Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Get Out!

I know that for most in today’s high tech world it is too easy to stay glued in front of your laptop, video game or TV and miss the amazing expose of God’s creative powers. Yesterday, we went hiking with a group from our New City – Barrio Nuevo. We do this often and it is a surprise how many of our kids and adults will get up early to do something different.

South Mountain is directly behind where we live and is always a great place to go hiking, biking or for a drive to see the valley or the sun rising or setting. I decided to do something different, easier than usual, we would drive to the top of the summit and then hike down instead of hiking up and back down. (This is a tough hike especially for little kids.) As we drive the winding road to the top it is crystal clear and as we get closer it becomes obvious that we are actually the first to be on top this morning. We joked about how we thought there would be more people on top because of the holiday week. We walked around and then did a group picture in the rock house. We had a good size group including my puppy, Freckles, aka Kong. As the group began their descent I got back in the van. Roger followed me back down the Mountain, I know that most don’t consider something 2600 feet a mountain but for flatlanders it is.

We raced down the hill and came across a few bikers and joggers making the trek up. This is a tough climb go over 1500 feet up and towards the bottom there was some crazy mom with her kids and dogs walking on the road. I know that Roger behind me cried out to himself, “What are you doing!” We made it to the bottom and Roger followed me to the ending of the trail that wasn’t too far away. As we pull up in this area there are a couple of cars that are parked. So we began to walk along the trail that goes around a large water container and circle up a paved road only to see Sammy, Matt and little Bookie flying down the trail.

Wow – I was pleasantly surprised that the leaders of the pack had made it down so incredibly fast. Ah – the rest should be down in a few minutes after them. Well, this turned more into at least 30-40 minutes. I knew that Joe with his little kids wouldn’t be down quickly. So last but not least is Terrance with a few of the kids along with my puppy – Freckles. While the slow hikers were making their way down a few of the more adventurous climbed up the mountain close to us and made it to the top. I know that not everyone is crazy or willing to do this. So I got a few pics, which I promptly posted on Facebook. We welcomed the last few back down and made our way back to the vehicles.

What a great morning to be out hiking and enjoying the awesome view of the Phoenix valley. We decided to visit one of the favorite places for youth of all ages – McDonalds. It is amazing what you can get off of their dollar menu. So each of us splurged and got $2 worth of breakfast or snack. A great way to start a vacation day!

God’s creative ‘footprint’ is so wonderfully amazing. I know that as my wife would say it is too easy to walk by something and really not SEE what is there. So today I opened my eyes to really see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Extended Family

We had a great Christmas treat with having one of our close friend’s daughters come and have dinner with us with her husband and family. I can think back and remember when Kath was just a little kid, like six or seven years old. Now she is married with kids almost that age. This is one of those neat stories of seeing someone who you have watched grow up and become an amazing mom, wife and lady.

It was great watching her two little guys play in our house, jump on the couch, scream at our bird, be afraid of the dogs and eat us out of chips and salsa. I know that Kath’s parents are so proud of her. She had graduated with her math degree and pursued grad school and was teaching when she got married. Kath is rather short, like my Anne and is married to this buff guy who is a cop – sheriff in a small town setting. He has a rather interesting partner – a German Shepherd. It was a joy getting to know him and hear his stories about his work, where he grew up and their love of CO.

We enjoyed hearing stories about her brothers and sister. The bitter sweet of this story was that her parents, best friends in the 80’s are now divorced. The dad remarried and the mom is waiting. This is one of the truly tragic stories in my life that as I step back am partially to blame for not being more pro-active in talking, confronting and being a better friend at a distance. It is true that people change and either grow closer or grow a part. I have a difficult time understanding how someone can profess to really know God in an intellectual way and then walk. I understand totally how Christians can push someone away from the church and not want to be involved. What I don’t understand is how you can emotionally let go of God and pretend that your past is over and doesn’t really matter.

What do you do in a circumstance like this? I pray, text once in a while and hopefully have a visit with his kids on occasion. This is a tragic story that doesn’t have a happy ending at present.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Friends

One of my desires since moving to South Phoenix has been to have a Hispanic Pastor and African American Pastor partner with me in doing our mercy work in our neighborhoods. I have many friends young and old who are part of these communities. Yet, up until recently I didn’t have a real friend that I could actual work with, learn from and see God’s hand in the larger context of building relationships in our community. I was thrilled to meet Pablo a couple of times over the last few months. We have done a few larger events at the South Ranch Habitat Community Park. It was during these events that Pablo attended and eventually I think got the courage to talk and share his heart.

Most churches in urban inner cities are small, under resourced and the pastors are bi-vocational. (They have to work outside their church to support their families) As I sat in the Starbucks in a local Safeway I was overjoyed to talk with Pablo. I could sense that he was a little discouraged with his work. He has a small group of 15-20 after 12 years of literally laying his life down. I was impressed that Pablo had immigrated, gotten his citizenship and actually gone to college and received his master’s certificate in theological studies.

We talked, sipped our coffee and sensed that we might be able to work together. I wanted to have a bi-lingual pastor to help and I knew that Pablo wanted youth to be around his older group to help them catch a vision to get outside their box, Pablo’s own words. I could tell that Pablo was both spiritually and emotionally tired. He didn’t have the energy or resources to do much besides church on a weekly basis. I know he most of thought I was crazy and on drugs to be able to maintain the pace of what we do at New City – Barrio.

Now I have a Sunday morning Hispanic Church to ‘invade’. I know that bringing many of my group will push these older Hispanics to the edge. Yet, how else am I going to being able to relate back to my Maria, Judy, Elvia and others? I am just as equally thrilled to have met Emma, Maria and Juanita, who now become my female Hispanic group that are bi-lingual that form the basis for Anne’s group!

As I set in my Starbucks it hits me how import relationships are to continue to grow New City – Barrio. I can’t stay hidden in my office or hide behind cultural diversity. I know the New Year will bring many surprises, blessings and challenges. I have to continue to step outside of my box and intersect the lives of people like Anthony, Pablo, Emma, Maria and even the wildchilds like Ashley, Red Girl and the Terrances.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Connections

It is amazing how I continue to meet people that are exactly what I need at the moment. I am starting to connect with the right individuals to help go to the next step of New City and Barrio. I have been around a blended family that has 5 kids. They are all involved with what we do. I have watched the step dad at a distance and came to the conclusion that he is an awesome guy. So I got brave and asked him what he was doing. I liked what he said and asked him if he was opening to getting together. He was, we did and now he is a new friend who will help me better understand lots of different questions I have to better understand the African American Community in our neighborhoods. He is someone who is able to juggle work, school and a family.

I have also deeply desired a way for Anne to get more involved with adults. God has now brought along a new friend, Emma, who is a Latina. She is divorced has grown kids and grandkids. She understands some of the dynamic of living between first and second generation, is bi-lingual and sees the church as being bigger than being Catholics or Pentecostals but Christ followers. She is someone who has worked her whole life and succeeded regardless of her circumstances. What’s also great is that she is a neighbor of one of my painting grandmas, Ramona, who isn’t doing very well health wise.

My greater excitement is hooking up with Pablo who is a resident of South Ranch and a pastor of a small church that is Spanish speaking only. He has come to a few of our picnic parties at South Ranch. He is very open and interested in partnering to help his group breaks out of their ‘shell’ and help me have more presence in the first generation community.

As the year closes and we start a new year it is exciting to see many things come to a climax where great things are starting to happen that will enable us to be more effective to impact the community and see lives and families turned around. I still recognize and always will that the great connection is God sending his son as the babe in the manger. The infinite almighty God chooses to leave his heavenly throne and come to earth as the God-Man. He is the one who makes it possible for different people groups to make real connections and work together to show that God’s ultimate heart is for all people to find their ‘oneness’ not in their race, socio-economic setting but in Christ.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Vision Casting

I have been part of many different churches and organizations where having a vision and mission statement can either totally define and drive that organization or be an act of futility. As I sit down to brainstorm and then meet with a friend I’ll be the first to say that it isn’t easy to describe what I am doing, our purpose, goals and DNA. Yet as I look at pictures, talk with people, see groups gather I am starting to get a better sense of what it means to be about restoring, reclaiming and reconnecting neighborhoods, families and individuals.

This morning we will take Pancho, not Poncho, a cat to the vet. Pita, the owner a teen, will clean our house in ‘trade’ for getting her orange cat helped. Pancho had been attacked and now has a swollen foot or paw. I love Pancho and actually helped name him Pancho Villa. Relationships are key to restoring and reclaiming a neighborhood. I could write books about my relationship with Pita. Who is slowly changing her outlook on life, direction and openness to talk about life, death, God and her family.

I was asked recently by someone in a meeting, why I do what I do. My answer, which could come across sarcastic, was so simple – I love what I do! I am all about building relationships that will help reclaim and restore neighborhoods and families. The opportunity is great and the responsibility is overwhelming. I do it motivate and train up leaders that will take this vision of reclaiming and restoring neighborhoods that have been taken over by violence and drugs?

