Friday, November 30, 2012

Divine Appointments

I attended a fundraiser last night for a new friend son’s headstone. Knoye lost her son to gang violence. He was shot while walking around a McDonalds. I don’t know the details but have seen the impact that grief and suffering can have on a family. What I want to share is the story behind how I met Dwight’s mom.

I can remember pulling into my Staples to get some office supplies and stamps for a mailing. I pulled into the parking lot and as I was walking out I got a text that I responded to while walking. I saw this tall African American guy walking close to me who made an interesting comment about me not texting while driving. This began a conversation that ended up having me share about the work I do in South Phoenix with at risk youth. We laughed and joked a little. We both went back into Staples and I did my shopping and he his.

As I am finishing checking out his wife comes up and we end up talking more. I had just recently heard about an older teen that had been murdered at a McDonald’s on 51st Ave and one of my teens had gone to the funeral and was actually a cousin. So as I’m listening to Tony and then Knoye I put the pieces to the puzzle together and realize that this is Dwight’s mom and obviously Keyshon’s aunt. I listen to her story of heartache and rebirth as a new Christian.

I listen some more and then share more specifically about New City and our passion for at risk youth which her teens and her husband’s teens fit our profile. I hand them some flyers and a newsletter and say good-bye. I meet lots of people all of the time and never know what to expect when it comes to what will happen next. I get into my truck and go back home to finish my mailing.

I get their cell and begin to include them with my New City text updates. So eventually she comes to a BBQ at my house and then becomes a fixture at our tutoring program with all of her teens. We quickly become good friends and share a passion to see at risk youth get it and not become a statistic like her son. She actually attends one of my partner churches and one my community activist friends is also a good friend of hers.

So as I hear about this quatermania fundraiser I know that I have to attend to my best to help out a little bit. So I ask what she needs and she tells me so after a meeting I quickly run into a Wells Fargo inside a Fry’s and get some extra quarters that will become my donation to her. She also mentions she needs some extra lights because the building where they are meeting isn’t lit very well. I pick up a vanload of teens and we are off with thanks to my Apple Maps to this banquet hall.

As we pull into the little parking lot this building is hidden among other older buildings that have a variety of little businesses. We walk into a room full of tables with around 60 people waving painting stirrers. I hear buckets with quarters being shook and the noise of money clinking fills the room. I totally misunderstood what she had meant by a quartermania event. I thought it would be a bunch of games you play for a quarter and then get prizes. It turns out to be a promo event for a group of ladies mostly that sell or market a specific type of product that ranged from Avon to Pampered Chief. The room seemed more a casino with a group of crazed veterans that were looking for a good deal.

The great news is that both the vendors profited from this event and Knoye also raised over $500 to go towards her son’s headstone. I’m always amazed at how I make new friends and how they become part of the ongoing journey of doing community development work!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Broken - leave me alone I don't want to be fixed by you!

I can remember as a little kid listening to my mother read me different nursery rhymes. She typically used a book that had lots of pictures. I’m not sure whether the pictures got more of my attention then her voice. My dad, on the other hand, had a very captivating voice that I enjoyed hearing. One of the lessons or morals that stood out was that life isn’t always perfect and that some times bad things happen to good people. My dad, who grew up around poverty and racism, would also mention that on occasion good things would happen to bad people. I can remember when I was younger and upset thinking that life really isn’t fair! Why does someone else always seem to get the things I want?

I know now as an adult that life isn’t fair. Today a couple of people got the winning numbers for the Powerball. They will split over $550 million, which even after taxes is an unfathomable amount. I know that money doesn’t necessarily make things better nor put back together broken lives. There have been a few studies done on jackpot winners and a few books have been written. The unfortunate reality is that many of these big time winners become big time losers. Many end up worse off than they were before. Some even end up taking their lives because of the impact of being used by family and friends.

I had a great morning being able to help a good friend with a new used leather couch for her living room. I was able to meet with a best friend and partner with community work afterwards at one of our Starbucks. We talked about the great need to communicate, partner better together and figure out how to help spread a kingdom mindset. I live in a world where the haves don’t have a clue of what it would be like to have your power or water turned off. I can’t imagine going to bed hungry at night or not knowing where you were going to sleep the next day.

