Monday, January 24, 2011

The Power of Friends

Each day I am amazed at the people that God has blessed me with as friends! Last night I had one of my grandmas, Lydia, make dinner for about 30 of us after church. As I sit in my Starbucks before getting the day going I wave to one of my fellow laptop ‘hermits’ at Starbucks. He comes in a couple of times a week to do follow up on his kids who he oversees. He is a caseworker for at risk youth involved in a non-profit. As I walk in my barista, John asks if I have the Starbucks app on my iphone. I do but it isn’t set up for the bar code thing to pay with my iphone vs. using my card. I quickly pull out my iphone and fix the app so it actually works.

A new friend, Thomas, comes in to get his morning coffee and we catch up over the weekend. I tell him about some other friends, Tom and Kim. I share with him about their multi-media company and the potential. I ask him if he ever uses any type of media for his work as safety manager for a larger company that is all over the U.S. He shares that he has a meeting in March that will have a 100 people. He also reflects on the fact that this last year hasn’t been good because of two fatalities in the company. So he needs some type of tool to help get across the need to be more on top of everything.

I will have lunch with a friend from my painting projects, Mike, who has twin sons. I don’t have any sense what he does for work but do know that he has a heart for serving God and the community. It will be an interesting surprise to hear his life story. I will have coffee with another new friend, John Frick, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan. He was able to visit Anne’s brother who is now working and living in Kabul. We share much in common with our community service passion.

My hope is to continue to always be outwardly mobile in my approach to networking and discovering the world around me. Our next adventure, which will be scary, is short selling our house. We need to reduce our living expenses and also be closer to where we do most of our work. So another newer friend, Jon, who helped us sell our other house will do the same. The challenge here is that our neighborhood already has too many homes on the market. We will prayerfully start looking at rentals in our area and potential homes for our Casa de Anne.

The amazing part of the gospel story is that Jesus calls his disciples his friends. This is far out because really he is our master not our friend. I can’t fathom that the God of the universe cares about me and knows me by name!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Kick Myself

I have had my dad with us now almost a year. I will never forget the day I drove to San Diego to persuade him to come to Phoenix. I had called him the day before to mention that I would be there to visit. I call as I am arriving to discover that he hadn’t remembered I was coming. This was a last minute decision because it was raining and my painting project was cancelled for the weekend.

As I knocked on his door he eventually answered and was glad to see me. All of the curtains in his little house were closed and the lights were turned off. We talked a little. I sat in my usual place and glanced over the surrounding of cluttered papers, blankets and books. The living room was too bad considering that my mom had lived on the couch for almost 5 years during her bout with cancer. I was careful not to push my dad’s button. He shown signs of being unclear about a few things that concerned me, so I asked the simple question of lets go out for breakfast at Denny’s. This was an easy choice because mom loved to go there.

I imposed on him that we take my truck and that he not drive. He had grown increasingly unable to navigate the terrain around his place. We arrive and enjoy a nice meal together. We talk a little and then I take him back to his place. I begin the discussion that ultimately will lead to him saying yes to moving out with us in Phoenix and leaving behind the house that now had too many dark memories. He had said some things over the last six months that concerned me about his mental condition. We had talked as a family a little about his having dementia and that mom had covered for him a lot over the years. I was totally shocked when he said yes he was ready for a move and that he had always wanted to live in Phoenix.

I went over to my brother’s house while my dad began to pack and get his important papers together. I enjoyed the rest of the day with my nephew and niece. I know that when we actually left the following morning that it would take him hours to find all of his stuff, so when it took a couple of hours of waiting I was prepared but still a little impatient. So as I begin to reflect over the last six months while he has been at Chris Ridge and struggled with his dementia and my lack of patience at times it is too easy to let circumstances overwhelm me.

I know that my dad has problems, which I can’t fix and I have to attempt to steer him as best as possible through a world that exists to him but no one else. He at times comes across perfectly normal and capable of talking and doing most things. Then there are other times where he has become fixated on something that totally drives me crazy. He will go off on something in the past that never happened and I am supposed to pretend that it is true and everything he says actually happened. It is ok with things that don’t matter but when it comes to present tense circumstances such as how my brother calls but then always hangs up on him. I laugh when he goes off on one of the staff that is always using his toilet and making messes, which take him the whole day to fix.

