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.