Thursday, March 29, 2012


I can remember back in my Jesus Freak day attending First Presbyterian Church of San Diego. I must give some background to my blog in that I grew up in a non-churched family and that attending any type of large institutional type of church building wasn’t part of my family history. So as I walk into this monstrous church edifice I am taken back by the size of the stained glass windows the thousands of pipes for the organ and the pulpit that seemed a hundred feet above the pews. My first memory of the pastor who was preaching, not my future father in-law, was someone that seemed too distant from my life or circumstances that surrounded me. I was confused when it came to the style of music, the rationale for the pastors wearing robes and the formalness of the service. As I listened to my first sermon it didn’t resonant with my heart or mind. Yet, this institutional church, which I at first judged severely, has become my home, why?

I had the opportunity to take a group from my neighborhood to work at First Presbyterian with their soup kitchen lunch to the homeless and their military food bank distribution. As I brought my teens and college students to this fortress of a church I started to remember what it was that brought me to see this church as a generational movement in spite of my original harsh judgment of robes and anthems in Latin or some other language.

I had asked one of my former youth group moms, that is now the secretary of the church, after working as a nurse at Pt. Loma University for a career, to help us arrange housing at the church and connect with the new Ladle Director. She was quick to tout who I was, yes I am the son in-law of the former long term pastor but also in my own right a youth pastor that helped birth a dynamic movement in the youth that continued the work of my predecessors who were passionate about urban multicultural youth work. This is in contrast to an elderly church that had gone from being a thriving military church in the 50’s with thousands coming to now a church of 700 that is primarily seniors with a very active middle age presence making a difference in the downtown. You have to understand that First Church was one of the few downtown churches to actually survive the suburb growth of the city while most of the other mainline churches died.

We arrived at First Church around 7:30pm after driving a six-hour journey from our Phoenix neighborhood. I had been given the secret code to help us break into this edifice of a building. All of a sudden memories came back to me from the 70’s and 80’s of doing youth work in this maze. I can remember all of the youth that are now 40 somethings getting lost purposely in the gigantic facility. My own daughter has memories that have shaped her life. Yet, being honest I was so critical of this church the first decade I was around it. Yes, it is part of a liberal denomination, yet the generational family that is First Pres is different in an exciting way.

As I wake up the following morning to get Starbucks, thanks to my app on my IPhone, I get my coffee and some milk and other supplies from a 7-11. As I walk to the old scout room I encounter a middle aged lady who we strike up a conversation and then realize that we are FB friends but really don’t know each other. All of a sudden the history part of First Church comes to life. She’s the wife of Bob Parrish whose mom, Madeline, was a close friend of my Anne as a youth. We end up hitting it off and talk about the legacy of First Church both the awesome side that brought this church to care for the community around it and also the numerous church rifts, which had impacted all of us.

As I push out the college students to help setup the military food bank I connect with my good friend Jean, who had been one of the youth group moms in the 80’s. It was so good to be around a few who had been very close friends with my mom and dad when they attend First Church for over 20 years. I was actually proud of what First Church was doing today in making a difference in their neighborhood. Yes, the controversy surrounding a ‘Gay Organist’ pushed me to seek ordination in a different Church Family but ultimately God used all of the church battles to shape all of us, myself included, to become better people that are more understanding of the bigger picture of life issues.

I asked my new friend, Lisa, to share briefly about First Church and her journey that brought her to this large downtown church. We concurred that it would have been easier to find a mega church in the burbs to attend that would have had more youth programs and a more contemporary worship style but First Church was now home and a mission field. As we began to work with the military families who live on next to nothing it was such a blessing to see the thousands of pounds of food that they would receive for free. I can’t fathom the amount of time that was required to organize this grocery store in the church dinning room.

As the weekend for our Leadership Trip to San Diego and First Pres literally flew by what stood out was the significant relationships I had with really old people. I will always remember the look of Mildred Marksbury when she saw us at First Church that Saturday and Sunday or Ellie Gross’ long discussion about her life journey with her Don getting Dementia and dying. She is the 80 year old who had just cooked the soup that feed 400 people. Then there was seeing my special youth mentor friend, Sandy, that was truly a homecoming. I don’t know whether many of my group picked up on the tears flowing from my cheeks during church but after my mom’s heavenly departure First Church has a very tender place for me. I come close to crying as I write this as I remember my mom and the legacy that she left that was so much part of First Church. She too worked there for over 8 years and it was such a blessing to connect with a few of her best friends as we walked out of church that Sunday.