My point in writing this is to admit that I know better now and shouldn’t let something blow me out of the water. Yet, my human nature or male ego makes it tough not to say something or try to argue with him knowing that ultimately I will hurt him. So the last couple of days I have found him asleep in his bed around lunchtime. I know that he has always been a night owl and may still be in the mode but it scared me to see him totally out of it at noon the last couple of days. The first time I ended up getting into a fight with him. I did get him lunch and try to talk to him but it was clear he was upset and I was ticked also. The next day I was more gentile and diplomatic. We had lunch downstairs which helps him get out and have a better day.

I have struggled with the lack of real care he is receiving where he is staying and the doctor who is trying to help him is impossible to contact and get a response. The staff at his residence is kinda hit or miss. I don’t mind being his advocate but can tire at times when there doesn’t seem to be much progress made. I love him even though I don’t always understand him or his way of thinking about things. I was an emotional basket case the last couple of days knowing that he could stay this way and actually get worse.

I’m busy all of the time and I know that he senses that I am rushed with some of my visits. Other times I will just sit in his chair and watch him take a nap. I am learning that loving my dad is a whole lot more than just dropping into his room and saying hi.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

One Timer?

Yesterday was one of those days where I got a lot accomplished, so I felt good about myself but on the other hand faced some reality checks. I started off by getting up to read and write like usual. I had to pick up a group of teens for school and then after dropping them off take one of my teens to JV Court for skating boarding at his school after hours. I know that this was a wake up call for this teen.

As we approach the big court building I purposely parked in the adult section. We ended up having to walk all the way around the building because they had changed the entrance for non-employees of the court. We walked around and then discovered that we were at the adult court and not the juvenile court. So we walked a little while more and came into a very empty and quiet building. I had a sense that the Probation Officer probably wouldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t a legal guardian. So after sitting and watching this teen fidget a little the PO came out and called us into his office. He was very slow to say much initially but then explained the situation. He thanked me for helping but said that the mom or dad had to be present in order for this to be finished.

I asked the PO to explain the process. He asked some simple questions about the teens home life and present patterns of behavior. I explained that he was already involved with tutoring and other activities with New City that were community service directed. He rescheduled another date when I will bring the teen and his mom. As we are walking out he made the unusual comment that you are a one timer. I asked him to explain what that meant to the teen. He said that the teen wasn’t only going to be seen once and so the PO wanted him to not do anything else considering that he had everything going in his favor.

After I returned home via a detour at McDonalds so the teen and myself could eat something there was a message from a good friend and fellow pastor. I had to finish a couple of things at my desk before calling. He had mentioned that he wasn’t coming to a meeting on Thursday so he wouldn’t see me. He had written a report or overview of what we were doing the last quarter. We talked for about 15 minutes. The focus of our conversation was that there were a few in my larger church context that were concerned about the progress and real focus of New City – Barrio Nuevo. I know that many won’t understand what I am doing and whether it is really a church. I shared about a few visitors over the last month or so that I at first was somewhat fearful they might react to our church service or see us more as a non-profit that works with at risk youth only. I briefly mentioned on a good note that I had now found a Hispanic pastor to partner with us and another younger Hispanic single dad who has been significantly involved over the last 6 months. We ended on a positive note but as always I am humbled by God to know that everything I do is totally dependent upon Him.

That afternoon I met with a young dad who is a passionate entrepreneur. We had met and talked earlier at my Starbucks. He is a Latino personal trainer who had decided to do something totally outside the box. So I listened and watched a couple of his you tube clips about leadership, life and living. So I returned to my Starbucks and waited for him. He was a few minutes late, which surprised me because he prided himself on not wasting time and being focused or driven. As I was looking at the time I see him pull up with his nine month old son in his arms. He sat and listen to me share about my passions and then I asked him to do the same. After about an hour we had talked each other out and sensed that we shared some of the same passions, helping people achieve more and a more holistic approach to life. Obviously we talked about the reality check that we can play business experts but are we really doing anything. It was clear that both of us are connected and connecting to more people and circumstances.

