Sunday, June 30, 2013

It's Hot - like 120

Over the last month we have been going downtown to take cold bottled water to our homeless friends. The last week the temperatures have been to the extreme of almost 120 degrees. I know that a cold bottle of water isn’t going to fix someone’s life nor totally help with preventing heat stroke but it teaches everyone in my group to be thankful for what they have instead of being obsessed with the latest Xbox or PS – whatever. One of our key helpers is an older lady who actually had lived 8 years of her life on the street. She would be the one to help us understand how it would feel to be homeless and have people make derogatory statements against you.

I decided at the beginning of taking water to our homeless friends that we would walk a couple of blocks from our home base at A2J house to the area around CASS. The purpose of this wasn’t to torture anyone but help us be more aware of what it would be like to live in the heat all of the day. Yes it was 118 when we handed out water last Friday. I know that a few of the youth struggled with why are we doing this? Why can’t we just drive down and hand out the bottled water really fast and be off to cold drinks at QT.

I know that when our group is asked what they like doing the most will always be either helping the homeless or painting the houses of grandmas or grandpas. I know that the more ‘hands on’ opportunity I provide the more likely that someone will get why being thankful for everything is a key to understanding and appreciating their lives. I know that for most of my group living in air conditioning makes it so easy to be on the street for a short period of time. We had to walk probably 4-5 blocks to hand out water this last Friday and after about 20 minutes all of us were drenched in sweat before we go back to the A2J house. I did this to help everyone identify with those who are actually bedding out on the street at night and haven’t bathed in weeks.

I kidnapped my wife for an outing on Friday night. My intern and a couple of our teens decided to scour the house. The downside to their cleaning frenzy was that some how or another they popped the circuit breaker for our main AC unit. I tried everything to get the big unit to start back up. The unfortunate side to all of this was that it was the weekend and no AC techs were available to restore our upstairs AC. Last time this happened at our other house it became unbearable for everyone inside. Our present house has turned upstairs into the hot room but the downstairs is normal enough to be able to sleep at night.

It is easy to forget that most of the world lives without AC, running water and flush toilets. My point in writing is to help us better appreciate what we have instead of fixating on what we don’t have. It is so easy to see the glass as being half empty instead of being half full. I’m not thrilled that my main AC unit decided to die on the hottest day so far but I’m thankful that the little unit continues to crank out the coolness.

I know that every time we take cold bottled water to our homeless friends I’m surprised at how someone responds to this simple act of kindness. I’m truly blessed to see someone who looks exhausted and close to collapse drink their cold water and say THANKS. My hope is that those who have helped out will do this on their own when no one is pushing them to do it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Squirts Guns are the Key to Life's Mysteries!

I have to confess that most Baby Boomers, which is who I am, have a tough time learning how to stop working and enjoy life. It is too easy to be on vacation and have your iDevice next to you waiting for the latest text or update. I have been good about planning vacations and taking time to be with my better half. The challenge is to actually disengage from the rat race purposely.

Last night we had a squirt gun fight with mostly little  kids or munchkins with a few of my teens and interns running around like maniacs. It was so much fun watching everyone let go and get wet. Yes, I had fun dumping bottles of cold water on a few of the kids. I also got doused by most of my little guys who delighted in giving me ‘wet pants’. It was a very hot evening that turned out to actually be cooler than expected.

I know that letting your ‘hair’ down and enjoying life is so important but too easy to miss by assuming that being busy you have a full life. I know that after our summer program finishes in a week that I will be on overload for a few days so unwinding will take some time. It is so easy to feel guilty for not being productive. The reality is that I need to recharge my battery often. I know that at times I believe that if I’m not involved with something it won’t get done.

I’m starting to understand why Jesus was so quick to use the little kids around him as a constant life lesson about how adults should live. It is too easy to have misplaced priorities. Too often we view kids and even teens as being in the way to experiencing life. I know that too often kids are viewed as an inconvenience and pushed to the side. It is too easy for adults to assume that they can’t learn anything from a kid.

This last week I was listening to one of my nine year old little girls that I learned a lot about looking at life in more simplistic way. It is too easy to make everything into a complicated mess that needs some type of special analytical skills. She asked a very pointed question and then listened to my response. I know that learning to listen for most adults is really difficult because we are too interested in getting our response out then hearing.

