Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Is life fair? Do all siblings always get exactly the same treatment in life as they grow up? Does the boss always equally give out bonuses, raises or special treats? I live in a world where the people/teens around me have keen eyes and elephant like memories where they know exactly what I have given to others, regardless the reason and quickly take account. I know that as the older brother growing up my middle brother was usually quick to point out any inequities.

This last weekend was incredible with 150 volunteers who helped do serious cleanup and painting in our neighborhood. It was a challenge deciding whose house to paint, which meant there were a few who asked who I didn’t paint. I know this one grandma, Dorothy, I was going to paint her house but her brother threw a fit because he wasn’t included in the decision making process. So we didn’t paint her house. I explained to her friend Doris, who’s my friend too, that I needed this resolved before going back to the house. So now I have a call from Dorothy obviously wanting her house painted.

I followed the lead of my neighborhood grandpa; Earl and we painted one of the little churches in South Phoenix. It was a great experience with the many hands helping out. This I know will be a huge blessing to his church family and their friends. Now, I am known as the guy who paints churches for free. The reality is that I spent way too much money on paint to do this. So how do I tell this other pastor who showed up that he needs to help raise some of the funds to help cover the cost of the paint? Now it will be easy for someone to say that I play favorites to a certain ethnic group because the word has spread amongst their friends.

I was brain dead on Sunday and didn’t realize that we had multiple birthdays. I am blessed to have a special friend in one of my college interns who thankfully made some birthday cookies. So it was easy to spread these out between Julius, Jalil and Christy. I also gave these b-day people combo meals and some cash. So the response to someone else who was there, “I didn’t get a combo meal for my birthday!” Wow – what does someone do in this situation or maybe it is that I choose to do nothing?

I think of the parable that Jesus gave with the workers that were hired at different times during the day. At the end of the day the workers were shocked that the owner decided to pay the same to all workers regardless of how many hours they had labored. Did the workers that slaved away all day really have anything to complain about? They got paid what was promised but why would the master pay the same to the guy that worked just an hour?

This weekend I had a variety of people help with the painting. I had a couple, that had heard me preach at a downtown church, come because I had invited everyone to help. They were your good-looking upwardly mobile type of people. She actually worked at a T.V. station. It would have been easy for me to sense the need to shadow them to the house they were helping and purposely hang out around them hoping I might get to know them and just maybe might get some type of return, i.e. a donation or some air time at her station. As we finished up I was introduced to a group of people from the church we had painted. Deacon Jones had an amazing smile that revealed his need for dental work. It would have been just as easy to let my awkwardness to stop me from talking to him.

Last night I had a late night discussion with two teens, which are living with me. It was a ‘come to Jesus’ type of format. I was frustrated with the lack of initiative and follow through especially with the brother. He was playing the game of hide and seek. Some things had happened around the house, which, he knows he is one of the prime suspects. The sad fact is that he had been given freedom and trust with a lot of our computers and cameras and had taken advantage. He felt bad, primarily because he got caught in taking and using equipment without asking. My heart is one of grace and mercy and as I explained this I said that there are still consequences to foolish choices.

I know there are some in our group that would be jealous of the special perks this guy has gotten. Little do most know that these have been taken away because of taking one of the laptops to school without permission. He is wounded and a little bit afraid of me. I don’t picture myself as a screamer usually. I asked why he chooses to lie to me instead of just laying it out in front of me? His response was I thought you might scream at me. I asked the obvious – don’t you deserve to be yelled at for what you had done?

I just finished an amazing book, “Heart for Freedom”, that chronicles the life of a college student dissident in China. She was one of the key leaders of the revolution in 1989. She looks back at her life and feels guilty because she got all of the perks and special treatment and didn’t experience any suffering. She asks daily why did my friends die or get seriously hurt and I am perfectly fine? She had the burden and guilt of having had 3 abortions during her student years. This became something that stopped her from being free to share her real story with everyone. Why – because she felt that she had gotten special treatment because of her role in the revolution when she really deserved to be judged and found guilty after having had numerous abortions.

Simple fact is that no one is ever totally fair or capable of treating everyone the same. I don’t have the mental energy to keep track of what I do for someone each day. Today I had someone ask for $20 because it is the end of the month. Do I have to tell this mom that I gave another mom $60. Dilemma – should I give this mom $60 so she doesn’t complain about my being generous to this other mom?

The real focus in my life at present is my dad who has failing health. He has lost steam in just a few weeks because of having a stroke. His ability to get around has almost totally stopped. His ability to help himself is almost gone. He is still able to communicate the basics but not capable of explaining really anything. So is it wrong if I give him most of my emotional energy and not give as much to my Anne or my kids? The reality is that God treats us all of the same with his mercy and grace but I feel as if I am his favorite when I see how great his love is for me who is a total dirt bag!