After taking a group of our teens home after our normal Tuesday night dinner and discussion at our house I had a call from an out of state number. I listened to the message and it was a young doctor who was a resident at the county hospital. He had visited our New City at Night Service a week prior. He was excited about what we were doing and wanted his wife, who was visiting to connect with us. So we are having them over for dinner on Friday night. As I wrap up this morning blog I remember I have another friend coming in for a meeting tomorrow who will meet me for lunch at one of my favorite Hispanic markets and attend our tutoring tonight.

Time again to go home and take some of our house guests to school this am.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I have journeyed over the last 30 years with different groups that have a passion for the urban centers of cities. My first experience while I was in seminary, also relatively young, was in San Diego, CA. I worked at my father in-law’s church, which is in the downtown of San Diego. Historic First Presbyterian was homeless person’s nighttime destination because it had great areas to sleep up against the building that was hidden and covered. (There were window wells that were at least 6 feet deep and made great sleeping place.)

Looking back at the transition of First Church from a church that looked the homeless as more of a nuisance and threat instead of neighbors God calls us to love and help. I can remember the discussion of many on the leadership about the problem and how we can alleviate it. I totally understand the fear of the elderly in San Diego who live in the downtown. They have been approached by homeless often and asked for handouts in front of their homes. They live in fear that one of theses people will either mug them while taking their purse or wallet. All it takes is one bad experience and the entire group of homeless is labeled as being bad.

Looking back 30 years ago I will always remember the ‘experiment’ that First Pres did with the help of the State. We were blessed to have two full time social workers that helped with seniors and homeless around the church. The purpose of the grant from the state was to see whether or not homeless and low-income seniors would benefit from one on one counsel and guidance from our two workers. They opened an office in the church. The city of San Diego began a partnership with local businesses and hotels in the downtown. The goal was to get the homeless off the streets, employed and in a hotel. The city and state help fund this so it wasn’t as if the local businesses were taking a ‘hit’ for this.

I was finishing seminary and working at the church as a youth director and C.E. Worker. So I was in contact with homeless all of the time because of working at the church, doing activities at the church and just walking and hanging out in the downtown. The presence of the social workers brought more homeless around the church. I will always remember Tony, who was in his late teens. He had been on the streets since he was 13. His family had abandoned him and he was in and out of State Institutions for mentally unstable. Our College and High School adopted Tony for a year. Looking back as an older adult, parent and worker with teens in the hood, I might be less likely to welcome Tony into my home and group.

Tony enjoyed participating with our various youth activities during his stay in San Diego. What stands out looking back was his ongoing reaction to people trying to help him or change him. He loved living on the streets, eating out of dumpsters and was always vocal about not wanting to become like the rest of us, city people who were tied down to a house, a job and a family. I can remember telling Tony the first time he attended a function that he could bring any type of weapons. (He usually had either a big knife on his side, a walking stick or brass knuckles.) He reacted at first to my request but eventually understood that on church property it wasn’t ok.

The social workers had helped Tony get a job and place to stay in the downtown area. He seemed ok with this for about a month. He had a tough time getting up on time and figuring out that work required him to be punctual. He participated in everything we did from church, outreach events, trips to T.J. and even retreats up at our church camp. The catch came when he decided to move on, he didn’t like be tied to any one city. So Tony left on a trip to Florida. During his travels Anne and I moved, after seminary and working at First Church for four years, to the San Francisco Bay Area. I will also remember the shock of a call from Anne telling me that Tony had landed on our doorstep while I was away on a church related trip. I remember talking with Roger, one of our deacons a big guy and Navy Academy grad to quickly go over to my house and escort Tony to a hotel on our dime.

I think Tony meant well but always came across as a tough guy who couldn’t be trusted. He was a gifted artist who would always draw a picture as his way of expressing thanks. Tony was gone when I arrived home. Our next letter was from a prison back in Florida. He decided that he like living behind bars than on the street. He had stolen something and purposely got caught. He thanked us for our loving on him over the last couple of years. Yet, my main hope to get Tony off the street wasn’t realized. He was up for release and decided to get into a fight and wasn’t released.

