Monday, November 21, 2016

Time to pause!

Have you ever considered practicing the PAUSE? I have some close friends who continually ask me whether I ever slow down or take a day off. I have an incredible wife who reminds weekly to practice the Sabbath or take time to pause. I admit that too often I define my sense of self-worth by being busy and truly think that doing more is the best. Yet, as I age and celebrate my 63rd Thanksgiving I am coming to the realization that hitting the pause button or snooze on my alarm is actually a good thing!

Over the last month I have experienced real heartache as a few close friends have experienced death first hand. A friend of 25 years lost a daughter that was 22, a dad was murdered who was a good friend and then one of my special grandmas lost her sister who was 92 when she crossed the street and a driver didn’t see her. I honestly admit that I was angry with God, thugs and people in a rush. This has forced me to take a pause not on purpose but because of having my own crisis. I have joked or been a little terse to a few in my life who complain about having Vertigo. I truly believed it was all a hoax. Now I know first hand what it’s like to literally not be able to walk a straight line when I was sober.

The reality for me is that I took a week plus pause to get better, catch my breath and not take my health for granted! I know noting is ever accomplished when you rush, get angry, let circumstances stress you out and what’s best is to pause to PRAY and meditate about what’s really important in life! Today the Valley of the Sun will become the Valley of drizzle and gray clouds. There will be many that will be late to work and even be involved with a fender bender accident. The clear message posted on all of the fancy high tech signs through out the valley is leave early and slow down.

Today I will be busy doing something that is good! I’m fortunate to have amazing partner organizations that bless our families throughout the year. I will have an incredible afternoon handing out turkeys and food baskets to 50 families because of the heart of the families at Shepherd of the Desert Church in Scottsdale! These incredible friends paused to make a shopping list of food items for my kids, teens, single moms and grandmas. It’s amazing what can happen when you pause with a purpose!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

How do you comfort a friend who has experienced real tragedy?

 I will never forget the expression of the owner of a group home where I had my dad live for a season. I was asking her about her life story and why she was doing a group home for seniors. It was almost with tears that she shared the story of her husband working on this house in the attic repairing an electrical line. As she relived the experience it was as if it happened yesterday. Her husband was accidentally electrocuted while attempting to add a line for a new room in the house. Oddly enough because I’m a pastor she made the statement that too many well-intentioned friends had made the comment that God must have needed her husband to help in heaven.

I flinched with emotional upset as she shared how her initial reaction was to scream but I NEED MY HUSBAND with my three young kids more than God needs him! I will always remember the reaction of close friends and family when our first child, a two pound and three month premature baby, didn’t come home from the ICU after a couple of months. We had emotion-riddled questions of whether we wanted baby gifts, condolences or to be left alone. I experienced first hand how awkward it is to have someone say a trite statement like all things work together for the good of those who love God. Yes, I love God and yes I hope my baby lives and isn’t permanently brain damaged but saying this didn’t HELP at the present moment at all.

I will always remember the day that my parents came for a visit from San Diego to share with us some extremely sad news. We were sitting in our new home patio that looked out onto my koi pond with a waterfall. It was a rather picturesque setting but didn’t take away the shock and sadness of hearing that my mom had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Little did I know that the next eight years of my life and the lives of those I love would be rocked by the horrible chemo journey of the lady who taught so much about life. The amazing truth of my mom’s cancer journey is that she taught me how to face what seemed like impossible circumstances in a positive way.

Recently I had a message from a close friend of 30 years tell me about the unexpected death of their 22 year old daughter. I was in total shock and numb because of the circumstances around this incredible young woman’s life circumstances. I personally was on a personal emotional roller coaster as I attended the funeral. I can remember talking with this friend about how saying his daughter now wouldn’t be suffering didn’t help him deal with her tragic death.

As if this wasn’t enough I had another close young friend text me a few days later about the murder of her incredible step-dad. I can remember telling someone almost in a joking fashion that after having lived in the hood or barrio the last 10 years that I had lots of friends of friends who have experienced the violence of racism, gangs or drug dealers but I hadn’t lost a friend yet to this insanity. I could have bit my tongue as I remembered that horrible statement. Because now I have a close friend who was murdered while trying to help a group from being attacked by a thug or gang-banger type.

