Friday, August 29, 2014

I Can't Believe It!

As I’m recovering from having skin cancer surgery which has brought me a little discomfort with being able to walk or get in and out of my van, I’m more upset with something else. I understand that temptation to do crazy stuff is around everyone all of the time. I was raised to have respect for other people’s property. Yet, there seems to be a trend that when you find something that is either been lost or left out accidently it becomes fair game for everyone.

I attempt to dissuade the notion that finder’s keepers and loser’s weepers is not the real law of the land! I had been told that the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, should be that guiding light in life. I sat and listened to one of my young men share about how he left his laptop at a close friend’s house. He would say these guys were like family. He had texted his friend and siblings to say please watch out for my laptop. You have to understand that this laptop is this guy’s life and bread and butter. Yet, it was obvious that the sister, older with kids, had taken it and actually sold it or pawned it.

I know that my friend is a little scattered when it comes to remembering most things so it isn’t unusual for him to leave most things behind. He was hurt because his friends acted like they didn’t have anything to do with his laptop being sold even though they knew she was going to do it and didn’t do anything to stop her from selling it. Some times the hard lessons in life help us grow up faster and realize that many of our friends really aren’t our friends.

We had done a guy’s group last night that finished with playing basketball. I was out of it because of having surgery so I had one of my interns oversee everything. This morning when I took my dogs for our usual morning outing that finishes with going to Starbucks I realized that the basketballs were in the back of the truck bed. I had gone back inside to do a couple of things before emptying out the truck. I couldn’t believe that both of these balls were gone. Yes, someone walking by my house actually lifted my basketballs on their way to school.

Trust me I’m not going to search the neighborhood or make any accusations about who might have taken them. Yet, my friend should do something that sends a message to his friend’s sister who stole his laptop. The reality is that nothing will happen to the basketball thief or the laptop thief. I’ll easily replace the two b-balls but my friend will go without for probably a year.

So what has happened to our society where no one is trustworthy any longer? I have heard too many reports from the Michael Brown situation to know that some of the law enforcement authorities did step across the line with their power. Much like a significant amount of locals that could have cared less about the shooting went out with the protesters to loot and cause trouble. It would be so easy from these situations to quickly identify the culprits in these circumstances and make generalizations that are totally not true.
The lesson I’m learning is that I have to be wiser in my choice as to whom I trust with my stuff! Yes, I can’t leave my wallet or iPhone out if I’m around anyone regardless of how close they are to me. It is too much temptation for someone to see money lying around and not take spare change or some of the dollar bills. I recently read a post on LinkedIn by a young man who had grown up in the hood with a single mom and brothers. He was a very gifted student who became a teacher that went back to his home turf to teach. Yet, after a very short time got upset with his class because of their unwillingness to listen, learn and respect him. So he walked out and just quit. His article ultimately places the blame for some of the mess in his neighborhood on himself for not trying harder and sticking around.

So to rephrase my title it should have said, “I Can’t Believe That I Left My Stuff Out!” Ultimately it is my responsibility to pick up the basketballs last night. Much like my friend should never have left his prized possession at his friend’s house, especially knowing that it became a real temptation. It is so important to still pursue the right path for living and not allow these incidents to put you on the path of revenge. As I say so often two wrongs never becomes a right!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Real Life?

I know that everyone has the typical day where everything seems to go south. We woke up with the scream of one of our little dogs that had been bitten by our other little dog. There was blood all over the bed and I was both sad and mad.  We quickly did first aid with our little Peanut and she was on the road to recovery. It was only a few minutes latter when I heard my wife screaming about needing help only to discover that the connecting hose to the toilet had broken. There was water squirting everywhere. It took most of our towels to mop up the bathroom mess.

I attempted to turn the water off but discovered that it was still leaking. So I rushed outside to turn off the water main. I called a friend who came over to replace the toilet parts later in the day. My wife was getting ready to do her chapel service at her hospital only to discover that we didn’t have any blank CD’s. So I had to rush off once the stores opened to get her CD and then burn the songs she needed for chapel that day. 

I just got off the phone with a friend from a distance. He was someone that gave a substantial gift who I had never met face to face. He called up to get some advice. I was so appreciative of his heart to serve and give of himself. He was struggling with knowing whether to retire and do something really different or continue working with recently released convicts. He is a very humble guy that was surprised that God was using him in such a profound way. I tried to assure him that God would use him wherever he decided to live. I also encouraged him to get his friends who are involved with his prison ministry to step up and take more responsibility to see the work continue in a healthy fashion.