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I admit that I live a crazy life between being around hormonal teens, seniors who want you to drop everything immediately to be with them and then my own adult kids who now are into the marriage/wedding part of life. I am fortunate to have access to many new friends as I live out my normal routine of being in our neighborhood doing mercy church.

As this Saturday approaches and we do a neighborhood cleanup project I am reminded of how great God has been at bringing me into a great group of friends who are all really different. I think of an older principal at one of the charter schools where a lot of our teens attend. She and her assistant principal have become great friends. We are in the process of looking to the fall to do a 2 week community service program for their seniors. So when I invited these ladies to be part of our project this coming Saturday I had a sneaking suspicion that the principal would be the only adult helping out.

I am excited about another charter school helping out that will have lots of teachers and students helping out. My main guy is a rather off the wall type of teacher who has a passion for making a difference. It will be fun working with him. I know that his principal probably thinks he is crazy at times. He is literally dragging a group of his frat brothers from Flagstaff to help out. I also have another older friend who is a pioneer in his church bringing a group of 10 or so to help out. I respect him big time because he is going against the flow with getting people who are busy and have everything to sacrifice a Saturday morning.

I have been blessed by having college interns from ASU and GCU who are helping out. This group has become my hands and feet in making life happen at New City – Barrio Nuevo. I am like a father/grandpa with them and fret the day when the semester finishes and they don’t have to help but choose to help and volunteer their time.

As I respond to a face time call from my dad, I am blow away that he accidently pushed the right button on his ipad actually called me. My dad is becoming a new friend in a different way. He has lots of challenges with his life at present. He is teaching me the simple meaning of being there for him on his terms not mine. It is easy for me to be programed to do things my way and force him to fit into my time frame and not his.

I know that as Alzheimer’s attacks my dad’s mind that he will be less able to communicate his feelings and expectations. I know that day will come, I don’t wish it upon him or anyone but I want to be prepared to still be there for him regardless of whether he is nice to me, recognizes me or is able to still do his TV or at least mess it up by pushing the wrong button on his remote. I am beginning to realize that life is more about the little messes we experience each day than a neighborhood project where 200 people will appear out of now where and do some serious work in a few hours.

I admit that I am a people person that can be energized by a group or crowd but I am also learning how to be still and read and listen to the voices of different people from different cultures. I will talk on the phone later today and reflect with a friend about doing local missions. I am the activist type who is able to draw many together to do something they wouldn’t do on their own. So I am going to be somewhat radical to this church in pushing them to get outside their box and be more able to relate to the marginalized in their world in their neighborhood.

I know I must look like a rich white guy sitting at my Starbucks on my mac air blogging. I so much want all of my friends to meet each other in a community service context where we all are stretched to do something that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t come together. As I am blogging another guy sits down waiting for his drink and I say it’s early isn’t it. He admits that his nighttime activity had caught up with him. He asks me if I work and I want to say what do you think I’m doing right now. I explain my life focus and obviously because he’s a Black Man he acts impressed with the fact I work with African American teens, grandmas and families.

I had better finish up because my dad did just called and expects me to be at his place before 7AM. I have a busy day ahead with conference call, neighborhood cop meeting, lunch meeting listening to some guy who is supposed to be an expert on missions, pick up my paint and deliver it and do some prep for Saturday. I guess it is a normal day that will finish with dinner with some special friends who are newly weds.

Monday, January 23, 2012


This last week I had two very different experiences with people who would come across as being homeless. I was at my Starbucks after the morning rush. As I was coming into the parking to stop I noticed an older teen, who looked like he was ‘panhandling’. As I got out of the truck he quickly headed my way. He looked rather out of it and approached me under the guise of what time it happened to be. As I looked at my phone he then asked for any spare change. I asked him what was really going down. He had an awkward look on his face and briefly explained that he was homeless.

I told him to follow me and sit at the outside table. I asked him if he wanted something to eat, explaining that I didn’t like giving out money. He was unshaved and his clothes were dirty as he explained that both his mom and cousins didn’t want him. I said that was ok but needed a response about coffee and sandwich. He said he wanted iced coffee, which I thought was odd considering it, was still cool outside.

I went inside and asked the baristas if they had seen this guy Jonathan before. They explained that he had lifted the tip box before. One of the older baristas had confronted him about doing this and he admitted that he had taken their money. I asked him what had happened in his life? I explained as he was thinking what to say that I was a Christian and wanted to be a friend. I attempt to give him simple explanation of the Gospel and how his life needed to change for his circumstances to improve. He wasn’t too clear on what happened with his mom but that she didn’t want him around at present. I said he needed to go somewhere and not hang out at the Starbucks too long.