I am the first to say that the neighborhood and families, which I relate back to including myself, are broken. I have a neighbor who now has been attacked by someone not once but twice. This last time saw their truck tires slashed. This isn’t some small truck but one of these ‘jacked up’ ones with a fancy paint job and expensive tires. The mom, Fanny, has come over numerous times to ask the why question? The police said that there has to be someone in their past who has it out for them. Usually there isn’t this random act of violence that is repeated.

So how do you define a movement that is drawing people from all walks of life? I think about some of the different people I now relate back to as friends. I think of the Ramona’s, Mr. Sanchez types. I think of the Maria Vargas and Emma’s and even Anthony, the step-dad of some of my kids. How do you define something in a sentence that will drive and motivate people, an organization to raise up and make a difference? Why does Doris keep coming to our different events?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Neighbors

This last week has been tragic for our neighbor across the street. She came over frantic last week about someone ‘keying’ her car. It didn’t make any sense. There wasn’t anyone who they could fathom that was mad at them or had cut off on the freeway. My wife has this warped sense of justice so she was ready to go out and attack the culprit. Obviously the keyer isn’t going to walk up and identify himself or herself.

My experience with people who do crazy stuff is that they really don’t think much about the impact it has on the person they are hurting or the family that has to pay or fix their destructive action. I am beginning to see that way too many people have anger issues that come out in different ways, i.e. keying someone’s car or stealing something like my iphone. I am surprised at the people that God brings me around. I have a new friend who also hangs out at Starbucks who also works with at risk youth. He has to make reports on a daily basis. We talk a lot and I see so many parallels between what we are doing.

Yesterday afternoon the neighbor again banged on our front door, no doorbell but we do have the dogs, which always alert us to danger. So the neighbor lady had an even worse tragedy this time. The same group obviously had come back and this time decided to slash all of the tires on their truck and one of their cars. One of their sons was home but didn’t hear anything. The police were out taking information. Now they are putting their truck and car in their garage. I am so thankful that our cars haven’t had this happen to them yet. I know I would be outraged if this were to happen.

The real question is how do I respond to random acts not of kindness but violence? I live in a nice neighborhood that is surrounded by older neighborhoods. The reality is that violence isn’t exempt from our street. I know that it is easy to make platitudes about others circumstances until I am faced with someone that slashes the tires to my van. The sheer cost of replacing tires for any vehicle means that Christmas isn’t going to happen, at least for gifts under the tree.

I know that with my kids it is too easy to see the anger or temper based response to this would be to get revenge. Let’s go find these ___________ and teach them a lesson. So how do we teach someone a lesson or do we? I know that there is a side to me that calling the police is a step in the right direction. I also know that parking my car in the garage or putting my computer stuff up vs. leaving out is another step. I know that I live away from thinking that consequences are real at times. As we journey together in doing mercy work and community development in South Phoenix, it is so important to show the result of both being pro-active and reactive. The damage that comes out going after someone is huge. It is one thing to repair the damage done to a slashed tire. Yet, to see someone stabbed or shot is horrible and doesn’t have to happen. Yeah, I know the mindset of some is that I can always get stitched up or the doctor can sew me up.

Christmas is an amazing example of how God has dealt and is dealing with our temper and anger issues. Jesus comes to create a means for us to resolve the anger problem deep down inside. I know that most don’t understand that being reconciled to God is the first step to be restored to broken relationships. I know that it is really impossible to go back to someone who has stubbed you and forgive him or her. Yet, this is exactly what God has done for us through Jesus’ coming, living for us and dying for us. I have been around some people who are desperate and it isn’t necessarily their fault. How they choose to deal with their circumstances is their choice.

I know that violence only begets violence. So as I say to my kids/teens the first step is to not make a fist but reach out your hand to give a high five or shake as the beginning of a new relationship based upon grace and mercy not getting even.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Friends

As I look back over the last year I am blessed – spoiled to see how many friends God has brought into my life. I know that as a pastor that often people will be part of your life and ministry for a season and it is always sad to see someone move, change churches, get less involved or drop out. This last week I had a couple of times where I ran into friends unannounced. I have sensed with this one new friend, John that we will do lots together and help each other significantly in the years to come. He is in the process of deciding to work for a non-profit that is doing work in Afghanistan. My wife grew up in Pakistan and her brother just left to work in Afghanistan.

As I think of the many people around me it is always sad to see so many who are friendless. I was fortunate to have had a mom that never gave me an option about making friends. I can remember the routine so well every time we would move. After about the third day she would take us door to door and introduce us and get to know the moms and their kids that lived on our block. I can think back to really not liking this at all. Yet, as I look at my present life setting it has made me a person that is quicker to talk to people and connect. Yeah, I still like being alone on times but I have to confess I love to be around people and bring people together to do great things.

What I am confounded by are a few friends that are really afraid of being around people. We have helped some single moms who obviously want help and do appreciate what we do for them and their kids. The difficulty is that they seem to hide and disappear when it comes to attending the various events we do. Why? I guess I am starting to see that some people are not into crowds, afraid of being ‘found out’ or there really is a ‘racial divide’. My hope in the coming year is to be better at going after people that are in the condition. I am making some new friends who I hope will give me the ability to break into the lives of these single moms or grandmas who are a little suspicious of making new friends.

I know that the basis of what I do in community revitalization is totally based upon building relationships. I know that we talk about networking but it just comes back to choosing to be friendly and always be about making new friends regardless of the circumstances. What I have always admired about Jesus was how great he was at walking, talking, watching and responding. How can I make new friends if I don’t go out to the market place to meet them? I have to be as zealous as the JW’s or Mormons but have a different approach. It is difficult to wait for people to respond and come to me after I have approached them. I think of a few people who I have recently met through our last painting blitz. I know that it will take a few months of door knocking and inviting before some of them respond.

The real blessing is that God has chosen to pursue me to be his friend. I don’t understand it because I am not a great friend. I am too busy at times to sit and just listen and too often I have my own agenda at the forefront of my relationship. I can always picture the image of Jesus being the shepherd who is out looking for the lost sheep. He hasn’t ignored the other 99 but understands the urgency of finding the one. I need to understand the mechanics of both looking for the 1 and caring for the 99 at the same time.

I know that I wouldn’t enjoy being stranded on a desert island by myself. Life is for sharing and experiencing the power of friendships.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why?

I have grown accustomed to doing presentations and doing Q & A in different settings. I understand that I will not always have an audience that understands or is thrilled with being around people that are different from them. So for a few sentences I want to reflect on why do I live in the hood, hang out with wild kids and bug a bunch of grandmas.

I am fortunate in that I have a job, career, vocation and calling that is something that I love! I truly have a heart for wild teens that don’t have much of a home life; little kids, who want to play, hang out, talk about crazy things and then there are my grandmas that I enjoy spoiling. So why is it the case that I enjoy being in such a diverse situation?

I know growing up as a kid I had an amazing home life. I have a mom and a dad who were always there for me. I knew that if anything ever happened to me my mom would be at my side in minutes. I had this assurance that my home would always be nice, neat with food or goodies for my friends and me. I knew that even when I did something totally crazy my mom would scold me but there would be redemption. My dad, who was away often when I was a teen, was very affirming and always there for me. He was slow to criticize and obviously didn’t want to damage my psyche so I can count on one hand how often I was spanked. (My wife would say this is what has messed me up)

As I have experienced God’s love, mercy and grace I don’t see any other way to live. My mom was always quick to be one to jump in and help anyone regardless of circumstances. As I experienced Christ as a teen, college student and adult I grew to understand the practical ramifications for gospel living really comes down to how I treat my neighbor. I was fortunate to work in a downtown church that took seriously the Biblical notion of loving those that are different, i.e. Hispanic teens; homeless that lived around the church or the odd types that are left out.

What I am learning is that every person, regardless of age, has something special to teach us because of his or her God given uniqueness. So as I drive around to visit in my neighborhood all of the time I enjoy just watching, listening and doing things with Art, the ‘white guy’ who looks like an old Stephen Stills, Mrs. Jefferson who speaks very slowly because of a stroke, Bookie one of my kids is quick to ask can we go to McDonalds or one my teens that wants to go to Starbucks or the mom that needs special help. I can’t ignore any of them. Yeah, this is a different life then my past circumstances of living in the suburbs and doing church primarily in a middle class white context.

Yes, I admit that I love being around excitement and drama of different people groups that reflect a vast array of cultural experiences. I enjoy all different types of food, music and ages of people. I admit that I am weird but Jesus obviously in one breath welcomed the kids that were viewed as not being important, stopped to listen to a desperate dad and then interrupted by an older woman in terrible health. I actually enjoy the interruptions and craziness. The ultimate goal is that the gospel would intersect the people and circumstances that I live in and around. I have been given a heart for those that usually are overlooked, forgotten or laughed at too often. There are too many parables or stories about Jesus that show his heart for the lost sheep, son/brother who would be left on the wayside.