Today I will go in and have a couple of skin cancer sites surgically removed. It’s not life threatening but will involve deep incisions and stitches which will be painful. Yes, life has times where we snap at each other and cause hurt and other times where we have to make crucial decisions.  What stands out between my little dog injury and my various friends that have life struggles is that having a friend can make all of the difference in the world. I can’t fathom being a teen that has been abused by a parent or uncle being forced to stay in that home because you don’t have the ability to ask someone for help.

Real life means I have to figure out how to live with feelings that aren’t always so great. What is the basis of someone’s sense of self-worth? The aftermath of a shooting in Missouri and the suicide of a well known actor – comedian makes it difficult to know how anyone can survive in today’s world. The truth of the matter is that life has to be more than appearance, means or position. Yet, this is what usually defines who we are in life according to our peers.  I learned a lot from my friend asking for advice in that he was humble and real which so often I want attention and notoriety which means I’m not as quick to reveal my true feelings.

One of my favorite quotes, which I have posted online, says this, “It isn’t what we say or think that define us, but what we do.” Another post had a simple message about the fact that no act of kindness is ever wasted!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Can It Get Better?

The world is spinning out of control around me as I watch a partial video of a terrorist about to behead a journalist. I hear many sides to the issues of why there is  ongoing riots and looting in the middle of a peace march. I spent a good percentage of my day yesterday with real people that no longer have any margin for their lives. How do you help yourself or a friend when the roof always seems to be collapsing? Is an attitude adjustment all I really need?

I know that it is so easy for someone who has it together, or at least appears to be ok, to lecture or give out platitudes about making your life rock. I know that for most that struggle with depression, substance abuse or some type of trauma from their youth means that tomorrow is seldom a better day. I have incredible memories from my youth and had amazing parents. Yet, one of my friends continues to struggle with something that happened a long time ago. How is it possible for someone to be crippled or paralyzed from something that happened decades ago? Sadly, too often the victim continues to suffer long after the incident that caused the hurt.

Is it possible to still have an ok or great day if I’m financially messed up or I get a nail in my tire only to discover that it isn’t covered by my warranty? I’m learning that my mind and attitude do have a lot to do with my ability to face tough circumstances. I can’t fathom the sense of heartache and loss of the parents whose son was beheaded. They will have to choose to not allow this horrible tragedy to stop them from living but inspire them to help others see the gift of living for today.

I watched my mom over five years slowly die from cancer. What amazed me then and now is how she always ended up encouraging me when I should have been better at holding her and loving her. So how does someone who is ready to quit and give up on life get back into the action? My mom taught me that when I looked at the needs of those around me and actually showed interest and concern and shifted by focus off of myself that my life would get better. This isn’t a guarantee that circumstances will change but my ability to live through them will! Thanks mom for being an inspiration to me.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Racism is Alive :(

I grew up with parents who were both born and raised in St. Louis, MO. As I’m watching the news over the last week plus I’m still shocked that my parents seldom ever talked about racism. I knew that they both grew up in ‘White’ neighborhoods that at some point experienced ‘White Flight’ to the suburbs. I understand now looking back that my parents protected me from experiencing the racism that was held by their larger family. The opportunity for us today as we are overwhelmed by what is unfolding in this little city in MO is how all sides need to step back and be more able to see all sides of the issue. The unfortunate reality is that there are many taking advantage of this tragedy and using this killing as a way to loot, steal and continue to promote racial unrest.

Yet, the reality is that someone who has experienced discrimination is more likely to react to someone that looks like the person that put them down, abused them or fired them. I will always remember an experience, as a 10 year old, when my mom’s mom sat me down and explained to me how all N___________ are bad. I had to ask my dad about the N word to really understand what grandma Red was saying. My dad, who I’m so amazed at, quickly explained to me in his own words why he was so upset with Grandma’s racism. I had been blessed by a father who taught me to see all people as people not as different races.

Let me fast forward to after I graduated from college and ended up in a situation where I experienced discrimination because I was a graduate that should have gotten a high tech job. I was a year ahead of my wife in college and had a year to burn while she finished. I had done a little bit of concrete work when I was a sophomore in College. I was able to get into the Cement Finisher’s Union and landed a great job with a small Hispanic Concrete Contractor. Looking back I’m amazed at being laughed at and bullied but the reality was that the owner’s family company had never had a ‘White’ guy hack it with their curb and gutter machine crew. I put up with the harassment and eventually learned how to do concrete work and won these hermanos over and they became close friends. This didn’t happen in a few days but over a year.

