Monday, December 31, 2012

Braging about My Anne

Guys, especially like me, can be slow to understand how their wives feel about certain things in life. I have an incredible wife who has always been there for me in all of the different endeavors we have done over the last 39 years. We have experienced the birth of a premature daughter who spent over a year in the neonatal ICU in San Francisco. We also adopted a brother and sister in the middle of doing a church plant in Walnut Creek. We have been part of 5 church plants over the last 25 plus years. I know that one of the most demanding jobs without pay is being a pastor’s wife and a mom who has worked outside of the home. So I want to close out my year of blogging with talking or bragging about my Anne.

I can remember when we were first married and attending Cal Poly SLO town. We both are very competitive when it comes to academics. Anne is actually smarter then me but I’m more focused in following through. (She’s an amazing writer and I just write.) Anne has never argued or mentioned anything about wanting a career or recognition about much of anything. Yet, as we have journeyed together for almost 40 years it has just now struck me how my Anne needs to have something in life that is totally hers and not associated with me. It isn’t easy for me to let her rock the world in her own way. She has always been in my shadow and at times I know feels as if she isn’t needed. (Little does she really understand that my ego and success is so much dependent upon her.)

I can remember when we were doing a church plant in Walnut Creek that she was willing to babysit a transcription account of an Orthopedic Doctor for a friend who was having a baby. This two-month job turned into a 5-year job that my Anne learned the basics of doing computer work; this was when PC clones were just starting to happen and became a medical expert. (I’m the one with the Biochem degree not her.) There was nothing glamorous about this job but she was able to do it in the cracks of life. (I seldom acknowledged that I forced my Anne to burn the candle from both ends.)

Now flash forward from 1989 to 2012 almost 2013. My Anne has put up with doing transcription work for lousy pay most of her adult life. She is down sized at the company she had worked for 13 years and gets a temp job that paid really well but came to an end. As she is job hunting she sees a few notices for Chaplains and I tell her to check it out. She discovers that it is actually a lengthy process to get trained and approved to do this type of work. Yet, I tell her to pursue it. She actually applies for one program, which is 6-month training and 400 hours of clinical experience. After talking with the admin lady she realizes that all of the 6 spaces are full but the lady encourages her to look at the other Banner Hospitals.

A week later the admin lady calls Anne back up to inform her that someone had dropped out of the program just before it started and that she can have the spot if she wants. Decision time; does she take this opportunity which means work almost full time without any pay or? I tell her to go for it and now looking back this is one of the best moves my Anne has ever made. After being involved for around 4 weeks the supervisor now invites Anne to become a resident Chaplain in the fall. (This was an incredible stroke for Anne’s ego because only 2 are selected.) Now I’m humbled as I listen to the people both young and old that my Anne has helped in the last 2 months at Good Sam.

It was exciting to listen to my Anne do the chapel service for the second time in a month. I know that I react at times to sermon critics who are quick to slam me or make suggestions on how I can improve. I love being included in helping my Anne exegete a passage and then come up with a simple outline for a 10-minute lesson. I’m impressed with how good Anne is at preaching and communicating. She obviously has grown up and been around preachers her whole life.

I laughed or leaped for joy when Anne told me how much she could make as an on-call Chaplain at one of the local hospitals. I know that this isn’t about money but after working most of your life for so-so salary and now be paid really well is awesome. The real focus is that God is using my Anne in an incredible capacity to help those who are in crisis hear a word of blessing, comfort and hope. This will teach me how to be more able to help those in real crisis.

Anne is such a great example of someone that is a humble servant that has been willing to do anything that ultimately honors God and makes her hubby look good. I am so proud of her and excited about her future, even if it is in our old age! I want to thank my God for giving me such an amazing partner, best friend and ministry consultant. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Payoff and I'm Not Talking about the Lottery.

I have been around the homeless population in a serving capacity since the early 80’s. I was blessed to be part of a venture called ‘Ladle Fellowship’ that was birthed by First Presbyterian in downtown San Diego. This was a great experience of learning from the ground floor up how to start a ministry to our homeless friends. Old First Pres just happened to be in the heart of downtown San Diego where so many homeless reside between Balboa Park and the Zoo.

I was fortunate to be part of a concerted staff effort by the church to reach out to the chronic homeless to see if there was a way to break the cycle of homelessness. We were fortunate to live in a city where they chose to fund a downtown effort to have a few social workers work with seniors and the homeless over the next year or so. The lessons I learned about both the plight of the homeless and our shortsighted solutions continue to impact what I choose to do.

