Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bad News

I know that we are supposed to be people of hope and optimism in any circumstance. Yet, as I got to know these girls, who all shared the same mom but different dads, that things were never good. It was great that all of them were always dressed nicely and were clean and pretty. Yet, what was always missing was the mom. She was working, out or who knows most of the times. It is always easy to get down on a kid for acting a certain away. As I got to know these sisters they were and are willing to help in any of our mercy projects. They are also eager to be part of the group, yet their grand parents or dads were slow to let them get involved.

I can remember hearing a lot about their mom from others that typically wasn’t very good. I do live in a drug neighborhood where many make their livelihood off of selling various substances and themselves. This mom always seemed to have great looking clothes and the means to keep her kids all dressed nicely. I know that a few of the other moms were fearful of being around her because of her substance problems.

These kids come in cycles depending upon where they live and the openness of their guardians. So I was shocked last night when one of the teens who is living with me said she had just talked to Alexis who said that this one mom had just been killed in a horrible truck crash where a large semi-truck and her car smashed into each other. The mom and a friend were killed instantly at the site.

I know it is so easy to talk about reaping the consequences of poor choices and how horrible tragedy so often happens directly as a result of doing ‘dumb’ things. Yes there is truth in all of this yet these sisters went to bed last night knowing they would never see their mom again. Each of these sisters have always struggled with who really loves them and will care for them today and tomorrow.

All I can do is to confess to how easy it was and is to judge someone like this mom as a loser who deserves to have bad things happen to her. Yet, am I any different ultimately? No one really deserves to die this way. Yes, we all are sinners that are totally lost, yet, God’s mercy and grace help us step up and be different to show the world that Jesus is real and genuine. Life goes on after tragedies and that’s the problem. I know that these sisters will feel an emptiness on the inside most likely forever.

I ache as I approach the 4th anniversary of my mom’s death in a few weeks. I still mourn and grieve with my mom being gone. She died in much pain after fighting cancer for a decade. I don’t think I will ever get over the pain and the fact that I wasn’t there with her when she died. I am thankful that my dad was there with her.

I am thankful that God has placed us in South Phoenix. I know that bad things will happen and am thankful that God’s grace and mercy are real and do make a difference!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Last night was great when it came to our mentoring group and being with our teens. Unfortunately the finish was horrible as I encountered not once but twice cultural blow-ups. I am thrilled to be an open door to help anyone that needs the necessities and will go the extra mile if someone will show an openness to be responsible and follow through.

The real issue for me is watching adults who purport to have it together and use excuses as a way to cover their irresponsible choices or in this context being lazy and allowing their poor choices to impact youth. I have been around this one teen for the last five years where he has floated in and out of school. This is not his fault but the challenge of a guardian who is unemployed and continues to make unfortunate choices. After watching this teen move literally 10 times during this period it is no wonder that even he has given up when it comes to following through.

I knew that after enrolling this teen in school that his guardian would have a meltdown because I had gone around him because he had chosen to do nothing and school had been in session for already two months. I discovered that because he was already 16 he could enroll himself. So I took the time and trouble to help this teen to get his classes, a bus pass and discover that he already had at least 10-15 friends.

As I was driving my group of teens home I continued to get a call from the same number. I typically don’t like to talk on my cell when I am driving. So I decided to answer, which was a mistake, I could tell from the second I picked up that the individual was very upset and wanted to talk to the teen and then to me. I explained that this wasn’t a good time to talk and that I would talk later.

I didn’t expect as I dropped off this teen to be confronted by these two men on the street. I again explained that it was inappropriate to talk about this matter with the other teens around and that I had some other teens that had their own crisis that needed my attention and help. I wasn’t thrilled with what they were saying and said that this serves no purpose so I am leaving. So I left.

Wow – what had I done to deserve this type of treatment? I know that I received a text the next day from a mom who thanked me for allowing her twins to spend the night at our house with some other teens. Yet, I knew that these two men would have come close to using physical force to get their message across. My heart aches and breaks for this teen that deserves a chance to succeed in life. Yet, the actions of his guardian and friend make it really difficult for much to change.

