Thursday, May 29, 2014

Do You Ever Cry?

I know that it is considered somewhat ‘unguyish’ to cry but I found myself at a recent 8th graduation in tears. This was my 12th graduation in a little over a week and what made it rather emotional was to see teacher after teacher talk about their students between tears. One of the main teachers had to literally stop midsentence because she was overwhelmed with emotions.  I was there for one of my younger teens that was being promoted into high school.  I hadn’t heard much about ACES school but after attending this graduation I was all ready to sign up to teach and discover better methods for helping kids with special needs.

It was incredible to see the response of the students to each of their teachers as they handed them their certificates and a rose. All of them were excited and a few were literally jumping for joy. I was especially touched as one of the teachers, who is a gifted poet, had written a special poem for each of the students. The teachers read these to their students before they received their certificates. I could see the tears in the parent’s eyes as they saw their teens with special needs respond to the loving instruction they had received this last year.

It takes incredible patience to teach someone who is autistic or has severe learning disabilities. I could see the amazing bond between the various staff and the students. After attending 11 previous graduations this one stood out as the students had a glow about them when it came to their special helpers or teachers. I coveted this for some of my other kids and teens that we help. I know that the influence of someone that understands and is able to communicate can be that extra that turns a life around when it comes to being able to talk, read or write.

I’m criticized at times for using resources that some consider to be a waste of a person’s time and funds on kids or teens that seem to be beyond help. I’ve become an advocate for those that have been casualties of broken homes, under resourced neighborhoods, gang violence and drugs. I find myself saying this often that no one choses their family, their race, cultural legacy or educational surrounding. My passion is to give even those that are viewed as hopeless an opportunity to experience life and gain a love of learning in their setting. I believe that all people have value and should be given the opportunity, with help, to experience life to its fullest!

Yes I was crying my heart out for my teen’s graduation. I was so jazzed that he was at this exceptional school where everyone counts!!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Sinner or Saint?

I’ve had the unique experience of being someone’s special helper for a season and then at other times end up being at odds with the person. I know that most people, myself included, tend to be people pleasers. The reality for me is if I intend to be a real advocate for an individual in need, youth or adult, I know that I can end up having to express tough love and have real boundaries. I have had some of the craziest things happen to me because I choose to be in the middle of crisis situations where there is collateral damage and at times it falls on me.

I know that not everyone is thrilled when you rock the boat or choose to stand up for those not capable of helping themselves. I spent the last six years of my life being my father’s advocate because of his Dementia. He was no longer able to do his normal routine between finances, caring for himself and figuring out what in the past were routine decisions. I know that when he lived in assisted living it would have been vary easy for him to be overcharged for his care. I caught myself a few times being rather irritated with someone that did an assessment totally incorrect and raised his expense for his living when nothing had changed. I had to talk with the supervisor to correct the error.

It is even more difficult to choose to be an advocate for a child or teen that has been neglected or abused. It means that you have to stand up for what is best for the child or teen regardless of what family or others think is ok. I understand the struggle that everyone has with employment and transportation. The reality is that it is never ok to leave kids unattended by an adult regardless of what is happening with moms, grandmas or aunties. I turn into a monster when I see kids around drugs and the party scene because a parent or guardian still chooses to live like a teenager.

It is difficult to know when it is time to stand up and do something instead of helping and watching from a distance. I have had a couple of circumstances in the last six months where I have asked my police friends what’s the line between interfering and helping.  I know in one situation I helped a young lady make some important choices which ultimately helped her get away from someone that had become toxic in her life. It wasn’t easy to follow through with all of this but I know that this individual is now able to focus on life in a more normal fashion.

It is unfortunate that when one person is helped usually there is another person who is offended and tends to react. I’ve had someone actually take out an order of protection against me because of helping their teens. This was the craziest experience having a Phoenix PD knock on my door at three am and serve me papers. This meant that I had to go to court and contest this ludicrous action on the part of a jealous parent. I had to ask a couple of friends help me with references and actually go to court. I knew ultimately that this person wouldn’t show up because what had been said was totally false.  It was wrong to have wasted the court’s time and spent resources that could have been better used.

I find myself in too many circumstances where there is real need that is always close to having to intervene on someone’s behalf. I understand that it is so much easier to ignore pretend that it really isn’t that bad. We attend the graduation dinner of one of our 8th graders this last week. One of my close friends who is also a mentor and tutor to a group of girls shared some of her concerns while we were enjoying a great dinner. It again struck me how great the needs are around me and how difficult it is to know the right course of action. My friend had gone way beyond what is normal help and struggled with the next step. Sometimes the next step is calling the police, CPS, talking to a teacher, pastor or grandparent.

