Monday, September 27, 2010


I think most that see me in action would say that I have a lot of patience and seldom lose my temper. I admit at times I am surprised that I don’t get upset more often. This last week I had a situation where I lost it with one of my kid’s guardians. I know that I walk a fine line between expressing my ‘feelings’, telling the truth and calling someone out who isn’t parenting or doing much of anything for their kid. I truly don’t seek to pick a fight or tell someone like it is but at times it just happens.

This one teen we have known since moving to South Phoenix almost 4 years ago. He has always struggled with his temper getting him into big trouble. He unfortunately is a big kid that gets called names and laughed at. So I know that it is easy for him at times to let his anger overwhelm him and ultimately he picks a fight with someone who is the bully but he gets in trouble. Over the time that I have known him he has been shuffled between more schools than I can remember. This isn’t good even for a student who is able to adjust but horrible for one who has serious issues with self-esteem and a sense of worth.

I talk a lot about how important reading and writing happen to be in life. If you can’t read or write most likely you aren’t going to get a job. The reality is that even to play computer games, do e-mail, txt or do an online job application requires a certain level of reading ability. My one friend isn’t even close to being at grade level. One day recently after church we had popsicles for snacks, which had simple jokes or riddles on them. The six year old next to me pipes out the riddle with the answer. Then my special teen has this look on his face like I don’t know what this says so please don’t ask me and please don’t put me on the spot.

My special friend had been away for the summer because of some family issue or at least that was what I was told. I was pleasantly surprised when he called over the summer and said that he would be moving back to South Phoenix. I was jazzed to be around him and hopefully be able to help with reading and writing. I knew at some point I would get into it with his uncle who has been raising him since his mom is a total druggy. His younger brother had gotten into so much trouble that he was in a group home. He had been dealing drugs for some gang members since he was nine. I got frustrated with the uncle’s inability to get help for the younger brother and the unfortunate circumstances of this little guy living on the street.

My friend had enrolled in one of the schools that some of our other youth attend. I was anxious to get permission to talk with his teachers and have a plan to help him make progress with his reading. I had bought some uniforms for him because his uncle didn’t have any money. I had met with one of his teachers who said I had to get written permission in order to talk with him in detail about our student. So I actually typed out a letter that gave me permission to both transport the student and also discuss his academic performance with the staff. I get a call from the student about needing a ride home. I call and find out that he had lost his bus pass a couple of times already. He had already gotten into some real trouble this last week because he lost his temper and ended up punching out one of the teenage girls after skating.

I knew that I took a chance when I called up the uncle to let him know what had happened on the skating trip. I really had hoped that the uncle would concede to needing help and admit that his nephew had some serious issues. What ended up happening put me in a very awkward position. I had to disagree with the uncle and tell him that his nephew still had serious anger issues that would eventually get him into real trouble. I went on to ask the obvious question as to why he hadn’t given me permission to work with him with his teachers. He had a quick come back about being busy and not having time for this. I reminded him that I had written a special permission slip which he had signed and must have changed his mind and told the teacher that it was ok for me to play taxi but not to have any access to his records or an opportunity to talk with his teacher.

I have to confess that this pushed my button and I was upset with having spent years of trying to help my friend only to have his uncle continue to do things that put him in harm’s way. I asked him if he understood that his nephew read at a second or third grade level and he was in high school. He quickly piped up that his nephew was already getting help and was doing great. I reflected on the popsicle episode and how his nephew couldn’t read anything on the stick, where as the six year old was able to read it and laugh. I expressed my frustration with him not really getting his nephew real help over the years and the ongoing saga of always moving and changing schools had seriously set back his nephew.

I knew at some point that the uncle would accuse me of judging him and remind me that I really didn’t have any right to do that. I explained that I wanted to talk with others about his nephew’s progress so that it wouldn’t be me against him but others who could be objective. He wasn’t open to that so I again reminded him that over the years others had attempted to help his nephew to no avail because of his unwillingness to partner with past tutors/mentors and me. I did refrain from saying other things that would be judgmental but true knowing it wasn’t going to help my special friend at all. I asked the uncle to talk with me at a later date so we could clear the air and be more objective and not just reacting to each other instead of having our focus on getting help for the nephew.

Ouch, I feel like I have been taken advantage of over the years with helping out this family with out any accountability on the uncle’s part. I will miss my special friend and continue to pray for him and be concerned about his spiritual growth, emotional growth and academic progress. God, help me not get mad but continue to learn the lesson of those that wait on You will have the strength of an eagle. God I am so grateful that you can bring someone else into my special friend’s life if I am not to be the one.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reconciliation can happen!

