Friday, August 31, 2012

Do the Puzzle Pieces of My Life Really Work?

I live in a world where saying you want to meet at noon really means I’ll see you at 1pm.  When I wear my yuppy business hat I get impatient after 10 minutes and wonder what’s happening. I work with lots of volunteers who send a variety of signals when it comes to commitment level and real passion for what we are all about. I tend to have high expectations for myself and those that are involved in New City-Barrio, yet I know the realism of life when you have a family, jobs, other important commitments and just stuff happens.

The last year or so I have been very fortunate to have interns both from ASU and GCU. This has transformed what we do. All of a sudden I have key leaders who are serious about helping and actually want to learn and see how they can impact the life of one of our little kids or teens. Yet, the process by which I get these interns is totally their choosing.  So each semester at ASU I await an e-mail both from the program leader saying that I need to redo my program and then wait for an e-mail.

The great news is that I have received two interns from ASU so far. My first, Nancy, is an amazing gal who is going to ASU full time and also working full time. She is a great fit for our group because of her mom and dad being first generation Hispanics that have lived in Arizona for a long time. She is also former military and understands the dynamics of teens figuring out life sooner than later! I am truly blessed to have her focus and determination be part of our leadership.

I just met with a new board member who is part of a charter school that I have been fortunate to have many students involved. The principal and vice principal have become great friends who also share a passion to see the lives of these youth transformed. So as I met with Amber yesterday I was totally jazzed to see someone that literally jumped into action as we talked about our group which is also hers. She brings such enthusiasm and giftedness that I know many will be inspired to step up and step in.

As I am finishing this blog I was encouraged to have a local pastor, who I had bugged about connecting months ago, actually go out of his way to make an appointment to meet and talk. I know that he is part of a growing church and doesn’t have much spare time for anything. So this was ‘icing’ on the cake. So as I talked to my Starbucks manager friend, I sensed that the pieces to the puzzle of life transformation in South Phoenix are starting to happen.  The reality for many of our teens is that their lives look too much like puzzle pieces being scattered all over the floor without any way of recognizing where to start. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Wanna Scream!

I receive a text from an older friend asking if he can have a laptop for college. I receive another text from someone I’m helping that wants some of his own money for some impulse purchase. I get another text from a single mom with a large family asking for help with her empower box. I wanna help all of them but some times help isn't going to help. I grew up as a kid in a great home with a mom and dad who cared and were always there for me. I know that a large portion of my New City family, both young and old, don’t have much resources and don’t necessarily have a mom or dad that is there and cares.

The 20 something that wants a laptop for college doesn’t seem to remember he already had been given a laptop that he destroyed. I’m sure in his mind it was just an accident that saw the screen separate from the body of the laptop. Yeah, I’m thrilled that he is going to school. The difficulty is that I have already helped him in significant ways and he choose not to take advantage of the situation then, like 3 years ago. I don’t like saying but have to in this situation to help him step up and most likely get a part time job and see that even with a tuition grant that he has the means to get a computer.

I also know that my older teen that is in a group home isn’t as capable as most teens because of physical and past issues. These aren’t his fault but the challenge is that he knows its time to grow up and follow through. Yet, his present behavior pattern is still like a youngster who assumes someone else will take out the trash, clean up his room and even do his homework. I do want to continue to help this almost 20 something, yet, it doesn’t seem to work. I was at a meeting with a group of adults who help him and it was clear that he was withdrawing and avoiding the truth. I agree it is tough some times to look in the mirror in the morning and admit that I’m 10 pounds over weight and need to exercise more.

I have many families in my group that live day to day with food and funds. I can’t turn this around by providing food boxes or money for empower boxes or cell phones all the time. The reality, which is hard to accept, is that most of these single moms have made choices over the last few years that have put them in their present mess. I agree that it ‘sucks’ to have to get up early to work and stay up late to do laundry or clean up the mess in the kitchen. I didn’t cause the mess but I’m always asked to clean it up.

