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In Honor of Kelly

It's been a while....over five months since my last post.  But I write today because I would like to honor someone who has had an impact on Johnny and I.  I write today, because I don't know what else to do....

Last Thursday I recieved a call at work from Johnny.  I answered, "Hey Baby... what's up!", there was a short pause on the other end, and then Johnny solemnly responded, "Kelly died." There was a crack in his voice and suddenly my heart began to hurt.

Johnny and I met Kelly about five years ago when we were locking up the Cathedral after one of our Sunday evening youth groups.  It was a cold January night and Kelly was a homeless man looking for shelter; refuge from the freezing cold.  Kelly was plump, had wavy brown hair, hazel eyes and rosy pink cheeks.  That night we spent about an hour talking with him, got him some food and helped him find a place to sleep.  We didn't expect to see him again, but soon discovered that God would make our paths cross at least a dozen or more times.

We would frequently run into Kelly downtown or see him in a parking lot holding a sign.  Whenever we saw him we would get him a meal and talk with him.  Sometimes he was intoxicated and I wondered if he even remembered who we were, but never-the-less, he was always thankful and gracious for the little ways in which we tried to help him.

Last November, as the final leaves were falling from the trees, Johnny brought Noah, Gianna and Matthew (Caleb and Joshua were at school) down to the Cathedral for noon mass and I joined them.  Afterwards, we decided to make a quick stop at the nearby Fancy Freeze for lunch knowing it would be one of the last sunny days of fall.  Johnny was getting the kids settled at a picnic table while I got in line to place our order.  A moment later I heard Johnny yell out my name and turning my head to respond, saw Kelly standing there beside him.  Johnny announced, "Kelly's going to join us for lunch!!"  I smiled and nodded and found myself getting excited as I ordered one more meal including a large chocolate milkshake I thought he might enjoy.  I also quickly said a prayer thanking God for His impeccable timing and for giving us the honor of enjoying lunch with our friend.

While we ate that day Kelly was a bit more sober and talkative.  We laughed as he cracked some jokes and listened as he told us a little more about his life.  At one point, he directed our attention to a nearby pine tree and in almost a fond way shared with us memories of the many times he had slept under it.  It made me sad.  Kelly was born and raised in Boise and had been homeless for over 20 years.  He was only 48 years old.   Our kids talked with him, Noah gave him "high fives" and it took everything we had to keep Matthew from climbing all over him.  Our children did not see a homeless man, they simply saw a friend of ours.  As our meal came to an end, we asked Kelly if it would be okay for us to pray with him.   He eagerly nodded and so we all gathered around him and placed our hands on his shoulders and Johnny led a prayer asking for God's guidance, protection and graces to be upon him.  As we said our goodbyes Kelly wiped large crocodile sized tears from his face and thanked us for lunch.  That was the last time we saw him.

After each encounter we had with Kelly over the years, Johnny and I would spend countless hours asking each other the BIG question, "what more could we do"?  We never could come up with an answer.  And once again discovering his passing, we stayed up late last Thursday night asking that same haunting question, "What more could we have done......what more should we have done?"

I don't know what all the choices or circumstances that led to Kelly living half his life as a homeless man.  And yet, each time we encountered Kelly, I couldn't help but think... this was someones son's and 46 years ago he was just like my little Matthew, innocent and small with a bright future ahead.  Kelly was a human being and yet his body was found last week in the wooded area of a local city park.   Most likely he passed away alone and this is what hurts Johnny and I the most.   I keep thinking of a Mother Teresa quote, "To be lost is a terrible thing.....but it is far worse to be lost and to know that no one is looking for you."

It is in times like this that Johnny and I rely so much on our faith and we pray that Kelly's soul is now consumed by God's extraordinary love, glory, grace and mercy.  We take comfort in knowing that Kelly's suffering has ended and that he is no longer wondering through the streets at night searching for shelter from the bitter cold, or passing through the days avoiding bitter glances.  And yet, we wish it hadn't ended this way.

I look back on our encounters with Kelly and pray that during those moments he felt loved and cared for.  I hope that others in his life treated him with respect and dignity and I am honored that we knew him.

Undoubtably, Johnny and I could have and should have done more for Kelly.  I am thankful for this thorn that reminds us of this reality.  I don't want this thorn to ever leave or to grow dull, I want it or remain and to push us forward reminding us that we can always do more, love more, give more.....pray more.

In honor of Kelly and I ask you, all my amazing family and friends to please join Johnny and I in doing more.  Please, if you can, in honor of Kelly, make a donation to a local homeless shelter like the Corpus Christi house where Kelly would often spend his afternoons, or the Boise Rescue Mission or a local food bank.  If you cannot do that, the next time you see a person on a street corner, in honor of Kelly, please give them some food or a dollar. If you cannot do that, please look them in the eye and smile as you drive by recognizing their dignity as a human being.  At the very least, please join Johnny and I in praying for our brothers and sisters who are lost in this world, those who have no one looking for them, those who sleep on concrete sidewalks or under pine trees.  In honor of Kelly, please let us strive to love others more each day.

I am forever grateful for all the people in the world who make it their life's mission and purpose to help others in need.  So many of them are our friends and family members who continually teach Johnny and I through their example.  Like the amazing women who work at the front office of St. John's who always treat those who come through the door in need with such with such compassion and dignity.  To all of you who work in homeless shelters, who visit the homebound, who volunteer at food bank's and soup kitchens, who minister to the imprisoned, or those of you who've ever traveled to other parts of the country or world to do mission work, thank-you for giving of your life to make someone else's life better and brighter.  Thank-you for living out so vividly the Gospel message of Matthew 25:31.

During his life, Kelly taught us some valuable things and in his passing we continue to learn and to grow.  I want so badly to be able to tell Kelly "thank-you" and mostly I want to tell him "we're sorry" for not doing more.  During this past week, each time I've seen a homeless man, I squint and look closer  thinking for a split second that it's him.  My eyes seem to be playing tricks on me or maybe this is just God's way of reminding me that there are other "Kelly's" out there and that I should be as equally concerned about them.  Maybe this is the best way we can honor Kelly.

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