I was talking with someone today who was interested in helping us with the Painting Blitz in November. As usual I am always very enthusiastic about the work we do in our neighborhood. I so much want others in the great Phoenix area to get involved and understand God’s call to all of us to be convicted about our need to recognize our need to pursue racial reconciliation and have a passion to share our wealth who those less fortunate. I attempted to get this group to help out before blitz.

My real focus in this blog is to say that it is too easy to think that life in urban centers are always about racial strife between groups. I know that I have had my share of battles erupt between both adults and youth. So it is always a little frustrating to finish an event that has gone really smoothly to have two individuals clash over something really ‘dumb’. So this last Saturday after skating with a large group of 50 and not having anything happen it was a totally let down when driving back in the van one of our teen guys gets into with a teen girl. I had to pull over and physically stop him from hitting her. We talk both after the incident, on the phone, via text and with his uncle.

I was pleasantly surprised when the guy calls me up and wants to apologize to the gal he had hit. I know that it is easy to say you’re sorry and give an outward sense that you have a repentant heart. So listening to these to talk for a few minutes and acknowledge that they have been friends for 3 years plus and that they really do care for each other and come out of similar circumstances.

I was blessed to witness this reconciliation between these teens. It gives a bigger sense of what God is really at work doing in the lives of both kids and adults. I know that this won’t be the last time either of these teens gets into fights but at least it is a good step to understanding what life should really be like.

A new day and a renewed sense of hope in seeing God work through reconciliation has made my day.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Taking a Hit for Jesus?

I know as a kid or teen growing up I really didn’t get into many fights. I can remember just two. One was over a girl where another guy and I obviously wanted her and the reality was that our little exchange of punches meant that we both lost the girl. The other incident was more of trauma. This was when I was in Jr. High and lived at an Air Force Base that was in Montana. There was little to do besides sports and scouting. I was playing on a basketball league. There was one guy on our team, Ernie, who was the textbook definition of a bully. Everyone feared him including most of the teachers. I will never forget the day when we were practicing and he continued to be a ball hog. I hauled off and hit him in his stomach. He had this shocked look at his, showed a little bit of pain and then instead of returning the blow for some reason laughed at me and continued to play basketball. I was rather shocked that I didn’t get my butt kicked after school.

I say all of these things to give a background to my real discussion, which was why are there so many adults and kids that have real bad attitudes, tempers and anger issues. I think I spend more time and energy breaking up fights than I should. I can understand the frustration of a lot of these kids and adults who come out of really bleak circumstances and are fed up with being called names, laughed at or pushed. What I don’t understand is why someone will totally lose it over something that is totally stupid.

This week was my birthday and we had a skating outing with our New City/Barrio Nuevo group. It turned out that we had a large group of over 50 in attendance. I knew deep down inside with this many coming that something would probably happen. We actually had a few new kids and this can always cause jealousy or issues. Yet, after skating for 3 hours, nothing had taken place and everyone seemed to be happy and friends, at least for that moment. Little did I know that there was a fight brewing that was just waiting for a perfect time to erupt, like while I am driving the van and don’t have a fast place to pull over to play referee.

As I listen to a few screams and some foul talk I knew what was about to happen and then wow did the fists fly as I screamed to both teens to STOP. I can’t fathom why they didn’t pay any attention to me. So I pulled over and had to intervene with bodily force to get the one teenage boy from pelting another teenage girl. In the middle of trying to stop the battle I got punched on the side of my face. I didn’t think much about it until after I had done my usual talk with both of the perpetrators. They heard me say so often walk away, don’t respond to violence with violence or two wrongs don’t ever make a right. Yet, this doesn’t seem to have impacted them in the heat of the moment when someone has purposely said something horrible to the other person.

I ended up talking to a few others in the group to get a better handle on what had happened. After everyone cooled off I talked to the two teens. I also ended up talking to their parents/guardians. I am not sure as to what the solution is to seated anger on the inside that is over past stuff that only God can heal and give His Peace to replace. So I am still nursing my little reminder that I too have a temper that can go off at times. I am glad that God doesn’t lose his temper but uses his anger for our own good as we experience that mercy and grace that is the basis for our salvation and reconciliation to Him. Jesus is the one who took the hit for me!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

I Miss My Mommy:)

I love doing birthday things for all of my New City/Barrio Nuevo kids and adults. What is amazing is that I have a bunch of friends who share the same birthday with my mom and me. I actually took a card to my Starbuck’s barista this morning. She is a sweet lady who is a young 32 with a young son and an awesome hubby. I have another friend whose house we painted last year. She also turns 30 something tomorrow. She is the auntie of a few of my younger kids. She gets the privilege at times of babysitting.