I am thankful that God has loved me in spite of my crazy sinful choices! I am learning and growing in understanding that loving God is done through loving my neighbor.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Persistence

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder what am I really doing with my life? I have all of the lingo down for doing community work but at times I am walking on the edge of at least three to four different worlds. I truly believe that God’s heart is to bring together people of diversity to be his ultimate family both on earth and in heaven. The reality before Christ comes back is that the church isn’t very interested in reaching across racial, socio-economic and theological boundaries. This last week I have had numerous experiences of seeing both the impact of sin on families, and the blessing of spiritual reconciliation.

I have talked about the youth that stole my wife’s iphone a little. I have become irritated with those ‘rip’ off others and take advantage of those who are smaller, have less resources or just see a quick an opportunity. This young man Joe just happened to truly believe that he could easily lift the phone and disappear without any consequences. I know that I have to admit that I am not much different. I can pretend that my actions or lack of actions don’t hurt myself or the ones I love, but they do. As I shared Joe didn’t show any real remorse for what he had done. I struggle with whether I should pursue anything with the police. I know that his mom is overwhelmed with her circumstances, yet she needs to take charge of her situation and not assume someone else will do it for her. So after many attempts to connect with the Police Department I am able to file a report. I really didn’t expect a call back from a detective but my cell rings and it is a Phoenix PD asking me to go over the report and decide to file a report. I agree and explain why I want to do this. The officer is very nice and agrees with me about the need to send a message to these youth and more so find the older teens and young men who had been threatening this youth.

Just as I think that I have see it all I have one of the newer moms in our group call up and ask for help. Little did I understand the real circumstances around her. She is going to loose her rental because of a foreclosure that she didn’t cause. She is offered money to out in two weeks. Yet, the reality is that she has nowhere to go and the money won’t solve anything. I see her on Saturday at our Christmas party and encourage her to stick around. She says something about needing to turn on her utility so I give her $10 to help.

The following morning, my day off, I get a couple of calls from her. I connect with her and now hear another desperate story. She relates how she has an extreme DUI that happened last April. We talked a little and it is obvious that she truly believed that all of this would disappear because she hadn’t heard anything back from the court. The surprise comes and she has a court appearance in a couple of days. She is afraid and wants to hire a lawyer and thinks that this will get her off. I explain that the law is clear in this situation and give her a couple of referrals that restate that she has an extreme DUI and she won’t get out of it. I pray for her and ask her to call my friends to hear first hand the consequences of these actions.

Next I end up having a great discussion with one of our present houseguests, a teenager whose mom is unemployed and presently homeless. He has been living with different friends and family over the last 6 months. I have known his family the longest out of anyone at New City. We talk about his mom and her circumstances with the goal of being better able to connect with her and not scare her away but also help her to see her responsibility with her teens. I texted her and then we end up talking on the phone and have a great conversation and agree to meet with her and her son after school finishes in a week. This call would have been impossible in the past. She truly felt judged by most Christians and doesn’t like being around groups.

I am learning that God’s heart for the poor isn’t about giving away freebees but actually dealing with circumstances that don’t have easy answers. The way that I love my God is seen how I treat and care for those around me. It is scary to understand that God wants me to be willing to lay down, give up or allow others to take what I have in order for them to have spiritual transformation.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cold Morning

I reflect on how some kids/people always look great from the outside but in reality are a mess but don’t show it very often. I have a few little kids that we do lots of things with and after being around them for 1-2 years they are definitely part of the family. I have a special heart for this one little guy. Let’s call him Steve. He comes out of a family that is hurting. He really hasn’t had a dad since he was very little. So life all of a sudden comes crashing in on him.

I can’t fathom what it would have been like to grow up without a dad. I know even more so that having a dad who promises to come and do things with you and then doesn’t show will have an impact on anyone regardless of age. I moved every couple of years as a kid because my dad was in the Air Force. I was blessed to have a mom who was proactive and didn’t give me a choice but to make new friends literally the first day we moved onto a new base. She never gave me an opportunity to be down or out of it.

So my little friend Steve has now changed schools to get away from the bullies and be in a better environment. Yet, his sister is now in middle school and he is left behind. He is having difficulty wanting to go to school, stay in school and has strange feelings. So how do you help someone in a broken family? I have asked a few older friends to hang out with him. I know that this won’t replace a dad, heal a broken family or help him face school everyday.

I am learning that I have to open my eyes to see the impact that sin has on everyone, including little boys with fathers. I was truly blessed to have, still have an awesome dad who gave a framework for life that I can’t imagine not having.

Pray for my little friend that he would see God as being his Father and that life isn’t going to be perfect but that he has a mom and grandma who love him dearly.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Drama

I thought I had seen the height of drama in my life with doing work in the ‘hood’ over the last three years but last night took the prize! I have to be careful with names, so please don’t assume that the names I am using in my blog are real, the stories are true though. We had a traumatic experience a few months ago when I was leaving to go to San Diego via Southwest Airlines. I am getting ready to take her to the airport and we can’t find her phone. I am ready to ‘kill’ Terrance because my assumption is that he had used it and didn’t put it back. The last thing I wanted to do was send Anne off on a major trip without her phone. I had a painting project that morning and didn’t want Anne not to have a phone.

I gave up and assumed that we would find the phone after she left. The unfortunate thing was that she was going to be with her family for the next 6 days without a phone. So we had a great start off with our painting project. I quiz a few of the kids about the phone and soon discover that we knew who the culprit happened to be. We attempt to find Joe but have no success but talk to his mom and grandma. I am left with the choice do I call the police, file a report, get another phone or?? I decide to get another phone because I am leaving on Monday to eventually connect with my Anne and she needs the phone.

Flash forward to yesterday and Joe, who had taken the phone, shows up on our front porch with an apology. I explain to him that after trying to get a hold of him over the last 6 weeks that it was rather late to show up and just say SORRY. I explained the total shock of having him come into my house and take Anne’s Iphone off of her desk. Then basically, running away and then selling it to another kid, who made big bucks. I asked him if he understood how serious this whole thing really happened to be. He said had been going to church and then now he was different. He sounded genuine and a little repentant. So I said I wanted him to list out all of the things he had stolen, names of people and that we were going back to apologize to all of them. I said that saying sorry only made sense if he did something that showed he was truly sorry. I was busy with getting ready for our bbq so I left and let Anne finish the time with Joe.

I returned and assumed that God had done something really amazing in Joe’s heart to get him to ‘fess’ up and get on the right path. Little did I get the bigger picture that day that Joe’s life was going to crumble before us into a real mess. He hangs around for our Sunday night BBQ that usual has around 50-60 attending. Over half of these are usually teens. It is typically for the kids to get loud as they are talking and hanging out. I had already asked them to quiet down and stay in front of our house.

Just as we are getting ready to take a group home one of the visitors is being carried to our place and is saying that he was hit by a car. I quickly get the crowd away and try to check him to see how serious he is. As I check I don’t see any blood or sign of broken bones. I pick him up and take him in the living room and we double check. He seems ok but claims to have been hurt. I decide that we better be on the safe side and call 911 and have him checked out. I decide to take most of the youth home with Terrance helping out.

As I am driving home Anne calls and explains what happened and says he is at St. Joes and I should go get another one of our older teens that went with him. I now know that he was ‘faking’ it to get the attention of one of the girls. I am ready to scream at such a crazy unwarranted display of pure stupidity. I know that his mom will explode and also hope that the Police and Hospital Staff will get on his case.

As I pull up to the ER and go in I get my nametag and am directed to the back area where the ped unit is located. I eventually find his bed and see his mom there. He was sitting up on the bed. I quickly explain to him how I am ‘blown away’ by his actions and how he has put others in harms way. He is slow to look at me and admit to what he has done. I also ask him to confess to his mom his list of thefts. The nurse in his area also gives him the what for with his foolish actions tonight.

My hope as I had told him was to see him turn the corner and not do anything else like this. If he really had found God then why did he just do this crazy thing? I walk away sensing that Joe is still not there yet. Drama is always part of life’s’ process of transformation through the gospel. No one wants to let the old man die, myself included.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I'm Sick

I have had the flu bug for over a few weeks now and am ready to get well. I don’t like being sick nor making an excuse that I can’t do something or be somewhere because of not feeling good. I don’t really like canceling events but sometimes you don’t have a choice. I figured with it being our anniversary and Anne was really sick that we would cancel our normal Tuesday night dinner and study. It’s not that we didn’t end up still doing something with a few of our kids.

I know that there is a huge tension in the church of today over whether God’s will is that no one should ever get sick, have diseases or _______. I know as I picked up one of our kids for tutoring last night I told their step dad that I had the flu bug but was getting better. He proceeded to tell me that he would rebuke the flu and it would be gone. I too believe that it is possible for God to intervene in any situation to restore me to wholeness. Yet, my comeback, I admit, was that Paul the super Apostle said that when he was the weakest he was more apt to trust God and actually be stronger.

