Friday, November 1, 2019

What’s most important in life isn’t how you start off but how you finish!

I can remember as a teen struggling with the notion that what mattered most in life wasn’t how you played the game but whether you won. The tension was that you could cheat, steal or lie your way to the top and that didn’t matter. Yet, deep down inside I knew that it mattered. I can remember attempting to persuade one of my professors in graduate school to give me an A- instead of a B+. I knew before I even asked for this favor that this particular professor wasn’t going to budge and the reality, which I already knew, was that a B+ from him was more like an A+. (This individual only reserved A grades for God.) 

I also would make the admission or confession that after having run or walked a few marathons and half marathons that it’s so easy to cheat a little on your actual time for the race. The bigger picture, which is what I’m talking about, is what matters most in life is finishing and finishing well. One of the well-known writers for Runner’s World, aka ‘The Penguin’, would make the noble admission that as he aged it became obvious that his times and PR weren’t going to improve. So what mattered most was the fact that he could do 26.2 or 13.1. Who cares about the time as long as you can crawl across the finish line? 

As the memorial service for my father in-law, Paul Pulliam, approaches, I’m reminded of the Lord’s simple, yet profound statement to his disciples, well done my faithful servants. Jesus would go on and describe what happens to those who give beyond expectation, are faithful with little so they are put in charge with much and exude sacrificial servant leadership. It has been more than two months since a phone call came to my Anne that has changed our lives. 

Death shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, yet, our assumption was that Paul would live to be a hundred, outlive Nani and have many godly widows pursuing him. The difficult reality is that our plans the Lord chose not to follow. What stands out as I reflect on the life story of Paul, who initially I was at odds with, imagine a Jesus Freak hippie type attempting to listen to a very traditional pastor type. I wasn’t very respectful to Paul initially and clearly stole his daughter who he assumed would finish college and do missions before getting married and having a family. 

 What stands out for me as I age and come face to face with my own mortality is that what matters now isn’t what accomplishments or accolades happened in the past but what will I do today. I will always be grateful for Grandad’s intentionality to come and visit all of our kids and see his four grandsons before our Jon moved to the east coast. I know that the logistics to have someone watch Nani, catch a very early flight to Phoenix from San Diego and then return later that Saturday night, was a true labor of love. The pictures and memories will be a significant part of our lives forever. 

What I learned from my crazy, funny, witty and uber intelligent Father in-law was that a person’s name matters ‘big time’. Paul was pastor of a large elderly downtown congregation in San Diego. He was always able to remember the grandkid of a member or their deceased dog or cat. His daughter, my wife, will struggle at times to get my name correct. It was his heart to be a true shepherd, that knew his sheep by name, regardless of how they lived that stands out. I know that at times we would differ even to the point of a heated dialogue over  both theological and pragmatic church issues on occasion. 

His willingness to accept me, an outsider and threat to his daughter’s future, was a true act of kindness and perseverance. I see my mentor and friend having finished his life marathon with the heavenly crowds cheering his entrance into the presence of his Savior Jesus who would say, “Well done, faithful servant, Paul Ray Pullium!” 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Who is your help and hope in life?

I’m sure you’ve had that kind of day where you just wanted to scream? A few days ago I was on a tight schedule and decided to get one of our vehicle’s oil changed, go purchase a new gas cap and then get it emission tested.  As the technician came up to me, I was expecting an up-sale for something besides oil change, but instead he told me I had a nail sticking out of my tire. The ‘kicker, was that the nail’s sharp point was actually sticking out of the tire. So, as I’m getting back into my SUV after purchasing my gas cap, a Hispanic gentleman alerted me to the fact that I had a flat tire. A WHAT? FLAT TIRE! How could I have a flat. Doesn’t God know that I have a schedule to keep? I don’t have time to drop off my SUV, pay big bucks for new tires and then walk home in 100 degree temps? 

What amazed me, reminded me of how God works at times in incredible ways, was that this total stranger took over changing my tire for me. I must have looked rather shocked and maybe even helpless. I usually pride myself on being able to be self-sufficient. Yet, I reveled in watching a new friend actually give me hope that today wasn’t going to be a total waste. 

As I reflect about how too many today are helpless when it comes to figuring out life or dealing with the drama around them,  I’m so thankful that I have a hope that goes beyond the dilemma of  fixing a flat tire.  My hope is in the one that is more than capable of dealing with the more important aspects, such as life and death. 