Yes, I still struggle with churches that have become more institutional than family but see the Hand of God at First Church. I have to be completely honest and say that it was the First Church Family that gave me a portion of my urban passion for doing community work. I know that Ladle’s formation over 25 years ago was a stretch for this elderly church but they continued the work of being a real neighbor to those that live on the streets and those that live on fixed incomes. I’m still slow to see the benefit of wearing robes or having an organ with more pipes than church members but God has used this edifice of a building and an aging family to teach me the real meaning of Church. I want to thank First Pres’ families who have loved me when I was the longhaired odd ball that stuck out!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

You're Fired?

I know that one of the most difficult transitions in life is for a parent is to let their kid grow up and be an adult. I will have many memories of the battles in the house over our last child to leave. The reality is that someone in their 20’s is no longer a kid but yet because of our culture and inability to teach our kids how to be responsible, hard working and conscientious we have created a generation of co-dependent adults that truly expect mom or dad to give them everything on a silver platter.

We live by choice in an under resourced neighborhood. I drive by young adults daily who just hang out. They dropped out of high school because it didn’t work, they were expelled for fighting, bombed out or decided it was more fun to stay up all night and sleep till 2pm everyday. I have many grandmas who struggle with raising their grandkids and great grandkids because their adult kids are incapable of being a parent or just too lazy. My goal isn’t to create a dependence scenario where adults can find an easy hand out and continue in their purposeless existence but grow up and step up!

So I know that as I worked with Habitat for Humanity in the East Valley for 8 years that our goal, which is pie in the sky, would be to actually eliminate substandard housing. Much as I am dialoguing with one of my young adults, no longer a teen, about world hunger it would be great to say that it’s resolved and no one goes to bed at night hungry! Yet, the reality is that the food banks in Phoenix will have an ongoing crisis with the lack of food to distribute and the growing need of families living on less income as prices for food and gas increase.

I know that as a parent I don’t want to be fired from my life time vocation but want to transition from one of being a care taker, helper, assister and then friend sooner than later. Much as I have walked with my dad over the last 3 years with his transition from being independent to now being very dependent. One of the oddest things in my life happened yesterday. Usually in the past when I would visit my dad he would have this look on his face like you can’t leave me or please take me with you or help me escape. I walked into his new group home and he was sandwiched between two grandmas with the most amazing look on his face. He waved at me and said what are you doing here?

I ventured into my dad’s room to see how it looked? I watched the workmen in his bathroom continue to create a shower from the ground floor up. I talked with the owner of the group home and her special contractor friend. I walked back into the living area of the house to see my dad sitting at the large dinning room table eating his lunch. He looked as happy as a little kid getting his favorite snack or toy. As I walked away I sensed this sadness on my part. He really doesn’t need me in the same way because the group home has created a family environment. I was emotionally relieved. I had spent the last 3 months struggling for my dad after a stroke and two stays in the hospital. I was at the end of my emotional rope.

My real point of this story is in response to my man – Nate who wrote for me a paragraph about his present passion – world hunger. I am working with him to help him improve on his writing skills so he can get his GED. He is actually a great thinker but not as gifted in actually expressing himself with the pen. He says a few important things about world hunger and more so blasts people who just talk about statistics but don’t do anything. So I encouraged him to consider the why questions and then come up with some how to’s and asked him to do something local that would help stop his neighbors from going hungry and not create a dependency or a handout senario.

So the goal of doing community work is to see the neighborhood turn and become self-sustaining so as some guy that makes loads of cash off of saying, “You’re Fired”, I too can have this sense of not being needed in the same context. Unfortunately, I won't have cash off of seeing this grow but a better sense of accomplished that as Mastercard would say is priceless!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Too Quick to Judge?

I know that God is a god of like 2nd chances even to the 7x7 chances ala Peter the Fisherman turned disciple. I try to help people see that God’s love isn’t based upon our performance or the notion that there are some more worthy recipients of grace and mercy. This means that there are then some who aren’t worthy of God’s forgiveness in any circumstance. Clearly this is ‘bad theology’ where the notion of total depravity has been replaced by a good works or ‘good looks’ theology.

I am presently in the middle of helping/mentoring a couple of young men that are post high school and have made some poor choices in life which put them outside the normal setting. I know that being unemployed at 21 or 28 is a tough situation. Especially if you are living at home with mom and don’t have much of a life. (Yeah passing the AIMS test determines your career path, i.e. job at McDonalds or no job in some circumstances without a diploma or GED.) It is easy for most to see guys like this and call them LAZY BUMS. All they do is shoot hoops and play PS3. As my wife would say why can’t I live off the system and not have to get up each morning at 4:30am and have to work instead of reading all day and pretend to have some malady.