I have rather painful memories of arguing with my incredible wife and son about the horrible death of my mom and how they didn’t understand the pain I was experiencing. I didn’t appreciate their quickness to judge me or say things that from my perspective were totally off base. I also remember saying the horrible statement to my wife that until you lose one of your parents you won’t get the pain and sense of being homeless because the one that raised you is now gone. Death of natural causes at an old age is to be expected but death by chemotherapy is truly a tragedy.

I watched my dad slowly lose his sharp intellectual ability over six years as Dementia transformed him into a youngster at 80. I learned the hard way to accept his crazy stories about my mom and him. The difficulty even as a pastor is that I’m supposed to have words of comfort from Scripture but know from experience that usually a listening ear, a hand shake or a hug helps the most.

So here’s a couple of NO’s when it comes to helping a friend who is facing tragedy. Please don’t say that God has called their loved one home to heaven and that that person will now be helping with the ongoing organization of the heavenly kingdom. Also be careful not to say that things will be ok in a few days or weeks because even after nine years I can still be a crybaby as I remember my mom’s life and horrible death circumstances.

The most important lesson I can share about caring is that listening, giving a hug or sharing a tear together can be more impactful than anything that comes out of your mouth. Giving space and not asking the obvious question about how someone is doing can be helpful. Dropping a gift card or meal can go a long ways in helping get through a day. Yes, it is even just as important to stay away from social media and not post pics or say how great this person happened to be. Please let the family do this.

Yes, I still hurt and cry inwardly at the memory of my mom’s death but what has given me hope is that her life taught me how to face tragedy.

Is it possible to protest without hurting anyone or thing and see the world change!

 I totally get how upset someone can be over a murder and hate crime! I recently had a friend killed by a drive by shooting while helping someone. I know that the ongoing issues with racial, gender or age discrimination is unacceptable! The real question is what is going to change the world and attitudes of those that are in the middle of a real ongoing war on race, politics and religion? ? Clearly having someone in authority misuse their power either through using their weapon or purposely hurting someone is WRONG! Does the intentional killing of Police Officers bring back a loved one who was killed by someone in Blue? Does the destruction of property really get a point across that accomplishes anything?

I knew that the outcome of the present presidential race would create unrest regardless of who won! There have been way too many student protests where 100’s walk off campus and disrupt class. I have grown weary of the peaceful protests locally that intentionally block major streets and freeways that endanger lives and cost the city $100,000’s without accomplishing anything!

This last week I want to brag on an amazing example of a teen that instead of organizing a militant protest choose instead to put together a 5k fun run to raise funds for inner city kids. What touches me so much is that this teen had just recently had surgery on both of her feet and had to use a special device to get around. This incredible young lady had taken the initiative to do all of the work to put together this 5k that required talking with the city, designing T-shirts and working with local businesses. The end result was that a group of 75 high school students did something that was fun but clearly had a positive impact in their school, their community and with a group of inner city youth!

Real question is why do so many still believe that violence and the destruction of property is going to change the world? I truly believe that it’s possible to change the world without attacking anyone, looting a local business and instead doing something totally radical by returning GOOD for evil!

Real life = being a giver without expecting payback!

One of the most important decisions you will make in life is whether you are a giver or a taker? What’s even more important is whether you’re someone who gives expecting something back in return or can become someone that is willing to help without having any expectation of payback. The difficulty is that many have been raised to believe that the world, government or someone, i.e. mom, dad or grandparents owe them something!

As we approach thanksgiving my hope is that more of us, myself included, would be willing to give more, complain less and actually be thankful for what we take for granted everyday.  It’s so easy for some reason to believe that I should be the person to get the breaks in life or find that $20 bill on the sidewalk. Yet, the reality is that it’s so much easier to be the complainer or moaner groaner type. I get it that customer service should be at the forefront of my Starbucks that at I frequent daily. Yet, life gets messy at times, people screw-up and customers can be real jerks at times and make a big thing about nothing.

So how do we acquire an attitude of gratitude? Is that something related to our DNA, personality or what? I truly believe that being thankful is a learned trait that is acquired through the life example of those around us. If you have been raised around a group of the cup is ½ empty types than you will be more apt to have a frown on your face than a smile!

Today make an intentional choice is to be a person that has a thankful attitude, decide to be a giver and more importantly be a helper who doesn’t expect payback!
Make thanksgiving special by giving to another without their sense of having to payback. Yes, please be nice to your barista today and smile as you say thanks even if you have to wait too long for your drink!