Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's Worth It!

I recently did a presentation at a small church whose pastor is a good friend. This is a new work that started a couple of years ago. It is always difficult to know when talking about real life circumstances how honest I should be about what really happens. It is easy to dwell on the negative and not mention the great things that are happening. I know that the media craves the bad news in life because it grabs your attention! The unfortunate reality is that we feed off the gory news at night and miss out on the good that usually out ways the bad.

As we were wrapping up this presentation my pastor friend had us do a Q and A that took about an hour with a variety of questions that got back to the real life circumstances around life in generational poverty. We were able to share both the sad news but also the success stories. The challenge is that what most people remember is the fact that an uncle in my painting neighborhood recently murdered his cousin in front of all of my little guys. The talk the next week in my group wasn’t about how horrible life is when you don’t follow God but did you see all of the blood.

When someone asks me what I do I hesitate at times to be totally upfront. I have had teachers and social workers that have worked in my larger neighborhood tell me point blank that what I’m doing is a waste of time. I usually don’t let someone talk this way which means I end up defending the cause of the forgotten underdog type. I know in my heart of hearts we are making a difference. I know that stories are the best path to helping someone understand how to put their life back together after it has been shattered. I know that the typically storyteller will always ask whether you want the good news or bad news first?

I picked up a good friend who helps with doing mailings and volunteers for tutoring and our life group. We had talked the evening before about some of her life challenges that come out of the brokenness in her family. As I shared a couple stories of the brokenness in our group she realized that her life wasn’t that bad after all and actually had many positive highlights over the years. My point in talking about the ‘trash’ was to help see the contrast with many in our group who have gone through life transformation.

I’m in the middle of a great book by Philip Yancey, “Where is God When it Hurts?” Yancey deals with the aftermath of horrible accidents and how a person is supposed to live afterwards without hating God, family and their own life. His point is that we can’t necessarily come up with a reason for why something happened and whether I did something that either caused this or God is punishing me. His way of dealing with the WHY question was to ask what are you doing today with what happened yesterday? How should I live in the midst of pain and suffering? Do I focus on blaming someone for what happened? Do I take responsibility for my choices and decide to be different today based upon what I experienced yesterday?

My point in writing this blog is to say that out of the ‘crappy’ stuff of life often comes beauty that is more than capable of transforming a person’s life, change the nature of a family and see a neighborhood change over time. As I finished my meeting with a young college student I wanted to encourage him not to focus on the past but see God’s hand in the present preparing him for the future. Yeah, he should be totally bummed because he was in a car accident that saw his car get crunched; he was cited and hurt his knee. Yet, he is alive and able to step back and learn from what happened!

I know that it is too easy for someone to put a price tag on the cost of what it takes to redeem a wayward teen or 20 something. Yet, I want to come back and scream from the mountain tops that if one of my kids, teens or 20 somethings turns around then all of the financial expense and the time of myself and a multitude of mentors or tutors is amazingly worth it!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Life & Death

Last night I received a text from one of my teens asking me to pray for him. One of his friends from his workplace was found murdered in Yuma. I could tell from his text that this was unbelievable and overwhelming! I had just recently worked through a shooting in our neighborhood where two of the uncles of my little guys decided to go to war. The end result was one was lying in a pool of blood and the other fled into the ally. I was quickly informed of the details when picking up some   of the little kids to do a McDonalds run that Friday.

Video games have taken over the minds of most youth and young adults. I haven’t gotten hooked by Modern Warfare or Grand Theft Auto so I can’t comprehend that killing on the TV screen makes it too easy to do this in real life. I think what is even more shocking is how my little guys who live in this neighborhood can go on as if nothing happened? I’m still overwhelmed by my dad’s passing and all of this I knew about and had the privilege of being by his side.

I received a text earlier this morning from one of my teens who is having her little baby boy today. This is both exciting and really scary. There are no guarantees when it comes to raising a kid when you are still a kid. I know that life comes out of death and death comes out of life. I get tired of the ongoing violence that most seem to think will stop when they get a bigger baseball bat or gun. The reality is that violence only begets violence. I know there isn’t any quick solution. A change of heart is the only solution that will see the killing stop.