I was meeting with a close friend who lives in Guadalupe yesterday. She was very open to sharing her journey of allowing a ‘White family’ into her life. She complained loudly how she had reacted to churches and businesses that would come into her community to give out help but in a way that made her feel ‘dirty’ and less than human. I was truly amazed to hear her transparently share her story. It made me realize that it can be easy for me to help sometimes to make myself feel better or because of my circumstances truly believe that I’m the savior or special helper.

My journey, which isn’t a short one, is allowing people at times to fail without my help. I know this sounds cruel but sometimes you have to learn the hard way to walk on your own. Yes, I am in the background with a safety net that can be used. I know that in the last 10 years of my life failure has been what has helped me step up and do something totally different that has transformed my life. It isn’t easy and there is heartache that takes not days but years to process. I have another teen that has anger issues who decided not to go back to his school because he was being bullied. Instead he was going to do online high school. The challenge is that he hasn’t followed through with this and is now 4 weeks behind. This wouldn’t be a big deal if he hadn’t done the same thing last year.

Yes, at times I know that God wants to scream at me to pay more attention to his voice and I ignore him. So I can’t be too tough on others who have messy lives without much help. I’m glad that regardless of how far I fall that God is more than able to help me rise above my circumstances and learn. The great news is that today is a new day to enjoy the sunrise, my Starbucks and learn from the one who has been there before me – Jesus. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Life is Saying Hi and Bye

Yesterday we had breakfast with some great friends who we have had the privilege of watching court and then get married. They have been instrumental in the lives of many of our youth in significant ways. I can’t fathom that Brit has time to still be concerned about one of our youth that isn’t enrolled in school yet. It has been very difficult to fathom that these special friends are moving to St. Louis and won’t be around much. I can remember how both got involved with our tutoring program and eventually became a couple. I will also always remember, our breakfast at Matt’s, where they made it official, yes, we are getting married.

Yesterday we welcomed a new intern, an ASU student, who is older and more mature. She is a Latina who grew up in a small Arizona town and escaped her surroundings by joining the Army and did get to see the world. She was able to be part of our Teen Leadership Group yesterday. It was so awesome to listen to her share her story about growing up in your typical first generation Hispanic home and how tough it was for her parents to accept her decision to join the military and move out.

I grew up with change being a constant factor in my life. I lived not in a couple of homes during my youth but closer to 20. I would also venture to say that as an adult I’ve lived in more than 20 houses over the years. So stability can’t be a locale or home but God, family and close friends. So the transition of having quite a few good friends that have been involved with New City – Barrio Nuevo has been tough over the last couple of years. We said good-bye to another young couple where the guy had been very involved. They are living in the ‘grad’ world at Harvard. Another awesome friend went back to school after serving in the Marine Corp and also went back to grad school to get his MBA in ‘small business’. I’m humbled that he would make his involvement with Barrio Nuevo a significant part of his LinkedIn profile!

As I sit waiting in a different Starbucks then usual I will ‘hook-up’ with a new best friend who is a real partner in doing community service work. She is a ‘local’ so she won’t be moving. Yesterday I attended a men’s lunch group that I helped start more than 15 years ago. Many of these men have become close friends over the years as they have helped paint many houses in our community with a few doing tutoring. It is such a blessing to know that God has placed some incredible people in my life.

I know that Saturday will be here almost instantly. We will get up early to walk our dogs and then go see Al and Brit. The real movers will be there with a truck load all of their worldly belongings. Brit’s mom and dad will have arrived on Friday night. They will caravan to St. Louis together with all of their vehicles, the truck and the pets, like 2 dogs and 2 cats. I don’t like saying good-bye especially with people you really care about. Yet, I know that there will be some tears and the heartache of not seeing someone for a few months. I could say that God will replace these special friends but that would be a total lie. They can’t be replaced but will wait again to reunite. 

Monday, August 27, 2012


I have just had a real tough month, as I was the recipient of what could have been really bad news about my Anne, i.e. cancer and my dad had Pneumonia and spent a week plus in the hospital. I had been given a book recently released by Anne’s cousin, Tim Stafford, on the topic of Miracles. As I reflect on cousin Tim’s ponderings about how does God work in today’s world I was also struck by a movie Anne selected to watch last night about a totally wild blonde 20 something whose life has a twist – cancer, that forces her to become real to her parents, best friends and a doctor trying to help her.