First Church during my time on staff birthed a ‘Soup Kitchen’ that was called Ladle Ministry. This was birthed in 1983 and I was fortunate to be on the steering committee that put all of this together. First Pres was blessed with an amazing kitchen that had recently been refurbished. So we came up with a plan and cooking team. Our first few ventures of feeding the homeless on Sunday afternoons turned out to be a huge success. We would feed any where from a few hundred to 500 depending upon the date. (The closer to the end of the month the greater the need.) This Ladle Fellowship continues to this day. It is now its own non-profit with staff and over 50 churches involved. They do much more than give out a great bowl of soup and bread. I believe all of this echoes God’s heart for the poor as revealed in Scripture.

Now fast forward to my experience over the last 3 years as I have done mercy church in the South Phoenix area. It was through the radical mindset of a couple of teens that our burrito ministry was birthed. We worked with Ben and Amy over a period of time and our house became the burrito-making center for our work. We partnered their church over the next 6 months before both of them left for college or different jobs. We learned a few things like don’t take teens out at night to hand out burritos. We instead started doing this after our painting projects on Saturdays in the mornings.

Over the last 3 plus years I am sure we have gone downtown to the overflow shelter area over 50 times. My heart has always been to connect with real people who would help me be better equipped to empower homeless individuals to get off the street, get a job, regain confidence and find a family. I have to be honest that over the last three years I really hadn’t connected with anyone that followed through and stayed in touch. I was confronted by one of the workers at CASS to partner with them or another homeless shelter so as to not duplicate their work and be more collaboratively centered.

So I was thrilled when I received a call from Running Deer and was invited to meet with him and other organizers of a new group, Arizona Organizing Project. I was excited be around a group that was able to sustain relationships with both homeless men and women. I sensed real commitment to helping each other rise above the norm and help each other to figure out how to get off the streets and help others while in the process.

It has been exciting to see my group partner with AOP a couple of times. We did our usual Christmas Eve Service with over 50 volunteers making hundreds of burritos, collecting blankets, getting donated coffee from Starbucks and other food items. I partnered with the AOP group let them decide and direct where we should do this. It was a great experience especially because my group got to connect in a real way with the AOP helpers. As many would say this gave a face to what they were doing.

I had another group come from Virginia to work with us for a week. I decided at the last minute, First Fridays were cancelled to do a homeless for a day experiment. I was cruel and made this college group get up early in the morning after arriving late at night to stand in line with other homeless to eat at St. Vincent de Paul’s Center. I know it was an experience for the group as we waited in line, saw the crowds form, got a breakfast that wasn’t Denny’s or Jack in the Box but still good hot food. I enjoyed talking to a few who we sat around. I could tell that the normal crowd was giving us a look as my group was checking everyone out also.

We went back to the AOP house where a few interns live and work in the downtown with the homeless. We got a great overview of AOP and living on the street. We spent the next 2 hours handing out flyers promoting AOP’s work in the house as a resource. We talked with a few homeless and business people that work downtown. This was an eye opening experience for the group. I could tell that a few of the students were a little uneasy. The best was yet to come – we were going to spend the night on the street.

We did lunch that day at Ranch Market to give the college group an exposure to the Hispanic Culture in Phoenix. It was a lot of fun. We went back to my house for a few hours and then got ready to camp on the street. Our urban camping guides were to be Cowboy and Richard. I know that this would be the extra that would help my group understand the real dynamic of living on the street.

We met at the AOP house and listened to Cowboy and Richard give us guidelines. We were given extra blankets to use for ground cover and to keep us warm. It was almost as if Cowboy especially wanted us to have a good experience. I doubt many on the street actually have this luxury. We waited for the sun to almost set and then we loaded up the van and truck. We drove to a vacant parking area adjacent to warehouses that were across the street from a ‘What a Burger’ that was open 24-7. We cleared out our away, put down tarps, put down blankets, sleeping bags and then more blankets. We hung out at the What a Burger for a few hours. We had brought plenty of food and water for the evening. Around 10pm it was time for bed. We were right next to a freeway so there was constant noise. The interesting dynamic was that there was a police helicopter out all night looking for someone in our area. I was able to get warm in my sleeping bag and did eventually fall asleep. My adopted son, Terrance, a college student who lived with us had a tough time falling asleep and tossed and turned all night.