I know as I listened the step-dad, talk about his faith walk I was slow to say something that would have been misunderstood. I don’t know him but it is clear that he has some type of physical impairment that he was born with that makes it difficult for him to walk and one of his arms is semi-crippled. If he really had a faith that was capable of moving mountains why hasn’t God healed him of this obvious malady? I know that so often there are many in today’s church that would almost give this man a guilt trip for not being restored to complete health and that it was obviously a lacking in his faith not the power of God that had caused his present circumstance.

I mention this not to make excuses about my flu or cold. I need to fess up to the fact that I burn the candle at both ends too often, need more rest and be better at getting away. I’m improving in this area but the reality is that we get sick or I should say I get the flu or cold on occasion. My choice isn’t to pretend that I’m not sick but honestly to express the fact that I too am human and need God’s blessing. Too often I may be viewed by some as being different or above the cut, but I’m not.

So I need my shepherd’s gentle but firm hand at times to lead me back to my bed, office to be more strategic in how I order my day. I am thankful that I’ve had good health most of my life. I understand that Scripture commands me to count my days which is simple sense is to appreciate, value or make count the time God has given me. I’m not superman nor am I the savior, but just a fellow servant of Jesus, who wants to see lives transformed, family life improved, and a neighborhood in South Phoenix revitalized.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Anne

I can’t fathom that it has been 37 years since a cold rainy day in San Diego saw two almost 20 year olds get married. I know that this caused great concern on the part of my father in-law and it should have. We were too young, broke and not even close to being finished with school. I was impulsive and arrogant about my faith walk with Jesus. Yet, God worked through circumstances that saw Anne and I go to Cal-Poly, graduate, go to Grad School (Seminary) and actually not end up with a little one at 19, jobless and homeless.

I write this blog as a tribute to a wife that is incredible in ever manner of speaking. I have been too quick at times to take my Anne for granite, take advantage of her trusting me and willingness to do anything I sense God is calling us to pursue. She has been the one who stayed the course as we experienced the shock and awe of having a little girl literally pop out at 6 months and weigh only two pounds. Looking back I mainly remember that the horse we had been given was supposed to be for Anne but because of being pregnant it meant I had horse rights. The night that Heather decided to join us was rather commonplace with us watching Quincy on the TV and Anne acting like she was having contractions that weren’t suppose to be happening. The next phase of our lives was rather a whirlwind with moving from our beach paradise in Los Osos to the Bay Area where there was traffic and the joy of driving an hour to see our little Heather.

Anne was an amazing young mom who juggled the emotions of not knowing whether our Heather would live past 1 then 2 then 3 years of age. Our transition to San Diego was also an amazing dream come to true. We were going to Seminary to prepare for doing ministry. As to what that would be and where we would go I was clueless. I know that Anne was thrilled to be with her mom and dad. I was not as excited seeing that we would be living with them and I still had a difficult time understanding the traditional church and the fact that her father was totally that. I know that God ultimately knew that living with Ruth and Paul, attending First Pres and going to Westminster was exactly what we needed. Sure I reacted to the traditional services, robes and big choir but I learned how to do youth work, minister in the ‘hood’ and learn how to love on the homeless. God provided an opportunity for me to work at First Pres and for Anne to attend Westminster. This was truly a gift God provided for my Anne which I am so thankful. I know that at times she doesn’t believe that she has used her seminary education but she really has as I watch her interact with all types of people including our family and extended set of friends.

I know that living in San Diego for five years was truly a gift with having both of our families being there while we did seminary. Moving was something that my mom reminded me was eventually going to happen, which it did. I’ll never forget the day that we packed up the U-Haul and moved to Walnut Creek with kid, belongings and bird. It was a sad happy moment. Anne as usual always had a witting way of helping with the emotional roller coaster of really leaving our families. She obviously was closely tied to her parents so I know this was really tough. Yet, she came as the great mom and partner in ministry. Anne did an incredible job of transitioning into being a pastor’s wife, mom of Heather and jogging partner with me. The Walnut Creek area was easy to love with all of the variety of parks, hiking trails and closeness to SF.

It was fun to watch Anne always speak her mind and be at times off the wall with her unusual sense of humor. We transitioned from working with Christ Community that went through a significant change with Corty and Pat leaving, the church leaving the PCA and we essentially were homeless. Anne should have freaked but didn’t as I transitioned back to doing concrete work. God again was faithful to provide and give direction. It wasn’t too long before Oak Hills went from being a total off the wall pipe dream to becoming a core of loving families that wanted to do something like start a church.

It was during this transition time of starting Oak Hills and still doing concrete work for Hansen that we discovered Julie and Jon. Looking back I am still emotionally brain dead when it comes to our loosing numerous pregnancies. I know it wasn’t until we were old, like 47 and lost our last little one that the years of hurt finally hit me square in the head. I know that I should have been more supportive and communicative with Anne about the reality of loosing 5 little ones. So as we began the two year journey of adopting Julie and Jon I should have been with it to understand the perfect little family of Anne, Heather and me was going to change forever. I know that at times I am too quick to jump in to do something and getting Julie and Jon was one of those types of things that you talk about but have little understanding of the impact until after it happens. We really didn’t believe it was going to happen because of all of the delays and issues with social workers in San Diego and Walnut Creek.

So as you can imagine we ended up getting the kids just as we are in the middle of starting Oak Hills. I know what strikes me about my Anne is her ability to face change and difficult situations with screaming or complaining. The transition was really hard on Heather, which I knew but didn’t give her as much attention as I should have. Anne was stretched now with not 1 but 3 kids literally overnight. The journey with our adopted kids has been incredible but again something that has impacted and changed our lives. Anne through this all has been the one to show a real heart and motherly way of caring for everyone, whether that is correcting a paper that she literally rewrites or playing taxi or talking on the phone to our emotionally charged daughters.

Our move to AZ wasn’t something that we talked to our younger kids about we just did it. I know that this was a tough move for everyone. Heather tried to run away but Anne discovered the plot before it unfolded. Anne was an incredible mom to our kids during this time of growing up from grade school to college. We formed great friendships with our DPC families. I know that dropping Heather off at NAU for college was one of the most difficult things for Anne and I. I think what was difficult was knowing that Heather really wanted to go to a Christian College and was still rather young and immature to be left alone. Anne again in her incredible way loved on our Heather while she was gone. This was a tough time for us because Heather had a bad experience her first semester with the roommate from hell and we were too, or I was too brain dead to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Anne very faithfully loved on her Heather and she moved back home. The next step, which Anne has described as, Heather hooking up with Jeff the axe murderer also was rather traumatic. Little did we understand the dynamic of the Dannewitz clan but now after 11 years have grown to love Jeffrey most of the time and better appreciate what his mom did to raise him and save him.

Julie and Jon are truly part of our family because of Anne’s ability to draw us together in spite of all of the distractions in life. I know that my Anne values dinner conversation but has been given a bunch a baboons for family that would rather ‘wolf’ down our dinner and then do what’s next. Anne has been incredibly faithful in making dinner times special, especially now that we have numerous people living with us. I know that Julie’s journey gong to ASU wasn’t easy and there were many times she wanted to quit and walk away. I truly believe she would have gone to beauty school if her mom hadn’t been there to push, help and prod along the way. I know there were many nights with screaming and needing help with doing papers. Anne was the one who stayed next to her through the long haul.

I know that Jon’s journey with school has been a challenge for us. We decided to snatch Jon out of his beloved Dobson High School and send him to a small startup charter school, James Madison. This at first seemed like the best thing that ever happened to Jon. Unfortunately it turned into a nightmare that still plagues us. I think what has been amazing is seeing Jon go back to James Madison to coach football and consider teaching there after he finishes at ASU. I have too many blow up experiences with Jon that should have pushed me or Jon over the edge accept for the fact that Anne intervened to stop us from killing each other. Anne is rather fun to watch when she totally looses her temper, cool and wants to stop the police from coming. Jon has gone throw a couple of girlfriends, Jodi is awesome, a year long internship at KTAR and now coaching that has helped him become a model student and son. I laugh when I hear Jon give Terrance, our live in college student, the riot act for being sloppy, lazy, disorganized and whatever.

I know one of the most difficult times in my life next to my mom’s death, was leaving DPC. This has been one of the most difficult times for Anne. I was surrounded with special friends who helped me through a difficult transition in life but my Anne was almost left out in the cold. Looking back I know how my Anne has often been my advocate and defender at times when she might not even agree or understand my choices. So I am eternally grateful for her ability to be this for me but I have not been as good at being close to her on her terms, not mine through transition times in life. I know that having a number of friendships change from being best and very close to being distant is hard to understand and impossible to accept. Yet, Anne has weathered many storms in life and this one she has learned to keep going and still have a heart and interest in others.

Our transition to South Phoenix was probably one of the more difficult moves for our entire family. I know that moving is always a pain for most. I love what I am doing today but the journey to get there required sacrifice and a transition period that didn’t have any guarantee of anything. I know that Anne wasn’t convinced at first that New City/Barrio was something that she really wanted to do. Yet, as I watch her love on our kids, help Terrance with normal life stuff it is so clear that she is clearly gifted and passionate for making an impact on these crazy kids that do dumb stuff often.