I so tire of false spirituality that is used as a cover for sinful actions. It is one thing to mess up your own life but to include others in this type of mess is inexcusable. I do understand that there is always two sides to a story and that is why I would have loved to talk to these men in the proper context where constructive steps could be taken to help the teen get in school today. Yet, after calling the school where he enrolled it was obvious that the guardian wasn’t going to go back and get this teens info to take to another school. Unfortunately the teen is 16 and is required to stay in school. So is it possible to come up with an explanation for all of this behavior that makes sense to anyone looking from the outside in?

Yeah, I wanted to scream last night and I did a little. I can see how people can become very racist and bias against people that are totally different from them. May God keep my heart and mind clear so I see a person’s heart and intentions before their size, vocabulary or car they drive.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


God has slowed me down the last few days with a cold. I have actually chosen to rearrange my schedule and take some time to chill! Contrary to my wife’s suspicions I do take time to do nothing and relax. Yes, I admit to the fact that I thrive on doing mercy work and planning and pulling off big events that impact a large group of volunteers and friends in my neighborhood. I know that this will never be perfect and that there will always be some, both volunteers and recipients who might react to something or want something different from what happened. Usually there is always a great sense of accomplishment and sense of building relationships with my neighborhood.

I know that it isn’t easy to have life put in the proper perspective so as not to either over react or under react to circumstances. I am learning daily that God truly is the one who provides for me and supplies my need. I know that in the past I would say this but deep down inside have a sense of pride or arrogance for the different things that I had accomplished. As I have been saying to my group greatness is not in awards or promotions but in your willingness to do what is right without any notice or rewards at all. I know that my inner psyche reacts to that a little, like why can’t someone at least say thanks or give me some type of award. The truth is that the work that we do is reward enough for everyone involved.

I am more on the edge when it comes to how people choose to live and the impact they have on those around them. I tire of excuses and adult tantrums. The phone too often buzzes with an adult parent who is taking it out on their teen who they haven’t seen in a week or so. I am also at a loss as to why simple things seem so impossible to do, i.e. enroll your kid in school and help them stay in school. Yet, I face what will end up a fight with a guardian who isn’t willing to admit that his nephew needs help and has to be in school pronto. I went to the trouble of taking a couple of hours to enroll this teen and yet he didn’t go back to school. I want to SCREAM! WHY??

I am especially thrilled at the growth and maturity of my son. I could write volumes on the fights that erupted a few years ago over normal stuff, work, money, vehicles, school and the future. Now he has become the resident expert in stepping up, finding volunteer opportunities and being motivated to help others. I was elated that he asked me to help him select his car and actually buy it. Things like this make a father’s heart jump. It isn’t easy watching your little kids grow up and all of a sudden no longer need you in the same way.

Now I have a couple of other teens living with us. They have lived with us on and off over the last few years. Their mom continues to struggle with finding a job, keeping it and having a place to stay. They are family, not like family, my aspirations for them is to rise above their circumstances and discover the power of being responsible and capable of living on their own with a healthy sense of interdependency. I know that they will be more than ok, yet their mom I don’t’ know after watching her over the last 4-5 years.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


My life revolves around the drama that is both a by product of volunteers and those whom we are loving and helping. This last week I was mean and forced or you might say empowered a couple of teens to get registered in school and get back on track after missing a couple of months. I know that one of the uncles is going to lose it and get mad at me. He wanted his nephew to attend a different school. The reality is that they never followed through to make this possible and it wasn't a good fit and was too far away.

I just spent an hour listening to a mom who had her kids taken away from her because of drama in the household and drama caused by the X. I totally understand her frustration with the system and the requirements, i.e. drug testing, to get her kids back. She is first to admit that in the past she had done some foolish things but I believe is back on track. The challenge is that her past still impacts her present. It is so difficult to help older teens who are out of control and tend to lend younger teens outside the desired path of life. So what do you do to see life improve? You choose to do the right thing whether it feels good or is convenient.

I also received a couple of e-mails from volunteers who were back out with working with the teens/kids. I react sometimes to the selfishness, myself include, of how we choose to fill our time. I know that one mom is struggling with life issues, having to work, pay for a college education for one of their kids and then find time for family. I think I would have been ok if this person had respond to my inquiries about participation but after a couple of months I figured either something was wrong or they had moved. Another young gal had clearly dove into getting involved without assessing her time commitment with home, job and other interests. I do get my hopes up when I meet individuals who do know how to relate well with my kids and grandmas who live in the neighborhood.