What has to happen for me to let go and dive into life? I know that once the squirt guns were unwrapped and filled that life changed. What does it take to stop being productive, start having fun and be able to recharge through doing something totally off the wall? I so much enjoyed watching the kids chase our interns and teens around with their squirt guns. It wasn’t too long before I had to jump in and get a few of the munchkins with cold water. You don’t have to be an expert marksman to enjoy a squirt gun fight.

I’m glad that dollar stores have these secret weapons for only a dollar. They can become a door into a time of relaxation and being able to enjoy life. Yes my iDevice can be put on hold for an afternoon. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

What's a real man like?

Over the last month we have been doing a guys group with seven older teens. This has become more like a club where the guys are slow to let someone new get involved. We have been talking about what it means to be a man of integrity. We have talked a lot about honesty and being men of our word. I have raised the question often why does it have to be the case that we always learn through the school of hard knocks? Isn’t there a better way than going to court to discover God?

I am very fortunate to have a great friend, who is older like me, choose to be involved with our group. He has become our grandpa that is always looking out for these guys. He gets personally upset when one of the teens sleeps late and forgets about an appointment. It’s difficult at times to realize the culture of today’s youth is hugely different from our generation that lived in the 60’s. I have a dad who laid out how I should live by his example. He taught me respect from a very young age so I didn’t need to have a scream to get me to follow through or say yes sir or no sir.

I was in court a few weeks ago with one of my teen guys. He was definitely dressed to go before a judge. The challenge, which I should have expressed more clearly, was that he needed to respect the judge by how he responded to him. It was so critical for the judge to see that my teen understood that he was in the wrong and had made a foolish choice to say something joking around that become perceived as a real threat. I almost choked when my teen said yeah instead of yes and didn’t say yes your honor or no your honor. We talked afterwards and I know that he will be better at his next court appearance.

I know that it is easy to say something intentionally to make someone believe that you get it when you have little desire of doing what is right. I had a couple of my teens call me on Saturday when they were at my house tell me they were going job hunting. I had just visited my dad and really didn’t want to go out again but realized I didn’t have any choice. They were actually showered, shaved and dressed for success. They looked real sharp and were prepared to go job hunting. This was so much more than just surfing online and doing online applications. I know that the reality is they are both of a diverse background and the likelihood of them getting a first job quickly isn’t great. I am on their side wanting them to get their first real opportunity to work.

I grew up around an image of manhood that saw men take advantage of women, smoke, drink and swear up a blue streak to prove their masculinity. The reality is that a real man is someone who cares enough to put others first, works sacrificially and stands up for injustice. The reality is that most of my guys are growing up around invisible dads and a culture that rewards laziness. I know that my guys are getting it that there aren’t any handouts in life and that the sooner you step up and take responsibility for yourself the sooner life will turn around.

I asked what can help someone avoid the pitfall of life when you have to go through hell in order to discover heaven? I have a tendency to brag about my wayword past and act as if it is always better to do extremely crazy things to see the light. My wife would argue, which she does loudly, that you don’t have to kill someone to discover the grace and forgiveness of God and your family. The group focused on the need for us to really care for one another enough to go out of our way to be there to say WHAT ARE YOU DOING or hey GREAT JOB!

My hope is that my guys can change the perception of teens living in the hood have to be really bad. I hope and pray that they will impact the little kids in our group to see that lying, stealing or cheating is totally off base!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boys will be boys?

I can remember when my Anne was ready to explode after our son shoplifted some candy and the owner of the store wasn’t upset and didn’t see the need to do anything. I can remember the person’s response to why it wasn’t a big deal, ‘Boys will be boys!’ My son got the sternest lecture of his life that day. I’m glad that my mom never caught me in the act of stealing. I unfortunately was too good at lifting things so I never got caught but saw the writing on the wall when a good friend finally pushed the envelope and tried to steal something by himself without our group watching and distracting the owner of the music store.

I know that I take a risk with a bunch little guys and some teen guys that see nothing wrong with taking a piece of candy or a drink. If they get away with it they think that it is perfectly ok to steal. God forbid that they actually get caught in the act and get in real trouble. We had just finished swimming at Pecos Pool. It was a perfect day because the temperatures where closer to 100 then 110. Sometimes I will take the group to Circle K if they have behaved themselves. Today was a good day at the pool without any incidents at all.