It has been more than 15 years since my parents made the trek from San Diego to visit Anne and I with some special news. I will always remember sitting in the back patio, which I had just finished with flagstone next to my large koi pond. My mom is one to mince with words so it was rather quick that she shared that she had seen her doctor and recently discovered that she had breast cancer and would have a mastectomy soon. She explained that her and dad were hesitant to tell us anything because they didn’t want us to worry. I was both taken back by the C word but more so by their slowness to tell us what was really happening. After the news was broken we enjoyed their weekend visit with us.

I had little sense that after my mom’s surgery that any else was really going to happen. Her doctor had given her a supposed clean bill of health. He seemed to say that she was more than just in remission but was going to be fine. Life went back to a normal busy and emotionally I tucked away the fact that my mom had cancer and could still die from it. It was a few years later that I discover that she is taking some meds that are supposed to help her tumor markers stay low.

As my parents make a decision that mom will do chemotherapy I didn’t make any effort to meet the Oncologist and talk with him. It wasn’t until a few years later and my mom has gone from curly gray hair to little hair and a significant weight loss that I decide to meet the doctor and find out first hand what is the prognosis. My mom had already formed a real attachment to this doctor so my ability to persuade her to pursue alternative treatment failed. I ended up having to argue with both my parents about mom’s true situation, which wasn’t good but rather bleak.

As an aside yes we had been praying seriously for my mom hoping that God would supernaturally intervene and heal her. We had experienced God’s hand in our lives with the yearlong birth of our daughter, Heather. As I have been reading Tim’s book it continues to help me see the broader perspective of how God works. It is too easy either to blame God for doing something rather horrible or blame myself for not praying more or being more spiritual. The book, Miracles, has helped me better understand that I can’t control God like a puppet, assume that my mom’s situation was a byproduct of her sin or mine but a life experience that God wanted us to experience.

I spent the next year visiting my mom during her doctor appointments. I become a friend of her Oncologist. I would send him e-mails with a list of questions each month. This gave me an opportunity to vocalize my frustration with only doing chemo and not anything else. My brother was in the process of graduating from UCSB with his PhD while this was going on. The challenge for my mom was that her chemo had made her unable to travel and do much besides be close to a bathroom 24/7. I had a heart to heart talk with her and my dad and they came to the conclusion that it would be best for her to stop her treatment which wasn’t helping and be able to see her son walk with his cap and gown.

After this special celebration my mom decided to stop her treatment. I know that it was only a matter of months before I would receive the call from my dad that she was gone. I was prepared for this and also not prepared for this. My life has never been the same since my mom left this life for a better life with her God. My dad during this period of time had been experiencing the onslaught of Dementia, which now is very serious.

My mother died on a Thursday early morning just a month after our shared birthdays. As my wife shared with me while we were in bed that she had to have surgery and a biopsy to determine whether she had Ovarian Cancer I was overwhelmed. God, why, what or whatever or……… is happening. I have already lost my mom to cancer, my dad is never going to be the same person and now the person who is most important in my life could have a year to live.

So as I am reading this book on Miracles and now watching what I thought was a totally non-sensical movie I am being ripped inside as I see this wacky blonde discover that she has incurable cancer. Her life, which was pretty crazy before now takes a totally different focus. She initially doesn’t want to tell anyone about what is happening, yet, after a while you can’t hide the impact of chemo, loosing weight and not being a work. I do believe in a God who is all-powerful, all merciful and all loving. Yet, I feel like this girl whose mom and dad don’t know how to handle the news, their daughter is going to die.

I only had a week to panic and pray as Anne shared the news. We would face surgery just a week after her initial doctor’s visit. I have previously shared about how we had all of our kids and their spouses meet with us at a resort hotel. This was very sobering evening where everyone had tears and the hope that mom would be ok. Yet, the early morning of the surgery didn’t give me that complete assurance. Yes, as we read and reread Scripture we know that God is faithful and won’t give us more than we can handle. Yet, I’m complaining loudly that I had already been given too much with my mom’s death and now my dad’s memory loss and Parkinson.

