Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Standards

Yeah, I admit to sweeping and mopping my downstairs at 5:30am today. Anne and I usually go for a walk with our little herd around 4:30am and then do a quick stop at Starbucks and Anne gets ready for work while I do her lunch. The aftermath of 30 teens after our mentor dinner is you better do something. I can remember as a kid growing up that my mom always had a certain way of doing things. I will always have this sense in the back of my head that if I didn’t clean up my room, help pick up our ‘stuff’ in the living room or help with whatever that I wasn’t doing it right. I know that having had a few different teens live with us over the last 4 years our standards of how to do certain things definitely contrasts with those who haven’t been taught to care about their ‘stuff’. I laugh when someone vacuums and you see this swirl on the carpet like every five feet instead of seeing this neat line of vacuum marks that tells you it’s clean.

I am thankful to have had a dad that was in the military. I know that having been a rebellious teen type in the 60’s and early 70’s we clashed big time. Yet, looking back it was his drive and organizational DNA that impacted my life. That might have had something to do with becoming an Eagle Scout at 13 when the typical scout is more like 17-18 when they get to Eagle, if they do. So as we seek to bring Godly standards to everything we do and a sense that excellence has to be the passion base for life we typically hit a wall. Hey, who do you think I am, is the typically response? Why should I have to kill myself?

My hope is to see God impact the lives of those who have never had any role model of someone who is passionate or has a desire to do everything with excellence. I know that my Anne tires at times with some of our teens and adults who seem to be oblivious to picking up after themselves. I also ask everyone to get away from the mindset that of why should I have to cleanup someone else’s mess. The simple reality is that if I care then I will be motivated to do what is right with all of my heart and clean up the mess regardless of who made it.

I know that some are naturally gifted with school and sports and the rest of us have to make a concerted effort to succeed. So it is interesting to me that as we start talking about doing a Leadership Trip to San Diego and I make one of the standards that you have to be getting C’s in all of your classes that there was a large cry – ouch. I had a couple teens that pleaded with me and said they would knock themselves out to improve. I simply said go for it. You need to do better regardless of this trip. Why does it take a trip to motivate you to want to do better?

I was getting into a discussion with someone about whether it made sense to bribe someone to behave accordingly or perform in school? I can understand the frustrations of a young mom with a little guy who isn’t figuring out potty training but after getting special prizes, candy or whatever, what happens when this little guy becomes 10 and decides that he doesn’t want to do school any more? Do you bribe him to get up and get dressed even though he has thrown tantrums? Is it ok for this guy to stay home because mom or dad is too wimpy to have standards? What happens when this little guy now a 10 year old demands that he be allowed to do Wii or PS3 when being a truant?

Now I take the leap from that rebellious 10 year old who doesn’t do school and enjoys the luxury of playing Wii all day long to a 20 something who has been encouraged by mom to get on disability and get section 8 housing? My Anne and I had an interesting discussion about whether we should purposely be poor and disabled so we don’t have to pay rent or a mortgage any more? What I don’t get is when someone is totally capable of making it and chooses not to set up and do it right? I can then become the passionate community activist that believes that there should be parameters for any type of assistance so that a work ethic is being taught and that the hand out mentality is being addressed. The goal has to be the ability for a person to become self-sustaining.

I know that it isn’t easy to communicate grace and mercy along with standards. It is too easy for those who are educated and hard working types to cater to those who are like them. Much like it is easy to be harder on those who aren’t good at academics. I know that God’s heart is not looking at a grade or position or level at work but your heart and attitude. Are you striving to do your best? Do you care about both the little details and the bigger outcome?

I think often of how Jesus dealt with the differences among his group of 12. It was clear that you had a couple of bean counters that were concerned about the ‘bottom’ line, others who were more concerned about the crowd’s view of what was happening and then a few who thought they had sacrificed everything and what was in it for them in the end. The last night of Jesus’ earthly life most of his group were more fixated with who would be on his right or left and not if any of them would be standing next to Jesus as he slowly died on the cross next to a thief and a murderer.

