Friday, June 29, 2012


Last night we had our usual game night at the park. It was hot, really hot and everyone was at first just looking for shade or something cool, like popsicles. We did our normal games like football, Frisbee catch, ball toss and even a few with squirt guns. Yeah the different vendors like the ice cream van or lady with the push cart were tempting my group which means they are asking for spare change or if they are bold for a dollar.

Once the evening starts rolling a few stay at the tables and do crafts, drawing pics, using finger paints or making bracelets. A few little guys are on the playground equipment having fun jumping off the platforms or going down the slides. A few walk to the basketball court to shoot some hoops. My wife or Kelli don’t come so I am the one to watch over the craft area and pick up trash. So as the sun starts to wane and sink in the west the group decides to do some crazy games. They are spinning the little kids around, letting them race and watch who actually makes it or falls flat on their faces. Now they change direction and start doing a type of Thai Chi.

Now it is really dark and we start deciding who goes where and start filling up the different vehicles so we can get home at a decent hour. As we have everyone loaded one of my teens, who really is a great gal, hard worker, self-starter type comes up and says that her cell is missing. She remembers it probably fell out when they were doing the Thai Chi game. This group has a history of losing cell phones or having them stolen in public places. It was only a few weeks ago that this same teen had lost her phone at Slide Rock and discovered that it was stolen.

The problem with this story is that getting a cell phone is a major event in most teen’s lives. The challenge is that they typically can’t afford to have one so losing one or having it stolen is a major thing. So as we start to look for this teen’s cell it hits me how can this be happening again – like in less than a month? How can it happen to someone so nice and sweet? I start calling her cell and no sound and no lit up cell on the grassy area where we had been playing. There are about 5 of us literally looking foot by foot to no avail and I’m ready to stop. I can’t believe that this can happen to someone again in just a few weeks.

I decide to take home the kids that live close by and leave the intern to watch over the search. At this juncture I don’t expect to get a call about finding a phone but a call saying it’s not worth looking any more because someone must have taken it. As I’m dropping a large group of little kids off I get this text that says she found it. YES she found it thanks to our intern’s friend who he had brought to help.  I’m truly relieved and thankful for the sake of our teen. It had just been a few weeks ago that a newcomer teen had left her purse on the ground unattended that had gotten stolen that I had a bad feeling last night that the same thing could happen. I know that one of the most important lessons in life which I continually face is the call to keep trying, doing it, never quit or in this case keep looking for that cell phone in the dark.

I know that there will be times when I will do dumb things, like leave my iPhone unattended and have this strange feeling that turns into a woops and then a wow I’m so glad that so and so picked it up and kept it for me. I also know that there will be times when I’m careful and even have our bag for keeping valuables safe that things happen. I know that there are a few who I know haven’t ever taken someone else’s stuff so I feel horrible when something happens to their ‘stuff’ especially in this situation when she just had her cell stolen. Life lessons are so important circumstances like this give new meaning and understanding to patience and persistence. I know better than to pray or ask God for patience. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

I think I'm going crazy?

Last night was a crazy night between the amazing dust storm that drove inside the Starbucks for our Job Life Skill Group, getting repeated calls from one of my teens who called the police on his mom and brother, a text that sent me over the edge and then the proverbial fight with a teen’s mom. I am blessed to have some incredible friends who help me on the journey of neighborhood life transformation.

As we were listening to my friend Marc share his journey of growing up in an Italian home I keep getting a call from one of our more obnoxious teens who usually just wants me to bring him food or ask for a ride. I ignore the first couple of calls. Marc shares about his first couple of jobs, college experience and then going to Asia and then Africa for 6 months. Most of the teens were listening with their jaws wide open. After the 6th call I know answer only to discover that this one teen feels threatened and he calls the police. Now I continue to get a series of calls from him while I listen to Marc’s journey from world traveler to world person who has a passion for people, especially 3rd world people.

I tell my teen, who has now called 10 times, to wait for the police, behave himself and just be honest with them. Another friend shows up who had worked in San Francisco for the day and had flown back amid the incredible dust storm and now shares his unusual upbringing as a kid that loved technology and learned how to program at the age of 5. As James shares his story he comes alive and the group starts to interact. I’m impressed and humbled to really know James well and have a newfound respect for him.