As is usual the case God brings someone new when someone else walks. I am so thankful for the Rogers and Lou's who help out and don't complain and love what they are doing.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Strays and School

I have becoming a militant in the last year of so. I tire of individuals making excuses about why they can't do something. The reality is that they choose not to do anything. The unfortunate thing is that this impacts not just them but also everyone else around them. It would be one thing if we all lived in a vacuum that had no effect on those we love but it does.

I have a few teens in my life who always seem to be on the edge of either not going to school or being kicked out for very reasons. The challenge is that lack of support from their family means they are stranded and on their own. We walk on the canal and often see stray dogs that are walking aimlessly around looking for anyone to help but because they are so tired and close to exhaustion that they are too afraid to receive help.

I hate to compare teens with stray dogs but there is a lot of cross-over. You can figure out how to survive given time and circumstances. I would not want to be homeless and have to always be concerned about where I was going to sleep tonight or what I was going to eat for the day. We live in an area where there is a dog and cat population that is bursting. Everyone wants a dog or pet and yet chooses not to care for them and often abandons them when times are tough. I can't fathom that a teen can end up in the same category as a stray.

Over the last couple of weeks I have gotten on a couple of my guys who aren't in school and could very easily slide through this whole semester without doing any school. Because I care and enjoy torturing people I continued to bug these guys and their parent/guardians to do something instead of just waiting. The sad news is that without my intervention neither guys would be in school right now. I know it would be easy for me to get into an argument with their parent/guardian. I know that arguing wouldn't do much but hurt them and they still wouldn't be in school.

So yeah I forced myself on them and said I'll be there in the morning and let's sign up for school. No we are not going to the school that is outside of your district or some charter school where you won't be accepted because of last year's issues. The simple fact is that by going in and talking and listening both these guys are now in school! I'm no saint but see the blessing through being consistent and pushy at times.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011



I am on a journey that encompasses helping people discover the awesome blessing or impact they can have on their own lives and others when they choose to step up and do something purposeful. Over the last 4 years I have seen over 1000 individuals participate in some type of community service work. I know that there is both a good side and a bad side to volunteers. I want to reflect on the edge side of doing work in the hood with outsiders who don't understand life on the other side of the tracks.

I am presently thrilled to have college students involved with us from ASU and GCU. It is interesting to see international students get involved along with some of my 'White' friends. As I am sitting blogging at my Starbucks the manager again comes over and asks for help with doing a Christmas event with Wells Fargo. We end up talking about the best practices of making this happen.

I know that my wife struggles with the wild side of working with teens and knowing how to best help them step up and help themselves. Yes, there is drama at times both with kids and adults. Yet, even in my past life in the suburbs it wasn't much different. Everyone wants it done their way in the their time frame. It is interesting to see the chemistry of different volunteers getting involved as a team and also with our group.

As I start the getting ready phase of a service day for GCU it is becoming easier to get together the supplies for painting and doing normal neighborhood work. I am excited to see how this will impact both our grandmas, our teens and our neighborhood on Saturday. Even as I e-mail my CAO friend, Chris, knowing that it is last minute that he will still respond and help if able. Much as e-mailing a councilman's staff brings a response that is so cool to see the network that is making a difference.

The real test is whether I can get both my community and those who are part of my network be willing to financially support the work. I have to be honest that I'm a little afraid of being taken off life support from the Network. It has been so great to not have to worry about fund raising in a broader context. It is great to have a few friends who are willing to step up and help when funds are lacking. I think the great news is that I am learning to live on less and being more responsible with funds. It is easy to tell someone else to give up their cable or phone and then choose to not do that myself.

The journey continues as I see lives slowly turned around through doing simple things, i.e. eating together, helping each other, looking outward to see the real needs of our community and asking for others to get involved to make a difference in our marginalized neighborhoods.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Car Wash

I was trying to be efficient last Friday seeing I had a sneaking suspicion that I was being taken out for my birthday dinner and it was supposed to be a surprise. I knew that I needed to clean my truck and the van. I did have a few teens that were willing to help but didn’t know whether it was a wise idea to chance getting them really clean. So I decide on a happy compromise I’ll get a couple of helpers and go through the real car wash. So I pull up in the van and get the more expensive wash and wait for Terrance who eventually pulls through and then is shocked that the car wash guy actually marks the window. Terrance actually rolls down the window and screams at the guy.