I know that it is very difficult for me to truly admit to myself, others and God that I’m not totally together and that I’m just as mixed up as anyone else. The challenge for most of us is that it is so much easier to point the finger and attempt to be about fixing everyone else. I think Jesus said something like don’t worry about the speck in your brother’s eye but take care of the plank in your own eye first.

I struggle with knowing how to help someone who is in a tough situation while not ultimately hurting them. It is so easy to truly think that more money, another car, money on an empower card or rushing to help really helps. I had someone text a day ago asking for help with their water bill. I am willing to help a little if the individual also pays towards the bill. The challenge for me is when the bill hasn’t been paid for months and there is a disconnect fee and a turn on fee. I always ask the obvious, why didn’t you talk to me a week ago instead of waiting to the last minute. I went online to see if I could help with the bill but the account was frozen.

We take our dogs for a daily walk on the canal trail close to our house. We love doing this because there is an open field where the dogs can run and we get a sense of being out in the country. South Mountain Park is in the backdrop with these mountains giving a sense of God’s grandeur. Our dogs will go wild running and chasing each other. The last couple of days the canal was actually drained to the point that most of the fish, which are huge, either have died or attempted to get into the next canal section. Anne and I were quit annoyed with the local utility company for doing this without helping these 2-3 foot long Carp have a new home. Instead we saw fish that were dying scattered all over the place. Anne wanted to dive into the muck to rescue them. I am glad that she restrained herself for once.

I know that the needs of those around us can be overwhelming to actually see and not have a solution that helps brings wholeness to where brokenness has ruled a life time. I have a few in my group that always seem to be close to the edge. I know that I have made some bad choices in my life that have hurt my family, others and myself. I have been so blessed to always have my parents, special friends or an amazing wife be there to help and bail me out. Yet, for some of my friends there isn’t this type of safety net available so they fall and continue to get hurt. Just like a wound that isn’t treated properly and becomes infected to the point where life can be in jeopardy.

So do I pay the delinquent water bill that is way too high? Is it ok to get another bus pass for one of my teens that always loses stuff? I get phone calls from one guy to bring him food. If I tell him to walk over and get a meal he balks at having to walk a mile. I have another mom who is working but because of circumstances beyond her control has a new job that pays half of her old job.  It is so much easier for me to help her because she is trying to make it without help. I don’t want to end up with the common mindset that there are some that are worthy of God’s mercy and grace and others that deserve the mess they have chosen.

The reality is that I’m a sinner that is lost and without God’s intervention in my life I would be totally  “screwed”. (Pardon the expression) It wasn’t my doing that I was placed in my family, married an awesome person with a great family or have almost perfect kids. So my response shouldn’t be look at how good I am in comparison to so and so but rather a big thanks to God and how can I share what I have been given. It is only with this attitude and better life choices that brokenness can be turned into wholeness. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Are 2 Better than 1?

I tend to be someone that would rather be about doing instead of talking about doing. I have been blessed over the last 5 years to make some great friendships that have turned into ‘gold mines’. It has been through these new partnerships that I have learned that much more can be accomplished through synergism, fancy word than being a lone ranger. I joined a new board yesterday that is a byproduct of a new friendship that has become that gold mind.

I don’t mind being a lone ranger when it comes to working and accomplishing great things in my neighborhood. Yet, I know that more will happen and transformation will be quicker when I share the load and actually get more hands involved. The challenge is this takes time and the need to build trust with new faces. I’m not too quick to invite someone to take ownership of a project, which really means interfacing with a kid, teen, adult or grandma without knowing that they truly care and are committed.

I know that in today’s world most meetings are about bottom line and what is in it for me. It is so important to understand that Kingdom Work is about giving away not getting, even though I am so blessed by what I do each day that I understand the importance of living a day at a time. I’m around people who are on the edge. I get a text from a mom whose water had just been turned off. I go online to see if I can help with her bill, which is $350 and unfortunately the account is frozen. I get a text from another single mom about her washing machine dying.

