Friday, June 28, 2019

Everything happens for a reason? Even running out of gas.

I have to actually admit that I did something totally foolish and crazy last night. I ran out of gas. It was one of those things where I was going to get gas and decided to push it to the limit. So, as I passed a Circle K I had that strange sensation of the van starting to become sluggish and I quickly pulled over into a parking lot of a church. 

We had just finished our dance class and the van was full of a bunch of teens and kiddos. I quickly said adios and ran to the Circle K. I totally expected the store to have a gas container and would be off in minutes. The reality was that they don’t sell gas containers much to my dismay. I quickly alerted my wife who gave me hope that she would be there in ten minutes.

I actually stood outside the Circle K, which in the minds of most would be rather dangerous and foolish. I was hit up a few time by some homeless guys for spare change. Just before my brother came to my rescue, I was shocked to have an older teen type ask me whether I was the guy that use to come to the Stardust House at South Ranch II Habitat Community in South Phoenix. He looked a little tattered, hot with dirty clothes. His BMX type of bike was missing its hand brakes and clearly was in disrepair. 

We chatted a little bit and I realized that I hadn’t seen this young man for almost 10 years. Yet, he remembered me. I asked him about some of the other Habitat kids and teens from 2006. He had just gone into the Circle K to fill up his container with ice and water. I initially was really annoyed with myself for having this gas blunder. Yet, it came to me that God had a clear reason for me to be there at that exact moment. If the Circle K had a gas container, I would have left in five minutes and if my wife had come instead of my brother, I would have missed my old friend. 

Now I’m faced with the opportunity to reach back to some friends from my past who have moved on with their lives with careers, family and a future. Sadly, my friend didn’t seem to have much or any of that. He made the quiet admission that he was living on the street in not the best of our neighborhood. 

Yes, I truly embrace that there aren’t any accidents of coincidences in life. Running out of gas wasn’t something that I had planned that morning, yet, it happened and placed me at a Circle K at a bad intersection. I know that the van load of our barrio kiddos ultimately were delighted to get cold drinks. 

I don’t blame God for my short sidedness but I’m so thankful that He chooses to use my blunders to help others and teach me life lessons. Yes, running out of gas on a hot Thursday night can come with a bonus. 

Monday, June 24, 2019

The talk ….. about bias, race, hatred & the power of forgiveness.

I recently attended a community forum held at a Mega African American Church in the downtown area of Phoenix. The meeting was held to give the community an opportunity to express themselves, ask questions and for some to share their outrage over a recent police incident dealing with a family who had allegedly shoplifted from a Dollar Store. The gentleman who was the moderator began his dialogue sharing about how he had recently given the ‘Talk’ to his son about the importance of showing respect to Police and those in authority and the possibility that your race could possibly equal you being abused or shot. 

I was taken back by the extreme emotions that were expressed over the past history of police involved incidents where someone was shot, killed or left paralyzed. I live in a world where an individual’s views of race and our society extremely vary. I understand how easy it is for someone who has never been around any type of hate crime to not understand the fear too many have of the police or those in authority. The response of some was if you’re going to live on the edge by breaking the law then expect a response from the authorities. I’ll be the first to say that two wrongs never are right! Never respond to evil with evil otherwise you will end up fueling the present cycle of violence. 

I left this meeting rather sadden, frustrated and confused about how the Police Chief and Mayor of Phoenix are going to face the real conflict in our city. I totally agree that getting body cams for all the officers would be a step in the right direction. The clear mistrust and animosity between the diverse group of almost a 1,000 at this church showed the clear need for the power of forgiveness and the needed journey of reconciliation to happen soon. 

I was so fortunate to attend a documentary the following evening that gave clear insight into the life of the Emanuel AME Church where nine church members were murdered.  The lives of the nine families were forever changed after a young racist man walked into a prayer meeting, being welcomed and then proceeded to shoot all within his reach. Steph Curry, the superstar NBA player, gave the introduction to this movie and shared his testimony about the power of God’s forgiveness, mercy and grace in his life. 

Clearly, not everyone believes in God, nor any need for forgiveness for murders or rapists. It’s rather naive to think I’m going to persuade someone whose spouse, son or daughter was murdered to forgive the killer. Yet, as I watched this documentary, I was brought to tears for most of the hour plus. It was rather incredible to hear the stories of the families of all those who had been murdered. Yes, hate is very powerful in this context, but what is even more powerful is that of agape love and forgiveness. 