The last couple of weeks I find myself in the middle of helping a group of kids I truly love. It is too easy to be idealistic and think that I have the time, energy and resources to help all. Yet, the reality is that I have to be selective in what I do otherwise nothing will happen that actually is effective in making a difference. I’m sitting in an office waiting for someone to see some of my kids I’m helping. While I’m doing this I get a text from a mom that doesn’t have the means to pay her utility bill. I’m willing to help one time for something that requires cash and isn’t food. I know that the summers are brutal in Phoenix so to not have your power on is unacceptable.

Yes, I will be quick to admit that I’m a sinner only saved or salvaged by God’s incredible gift of grace through Jesus Christ. I know that at times people may view individuals as saints but the reality is I’m not!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Birthdays are just for kids?

I’m fortunate to stay young by working with youth of all ages. I have the privilege of being like a second dad or grandpa to many. So when it comes to birthdays or special occasions it gives me a chance to do something out of the extra ordinary. I was truly blessed to have a mom that was very creative and always did something that was fun for birthdays. She would make my favorite cakes and then allow me to invite my friends to hang out and play games. My Anne always would create different types of cakes that would reflect what our kids were doing at that stage in their life. It has been so much fun watching her creations over the years.

Tomorrow I will get to celebrate one of my little guy’s birthdays, Mr. Peanut or Davontae will get to hang out at my house, play his favorite game on our PS3 and also choose what he wants for dinner. My intern will take him and his brothers to her place so they came swim. I usually try to find some really funny off the wall card and give each of my kids or teens $10, which they can spend on anything of their choice.

The sad fact is that most of the kids and teens that we are around don’t have much family life so they usually don’t get much attention for their special day. I have some moms who really want to celebrate but are on such limited budgets there really isn’t anything left over to buy presents, make a cake or invite friends over. So the gift we give often is to just take out a small group of their friends to show them that they are special and that everyone should be able to celebrate their birthday and feel loved.

I know as I get older and have lived through my 40th, 50th and now 60th it is scary to think of what it means to get old. Some would say that age is just a state of mind so if you don’t mind it doesn’t matter how old you are. I have many older friends who teach me daily that being old can truly be a blast! You have experienced so much in life that it is a delight to help others see that today can be a total mess but tomorrow can and will be better. I hope to instill in my kids that showing kindness and grace goes a long way in helping people to understand young people who make poor choices too often and be more friendly to older people who may not be too flexible.

It is a joy to see my in-laws and Grandma Mary defy aging for the most part. I will always remember my father in-law’s 87th birthday. We were there to witness first hand his craziness in wanting to jump out of a plane at 10,000 feet. I know that my wife and her mom were a little fearful of his craze with parachuting. Yet, after about an hour of signing papers, getting his parachute and then listening to instructions he was ready to do it. I think that it happened so fast that it was a little bit of a let down. The good thing is that he got a video with him flying high and landing without a hitch.

One of the houses we painted last Saturday was for a grandma Francis who will be celebrating her birthday this coming Saturday. It was a treat being able to give her house a ‘face lift’. It hadn’t been painted in over 20 years. I know that for Francis being old isn’t so much fun presently. She has a bad leg that doesn’t seem to want to heal and the doctors don’t have much they can do to help. So I think we should go out of our way to be with kids that don’t have family and then also love seniors who are alone in life and view birthdays as a thing of the past.  

I know that I have waited for decades to be able to get discounts now at the movies or staying in a hotel for being a senior. So there is some advantage to getting old besides getting gray hair! Happy birthday to my Peanut or Davontae! Hope your birthday rocks!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

No Little People!

I just finished getting some paint for our next project this coming Saturday from my local paint supply store. The owners have become good friends over the last 5 plus years. I know that my paint supply friends struggle at times with their business because of the economy going up and down. We were talking about the circumstances with living in an under resourced community. There are many that didn’t finish school, don’t have a great work ethic or any example of many around them that have modeled that hard work does pay off in the end. The reality for many is that we at times feel like we are little people in contrast to those who have gone to college, gotten great jobs and are living what appears to be the American Dream.

I know that one of my favorite stories out of the Bible is about a giant and the little guy who wins out. It is fascinating that David wasn’t even viewed as a suitable choice to face Goliath by his dad or his brothers. It was assumed that he belonged in the fields with the families’ herd of sheep. David it turns out was one of the few who were willing to stand up against the massive giant who was badmouthing their God. David might have been small in statue but massive in his courage level and unwillingness to be afraid of any obstacle.