My dear Anne my real promise to you in the coming years is to be there for you, listen to your warped sense of humor, walk more with you on the canal with our herd, let you into my life more and pay attention to your warnings instead of shinning them on. You truly are a beautiful person; yes you are sexy and alluring for a 50 something and have a very sharp mind that is still capable of expressing God’s wisdom in a way that anyone could understand. Thanks for accepting me for who I am, loving me and putting up with me while you push me to be a better person to serve our God, our family and our other family.

I love you and owe you big time – Dave

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strays

I have been reading a rather fascinating book, “Oogy”, the story of a family who takes in strays and this includes adopting twins and a dog used for bait. As I look back at my life I seem to be one who also loves to take in strays because I too am a stray that is at odds with God, family and friends at times It is only because I have been adopted and loved in an extraordinary way that my life has meaning and value.

The way that I met my Anne is also out of the extraordinary. We both ended up at an Inter Varsity Camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. She came because of her Church’s request to do some type of Bible study before leaving for Ethiopia. I had to attend for ICCF group. We lived on opposite ends of Cali and came out of very different contexts, Anne a missionary kid and me a military kid. We met on the Santa Cruz Beach Board Walk. I had long frizzy hair and was definitely was a Jesus Freak and Anne was just a blonde with long hair who was pretty but wore missionary leftovers.

I was drawn to her wit, intelligence and charm. She was a person who loved God without any boundaries. I was fascinated with her growing up in Pakistan and now on her way to Ethiopia. I had moved every few years in my life but had never been outside of the U.S. I was more the stray looking for a home then Anne.

Over the years we have taken in different people and pets or strays. I know that as we approach Christmas the overwhelming message of the gospel is that God is in the business of loving and adopting strays. I can think back to little Joey, who was the son of our sister in-law’s sister. I can remember Tony and Freddy and the impact they had on our two kids we adopted while we were starting a church. Now I think of Terrance, Darious and our dog pack, Graham, Carly, Peanut and Freckles. They all are a reminder of God’s incredible love to those on the outside that have been forgotten, left behind and abandoned.

My hope is to be one who is willing to take the time to love on those who have less and could easily be passed over as not deserving for attention. I know that as we finished “Stick Boy’s’ project last night that he didn’t have a computer, printer or internet at his little home that is off the beaten path. I love Brenning Manning’s book, “Ragamuffin Gospel”, because it talks about God’s love for ragamuffins, which I truly am.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Connections

Over the last three years I have been involved with doing some amazing things. I never imagined that painting the exterior of homes would give me a window into a person’s life and an ability to connect with their family. I am humbled and overwhelmed that God would allow me the privilege to be part of the lives of Mr. Sanchez, Ramona, Art Carter, Tanya and now Travis. I can fathom not having Mrs. Jefferson, Doris, Sarah, Ruby or even Glenda as special friends.

It is too easy to be overly cautious about what I choose to do and whom I choose to help. Just now I received a phone call from one of my kid’s moms. She doesn’t have a great track record. She unfortunately always seems to be between jobs, having one crisis after another. This time between not having a home for her kids, which means they are staying with others or me, she had her car towed over the weekend while visiting a friend. What do I do now? There is a side to me that wants to sit her down and give a good ‘tongue’ lashing for being so foolish and casting out her kids. Yet, I am learning not to be so quick to judge or let my anger go.

As I connect today with Ramona who isn’t going to live much longer I am so thankful for being her friend. I am thrilled that her daughter would call me and ask for help. I truly wish I could pray over her and see her frail little body be healed and recover. Yet, I know that our days are numbered and only God has the power and authority to take action.

I am still in the middle of the battle between the Sanchez daughters. I know that it isn’t my job to bring peace or unity to these gals. Unfortunately one of them has decided to be the lone ranger and act on her own without the support of her sisters. There has been much harm done through the one sister taking charge without thinking. She unfortunately is doing this supposedly in the name of Jesus.

Life can be messy at times regardless of our socio-economic setting, family history or who we know. I know that sin is a factor in all of our lives. At times God’s grace and mercy seem to rescue us from the mess and other times the consequences of our actions hurt us and those we love.

Christmas is definitely the time of the year to be reminded that there is ONE who has purposely chosen to step up on our behalf. Just as I know I’ll get a call from one of my kid’s mom about getting her car out of jail I know at first I will flinch about whether I should help or just let her ‘stew’ in her own circumstances. Yet, Jesus has shown us his love even when we were his enemies. The gospel goes out its way to show that mercy and forgiveness are God’s heart in all matters.

My hope is that I can continue to make connections that will be give opportunities for the Gospel of Grace to impact the lives of many. Yeah, as my wife would say we are all mutants or ragamuffins.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Frenzy?

This is the first ever in my life that I have actually gotten up on Black Friday to checkout some deals at a local store close to my house. I first went to my Starbucks, which is just walking distance away. There was a line waiting to get into the store. There was another group giving out free coffee for the new gym around the corner. I can’t fathom that a business store would draw a crowd but it did. The manager is a good friend so I know that she must be pleased to have all of the cashiers working away at 6AM.

I have to admit that I like to get the latest and greatest products when it comes to high tech. I know that I am a geek but fortunately the Apple Store doesn’t give great discounts so there isn’t any reason to rush off. Plus I have everything I need at present. So what’s the point of writing this morning? It isn’t to bash those who are willing to get up at 3AM but to say why is it the case that we can only rise early a few times a year? I am under the persuasion that this would be a good practice all of the time.

I know that Jesus was in the habitat of disappearing early in the morning to get away from the crowd, get some quiet and perspective on the day. I agree that it is easier to think and pray early in the day. I also understand how the best-laid plans of anyone can come to not when we wait too long and other things become a distraction of lesser importance.

I was thrilled last Saturday that there was kind of frenzy with my painting blitz will lots of people showing up early on a Saturday morning. We did get a lot accomplished that wouldn’t have happened if we had slept in and not made any definite plans for what time to appear and where to go. So yes planning and thinking ahead does make a big difference.

So what would happen if we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Thanksgiving? Is it possible that there wouldn’t be a Black Friday? What would happen to all of the sales or unbelievable deals? I know that I have told a few that if it is too good to be true it must not be, but wait a second can’t there ever be gifts dropped out of heaven? I know that everyone wishes this would be true but the reality is that you can’t get something for free without someone else paying for it.

It is too easy to say that God’s love is free and that all you have to do is just believe. Even in saying this there is a cost to God that is unfathomable and also to you or me when we choose to walk or follow after Jesus. The greatest gift isn’t on Black Friday but Good Friday. (It is surprising that these names aren’t swapped, you know Jesus’ death should be on Black Friday and then shopping for great deals should be on Good Friday.) As I sit in a Starbucks typing, drinking and watching it hits me that life in spite of the recession isn’t that bad. I have had many great little surprises the last couple of weeks. God does come through in some of the most unusual circumstances. I know that when I get my focus on the wrong person or circumstance God sometimes does a number on me to force me to see that you can’t put Him in a box and that ultimately He is the one in control.

I’ll go back home and wait a few hours to go back to Staples to see if the printer/copier that is only $99 instead of 499 will still be there and is a good deal.

Yet, the best deal for me is being with my best friend and wife of 37 years. If there is one I should get into frenzy over, it is my Anne. She is always there, faithful, beautiful and ready to help, create a laugh and also be sensitive to those that are hurting or scream when there is an injustice.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Deserving vs. Undeserving

I have been asked often how I select whose houses we are going to paint. I know that in my past involvement with Habitat for Humanity (HFH) there was a very strict criteria. Each family or individual being considered had to have a list of references, credit check; partnership commitment for sweat equity and the list goes on. I know that Rebuilding Together of AZ only chooses to paint homes of those who are seniors on fixed incomes. I believe that both of these organizations have chosen correctly for what they are doing. New City/Barrio is different we are all about God’s grace, mercy and unconditional Love.

Consider with me how Jesus totally shocks his family, friends and religious leaders. He is viewed by most as someone who not only hangs out with tax collects, sinners and drunks but also appears to favor them over more normal people. The obvious question is why? Is God’s grace really capable of saving a murderer, rapist or thief? I truly believe that in the hearts and minds of most we cringe if we hear of someone who is on death row having a conversion experience. We wonder whether it is possible for God to transform someone like this. The logic follows that they really don’t deserve to be helped, transformed or welcomed into heaven. So it isn’t too difficult to see how we come up with our own criteria for those whom God should love and make part of his family.

I can recite the doctrinal notion of total depravity or that I am a 100% grade A sinner but I don’t necessarily believe that refers to me. I’m not like the guy across the street, who beats his wife, gets drunk all of the time or deals drugs out of his garage. So if God had to choose between him, and me it would be clear that I am the more worthy recipient of his grace and mercy.

