions.”

Since I was an adolescent, I started believing that I was the Captain of my Ship, Master of my Destiny.  Now, I am only sure that I am Captain of my response to life, Master of my emotions and clarity.  I think this is good.  I think this is right.  Life does have a way of throwing curve balls.  Life corrects our course when we go off track of what we intended to accomplish before we were born.  It supports us, whether we recognize that support or not.

Here is another passage from “Hand Wash Cold” that speaks deeply to me now:

“You might think, for instance, that the life you have is not at all the life you had in mind and so it doesn’t constitute your real life at all.  Your real life is the life you pine for, the life you’re planning or the life you’ve already lost, the life fulfilled by the person, place, [etc], of your dreams.  This is the life we are most devoted to: the life we don’t have.”

The life we don’t have… ouch.  It’s true.  I’ve been devoted to the life I don’t have.  The life I pine for every day.  The life with my husband and two kids, self-sustained, living on a rural farm, homeschooling, learning, and crafting my days away.  Instead, I’m a childless woman, living with my husband in my parents home after economic devastation to our business, and in the early, struggling phase of a new business.  That is my life.  I’ve lost the 4000 square foot home, the Cadillac Escalade, the Utopian neighborhood.

My life can’t begin again some other day – the day I have my children and my farm.  My life is here, now.  And so is yours.  We’ve got to accept it and live in it.  We’ve got to find our home in it.

Jill O'Flannery | Cherry Blossoms

Jill O'Flannery | Cherry Blossoms

I surrender.

*Update: This post was syndicated at BlogHer on February 13th, 2011!

I was syndicated on BlogHer.com

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