As the movie slowly draws to an end with Marley changing from being totally withdrawn to now wanting to embrace her wayward father and her too clingy mother she realizes that her new love, her doctor, needs to hear that she does love him much as her life long friends she has ditched need to hear her reaffirm her friendship. At this point I am bawling my eyes out as I realize that could have been me not knowing what to do with my Anne being really sick. I don’t think I would be a very pleasant person to sit by and watch someone die. I would want to go out and experience life as if there wasn’t an end and the sun would never rise again.

The reality is that the movie finishes with an amazing celebration of Marley’s life with all of her friends and dog present. All of a sudden the fight amongst Pentecostals, Neo-Pentecostals and Anti-Pentecostals doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What good is it to argue against God or others about something, which we have little control over ultimately?  I know that it is easy to either be one who believes that miracles happen all of the time regardless of whether they seem real or not or whether we have become too cynical about miracles because those who dispense them have become performers and not real people.

As the movie finished my Anne came over to me and I seriously lost it and burst into tears. I shared with her how I was so afraid that this movie could have been about her. I know that my dad isn’t going to get better but that his journey will slowly go down hill. The one thing I know both from the movie and also more so from Scripture is that God is there regardless of the circumstances. I loved what Tim had to say about Miracles in the end, yes God is still doing amazing things and the reality is that most of us have seen at least one miracle happen in our lives. The question is whether I’m able to see the miracle and gift of life through the door of death. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


It doesn’t happen very often that Anne and I actually get away without any passengers. Don’t get me wrong I love my kids, my parents and the in-laws or even our New City kids but its great to get alone time with my best friend. We had gone to San Diego last week, which was a great diversion but spent time between both of our families.

I always get a chuckle out of what my Anne shares when we are either driving or sitting at a restaurant by ourselves. Sometimes she’s getting on my case for doing certain things or not doing certain things. This time she talks about dog fights and the evil people who murder dogs and then toss their mutilated bodies in an area close to where we walk our dogs. It just happened that we were at a going away gathering for some great friends, Al and Brit, and reconnected with a mutual friend of Brit’s. She works at a dog-training center that provides service dogs for those with special needs. I know that this got Anne on her I will to ‘kill’ anyone that promotes dog fights or brutalizes animals.

This got her started about some of our youth that do have ‘dark’ tendencies to better understand what goes on in the mind of someone who pays or bets on a dog fight or chicken fight. Our discussion revolved around the topic of how it is easy to morally remove yourself from a situation so you become numb to the latent evil that is present. I can’t fathom that anyone would revel in mutilating a body of a deceased dog, cat or worse a human being. Yet, the reality is that there is a graveyard of dogs that have been horribly murdered for fun by some crazed person.

Now that I have set the tone for understanding darkness from a moral perspective it makes our day trip understandable as I talk about walking in the dark. I know that the Bible has lots of images of God being all light and that evil is all darkness or the absence of the light. Only a crazy person would purposely walk around in the dark, especially without any shoes on their feet. I know in my household there are a bunch of dog bones or chews that have sharp edges – OUCH! So for one of our get away adventures we decide to visit the Lava River Tube outside Flagstaff.

We had attempted to visit the Lava Tunnel a few weeks ago with my niece and nephew but unfortunately had bad directions and the weather went from overcast to a real down pour. Now the skies are only a little cloudy and we have great directions and actually find it! We had been here probably 10 years before for our Julie’s 21st birthday. So we find the right mile marker and then the actually dirt road marker. We are now just a few miles away from experiencing real darkness. This is so different from either being in your bedroom with the lights off or being outside at night. We pull up to a muddy empty parking lot. This was actually a good thing because both of us needed to ‘re-leave’ ourselves.

We sort through our things to decide what to take and what to leave behind. We had unfortunately left our little backpack at home. (I won’t mention who did this) We know walk the 300 yards to the entrance to the cave or Lava Tunnel. We take a few pictures of the opening and the signs that welcome you to the Lava Tubes. The initial descent into the cave is rather a step decline that is rather dangerous as you maneuver the slippery rocks or boulders. I have decided not to make this a race so I actually look back and make sure my Anne is ok. As we slowly make our way from the entrance the need for our flashlights become more and more key.