I was impressed to hear the judge of the case give each family an opportunity to speak to the individual responsible for the murder of their family members. The overwhelmingly powerful message was still one of the WHY would you do this, yet, the hope and prayer was that this individual would be touched, transformed and moved by their divine gift of forgiveness. As the documentary closed with pictures of all those whose lives had been taken the message was one that forgiveness is the only path to pursue with God’s help. Otherwise, you would be consumed with hatred and an ongoing desire for revenge.

A few days later I see an article both in a local and national publication which highlighted that racism is alive even in Scottsdale, Arizona. A Doctor who works at the Mayo Clinic was targeted by neighbors in a high-end gated community with a picture with a clear racist message, Negroes go back to Africa. (This picture was attached to their door where their nanny and young kids saw it.) This incredible Doctor and her husband are fostering two young African American kids. How is this possible in my larger community? The reality is that racism is a societal ill that must be addressed on all sides. 

The family that was attacked responded with a message of let’s not tolerant this type of behavior and instead gave a clear message of hope, forgiveness and change is possible for all. 

How do we as individuals face the bias, racism and mistrust around us and within us? It’s time for everyone to be better at listening, before jumping to conclusions, expand your circle of friends and ask God for help to experience forgiveness ourselves and then to live it out!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Finishing well is what matters the most!

This last Saturday I witnessed again the impact of caring about how you finish! One of my partner organizations, Stormwind, is an incredible group of people that always do such an extraordinary job painting exterior of low-income houses of grandmas. As I drove up to Tanya’s house after the painting project, I was totally impressed with how well my friends had finished the house. Everything was placed neatly in either stacks, like the ladders, rollers were put in a bin, paint brushes had been cleaned and buckets had been consolidated for paint. Wow! I’m so fortunate to have friends that truly care. My clean up job is so much easier, quicker and actually fun. 

More importantly, as we approach gradation week at Arizona State University, I’m thrilled to have a few interns that have partnered with Barrio, walk and get their diplomas and more importantly a degree that will lead to an awesome future. What’s so easy, having done college and grad school, is to burn out towards the end. It would be so easy to just go through the motions to get it done without giving it your all. 

I’m so proud of a good friend, who is also my barista and has been an intern with Barrio over the last year plus. She is someone that is always motivated, quick to smile, empower you to do better and is so wiling to serve and help. My friend has been through a lot in life, which you would never know from how they choose to live. My friend has given me an incredible example of why everyone should always stay true to the end and make a difference in the world. 

I know that at times it so easy to think the short cut or path of least resistance is the only way to live. Yet, what impacts a life is when someone chooses to be a trailblazer. Yes, do something few are willing to do. I was so utterly touched when I had messaged a good friend, who does handyman work, to see if he could help replace a window on the house of the grandma we had helped on Saturday. I had messaged her that it would get replaced in the following week. Little did I know that my friend, Ken, would show up that Monday and get it DONE! 

Finishing well communicates to everyone your love of life, the fact that little things do matter and giving it your all will impact many lives. 

Monday, May 6, 2019

Life is about giving not getting!

I’m always encouraged and inspired by a group of friends from a local company, Stormwind in Scottsdale. The owner, a great friend, is always so quick to volunteer, step up and bless one or more of our grandmas with painting of the exterior of their homes. Tom is always such a delight to watch as he exudes such a loving and giving spirit! It’s actually fun when you have this mindset because it becomes contagious to all around. I know that as I greeted his team of 50 helpers that everyone from little Siena, who bragged about being 4, to the newest employee showed real enthusiasm to jump into painting. 

The end result after a few hours was a transformed house that truly blessed Tanya and her family. It’s always incredible to see the difference a group like this will make in a couple of hours. Yes, it does take team work, sponsorship and actually getting paint both on the house and at times on each other. I always love seeing a picture of this amazing family at Stormwind.

My other inspiration, whenever we paint, are twin sisters who regardless of what’s happening will find a way to show up. I’m touched by the cheery spirit and enthusiasm of these gals. They’re so quick to volunteer, do whatever they’re asked and actually work. I know that doing real work isn’t always the focal point of kids. Yet, these gals always step up and ask where can they help? I’m jazzed to watch them with their smiles and eager spirits. 

The other person, who always inspires me, is grandma Bernice. I know that being 87 for most would mean staying inside and not venturing out. Yet, my grandma is always so quick to volunteer and then show up early. She has this incredible smile that truly touches and inspires anyone who sees her. I’m so fortunate to have her in my life. She is great at cleaning up, doing the little things that turn into the biggies in life. 

One of my other teen helpers, who will be a senior soon, always goes out of her way to get her key club to help. I know that as the semester comes to a close soon that everyone is busy with finals and finishing school. Yet, Elianna brought her team out to help finish up Lexi’s house. I’m also touched to see another pre-teen, Bunny, who recently moved far away, to show up with her incredible smile. I chuckled as a few of my interns helped Bunny navigate painting the trim and the pop outs of Lexi’s house. 

