Homeless advocate lives up to God’s counteroffer

April 5, 2019

As she neared her retirement, Liz Stanton offered God a deal she hoped he couldn’t resist.

She just never expected that God would make her a counteroffer.

“When I retired at 66, I told him I would give him my time, energy and prayer, in exchange for him guiding me into opportunities to serve others—ultimately serving him,” Stanton notes.

She smiles as she shares the plan God had for her—and how she opened her heart to it.

“You have to be very careful when dealing with God. He believes you can do much more than you believe you can do. Hence, my very busy, sometimes emotionally – and physically – exhausting days and often nights. But what comes of all this is great joy and peace—just what I was looking for.”

What the ever-humble Stanton wasn’t looking for was to be chosen for one of the archdiocese’s 2019 Spirit of Service awards, an honor that she will receive on April 30 in Indianapolis during a celebration that will mark the 100th anniversary of Catholic Charities in central and southern Indiana.

But her admirers insist she is worthy of the honor, considering everything that the 78-year-old Stanton has done in the nearly 13 years since her retirement.

Start with her efforts to help the homeless.

She still remembers the “fear and hopelessness” she felt as an 8-year-old living on the streets with her mother. So she relentlessly seeks bargains and calls upon friends and neighbors to donate clothing, toiletries and food that she then delivers to Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis and Operation Leftover, a monthly homeless outreach in downtown Indianapolis.

A great-grandmother, Stanton also tutors first-, second- and third-grade children at a public elementary school, helping them with their reading.

“A lot of them come from broken homes, and they don’t have a lot of one‑on-one time,” says Stanton, a member of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis. “By the second session, I’m usually their best friend. I love to shape young minds.”

She has also served as an extraordinary minister of holy Communion, bringing the Eucharist to people in hospitals and in hospice and nursing homes.

“There’s nothing better than bringing Jesus to someone,” she says. “I love sitting one-on-one with people, especially the older people who are lonely, anxious and depressed. They have to learn to trust in God because he will see them through.

“I know because I’ve had open heart surgery and skin cancer and cervical cancer. From being in the hospital myself, I know the strength and peace that came to me when I received the Eucharist.”

She also works to help people who are trying to change their lives after serving a prison sentence. She makes the rounds of garage and yard sales and seeks donated furniture, kitchenware and bedding to help them as they move into an apartment.

“I even found two cars for them,” she says.

In her free time, Stanton is the “Crime Watch” captain for her neighborhood, patrolling the streets with her 10-year-old dog that she has dubbed “Deputy Harry,” a mix of a dachshund and a wild-hair terrier.

Everything she does has led to a fan club that marvels at Stanton, including Andrew Costello, who directs Operation Leftover, the homeless outreach.

“Liz empties herself in the service of others,” says Costello, a member of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis. “Liz lives out her faith, and the Gospel is very much a part of the fabric of her life. She serves regardless of race, color or creed.”

Stanton also treats the people she serves with compassion and understanding, notes Taylor Clark, who coordinates volunteers and donations for Holy Family Shelter:

“She helps others uphold their dignity by meeting them where they are and by filling needs they may have, whether that be a clean shirt or a listening ear.”

Stanton says she’s just trying “to imitate Jesus, watching for needs and offering a healing touch or a word of encouragement.”

At the heart of it all for her is her prayer life.

Just as her computer room is filled with so many donated items that she sometimes can’t find the computer, she can barely see any hint of glass on her bathroom mirror because it’s marked by so many sticky notes listing prayer intentions.

She prays for the homeless. She prays for the children she tutors. She prays for animals. She prays for priests. She prays for the three soldiers she once met on a plane. She prays … .

“Prayer is the most essential core of my being,” she says. “I pray all the time. God and I have a constant dialogue. He’s my best friend. I talk to him every night and say, ‘If you want me to keep doing this, you have to keep me in good health and keep giving me the strength. I’m 78.’

“He blesses me every night. One of the prayers I say at night is, ‘Thank you, Lord, for all the blessings you’ve bestowed on me today, especially those I failed to observe.’”

The prayers continue early the next day as she leaves her home to help the children, the homeless, the elderly and the former prisoners trying to start a new life.

On her way into that world, she pauses to read the sign in her laundry room that leads into her garage, the sign that notes, “How much fun can we have today, God?”

Stanton smiles at that sign, looking forward to the adventures that await her and God together.

“We’re going to find someone at some place who needs something,” she says. “And we’re going to cheer them up.”

God knows how to make a deal. Stanton knows how to live up to it.

[This story, written by John Shaughnessy, appeared originally in the April 5, 2019, online edition of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.]

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