I am blessed to have many connections where I can send out an e-mail and in a day discover someone that needs to get rid of a used washer and dryer. I know that before my meeting yesterday we discovered a nice leather couch that was being tossed. It was on the sidewalk awaiting the fate of the bulk pickup mega-truck. We rescued the couch for more use from a family without any furniture.

I know that Solomon was someone who wrote much about wisdom or the impact of not living wisely. He carefully shares that a strand of 3 pieces of rope will hold up much more than a rope with just one strand. Much like one person can freeze to death at night but two lying together can survive the cold. My lesson I’m continuing to learn is that partnerships and collaboration must be at the heart of community work if there is to be real transformation.

My hope or dream is to continue to make new friends and share God’s heart for the broken and displaced. It is through these new relationships that I see a community starting to change.  Thank God for new friends and partnerships!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Meeting my Anne part 2

I can remember driving away from the IVCF camp in Santa Cruz thinking I’ll never see or hear from this Anne girl from Pakistan. I was excited to return home from the summer and do my various jobs to be ready for the start up of the following school year. Little did I know that I would become totally taken with this short missionary kid from some far away place?

I loved my present life with being a college student at an amazing place like Cal Poly SLO. I was close to the beach, had my own car and a bike on top of that. I had made lots of friends and was content without thinking about a girl friend or God forbid a future wife. Yet, there was something inside of me, I’m not sure whether it was the Lord or lust or maybe both that drew me to Anne. So I did the adventurous thing and called her. We talked a little and I could tell that I needed to actually see her before she left for her year away in Ethiopia.

I started working at the peach weighing Station thanks to my neighbor Al. It was an easy job that brought me cash, which I needed for school and my car. I called Anne a few times before I got my nerve up to consider driving to San Diego to visit her and take a risk that seeing her face to face might destroy this dream like world I was presently living around. I talked to my boss and found out that we weren’t working the weekend shift yet because the crop wasn’t being harvested in full yet.

I did something typical for a college student and drove all night to San Diego. I had to get directions to her house. I had an approximate idea where she lived but without Google maps or my iPhone it required me to actually pull into a gas station and ask someone for real directions. I had driven with my top down to my Fiat Spyder so I’m sure that my long hair was a little out of place. I pulled onto her street and I can remember knocking on the door. I knew that because this was a surprise visit she might not be there.

I rang the doorbell and to my surprise someone actually opened it. This wasn’t Anne but someone that looked a little like her. Kerry, Anne’s older sister, greeted me in a rather curious fashion and I explained that I was a new friend who had met her at the IVCF Camp a month ago.  She must have just gotten out of the shower because her hair was still wet and she was wearing one of those blue work shirts but she didn’t have any problem opening the door. She explained that Anne was spending the month working at an orphanage in T.J. and that she wasn’t coming back, unless I went and got her.

What happened next is truly an act of faith or sheer craziness. I actually drove to Tijuana and looked for the orphanage. I had taken 2 years of high school Spanish and that wasn’t much for communicating. So I got on the freeway and was in T.J. in about an hour. I had no idea where this orphanage happened to be but trusted God to guide me in the right direction. I pulled into a gas station and asked in broken Spanish something about de donde orphanage and discovered that it was literally around the corner. I was now on a spiritual high thinking that this really was a God thing that I could go across the border and almost pull up to where she was at without much help.

I pull into this orphanage, which was off the main road and see a sign, Casa de Esperanza. This was the place and I couldn’t believe I was about to see Anne. I see another gal from the camp, Carol, who is Anne’s close friend who is obviously also working at the orphanage. I asked her about Anne and she runs to go find her.  I don’t think Anne expected me to be bold enough to actually drive to San Diego and then find her at the orphanage.

I’m glad that she hugged me and didn’t tell me to take a hike. We talked a bunch and then I asked if she could go back to San Diego and we could spend some time together. Remember this was before cell phones, Internet, texting or e-mails. So she couldn’t ask her parents but decided to just do it.  We load her stuff into my little car and sped off back through downtown T.J. on our way to San Diego.

