For My Father: Denise's Story (Part Two)
by Jess Luoma
In Part Two of Denise's story, she shares about the heartbreaking death of her father, Leslie Toothman-- beaten to death by another homeless man. Watch the video below to hear what happened:
Denise's father and mother divorced when she was four years old & in the wake of his loss, he dove head first into heavy drinking and ended up on the streets. (Watch Part One of her story here) Over the years he struggled to get his life together and for a brief moment, he finally did. He became sober and got himself an apartment. He let another homeless man come over to cook dinner, they all started drinking and an altercation led to a fist fight that ended up taking his life. In the years that passed, Denise dealt with crippling grief and the pain of her father's life gone too soon.
Her community, in Grants Pass, Oregon, packed out his memorial service with love for Les, a person well-known and well-loved by so many. Typically when a homeless person dies, the state provides a coffin equivalent to that of a cardboard box, but through donations collected in local bars, Denise was able to raise the funds to bury her father in a beautiful coffin and make monthly payments to the funeral home. The director of the nicest graveyard in Grants Pass also happened to be college roommates with Les & gave Denise half off of everything, allowing her to honor her father's life with dignity.
The man who murdered her father was charged with manslaughter and let out of prison after three years on good behavior. When Denise would run into him around town, it was excruciating. It wasn't until she volunteered at the Gospel Rescue Mission, a refuge to her father, ten years later for their annual Thanksgiving dinner, that Denise was unexpectedly set free from the weight of her pain.
Volunteers were assigned tables to serve & the man who murdered her father was at her table. When she discovered that she was to serve him his meal, she prayed and God told her to tell him that she forgave him. She obeyed this difficult directive and told him, "I want you to know that I forgive you, but most of all, God forgives you." She describes that in that moment, the weight of her pain was completely lifted and that Thanksgiving remains her favorite Thanksgiving.
Months passed and Denise received notice from the director of the Rescue Mission that her forgiveness changed that man's life. He enrolled in college, got off the streets and was supporting himself in his own place. What a testimony!
Because of her story, Denise has a deeply special place in her heart for those still suffering on the streets. Are they cold? Are they hungry? Is anyone reaching out to them? This is the heart behind the ministry she recently founded, Need Meeters Ministries, after her ten day outreach with Shasta Thrive. She learned just how far reaching her story could be in the lives of those who are still out there and how deep her compassion goes to see them know Love. As a family member of a homeless man, she recognizes that the people we pass on the street could be somebody's father, uncle, brother... somebody's somebody. Every person has a story, usually one of trauma, and it's our job to show up, laying judgement aside, and to love them in and through it.
Shasta Thrive cannot continue to bring life-giving relationships to youth and adults without the financial support of regular donors. If you are able, we welcome your gift of any amount. If you'd like to be a part of meeting the needs of our homeless, recovering & transitioning friends in Redding, click here to donate to our bridge fund.
If you'd like to volunteer with us, start by joining our Advocates for Community Network(ACN). The ACN is a diverse network of leaders co-creating a movement to befriend and live in community with our homeless neighbors. We look forward to meeting you and guiding you in remembering the poor among us.