Saturday, December 25, 2010

One of the best Christmas gifts ever,,,,

I took my homeless friends Melissa and Shaun to lunch today. As readers of this blog know, Melissa is a homeless woman who has adopted me as her "father-in-Christ." She calls me daily on her cell phone and we get together once a month for lunch.

Melissa has had a tough life. She is around 30 years old, crippled due to neurofibromitosis, and lives on $930 per month SSI. She also has a 11-year-old daughter whom she adores, but she cannot live with because she can't afford to provide her daughter Kristine (not her real name) with suitable housing. Kristine has lived with foster parents, and now with Melissa's parents, who have given Melissa a hard time since she was a baby. Through much of her life, Melissa has experienced rejection from her parents, who sent her to foster care, and even now side with Melissa's abusive husband rather than with their own daughter. This Christmas Melissa's parents would let her have Xmas dinner with them and her daughter only if Melissa agreed to buy the food!

Melissa remains cheerful, nonetheless, and is grateful that she has Shaun as her boyfriend and caregiver. Both of them became Christians around five years ago and have been faithful and supportive of each other ever since. It never ceases to amaze me how they manage to stay together under such trying circumstances.

I couldn't think of better Christians to spend Christmas with, so I invited them to lunch. They were thrilled not only because they have no money with which to buy food, but also because no one has ever taken them out to dinner on Christmas. This was such a special occasion Melissa even wore makeup--something she has never done before!

I picked them up at a donut shop in Torrance near the cheap motel where they live. We drove to Norm's for lunch but it was so crowded we decided to go elsewhere. We were on our way to IHOP when Melissa pointed out a hole-in-the-wall cafe called "Mrs. G's."

"Let's go there," said Melissa. "It's got good food and it's cheap."

"Money isn't a problem," I said. "Let's go to a nice place."

"This is a nice place," Melissa replied. "I've taken my daughter there. Twice."

That made it a 5-star restaurant, as far as Melissa is concerned. Any place she has been with her daughter is golden.

As far as I'm concerned, Mrs. G's had only one thing in its favor. It was very quiet. Virtually no one was there, even though it was Christmas. That's because it's not the kind of place that middle class families would go to for a holiday meal. It had the funky look of a 50s diner. The plastic covers on the chairs were repaired with Scotch tape. But Melissa assured me the food was good. She always orders the same thing: steak and eggs.

During our leisurely meal we had a good time talking about various things: family, religion, politics. Shaun is very articulate and we share most of the same views about political matters.

Melissa doesn't think much of politics. She likes to talk about people, particularly those she has been able to help. And she always has at least one memorable story.

"A friend of mine has mental problems," Melissa explained. "I was helping him and he told me I was from another planet. I said, 'What do you mean? I'm not an alien!' He goes, 'I know you're not an alien, but you're not from this world. You're an angel.'"

Shaun and I both agreed Melissa's friend got it right: she is an angel-in-training, earning her wings every day on the streets.

They gave me a Christmas card and when I got home, I read it and was deeply moved. It proved to be the best gift I've received this Christmas. Here's what it said:

"Dear Anthony, Well, Christmas is here again , and we have the herculean task of trying to put into words what you mean to us. You are a friend, a mentor, a cheerful well-wisher, and a father-in-Christ to two people who desperately need all those things. We love and think of you all the time. You can never know how much you mean to us. Merry Christmas, Melissa and Shaun."

I don't know how to put into words how much Melissa and Shaun mean to me. All I know is that when I am around them, I can feel the presence of Jesus and of angels and other blessed spirits, and I am grateful, beyond what words can tell. And I am sharing this with you so you will know that Jesus wasn't kidding when he said: "Blessed are the poor" and "Tis better to give than to receive..." When you give to the poor in love, what you receive back is priceless.

If you'd like to see a youtube of Melissa and Shaun, taken when I treated them to a Thanksgiving dinner, check out:

This will open your eyes (and hopefully your heart) about the plight of the homeless.

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