It would have been so easy for me to have walked away from a job that paid $25 an hour in 1976 and settled for making probably $5 an hour. Yet, E and A Concrete became my family and the owner, Henry, ultimately became like a father to me. So I don’t totally understand racism as one of my teens has tried to remind me often. She is presently homeless and is emotionally empty, because of the way she was raised, by a mom that used what I call reverse racism. It is so easy for someone to use their race as a means to get help or take advantage of the system or a church.  My point in all of this is that racism is still a huge issue both in the church, our city, families and our nation.

Justice is important to be pursued on behalf of all. Yet, the reality is that your race, socio-economic setting and network of family and friends determines whether you can be treated fairly. The challenge of our nation, our cities, our churches and families is to learn from someone else that is of a different race what it is like to be harassed or discriminated in life. It is so easy to pass judgment on a situation without knowing the facts. It is too easy to assume that all police officers are racists and don’t care about someone who is on the other side of the tracks. Just like I can react to an African American Policeman that gives me a ticket and accuse him of racism, even though I know I was speeding.

I have been involved most of my life with doing community work where racial reconciliation is the only path for our families, cities, churches and nation to see life become better. It requires all of us to step outside of our comfort zone and purposely make friends, business associates, worship, work and play with those that are different from us. This is not the typically way that life works for most of us. Yet, for the riots to stop, for there to be an attempt to see justice happen, it is time that all of us learn that it is character, not skin color, that determines the value and worth of a person.

Our nation, cities, churches and families need to see that the racial wounds need to be addressed and no longer ignored. It is time that I admit to my own bias or prejudice and choose to eat at a different restaurant, attend a different church and even consider a different job to help make a difference. The challenge is that everyone truly believes that it is someone else’s responsibility to do something.  Yes, the rallies will continue tonight, yes the Grand Jury will make a decision soon and the nation will be on edge for weeks to come. So what can I do today to make a difference? I can consider whether I’m willing to make new friends and just listen to someone else’s story and hopefully learn more about life from a different perspective.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Do I Do?

I have become a quote junkie over the last year with various social media outlets becoming one of my main sources. I know that Solomon would aptly state that there is nothing new under the sun, which I totally agree. The interesting phenomena today is that you not only have an incredible quote but the packaging around it helps one even better connect the dots of life. My interesting quote today had a picture of a lion or tiger with the simple fact that one’s strength doesn’t come from weight lifting but from picking oneself up after you have failed.

I have to admit that I was rather irritated with a few people yesterday because they just don’t seem to get it. I have spent a considerable amount of time, personal energy and emotions walking with a few that seem to be in a haze. They don’t even get it that they are out of it. How is it possible for someone in today’s information age not to graduate from High School or get a GED? How is it possible in today’s job market for someone who tries and is persistent to not get a job unless they aren’t interested? I was ready to scream after I saw someone that was mooching off one of my close friend’s family.

Don’t get me wrong I’m all about giving a hand up to see someone rock their world and make a difference. My struggle is how long do you continue to help someone who doesn’t want to take step one to get back into life? How long can you play the game of life without realizing that you have hit the bottom and the only way is up? Yes, I ranted a little or actually a lot when someone continues to make poor choices thinking they are making good choices. I totally get it that your culture, past choices and your family have everything to do with your circumstances. Yet, I was raised with this sense that one is never to stop trying, don’t quit and clearly don’t make excuses that seem to place the blame on everyone but yourself.

My wife chewed on me a little not to be so hard and unwilling to forgive and help. I repented as we walked the dogs and thought more about impact of the dysfunctional family on the kids, teens and adults that we are around. I had attempted to get one of my 50 something friends who had crashed and burned this last week because of her crazy sisters. I was hoping to get her to get out of her house and fog and do something. I wasn’t very successful.

Yes, there is a common theme in many of the quotes that I have pulled off the Internet. It seems that all of us struggle with quitting and choosing to step up when the going is not only tough but seems impossible. The question, which is a tough one, is what is the difference between the person that falls by the wayside and the individual who faces their worst fears and seems to overcome them all of the time? I’m one that is quick to go back to Solomon or his father, David and recognize that it is the Lord who ultimately pushes, motivates and sustains me when I’m ready to throw in the towel. (We’ve all seen the footprint in the sand statement where I realize that most of my life I’m being cared by Jesus or a friend regardless of whether I can see that as it happens!)

So how do I help my friends who are on the edge of failure and insignificance? Some would say that until they actually hit bottom you can’t do anything. I’m quick to agree but it is very difficult to stand back and watch someone hurt themselves. So my wife’s encouragement is to keep reaching back, don’t quit and definitely not lower your standards or expectations!