I will help my one friend attempt to find his deceased friend’s family and I will visit my teen mom in the hospital and see her little guy. Life goes on……. Yet, I know that my redeemer lives and has shown me grace as I have faced both life and death today.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Getting caught is the best thing to happen!

I can remember as a young teen being part of a garage band that thought it was cool to steal sheet music from the local music store. We even got bold enough, this was a long time ago, to actually take vinyl records that were hidden in our large winter coats. The challenge is that this was a small town store with only owner plus family overseeing the operation. There were actually five of us and it was too easy to distract whoever was in the store and walk away with almost anything.

I really thought we had figured a system out to get sheet music for our new songs for the band. The only draw back was that one of our guys decided to break our code of not ever trying to do it alone and got caught red handed. This put a stop to our shoplifting habits. Ultimately I knew that what we were doing was wrong and even though we got away with it for probably six months I was actually glad that one of the guys got caught.

I know that most of us live with this hidden sense that it is ok to break the rules as long as we don’t get caught. I think the forbidden fruit syndrome is always attractive to most thinking that rules are only made to be broken! I work and live in a neighborhood where finder’s keepers rules. So anyone that finds anything from a smart phone to a wallet with cash truly believes it is a divine action upon the almighty that placed it there in their path. The only challenge is that most believe that they don’t have any obligation to help find who had owned the missing iPhone, iPod or wallet.

Last night in the middle of the World Series I had a text from one of my teens that seemed to be a SOS. The only problem was that they never responded back to their plea for immediate help. I assumed that it must have been for a bus card or money for McDonalds. The following day I hear the real story of what happened through one of my key leaders. This individual had gotten caught with a friend lifting something from a well-known store. The good news was that this literally put the fear of the law, God and parent into this teen’s brain.

I know the assumption, which is false, is that I won’t ever get caught so don’t worry about it. The issue in this story was that a friend was actually the thief but they both got caught as they were attempting to escape and quickly make it home. Fortunately for our teen one of my interns saved her day and met her at the Box Store. I can’t figure out why the manager didn’t press any charges but they were released with the assurance that they would send papers to their home and be forbade from shopping anything at this Box Store.

I texted this individual to see if they had actually learned anything from this big mishap assuming that they were cold hearted. I was blown away when they shared that they felt so guilty that it drove them to spill the beans to their father. Something happened in this close encounter with the law, being grounded and sensing some shame or guilt. I know that too often as an adult it is too easy to figure out ways to fudge everything and actually get away with murder, fraud or embezzlement.
I’m thankful that my friend got caught that day in this little music store and got the lecture and stern look to never do this again and stay away from the Music Store for a few months. This ultimately stopped the rest of us from lifting any more music or pushing it in other stores. I know that sometimes fear of getting caught or in trouble will detour someone from living on the edge. I also know that getting caught is probably the better medicine to help our future where we become helpers and givers and not thieves that always assume someone owes them something.

So I’m glad that my teen was that resourceful to avoid getting caught! This will help my teen rethink their view of doing something on the edge tomorrow.

Taking advantage?

I know that it is easy at times to take advantage of family members and close friends. It is especially easy when you have a spouse, friends or parents like I have because they are too quick to help out. I know one of the joys of childhood is having a mom and grandma or dad and grandpa that were always around to spoil you. The challenge as we age is that either we take their place and start spoiling or caring for those around us or we end up being cynical grumpy old men!

I have thought a lot over the last few weeks about the role of being a friend to your parents and then at some juncture you assume the roll of being a helper, caregiver or parent to you parent. I can remember my dad’s initial reaction to my caregiving, which I hope was a byproduct of his Dementia, he would look at me and remind me that I wasn’t his boss or his father. I laughed at the beginning but realized quickly that I was becoming his father in caring for him and won’t talk about being the boss.

I can think back to all of the times over my dad’s life that I would ask for help and he was so quick to step up, be there and seldom question my motives for a request for anything including money. I know that my dad’s dreams for me especially was to finish college, discover my life calling, find my wife and have a family. My dad’s trust in me was always incredible whether I deserved it or not.  We were very different in our personalities but had similar core values, which made us both committed to our faith and families.