Over the last 5 years I have brought probably over a thousand people downtown to the main homeless shelter area. We have handed out food, cold water, popsicles, clothing, blankets and personal hygiene products. My prayer has been to truly connect with a few and connect them to other downtown organizations that can help them be self-sustainable. The reality, which is tragic, is that I have only really talked to a few and only one or two have responded in a way that has ultimately helped them. My heart has been to see a relationship driven approach to giving back dignity to these people who at one time had a normal life but subsequently lost everything.

I have been doing this at Christmas time, Easter time and weekly during the summer extreme heat. I have created almost a cult following of many that love to make burritos at my house and take them to the homeless. This year we did it the Sunday before Christmas and also on Christmas Eve. We had over 70 volunteers both times that made lots of burritos and cooked over 700 dogs. We also served hot coffee from my Starbucks, sliced oranges and some Christmas cookie. Everyone that helped had an awesome time where they realized how blessed they are and how they need to share with everyone as often as possible.

The reality for most is that they went back home with a great sense of helping. I received a significant amount of donations from a few in this larger group so I  can’t deny that this type of work pulls at people’s heart and purse strings. The real opportunity isn’t with the homeless but with our youth that are being raised around generational poverty. I really need families to adopt all of my kids and teens so they experience what it’s like to have your own home. It is much more difficult for most to find the time on a weekly basis to help out much.

The greatest gift for me this Christmas was to have a couple of my teens, Stick and Matt, connected with Dylan, who is a homeless teen. What’s is impressive is that our homeless teen decided to follow through and come back the next. I had promised him if he showed up I would help him get minutes on his phone. His dream was to talk with mom and little sis about his circumstances in Phoenix. I was so pleased, as I was driving, that he talked with his mom. It was a great conversation because there was some distance between them and he had recently moved to Phoenix. We talked a little about the dynamic of reaching back and seeing it as just that. I spent a good portion of today with our homeless teen friend. He is quickly adapting to the ways of New City when it comes to church.

We had a heart to heart talk about the important stuff. He seemed to get the practical logical aspect of stepping up for himself and not making the false assumption that someone else will always do everything regardless of circumstances. As my Anne would say in her own way, ‘He took a shower without destroying the bathroom’. He could stay with us any time he wants if these truly are his behavior patterns when it comes to the way he showers and cleans up after himself.

I was emotionally exhausted after doing this two days in a row. I know that poverty isn’t something that can be attacked without some fall out. The reasons why someone can go from being independent and responsible to being totally a dud and coach potato is difficult to fathom. Yet this happens daily where people just give up on themselves, those around and you that represent Christ and the church.

As I finish up blogging and a group of my older teens come out of the movies I’ll see again whether my homeless teen is serious about growing up and doing it right. This will be an incredible Christmas gift for me. YES! God is alive and about the business of transforming lives that aren’t worthy of our attention. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Last year wasn't a merry Christmas

I will always remember our last Christmas. We had invited my dad, who was living at a very nice senior complex, to spend Christmas Eve with us and spend the night. We had done our usual family tradition of going to a Christmas Eve Service at night after having done our usual New City feed our homeless friends in the morning. We had a great time at church and grandpa did fairly well considering it was cold outside and we went out for dinner.

As a kid I was usually up before the dawn awaiting the permission of the parents to open my gifts. As an adult I’m really not much different. So this last year I arose early and we took our herd for a walk and did our usual routine of Starbucks in the early morning. As we started to get ready for breakfast I started to wake up my dad. He was snoring so I assumed he was fine. I had just brewed some coffee and was in the process of getting a cup for my dad. As I started to help him sit up I realized something wasn’t right. I went ahead and handed him a cup of coffee. I will never forget how he grabbed it in a rather odd fashion.

I looked him in the eye and asked if he was ok. He responded quickly but I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. He had slurred speech and seemed a little disoriented. Anne was busy getting dressed after her shower. She came down and I asked her to watch grandpa as I did a few things. After I finished we both concurred that grandpa wasn’t ok. The last thing I wanted to do was call 911, follow my dad to the ER and spend Christmas in the hospital.

The firemen that helped my dad were incredible. They were very patient and slow with my 82-year-old dad who had dementia. I had no idea what was going to happen. The day had started off incredible and now I was waiting to see if my dad was going to live. It took a few hours for him to get checked out in the ER. They determined that he had a stroke and needed to stay at the hospital for a few days. They ran some initial tests and discovered he had a mild stroke.

After a few hours he was transferred from the ER to a normal room. I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I didn’t cherish having to call my brothers and tell them that my Christmas had just been put on hold. They decided to do an MRI in addition to a CT scan. I knew it would take most of the day to get the results. He was now stable and able to rest. He was still a little confused and not as able to talk. He was a little frustrated when he realized what he said and what he thought didn’t jell.

