Sunday, April 27, 2014

Graduations - Too Long and Too Boring?

We have been to many graduations over the years varying from 8th grade promotions to my brother graduating from University of California at Santa Barbara with his PhD. Typically most of these you don’t remember much about the ceremony except that it was too long and usually boring. This last Thursday was an amazing exception to this typical trend of too long and too boring. Our intern, Jenessa Fesmire, graduated from Grand Canyon University.

I have been part of the GCU culture over the last three years as I have been fortunate to have interns from this college. These interns received credit for their service by receiving a scholarship. I know that many from the outside looking in at GCU see it now as a for profit business that might have lost touch with it’s spiritual roots. This last Thursday helped me at least see that GCU still has a spiritual force that is propelling it into the future.

I believe the longest ceremony we have attended in the last decade was pushing the three-hour limit. The challenge was that the person we had come to watch was at the very last because of receiving a Master’s degree. I can’t fathom what it would have been like if I had little kids that were squirming around for that length of time. GCU did an impressive job of getting it done in little over an hour! The key to the day’s success was their choice in their main speaker. So often this is someone with degrees tacked behind their name but in the midst of all this don’t seem to understand how to communicate in a succinct fashion that actually has substance and value without boring you to death.

GCU asked a retired fighter pilot who was also a professional golfer to speak. His dream as a kid growing up was to be a pilot and a golfer. This would seem to be an odd combination yet; God used this to shape the life of Dan Rooney. It was a privilege and honor to sit for about 15 minutes under the gifted story telling of this passionate individual. Major Rooney shared his story of how he ended up becoming someone who is committed to excellence and Christ through using these two words; volition and synchronicity. It was rather interesting to have a few of my teens actually talk about his message a few days after graduation.

I was challenged and blessed to receive a very straight forward but profound message from Major Rooney during the GCU graduation. All of a sudden all of the negative feelings I had towards this university that wanted to be big and take over Phoenix changed. I imagined the process of selecting a main speaker for the graduation and the list of potentials. Yet, they choose a man who has passion for God and his country. He spoke first hand about understanding the cost of freedom in our great country and the ultimate sacrifice many have made. His real focus was on the great sacrifice that Christ made on our behalf that we could be reconciled to God.

As the graduates tossed their mortarboards into the air the words of Major Dan stood out. I was impressed that the GCU Board had made such an excellent choice which set the tone for the university in the coming year as their students pursed understanding volition and synchronicity.  The foundation which the Major has founded will be a real help to those who have sacrificed a parent, sibling or friend for their country.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Bold, Silly and Stupid

Each morning we walk our dogs just before the sunrises and on our way to Starbucks we usually listen to NPR or the local news station. Today they were highlighting the birth of William Shakespeare and describing that they were taking one of his works on the road to every county in the world. The person narrating this section quickly stated how this was totally bold, stupid and silly but clearly worth attempting. I wonder how many of us need to start acting in this bold, silly and stupid fashion.

I’m reading a book on the promise of a pencil that is a story about how normal people can do incredible things to change the world. I know that there are many today who are catching the vision of doing something with their life that counts and makes a difference. The opportunity is for those that are doing bold, silly and ‘stupid’ things to go out of their way to include others so they too can make their lives count.

It is so easy to feel as if your life doesn’t really matter and that you could never be the one to do something outside the box that influences others and changes the culture of negativity or selfishness. I’m around a lot of kids, teens and adults who are discovering that they do matter and that by touching another person with kindness or a listening ear they will change the world around them.

So how is it possible to go from talking about something to actually doing something tangible with your life? I think it is so important to open our eyes up to the world around you. So often most of us don’t even know our neighbors or fellow workers in the cubical across from you. So what’s it going to be? What for someone else to step up and do something that makes a difference or consider looking, listening and then acting in a way that will transform your life and the life of someone around you. 

So decide to be bold, silly and stupid today!

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Power of Partnership!

