I didn’t grow up in a wealthy home, but we always had food on the table, clothes on our backs and roof over our head. My Mom and Dad did a great job of giving my brother and I everything that we needed and more. Some of our vacations were nothing glamorous but we were together having fun, seeing new places and having new adventures. Since I was just a baby, our family has enjoyed camping either in the mountains of California or the State forests of Wisconsin. I have many, many wonderful memories of these trips. I am blessed to have been able to pass on some of what I learned from my parents on those trips on to my own kids. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that those days sleeping in a sleeping bag, living in a tent, not having the luxuries of home would benefit me in the way they did.
August 18th, 2009 marks yet another milestone in my life.
I became homeless!
I knew it was coming. My marriage was on the rocks and I knew that I had tried everything to try to save it. I won’t go into details about how it happened out of respect for my ex, but I will say it was a VERY emotional scene. I threw cloths and other personal items into plastic totes and threw them in to the back of my minivan. I was boiling with anger, with hurt, with disappointment, and . . . . with FEAR.
I drove around for a few hours looking for a place where I could park my van and not get mugged or hassled by the police. The first night I settle on a distant parking spot in a Wal-Mart parking lot. I figured if nature called during the night, at least I could use their restrooms.
After that, I really don’t remember much else about that night. I can’t even remember how much sleep I got.
Within a few days I had moved my nightly lodging spot to the outskirts of the parking lot of the 24-hour fitness center in Naperville. I had already had a membership there and was now using it for a place to go before and after work, use the showers, watch a few hours of TV as I walked on the treadmill, check my email and even play a little Mafia Wars on the computers they provide to their members.
That place became my pseudo home away from no home for nearly 2 months.
My nightly accommodations had become the back of my minivan. The back seat had been out for some time, so I was able to make a bed on one side by layering cardboard, blankets and a few old comforters I bought at Goodwill. I had my head by the tailgate and my feet stretched up between the middle seats. (I'm Really glad it wasn’t a bench seat in the middle or I would have been sleeping in a permanent fetal position.) On the other side of the van I had set up a few of the Rubbermaid multi-drawer units with all my clothes. I also had a few totes with some clothes, by day they would be down on my ‘bed’ to hide it from anyone looking into my van. By night I would put them up on the middle seats I had folded down. They created a wall giving me just a little privacy.
I experienced all types of weather over those seven and a half weeks; rain, heat, humidity and cold. The first two weeks of October of 2009 were cold! The nightly temps got down in to the low 50’s and even the 40’s. I have never worn so many layers of cloths at one time to sleep in.
I don't want to make it sound like it was all easy. The loneliness at night and not having my kids around pressed heavily on me. At the time I had not yet made the final decision to transition, so the depression of having to continue to live that life also pulled me down. My true survival was tested. Three weeks into the ordeal, I hit the lowest point in my life. But even through a near suicide attempt, God was watching over me.
He opened my eyes to the fact that I did have a roof, all be it the car roof, over my head.
He had provided me a place to go to spend time and take care of my physical needs.
He provided safety.
And He even gave me peace.
God had prepared me for that time with all those camping trips my parents took me on. I was use to sleeping on something other than a nice mattress. My parents showed me how to be resourceful with what we had. I remember more than one occasion where we were stuck in the tent as the rain poured outside. I remember the humidity being nearly unbearable, but we got past it and on to better things.
There is so much more that I could mention, but I think you get the idea. The times camping with my family and the time I spent homeless taught me how to appreciate many things that we tend to take for granted. It taught me that I can live a simple life. It taught me that God does watch over his children.
Matthew 6:25-26 “So I tell you, don’t worry about the things you need to live—what you will eat, drink, or wear. Life is more important than food, and the body is more important than what you put on it. 26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant, harvest, or save food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. Don’t you know you are worth much more than they are?”
During this time of homelessness is when I actually turned back to God. I saw in a relevant practical way that he continues to love me and watch over me.