Friday, February 26, 2010

Do You Have a Home?

As my wife would say I don’t read for pleasure but too often for information. Over the last year I have read some of Henry Nouwen. I ended up reading a couple of his books that talked about the story of the prodigal along with Tim Keller’s book on the Prodigal God. I typically would view myself as a servant that is quick to dive in and help others without much thought about attention, reward or payback. As I read Nouwen’s books it struck me that here was a very intelligent and gifted scholar who ends up caring for a man, John, which was in a care center because he couldn’t care for himself. John would usually ask the question do you have a home and will you be home tonight? It is out of these questions that Nouwen rethinks his view of his own life and what is really important, i.e. being a famous scholar teaching at Yale or Harvard or loving on someone who isn’t completely there.

My mom died a couple of years ago. She was truly my inspiration for being an outward person that did have a heart for people and was never afraid to jump in and help. I watched her die over a period of years not months or days. During this period I saw my dad go from being a rather typical male to becoming someone that was overly protective and an isolationist. All of this impacted my brothers and me. My dad all of a sudden didn’t want just anyone around. He was quick to cut us off and protect his lady, which I don’t blame him. I knew that my mom would be gone soon and that I would eventually have to care for my dad. I love my dad but we are totally opposites in almost everything. I drive him crazy because he thinks I don’t listen and I think he talks too much or says the same thing. (Which most of us do.)

When I decided to bring my dad to live with us I didn’t really know what to expect. I did this almost like a ‘lark’. I drove out and didn’t know if he would respond to my simple request to come and life with us in Phoenix and leave San Diego. After waiting a few hours for him to get his stuff we eventually left and arrived in Phoenix. After he had lived with us for a few days I will never forget a comment he made at dinner, “Hey, I like living here and think I should stay here forever.” My hope along with Anne was to help him find his own place where he could be around people and be re-introduced to life. Instead he believes he has found his new home and now has disconnected with everything in his past.

The purpose of this blog isn’t to go too deep but to consider that taking care of my dad really is important and actually an act of spiritual service. My challenge is my attitude towards God – why. Everyone knows that it is always easier to love those outside your family circle than you immediate family. If you lose your temper it is always with those closest to you. As I consider Nouwen’s choice to finish his life’s work by helping his John I can see my dad saying, “I have a new home and I am here today” and that is all that matters. We are in the process of doing a lot of work to help my dad get relocated to Phoenix from San Diego. At times it is easy to forget that what is most important is how he is doing today. Not, whether yesterday’s storm is that big of a deal. I know that I will fight with my dad over silly things often and he will at times accuse me of being the father now and all too quick the boss. Yet, just as he will fight me he is always so quick to come back to me and say thanks for taking care of me. He usually has a short memory. My problem is that I have too good of a memory and always want to be right.

It will take the Lord time to help me see that caring for my dad is just as worthy of a pursuit as loving on my grandmas in my neighborhood or taking a burrito to Mr. Sanchez. God knows that I got along better with my mom but my dad is the one who is now living with us.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Rain on Your Parade?

One of the key lessons I am learning is to trust God in all life circumstances. I know intellectually it is easy to rationalize why I should trust God. It is fairly clear that I am finite and incapable of changing anything even with my most ardent efforts to be organized and well networked. This last month I have experienced some of the more stressful points ever in my life. I knew that having my dad come and live with us would be both a delight and also a daily challenge. I knew that working with different groups in doing mercy projects that there would be times when something like rain might cancel an event or postpone it to a later date

This last January we had the most rain ever since we have moved to Phoenix 15 years ago. You have to understand that as I worked my way through college and grad school as a concrete guy I didn’t like rain because it meant I couldn’t work. Now I actually like it and enjoy even walking with the wife and dogs while it drizzles. Having said all of this I had a very unusual situation this last month where I had a large group coming to paint 3 houses and experience doing community service work in the hood. The week before the event the rain kept coming everyday and it seemed like all day. My team leaders, who are seasoned veterans, finally conceded with me that it would be a wise thing not to paint on our planned Saturday for the event. We knew that even though our scheduled Saturday might be clear that everything around these houses would be so muddy that it would end up being an overall poor experience. So we decided to wait 3 weeks.