I have been around both of these families for the last 4 years. They have many challenges and obstacles before them that could totally short-circuit their sense of hope for the future. I have to been honest and say that at times I do get frustrated for lack of action and the ongoing tendency of making poor choices that impact not just their lives but everyone around them. (This is especially true if you happen to have a few youngsters.)

I was raised to have a sense of pride in how I look and come across. This wasn’t as a means to put down others or think that I am better, but just simple hygiene lessons from the cradle to now old age. So when I encounter someone, especially a guy, who hasn’t bathed or shaved in a few days or a week, it bugs me. I also know that unfortunately the way someone dressed does communicate to the world around them who they are. So if you dress like a gang-banger the assumption is that you are a gangster type. If you look like a prostitute, then you might get asked the obvious, whether that was your intention or not.

This last week I was literally blown away by one of these guys who I typically have a low opinion of, shame on me. He hasn’t been great at following through, being responsible for himself and then getting that he should be a help not a burden to a mom and younger siblings who need some love and real help. I am totally spoiled to have an amazing wife/girl friend for life who is always there. I can’t fathom what it would be like to be hooked up with a guy that was lazy, sloppy and unemployed with a host of excuses to explain why his life is a mess.

Over a year ago I had asked a close friend who is a Marine, Captain, to mentor this young man. I knew that my friend Pete would ultimately want to chew up this guy and watch him put back the pieces to his life. I have to admit that after a year or so of Pete being gone this guy hadn’t made any progress but most likely was ready to crash and burn again. He seemed to be stuck in neutral and always had a rather interesting list of excuses to defend his inaction

He actually texted me and asked if we could get together. I was shocked – he was the initiator not me for a change. I knew that he had broken up or had a fight with his girlfriend/ex-wife or mother of his kids. I went by his house to pick him up and was shocked to see him dressed for success to take on the world. This was one of the first times I had seen him not looking like a Homey ready to take on the opposing gang in his neighborhood. He actually had goals and a gleam in his eye. I was jazzed that he had followed through with getting a grant for going to school and would soon be getting a job.

We talked about a real plan that would help him learn to be a better person, better dad and reconnect with the mothers of his kids. I know that eating humble pie isn’t part of my DNA so I couldn’t expect him to be much different. As we left I sensed that he was starting to really GET IT! Wow – God really does shower his love on those who really need it whether they are perceived as worthy recipients. I’m proud of my friend and I know that he is going to

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Real Care Giver!

As I think back over my life it is easy to complain or moan and groan about silly things, which aren’t a big deal. I know that my dad’s journey with Dementia will be something that will move me to help others and pursue raising funds to help with research. (I can’t fathom that HIV research receives ten times the funding.) My dad has actually improved and is almost back to his old cranky self. I woke up or rather my listening ears heard my dad shooing off my little dogs that were giving him a good morning kiss.

My family DNA has always been to help others and have an eye out for those in real need. My mom was the champion of the down trodden. I always reacted a little bit to her quickness to help out strangers and then be rather vocal about her family and her faith. My dad was on the more reserve side of things. He wasn’t very quick to say much about his personal life. This at times brought us at odds with each other because as a teen that discovered the spiritual side of life I wanted to tell others about it and my dad was private about his faith journey.

I know that it would be rather easy for me or my Anne to joke about taking care of my dad over the last couple of years but I am reminded of how my dad became the real caretaker for a decade. I am starting to understand what it does mean to lay down your life for another. I was a little miffed at the fact that over the last couple of years doing vacation and getting alone time doesn’t happen in the typical fashion. I so much wanted to kidnap my Anne just for one night not for a week. Yet, the reality set in on last Thursday that my dad’s bathroom for his new place wasn’t going to be finished for a few days. I was irritated over the whole thing.

As I was thinking about how my dad took care of my mom during her journey with cancer I can honestly admit to myself that my dad didn’t scream or complain at least to me much at all. I actually argued with my dad towards the last year of mom’s life that he needed real help. I tried to persuade him to get home health care or hospice to come and help. He was rather adamant that he could do it and didn’t need another’s help. I actually got mad at him because often friends from church would come to drop off food or want to help and he would stubbornly put them off. I do remember screaming a few times at him to let us share the load.