This has been a rather stretching month for my Anne and me. Our son, with our three grandsons, decided to relocate to the east coast. So, we will miss our twin grandson’s first birthday. The birth of our fourth grandson has bought infinite joy! (We see him very often.) The biggest joy in our lives was having grandad, Anne’s father, come out for a one day marathon visit to see his grandkids and now his four great grandsons. Little did we know that in a couple of weeks following, our dear grandad would be leaving us after a torn aorta. Here was a man that was the glowing example of someone who was a true helper who always provided hope for those around him, not in himself but in the Lord. 

A few days after my father in-law’s heavenly home coming, my brother ended up in the ICU with double pneumonia. Initially, I didn’t comprehend the seriousness of this situation. As my Anne was returning from being with her mom and siblings for ten days, I flew off to New Mexico. I didn’t perceive this as being a rescue mission, yet, after seeing my brother on a ventilator, I became his advocate and help. I had to passionately persuade the doctor on call, for the holiday, to get him airlifted to the bigger hospital in Albuquerque. I needed heavenly intervention as this seemed beyond the doctor’s intent. 

The bigger picture is that after ten days struggling in the ICU, my brother had his ventilator removed and started on the road to recovery. He experienced a real sense of hope in his life where he now has a mission to be God’s helper in the midst of tough circumstances. Yet, as I listened to a twenty year old, who I have known for ten years, I’m frightened as to how this individual is always on the edge, always coming close to dropping out of life. How do people in today’s crazy world discover a hope in life that is more than capable of providing them the help to face anything in life? 

I know that for many who have grown up in Sunday School or around the church that the simple response is to any question about life’s challenges is always, JESUS. Yet, I as experienced life and death this last month, I’m drawn back to the one who is the author of life. He’s the one who has come to give me the potential of having the most awesome life possible. Yet, even after experiencing the incredible sense of purpose, mission and hope in life through an ongoing relationship with this savior, servant leader, I find myself  placing my hope in myself pretending to be god like. 

What do you do when you’re ready to quit, throw in the towel or even worse? My hope is that even in the midst of a season of helplessness that you would pursue God and put your trust and hope in the one who is the creator and sustainer of all life. 

My oldest daughter’s favorite Bible verse as a kid growing was Psalms 121; I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved.

May you discover the help I’ve found in the One who made heaven and earth!

Friday, August 23, 2019

Words matter!

I have memories from childhood where my mom would go over the old adage, ‘sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you.’ She would remind me that words do matter and ultimately can do real harm, like a broken bone or even worse. I know that today there are too many that live in isolation without any friends where a mean word will push them to hurt themselves or even take their own life. Yet, the world around me, regardless of political or religious ideology, continues to allow hatred rhetoric to become the norm. Those that attempt to speak understanding and kindness are pushed aside as being naive and foolish about life.  

I would hope that I could have an intelligent, civil and beneficial conversation with anyone without having me getting upset or someone go off on me! I have been trained between college, grad school and more so life lessons that I should  choose my words wisely. Otherwise, I can either be perceived as being demeaning or patronizing a hopeful friend. Why is it the case today that too many, myself included, are more interested in our response to someone instead of actually being open to learn something new, different or even challenge my personal world view or maybe bursting my secure ‘bubble’? 

I should never be surprised to see a variety of responses to what I perceive as a good  post that should be beneficial to all, from my perspective, but not everyone else. I know that we live in a minefield of both political, social, educational and religious constructs. Too often I catch myself often trying to tread carefully the land-minds of race, religion and politics. I have been warned often by my wife to not go there with a relative, friend or new acquaintance. Why does it matter if  I push someone’s button about the world, our societal crisis, potential impending financial collapse or whether preseason games with the Cardinals matter? So what that the Raiders pummeled our hometown team. (Unless you’re the new head coach and number #1 Draft pick!) The proverb about iron sharpening iron has much merit! Yet, the truth is that seldom those of different world views are able to hear the other person, sadly. 

 I know that the words I choose deliberately might impact the people around me. Clearly being respectful, showing kindness and giving attention to those in authority matter. As I carouse through pictures from the Woodstock Day it reminds me of how in the past, I would be so quick to never trust anyone older than me, that didn’t have hip clothes or long hair. I can remember as a young Boy Scout, soon to be Eagle Scout, being railed on by my Scout Master for my late night rant of profanity. Yet, my wife and I at times chuckle at the shallowness of those we know that can’t express themselves without the ‘F bomb’ or GD term. Obvious question is why choose this path for self-expression? 

