Gratitude on a cardboard sign

Today’s post is written by one of my current college students, Kaleb Mendoza. I love his expression of gratitude in this essay. 

In everything you do and everything you accomplish, you should give grace for the opportunities you get in life. I am a very religious man, raised from two great parents who taught me the right way to life and to follow God. This one day changed my life for the greater good; it taught me to be thankful and to cherish my life, for some are struggling.

homeless-845709_1280In 2008, on a windy Thanksgiving morning, I was in a car with my family driving to my Grandma’s house. Like always, I had my headset on listing to old school hip-hop, preferably Notorious B.I.G. We finally came to a stop light after about 20 minutes, and I didn’t notice at first but saw a homeless man sitting there with a cardboard sign in his hand. As always, I really didn’t pay any attention to him. The light was taking forever to turn green. Then I noticed the man stand up from where he was at. As he stood up with his dirty blue pants, holey brown socks, red champion sweater, and a black beanie, I noticed him showing everyone his sign. While sitting in the car, I looked really carefully at the sign. I even squinted my eyes a little to get a good view. In light green sharpie, the sign said, “Be thankful, for some will do anything to be where you’re at.” Even though it was just some writing on a cardboard sign, that quote hit me real hard.

During the rest of the ride to my Grandma’s house, I sat there thinking about it. I started to wonder how that man had gotten to where he is at right now, or how much stuff he has been through. I then looked around in my car to see my sister asleep, then looked to my parents in the two front seats while they were talking. I couldn’t tell what they were talking about, because I was still jamming out to my music. Then I realized how blessed I was to have this wonderful family, blessed to be where I am at right now in my life. I could be in that homeless man’s position, watching families drive by on a Thanksgiving morning, lonely.

This one thing was running through my head the whole day, going from one family member’s house to another. I kept thinking about how blessed I was to have my whole family safe, in one place, healthy as can be. At the end of the day, I spoke to my mom about it. She told me, “There are some things that can’t be replaced, and you can’t take these things for granted. Be grateful, son, and give praise to the one who makes it all happen.”

Ever since that day, I have been so grateful for the things in my life that cannot be replaced. I see things differently now; I cherish life a lot more than I used to. I give praise to God, for he makes everything possible in my life.

This life-changing experience was one I will always remember. The outcome of this was very positive, and it affected me in a very strong way. It is positive for many reasons. It changed the way I viewed life, to not take things for granted. To love others, even though they don’t love you. For the rest of my life, I will tell this experience to my friends, family, and my kids so that they can see what I see in life.




Turning points

Dear One,

When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.

Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.

I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.

One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.

As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.

“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”

That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.

The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted  specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.

Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.

When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.

I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.


Between who you are and who you could be

Thank you, Henry Petty, for stepping in as today’s guest writer. You are a lifesaver!

One of my favorite songs by Switchfoot is entitled, “Dare You To Move.” My favorite line in the song is:

The tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be

Since Lent started, I’ve done a complete 180° on how I handle being approached by the homeless and giving to the needy.  There is a lot of tension when you’re being approached by a homeless person or drifter on your way to lunch or just trying to get by.  I previously had the mindset that they need to seek shelter or that they’re using donations for drugs and alcohol. My normal response is either to ignore them, or tell them, “I don’t have any cash on me.”  This was often met by angry stares or grumbles, and I’d carry on as I was. 

Now, I carry extra $1 bills in my pocket just in case somebody asks for help.  I also carry change in case somebody’s parking meter has run out of time, to help them avoid a ticket. While the drivers are most likely not homeless, I just don’t like how the meter lady looks at me with those glares and don’t want them to get ticketed either, and it’s just something nice to do.

It’s not my place to judge whether homeless people are using the money for drugs & alcohol or if they legitimately need it.  It has been more gratifying (and easier) for me to just give a couple of dollars when it’s asked of me than to ignore them or tell them a fib so they’ll leave me alone.

This new outlook has resulted in some interesting exchanges.  One person told me, “That’s what I love about McDonald’s; two dollars still buys you a good meal.”  Another gentleman asked me for 50 cents, but I gave them a dollar.  He asked me, “Why’d you give me a dollar if I asked for fifty cents?”  I replied, “Because I don’t have change.”  His eyes welled up, and he said, “You’re crazy, man!” 

My heart is fuller of joy than it ever has been, and I don’t miss those dollars or cents at all.  I can still have that surgery if I need it.  Since this change, I’ve become a person I could be and perhaps should be.

For more from Henry, check out his blog!

Brave enough

Special thanks to my friend and former co-worker Jonathan Weigt for serving as today’s guest writer.

So at 5:30 tonight, I was hungry and decided to go to Wendy’s on Broadway for a bite before a late meeting. I had been at school all day at the State Hospital and then worked a full day at HP. I ate, read and studied notes from school, and was closing my books to head to a meeting I was literally going to be a minute late for already when a homeless dude walked up to me and asked if I could give him money for dinner. At first I looked, and I had $2 that I offered him, but he says, “That isn’t enough”… so I said, “Good, I’ll buy you what you want for dinner. Let’s go get in line.”

As we are standing in line, of course I’m assessing this dude as is habit in school. Lethargic, slow cognition, smells of some chemical I’m not exactly familiar with… but good mood and happy to be getting something to eat. I mean… I guess you work with what you got for the day you know? Anyway, I’m asking him about his day, what he’s up to, where he is sleepin’, if he’s got a place to go…et al, and he orders 2 bowls of chili. I ask him if he wants fries, or something to drink, and he says “no…no…” and I tell him he needs to drink something… so I order him a large water. The bill was like $2.89 or something. I mean whatever…right? I actually think to myself I’m helping this guy for $2.89… Hmm… And then the strangest thing happens…a guy behind me in line, whom I hadn’t even noticed, taps me on the shoulder and says, “I got it.” I politely try not to accept his offer, but he waves me off and said, “No…I got it.”

So I’m wondering at this point who it was that I was intended to help…”Tony” the homeless hungry guy or the dude in line… guess it’s probably none of my business, huh universe? But glad I was brave enough to help.

Sometimes, all it takes is being brave enough. ~jw