My real point of this blog isn’t to talk about the twins of Diane, another one of our painting families or Demondre a teen in our group but to take a few minutes to thank God for my mom. I think what is interesting is that my mom didn’t know her real birthday until she went to apply for collecting her social security. It had always been the assumption that her birthday was correct and that it was the day after mine. So it was a shock when she found out that someone had either lied or forgot?? Her birthday wasn’t the day after mine but we actually shared the same day.

My mother was always great at making birthdays special. She would do the little things like planning a party, having a special cake, getting the present for you that no one else knew about. I have had sad happy birthdays the last few years, as my mom has been gone. I think she will watch us as we celebrate as a family my birthday and hers on Saturday night with my family. I struggle with knowing whether my dad is even able to remember or wants to because of the heart ache of not having her around. She was always out spoken and the life of the party. She was always great at making us feel at home even after we had just moved for like the 20th time.

Mom you were the one who taught me to be out going, caring and friendly. You were also quick to open my eyes to see that lying or stealing were wrong and destructive. Yes, you would read to me at night from the Bible and pray the Lord’s Prayer together. I know that we were very different in many ways but at the core or center of my life you were that light that help guide me through my years of growing up. You were there when our Heather was only a two pounder and was three months early. Just in the same way you were quick to accept our Julie and Jon as we adopted them into our family.

I could write a book on my mom my super hero that stood by my dad as he flew all over the world to be our protector in the face of evil. My dad was gone for a year when I was just a year old. I obviously don’t have any memory of this but what my mom has told me. I do remember when I was in Jr/Sr High and my dad had 5 tours of duty in Vietnam. He had over 5000 hours of combat flight duty. My mom was incredible with him being gone most of my teen hood. She never complained but always had a smile and was quick to say step up and do what you have to and make life happen.

I will never forget her last few months of life. I had bullied my middle brother, Mark, to join us for our last birthday celebration together. I know that my dad was hurting big time and didn’t have the ability to talk about her approaching death. It was special being with her and loving on her and hearing her say that she loved us and wasn’t afraid to die. I cry as I write this because I wasn’t ready to lose her to cancer. I know that my younger brother Scott had the gift of being with her the last night of her life. My dad seldom left her but for some reason asked Scott to watch her as he went out shopping or decided for once that he needed a break. Scott was able to talk and love on her not knowing that night she would leave us for a better place.

It was almost a month after our birthday together that I got a call from my dad around 1:30 AM. I knew that this call would come but had no idea how my dad would sound. He was on a spiritual high that clearly was a God thing that he was surrounded by the Angelic Host that was bringing mom into glory. My dad had watched many times when he thought she would die but I think now he knew that this was her time to leave us. We had just recently talked or argued about having hospice help out at home. I was able to get my dad to admit that he could use some help in caring for her. He actually allowed me to make the call and the next day a Hospice Nurse came out and started to get mom ready to let go of this life in order to be ready for the next life.

Yes, mom, I think of you often. I know at times I have made you proud and other times I know I have disappointed you as I have sinned and rebelled against our Heavenly Father. You know how much work it would be to help dad transition to Phoenix and get moved into Chris Ridge Village. Yet, through this all God’s grace and mercy have been so clearly part of what we have experienced.

Mom – thanks for loving me unconditionally throughout my life. I know that one day we will meet again to laugh together, cry together and enjoy eternity together. Happy Birthday your son – David.

Friday, September 10, 2010


I have always moved both as a kid and as an adult. I don’t say this to make an excuse as to why I didn’t go to my High School Reunion or go back yearly and visit my college campus it is just a fact of life. So when I have connected with a friend from college at a CCDA Conference last year I was humbled to admit I should be better at staying in touch with friends from my past. I actually attended a workshop she was leading and was taken back that she was a ‘mover and shaker’ in a significant area of doing community development work. I am in many ways still a novice learning about collaboration, community action work and having a real heart for the poor and displaced.

So it really wasn’t a surprise that at the CCDA Conference in Chicago I connected with my friend. I know that the odds of seeing someone you know at a conference that has 3000 attendees is hit and miss unless God wants you to connect. So I selfishly wanted to connect but I knew that as a presenter she was busy and had lots of pressure to do ‘her thing’ so I really didn’t expect to hang out, do dinner and share our stories.