As I am writing this blog it would be easy to blame the owner of my dad’s group home for ruining my Anne’s birthday weekend. She should have had the extra bathroom finished out. Obviously she was waiting to lease out her special bedroom. I didn’t have a clue as to the real story behind the bathroom. As I listened to her story in bits and pieces I was broken, humbled and felt horrible for my selfish feelings.

Korin opened up as we were putting my dad’s furnishings into his room amidst the loud jackhammer noise from the bathroom. I knew that her husband had died a few years ago. I also knew that he had built the extra room and bath that my dad would soon occupy. I sensed that her life had really stopped since her husband’s death. Many friends, in a trite fashion, had told her that God had a plan for her life without her husband. She got very irate when some would say that God took her husband to heaven because he was needed more there than with her four young children.

As I got to know her special friend, this huge Romanian contractor, that he was doing her a favor with actually finishing out the bathroom. This required a herculean effort with tearing out the concrete, redoing the pipes and then re-pouring the floor. What seemed to be a couple of day job has turned into a week plus project. Everything that you could imagine has gone wrong. Korin was so embarrassed about this situation. I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t a big deal. I was lying because I could have had my dad stay for the weekend at the Life Care Center and we still could have gone away but I was being cheap.

Back to my story of being a caretaker/giver and the real reason why my dad’s new home wasn’t ready. Korin had left her new addition untouched since it had been finished because her husband had been killed by a freak accident that left her doubting her reason for existence. I finally got up my nerve as we talked about suffering, grieving and mourning. I simply asked, “What happened?” I could tell as the tears started to roll that this was like it happened only yesterday. She shared that her husband was in the attic at their house doing something with the electrical. He was obviously your handyman type of guy that would never pay someone to do work but did all of it himself. After waiting a while for him to come out of the attic she finally stuck her head through the little door in the ceiling only to discover that he had been electrocuted. I’m sure she called 911 and did her best to revive him only to come to the realization that he was gone.

She had already told me that he was the love of her life. They had been married for 15 years but had known each other for 17 years. They had decided to come to the States to raise a family and seek a more stable setting. Her story very much revolved around her two group homes where she had laid down her life as a caregiver. She wanted everything to be perfect when my dad moved in and it was obvious that this wasn’t going to happen. So as I listened to her story and the bitterness inside or resentment over the loss of her husband I had to apologize for how Christians can be well intentioned but say things which are horrible without much forethought.

I can’t fathom how she has lived the last two years with four young kids and a mom who is helping but is from another world and era. Korin, who is an iPhone gal, did mention that she was more old school/world than one who would let her son have a FB page or allow her kids to watch much T.V. or forget YouTube. My real point to this blog is that my dad, not Korin or me is the real caregiver. He had set aside his life for a decade to wait on my mom hand and foot. This was a huge stretch for my dad who was raised in a time where the man was the breadwinner and the wife was the homebody and caregiver.

My dad had changed immensely over the decade he loved on his lady as she died one day at a time. I will always remember the phone call that came at 3am on that Thursday October 17th day. I knew that my mom had left this earthly life and was taken with the heavenly host to her heavenly home. I didn’t know how my dad would take this. He obviously had experienced a heavenly high that I could barely maintain him on the phone. He was jubilant about his love being freed from her pain and now be restored to a more than normal life.

So I can’t complain about the few days over the last couple of years that I have had to change my schedule or cancel something. My group in the hood actually understands the importance of grandmas and grandpas in life. I guess one of the exterior signs of my sinful condition is moaning about something that isn’t a big deal by making it into a big deal. I can’t fathom the frustration that Jesus felt often over his 12 when they didn’t get it. I can imagine that Jesus refrained many times from blasting Peter or one of the other disciples when it came to their poor choice of words or obvious misreading of the Gospel Story.

One time the head guys asked Jesus what they were going to get for all of their sacrifice in following him. I can see myself saying to Jesus, “You know I so much wanted to wait in line at the Apple Store for the latest Ipad or IPhone but instead I was watching my dad!” How totally stupid and brain dead of me to even think this way. The creator of the universe has decided before He designed the world that he would allow my complaints to be worthy of his attention when they shouldn’t. Why else would He so willingly allow His Son to take a ‘hit’ for my sin?

I know that it will be a journey for Korin to understand grace and forgiveness as God’s path for her life and not a performance based type of relationship. I am thankful that God has put this last piece of the puzzle together for my dad to be at Korin’s group home. I know that he will adjust and love his new home. I know it has been a pain for the bathroom to be installed but in a few months it won’t matter at all. God, thanks for putting people in my life who are real care givers!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Man - Nate

I had a couple of texts from two guys who are 20 somethings asking for help. One of them is already a dad times four and the other is still single and pursuing putting his life on the right track. The one text was more a cry for emotional support after his girlfriend had dumped him after calling her his other girlfriend’s name. I only had time to meet with one of them yesterday so I chose Nate.

