I knew from the tone in her voice that something was wrong the moment I answered the call from my wife.
“Don, They want to take my uterus!” she exclaimed.
Luckily, with five kids and other complications, we had already agreed on no more children, but the finality of this hit both of us. She had gone in because she was practically bleeding out every month, and had a painful biopsy done to see if she had cancer. After some restless nights, the results finally came back, no cancer. What a relief, but it didn't change the fact that she would still need surgery. We're praying that goes well.
I got another call about a week after this news that our house was freezing. Our old heating system had failed, and after hearing and weighing the options, we realized it wasn't worth repairing. Many thousands of dollars later, we had a new boiler, only to have a pipe burst on us and flood our basement, which would be several more thousand dollars to repair. All of this was after finding out that our daughter may need surgery on her hip a few months ago.
Listen, I'm not sharing all of this for you to feel sorry for me. I'm sharing this because I want you to realize that sometimes you can do everything right, yet have things still go wrong. Maybe we could have avoided some of this, but we would have needed a crystal ball to do so, and even then I'm not sure how we would have prevented it. I'm lucky in the respect that these types of things, while a setback, are not going to put my family and me on the street.
We often blame the homeless or people going through tough times for not working or somehow causing their situation through drug abuse or other bad choices. Yes, bad decisions may come into play, but the reality is that 62% of all bankruptcies in the US are caused by medical debt according to the CDC. Even with insurance, if you've ever dealt with a significant medical issue, you know that costs can be insane.
Think about that for a moment, over half of financial failures in this country are caused by medical issues, and many of those medical issues are not preventable. What happens if you take away shelter from an already sick individual? They get sicker, which leads to more medical bills. There are programs in place already to alleviate this and public assistance, but you're assuming that the person is mentally sound and able to do what is necessary to apply for those programs. Unfortunately, once someone is exposed to the streets, mental health, if not the cause of being homeless, is often one of the first things to go.
I was in Toronto Canada once for a meeting and was shocked at the number of homeless on the streets. Pointing to a woman who looked like she hadn't had a bath in a month, was missing teeth, and didn't seem all there mentally, our taxi cab driver said, “It's sad to see what happens when people end up on the street. That's Mary, I first saw her three years ago. She was a beautiful, young, and intelligent woman then. I'm not quite sure what happened to her, but she deteriorated fast like many do once she hit the street. It wasn't but a few months and she was already looking like a street woman and acting like that. It gets cold here plus people don't treat them right, and that does something to people. Once they aren't mentally with it anymore, it's all downhill from there. Who would hire her now?”
Shocked, I said, “Don't they have programs for homeless here?” “They've got great programs here!” came the quick reply. “I told Mary to go to the shelter and even offered her a ride, but she didn't want the help. Many like Mary are either too proud to take the help or don't like the restrictions that are put on them by the programs so refuse to sign up. Unfortunately, it doesn't take too long before it's too late to help them. There's only so much that can be done once someone is no longer mentally with it like Mary there.”
That conversation was a bit of an eye-opener to me. We can and should do things like working out and eating right to stay physically fit to prevent medical issues later, expanding our minds through reading and learning to increase our earning potential, performing routine maintenance on equipment we use, and being responsible with our finances to prevent being in these circumstances like these.
But sometimes, you can do everything right, and things will still go wrong. I hope you'll remember that next time you meet someone who is struggling and have a little compassion for them. If it's you who is facing things going wrong, make sure you are tweaking your habits, reach out for help, and try this little prayer.
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time.
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as he did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would like it.
Trusting that he will make all things right,
If I surrender to his will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this world
And supremely happy in the next.
-Reinhold Niebuhr, Noted German Theologian