So is it wrong to choose to help someone who doesn’t necessarily fit the ‘grid’ of being someone that is perceived as being worthy of assistance? I at times do things to ‘ruffle’ the feathers of others to test and see whether they really understand that grace and mercy do mean that I am loved when I am still God’s enemy deserving of judgment and ultimately hell. How am I going to connect with those outside the kingdom if I don’t choose to be around them and at times surprise the religious leaders of my day by loving on someone that is on the edge or off. What I am doing is different from HFH because we aren’t investing a large sum of funds, volunteer hours and an example to the community. If anything we are almost the opposite we want to show grace in the neighborhood by maybe helping someone that is loved by most.

I can remember the first house or two we did in our present neighborhood. Mrs. Jefferson has become a dear friend and prayer partner. I will always remember her response when I asked her who was the person she struggled most in her neighborhood. After she told me then I said I think we need to paint her house and show grace. Little did either of us expect that after painting her house we would connect with all of her sisters and their families in this little neighborhood? I know that I will be second guessed at times as we help people like Richard, a cousin, who isn’t all there and isn’t very able to do much of anything whereas the Ora, Felicias and others we have helped are really the great models of individuals who have stepped up under adverse circumstances to do what is right vs. what is the easy way out.

Our last painting blitz was a great surprise because all of the families actually helped themselves get ready for the blitz I didn’t do anything but drop off supplies and paint. I am so pleased that all of the families both helped and watch a large group of my friends volunteer to paint their homes. I truly believe that God’s grace and mercy were revealed one stroke at a time as hundreds of hands painted seven houses in a few hours. I know that I do like to be liked and even admired for what we do. Yet, Jesus is a constant reminder of one who told his followers that if they attacked me they will attack you. Jesus was known as someone who was soft of the ‘bad people’ and seeming attacked the righteous. I am not Jesus but see his heart and incredible example of living out God’s unconditional love.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rip Offs?

I am just now ‘recovering’ from our amazing Barrio/New City Painting Blitz from Saturday. It has taken months worth of prep to see the day actually come. It was through the help of many, Brad Ghaster, Rebuilding Together of AZ, special friends giving funds and a new neighborhood grandpa, Earl that Saturday’s Nov 20th Blitz was a great success.

It is always easy to judge or evaluate something either by numbers, i.e. how many people volunteered, how much money was raised, how many of my painting families came to the lunch or how many came to faith in Christ or?? Looking back God is teaching me to see success as a one person at a time ‘thing’. What impressed me was that all of the houses we did had all of the families helping prep. They actually got out and got down and trimmed bushes, sprayed off their homes and picked up trash.

As I look back over the last couple years of doing this what stands out is that when my painting grandmas or grandpas are in need they come to me and ask for help. We have become a connector to the Lord for them. I know looking back that I never imagined that Mr. Sanchez’s family would see me as their spiritual leader. I was privileged to be with Al until the end. I am thrilled that he read through the Bible we gave him. Now as I just visited Ramona and discovered that she is in poor health I see another opportunity to show God’s love and mercy. Her daughter, Francis, just called yesterday to tell us of her mom’s situation and her desire that we stay in touch with her. It is truly amazing to think that we have an impact both on youth and ailing seniors.

So now I am getting use to the fact that with every successful event that we do there will always be some glitch caused by the enemy to rob my joy from the situation. At first this use to really make me mad. I sensed that it was my fault or something but have come to see that it isn’t. The blitz was no different. I had a glitch with a couple of college students who were supposed to bring the grill and food by a certain time and were nowhere to be found. Ouch – this turned into a mess that at first I felt bad about but reflect on the fact that I wasn’t late and didn’t cause something to happen that hurt a few people. I know in the end the lunch was a great success. Sure there are always going to be people clashes because of working with a varied group of people that are different, have different ways of doing everything and sometimes just out right clash.

As I drive to the snow to help a friend get his truck, which his ex-wife blew up I am reminded that if I want friends to step up for me I have to be willing to step up for others like Christ is the ultimate one who stepped up by going to the cross. It is only in Jesus that I have the life, energy and joy to face the glitches. So will I let the rip offs get me down naaaah never? Yeah, I may be bummed for a few minutes but in the long haul I know that Jesus is alive and making a difference in my South Phoenix Neighborhoods.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Trust

After doing different sized events over the last three I am learning that God is in control and the outcome is truly in his hands. This doesn’t mean that I opt out from planning, praying or pursuing people. I am seeing that numbers and quality are important but what is most important is making sure that each person involved knows that they count and have meaning and value because of God’s image being in them. Yes, I know that I am a total sinner/bad guy. I am amazed at what can be accomplished with broken and fallen people who are usually more interested in themselves then helping others.

I met early this morning with three great friends who are very much part of New City/Barrio Nuevo. They will make our second painting blitz be relatively smooth sailing. Yeah, I could freak about different groups dropping out at the last minute or whether the funds will come in to cover both the expense of the event in addition to providing funding for our ongoing work. I was blessed to get a large check in the mail from someone who wasn’t able to attend but instead provided the means to cover the cost of the whole blitz between supplies and food. Another church isn’t able to really participate because of a funeral but will still send a check that will help us.

I know that it is easy at times to let circumstances cause an emotional roller coaster. There always seems to be someone to stand up when someone else steps aside. I still feel miffed or emotionally drained when something happens that isn’t ok. I know that being on the sick side before the blitz isn’t a good thing. So I am taking it easy by doing a little bit each day. I do hope and pray that my Anne will get better today – tomorrow.

I am also learning that being responsible for the little things is just as important as watching the biggies. I know that it is easy on occasion to give someone the impression that I am too busy for him or her or I don’t want him or her to be involved. Yet, my heart really is to be open ended so that anyone who comes and wants to help out is welcome. This also has a down side when it comes to youth that are truly on the wild side. How are we going to impact our neighborhood if we exclude those on the outside? I don’t have the answers always as to how to reach or tame those that don’t know Christ but understand that the gospel is more than capable of turning a life around.

Trust is something I am learning both from God relating back to me and also my many new friends in the neighborhood.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Scream!

We had an incredible gathering last night with a New City/Barrio BBQ. We had a good sized group with a blend of everything that makes South Phoenix such an amazing place to live. I was thrilled that a few of my newer friends came, obviously had a few others who I had wished would come but didn’t. My one friend brought his two little girls who had a great time and I know will bug dad to bring them back.

We have some great friends who were visiting from New Mexico. They have been in the background as we have watched New City/Barrio be birthed. So I was glad they were able to talk with quite a few who came last night to get a better sense of what we are about. I know that what we are doing is something that our enemy and antagonist the devil is so against. It doesn’t surprise me when something happens that is a ‘downer’. I am always asking God what do you want me to learn from this.

So just as we are finishing everything up and people are leaving one of the teens tells me that her mom is missing money from her purse. I never know what to do between screaming at everyone, frisking everyone, doing nothing, going to specific individuals or?? So I talked to a few of the kids who are so quick to put the ‘finger’ on someone. I made a couple of phone calls and texted the mom who was hurt.

I go to bed with that strange sense of joy and also frustration. Isn’t it possible for my kids to figure it out sooner than later that stealing is bad and that protecting someone is also just as bad? I know the likelihood of someone ratting on someone is very slim? So what do I do? I don’t want to quit having gatherings that are mixed, adults with kids. I also don’t want to have all purses, wallets put under lock and key. I want to be able to trust everyone but know deep down inside that there will always be someone who is looking for a quick scam. I can picture the frustration and sadness of Jesus who is sold out by Judas and then in turn has each of his main guys totally flake out. So I know that Jesus understands my hurt and heart ache both for people that are targeted and the person who just made the mess.

I know that most parents accept the fact their babies will require special help for a season. So changing diapers, cleaning up messes and waking up in the middle of the night is to be expected for a few years. The challenge is when this few years turns into the rest of the life of the kid who becomes a teen and then an adult. So how can I be grace driven and still deal with these types of circumstances. If screaming and beatings would work I would do that but they don’t. I am slowly learning that praying, waiting and being persistent is God’s way. Judas did repent of his actions when he tossed the coins on the ground. Peter was ashamed for a lifetime of his out right rejection of Jesus.

God help me not be too ‘chicken’ to confront evil with the power of the Spirit. Help me not always be quick to judge just a few but seek help all the way around with pursuing the good. I know that the Father’s heart is to see justice served, the poor in Spirit blessed and the deceitful brought down. No one promised that this would be easy but always messy but with the amazing blessing of seeing lives transformed.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sick?

I know of one of the more difficult things for me is to admit that I get tired like everyone else. I too am susceptible to the cold or flu bug on occasion. Yesterday was a busy day that started at 5:30 AM and didn’t finish until I collapsed around 7PM. I was definitely slowing down towards the end of my last meeting. I had a great morning with doing breakfast with a good friend and then had a group of 8th graders help do a mercy project for most of the morning.