So, as I think of my grandsons being raised in this crazy world around them, I see two clear paths that their parents and other parents can pursue. Either they will be totally sheltered and live in a very protective bubble or be life-long learners who are equipped to assess, evaluate and learn from the circumstances around them and hopefully become influencers and game changers. Is it possible to allow your kids to grow up in a vacuum where you assume, they don’t need your advice or direction in life? Relativism at times, does seem to be the path of most until something evil happens to them and then are quick to cry out a moral foul. 

Words do matter and will make the difference between having a mediocre life, where you have the ‘whatever’ attitude or become a person who truly desires to grow and make a difference in your life and the lives of those around you. It saddens me, angers me, to see the platforms of social media be used to spread hatred and a divisive- destructive spirit. One of the great lessons my mom taught was to always strive to see the good in everyone and not always assume the worse. 

This doesn’t mean that you ignore blatant evil but learn to always attempt to seek the path of justice, mercy and understanding as best as possible. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

The new normal? NO!!

As I listened to a local talk show, Bruce & Pamela @ktar, I was taken back at this mom sharing her anxiety attack as she went shopping at a Walmart in Gilbert, Arizona. How is it possible that an educated individual, local well know personality and incredible mom could have real fears about shopping at a local big box store? I know that the week before this wouldn’t have happened. Yet, to be honest, whenever there is a shooting in my neighborhood or drive-by it does catch my attention and leaves me totally unnerved. This mom actually was shaking as she shared her story on the air because of the aftermath of the tragedy in El Paso, Texas. 

What is it that causes someone to do the unthinkable? What causes someone to go from a quiet reserved individual who attends church, a synagogue or mosque to become a murderer in some circumstances? Why is it the case that our incredible county has the highest mass shootings? I’ve read so many articles from all sides of the political and religious sectors to realize that the hate is real, better background checks, gun-laws, social media constraints, mental health assistance, addressing the issue of fatherlessness, and even spiritual transformation won’t bring back the parents of the little girl in El Paso. 

I know that most want to come up with a single cause and solution to the ongoing violence we experience in America. Yes, I agree that we need to look outside the present news cycle to remember that there are weekends where many inner cities in our country tragically face death counts and too many injured from ongoing street wars. I know that if all of the guns are taken away the criminals would still have access to assault rifles. I know that on the same radio station I heard a local legislator talk about the profile of the young males who have been the primary cause of the most recent shootings. He almost made them out to be the victims because of the prosperity of women in the employment sector and their own experience of not having a dad at home. 

I have to be honest, that after someone got into my van, parked in my driveway, I realized that there wasn’t anything valuable in the glove compartment. Yet, as I looked for my garage door opened, I realized that this thief had stolen it. This precipitated my search on Amazon for the latest and greatest cameras to make my house and vehicles safer. I discovered a new world where fellow ‘ring’ people share their neighborhood mishaps with one another. I was shocked to see over 1,000 views on this one post. I can see in the front or back of my house instantly. I get notices when there is movement. There was actually a neighborhood alert about someone attempting to smash the camera. (Little did the guy get that his picture was already there and on the cloud.) 

I’m still getting harassed by my wife and brother about putting an actual lock on our side-yard gate and even on my electrical box. I’ve had someone, actual a friend, break into our house in the past, knowing we had cameras inside and was smart enough to turn off our electricity. (This meant that our cameras didn’t work, and the internet was down.) I can remember living in the 60’s when leaving your keys in the car was normal practice and who worried about double checking to see whether you locked your back and front door before leaving! 
What struck me on this talk show was that Pamela actually made the comment that her new found fear and anxiety about going to Walmart or any big box store is her new normal. She could no longer travel without having an escape plan with her little girl, if something were to happen. 

Another friend was quick to point out that the shooter in Dayton was part of a leftist group. He was upset that the media hadn’t given this more attention. My hope would be that all Americans would recognize our need to stop name calling, race baiting or using ethnic slurs but to instead to see all of us as human beings. Regardless of our sex, skin color, first language, accent or social economic setting, everyone bleeds the same color and has an inner desire to both be loved and to love another. 