Again, I continue to get calls from this teen. I said there wasn’t anything I could do because of being in the middle of the class. As we wrap up after James shares about his first job that wasn’t McDonalds or Taco Bell because he was too young. He is asked by a neighbor to do a program for a work project. He is able to do this quickly and clearly helps the neighbor and earns some money.  Wow, here we are playing games about getting jobs and James rocked as a kid. Yet, his life wasn’t great as he shares his struggle with his weight and health.

As we finish up the dust storm continues to wail and we drive home amid the storm. I’m concerned about this one teen. Then I get a text from another teen that is being blessed by her school to go clothes shopping because she is in a tough situation with an unemployed mom who is often without a residence also. A fight erupts because I had explained that I wanted another adult to take her shopping to oversee the money being spent because it was a loan from me that would then be reimbursed from the school. So any money spent without a receipt I get the ‘eat’. This was not a great conversation. This mom had just jumped all over me the night before when I was feeding both of her teens dinner. I was just ticked at how I’m always the one getting screamed at but the mom is incapable of admitting to her problems or apologizing to her teens and me.

As this conversation is finishing I get a text from another teen that ask a simple question. I had asked for all of the teens, which had used laptops for the school year, to return them. The agreement was designed to not show favoritism to any of the teens. As I ask this teen to get me the laptop he proceeds to tell me he doesn’t have it. I ask the obvious questions and then discover the Police or FBI has confiscated it during a SWAT Team episode at his house. I had no idea what he was talking about. I explain how he was responsible for the laptop and that his brother had no business using it. He clearly is uncomfortable talking so I end up talking with his mom. I attempt to explain that I’m more concerned about her and her son that a laptop.

As I’m listening I’m shocked to hear how this mom has been treated. All of her belongings were taken and not returned. I feel for her but ask the obvious, why didn’t you or your son at least tell me what had happened. I want to help but I also want them to be responsible for property that isn’t theirs. I thank her for talking and say good night. I text back her teen to reassure him that everything is ok and am sorry for what happened.

As I pull back up in my driveway I’m thinking who in their right mind would believe half of what I had just experienced. Then as I sit in our kitchen my wife unloads another story about one of our teens that is a Native American who has issues at his group home. Yeah, I would be crazy if Jesus wasn’t in my life. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Growing up is tough on parents!

I just returned from having 2 days in Paradise or I mean San Diego. The weather was cool, like 70ish. I was able to spend time with my in-laws and attend my niece’s graduation. I had a quick opportunity to at least drive to the beach, La Jolla Cove, my favorite spot to just sit and enjoy the panoramic views of the ocean and the coastline. The purpose of the trip was to attend my niece’s graduation and represent her dad and brother who had deserted her for the summer to teach a language school in Costa Rica.

I wish there was a way to put time on hold. It seems like only yesterday that my niece was like 3 years old and my mom, grandma, was taking care of her while my brother was in school and Veronica was working. Either I’m shrinking or my Marissa has grown up like almost overnight. I know it is popular for all of the girls to wear heals that make them almost 4-6 inches taller so I felt dwarfed by most of the Jr. High graduates as we watched from our chairs and then waited outside to get our graduate.

I know that one of the most difficult transitions in life is when your kid is no longer a kid and they push you away. I can remember asking my mom to walk behind me whenever we went somewhere. I didn’t want her talking to my friends or making fun of me. There is a fine line between giving your teen space, too much room or smothering them. I will always remember my dad’s discussion on why he wouldn’t let me start dating at 16. He would say that he wasn’t ready to trust me with another person in the car. I would argue or politely discuss whether I was someone who he could trust. Ultimately my mom intervened when my dad was away on a flight and gave me the keys to the car and said go! I was so totally jazzed and thankful that my mom did trust me.

Yet, as I surveyed the audience of parents and grandparents at this Jr. High graduation I had a sense that most were kept under fairly tight reigns and didn’t come and go as they pleased. I know that my niece and nephew are pushing the limits at times. Everyone is different as to how they do this. We all want to be our own person, think our way, believe our way and then not be controlled by anyone especially our parents. I know that my Anne and I fought at times as to how much to do for our kids as they aged and went from teens to twenty somethings. It isn’t easy to watch someone you love make poor choices, fail or disagree with your foundational beliefs in life.