I’m glad that our God is a God of order who created with purpose and a plan that totally reflects His Character! Imagine life, if it is possible, that didn’t have order or standards?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Step Up!

I had a crazy night yesterday. I did a sleep over with grandpa. He decided after dinner to go for a walk outside his complex that wasn’t a great idea. He is ok and I could tell from last night that something had made him upset and he just wanted to go home with us. I tried to explain to him that right now that wouldn’t happen. So I sacked out on his recliner and watched a few episodes of Anne’s latest fixation, Dowton Abbey.

After waking around 5ish and getting ready I left my dad’s room and got coffee from Starbucks for my Anne before she left for work. I took a quick shower and decided it was best to do my work early today instead of taking a snooze with the dogs. I had a bunch of little errands to accomplish. One was dropping off our ballots. I was shocked to pull up into a full parking lot at a local elementary school only to discover that the voting room was empty. I was the only one voting along with about 7 helpers who were waiting.

I know it is easy to find excuses to not do what seems to be normal things like vote, help a friend, give to a worthy cause or take your kid out on a date or go for a walk with your dog. Last night I knew that I couldn’t go out with Anne or take my dogs for a walk because grandpa needed me. It was enjoyable being there with him and watching him get ready for bed and then eventually go into snooze land. I just don’t understand the mindset of most who assume that someone else is always there to pick up the slack that they choose to drop.

We had a great time on Saturday taking a large group to Flagstaff and have an adventure both with driving; stopping at different places and eventually ending up in the snow, ice and mud. It was so great to watch everyone jump out of the vehicles and literally dive into the snow and almost instantly get wet or too cold to know what to do. We literally took over this snowdrift just off the main drag. Our 10-car caravan dwarfed the single car parked in the melting snow and ice. We enjoyed the snow and cold for three hours before everyone was frozen and thinking it was time to get home.

It would have been so easy to kind of leave the little bits of our evidence of being there blow into the trees and open area. Yet, all of the adults and a few of the students decided to pick up the trash and leave almost no footprint of our being there. I can’t imagine how often someone else picked up my trash or put away my toys, put gas in the car that I left empty or go out of their way to greet a neighbor.

I was little miffed because a few of the teens had been using the Wi-Fi device while we were up in the snow. I at first thought that the device had vanished and that the Internet was pretty much over for tutoring now. I thoroughly looked through the truck and couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked the guilty parties who had used it and everyone passed the buck, i.e. I gave it to someone else. I called up each of the culprits only to discover that no one had stepped up to make sure the device didn’t get lost. I thought I had better do a more thorough job of looking in the truck only to discover that it had fallen into a space between the seat and the console. So it’s back and running. My real hope is that all of us can step up because someone else has stepped up for us. Life is too short to not be a change agent and be too focused on who made the mess or why should I care about something that doesn’t effect my life? Choose to make a difference!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fireworks

Yesterday was a great day with having free tickets to a ‘Lope’s’ game at GCU Arena. It has been such an incredible blessing or gift to have interns helping from Grand Canyon University and ASU. One of the bennies of being part of the GCU Campus is that they are becoming more and more driven to be involved with the community in a hands on fashion. So after a semester we are starting to see an impact on our group and the partnership aspect is helping with planning and doing the typical routine better.

As we drive onto the campus it is obvious that the crowd has descended and that the parking lots are almost full. The game is sold out primarily because it is free for students and also the various partners that GCU is helping through their Servant Scholar Program. As I am driving the van around the normal area and hoping that I don’t have to drive to the distant backside of campus there is one spot and wow the van even fits into this cramped spot.

As we walk to the arena the crowds we pass are all dressed in purple. There is an excitement in the air. As I call Jenessa to find out exactly where we should meet the teens are excited and caught up in the fireworks of the night. It has been a long time since I have been to anything college driven that had this much excitement. I was able to see an ASU football game as they closed out the season but the Sun Devils lost.