It is always amazing to see the power of many hands and minds working together. I know that it can be more gratifying to pretend to think that one person is capable of doing great things but this is far from real life. This last Saturday I had 40 friends help put together an Easter Party at our neighborhood park. It is always interesting to watch the power of synergism in action.

I know that it is key to have something to do for everyone that comes to one of our events whether that is painting a house of a low income senior, helping the homeless in our downtown or doing an event for kids, teens and families at our park. This Saturday we had a variety of activities that kept everyone fairly busy for a few hours. We had our cooking crew that helped bbq 300 hot dogs, stuff them into buns, wrap them with foil and then with another team actually serve our kids, teens and families along with chips and salsa, orange slices, cookies and bottled water.

A good portion of our teen helpers oversaw our craft and face painting tables. We had a huge line up for our face painters. It was so much fun watching our little kids get painted as a tiger or cat or some rather unusual face design. We also had another group making bracelets, coloring pictures and in a totally separate area we had our little, little kids actually decorate hardboiled eggs.  What was a great gift was one of our schools involved had stuffed 1600 plastic eggs with candy. We had our teens scatter these eggs all around the backside of the rec center. It was so much fun to watch the little kids scramble to get the eggs to fill their baskets. I was amazed to see the look on a few of the kid’s faces when they found the ‘golden’ egg. I knew we should have put a dollar in each of these eggs.

After the little kids had their fair chance to gather eggs we unleashed the bigger kids. It wasn’t too long before the majority of the eggs were now in plastic bags or Easter baskets. Our team that oversaw the filling of the plastic eggs brought extra candy to make sure everyone got their fair share. I was so impressed with how each of the different groups helping were able to make our Easter party a great success.

We also had a sumo wrestler game that was overseen by the staff of Sir Bounce A lot. This was a huge hit for the entire party. We had all sizes and ages of participants. It was so much fun to watch everyone bounce off each other and then fall to the ground and not be able to get up without help from the staff. It was a blast to watch two of the ladies who are staff with the rec center get into the ring and attempt to push each other over. The best venue of the day was watching one of our larger teens take on one of the bigger adults. I think that Jalil truly believed that he could knock out this football player sized dad.

The generosity of many and the helping hands of many made our Easter party a lot of fun and really not a whole lot of work for anyone including my Anne and myself. I was pleased that a couple hundred kids had a fun time and saw what can happen when the community comes together. I’m so proud of my volunteers and the city’s park and rec staff for making my pre-Easter Saturday a day that will be remembered!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ever get called out by a kid?

I think that most of us as adults think that we are fairly adept at hiding our emotions most of the time. I’m around so many different types of adults and youth that I try not to let the emotional ‘stuff’ going on impact me too much. Yesterday as I’m driving around getting kids and teens for tutoring I have one of my more articulate 8 year olds ask me if I’m mad or something. I’m thinking to myself how did this little gal figure out that I was fuming on the inside? I thought I knew how to keep my composure?

I had received an e-mail that I had reacted to the tenure of what was said. It was all rather silly to get worked up but it wasn’t as if I was arguing with someone face-to-face. Yet, my good little friend called me out as if she could tell that I was upset and hurting. So instead of saying yeah you’re totally right I appreciate your concern I was the adult acting as if everything was cool. WRONG, I should have been honest and real with my little friend. She wasn’t balling me out but showing real concern.

Later that night one of my younger teens blew up at his foster brother and ended up being foul mouthed to one of the staff at the community center. The staff person, a good friend, told what had happened so I went back and talked with the teen. I understood what happened but explained that he couldn’t blow up and then chew out someone that is trying to help him. My friend, who has a passion for at risk youth, talked with my teen and explained how he could have handled his emotions in a better fashion.

I was proud of my younger teen that actually apologized and then listened to ways to help him deal better with his anger. I know that few of us want someone to call us out about anything. Yet, sometimes it helps us realize how we come across to others and what we might do differently the next time something happens. The truth is that we are all emotional creatures who do have feelings that do get hurt and often we react to the circumstances around us. I’m not saying it’s wrong to express yourself but to think first before you do something that might be toxic.  