It isn’t easy to trust your kids with their future and let God be the ultimate one who guides, directs and helps when you aren’t there. I know that I challenged both my mom and dad’s way of living. I was a rebellious teen when it came to my hair and choice of music and the decibel level. I did respect my dad’s hard work he had accomplished in the Air Force; I just didn’t want to be in a situation where I had to conform to someone without any ability to question. It is so easy when you are younger to really believe that the world revolves around you and that anyone older just doesn’t get it. Surprise, as you get older and discover that old people actually know lots and can be trustworthy.

I know there is a tension between providing a stable and guarded environment for our kids to grow up around and discover the real meaning of life. The challenge is that we don’t want our little precious Johnny or Susie to ever experience hardship, failure and any type of evil. Yet, the world around us that we are trying to protect them from is ultimately within each of us. The jealousy, hatred or anger that I believe I can shield from my child is actually present within their own nature. The more I try to insulate them from the world the more I set them up to want to discover on their own the things which I oppose. If someone said NO, then I automatically wanted to find out why they said no. Just in the same sense if someone was excited about something I wanted to know what made them that way and always looked at the alternative position.

Jesus spent most of his ministry life with his 12 showing them in practical expressions how to be servant leaders. Yet, as he approached the end of his ministry the brothers, James and John, asked if they could sit on his right and left in heaven. The other disciples were furious and ready to attack the brothers. They were jealous and wanted the same opportunity. Yet, Jesus was pretty clear if you wanted to be first you had to be last, if you wanted to be famous then be a servant of all. The hope of special treatment because of knowing Jesus really wasn’t going to happen.  I know it is difficult to admit that to find myself at times I have to be willing to loose myself.

So yes just as I was a rebellious teen I shouldn’t expect my niece or nephew or future grandkids to be much different. Also as I can look back on my life and see that I learned some fairly amazing truths in life without my mom looking over my shoulder so my niece and nephew will also learn life lessons at times without me or my brother being present. It isn’t easy to watch someone you love make poor choices or get hurt but it is through falling down and getting up that I discover how great my parents happened to have been and now how great is my God!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Special friends

This past week I was incredibly blessed by a couple of friends. As I write this blog I’m in San Diego awaiting the early morning graduation of my niece, Marissa, who graduates from Jr. High. This last year she rocked the school with straight A’s. My brother and his son are in Costa Rica teaching an immersion language school through his university. So I knew that my Marissa would feel a little slighted with her dad and brother being gone. I waited until the last minute to tell my sister in-law about coming. So instead of 80 degrees temps in Phoenix I’m looking at overcast weather in the 60s as I blog.

We are doing a Job Life Skills Group for older teens at New City, which have at the least the potential of getting a job. The focus of the group is to have a passion for life that enables you to pursue your dreams to become the person God wants you to be. The challenge for many is not having the family resources to understand what it takes to step up to get an interview in order to get a job. So we have spent time talking about the how to’s of doing a resume. We have listened to the manager of my Starbucks talk about how to interview. We had one of our teens share about his experience with being interviewed – how scary! The main attraction, at least from my perspective, is to have different people share their life journey with the teens about first jobs, getting an education and the mechanics of getting that job you love and keeping it.

This last week I had a good friend share his life journey. Matt didn’t grow up in a Christian home and experienced his parent’s breakup as a pre-teen. His initial focus in life wasn’t great as he shared. He did drugs, extreme drugs searching for some type of inner meaning. As he shared his story I could see the eyes of my teens pop out. Here’s what would appear to be a ‘rich white’ guy that should have grown up in a great home with all of the extras. Yet, he grew up experiencing real brokenness from a very young age. His way of dealing with the hurt was to go off with his friends and party. As he talked about his drug use, something, which I could relate back to in the 60’s in my life, I saw a side of Matt that revealed his vulnerability and sense of hopelessness as a kid.