The doctors met with me and gave a quick overview of what had transpired. He had a mild stroke and they decided to keep him for a few days and do an assessment. They also wanted to put him on a new medication that would help his dementia.  I had heard of dopamine when I did research in college. The specialist explained that this new medication would help with my dad’s ability to be agile and get around. I went home after this discussion.
I was upset and mad at the world. How could my dad have a stroke on Christmas? This had ruined my Christmas and made me doubt God’s love that would bring heartache and tragedy on this special dad.  I went back to my house and dove back onto my bed and crashed with my dogs. I must have slept like a baby because before I knew it my clock said 7pm. I had slept for a couple of hours with no regard to the time. As I pulled myself out of bed I walked down to our family that was finishing up their Christmas feast. I was thankful that my dad was stable but wasn’t necessarily ok.

The rest of my Christmas day was a blur. I was hurt by this happening and ticked that my kids didn’t respond that much to what just occurred. The following months was a journey that saw my dad go into a great rehab center, next to a group home and then back to the hospital and then rehab center. Needless to say none of this was exactly what I had thought would happen. My frustration mounted after my dad’s stay in a group home didn’t work out very well. We were up in flagstaff for a summer get away with my kids when I get a call from the group home owner asking if my dad should go to the ER because he had a bad cold.

I was so much wanting to get away with all of our kids and enjoy Flagstaff. We decided to just all go back to Phoenix and I end up spending most of the night with grandpa. He had pneumonia and wasn’t doing really well. They decide to keep him for over a week until they discover what is the cause for his infection that caused everything. During this time I have decided to ‘fire’ the group home and consider putting him back into a memory loss facility. Fortunately my amazing Anne and Heather had checked out a few places a few years before.

The incredible story is that we rediscover Clair Bride, an excellent memory loss facility,  that is in Tempe not too far from where we live. We did the usual walk through and make a decision, not knowing if this was best, to have my dad moved from the group home to this memory loss facility. His stay in the hospital meant that he would be in rehab for at least a month and maybe as long as 6 weeks. The great news was that dad had already been at South Mountain Life Care so we knew he would get excellence care and actually improve.

I can’t fathom now a year later my dad is a totally different person. He has gained weight, mobility and is actually more able to speak and think. This truly has been a miracle year with him going from the hospital to now being able to fly around with his walker. He’s become a passionate Lincoln Log builder and is now, contrary to his past, capable of sharing his room with another gentleman. I was truly amazed this morning after our Christmas walk with our dogs and Starbucks run that as I picked up grandpa he was singing, this is my story this is my song serving my savior all the day long.  I was almost in tears as I realized that my dad not only could still sing but actually remembered the words to this amazing hymn.

I brought him over for breakfast and we ended up having some special friends with their little guy over for breakfast. Grandpa had fun watching little Phinny walking all over the place. So I am so thankful that God has given me the experience of an unfortunate Christmas that now brings an amazing gift of a dad who is capable of getting around. His caregiver mentioned casually as I kidnapped him that he was now able to put his own shirt on. I know that this could be our last Christmas together or could be the first of many. My dad’s aunt lived to be 107 and grandpa is only 83. I am have a much better Christmas this year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

No LIttle People!

I can remember back in my college and IVCF days reading a book by Francis Schaeffer called, ‘No Little People’. The simple truth of the book was that in the Kingdom there are no little people and also no big people. Yet, the reality for everyone is that we live in the shadow too often of what we perceive to be the big people. I know that as I write this I’m personally reacting or confessing to my bias against people who are in the spot light and choose not to engage with the normal average person.

I know that it is easy at times to use my background, education, experience and passion to intimidate people. I understand that it is at times too easy to use your gifts to make others feel less important or even valued by God. Yet, the reality for me is that I live in a land of little people. Yesterday I enlisted the help of one of my little guys, Paul or aka Bookie. We drove to a yuppie grocery store to pick up food for our homeless Christmas outreach. As we drove around I tried to get him to open up a little. Bookie is 11 years old and has already experienced the extremes in life such as a dad who is in prison for shooting someone in the back. He has a mom that has had too many boy friends and a growing family of 8 kids at this point.

I ask my little friend Paul how he felt about life right now. I knew that later on in the day I would be meeting with a mega church pastor who is well known and didn’t know whether he would even care about my little friend Paul. As I talked with Bookie it was clear that he felt ignored, forgotten and left out. As we talked about the difference between living with his mom versus his grandma it was clear that mom was more into her latest boyfriend and not him or his other 7 siblings. Yet, I knew that living with grandma and grandpa was better but not really.

I so much want Paul to succeed in life where he won’t repeat the mistakes of his dad or mom in life. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that unless someone intentionally walks with Paul in life he will end up a statistic. I know that it is so easy in today’s society to assume that the little people are little because of something they did and deserve their plight in life. As I sat and met with this mega church pastor it struck me that he was more concerned about his cell phone issues than remember who he was suppose to be meeting with today. I know that his heart and intentions are good and he will be used by God to ultimately help bring awareness and help for my Paul.