Looking back I can now understand why her father wasn’t necessarily thrilled to see a guy who might steal his middle daughter and stop her from finishing college and not follow in his footsteps of doing missions in Pakistan. I can remember visiting this gigantic fortress type of church in downtown San Diego. It was rather intimidating to even walk into this place. Anne took me to her dad’s office and I met him. Remember I’m the longhaired Jesus freak and Anne’s dad is the traditional pastor in a suit with short hair. He was gracious and shook my hand and we briefly chatted.

We left and headed towards her house in La Mesa. I hadn’t met her mom yet but looked forward to it. Again, I’m the stranger come into a mission family that had just recently moved to the states after having been in Pakistan for 20 years. I soon came to realize that I represented everything, which Anne hated about the States. I was into rock music, had a military dad who had already been to Vietnam and didn’t have the slightest clue about cultural sensitivity.

Over the next 24 hours before I left to return home we did some crazy things which looking back didn’t make it any easier for her parents to see me as not being a crazy Jesus freak. We connected with Anne’s friend, Carol and drove actually to see one of her friends that was flying into an airport in LA. I’m not sure why we drove there but we did. I hadn’t planned on pulling another all nighter but we did with greeting Carol’s friend, Scott. We arrived just as the morning sun was coming out. I could tell that Anne might get in a little trouble for being out.

I had become enthralled with this girl from Pakistan who had a British accent and had an amazing spiritual energy that drew me to her. I wasn’t looking forward to talking to her dad. Yet, it was clear that Anne did have some power with her dad because of her unique place in the family. So the all nighter didn’t find me being escorted down the freeway back to Sacramento but instead we ended up in a park were we talked for a few more hours?

This will sound totally out there but as we were at this park, just the two of us, I shared my heart with Anne. I tried to explain how I hadn’t come to camp looking for a girlfriend or a future bride but she seemed to be that person. God seemed to be pushing me to tell her that we would be married soon and that this was totally driven by the Lord. I know looking back it sounds rather weird to say that my proposal to Anne was really a God wants me to tell you that you are going to marry me type of statement. Yet, this is exactly what I did. Anne didn’t tell me to leave but she also didn’t tell me that she was ready to get married at the age of 18.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at La Jolla Shores enjoying the great weather and the waves. I can remember taking a little nap before I had to drive non-stop for 9 hours. I had to work the following morning so I needed to leave by 5pm to get home before 4am. I can remember it wasn’t easy saying good-bye but I knew that I would be able to persuade Anne to come and visit before she left for Ethiopia.

I wish my asking Anne to marry me could have been more romantic and less God told me but this is what happened. The rest of the summer saw us spending more time together before she literally disappeared to Ethiopia. We sent aerograms back and forth to each other. As we celebrate our 39th anniversary I can remember this summer as if it were almost this last year. I was willing to work at my two jobs and juggle Anne. She was able to meet my mom, dad and brothers. They obviously loved her, even though it was crazy to think that I had already asked her the big question.

The next school year was odd having a long distant relationship with Anne. She will admit that she had this strange dream that she would return to the States and I would be some oddball mutant that wasn’t the person that had written her. We both matured and grew over the 9 months while she was away in Ethiopia.

I will have to continue with the last part in another blog. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Meeting My Anne

I will always remember the summer of 1972. I had lived with a group of brothers at an old adobe ranch house just outside of San Luis Obispo while I was attending Cal Poly SLO.  I had gotten involved with the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship or IVCF group during my time at Cal Poly. I had been fortunate to get involved in a leadership position, which meant I got to attend an IVCF Camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Little did I know that this time in Santa Cruz with IVCF would change my life forever.