I feel blessed to have the Lord allow me to see through someone’s heart who has literally laid her life down for the poor most of her adult life. It was rather interesting to help her a little with her iphone and a few other ‘geek’ things. I was captivated to hear her story over the last 35 years. We share many similar passions and interests. We ended up walking around quite a bit looking for a suitable eating establishment. Another friend had taken me to a yuppie health food market so we ended up there. It was rather humorous initially as the cashier botched our orders, we sat down and my friend proceeded to open up a sprite that literally exploded all over the place. After cleaning up the mess I sat and listened.

It isn’t easy to condense 35 years into a few hours of talk. Yet, both of us were able to do this sharing both our heartache stories and ‘awe’ stories. I am always taken a little back when tears flow, especially when I don’t know someone in a recent context. I felt privileged to see into a friend’s heart. I struggle at times with being transparent enough to show the ‘real’ me at times with friends. It is easy to be sarcastic or off the wall to show some emotions but not be too exposed. So I listened, which isn’t easy to do, for an hour or so. This friend’s journey was truly incredible. I was a little jealous because our paths are very different yet have converged now. I will get back to my world in Phoenix and my friend will go back to LA.

What is amazing as I was attending an offsite workshop I was able to connect with a couple of fellow attendees. One is a friend and fellow urban worker that I have known for a few years. She recognized me first and we were able to catch up. Another conversation with two ladies turned into an hour plus discussion on doing non-profit work. I was pleasantly surprised to see that we shared many things in common. I know that most likely I won’t see these gals from LA again. Yet, I encouraged one of them to e-mail, get on Facebook and stay connected as they began the process of filing for their 501-C-3.

I am truly blessed to have some amazing friends with the best and most special being my Anne.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Different Way

I have a side to me where I am really adventurous and willing to try anything. Yet, this was my first time to the ‘windy City’ and going to a conference in a high-end hotel in the downtown seemed like walking into another world. I decided to take a taxi instead of taking the shuttle thinking that I could actually get to the conference in time for the first workshop instead making the assumption that I would skip it. I enjoyed my Jordanian driver who in one breath would say great things about America, take a slice at Bush for invading Iraq, let an f-bomb slip and then be back to singing the praise of the US.

I know have a twinge that happens when I enter back to the world of the middle class. I had chosen not to stay at the Sheraton where the conference was being held. It was way too expensive and I really wanted to see the city. So the conference website suggested to stay at the Chicago Hostel which was only 1.1 miles from the Hotel. As I walked to the Hostel around 10PM it struck me that I had no clue as to whether it was safe to walk, take a taxi, figure the bus or just hoof it. It was scary at first because I walked an odd route that was over the river on the traffic route. Having just walked the more normal way it is amazing to see all of the different universities, galleries and assortment of stores, cafes and high rise buildings. The hostel wasn’t that big of a deal, just I was by myself and obviously the old man in the midst of the youthful adventurous, which wanted to see Chicago.

I am fortunate to know a lot of people in the CCDA movement. One of my good friends from Phoenix is also here. We walked around after the first set of workshops before going out to dinner. She has food issues so had found a local market close by. We walked over and looked at it and were pleasantly surprised at how urban cool it was. They had free bite sized samples of pastry that were out of this world, sorry Linda but they weren’t gluten free. I got an Americano and chatted with the gal behind the coffee counter. She had an unusual accent that wasn’t Midwest but more Jerseyish. She looked and actually sounded like Rosy Perez.

Oh – back to my stay at the Hostel. As I get ready for bed, which equates to plugging in my laptop, iphone and look at some interesting things about Chicago. It was around 11PM that my fellow roommates start to show up. They were a mix of nationalities with interesting accents. The room setup was that you had two adjacent rooms that shared a bathroom area with a looking door. I looked at the various reviews on Yelp and discovered that this Hostel had a great reputation and was considered safe and clean. I agree the staff was great and apart from being the old guy it was fun. I woke up at 4AM body time but 6AM Chicago time. I had my shower and one of my roommates jumped up and left to jog. I would walk my 1.5 miles to the conference for my morning exercise.

I am now sitting at a local Starbucks on a busy intersection that looks out to high-rise buildings that dwarf the people walking underneath. I know that being a Phoenix guy I am not use to a large downtown, especially one that has a riverfront and then this great lake like just in front of this massive hotel. The crowd that walks buy doesn’t look much different from the crowd in Phoenix. I am still judging as to whether I stick out in my particular dress or people just don’t talk a whole lot while they are walking to work or school.