I had an appointment so I told him goodbye but said he could easily find me if he wanted each morning if he came early. I know he was thankful to get some coffee and a warm sandwich. I only hope that a kind word and some food might push him to rethink what he was doing with his life.

Last night after church we went to McDonalds with our group. We were all sitting down eating our $2 worth of specials and talking. There was an older lady that was sitting by herself eating some peanuts. She had a tattered bag and clothing that looked like she was homeless. As I looked at over the next ten minutes I could sense that she was in some distress. I asked one of my teens to go over and ask her if she wanted something to eat. My teen, who usually steps up, chickened out and I instead went and order a McDouble, fries and large drink. I am assuming that my charm or persuasive powers will get her to take the food. I got the food and slowly approached her. I could tell the second my eyes met hers that she didn’t want to have anyone bother her, especially a ‘White’ guy who looked like he wanted to fix her or rescue her. I explained that the food was a gift and that she should eat it. Her response was sadly awkward, “Leave me alone!! I’ll scream if you don’t go away.”

I walked away saddened not knowing what to do but respect her wishes. I tried but wondered what had caused her to be on the streets by herself? I could tell she was hungry but she was too prideful to take it or maybe I asked in an inappropriate fashion? I gave the fries and burger to a couple of different teens. I truly felt bad for her. She looked as if she had a drinking issue because her eyes were really red.

I usually don’t quit or walk away from a situation but this time I did. My hope and prayer is that God will send someone else to her today and bless her with a smile first and then ask her how she is doing. I always remember Jesus’ lesson on how to love him but by loving those around you, especially those like this lady or teen.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The A Word

Yesterday was one of the worst days of my life next to my mom’s home coming to heaven. (I was happy for her to be done with her cancer but so sad to not have her any more.) I can remember when my mom was first diagnosed with cancer. I know that my parents didn’t want to tell us right off the bat. I know that doctors struggle with telling someone that they have cancer. I know that using the C word can be devastating to most people. So even though I knew the purpose of taking my dad to a Neurologist’s office yesterday little did I understand the impact of hearing not the C word but the A word.

I arrived at my dad’s little studio yesterday after lunch with plenty of time to get him shaved and dressed for his appointment. As I got close to his door I could hear one of the staff talking with him. She was trying to persuade him to eat his lunch. I couldn’t get the just of the issue whether he wanted to eat in bed, which is a no no or whether he was just having a tough day. As I stood at the door listening I decided to let Rhonda do her best to persuade him. As she was about to leave I walked back in with her and explained to grandpa that he needed to sit up to eat and it was best not to eat in bed. He gave me one of those looks like who the …… do you think you are to tell me I can’t eat in bed. Yet, because I am his son he got up and sat at his desk. He did devour his lunch.

I sat in his amazingly comfortable chair and enjoyed watching TV as he finished off his lunch. I know that he didn’t really understand why it was so important for him to not eat in bed and more so get out and get some exercise. He is a homebody who would rather stay in his palace. I know that he isn’t the easiest to persuade to do something different so I do appreciate the staff that goes out of their way to get him up and out.

I am thankful that his hair has grown back a little. I know in the past he would find his razor and end up shaving his head to look like Kojak. (He was an old school tough guy cop on TV at night.) I did my usual warm washcloth on his face and then used some fancy shaving cream, which he loves. I shaved him and helped him look good and feel better. We changed shirts and put on some shoes. I knew that the journey to the Doctor’s Office would be easy but had little clue about the impact the visit would have on me. I didn’t expect to be in tears as I got my car back from the parking attendant, yeah I pretended to be a rich guy and had it parked to avoid taking grandpa the distance from the parking garage.

I filled out the usual 10 pages of info for the Doctor’s office to assure them I wasn’t going to bail on paying or the insurance information was correct. I was surprised to hear the nurse come out so quickly and call grandpa’s name. We walked slowly back to the room where the helper would ask grandpa questions. I so much wanted him to respond with yes today is Thursday the 19th of January and it is 3:30pm. Yet, dad wasn’t able to do any of that. I knew that so why put him through such a humbling test. Yet, the reality was it didn’t really impact grandpa at all but just embarrassed me. He was able to say a few things correctly and could copy a picture on paper but couldn’t write a sentence.

The doctor eventually made his way to our room, which was hidden at the end of the maze of his office. He was very thorough in asking me questions about dad’s past and what had happened over the last 10 years. So I took the time to reflect on dad’s journey with my mom and his issues with getting lost, thinking he was broke and had a terrorist after him. I tried to paint an accurate picture of him today with reflecting on his time at Chris Ridge and our house.