We wait three weeks I get everything prepared and planned out. The weather had been beautiful and dry for a week. The last thing I expected was to get an e-mail from my key leaders saying oh by the way Dave did you know that the forecast on Saturday is for rain. I quickly checked by iphone and then National Weather Service and saw this little cloud with raindrops. How could this be – God don’t you understand that I need to get this finished both for the sake of the group and also for the people who had been promised. I was willing to dive in and do it regardless of the rain factor. We decided to wait to decide until later the Friday before the event. We were out having dinner at my daughter’s home. I decided to not call my team leaders but just text with a simple question – “Is it a go?” I finally got my response – Yes – let’s go for it!

I had already dropped off all of the supplies for what I hoped would be a clear Saturday morning. The large group of volunteers met at Hermoso Park by 7:30. We did the usual nametags, sign in, sign the Bibles and listen to instructions. After our group picture we disperse the group that will go to 5 different houses to paint and do work for at least another 3 hours. As the groups arrived at their homes and started their work it was clear that the clouds were coming and the sky was getting darker and darker. Ouch! God you know that we need to finish these houses before the flood comes. Each of the groups were doing a great job painting and interacting with the different families that we were helping.

I was attempting the impossible with not only painting 4 houses with a possible 5th house and still wanted to do a handicap ramp for a domestic shelter home that happened to be close to our other homes. I drove a group to my house to do burrito prep before going downtown to feed the homeless. As we drove the drops starting coming and the intensity increased to where I had to put on my wipers.

As I was approaching my house I got the call I soon expected. Dave – you know it is starting to rain. What shall we do? I was almost ready to say keep going don’t stop but as I listened it was clear that we had finished what we had planned to do. So why try to do anything more. Let’s clean up, get organized and then hand out the burritos before doing a special lunch for the larger group that helped out. My anxiety level had initially gotten the better of me but as I stood back and looked I saw that God had worked in some rather amazing ways. We accomplished everything we had talked about and even the icing on the cake – the ramp was also going to be done.

We did a great lunch at a local Mexican Restaurant that was the best culmination. One of my requests to the group was to get me some extra T-Shirts for the paint day. Initially the original group was going to be around 80 instead it turned out to be more like 50 and we were given the extra 30 vs. having to pay for them.

I know I should know better and trust God especially when it rains. I am learning and beginning to see that God has always been trustworthy. I am quick to flake out or get excited for naught. So I will still watch the weather forecast for a project but realize that even when it rains on your parade God can still bring that rainbow that reminds of a promise made long ago that still stands today.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Life Isn't Fair?

I have faced a few tough times in my life. I had a close friend who had lived with us when we were first married. I will never forget the day Andy went out hand gliding and we joked about whether I would get his Honda 350 or the VW Bus. As we watched the news about a Cal-Poly Student being killed in a hand glider accident I never in a million years expected to hear a knock at the door. It was the police asking us if we knew Andy because he had our address on his license. I think I had vivid dreams about Andy’s death for months after it happened. His mom’s reaction to all of this was ‘Why God’ my son was only 20 and it just isn’t fair!

I will also never forget the roller coaster life we had with the birth of our daughter Heather who was born 3 months premature and weighed 2 pounds. This two was one of those nightmare types of experiences where she wouldn’t get better or wouldn’t die for almost a year. We lived between the hospital and my parent’s apartment for months. There wasn’t any miracle type recovery but Heather did grow and eventual came home and is now a normal 31 year old that has been married for 9 years. I know that other preemies in her unit died because they had drug parents who didn’t care. It is easy again to say why God. Why is this young life punished for the sins of its parents?

I watched my mom over a decade face a struggle with breast cancer. She seldom ever complained. She was an inspiration to me on the practical how to of facing life both with the good and bad. She always had a great outlook in spite of how she felt. She did suffer greatly the last year of her life. I struggle again with the why question. I will always remember the morning my dad called to say that she was gone. I cried so much because I had wanted to say good-bye to her. I was a little jealous that my younger brother Scott had been with her the night before and had an opportunity to love her. I doubt that whole in my heart that has been left with her absence will ever be filled. I know deep down inside that God’s loving care was there for my mom and dad. The last few months were tough because all of us wanted so much for her to get better but it was clear this wasn’t going to happen. Yet, I was so grateful that God allowed her to be well enough to see my younger brother, Scott, graduate with his PhD. She had to be wheeled to the seating area but she was the proud mother who truly glowed because of her son’s success.

