"God pours life into death and death into life without a drop being spilled." ~Author Unknown
I have said before that my father left me a legacy… he left me. He left us when I was two, and my mother was pregnant with my middle sister. He abandoned us, and all we knew was that he went to Chicago. As I saw it, my blood is worthless and I have no ancestry to trace. But, time will tell a different story. On July 9, we learned that our father had passed away, from a relative who had heard it from a distant relative who was in town trying to locate us, since we had not had contact with our Dad’s family in more than a decade. We had been taken to visit our grandparents every summer for two weeks until I was 13. Though we enjoyed our visits there, we learned little or nothing about our Father.
We had tried to contact our father for a while, without success. Finally, in 1996, after 30 years absence, he wanted to see me and my sister, and what we had turned out like I guess, and asked to meet us. We met him briefly at a park with our kids who were still young then. I took him a Father's Day card, the only one I had ever given anyone, since it was a few weeks before Father's Day.
When we met him, we realized that the man who had abandoned us all those years ago was now aging, and had apparantly spent much time homeless. He gave us an address, but when I sent a letter later, it was returned address unknown. I tried to contact him through relatives, to no success. So, for the past 16 years, every time I saw the homeless men under the bridges, I thought of him. Whenever it was snowing, I imagined him freezing cold. I figured one day his family might let us know when he died, and we would at least have a grave to visit. I wasn't doing the math. He was 71 when he died. Many of his brothers and sisters are now passed on.
When I heard that he had passed, I thought they had probably found him dead under some bridge. But, after contacting the County office, I learned that he had been in a nursing home there in Chicago for the past 6 years of that time. He died in the nursing home alone. No family or anyone to love. I learned his cause of death from the nursing home, and that he had been in two other nursing homes for another year before that, making a total of seven years off the streets. But, he came to the nursing home with not even a photo in his pocket, and they had provided the clothes he wore.
I had his body flown to Georgia, and I made the funeral arrangements. I learned from the funeral director that his body had gone unclaimed so long, that he had been embalmed by the local medical college students. They were about to cremate him as unclaimed, until I called. Part of me aches over the loss of the Father I never had, a lonely, penny-less old man with no family, and the homelessness he suffered. Yet, part of me is at peace from the knowledge that someone had pity on him in his final years, that now I will have a grave to visit, and now I have been given the bittersweet blessing of being able to lay my father to rest.
So many times, people just don't care for those who are down and out, or who have made bad choices. They don't realize that there go I, but for the grace of God. It is most sad to realize that I would have much rather flown him in alive, rather than dead. I wanted a father, dead or alive. I wasn’t given a choice. I had to settle for dead. I loved him to death. Now, I can only speak to his grave. I just received his birth certificate from Nashville. But, I don't have him. God is our Heavenly Father, and His feelings for us are much the same. God's grace and mercy, are there for each of us. His love for each human being cannot be diminished. But, how many of us have allowed Him to love us. I am so thankful that I will have a grave to visit my Father now. I just wish I could have been there for him in his last years. God works in mysterious ways.
Earlier this year, I met Randy Dueck, and helped him develop a website for his homeless ministry in California. He would appreciate any donations for his wish list for the homeless, if you have a mind to have a look. He delivers tents and survival supplies to the homeless under the Antelope Bridge. I drove through Atlanta, here in Georgia a couple weeks ago, and I saw some tents under the bridges on the Atlanta interstates. The homeless have tents under there now, instead of the cardboard I used to see them sleeping under. That's awesome! Maybe the homeless ministry is spreading.
My father’s Funeral was such a bittersweet blessing. We played Amazing Grace, by Chris Tomlin, and Only Grace, by Matthew West. My baby sister’s Pastor spoke and sang. My middle sister’s church provided a grave plot at the church cemetery. Our Father’s surviving brothers and sisters came, and many of our maternal relatives and our family members. We had the service in the chapel, and the headstone (when it is finished) will say: “Our Father.” We chose one with a mountain scene and a deer, to remind us of the Tennessee mountain home of our father in his childhood.
While we were at the funeral, a paternal uncle gave us an envelope. He said our father had been left a share in the inheritance from another brother who had died. He had been unable to locate our father in settling the estate. So, the money would now go to me to split with my sister, since it should pass from our father to us after his death. My share was $200.00. I knew I wanted to use it for something I would remember my father by. So, I decided to buy a piece of my Pastor’s vision. My Pastor, Scott Benefield of Tallapoosa Assembly of God has a vision for living a life of purpose. I decided to spend the 200 dollars purposefully on our church’s Food Pantry, to feed the hungry, in memory of the years my father spent homeless and on the streets. I will always remember that my father did not die alienated and alone for no purpose. His homelessness left me a legacy of love for the homeless, the disenfranchised, the hungry, and the lost. That is an inheritance worth sharing!