I know that the van is a mess so I start to empty out the trash that is scattered all over the place. The car wash seems to be undermanned and the individual who is doing the van wouldn’t win any awards for being speedy and ambitious. As I am helping him and notice an older lady who is also wearing a red T-Shirt and it becomes clear that she is obviously in charge. I step back to throw away the trash and then am just watching the guy doing the work that seems in slo motion. As I am standing there the old lady comes up and explains to me that cleaning out the van isn’t going to happen because I didn’t pay any extra. I try to tactfully tell her that I would pay more or give the worker a large tip. She has this rather defiant look on her face and I could tell that she didn’t want the guy to do anything at all.

I typically try not to tell off an older woman but this situation was so odd. I explained to her that I believed that customer service was important in any business. I was taken back by what she had said to me and the manner in which she had spoken. I was totally shocked that after saying that that she continued with this odd look on her face and seemed to be totally unwilling to acknowledge me or want to clean out my van. I was so thankful that another worker, who I had seen before, figured out what was happening and decided to kick it into high gear and took on the van. I was thrilled now and knew that it would get cleaned well and that he would receive the big tip.

As I sat back and watched I could tell that the lady was very upset with me and wouldn't give me any eye contact but was pushing her guy to be done like yesterday. I tried to maintain my sense of humor but was slowly losing it. My challenge was that they still had the truck to finish doing also. Now there were multiple cars needing to be finished and only a couple of workers to do it. The boss lady didn’t actually do any work but just walked around in a tiff that got my 'goat'.

I pulled the van out of the car wash and parked it in the bank lot. I walked back over and did the same thing with my truck with taking out the some of the junk. Fortunately the speedy guy was on my truck and slowly made it look almost like it had never been abused by 48 painting projects over 4 years. I was truly hoping that the older lady would give me eye contact and I could reconnect and apologize for making her life miserable. I got my truck cleaned to where it was shinny and looked cool but no chance to talk to the lady. I am still deciding as to whether I should go back to the car wash or choose another one? My little yellow car does need a bath!

Wait - I'm the Good Guy?

I had one of those days that just aren’t suppose to happen, especially because it was almost my birthday. I was been Mr. organized and double-checking on a house we were going to paint in a week or so. I had talked with one of the adult siblings who live in the house. I was given the clear impression that everything was a go. I needed it to be a go because I have over 100 volunteers coming in just a little over a week.

Surprise, surprise as I knock on the door and apparently have woke up one my friend’s brothers who was sleeping. He had this have dazed look on his and face and seemed to be saying by his facial expression – who the h_____ are you? I quickly explained and thought would clear up his facial expression. The challenge was that painting his house for free didn’t bring cheers but a look of frustration and anger.

Oops – I apologized, I don’t know why it wasn’t my fault but his sister had made all of these arrangements without telling him. I explained that I was under the ‘gun’ to have a decision. I could tell by the way that he responded that it wasn’t going to be a yes but I am going to chew out my sister for again doing something that didn’t make any sense.

I drove off in my truck a little or a lot frustrated and wondering ok God what’s next? So I quickly call up the other grandma who is getting her house painted and got her sister’s info. I immediately call Margret and discover someone who is delightful, friendly and thankful. Wow – yes she is the one I know God wants me to help. We will still do Dorothy’s house but at another time. What makes this house the better choice is that it is walking distance from the house we are doing.

I sat and talked with Margret and had a great time hearing her story and about how long she has been in Phoenix. She told me about her deceased husband and then about her son who lives in Jersey close to New York. As we chatted I had this peaceful sense building around me that sometimes it takes a bad hair day, the brother that opened the door and a little push to let my inner spirit guide me. I sensed that it wasn’t the right time to do Dorothy’s house but didn’t have any definite alternatives.

Next Saturday we will have 120 volunteers, mostly college students, who will paint two houses, clean up an alley and make burritos to take to the homeless in the downtown area. My birthday was still crazy because I end up helping a good friend move to a different apartment.