I can remember Cowboy saying we needed to be up by 4am and out of the area by 4:30AM. It was almost like I had just put my head down to sleep and here was Cowboy saying it was time to get up and moving. I was proud of the group because they got moving and packed in about 15 minutes. My wife pulled up with the van and we quickly loaded up. My group went back to my house and crashed for another hour or so before I had them go paint a house of a South Phoenix senior.

I push people all of the time to live on the edge and see what God really wants us to do and be. So as I evaluated what we did and waited for the group to give feedback I thought that maybe we were too soft on the group. They really didn’t experience the hardship of not having any $$, a place to hide their stuff, few friends and a sense of being an outcast. Yet, as I have been reading their reflections I think they see homelessness in a totally different light. I think my hope of making the homeless have a face and names is working. I know that many of the stereotypes of homeless were raised and the initial image that all homeless are bums was addressed.

The obvious question as to whether I would do this again – of course! I think I would be more focused and have the group really exist all day and night on the street and not give them any help. I would have them interview a few on the streets to hear their stories. My prayer is that these students would be different back at school and at home. I know that all of them will reflect on the life circumstances of those who are on the streets and consider what it would be like if they had family or friends that were homeless or God forbid they end up without a job after college and experience what it is like to live ‘hand to mouth’.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I had an incredible day yesterday with taking a group from Virginia and some of my group to the Grand Canyon. Joe and his mom volunteered to make breakfast burritos and also bring fixings for ham sandwiches. We left a little later than I wanted because of returning the van for the Virginia Group. We loaded up and were on the road by 9:30AM. I knew that we wouldn’t get to the canyon before 1:30 or 2PM. There is no quick way to make four hours of driving seem like a couple.

We got onto the freeway only to have little Josh pipe up, “I have to go!” So we initially threatened to have him go into a little bottle. He quickly acted like he didn’t have to go. We drove about an hour and then pulled off at our traditional exit with the McDonalds and Shell Gas Station. Everyone got out quickly did their ‘business’. Again as we got back onto the road it was Josh’s little sister who cried out that she had to go. We figured she could wait a few until we pulled off in about 20 minutes.

I had texted my second cousin who lives at the Grand Canyon about our coming and asked if he would be willing to show us around and also see his house. I really hadn’t had much contact with Patrick until he moved out to Arizona to work at a small church in the Grand Canyon. I called as we pulled into a gas station before making the last 20 miles into the entrance. I said we didn’t having any real plans but to be back on the road around 5PM. This would insure an arrival around 9:30PM so our group that had to rise at 4:445 AM wouldn’t be totally dead.

As we quickly chatted about details he proceeds to say tell them you are my cousin and I work at the Community Church and they might let you in for free, otherwise it would be a $25 entrance fee and another charge for a van with 15 passengers. As I pulled up I tried to explain to the Park Ranger Gal my cousin’s request. She was a little confused at first. Are you family? Yes, I’m his cousin. Is everyone in the van your family, no but we are a church going to see his church. Next, is this a paid tour, no we’re just visiting my cousin. She finally looked at me a little frustrated and said go! We pulled through and I pulled off immediately to connect with Patrick and get directions.

I followed the first couple turns correctly and then went straight instead of turning and we ended up at the Ranger Headquarters. He decided to just meet us there and we joined forces. He played tour group leader for the next two hours. It was great to catch up and hear how his first few months were at the Canyon and the Church. We were given a rare tour of the Kolby Studio because one of his main church guys worked at the Canyon and was over the maintenance of this building. We got an amazing walk through tour of the lower part of this house, which truly was incredible. These two brothers were the first to photograph the Canyon. They slowly added onto this house on the side of the Canyon wall over the years. The GCA decided to not let the public go through the lower part of the house. So we were some of the privileged few to get a tour and see it first hand. It was like walking back into the beginning of the early 1900’s.