Last night we did our normal walk the dogs on the canal route with grandpa. It was a beautiful night as we walked. There was a group of horses being trained to do barrel racing. There were only a few out either biking or running with their dogs. Little did I expect to have our evening end with a nightmare that I will replay in my mind for years to come? We have done this same walk at the same time for the 3 years we have been in South Phoenix. At times there is no traffic and at other times it is almost impossible to cross. We have crossed at times together and also gone on and loaded the truck while the other crossed. This night was going to be a sadly different story. As I got to the busy street I decided to go ahead and cross with the puppies and Truly. We made it across without any difficulty at all. I unlocked the truck and was in the process of putting keys back into my pocket when Truly for some reason pulled away and I lost her leash. This will always stand out in my mind – How could I have not held on to that leash. I screamed loudly, TRULY, TRULY STOP!!! Yet, the pull of seeing Graham and Rosey and Anne pulled her into the street and now oncoming traffic. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her tiny little body bounce underneath this speeding black car. The driver was clueless about his murdering of my little dog. This totally made me come unglued and then to see Rosey pull away from Anne to rescue Truly was even more unfathomable to witness. I ran across the street as a caring gentleman pulled to the side and helped Anne get Truly and now Rosey. I took Rosey across the street and knew instantly that she was gone. She had tried to save Truly who she loved to bug and play with all of the time. Now the back of my truck bed became their bed as I drove home furious with anger that something as senseless as this could happen.

As we pulled into the driveway and the garage door opened I was filled with rage that these little creatures could be so brutally killed. They deserved to live and die of old age not be run over by some idiot driver who was more concerned about getting home 5 minutes faster than paying attention to what was happening on the side of the road. I quickly got some towels in the garage to gently place these little dog bodies. We took them to the back porch to clean them off. I sat there in total disbelief that this had happened. Why, why God did this happen. I wouldn’t let my dad talk to me. Everyone came over in about an hour. My Julie sat there for an hour holding her little Truly who had brought so much joy to all of us over the last 6 years.

I was not in any mood to do a funeral but Anne in a supernatural way stood up and extolled the beauty of God’s creation in our little dogs. She very eloquently expressed her heart for the reality that sin has ravaged our world and that those who deserve to be hurt the least are at times hurt the most. We were all in tears and there wasn’t much comfort that night. Everyone left and I went to bed with the little puppies. My Anne stayed up to pen two incredible poems about Truly and Rosey. My dad was obviously upset and paced the floors all night.

I woke up and knew I had to go buy a pick and bar to dig a grave big enough for both of the dogs. I returned and slowly spread back the rock and started to dig into the dirt/mud. I decided to use the wheel barrow to put the dirt and slowly made headway. I got some plastic and emptied the wheel barrow 3 times before the hole was big enough to cover our two little friends. I finished in time to look for pictures to print out for Julie who I knew would be an emotional basket case. Anne read her poems and we put the pictures out. We allowed the dogs to say their good-bye to Truly first and then to Rosey. I then took each of their little bodies and placed them in the hole. I then began to refill the grave with dirt and then eventually covered it with gravel. I was actually sore from the manual labor of digging the hole and was again reminded of the impact that my sin has had on the world and especially little animals like Truly and Rosey.

Yes our lives will be different without these amazing little dogs. They brought joy and happiness all of the time. There was never a dull moment in our household because of them. Yes, it was chaotic at times but we loved the chaos. It will take a long time for the memory of my little Truly being hit by the black car to be erased from my mind or maybe it never will. I will always remember Rosey as the crazy ghetto dog that chased after Truly to save her. If only I had been so concerned to have done that for my little Truly. Graham knows that something has happened and even the pups miss being attacked by their mom and then will miss the chance to bark at or bite at Truly.

God please bring comfort to my family in this sad time. I can’t wish a tragedy like this on anyone. I am comforted by the fact that Jesus cried when he saw Lazarus even though he knew he would be raised from the dead. I pray that one day we will all be together again and will be able to walk on the heavenly canal and toss the ball for hours on end.

Good-bye my little friends, you have left an amazing impact on my life and I will cherish the memories and pictures of you forever!

Our Dogs that will never be forgotten!

Truly’s Song

Small brilliant light shining joy into my heart,

Snuggly warmth, cream of wheat smell,

Pink downy tummy, so soft, so delicate.

Contented snuffling noises and burrowing deep in the covers,

Perky bright eyes, always the optimist,

Ears flapping, Olympic jumping, lithe body, rippling muscles

Ball dog, determined, fast, never giving up.

