A Homeless Man Named Marlon

Last Sunday, August 21, marked the six months since my mother completed her purpose on earth and went to be with Jesus.  Today, August 27, marks six months since her memorial service.

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So, if you don’t mind, I’d like to make this post all about her…

My family has an on-going group text. It’s our central hub for sharing pictures and videos of my adorable nephews, hilarious memes, funny stories, good news, not-so-good news, and our favorite memories of my mom.  One of my favorite texts is when we share something we did for someone else in honor of her. We even hashtag it with #whatmommawarewoulddo .

My mom had the most generous heart of anyone I’ve ever known. You can ask anyone that knew her and they’d confirm that to be true. But, other than her family, there were three things that pulled her heart strings:

  • Animals (She loooooooooved cats)
  • People who serve in the military
  • The homeless

And, she meet someone who embodied all three… His name was Marlon.

Marlon was walking down the opposite side of the street from the direction my mom was driving.  It was obvious he was homeless, but what stood out to her was that he had a pit-bull with him. She made the next available U-turn, but wasn’t able to find him. That night, she told me about him with tears in her eyes. Not that it ever took much for my mom to cry, but it was obvious her heart broke for the man and his dog.

Little to our knowledge, she would go out driving in hopes of finding him again. After much dedication and a couple week’s time, she finally found him and his pit-bull around the same area at the same time of day.  Right there, in the Coliseum Crossing parking lot, my mom made a new friend in Marlon.

Marlon was a tall, black man, early forties, and a disabled military veteran with quite a story… After suffering from war related PTSD, he wasn’t able to hold down a job, thus leaving him and his dog to sleep on the streets. There you have it, folks… A homeless war veteran with a dog. The heart strings trifecta. But, what touched her heart the most was he refused to stay in a shelter because they wouldn’t let him bring his dog. Needless to say, Marlon and his dog stayed in a motel that night and both had food to eat.

Her friendship with Marlon continued for a couple years. She would give him food, pay for shelter during bitter cold nights, his cell phone bill, take him to lunch with her co-workers, and brought him to the community dinner and mid-week services at our church.  She even tried to get him to come to Sunday morning church services, but he didn’t feel like he was presentable enough.

Marlon would insist she didn’t have to do all this, but if you know my mom, when she’s decided to do something, there’s no stopping her. That’s one thing I both loved and less than loved about her. 🙂

But, my mom wanted to do more than just get him off the streets. She wanted him to have a chance to succeed. To make something of himself. She knew he had the drive and desire, but just needed someone to give him a much needed opportunity. So, you know what she did? Research. The woman didn’t even know how to check her Gmail account, but she somehow found a place in Northern Virginia that would take in and assist disabled military veterans helping them with counseling for their PTSD, interview preparation, and job placement.  She was so excited to tell Marlon about it and when she did, he promised her he would apply and go as long as they let him bring his dog. (You know, I’m pretty sure she would’ve volunteered to foster his dog, but that would mean she would have to tell my dad that she was aiding a homeless man.)

My mom didn’t hear from Marlon for many months after that. His cell phone was out of service and he didn’t frequent his usual places. She hoped that meant he applied and was accepted into the program; however, she still spent weeks looking for him. Finally, she gave up, but she never stopped praying for him. Some days she would randomly start crying. When I asked her why, she’d say she was thinking about Marlon and hoped he and his dog were okay. And, whenever we were out and about town, she still kept her eye out for him.

 I should mention during this three year period, my mother was battling Lymphoma and undergoing cancer treatments.

I’ll never forget looking down at my phone and seeing 22 missed calls from my mom. Immediately, I thought something terrible had happened. When I called her back, she was BALLING on the phone… I thought someone had died or worse, I thought she received even more bad news about her diagnosis. But, no — She had heard from Marlon, and his voicemail went something like this:

Mrs. Ware, it’s Marlon. I just wanted to tell you I’m okay. I applied and got into the program in Northern Virginia you told me about. They gave me a place to stay, cut my hair, gave me a shaving kit, gave me new clothes, helped me get a job, and found a foster home for my dog until I saved enough money to get my own place. You wouldn’t even recognize me, Mrs. Ware! I can’t tell you how thankful I am for all you’ve done for me. I hope you’re doing well.

That was the last time my mom heard from Marlon, but it wasn’t the last time she prayed for him, thought about him and cried when she talked about him.

I’d often wondered if I should let Marlon know she passed.  After working on this post, I decided I should. I thought he’d want to know. I mean, I would want to know if I were him. So, I texted him…

Me: Hi, this is Lacey Ware. I am Sharon Ware’s daughter. Is this Marlon’s phone?
Him: Yes.
Me: I wanted you to know my mother passed on February 21 from Lymphoma (a blood cancer). She cared about you very much and thought you would want to know.
Him: I am so sorry. I cared a lot about her too. Give your family my regards. This world needs more wonderful people like her.

I couldn’t agree more, Marlon. If more people would do #whatmommawarewoulddo, this world would be a better place to live this side of eternity. And, I like to go as far as to think Heaven is even a better place because of her.

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Picture taken Monday, February 15, 2016.