I shared my passion about the difference between helping from a distance and purposely choosing to be embedded in a marginalized community where you actually know someone by name. It is so easy to do something without really doing much of anything. I know I might come off as if I am against the mega-church or other large non-profits that do great work in bringing resources like food boxes or thousands of dollars of food gift cards but have lost the personal grassroots context of actually knowing someone by name. I know that if I would have been able to have my Bookie actually meet this well know pastor that my discussion would have taken a different turn. Once you meet someone who is the by product of the wrong way of helping, i.e. living off of the system and given a clear sense that being responsible for yourself, finishing school well and getting a job isn’t what’s really important.

One of my favorite small church pastors who helps me so often reminds me that Jesus is the one who walked in the trenches and got ‘shit’ on his shoes or sandals is the better example of how to be a real leader. The challenge is that most don’t want to get stuff on their shoes and it takes too much time and trouble to actually see the fruit of your labors.

Yes, I am learning to be ok with being a little guy who purposely loves on little people like Paul who doesn’t have anyone else to love and guide them through lives’ ups and downs. I so much want Paul to have a sense of value and worth that comes from God not from being a thug, bully or even a great student. Yes I can be better at being around the ‘big guys’ that God has placed me around to challenge to get involved like Jesus and get their shoes dirty. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Canal Sharks?

I know that most people would consider Anne and I crazy to take our dogs walking at pre-dawn hours and also walk them at twilight on our canal adjacent to some open farming areas. It can be really dark on our canal trail because there aren’t any lights but the city around us in the distance. Often when the moon is hidden behind clouds or is totally eclipsed it can almost be a frightening type of walk when you can allow your imagination to go wild. Our dogs love being out in the open and able to roam, race and enjoy not being leashed. Yes, on occasion there will be others walking their dogs but not usually at 5:30am or at 10pm.

My Anne does have a propensity for helping animals. I know that my in-laws would say that our pet fetish is my doing but actually it is Anne’s. So when the ducks fly into our canal area for a few months we end up feeding them dog food. So it isn’t too long before the ducks quickly come to us when they see our headlights pulling onto the canal trail. Our first duck friend, a white duck named Matilda, would quickly make her way to us and we would spoil her. Initially there wasn’t any competition for the food.

Now comes the good part, yes, there are canal sharks. It was somewhat frightening to see fish that are 3-4 feet long start fighting the poor little duck for the dog food. We laughed at first but realized the little duck was really afraid of these creatures that would start jumping out of the water to compete for her breakfast or late night snack. What has become shocking is to now see the fish waiting at our parking spot to automatically chase after the food we have been throwing for the ducks. We assumed we could out smart the canal sharks but they have become aggressive.

So what’s the big deal about canal sharks? The reality is that I live around people who are like canal sharks. This is kinda sad story when it comes to my kids and teens that are living on their own without a whole lot of love or direction in life. I was in the middle of doing a wedding rehearsal last week and got attacked by a canal shark. This one mom couldn’t get my simple message please don’t call or text I’m in the middle of a rehearsal. Looking back I do feel like one of these poor little ducks who is just trying to make it and then all of a sudden you got attacked from underneath.

I don’t have physical wounds, yet, but ultimately I could. The law of the land where I live is revenge and don’t let anyone ever get the last word. Don’t show any type of weakness or emotion otherwise you will be perceived as a loser. So as I’m trying to get this mom to chill she comes unglued as if it is my fault that she can’t keep track of her ‘stuff. The argument was over her son’s stuff, which she believed was ‘divinely’ hers. What got me was that ultimately she lied and made a big deal out of nothing.

I know that canal sharks get to be really big not from eating my little ducks but from eating all of the garbage in the canal. They are bred to eat algae and plants that stop the canal from flowing. It isn’t much different from people who have chosen a life style that avoids personal responsibility and assumes that the government, churches or non-profits should provide them with everything for nothing. Yes, I’m willing to help and be available for those who are willing to step up and take ownership of their lives. Yet, sometimes there are little duck like type of kids and teens who are left to fend for themselves way too early.

So as Christmas approaches I know that most of my larger friend group will have great Christmas times enjoying great food and awesome gifts. Yet, the reality for most of my kids and teens is there won’t be any great meal or gifts. Yes, we have been blessed through many helping with food and gifts, but the best gift, is that of a real family that takes the time to listen, love and be there. Yeah, the canal sharks are always going to be out there so my ducks have to be faster and smarter. I’m not sure my little kids are able to fend for themselves and can’t be hurt by the canal sharks in their lives. So please consider helping one of my little ones by being a special friend, tutor or mentor.