I asked the usual questions about the A disease wanting to know why this was happening and what could stop it or slow it down. The doctor was great at explaining the use of different medications, etc… and the most recent advancements. He hadn’t seen his MRI so we went to a different office because this computer was on the fritz. As we sat down and he logged in the MRI did come up and we went through a series of pictures that showed the diseased part of his brain. This was primarily due to bad circulation that had robbed him of his mind over the years. I didn’t want to hear what the doctor said next that was the A disease was causing most of the problems and the vascular issues was secondary. Ouch I didn’t want to hear any of this but wanted to pretend that I could use the dementia word and everything would be ok in the end.

Dad waited patiently in the little office until we returned. We were done with the doctor after he gave me the prescriptions and PT instructions. We walked out after talking with Rosie the receptionist who was very helpful and nice. We walked slowly to the elevator and made our way back to the circular parking where we would wait for the attendant to bring us back our little yellow car. I don’t know what happened but as I called my Anne I started to cry. I was overwhelmed with the obvious diagnosis, which I knew had been there for years but didn’t want to face it head on. Yeah, I have tried to be the elder son and do my best but as my wife will remind me I’m not superman, even though I think I can multi-task and rock the world in my neighborhood. I dropped my phone and as I picked it up I was able to regain control and we decided to have dinner at grandpa’s favorite, IHOP.

I know in theory that God won’t test us or put us in circumstances that we can’t handle. Yet, I feel as if I am in a world by myself with someone I use to know that now tells stories about his Vietnam past with my mom by his side. I know that a year ago I would remind him that grandma never went to Vietnam nor did she fly B-52’s. Yet, what’s wrong with this now? Maybe in heaven she is reliving my dad’s past with him and did join him. I was frustrated when I went online to look for an Alzheimer’s support group to see a web page that was 4 years old? The journey has already begun and I am so thankful to have an incredible wife and kids who have already helped out so much. I am also blessed to have amazing brothers and a very caring sister in-law who is there all of the time.

Dad I love you whether you remember the day or date!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Communication is Key!

I have become an expert at buying and selling mostly laptops on Craigslist. It is always interesting to see whom God brings across my path when I’m in the process of selling or buying a laptop. I’m always shopping around for great deals on older inexpensive MacBook’s. I’m also learning that you don’t have to buy something brand new but can get someone else to buy it and then save hundreds when they decide for some reason they don’t want it or need the cash. I love to barter or trade.

I had been looking for a newer MacBook pro to use for church and doing presentations. The old Frog, aka 6 year old mbp 17” is still a good computer but slow when it comes to streaming. So I find a great deal on a laptop that is under a year old for 50% of original price. I know that getting this means I have to let go of the Frog. I was blessed to be able to preach at another church and used the gift for preaching to help with getting this newer machine that is really in perfect condition.

I pick up my ‘lime’ green machine, it has a cover, and now advertise on CL the Frog. It was only minutes after posting it that I had a couple of calls and texts. I usually don’t get too excited because I know it might take a few days to have the right person find me. Yet, as I listened to Anthony he seemed to be a good fit, a video guy that will work with Charter Schools. We talk in the afternoon but I have to go see my dad and have no idea how long it will take. I end up cooking a great dinner because my Anne is really sick and out of it. We finished our great gourmet feast and then I remember that my phone is upstairs and that this Anthony guy might have called.

I find my iPhone and discover he has called and texted. He’s serious and wants to meet. So I quickly erase any important info and refresh the laptop. I agree to meet at the Starbucks on 24th. He actually lives close by. I am assuming because of his voice that he’s African American. I’m getting a cup of brew and its obvious as he walks in that it’s Anthony. He’s a little bigger in size but obvious a former football guy. We sit and start talking and within minutes it’s obvious that we have lots in common and his wife teaches at one of the high schools where some of our teens attend.

I explain my frustration with the African American Family structure in South Phoenix and the unfortunate absence of dads or male role models. I chuckle and say that my only other good male role model is also another Anthony. I share about what we are doing and he actually calls his wife and we talk. Amazing that we live in such a small world. What are the odds via CL to connect with someone who is a video wiz that has a passion for youth and wants to help High School Students?

It is truly amazing when God sets something up it is so obvious. I know that Anthony was on a mission to find the right MacBook for his work. He had already been to a couple of pawnshops and used computer places. My Frog was the better choice for the price. I was fortunate to get this from someone who sold it for almost ½ what it is worth. I’m blessed to have a better laptop for what we are doing and he is blessed to get the bigger screen for doing his work. God is at work and I too often am the beneficiary of a great blessing.