I had some last minute jitters about coming to this CCDA Conference because of the cost and time away from my Anne. She tried to give me a guilt trip that almost worked. I know that my first workshop only had ten people and was on the topic of impact of relocation for teenagers whose parents are urban mercy fanatics. I felt guilty as I listened and admitted that many things I had done in life and ministry didn’t really put my kids at the forefront. The reality is that any church work, whether in the suburbs or the hood always ahs collateral damage for kids of church workers. I know that saying you trust God and all things work for the best can be a cop out but I believe my kids have all been impacted by our South Phoenix move. I know that the friendships and the multitude of youth will leave an impression on all of them.

The workshop I wanted to attend just happened to be in the same room. So different from my first seminar this one was packed out and it was no surprise as to why it was about racism and what can I as a white guy can do about it. The guy leading the workshop looked rather extreme with his 6-inch goatee. He lived in Philly but was raised in Huntington ID. He described his childhood experience as one that wasn’t struck by any sense of racism. It wasn’t until he moved to Philly, got involved with Simple Way and a City Mission Group that he discovered he grew up in a ‘Sundown Town’.

The two hours in the seminar was very captivating, humorous and tragic. I admit to being part of the racism thing mostly by ignoring it. I was raised around St. Louis MO which is a city torn by racism. I was born into a larger family that prided itself on being Lutheran, democrats and racists. My mom’s mom introduced me to the N word when I was 9. I’ll never forget her comment to me that you can’t trust N________ and that they are all bad. My dad blew up and almost torn my red haired grandma to pieces.

Chris, the seminar leader, gave some down to earth practical advice; such as he get your head out of the sand, learn the history of your area, family and start being a neighbor not a missionary to those who are different than you. I know that I have dove into a multi-cultural neighborhood that is at war on many different levels. I love the people I am around but also get frustrated when I see people of the same color killing each other. I tire of breaking up fights, being fearful that another teen will steal another teen’s ipod or cell phone. Yet, this is my calling and I have the God given energy to deal with it and with the gospel see a difference made in this South Phoenix culture.

I confess to selecting a Starbucks and not an independent coffee shop for doing this blog. I will go to the cool urban market place later on to write again. I am excited to see first hand one of the more effective mercy churches in ccda today. I am also excited to have dinner with a college friend who has done much for the urban area in LA.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I'm Grounded!

I know that my wife has this thing about how most people, especially teens, have the lost the ability to communicate. The reality is that almost everyone texts short cryptic messages that ten years ago few would understand. I admit that it is easier to send texts or e-mails out to hundreds instead of actually using my phone. The cute thing is that my Anne now texts all of the time. I especially love her special texts to me.

This week I got one of those texts from one of my kids/teens. It was I’m grounded L. This wasn’t necessarily a surprise because this one teen is more on the wild side at times. God is at work and there is progress but it is easy to push the button of your single hard working mom. I usually ask the obvious, WHY? I have had my share of talking with parents or grandparents about their kids and the obvious help me understand why my kid always does ___________?

This txt came back with a message about cell phone usage while on vacation in Cali. Obviously the mom was a little upset with a bill that was probably 10 times what is usually is. I have memories of another teen whose dad is still paying for their $1000 bill. I know have learned that the $20 a month for unlimited texting is a steal.

Consequences for choices and actions don’t seem to necessarily sink into to most in today’s world. I have another teen that ‘lifted’ one of our volunteer’s ipod touch. It took the Lord some time to get this youth to admit what they had done. My real question was again WHY? Don’t you see what could happen to you if this was someone different that might press charges? What were you thinking? The simple fact is that when we do ‘dumb’ stuff we aren’t thinking we are living with the mindset if I don’t get caught it is ok. I deserve to have that ipod touch or iphone or psp.

I think the challenge for most adults is that we have the means to get what we want and few voices around us say YOU DON’T NEED THAT. I will be the first to admit that I have lived by instant gratification to the detriment of family or friends. I live around many who don’t have the means to pay for their utility bill, gas for their car or money for their child’s uniform for school. The only way that I can use my God given resources better is by paying attention to what I am doing and choose to live on less. Wow – I am really capable of limiting my consumption of some things in my life that aren’t necessities.

I often give my ‘spiel’ that there are two kinds of people in the world; givers and takers. The reality is that most of us are takers who expect a free ride off of someone else’s dime or I really mean $100 no longer does a dime do anything. The only way that I can be transformed into a giver is through God’s work in my heart. Until Jesus has opened my eyes to see that He is the ultimate giver who enables me to be restored to God, forgiven, filled with His Spirit and grace that I can transition from always thinking about me, myself and I to seeing the world in a different light.

Yeah – I’m grounded. I need to learn to listen and be different in my approach to life and my possessions or more God’s gifts.