The experience of going from total light to total darkness is incredible. All of a sudden I realize that I could either break a leg as I misplaced my foot or I could have a huge gouge in my head. We decided that it would be almost impossible for either of us to drag the other back to safety incase something happened to one of us. The rooms in this Lava Tunnel rage from very small to gigantic. I can remember a few head banging episodes from our Julie’s expedition. We stop a few times to just look at the cave and have a better sense of where we are in relationship to the entrance.

I have this paranoid feeling that we could take a wrong turn in the cave and end up thinking we are going towards the entrance and be back at the end. It is so easy to play the game, which I have done often in my life, where you pretend to live in the light but thrive in dark places. I know when we sat in the cave to get a drink and eat an apple and sour orange that it would have been real difficult to do this without any light. After having walked a mile or so I’m not sure whether I could have made it back to the entrance in the total darkness.

As we started our trek back to the light or entrance I did have a scare for a few minutes. We had come back to the Y in the path and it felt like we had been going in the wrong direction? Yet, I knew that as we walked ahead that was the correct way to travel. It is difficult to explain how someone would actually want to live in total darkness. The obvious downside for living in darkness is that you can’t see or appreciate anything in life. Yet, back to my wife’s concern about a group of animal haters and their thrill with watching dog fights does bring me back to the real question in life – why would anyone want to pursue real evil and then act as if it is totally ok and FUN?

I’m not sure how we will catch or find the ones who sponsor or promote this blatant evil but my Anne won’t sleep a whole lot without doing something that will include talking with one of my Phoenix PD friends. Yes, I would rather hike in the woods, hills or mountains and not in a cave, unless I have a really good flashlight and a spare battery. The great news is that the light totally exposes the darkness!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Other Son - Terrance

I have been blessed to have a second son both by choosing to bring him into our family and the fact that he has lived with us on and off the last 4 years. So every time I see Terrance I never know what tidbit he will share and whether it is an internet half-truth or something that has real meaning and a ‘kick to it’. Terrance is usually very up, bouncing around and singing or whistling. So I have had so much have fun watching him grow up over the last few years.

This last week as we are driving around he proceeds to share a story; this is actually real and not some apocryphal internet story. Terrance’s mom usually has a live-in boyfriend that is typically unemployed and more concerned about their next beer or playing PS3 than anything else. They usually are on disability and don’t have to do much besides mooch off of Terrance’s mom.

So Terrance tells me that Foster, mom’s friend, quickly tells him that he and his friends live for the day. He explains that this means all he is concerned about is where he will get his next beer. Anything he does revolves around finding the means to get the next 6-pack or tall malt liquor. Terrance would be the first to say that out of all of his mom’s boyfriends this one is great because he actually cleans up around the house and cook meals. Yet, the reality is that Foster’s present life is totally focused on getting his next beer. He never seems concerned about being inebriated while riding his bike or being on a City Bus.

Here’s the great part of this story. Foster proceeds to now switch gears and talk about how Terrance is different than him and his friends. He quickly acknowledges that Terrance lives for the future. He has a plan, is going to college and cares about finding a job. All of a sudden as Terrance is sharing this story I could see the proverbial light go on inside his head. I know that Terrance usually doesn’t view himself as being the successful type and struggles with whether he will finish school, get a real job and be able to marry his beloved Toniel. Yet, from the perspective of Foster, Terrance is a huge success.

My point in writing this is to agree with Foster and echo that Terrance is on the right path and does have a future mindedness about him. It is possible for Terrance to be a little quicker in making his future happen but that is when I try to fit my second son into my box. Yet, Terrance has rocked the world of Foster, Daniel and others who have been around his mom over the years. Terrance is doing something awesome with his life instead of living for the next beer.

Yes, I am proud of my second son who has finished his first A.A. degree at South Mountain and will start on his second in the arena of IT. I know that it might take longer than the year plus but that doesn’t matter because Terrance will have set a goal and will accomplish it. He is a great example to the Fosters in this world who need to follow in his footsteps!