I recently watched the movie, ‘Emmanuel’ about the murdering of the nine during a prayer meeting at an AME Church in Charleston. The shooter, a young ‘White’ man, was welcomed into the midst of an older African American Prayer Group. The young man, after being welcomed into the group, started shooting unmercifully. The end result was a church that found strength and forgiveness in the midst of tragedy. I was overwhelmed to hear the family of the little girl who lost her parents, talk about forgivin the shooter. I too am a recipient of grace, so I know that God calls me to share this amazing gift. Yet, it’s also time for justice to happen, where this ongoing cycle of hate rhetoric, local violence and national headlines of mass shootings must stop. 

This is a very complex situation that requires everyone to become involved in the pathway to healing and seeing communities unite. It’s too easy to make generalizations that accuse one group to be totally responsible for the outrageous acts of violence. It’s time that everyone, myself included, start doing some self-reflection and evaluation to discover our own resentments, biases and fears. I can’t expect anyone else to change and work together, unless I’m willing to look at myself in the mirror. 

Yes, Americans seem able to rise above the present tragedy to work together for the betterment of their communities. Shouldn’t it be possible for everyone to partner together and intentionally work together for the pathway of peace to be pursued before the next tragedy occurs? 

Let’s go back to the old normal where we respected each other, intentionally choose to help someone instead of assuming the worst scenario. Otherwise, the new normal will define our society with anxiety, fear front and center that sees more tragedy tear us apart. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Everything happens for a reason? Even running out of gas.

I have to actually admit that I did something totally foolish and crazy last night. I ran out of gas. It was one of those things where I was going to get gas and decided to push it to the limit. So, as I passed a Circle K I had that strange sensation of the van starting to become sluggish and I quickly pulled over into a parking lot of a church. 

We had just finished our dance class and the van was full of a bunch of teens and kiddos. I quickly said adios and ran to the Circle K. I totally expected the store to have a gas container and would be off in minutes. The reality was that they don’t sell gas containers much to my dismay. I quickly alerted my wife who gave me hope that she would be there in ten minutes.

I actually stood outside the Circle K, which in the minds of most would be rather dangerous and foolish. I was hit up a few time by some homeless guys for spare change. Just before my brother came to my rescue, I was shocked to have an older teen type ask me whether I was the guy that use to come to the Stardust House at South Ranch II Habitat Community in South Phoenix. He looked a little tattered, hot with dirty clothes. His BMX type of bike was missing its hand brakes and clearly was in disrepair. 

We chatted a little bit and I realized that I hadn’t seen this young man for almost 10 years. Yet, he remembered me. I asked him about some of the other Habitat kids and teens from 2006. He had just gone into the Circle K to fill up his container with ice and water. I initially was really annoyed with myself for having this gas blunder. Yet, it came to me that God had a clear reason for me to be there at that exact moment. If the Circle K had a gas container, I would have left in five minutes and if my wife had come instead of my brother, I would have missed my old friend. 

Now I’m faced with the opportunity to reach back to some friends from my past who have moved on with their lives with careers, family and a future. Sadly, my friend didn’t seem to have much or any of that. He made the quiet admission that he was living on the street in not the best of our neighborhood. 

Yes, I truly embrace that there aren’t any accidents of coincidences in life. Running out of gas wasn’t something that I had planned that morning, yet, it happened and placed me at a Circle K at a bad intersection. I know that the van load of our barrio kiddos ultimately were delighted to get cold drinks. 

I don’t blame God for my short sidedness but I’m so thankful that He chooses to use my blunders to help others and teach me life lessons. Yes, running out of gas on a hot Thursday night can come with a bonus. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

The talk ….. about bias, race, hatred & the power of forgiveness.

I recently attended a community forum held at a Mega African American Church in the downtown area of Phoenix. The meeting was held to give the community an opportunity to express themselves, ask questions and for some to share their outrage over a recent police incident dealing with a family who had allegedly shoplifted from a Dollar Store. The gentleman who was the moderator began his dialogue sharing about how he had recently given the ‘Talk’ to his son about the importance of showing respect to Police and those in authority and the possibility that your race could possibly equal you being abused or shot. 

I was taken back by the extreme emotions that were expressed over the past history of police involved incidents where someone was shot, killed or left paralyzed. I live in a world where an individual’s views of race and our society extremely vary. I understand how easy it is for someone who has never been around any type of hate crime to not understand the fear too many have of the police or those in authority. The response of some was if you’re going to live on the edge by breaking the law then expect a response from the authorities. I’ll be the first to say that two wrongs never are right! Never respond to evil with evil otherwise you will end up fueling the present cycle of violence. 