It has been a privilege over the last 8 years to be an advocate for what might seem to be little people. These are my kids or teens that have been born into difficult situations where they have disadvantages from day one. My hope is that they can grow up like David and not allow the voices around them to hinder them from pursuing their dreams and taking on the evil around them. I was blessed to have an awesome mom and dad who gave me first hand life lessons that made it possible for me to pursue my dreams without much difficulty. I know that for many that grow up without a connected family that it isn’t easy to rise above the mess and chaos.

I know that I sometimes allow outward appearance of someone to intimidate me when it shouldn’t. The amazing point about the giant little guy story is that God’s ultimate statement is that he looks on the inside and not the outside of the person. We should be more interested in the character qualities and whether I’m a person of integrity than totally focused on being the giant, looking like a gangbanger, acting like a nerd or whatever is viewed as being popular for the moment.

So what helps a person be able to not allow the circumstances around them to control their view of themselves and their future? I know that too often the voices around us hinder us from rising above the status quo. Too often we hear you are too small, not old enough or not smart enough. Sadly, we end up listening to these voices that hinder us from becoming the person God intended us to become. I again was blessed to have a mom and dad who never told to me no when it came to my dreams and aspirations.

The challenge is that too often people will go out of their way to make those around them feel like little people because they don’t fit their box or paradigm. I know that the giant on the day of his death truly believed that David was a joke and would soon be dead regardless of his faith in his God. Yet, the reality was that David was the one who took what was in his hand, his natural gift and slayed the invincible giant who had struck fear in the entire Israelite army.

So I truly believe that you don’t have to be a little person regardless of your size. I have been married to a giant of a person for over 40 years who is almost five feet tall.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Life is Like a Box of Chocolates or a Flat Tire?

I love classic movies from Gone with the Wind, Braveheart, The Ten Commandments and all the way to Forest Gump. One of the classic lines with Forest is when he is sitting on the park bench waiting. He’s always trying to engage whoever is sitting next to him with some of his mom’s amazing wisdom like, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates.’ Today my life was more like a flat tire. I had a rather busy weekend with doing a painting blitz and also helping with a close friend who was giving her daughter a baby shower. I had lent my friend; table, chairs, canopies, ice chest and given drinks for the special occasion. We drove to her house to start the clean up process from the weekend’s activities.

As I was driving to get groceries I felt the back of the truck sway a little but didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t until we had gone shopping at Fresh and Easy that my wife noticed the rear tire was totally flat. This was the last thing I had planned for my day off. I knew that getting the spare out from underneath probably wouldn’t happen easily and that the jack for the truck wasn’t the best. So we tried jacking up the truck only to discover that it wouldn’t go high enough without putting a piece of wood underneath it.

I quickly called our special friends, Sam and his mom Maria, who came to our rescue. They had our van that had some tools that I needed to make this happen. After about 30 minutes of messing around we got the tire free. I then proceeded to wait while Anne took the tire to Discount to either get it fixed or replaced. I have been trying to make Mondays more like a box of chocolates where I can take some down time to catch up and read or actually not do much of anything. So fortunately Discount Tires was empty according to my Anne so she was back with the tire in about 30 minutes.

The challenge now was that I couldn’t jack up the truck totally to get the full tire back on so I had to release most of the air to get it back on. After I finally let out enough air I had to re-inflate the tire with my portable pump. It worked like a charm and I was able to leave after wasting or I should say waiting about an hour plus. My day wasn’t wrecked really just re-directed. We headed home, had lunch, took showers and now had time to catch our breath. Then the text comes asking for help with picking up some younger kids at school The mom explains how their cars are either not working or they don’t have the means to keep tags on the other car.

I debated as to whether I should help or just let them figure it out. Yet, I knew that I couldn’t refuse this mom or more so her kids that I truly love. So here I go again seeing that life can be more like a flat tire that you have to continue to tend to and hopefully get fixed. I asked the obvious question about what would it take to fix the car or get tags and it always comes back to money. I know that most would hope that life would be like a box of chocolates that doesn’t seem to ever be empty.

I was able to catch my breath as I write this blog in a rather chilly Starbucks where I was able to talk with one of the younger Baristas who is a good friend. So now my life turns back to being like chocolates that I so much enjoy eating. Now it’s time to be taxi for a couple of kids. I spend my day between the flat tires in life and the box of chocolates. I look forward to a quiet evening with my Anne before tomorrow comes and we go back to a more normal work pattern. Yet, for this moment I can enjoy a cool passion tea that will energize me for a few hours.

I do love the movie ‘Forest Gump’, which Tom Hanks does an incredible job of acting, because it does show so clearly the reality of real life where few ever see their dreams come true but what made Forest stand out was that he never quit on anyone from Jenny to Lt. Dan, Bubba or himself. I’m learning that I can figure out to change flats and also control my chocoholic tendencies thanks to Forest Gump!