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What Matters After a Shipwreck

Before my shipwreck, I used to care about so many things…  The kind of car I drove. The house I lived in. Living on my own. That my clothes were from Loft. Shoes. Oh! How I LOVED shoes. That my make-up was inspired by the trends I watched on YouTube tutorials. That I was doing the latest and greatest workout craze. That I had the most updated Apple product. Going on luxurious vacations. One word: Starbucks. So much triviality.

As far as my future was concerned, in my mind,  I was supposed to marry a professional, successful, wealthy guy so I could live in a high-end neighborhood, travel the world, and drive my Toyota Venza for as long as my heart desired. You know what’s funny?  That’s not even the kind of guy I wanted – That’s the kind of guy I thought fit with my persona!

Bottom line, I cared about whatever gave me a comfortable and convenient life.

As a single girl with an executive level ministry position at a large church, I strived to be everything I thought that role entailed… Strong, independent, professional, decisive, detailed, anal, assertive, creative, productive, organized. While, some of those traits are intrinsic even now, the majority were learned or I would just “fake it till I made it”.  Sadly, I even fooled myself into believing I was really all those things. In retrospect, it was a safeguard, a defense mechanism I used because I never felt like the real me was enough. And, that guard didn’t come down for just anyone…

Side note: One of my favorite feelings in the world is being with someone you don’t have to be “on” with. The persona is put away. No mask is required. The walls are down. The flaws can hang out and silence is comfortable. There’s no judgement and you’re accepted in spite of your obvious short-comings. Other than my mom, there’s a very short list of people who even qualify to be on that list.

Moving on…

MONEY: The bane of my existence. I don’t even want to think about the amount of money I wasted creating and maintaining my persona. I just can’t go there right now, so I won’t.

But, all these things mattered before the shipwreck… I never imagined not caring so much about all of the above. Other than my dependence on God, do you want to know what matters to me now? In true Lacey form, I shall list them for you:

Family
Cherish them fiercely, my friends, for you never know what tomorrow holds. Never take a single moment with them for granted. Make sure they know how much you love them. Tell them and back it up with action and with your time. You’ll be glad you did.

Friends
The authentic and loyal kind. The kind that love you even when you have nothing to offer or anything to benefit them. The ones that don’t care what you’ve done and does not require excuses or explanations. They see you for who you really are – even if you don’t. They don’t come in bulk, but that’s good because you don’t need many. In my experience, you’ll be surprised who rises to the surface and acts as a life raft, helping you safely to shore. If there’s one thing I learned from my shipwreck, I had so many more real friends than I ever realized. Family is required to love you. Friends choose to love you.

The Basics

  • Food/Water
  • Shelter
  • Sleep

Give me God, my family, my friends, access to at least a meal a day, a safe place to lay my head, restorative sleep, and you can consider me good to go. Seriously – I’m really THAT content. The other crap that went along with creating the persona I thought was required to appear successful, I could not care less about. It doesn’t matter anymore. Just give me the essentials.

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Less is more.

I used to use that phrase when creating choreography, but now I’m applying it to my life in the way of purging my closet and other belongings. In with the sentimental and essentials, and out with the unnecessary and excess! The same goes for what’s in my heart…

Currently, my new ship is being built and this time, I’m allowing the Master Builder make the blueprint and custom build it according to His preferences. From what I can tell, this new ship won’t have all the bells and whistles like the previous, but it will be stronger, more stable and able to withstand any storm that will come my way. It will be enough.

Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. – Matthew 6:33

It took a shipwreck to make me realize what really matters. And the realizations span way beyond what I described above… Now my compass points toward His kingdom and according to His promise, I don’t ever have to worry about anything else. I am depending on Him to chart that course, but in the mean time…

I will bless the storm that destroyed my ship; For I found the waters that I thought would drown me were actually the waters that were meant to save me.

Reader, I beg you – please don’t wait for a shipwreck to help you realize what ultimately matters. Do a thorough inventory of your heart. Ask God to clear away the excess. Ask Him to reveal anything you’re caring about that’s distracting you from living your life focused on anything other than what matters to Him. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

 

Brave

The people who really know me, know three things:

1) I have the innate ability to remember the dates of memories. All kinds of memories…The ones that make me smile when I’m alone by myself. The ones that make me ugly cry in public. The ones that never cease to melt my heart. The ones that make my heart skip a beat and my legs go numb. The ones that break my heart that I want to forget, but can’t no matter how hard I try. The laugh-out-loud ones that still bring happy tears to my eyes. And, even the traumatic memories. Yes, I keep even the traumatic memories because they help me remember how faithful God is and how far He’s brought me. For some reason, knowing exactly when these memories happened helps keep them safely tucked into the memory box of my heart. Knowing their date validates their existence. So, all that to say, I am waaaaaay more sentimental than I let people think I am.

2) I LOVE making lists. Any and every kind of list. It makes me feel better just getting the ideas and thoughts out of my head and onto my Wunderlist app. I like to think the more I get out of my head and onto a list, leaves more room in my brain to collect the dates of my memories.