I was so jazzed that we had Patrick be our tour guide. I was thrilled to see his heart and passion for serving God in the park. I am thankful that we were able to connect and become friends! My hope is to reconnect with his larger family in the coming year. Yeah, the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground, but cousin Patrick made it a remarkable day trip!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Homeless for a Day

Over the last three years we have taken burritos downtown to the homeless who live in shelters just south of the State Capitol area. We started this ministry through a couple of teens that were home schooled and didn’t fit in their youth group. They had taken burritos on Friday nights to the homeless for six months and then we connected with them and took over. Both of these teens left the area and I started to do this after we painted houses. During the summer we have taken cold bottled water on a weekly basis to these homeless that live on the street. My desire in doing this is to help our youth and partners see that homeless are people with names and deserve to be given respect. The reality is that most, even in the church, view homeless as being sub-human and have something wrong with them. (Why would they choose to live on the street and not get jobs.)?

Over the last two years we have made many trips to the downtown and handed out food. We have done this on Christmas Eve and given out hundreds of blankets and clothing items. One of my prayers has been to actually connect with a group that is working with the homeless. I could honestly say that after handing out thousands of burros and bottles of cold water I didn’t have even one real contact. So I was thrilled when Running Deer called me after a Central Corridor Meeting at Neighborhood Ministry that I was unable to attend. I met a few times with him and the key organizing leader, Bill, who is not homeless but a staff person for this new non-profit, Arizona Organizing Project. I am excited to partner with a great group that has vision to use peer groups as a vehicle to help the homeless get their lives back together.

This last week we have had a college group from Virginia Tech partner with us to do urban missions. I don’t think that the leader had any idea of what they would really be doing. I was also somewhat suspicious what someone with a name like Mary Katherine would be like, but she has turned out to be an amazing leader who is sold out to Jesus. So this group arrives on a Thursday night about two hours later than expected. I have them rise a few hours after they get in to begin their homeless for a day experience. We drive off around 6:15 AM to meet up with the AZ Org Project group to do breakfast with other homeless at St. Vincent de Paul center, which is located adjacent to many of the other downtown homeless shelters. As we get in line it is clear that we are in for a rather surprising morning and day. We have a breakfast of cereal, bagels, rice and some meat dish.

As we are sitting and eating it is interesting to just watch who walks in for breakfast and how they react to my group of college students. I was so impressed with our special friends to help us better understand the circumstances of the homeless. As we are finishing up we get an opportunity to talk to a few of our new friends. The breakfast was ok but obviously not something you would brag about unless you didn’t have anything to eat at all. It was freezing outside so I really wasn’t interested in rushing out but our time was up and we didn’t to go to free up space. There must have been over 500 eating here.

Our special friends took us next to the job resource center to see what it would be like to use the CASS campus to start putting our lives together. They actually had a place where you can store all of your ‘stuff’. This is a real challenge for most homeless because either you leave your bags on the street hidden with the potential of them being stolen or you take everything with you. So being able to leave your personal belongings safely somewhere is a great blessing. It was amazing to see the thousand or so that live in this area up and moving by 6:00 AM.

We go back to the little house that AZ Org Project Group is fortunate to have as a means to have a center to help people and also house a few that are interns. We sat and listened as Bill Black, the director, explained what they are all about. We also read a statement written by them and their partners to better understand the impact that homelessness and poverty have on people. Each person in my group shares about their experiences with homelessness. After sitting for an hour or so we are ready to hit the streets and start handing out flyers that explain the ministry of Street Life which is to help homeless individuals get help, find a friend and get to know God.

We walked around the downtown area of Phoenix for over 2.5 hours. We handed out probably a 100 flyers during our time and talked to some homeless and also people who work downtown. Some of friends on the street were very interested in talking about this new ministry and others could have cared less. It was a good experience for my group to see people actually living, panhandling and doing street acting. As we got back to the house we had to wait a little while for one of the groups that had gotten something to eat.