I know the owner of the Circle K wants our business when we pull up with 40-50 buying something all at once. Today I made the rule that it was only drinks no more candy, donuts or whatever. This didn’t go over well with a few because they were hungry and wanted some munchies. The last week had a couple of gals who attempted to exceed the $1 limit on a special candy bar. As I was finishing the last group and was ready to go home when one of the cashiers asks if he can talk to me. I knew that he was going to say. I listened and the guy was almost apologetic for the fact that a couple of my young guys had taken suckers. I quickly went back to the van and grabbed the two who had been identified.

I had them come out of the van and explained the ramifications for stealing. We went back to the store and I had each of them apologize and then paid the cashier for what they had eaten without paying. I knew that I had to get these guys’ attention if I was going to make this a learning curve in the right direction. I didn’t want them to get away with this and assume that next time it would be even easier. I followed the first guy into his house and explained what he was going to have to do, write an apology letter and take it back. I gave the same spiel to the other guys who were dropped off a few minutes later.

I know that I can’t force them to do much but hope that this close brush with the law and getting grounded forever is huge to them. I can remember how proud all of us were when we got to the point where stealing was way to easy. I’m glad that my little guys got caught and I was able to talk to each of them. Now the hard part not over judging them or under judging them but helping them suffer a little with the consequences of their choices. The next time this happens it could be an owner who is fed up with shoplifters and has a gun. 

What's It Like to Be Poor?

Yesterday I had one of those incredible experiences where one of my favorite little girls asks me a rather interesting question.  ‘What is it like to be poor?’ I continued without asking her whether she ever felt like she was poor. I explained how when we handed out water to the homeless downtown that many of those people didn’t have much of anything. They didn’t have a home; a bed, food, friends or any money and that probably would be considered poor. I continued to say that real poverty is seen more in countries far away. It is hard to fathom kids going to sleep on dirt every night without any food.

I know that my special little friend doesn’t have much but seldom ever complains. It is clear from her inquisitive question that she didn’t consider herself poor. Yet, most of my volunteers coming from outside our community would consider 8 people living in a 1,100 square foot house to be poor. What I love about this story is that my little friend is being raised in a real family where she doesn’t have any fear or concern about anything. She is always very thankful for everything she gets.

My heart breaks for her because her dad died when she was very young. She is very fortunate to have an awesome uncle who has been there for her from day 1! She is also been cared for by her grandma from birth and understands the notion of real sacrificial love through her grandma’s daily actions. What stands out is wholeness has little to do with how much money you have in the bank or whether you have the largest flat screen on your living room wall!

I had the privilege to be involved with Habitat for Humanity for over eight years. It is during my Habitat involvement that I learned about the key to seeing the difference between giving a hand out and a hand up. The conversation about relief work versus doing development work is very difficult. There are circumstances where people are starving to death and need urgent medical care. It is these types of situations that you help someone regardless of asking questions and get them food and a doctor or nurse. The challenge is being able to step back and better understand what has caused the situation.

I know that the word poverty does bring up a picture of a little child who looks like they are four years old but is actually sixteen. I know that most involved with doing community work talk about the difference between giving someone a fish to feed them for a day instead of giving them a fishing pole. The reality is that even with a fishing pole there is no guarantee that the pond will have fish or be clean. So the path of helping someone become self-sustainable starts with seeing poverty as a series of broken relationship that led to someone dying of starvation or a disease that could be curable.

Yes, someone’s relationship with their family impacts their ability to get a job, stay in school, take good care of their home and be a doer and giver instead of a couch potato and taker in life. Our relationship with God is a huge factor in becoming someone that can have hope in life as they face difficult circumstances where most would quit or assume that someone else will rescue them. What I’m learning from little friend’s question is that too often we make excuses for our circumstances and don’t take ownership. She is able to see her life as being beautiful and full regardless of what others might think. I love to say that the cup can either be half full or half empty. My little friend sees her half full cup as being not just full but overflowing.

I know that my hope for my little friend is that she can grow up in a healthily environment where she sees her life as a gift from God with a bright future. I know that her mom, uncle and grandma have made this a reality.