I think the one thing I did, different from my past, was to cancel an evening appointment. I have a few great friends who help out some of my families in a special way. This one younger couple were going to come by and go over a gift list with me for a single dad and his kids. I decided after coming home that this wasn’t going to work. So I made up the list, put on a few great pics of the kids and then e-mailed it and texted about being sick.

Yesterday was a holiday so the kids were off of school. I had a group that had helped with doing the morning project that wanted taxi service to and from the mall. I explained that I had a certain window to help but their timing didn’t fit. They still attempted to get Anne to get them in the evening. The unfortunate thing, for them, they didn’t tell her they were at the mall. So around 9PM we get a knock at the door and the group was there expecting taxi service. We had just gone to bed and Terrance ran interference for us. I know that they didn’t like being told NO but they had blown it totally by waiting till the last minute and after telling a couple of them that I couldn’t they should have known better. So they walked home, which wasn’t that far away.

I don’t like being sick but it helps remind me that I am human and don’t have unlimited energy or brainpower. I can picture struggling with having a cold and allowing his mom, Mary, to care for him. I know that my wife is a great caregiver and at times I am too self-sufficient and don’t allow her the ability to love on me in this way.

So cough, cough and I had better get to work for at least part of the day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Loving God = Loving My Forgotten Neighbor

I think one of the most important lessons in my life journey has been to better understand how we love God and what this has to do with our neighbors. Over the last three years I have had the privilege of doing lots of different things that have allowed me to meet new friends both in my neighborhood and outside. It is so easy for me to assume that loving God is totally a by-product of going to church and doing a certain routine that can totally ignore the people around me.

As I read Jesus’ explanation in Matthew 25 I am taken back. I can understand how quickly his disciples didn’t get what he was saying. They never saw their teacher in any great need. So he how can he talk about their feeding him, clothing him, visiting him in prison, giving him a bed at night, etc… Jesus defined the total law of the torah in a very simple triad, Love God, Love neighbor and love self! I know that it is easy to attempt to love God in a total vacuum. Yet, Jesus forces us to step back and see that the only way we can talk about loving God is by how we treat our neighbors.

I know that most middle class Christians who live in the suburbs isolate themselves from those who are in real need and hurting in their cities. It is so easy to purposely go around the needs of a city or neighborhood. I have chosen to be neighborhood driven in all that I do. Each day I drive through my neighborhood and see the impact that sin, poverty and drug – gang violence have on people. So Jesus’ indictment is overwhelming, if you haven’t helped or loved on one of those in real need then you haven’t loved me. Ouch!

So how do we live out the gospel without putting a guilt trip on those who don’t understand the needs of the neighborhood? How does someone who thinks church is just on Sundays get stretched to see the bigger picture of God’s transforming love? I know for me it has been through simply doing mercy work in my neighborhood. I have been spoiled to meet some incredible people who help me see that it is worth it. It is more blessed to give than receive.

As I birth a church and non-profit that are called to impact a neighborhood and see total revitalization I have no choice but to see loving God from the perspective of loving people that are usual forgotten. This is never to say that they aren’t people, kids or grandmas who don’t deserve attention – they do. How can this transformation take place? I must choose to be with these friends, in such a way, that I get to know them and they get to know me. The challenge is that this takes time and a willingness to live life their way and not put them on my timetable.

So loving God, which the Bible does define as worship, then is something that goes beyond the walls of any church. Jesus’ church was outdoors without any walls. He casts a rather convicting vision that to say we love him without loving on our forgotten neighbors means we really don’t know him. So the person walking the streets without a home I am called to care about. The single mom who is totally exhausted after working and caring for her kids I am supposed to find out her needs and help. The rebellious teen that is always doing crazy stuff I need to be less quick to judge and more open to understanding. I am thankful that God has chosen to love me regardless of how I am doing on loving my neighbors. My wife often says that we are called to love the mutants because we are mutants that don’t fit in many places.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Control Freak vs. Mr. Spontaneity

It has been a fascinating journey living between a couple of different cultures. I always chuckle when it comes to how middle-aged men that are upwardly mobile live or die by their ical or day timer. I pride myself on being on time or early to anything I do. I know that in the other cultures I live in and around it is almost the total opposite, being late is the expected norm. I know that living with teens and kids the rule of thumb is last minute changes and spontaneity is considered ‘bomb’ or the best. Our college student, Terrance, would say that he lives according to CP time, i.e. Colored People Time. (Terrance isn’t known for being punctual usually but he is trying to be better.)

I know that it is easy to plan your life into the ground, literally, like where will I be buried or over which mountain or beach will be ashes be scattered. I believe that there is a balance between being totally irresponsible and being totally compulsive obsessive. How much insurance do I need? If I had put my love trust totally into the value of my house or 401K I would be getting ready to jump off the proverbial cliff. Where I live house values have been reduced by over 50%. I am reminded that the Psalmist challenges his family and friends with not trusting in how many horses or chariots you have but in the Lord.

I will be the first to confess and even repent of the fact that I react to people that have everything perfectly planned out or are in the habit of controlling everyone around them. It is satisfying to obviously see something well planned out and at the end of the day be able to reflect on the blessing of being someone who has thought ahead and planned everything out. This last weekend we had an all day Saturday event that was the by-product of planning for months with a group from Iowa. They provided the resources and man-woman power to do some awesome things in a day. I had to ask others to help out, seeing this group was going to come exactly at lunchtime to begin their mercy event. I had to call ahead to get a couple of bouncies, chairs and tables to be delivered. I had to go shopping for the lunch, ask others to make special salads, etc…. I had to ask someone whose house we were going to paint for the Blitz if it was ok to paint it 2 weeks ahead. Having said all of this I also decided at the last minute to take the group from Iowa for an experience of their lifetime and go by the Ranch Market. We took a quick tour of the Mercado and allowed the group to enter into a different world. We all shared the thirst quenching drink of an amazing fruit drink.

As I look at the life of Jesus and the Apostle Paul they seem to have totally different methodology when it comes to the ‘time thing’. Paul seems to be the legalist who is always wanting to do something or push someone to do it his way. Jesus on the other hand seems to be totally casual and by the moment. The disciples were with him for three years and still didn’t get it at the end of his life. This isn’t a put down but just a reflection on different types of leadership styles. Jesus taught more by doing or as I say walking and talking. Paul was much more a didactic teacher who ‘got off’ on the lecture hall scene. Whereas, Jesus loved sitting on sides of mountains or along the seashore when he taught.

I have also come to the conclusion in life that there will always be someone who is your advocate and promoter and someone else who is your antagonist. This is just life. Jesus gave a pretty clear sense to his group that if he was beat up for certain things that they also would get flack. I say this not to brag about doing great things but the harsh reality that often people don’t understand or choose to take the time to walk in another person’s shoes. As I have been forced to slow down and be with my Dad and other seniors. I know that I have to relate back to them on their terms not mine. Yeah, I don’t like this and get rebellious at times but this is just life. Jesus was able to go back to his hometown knowing that he wasn’t going to get a hero’s welcome but a total rejection. Even his own brothers and sisters didn’t understand or get what he was all about.

So my struggles are how do I get better at loving and accepting those who I don’t like or get along with very well. I know that the cold war isn’t really an option, especially with relatives. Yet, the way most people deal with those that they don’t understand or like is to stiff them, put them down or hurt them. This is an ongoing learning curve that I pray God’s grace and mercy will impact my way of relating back to people that are very different from me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Lost and Found

I am starting to think that every time something goes great there always has to be an interesting finish. This last Saturday we had a group from Iowa come and help for ½ a Saturday with New City/Barrio Nuevo. The group had come to brainstorm and plan for their business in the coming year. I am grateful that their leader, boss, decided to do some team building by working with New City. They helped fund a Saturday that impacted my lives, both kids and adults.

We did a picnic in the park party and had a free lunch where some friends cooked dogs and burgers. Many in the neighborhood brought different salads, soups, bean and a cake for dessert. The helpers from Iowa connected with the kids through doing crafts, i.e. face painting, making bracelets, playing basketball and finally doing a piƱata. A good portion of the Iowa group went into the neighborhood a painted a house of a single mom whose had the same job for 21 years! Everyone had a great time being stretched a little by being in a diverse community and being asked to do some things which they hadn’t done before.

As the day progressed it was obvious everyone was enjoying themselves, making little friends and accomplishing a lot. We had taken many pictures with the cameras that had been brought. The key contact for me was Kim, the admin specialist for the owner of the company. We finished the day with bringing all of the kid people over to see the house we had painted in about 2 hours. We took a large group picture with Ora, the single mom and homeowner. She had tears in her eyes as an appreciation of thanks. So just as we load up on the bus everyone seems fine and has all of their belongings.

As usual I take outside groups that help to Ranch Market to experience some of Mexico in Phoenix. The Ranch Market close to by house burnt down and is still being redone. So we went to another market on their way back. We pull up with this gigantic bus and park it taking up over half of the spaces on the side of the market. Everyone enjoys walking around looking at the interesting Mercado’s that are outside. We walk into another world and I get everyone to have a fruit drink that ranged from Horchatta to Sandia (watermelon). Just as we are making our escape back to the bus Kim comes up to me asks me to look for her camera. I have no idea where it could be. We talk a little bit and I promise to look at the park as I go back to clean up and finishing loading the truck.