As I’m writing this I get a series of texts from a good friend who is struggling with a situation where his son’s soccer team plays at a park across from his house. This is a small park in an under resourced neighborhood that is open to anyone to use. The soccer team has been playing there the last few months. Another group has appeared and decided to take over. Regardless of how nice my friend and the coach have been to this other team they have chosen not to listen or play fairly. The other coach basically told them they could settle the issue in the alley. Wow, how do you handle this situation? My friend had called the police who couldn’t do anything.

I was able to resolve my heartache over this e-mail without any type of blowing up or emotional melt down. I know that my young teen will continue to have anger issues and will need to have someone help with his outbursts. I have confidence that he will get better in time.  My friend in the park has hit a wall because the other guy is your macho type that doesn’t listen and truly believes he has the right to take over. So this will require someone else to call this guy out who eventually will have to play fairly or move to a different park.

As my day finished yesterday I was no longer feeling toxic on the inside and was able to thank my little friend for caring enough to ask the obvious question, ‘How are you doing?’ It was my choice not to respond with the truth. I hope she will do this again when she senses that I’m upset about something. Amazing what we can learn from the kids around us!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


I had one of those moments this last week where I wanted to disappear or wake up from a bad dream. I have lots of different groups that help us impact the lives of at risk youth. I know that some times these youth, teens and 20 somethings will do something totally crazy like steal. I live between a world of haves and have not’s. There isn’t any explanation as to the disparity that works on either side. You can talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps but the reality is that some have been born into great families with the talents almost inbreeded to guide them towards success. Others have been born into a family without a dad or a family that truly cares and they have seldom seen examples of consistency or genuineness in their lives.

I cringe when someone either calls me up or as in this last week comes running up to the van as we are leaving to ask if I have found a missing iPhone. I know that the individual has to assume that one of my wild kids must have taken it and I tend to assume the same thing also. Yes, I have been surprised to find out later, a few times, that the person happened to actually misplace their phone. What I witnessed was a dad running out to a van that was leaving to hopefully find news of his son’s phone. I stopped and had everyone come out and had them empty out their pockets and any packs to see if the lost phone would appear. I spaced and should have also asked them to take off their shoes. We didn’t find anything.

The dad graciously left without screaming, even though I could feel his frustration and let me to ‘lecture’ the group about what had just happened. I explained that playing basketball in this brand new gym was a gift that could be taken away. I asked how did this made us look to these families and friends who help us all of the time? One of the moms actually went out and bought us drinks and snacks after we played. I talked again with the dad and another friend about what had happened and explained that he handled everything just right.

So what do I do? I know some would say you are just setting yourself up for trouble by having temptation all over the place. Others would say you should make sure everything that is valuable is locked up with a key. I now have the unpleasant task of going back to a few of the guys and asking them eyeball-to-eyeball who did this crazy thing? I know that snitching is against the rules of the hood. Yet, deep down inside there is someone who will eventually break and be honest with me. I just hope we can retrieve this phone for this teen that had just finished playing basketball with these kids from the hood.

I talk a lot about forgiveness, grace and mercy. This is where that talk is put to the test. I know that it is easy for me to say forgive a teen who just stole a phone or hit someone but how do you in real everyday life do this? I have a close friend who is going through a murder trial for her son’s murderer. This individual is guilty and ultimately will receive punishment by the state. Yet, the mom whose son was murdered is quick to say she is learning how to forgive this individual and actually pray for him in a positive way. I have a side to me where I want to ‘strangle’ the teen that did this because it could hurt the whole group. Yet, I know that few of us think about the consequences of our actions on others.

Yes, I was embarrassed with this incident but see God teaching me a lesson about being quick to respond, not make any excuses and then seek the truth about what really happened. I know the individual who did this will learn a life lesson sooner than later I pray.