We find the rest of our group and I take a few pictures outside. It was unfortunate that I couldn’t attend the earlier reception for the ministry partners like New City. The inside looks incredible and everything is brand new and the big screens help everyone see both the game and have a sense of what the DNA of the campus is like. The game starts off slow for the ‘Lope’ who fall behind. We have had two of the basketball players come and help with tutoring. After we fight over some of our seats for the first 30 minutes or so we all settle down to actually watching the game.

I was amazed that my group of 25 or so was able to sit through the whole game and not wonder around most of the time. The tide of the game after half time turned to the ‘Lope’s’ favor. All of a sudden a string of three pointers meant that the ‘Lopes’ were ahead. It was a game changing setting where the defense started to step up and the lead went from just a few points to over 10 then to 12.

It was fun watching the hoopla of the beginning, halftime and end of the game attics. I think my group was taken back when there was a little fireworks display before the game started and then at halftime and at the finish as the Lopes actually pulled off a win. Unfortunately our basketball star friend, Blake, had sprained his ankle and was limping off the court with crutches.

As we made our way through the crowd outside on our way home there were real fireworks outside the arena. It was actually a great display that forced us to stop and watch until it finished. I was even able to get a couple of great pics that showed the backdrop of the night sky next to the buildings on campus. As I shared the fact that we would go to McDonalds on the way home everyone went from snail mode to hyper-speed pace. I don’t think the express McD’s was ready for an order that had over 40 items but they rocked and got it to us in about 10 minutes. So we ate our hot and spicy’s and mcdoubles as we drove home in about 15 minutes.

My hope, which I think is happening, is to show that life can have its moments of fireworks that are actually good instead of life for most where typically it is the siren or lights of the police or ambulance that is heard far too often. I know that college for most of these teens is still really a dream or non-existent. My prayer is that they are exposed more and more to different life experiences that their eyes will open to see that God is more than able to make what seems impossible possible!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

How Much is Your LIfe Worth?

I had the privilege yesterday to sit in on a teen’s CFT meeting. This is a collaborative meeting between different social worker types that are helping a teen in my group. My friend, I’ll call Bob, is from a local Tribal Nation and has been in Foster Care most of his life. His family had serious issues, which saw him placed at a very young age. It has been great getting to know Bob over the last year or so. He has such great potential and is very smart in a common sensical way. The challenge as I sat in this 2-hour meeting was which voice do I follow and so many different expectations how do I know what I am supposed to really do.

As I pulled up to the group home where Bob lived I had no idea that this meeting would be more than his group home person and his case manager. Instead it turned out to have a total of six. All of a sudden dollar signs flashed in my face as I thought of how much energy was going into this teen. Don’t get me wrong I think this gives Bob an awesome chance in life considering his past obstacles. I just see another 30 teens in my life, which would benefit from this amount of positive attention.

The backdrop to this story is that on Sunday night I had a long discussion with Bob about how he needed to go back to his case manager and other social worker types and apologize in a genuine sincere fashion. He had done some things out of over reacting to what was going on around him. I believe that Bob is astute enough to get it with adults when it comes to respect, listening and following through. He had done something which he knew was wrong but assumed that none of his helpers would discover his transgression.

As we talked I went back over the gospel of grace, which can lead to reconciliation. Bob has heard the gospel often and I know is making real steps to be a believer who does what is right, even if he doesn’t get anything out of it. I explained that it works so much better in life when we are quicker to say, “I screwed up instead of being defensive.” He shook his head in agreement. I said this is no different with God having Jesus take our sin upon himself and being judged or cursed by God for our disobedience. I explained how his choice to stop the games and be honest would draw his workers to him instead of alienating them. It was clear that some of Bob’s choices over the last month or so had alienated them and they saw mixed signals come from this teen.

The key for the meeting to work was for Bob to be honest about his future desires and then be transparent about how he messed up at the last meeting. He had pulled up his grades significantly which everyone applauded him for his consistent efforts. I explained that adults are more into respect than he had thought. I explained that his case manager was the one with control in the overall situation and that he needed to come clean with him. I explained how it was easy to have a false humility that might work for a meeting but that it seemed that all of the workers had seen through this fa├žade. As I sat and listened it was clear that Bob had lied at the last meeting about a few things that turned out to be really important.