Such joy for such a small thing, to chase a ball.

Hula girl! vibrating hips with delight of possession,

She has her bone and is flaunting it!

Daddy’s girl, rolling on his face, making rooting noises of pure happiness, quick French kisser, wanting a TV cuddle time!

Analytical nose dog! So many unique smells,

Each analyzed, categorized, fascinating

Each anointed with two drops of pee on completion.

Fish guts girl! Rolling in fish sauce,

Delicious, ecstasy, stolen pleasure.

Whooee! Stinky dog. This requires a bath!

Sun worshiper. Tiny Egyptian Sphinx,

Makes me sit in the sun too,

Teacher of companionship,

Time of quiet delighting in each other

Moments with you are my holidays!

Little friend with the enormous heart!

Your barrel chest could barely hold it!

So trusting, so giving, so faithful.

Small Masterpiece of God

Thank you for your friendship!

I wait with expectation to see you again, my little dog in heaven.

For Rosie

Little black dog, so afraid, so dirty and thin

Covered in ticks, so afraid to be touched,

So afraid of men!

You asked for help and made us love you.

Four baths, many ticks later

Shining brown dog, snowy chest,

So eager to be safe and loved,

Yet so afraid to trust.

Barrel Dog! You are so Fat!

Four sweet puppies and you only a puppy yourself.

Such a good mother,

So exhausted, but faithful

Wanting to play, lick, cuddle your pups.

Jeff’s first crush! Bright eyes, goofy smile

Tongue hanging out, wanting a tummy rub,

Wanting to be loved.

Graham’s girl, rolling, kissing, flaunting, jumping

Running wildly in circles

Ears flying, happy to be loved by Graham.

Starbucks dog! Thrilled with riding. Dad’s errand companion.

Paws on dash, eyes alert,

Mouth eagerly open to bark at strangers.

Pure happiness to be with Dad.

Jealous dog! Growls when moved.

Wants to be first, won’t move over for anyone!

In your face Dog, guard dog, little ball of fire!

Thank you for your sweet presence,

Your assertive bossiness,

Your lavish affection and joy!

Brief life snuffed out too soon,

Yet you shared it all with us and I think you learned to trust!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


My life has changed again in a way that it is difficult to explain or others to understand until you face similar circumstances. My mom died over 2 years ago. My dad has struggled since her leaving with normal things that most seniors face, i.e. faulty memory, fascination with the past and the ongoing saga of looking for the keys or wallet. Over the last year my dad, who is truly amazing, would admit that he looses something every day that requires his all out search for a good portion of the day. This last week I decided that it was time for my dad to not be alone.

I share this in my blog to both help me process what I am facing with my dad and the ongoing grieving I have faced with the absence of my mom. My dad was a career Air Force Officer who flew B-52’s during the Vietnam War. I grew up on Air Force Bases and had a mom that was incredible in teaching me how to adapt to change and father who was gone more than around. Over the last six months my dad has started to show signs of dementia that at first were more an opportunity to laugh with him. Now this has changed and I am very concerned about dealing with a parent I truly love but don’t understand how he thinks or perceives reality. I know I would hate to have someone tell me that I am off or crazy. My dad’s fears to him are real whether I believe them or not.

I was raised as a child to not fear anything in life because God is always bigger than any circumstance. I watched my dad faithfully care for my mom over a decade as she suffered from having cancer. He was with her at the last minute and held her as she took her last breath. I am eternally grateful for my dad’s loving care of her! Now the challenge is that this is in the past and shouldn’t control the future. My logic or reasoning ability doesn’t help him understand that his imaginary enemies in life at present are real not a fabrication of his past and a mind that is functioning mostly on over time.

How do you care and love on someone who continues to say off the wall things that fly in the face of reason? I know that I am not going to persuade my dad to hear my side. His favorite expression is; ‘You’re not listening or you think you are smart and know everything.’ I am being humbled to see that loving my dad isn’t an option nor can I give him a smug little look that gives him a sense that I am superior to him. I cried yesterday when I expressed my own personal sense of grief over missing mom. Yes I believe in the sovereignty of God and his overarching care and provision but why does this have to happen to my dad and more importantly why am I the one to take care of him?

God is going to teach me what it truly means to be a humble servant that is on call 24-7 without excuse. My life is busy but it will change dramatically soon. I really don’t want this but see God pushing me.