I know that there are many who look at what we are doing from a distance. Some are afraid of what we do because it is multi-cultural, loud and chaotic or not something they can put into their box. Others within our community are slow to want to join in because it requires some commitment and personal cost. My man – Nate I have been around the last four years. I have been more involved with his mom and little sister or actually niece. She is definitely a wild child that isn’t much different from her mom at a young age. It is Nate’s mom that I have always appreciated because of her ability to be the glue in a family that has some tough challenges.

I have watched Nate from the inside of my truck or van as he and some friends are usually playing basketball in the South Ranch Park. I can remember last summer being challenged to a game with his associates against a group we had visiting from LA. I was impressed that my Koreans were almost able to beat the team from the hood. What was great about the game was that it gave me a chance to be on Nate’s turf with his friends.

I asked Nate to do lunch with me. I know he was rather surprised but obviously didn’t mind getting a free lunch and an opportunity to better understand this old white guy who now lives and works in his neighborhood. I was able to get inside of Nate’s head the first time we met. He was very capable of explaining what he loved about life, i.e. playing B-ball, arguing about politics and caring for his family. He was at a roadblock in his life because he hadn’t finished school, didn’t like to sit in class and didn’t have a job. I know that there was a side of him that he didn’t mind not having to have to do anything. Yet, there is his mom knocking herself out for him by working as a hotel maid the last 20 years.

I told Nate that if he was willing to be accountable and step up I would get him a laptop he could use with pursuing his GED. He explained how he was hyperactive and just couldn’t sit and focus very well if at all. So I did my Craigslist magic and found him an inexpensive mac laptop. I was pleasantly surprised to get updates from him. It was at a pace that I wouldn’t have necessarily done but it was at least steady like the tortoise instead of the erratic tendency of the hare.

I get this great news text that he had found a program that would help both with his GED and get job training. Over the following couple of weeks I would get a text asking for fatherly advice, like I need to go to this job interview and my GED program leader isn’t letting me go. He asked, “What do I do?” I said try to change the interview. He then replies, “The program guy continues to be a pain in the but and doesn’t want me to miss anything of his and not get the job.”

I’m taken back by the inflexible way of this guy. Nate needs a job and the ability to stay focused in finishing his GED. The challenge is that he is someone that will eventually respond negatively to this guy’s way of treating him. It was clear this guy demanded everything but did little himself to help. So I told Nate let’s meet and come up with a plan that will rock the world.

So as I am finishing a meeting with a friend at Starbucks so I quickly text Nate and get an instant response – READY – let’s go. So I pull up to his house and he jumps into my truck. We start to talk about his situation and some simple things he can do. I was originally going to stop at IHOP or something but instead we pull up to Jack and go inside. I needed to get some real food instead of just injesting coffee. We order a couple of good breakfasts and sit down at a high table with tall chairs.

I try to get into his mind and provide an avenue for him to share his passion in life and what he really wants to do. He shares that doesn’t like to conform to anyone and has a tough time with writing because he only writes Nate speak and also sucks at math. Both of these disciplines he acknowledges will take real time and effort to master. I continue to focus him on what is really the point of his existence. He shares his radical political thoughts and desire to oust most politicians. I ask the real question – why now – why care to do something instead of just hanging like everyone else?

The response I get is totally mind blowing and amazing. He looks at me and says I need to do all of this so I can support my MOM. I don’t want her to work much longer and she has always given me everything I need. Wow – I couldn’t have bribed him enough cash or a new basketball to get him to say this perfect response. He actually cares for his mom and wants to do something about it. I share with him that what he is saying is so reflective of the gospel and how God wants to be part of our lives and love us in a real way. I said your mom has been laying her life down so that you might have a real life. I come back to Christ’s way of loving us by giving his all that we can have a real life

So we come up with a plan. He’s going to the local community college to plug into a GED class. I will help him start blogging or writing and we will find some geometry workbooks to help with the math thing. As we are finishing our breakfast we get up and drive off in the truck. As we are sitting in front of his house it strikes me that Nate actually is my friend now. I almost had to boot him out of my truck so I can go see Grandpa and get ready for the rest of my day

I’m proud of my man Nate who is going to get his GED and rock the world.