I’m also around some that truly believe that the world should revolve around them. I understand a little about what life is like if you don’t have anything. The pathway to a better life isn’t through mooching or scamming but asking how can I help so I can learn, do better and rise above my setting? 

I have been inspired by so many who are truly givers who step up and sacrificially make a difference so I in turn can be a blessing to MANY. 

Friday, February 8, 2019

Be a father to the fatherless!

Had an insightful conversation with a good friend who helps out with our tutoring program. He had recently gotten a new contract job to create online math programs for At Risk Youth. As we chatted his excellent point was that the real needs with these kids and teens is to have real life interaction with adults. His broader assessment was that the lack of dads in the lives of these youth was a clear reason for their struggles in understanding life and being capable of reading and doing math. 

What made this conversation so insightful was the fact that my good friend had spent an hour playing chess with one of our kids who struggles in life, doesn’t have a dad and is the kid that is always bullied in school. He does have an incredible mom who is trying so hard to be all to him. The amazing picture was seeing this little guy play chess for an hour with utmost determination. My friend also echoed this fact as we considered what has to happen for our little friend to make it in life. 

As I reflected on our tutoring with around 30 kids and teens it touched me that there were three older gentlemen who chose to take an evening to hang out with our kids and teens. I had one friend, who is a PHD in Physics, sit with a group of young kids being creative on an iPad. He was excited to have one of our gals, Bunny, show him the mechanics of using Procreate. 

Another, friend, Dan was having a blast lining up a large number of little blocks that ultimately would become a long chain reaction with a group of kids. I know that one of the younger little brothers was being annoying because of his tendency to prematurely knock over the blocks. I was energized by the team work of this group as they sought to line everything up for the grand finale. 

I loved watching a young gal who is a recent college grad sit with a group of teens and interact in such an incredible fashion. It was if Morgan was the bigger sister with all of these gals. The bigger picture, even as I met with a friend who is a new mom, college student and seeking support was that the impact of investing an hour of your time is priceless. 

What made me who I’m today is having an incredible mom and dad, who walked with me through the normal ups and downs in life. Can’t fathom life without them, yet, a majority of the kids, teens and single moms I’m around are less fortunate. 

Please consider being like a mom and dad to kids and teens in difficult life circumstances. 

Friday, February 1, 2019

Is it possible for a backup to be a winner?

It’s amazing how life too often is always about being number 1 and talking about coming in second or losing is seldom a thought. I think it’s rather fascinating to realize that some of the more amazing quarterbacks in NFL history were backups that had their opportunity and took advantage and made history. 

I know that Arizona fans will always brag about a rather humble man, Kurt Warner, who didn’t have a great beginning. I know that even attempting to get one of my teens to bag groceries at Fry’s or Food City is most likely a BIG NO. Yet, as you study the real-life story of the Warmers, you see a couple that are passionate about life, committed Christians who made the best of any situation. The Rams took a chance with this unknown QB, who led the team to a 13-3 season and to a 23-16 win against the Titans in the Big Game. 

I know that having the Patriots back in the Super Bowl is difficult for lots of ‘haters’ that can’t stand Tom Brady or Coach Belichick. Yet, the demise of Drew Bledsoe meant that an unknown, Tom Brady, was given an opportunity to step up with a 11-3 record and a 20-17 win against the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI. 

As I read through the gospels and see the backup role of John the Baptist, it should be a surprise that here is a man who was willing to be number 2 all the way. Here’s an incredible story of someone whose life was to point to another and ultimately be in the background. John was a rather humble man who spoke the truth about the downside of being a narcissist, religious elitist or domineering ruler. John gave his life for Jesus and his followers to show that life is more than being perceived as number 1. The reality for John is that he understood the importance of preparing the way for the ONE who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

What happens when your dream of being number 1 isn’t ever going to take place? Is it possible to see that being number 2 or even last and doing your best is what makes life special? 

Regardless of who wins the big game on Sunday there will be an opportunity for an unknown player to step up and show that the world is totally full of backups that can be winners! Or more importantly, there are even more backups that are never given the opportunity to play and have to choose to make their life count even in the shadow of a Brady or Warner. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Respect and trust do matter!

I know that at times I get annoyed with friends that ask if they can borrow money only to know ultimately that I’ve given them a gift. What’s even more upsetting is when this individual totally gets upset when they are asked to pay it back. The bigger picture in life is that to make a difference in the life of a friend, neighbor or even a stranger I have to be willing to give and not expect anything in return!