As we wrapped up Bob was able to express himself better and did apologize to everyone, especially the case manager. He had worked on goals with his group home worker who is a like a mom to him. He admitted to his anger issues and explained how he had messed up in his chem class and actually used the campus police in the wrong way to justify his rebelliousness toward his teacher.

It struck me how much effort had gone into this meeting. I had spent many hours talking with Bob. Obviously his group home mom had spent even more time helping Bob to see how he needed to change his thinking towards the entire situation. Then there was this multitude of social workers or therapist types that saw him on a monthly basis with similar goals. I can imagine how many middle class families will pay for their kids to have special coaches or tutors at a huge expense. Here is Bob having a group of six adults genuinely care for his welfare.

What I loved was that everything I had shared about spiritual principles, i.e. his need to repent, ask for forgiveness and then have a better attitude and changed behavior was actually starting to happen. Bob is an amazing individual who does have so much going for him. All of us expressed the fact that he didn’t have to grow up too quickly but was now on the right path. Everyone left excited about Bob’s progress and the fact that everyone’s heart felt efforts were truly worth it. I also saw my role as pastor or spiritual counselor as something that everyone in the meeting understood my role and place.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Honestly - A Look at Ty

I have gotten into a dialogue with a good friend who wants to keep me on track and help me stay Gospel centered in what I’m doing. I continue to be surprised at how many will make the assumption because I’m doing mercy work that it really isn’t the same as doing church and that it is possible to impact a person’s life and not have the Gospel be present? Last Sunday I had a good friend attend our worship service at night and he was pleasantly surprised to see our group be around 50 and then after church have a dinner at my house that worked out well. I have decided to write more about specific individuals and how God is impacting their lives through mercy work.

This last week while I was driving in the van getting some of the teens for church I had an amazing conversation with a friend – who we will call Ty. He is a 20 something who is African American and lives with his aunt because he doesn’t get along with his mom. He is a tall slim guy who dresses rather hip and has a rather intellectual side to him that is very surprising considering his upbringing. We have had some amazing dialogues in the past about life in the hood, God, thinking out loud and then the obvious – what are you going to do with your life.

This time it was about a new friend who he had met online in the last couple of months. We will call her Susie. Now Ty is a deep thinker type that is totally outside the box of his peers who are more interested in getting high or figuring out how to make a fast buck without having to do much of anything. He was quick to share about his online friend’s situation and how she had been an atheist that had crashed and burned. He was excited because she responded to his encouragement to seek out God. So our conversation was about how she had come to Christ and was beginning to pursue a church. (It turns out she is Chinese and I’m not sure where she lives.)

The real conversation came back to Ty and his family and why most of them were still outside of God. Our mutual concern was his younger brother who has always struggled with his life. It is too easy to blame the circumstances around someone to the point that they no longer are responsible for anything they do. I was really amazed at how well Ty was able to articulate mercy and grace from a Gospel perspective. I was able to ask him questions about the ‘race thing’ among his own peers and why everyone was so quick to call each other ‘Nigger’ and want to hurt on each other.

Ty doesn’t come to church that often because he always wants to dress nice and unfortunately doesn’t always have a phone that he can call me about his availability. As we finished our conversation he was jazzed about our conversation and wants to stay in touch and think through a plan to help his brother really get it. The reality is that many of our youth and adults can’t read. The key to most jobs and education is your ability to read and comprehend.

What makes this a special story is that Ty has grown up around a mom, siblings and other relatives who actively do drugs. The fact that he doesn’t want to drink, smoke or do drugs is incredible. The fact that God has everything to do with that decision is an amazing gift for me. Now his brother is also very open and receptive about Jesus. I think that he is a very young and immature believer. The challenge is that the younger brother isn’t motivated about much of anything besides panhandling spare change and getting junk food. I have been trying to get his attention about being more focused in school and being more able to rise above his circumstances.

I know that God is at work. It might not fit in the typical church setting but it doesn’t matter. Our father is about the business of doing the extraordinary through ordinary circumstances. I’m excited about being Ty’s friend and helping him grow in his young faith.