My teens, for once, asked questions about what it was like to do drugs and the obvious WHY question. His journey was one that saw him go to college as a person searching for real answers in life. His fascination with drugs didn’t change and he truly believed that his LSD trip would enlighten him much as the Beatles or some other 60’s group’s journey to India and using Psychotic drugs brought the mysteries of life to full illumination.

Matt’s search for understanding life and the truth brought him to numerous Philosophy Classes where he was exposed to critical thinking and the pursuit of the truth. Most don’t expect to find God in the classroom setting, yet this is what happened to Matt. As he read, dialogued with his teachers and fellow students, he came to see that life was more than getting high and that God did exist and love him. As the group finished at my Starbucks I was so thankful that my friend, Matt, was willing to open up his life and let my teens see the real Matt. Yeah, he talked about his family business that has been very successful. He talked about what it was like to be a salesman and the pressures that all will face in a good job.

We also attended a dinner for one of our teens graduating from High School on her way to the Naval Academy. This special friend doesn’t live in my neighborhood but has volunteered over the last three years to be part of our tutoring program. Her grandpa, a great friend, has enabled her to be part of our community. She is the superstar student who could have gotten a scholarship to go to Harvard or Yale but decided on the Navy. She is an awesome young lady who will rock the world with her passion to serve and help others. She will be sorely missed, especially by one of our elementary students she has loved on over the last 4 years.

My last quick snapshot is of one of our teens. She is the one who always stands above everyone else. Yeah, she is a very pretty and always has a smile that will get your attention. She is the one who is an incredible servant leader. I’m humbled to be part of her journey. She is someone who is on the lookout for avenues of service to help others. She has been going to a private school the last couple of years. The challenge is that the cost of this school is exorbitant and her single mom doesn’t have the means to pay. She had already made plans to go to a public high school instead of this school.  So on Thursday night’s game gathering she shared about having a lunch with a potential donor that supports the school. I will never forget the look on her face the following day as she shared that she would still be able to attend her school.  The new donor friend had decided to help her out!

Yes, I have some awesome friends, both young and old, who make my life exciting, adventurous and meaningful. I know that God’s gift of life is something that I ought not abuse or waste but as Jesus said, “Live life to the max!” 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Real Handshake!

I can think back a couple of years ago when something as simple as a handshake became a nightmare. I had pulled up to drop off a few of my teens back at their home. As they were leaving one of their aunts or cousins, whom I hadn’t met, came up to me, while I was I in the van and wanted to thank me. I smiled and we chatted for a few minutes about New City – Barrio. As we finished our conversation she reached out her hand to shake mine. I reached through the van and gave her a ‘hearty’ shake. As I drove off I thought to myself what a nice Aunt who obviously cared for her nieces. Little did I know that this innocent handshake would cause months of hard ache.

The following week I discover that these two sisters were banned from coming to any events at New City – Barrio. I asked why and got some strange answer about needing more sleep or time to do homework. After a week or so I purposely approached the mom and asked what was really happening. I had heard through a reliable source that the Aunt who had shaken my hand had said that the second after I shook her hand that I had rubbed my hand on my pants as if to get rid of her ‘touch’. I was totally taken back by this silly story, especially because I was sitting in a van that was at least 2 feet higher than this lady.

I went back to the mom and tried to reassure that there wasn’t anything going on that would cause me not to care for her and her daughters or any of her relatives. It took a few months for this handshake incident to blow over. I’m still confused as to whether the Aunt had purposely set me up to get back at me for helping her nieces. I know that these teens were totally embarrassed about what had happened. I am still numb at what this Aunt said which was totally fabricated.

Now the rest of this story is incredible. The teen’s house is next to another families’ house where the grandparents have cared for their grandkids forever. The grandpa can come across at times as being a little gruff or just the typical crusty ol’ guy. So when I am picking up his younger grandkid for a kid’s club I am pleasantly surprised that he went out of his way to come out from behind the screen door to shake my hand. He thanked me for caring for his ‘kids’ and I responded that I obviously loved them too. We joked a little about some of their behavior on occasion could be loud.

As I drove off I had this sense of wow! Someone who I really didn’t know had blessed me incredibly and it felt sooo good. I couldn’t believe that I had driven off from that same spot before only to be accused of putting down an aunt that I had never met. So please go out of your way to give a real handshake that shows your emotion and love!