Here’s just a sample of my lists:

  • Annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily goals
  • Things I need to buy
  • Things I want to buy (there’s a difference between want and need, you know.)
  • Things I need to get done
  • Things I want to do
  • Places I will go
  • What I need to do to make my list of “places I will go” from a list to a reality
  • Books I want to read
  • Things I want to experience before I die
  • Things I’m praying about, people I’m praying for, and things I’m asking God for
  • People I need to forgive
  • Things I’m grateful for
  • Things I want to talk to people about when I see them
  • People I want to send a handwritten card to
  • Gifts I want to give people
  • Songs I want to choreograph

And don’t even get me started on my work related task lists!

Oh, and if you’re romantically important to me, you get your own list. That’s how you know it’s serious, folks.

I wish I could adequately describe the happiness I feel when I hear the *ping* that sounds when I check an item off my list… It literally makes my heart flutter.

Please tell me you noticed I made a list within a list? Ha!

But, the list I work on most these days is a list I have fondly referred to as Bravery of the Day. I’ll come back to this soon. Standby…

3) I have a thing for theme words. December 31, 2010, (I told you I have a thing about dates) God gave me a word that would be the theme of 2011. This was both a literal and prophetic word that would set the tone for the year. Every year after that, He continued to give me an annual theme word. Two of those theme words ended up being the names of a couple dance recitals and a Christmas production I produced. I was always amazed how God would confirm His word to me through a correlating scripture as well as with the most random – yet seemingly divine confirmations.

December 23, 2015, I was not ready for the domino effect of events that would result in getting my theme word for 2016 and hearing God say to me:

“I’ve got you.”

He said this as I encountered the scariest storm, followed by the darkest valley I’ve ever known. In that moment, I felt a peace I had never felt before and clearly heard the word:

BRAVE.

God knew I would need an insane amount of bravery to endure the massive life changes I was going to encounter…

  • Transitioning out of my dream job that defined my identify
  • Relinquishing the church I gave 30 out of 34 years of my life to
  • Losing my mother/my person/best friend to cancer
  • Moving 1,500 miles away from my family, friends and students

All in that order and within four months. Yes, I am indeed in professional counseling.

Over time, I have come to refer to this season of my life as “my shipwreck” because everything I built was destroyed in a storm caused by my own decisions as well as things beyond my control. I still shake my head in amazement when I think of how I made it safely to shore. Actually, I do know how I made it… It was God and the people He sent as life rafts. They know who they are and I will never forget their unconditional love, loyalty and kindness.

And, not to say I’m done with processing the emotional trauma of my shipwreck. The grief of losing my mother alone still brings daily lamenting. Some days it feels like an emotional tsunami.

But, my shipwreck caused more than just grief… Grief was accompanied by overwhelming anxiety, deep depression and debilitating fear.

Fear… So. Much. Fear. Which for me, revealed my trust level in God.

When I say it was debilitating, I mean that in every sense of the word. During this season, being brave looked a lot like gathering up enough courage to get out of bed, take a shower, and put my makeup on. To smile when all I wanted to do was cry. Going to the grocery store. Doing laundry. Staying off social media in effort to guard my heart from longing for the past. It meant doing everything I could from packing my stuff back up and moving back home. That’s why I created my Bravery of the Day list. It included the simple, basic things I needed to do to make forward progress. To face my life as it now was —Completely new and unrecognizable from a few months ago. Some days I was able to give myself a pat on the back for my simple accomplishments and some days I would just delete the item off the list so I didn’t feel like such a failure when I didn’t have the emotional stamina to do it.

But, through the anxiety, depression and fear, I knew God brought me to Texas to perform  a much needed open heart surgery on me.

For me, open heart surgery meant letting God into the hidden places of my heart – even though I was afraid and ashamed of what He would find. It meant confronting the pain and insecurities of my past and finding love right there in the middle of what I was so afraid of. It meant stripping me of my idols and need for control. It meant fighting the same ‘ol inner demons, but not having to fight them alone this time. It meant admitting I don’t trust the God who loves me beyond all reason and who’s plans surpass my wildest dreams. Yes, I said it. I don’t trust God. Go ahead and judge me if you want, but I’ve always had an “I’ll do it myself” mentality. In fact, that was my first sentence! I’m working on it though and I’m making progress. I promise.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. – Psalm 23:4

He is with me. I know this to be true.

When one undergoes open heart surgery, recovery time is prescribed by the surgeon and expected of the patient. I am being an obedient patient so my heart can be healed and whole.

My journey through this valley isn’t over, but every day I see more light through the cracks in the clouds… The cracks…. the brokeness, after all, is how the light gets in. Today, my braveries of the day are more advanced than they were even a month ago. Shoot – just putting this post out there (no matter who or how many read this) is a massive step in the bravery department for me. And, to celebrate my progress, I changed the name of that list from Bravery of the Day to Courage, Dear Heart.

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1 John 4:18 tells me there is no fear in love. So, that’s what I’m laser focused on these days… Pressing into a love that will never leave or fail me… Anchoring my soul in a hope that won’t be deferred… Walking in the kind of faith that requires one baby step at a time. But, of these three, the greatest is love…Because of love — His love… I can be brave. I will be brave. I am brave.

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. – Brené Brown