I will always remember driving my little Fiat Spyder on the curvy Highway 1 freeway from SLO town.  I was excited to attend this Bible Camp that would go over the gospel of Mark and also focus on the planning for next year’s IVCF group at Cal Poly. I was a little surprised to see a few more non-Poly students attending the camp. The old staffer, Mark (forgot his last name) was excellent in his overview of the Gospel and format for helping us read without allowing the chapters and verses to stop us from truly hearing and sensing what’s really happening in the text. It was during this first day that we split up into smaller reflection groups, which I was the leader of my mine.

It was during this small group time after our first intro lesson to Mark that I met this gal from San Diego. We had gone around the group and introduced ourselves and briefly explained why we were at the camp. She was the outsider because the rest of us were from the IVCF chapter at SLO. She or I should say Anne was from San Diego and was on her way to Ethiopia for a year to do a short-term mission. Her church required her to take some type of Bible training. I was fascinated by the way that Anne talked, she had a little bit of an accent and explained that she grew up in Pakistan.

I have to share the fact that at this point in my life I would have come across as a hippie or Jesus Freak who had long hair, a beard and dressed on the rather sloppy side. So I was surprised that as I talked to this foreigner that she was actually interested in my story. She told me after the small group about her family and what it was like to be come to the States when she was 16. I was fascinated by her reaction to the Vietnam War, rock music and the druggy life style. She clearly had a disdained for all of what seemed to make up my life.

The next day the afternoon was free and most of us went into Santa Cruz and hung out at the boardwalk and beach. I can remember body surfing and enjoying the weather. We ended up talking a little after I got finished body surfing and went for a walk. It wasn’t too long before we had to return to the camp for dinner and then the evening study. There was something about this Anne with her accent, unusual sense of humor and different type of beauty that caught my eye. She kept my attention and I had sworn to myself that I wasn’t interested in girlfriends after high school and had found many ‘sisters’ in the IVCF group that made it easy not to have a girlfriend.

The study of Mark was very intriguing and challenging. The bigger picture of the Gospels was starting to impact my life. I was starting to see Jesus as a real life person who was both man and God. It was after the study that they had snacks, which I indulged myself and then ended walking around with Anne. I didn’t expect to spend the whole night walking and talking with this new friend, but I did. I know that if you were to ask Anne what we talked about it would revolve around my former girlfriends. Yet, I remember a good portion of our discussion was her life, her family and her trip to Ethiopia.

I had pulled a few all nighters for school but never with a new friend where we just talked, talked and talked. I was enthralled by Anne’s spiritual side and wanted to better understand what it would be like to live between two different worlds. I had grown up in one country and hadn’t really traveled outside of the US. She on the other hand had lived in a Muslim Culture in Pakistan. Her mom was Scottish but had been born in India and grew up in a very different setting before coming to the States to attend college.

I noticed that the sun was starting to come out and realized I was about to get myself in trouble for being one of the key leaders who had stayed out all night with a girl and never made it back to my camp area. We decided to just walk into camp and go straight to the dinning area. Initially I felt like everyone was staring at me but realized that most were still waking up and even the IVCF staff, were just getting their first cup of coffee. I was flying high after talking all night with Anne and was drawn into her life and was jealous that she would soon leave for Ethiopia.

I knew that the camp would end and she would fly back to San Diego and I would drive off in my little sports car to my parent’s home in Yuba City. She had the summer to prepare for her coming year and I had to work between my neighbor’s peach weighing station and another friend’s prune dehydrator. My summer was nonstop work with the possibility of hanging out with the Fellowship Group, as my mom would call it. This was a group of Jesus Fanatics who love to study the Bible, sing folksy Christian songs and walk around telling people about Jesus.

We had exchanged phone numbers and addresses. I’m sure she didn’t expect to hear from me and I really didn’t expect to hear from her. Yet, it was only a few weeks and we had talked on the phone and exchanged letters. I know she didn’t expect me to land on her doorstep but that’s exactly what happened. I had become smitten with this girl from Pakistan who was leaving for Ethiopia soon. I had this desire to visit her and spend more time with her before she left. I know that the last thing her dad wanted was an interruption for his Anne before she left.

I’m sitting in a Bookmans in Flagstaff so I must close but will continue with part 2 of my beginning life with my Anne.