We went to Ranch Market to get some lunch and be exposed to living in the Hispanic Community in Phoenix. The group loved the fruit drinks and definitely loved the food. As always I love Ranch Markets where I can be spoiled with awesome food and breathe in the surroundings. The group was dragging a little so we went back to my house where they had a couple of hours to nap and unwind before the big event – sleeping on the streets.

We meet up with our urban camping guides, Cowboy and Richard, who are part of the AZ Org Project Groups. Cowboy is very concerned that my group have the best experience possible while we sleep out. We wait for it to get dark and then make our way to the empty lot adjacent to a WhataBurger and empty warehouses. Cowboy gives us a couple more lectures on how to do this, be safe and not have the Phoenix PD kick us out.

As we slept out under the stars on rocky dirt next to a cement parking area we were kept awake for several hours with Police Helicopters flying overhead obviously looking for someone. Our group talked a little but eventually everyone fell asleep. As our camping guide began to wake us up I noticed that it was only 4AM. Why in the world do we have to get up so early? Cowboy was quick to re-explain that we didn’t want to bring attention to ourselves. It was cold and our sleeping bags were actually wet from the dew of the morning. We slowly packed everything up and Anne drove up in the van. We loaded everything and went back to house where the group still had an hour or so to sleep before waking up again to start our painting project.

I know what struck me was the fact that Cowboy had to get up every morning early to stow his stuff and get back to the shelter areas where there was free food each day. I can’t fathom the fear that did exist in always being concerned that someone would either take your belongings, beat you up for any money you had or the police would come and escort you off of your camping area. As I drove Cowboy and Richard back to the shelters it was still dark and very cold. Lots of the overflow areas were full of people who were beginning to awake and move towards the St. Vincent de Paul Center for a free breakfast.

I know that even though we spent the day with our new friends I couldn’t really relate to what it is really like to be homeless. I still had a home to return and a warm bed and food in the frig. This has helped appreciate the fact that there is a lot more thought and energy that goes into figuring out how to survive in the urban jungles of the city. I am thankful that this group from Virginia and one of my college students was able to learn from our older friends.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Flat Tires

I have had one of those weeks where I am expecting a few more flats! I have been to Discount Tires like four times this week. I am blessed to have God raise money for the van to have new tires but I didn’t expect to buy all four tires at once. I also didn’t expect my little yellow car to need a new tire, my truck to need a new battery and the white station wagon to have a flat tire and also have the donut go flat. I know that in spite of all of the flats God is still faithful and concerned about me and those around me.

I have gotten a few texts and requests from one of my kid’s mom, Rochelle, to lie to the court about her doing community service. I know that at times those who are in real trouble will ask for help and I am sure some churches and non-profits will ‘fudge’ a little about doing community service. I explained to her that she hadn’t helped at all over the 2 years that I have been helping her sons, Pee Pee, Bookie and Peanut. She has been pretty good about letting me know that she is sick, she’s pregnant and can’t physically do community service work. I have pleaded with her via text, even as I write.

I admit that I have lied at times, fudged on different things so I understand the cry of I ‘m going to get in real trouble if you don’t help me. I truly thought through whether I could lie about her doing 70 hours of community service work. I have teens who are doing community service work all of the time, the difference is that they actually come and help. She hasn’t helped at all at this juncture. I have especially loved on her son Bookie, who is an amazing little 2nd grader. His dad has been in prison since he was 3 years old. His grandma, who is 76, has raised him.

It is easy for me to text someone a tough love message but am I willing to stand with her and help? I know that others would be quick to judge her and say how can you have 8 kids while you are in your 20’s? All of the obvious judgments would come out and she would be viewed like the prostitute caught in the midst of her sin where Jesus breaks up the potential stoning. Should I pay her $750 that she owes the court for traffic tickets? I can’t lie about community service but I could give? What really would help her get her act together?

It is interesting that Jesus walked into a mess, as a group of men were about to stone young women. There was a good chance that many of the men being critical of this woman had enjoyed her at some point and time. Jesus is amazing in how he breaks up the group by writing in the dirt something, which we don’t know for sure. Some would speculate he was writing out the commandments. Regardless the crowd slowly began to disburse and the woman was left alone with Jesus. The simple message but over powering was go and sin no more. Obviously without Jesus’ powerful presence and forgiveness this would be impossible.