At times I wish it were possible to turn back the clock and tell my dad over and over again that I loved him and so much appreciated his love, his spoiling me and choosing to seldom ever say no to me. I can’t fathom what my life would have been like without his support, especially as we faced the uncertainty of our Heather’s premature birth. My dad had a very simple faith and life expression that was to always tackle everything head on and trust God regardless of what the outcome might look like a the present moment.

I have been around too many people who have regrets when they face their own deaths or deaths of loved ones. My mom was always the type of person to tell you exactly how she felt about you so when you left there weren’t any unhidden feelings. The truly amazing gift my dad gave me was his SMILE as he was lying in his bed waiting for his heavenly homecoming. The fact that he took my hand and choose to hold it and then open his eyes wide open will be embedded in my memory forever. His last words to me will inspire me to be there for my family and friends as he told me in a passionate way, ‘I love you! I love you!’ These were his last words for which I am truly thankful to God.

I know that I will still abuse friendships at times and others will take advantage of me but my heart is to be like my dad and be better at smiling and telling those around me that are important to me that I love them!

Everyone dies but not everyone lives!

I will be quick to admit that it isn’t easy for men to process their emotions, especially grief over the death of parents, spouse or children. I have been in the recovery mode over the last few weeks as I process the passing of my dad. I know that it is easy for individuals to believe that they are being gracious and caring when they say that my dad is in a better place where there isn’t any more suffering. I know that intellectually I can agree with all of this and see in one sense my mom and dad reunited together in their heavenly condo. Yet, my heart aches because the ones who brought me into this world are gone.

I have received a multitude of sympathy cards from a variety of friends both young and old. The notes from my dad’s siblings have been enlightening. Again it has been a tough journey for me with my mom dying first from a decade long battle with cancer. My dad became emotionally withdrawn and very slow to let me know about his personal struggle with his Lady’s passing. I can remember the big decision to rescue my dad from his cave like existence to bring him to Phoenix. I didn’t have the answers to comprehending the death of your life long partner after 55 years. My dad for a season became someone that didn’t make much sense because his Dementia had taken over his ability to process events and emotions.

I admit that e-mail isn’t the best platform to use for communicating but at times it becomes all we have. I had sent a thank you to close friends for their special card that had pictures from their son’s journey in Asia. As I read this response I was totally taken back by the fact that a close friend had just faced a multitude of life challenging issues, which I hadn’t know about. I felt for my friend who I knew wasn’t the type of guy to say much to anyone about personal challenges. It is always too easy to be in the manly fix it mode or the CEO type A guy that is always focused on others and not yourself.

As I prepared for a teen guy group talking about real living it struck me that it is so easy to live in a fashion where I can miss out on living real life and just be waiting for the evitable. I had been listening to a song that talks about everyone dies but not everyone lives. I know that one of my dad’s challenges in life was allowing others, me, to be more aware of the emotional trauma of a misplaced youth, the issues with serving in the military during a war that few understood and then to watch your best friend slowly fade away over a decade and then one day be gone. I confess that I did a poor job of listening and asking sensitive questions to help my father and protector process his grief and emotions.

It is too easy to allow our testosterone side of manliness to always be in control so that I was competitive with my dad as a teen and 20 something that made it difficult to be close. I know that time doesn’t literally fly but I can remember my parents coming out 12 years ago to share with us mom’s situation with cancer. They were very reassuring that everything would work out but cancer is a disease that doesn’t show mercy or grace to any. What strikes me looking back is that my parents choose to live each day in a special way that I can honestly say I didn’t have any issues with my mom as she faced death daily over a couple of years. She was the one that taught me to face my death in a personal way understanding that life doesn’t come with any guarantees but that death is not something to fear.

I recognize that it is easy to intellectualize emotions without actually facing them. Today I will drive to the Social Security Office to bring to a close the benefits of my dad. I am privileged as a son and friend of my dad to do this for him. I can’t explain the emotional mess that I feel on the inside that platitudes, nice cards or understanding e-mails won’t take away. I’m learning that grieving is a life long experience. My mom died 6 years ago and I’m still tender about it and I believe that is God’s design to keep us human and not turn into robots that can be programmed to keep going regardless.