I left this meeting rather sadden, frustrated and confused about how the Police Chief and Mayor of Phoenix are going to face the real conflict in our city. I totally agree that getting body cams for all the officers would be a step in the right direction. The clear mistrust and animosity between the diverse group of almost a 1,000 at this church showed the clear need for the power of forgiveness and the needed journey of reconciliation to happen soon. 

I was so fortunate to attend a documentary the following evening that gave clear insight into the life of the Emanuel AME Church where nine church members were murdered.  The lives of the nine families were forever changed after a young racist man walked into a prayer meeting, being welcomed and then proceeded to shoot all within his reach. Steph Curry, the superstar NBA player, gave the introduction to this movie and shared his testimony about the power of God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace in his life. 

Clearly, not everyone believes in God, nor any need for forgiveness for murders or rapists. It’s rather naive to think I’m going to persuade someone whose spouse, son or daughter was murdered to forgive the killer. Yet, as I watched this documentary, I was brought to tears for most of the hour plus. It was rather incredible to hear the stories of the families of all those who had been murdered. Yes, hate is very powerful in this context, but what is even more powerful is that of agape love and forgiveness. 

I was impressed to hear the judge of the case give each family an opportunity to speak to the individual responsible for the murder of their family members. The overwhelmingly powerful message was still one of the WHY would you do this, yet, the hope and prayer was that this individual would be touched, transformed and moved by their divine gift of forgiveness. As the documentary closed with pictures of all those whose lives had been taken the message was one that forgiveness is the only path to pursue with God’s help. Otherwise, you would be consumed with hatred and an ongoing desire for revenge.

A few days later I see an article both in a local and national publication which highlighted that racism is alive even in Scottsdale, Arizona. A Doctor who works at the Mayo Clinic was targeted by neighbors in a high-end gated community with a picture with a clear racist message, Negroes go back to Africa. (This picture was attached to their door where their nanny and young kids saw it.) This incredible Doctor and her husband are fostering two young African American kids. How is this possible in my larger community? The reality is that racism is a societal ill that must be addressed on all sides. 

The family that was attacked responded with a message of let’s not tolerant this type of behavior and instead gave a clear message of hope, forgiveness and change is possible for all. 

How do we as individuals face the bias, racism and mistrust around us and within us? It’s time for everyone to be better at listening, before jumping to conclusions, expand your circle of friends and ask God for help to experience forgiveness ourselves and then to live it out!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Finishing well is what matters the most!

This last Saturday I witnessed again the impact of caring about how you finish! One of my partner organizations, Stormwind, is an incredible group of people that always do such an extraordinary job painting exterior of low-income houses of grandmas. As I drove up to Tanya’s house after the painting project, I was totally impressed with how well my friends had finished the house. Everything was placed neatly in either stacks, like the ladders, rollers were put in a bin, paint brushes had been cleaned and buckets had been consolidated for paint. Wow! I’m so fortunate to have friends that truly care. My clean up job is so much easier, quicker and actually fun. 

More importantly, as we approach gradation week at Arizona State University, I’m thrilled to have a few interns that have partnered with Barrio, walk and get their diplomas and more importantly a degree that will lead to an awesome future. What’s so easy, having done college and grad school, is to burn out towards the end. It would be so easy to just go through the motions to get it done without giving it your all. 

I’m so proud of a good friend, who is also my barista and has been an intern with Barrio over the last year plus. She is someone that is always motivated, quick to smile, empower you to do better and is so wiling to serve and help. My friend has been through a lot in life, which you would never know from how they choose to live. My friend has given me an incredible example of why everyone should always stay true to the end and make a difference in the world. 

I know that at times it so easy to think the short cut or path of least resistance is the only way to live. Yet, what impacts a life is when someone chooses to be a trailblazer. Yes, do something few are willing to do. I was so utterly touched when I had messaged a good friend, who does handyman work, to see if he could help replace a window on the house of the grandma we had helped on Saturday. I had messaged her that it would get replaced in the following week. Little did I know that my friend, Ken, would show up that Monday and get it DONE! 

Finishing well communicates to everyone your love of life, the fact that little things do matter and giving it your all will impact many lives.