I’ve texted Rochelle, numerous times while writing to get the real story behind what really happened. I don’t know what will be the outcome of her situation. I know that paying her fine won’t help her. I also know that lying for her won’t help but get me in trouble. My prayer is God give me wisdom and a heart of compassion. As I last texted her what are you going to do today that is different from your past? Only Jesus can transform her heart and give her the power and a reason to be different right now. God work I pray in her heart and mind to get the help she needs today.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

One of Those Days!

I always try to start my day off so it is focused on the Lord and doing well. Yesterday was supposed to be a great day. I actually slept in until 7 instead of being up at 5AM and going to Starbucks early to read and write. The weather has been really cold so it is always an adjustment getting out of bed. We had a busy week with doing lots of things with New City and then my brother and family spend the week with us also. So I needed at least to feel like I caught up on my sleep. I know sleeping in my bed vs. on the couch made a big difference.

I was ready to drive my yellow car to Discount Tires to get a tire fixed only to be told that I needed to buy a new tire. I really didn’t want to hear that but I went ahead and had the tire changed. Next, I brought the van to get a tire replaced. As the tire guy looked at the van, he came to the conclusion that these were the wrong tires, four ply instead of 10 ply and that all of them should be changed. Ouch! I didn’t want to hear this nor want to buy not one but four new tires. I was hoping I could just use the spare tire and get away without spending anything. This wasn’t going to happen.

Now as we go to pull out of the parking lot it becomes clear that the battery in the truck is dead. What else can go wrong now?? The yellow car is almost finished so we wait and load all of our dogs, our family, into the yellow car and drive home. I had to go see my dad, do errands and meet with the homeless group downtown. So after finishing I go back and get Anne and start working on the truck to only break the battery cable. So I call my friend, Johnny, who is great with working on cars. I go buy a battery and new cable connector. Just as I get started he arrives and I kick Anne out to go home with the van, that now has four brand new tires.

I am a quick learner but there are many things I have never done. So I watch Johnny take apart the old connector and put on the new connector and we fix the battery. The truck starts up like it should and I am ready to go home. As I was watching Johnny fix the connector I ask him how his day is going and he says not so good. I obviously ask what’s up. He proceeds to tell me that he has a New Year’s Resolution that is making it tough not to be uptight or ready to kill someone. So I figure out that he must be going cold turkey. We talk a little about how all of this will work. He is a great guy and I truly hope that God will open his eyes to the gospel as his true hope in life.

I am thrilled that the truck works and I can now go home and tear down all of my outside Christmas lights. This is always much easier to tear down than to put up. So I quickly make piles of the different types of lights, bag them and then box all of them. I am done just in time so we can take our herd for a walk before the sun disappears. We leash the dogs and then load them up. It is cold now and the sun is starting to set. It is a nice short walk because all of a sudden I feel the ‘call of nature’ and start to walk at a more rapid pace. I am rather upset because the traffic light changes and it takes an eternity for the lights to cycle. I pull up in the driveway and literally run into the house or I mean bathroom.

We finish making our gourmet dinner of pork roast, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn and get Terrance to break away from the computer. Anne in her normal champion style escorts me to veg out while she does the dishes. I got cold for some reason on the walk and now would rather collapse after a long and rather stressful day. I know that at times my dad’s situation weighs on me, especially after he says something that is a concern or is mad about something that is not fixable. Today it was another one of the guys on his floor that was going strange. The ol preacher man is in rare form and is talking about evil spirits and gives me the eye as if to say I am an evil spirit or something. Driving home I get a call from Pablo, my Hispanic Pastor friend, which truly made my day.

As I get in bed and read a little bit I realize that Anne is going to tackle the garage in my absence and stay up most of the night doing this. I am amazed to see the finished product, as I get ready to go to Starbucks to read and write. Another day where I discover again that God’s loving care is truly a gift that I don’t deserve but He lavishes upon me everyday.