As I pull into the South Ranch neighborhood I ask a few of the teens to look around for a camera that is very similar to mine. We look and look and there is nothing to find. I txt Kim and tell her that we were looking, but still no camera. She is starting to get a little frustrated and fearful that it might be gone. As I look in my little car I see my camera case and my camera sitting on the seat. Ahhh, maybe the other camera is actually in my case. As I open it up it dawns on me that I actually had her camera and someone else had mine and left in my other car. I thought back and realized that her camera was a little different in the way it worked even though it looked the same. I txt her back and tell her to start praying so we can find. I wait another 10 minutes, I’ve got her attention and then tell her the good news – we found it and it is all in one piece. She echoed quickly that she is thankful to God for us finding it.

I go home and quickly download my pictures from my camera only to discover that I had really used her camera a bunch and then proceed to download the rest of the pictures. I was quickly able to print a few of the pictures to give to her when we drop off the camera at their resort where they are staying.

I know at times I can feel like I am lost and that no matter how hard I try to figure out life’s ups, downs and turns I don’t get it. I know that Kim had this gut feeling like I can’t believe I lost the bosses camera after such a great day. What a horrible way to finish a day and the trip. The great news is that God is in the business of doing lost and found. I am thankful that someone who has a better eye and ear than me is always watching out for me. The challenge is that I often like to be lost and pretend that it is just life circumstances that cause this. I am no different than anyone else the last thing I want to do is ask for directions or let anyone know that I’m hurting or have a real problem.

The great news of the gospel is that Jesus is in the business of finding lost sheep, feeding us, watering us and putting us back on track. Yes, the Saturday was a great success and finding the camera only affirmed to me that sometimes the little bumps in the road help us keep our focus on the Father!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Connecting!

Today was one of those days where you go YEAH! It seemed like everywhere I went I ran into people that God had prepped to be wanting to connect. I had been in the process of selling a nice used Macbook and hooked up with an ASU student who turned out to be an incredible young man. He turned out to be someone that is cross-cultural and very interested in doing community work. He was not your typical student. I ended up giving him a deal on the laptop, which he desperately needed and listened to his story for an hour or so. We finished with a sense that God has linked us together. I can’t fathom his conversation with his mom who is an ‘old school’ lady from India that wants the best for her son but according to her family culture. I know that this young man will help out in the near future with New City. He is very interested in getting other ASU students to help with tutoring and mentoring young students.

If that wasn’t enough then I ended up getting a call from a local pastor who had initially acted as if his church couldn’t partner with us for our painting blitz. His call was a welcome surprise, their thanksgiving project had fallen through and he wanted to partner with our Blitz Project. This was incredible news.

As I am shopping at Staples for more supplies for our upcoming project on Saturday I again run into another young man who wants to help out but is always working or doing school. I know that this guy also is a different from the rest of the crowd. I was equally shocked to go into Subway to get a $5 foot long to hear the Hispanic teen behind the cash register says to me, “Don’t I know you?? Are you the guy always around South Ranch?” This ended up with a conversation about his being new in the South Ranch Community and me being able to share briefly about what we are doing.

The crowning conversation was with a single mom whose house we are going to paint on Saturday. She stands heads and shoulders above the typical African American Mom in my neighborhood. She has two kids, a college age son and a Jr. High daughter. She has had a job for 20 years and owns her house. I was thrilled to hear her story of why she is different from many others in her neighborhood. It was obvious that her parents care big time, are a Godly influence in her life and she chooses to say no to the bad stuff and yes to God and being a full time mom.

What a day! Thanks Lord :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rejection?

I love to joke around and make fun of others and myself when it works. I am going through the gospel of Mark. I am at the section where Jesus’ family has come after him to talk some sense into him. Now the hometown crowd doesn’t see him as being anything more than just a low paid carpenter or laborer. The unfortunate result was that Jesus didn’t do many miracles or say a whole lot. The impact was minimal. Why did this happen? Why is it the case that some times the people that are the closest to you judge you the most?

I am reminded by many of my friends that I am in the middle of a battlefield. Where the enemy is throwing fiery darts all of the time. I tend to either pretend this isn’t happening or think that I am exempt from this. Then I am hit by something that reminds me how totally absurd the enemy can be when it comes to how he chooses to play. I have a group of kids at New City that do come out of unfortunate, i.e. bad, situations. I am starting to see at times I can be competing for the attention of the kids with their single moms or guardians. My purpose is to re-enforce the parent relationship and be more like an older uncle or grandpa. Yet, I have to admit that there is a huge cultural gap between the different people groups that live in South Phoenix.

This last week someone accused me of something that is really horrible. The difficulty is that they would never say this to my face but instead label me as being __________. So instead their teens get really upset and I am sure deep down inside can’t figure what is really going on inside the head of their single parent or their partner. I wish there was a way to fight this but there isn’t. I have tried in the past to dialogue with someone but it always turns into an argument where I lose and one of my kids are then forbidden to come any more. I just want to scream and beat someone up for being so juvenile but this is the way people act.

Is there any way I can avoid all of this drama? Yeah, I think I can choose to be more involved with the parents by inviting them and attempt to get them involved. I know that most won’t but at least I should try. I know that there is nothing to reveal in when someone chooses to reject you or say horrible things about you. Jesus moved on and continued to show the truth in simple, practical ways that expressed the impact that grace and mercy can have.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Learning

I just recently looked at an e-mail of a good friend who does the accounting for my church. As I looked at the e-mail it was actually a link to a site that was a memorial for her adult daughter whose daughter I saw often at my friend’s house. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I read about this 36 year-old mom being killed in a car accident a few days ago. A man who was being chased by the police for some reason ended up going the wrong way on the freeway and hit this young mom. She was killed instantly, the man responsible will live and this young little girl will not have a mom because of a drunk.

I went to bed late last night in tears because I couldn’t believe what I had just read. I have the cold – flu bug and can’t fathom the emotional roller coast of my friend as she has taken care of her granddaughter in her home for the last couple of years. I have seen the love and joy in my friend’s eyes as we have talked and watched her little granddaughter play in our midst. I know that the why question automatically comes to mind. How can we live without her? The ravages of a divorced young mom, was enough for my friend to handle a few years ago. Now the overwhelming sense of hurt, lose and sense of how could this happen will linger in her mind for a lifetime. As she picks up her granddaughter she will see her daughter’s eyes and smile.

I have my share of heartaches in my life working in South Phoenix. Some of my stories can be just as heart wrenching. We had a gang related homicide in the habitat community where a lot of our kids and families live. I can’t fathom the hurt and anger that this produced in a family who may have already had real problems. I tire of the racism that lives in my community. I thought it was only ‘white’ people who are prejudice and quick to judge. I am discovering that everyone is biased against others that are different. I know that I have done lots of things, at times, that draws kids and teens away from their parents, guardians or caretakers. The reality is that a good portion of the kids and teens we love on come from horrible family situations. So I can understand how someone could be jealous of us because of what we do and how the kids and teens respond.

I have these two sisters who have been part of New City – Barrio since we started. We have done lots with these gals and have helped them often between rides to school, cash to get lunch or last minute problems where mom needs help. I have been accused a few times of being racist by some of the relatives. I know that I stick out and the way I relate back to someone can be questioned. I am becoming more and more aware that how I shake someone’s hand, the look I give and what I say can either draw someone to the Lord and me or push him or her away.

I am now have been accused of doing something to the mom’s boyfriend. The difficulty for me is that this mom has had numerous boy friends during the time we have loved on her daughters who all have been excessive alcohol or drug users. I haven’t said a whole lot. The last time the mom said the girls could no longer be part of our New City family I asked her why. The response I got was the girls needed more sleep or more time for homework. I pleaded with her and ask if this was really the true reason behind their suspension from our activities. I knew that an Aunt had said I had done something to her that was considered racist. The mom would never admit to the truth. Now I have the most recent boyfriend is accusing me of giving him the evil eye. The reality is that I could have looked at him in an odd fashion because he is always looking at me in a strange way.

So what do I do? I have recently have just learned that taking a parent or guardian to task doesn’t necessarily help the situation. Yet, someone has to stand up to the obvious misplace of judgment or out right abuse of young kids and teens. I know that being falsely accused of something behind my back creates a situation that I can’t change. So I will pray and be myself and ask the mom in a few days why the girls can’t come presently. I now can see that God is more than capable of changing a heart and opening the eyes of those who are racist to see God’s good in a person. I am learning that God works through the unfortunate things in life. I know that real evil is presently out there ready to attack those who want to bring the gospel of grace and mercy to the evil strong holds. My real prayer is that the Spirit will help me be calm and not over react or under react to what happens around me. I know that I have been called to stand up for the injustice of what happens in South Phoenix.