As I share this story about twins that are ten years old it’s a heart-warming example of how respect and trust do matter. I was asked by one of the twins if I would help them get new school ID’s that cost $10. I only had a twenty on me, so I gave it to them. Usually, when I help in this manner, I do expect the remainder to be returned, even though often it’s not. So, I was presently surprised that one of the twins told me that they had the other $10 to return. It was over the weekend that this happened. So, I was expecting them to maybe spend the money on junk food. Yet, this didn’t happen, so I said it was ok for them to split $5 and then give the other $5 to any of the homeless that usually are outside the new large Circle K in our neighborhood. 

I was so jazzed that these twins understood that for me to trust them again with money that they needed to respect my wishes with the money. I know that trust is something that takes time to actually earn from a new friend or re-establish with an older friend. I’m so fortunate to have so many volunteers or interns that walk with our kids and teens. One of my newer friends who volunteers, Gelila, is an incredible young woman who shares her passion about real life with our group. She recently shared about how important it is to stand up to stereo types and not allow prejudice or racism to push you to act in an inappropriate fashion, where you live as others expect. 

What’s incredible, is because she has hung out with our kids and teens, she has gained their trust and now they respect her voice! Sadly, too often people assume because of their stature or age that others ought to listen to their opinions or voice. Yet, until I have gotten to know someone and see whether they are trust worthy this determines my ability to have a transparent relationship with them. 

I know that after grad school in my young 30’s I would often get frustrated with older men who were leaders that wouldn’t respect or give my opinion a real consideration. As I have aged, I’ve come to see that part of the dynamic of trust and respect is that it works both ways. I can see how as a young leader, looking back, I was a little arrogant or too self-assured which did push away my older friends and their ability to hear me. 

I know that respecting a person’s privacy, space, possessions and views is so important. It’s too easy to slam someone too quickly because of my personal biases being on the opposite end of the spectrum. If I desire to befriend someone who does have a different life expression, I must be willing to listen and learn from them to gain their respect and trust. This isn’t going to happen if my purpose in listening is just to have a quick come back to put them down. 

I was so appreciative of these twins’ expression of gratitude when it comes to their response to help. I was humbled when the one texted me and said a big thanks and complimented me for caring. 

WOW – respect and trust work! 

Thursday, January 24, 2019

How can you love your neighbor if you don’t know them?

Society has changed so much over the last generation, where the average person moves so often, that there isn’t any rationale behind getting to know you neighbor. I admit that as a kid with a dad in the Air Force I moved 22 times in my 17 years of living at home. As an adult I have lived in San Luis Obispo, San Diego twice, San Francisco area twice and now Phoenix for almost 25 years. The big picture even being a long-term Phoenix resident is that we have lived in 5 different neighborhoods during this time. 

Sadly, I have to admit that even though I consider myself a neighborhood or community worker/activist type, who has a passion to see our community improve and make a difference, that it’s very difficult to know your neighbor when they aren’t interested in talking. My only contact with one of our neighbors is when they complain about someone parking on the street close to their house. My other neighbor, who is an older Hispanic couple, are incredible and have become friends. 

One of the simple factors in seeing our society change, improve and impact the world is when we become intentional about getting to know those who are around you. Yet, because we have become so transitory in nature, few view getting to know your neighbor as a priority because you will clearly move in the next year or so. I know that a few of our neighbors are shocked that as a renter we have invested in our house with the look of WHY would you do that? It would appear from the outside that we are home owners who do care about our home and our neighborhood. 

I know that God’s heart for mankind is for all of us, that includes both you and me, that we take the time to meet and get to know our neighbors and those around us at Fry’s, Starbucks, McDonalds or the laundromat. I’m always impressed with what transpires when I take the time to listen, learn a person’s name and then hear their story. I intentionally sit at my Starbucks a few times a week to write but also to connect with my friends. I was startled this week when Rick, a friend from my larger Starbucks neighborhood, actually honked at me. He got my attention and I sadly discovered that his mom had recently passed. 

I know that I always enjoy listening to Stephanie, a young mom with 3 daughters and a baby girl, who sits in the same spot if I’m later in the morning at Starbucks. She knows all about my family and involvement in the neighborhood. I discovered recently that the house being built that’s on our way to our canal to walk the dogs is her mansion. It’s a huge house on a couple of acres. 

So, what has stopped many from taking the time to invest in getting to know their neighbors or greet those they see almost on a daily basis? Fear of the unknown, cultural differences or being safe and taking a risk someone might stalk you and break into your house? I was surprised this weekend to be in a local park with our grandson to see twin 7-year-old girls on this large playground area all alone. They were quick to play with our Hudson and quickly share their stories, listen to us and then answer questions. 

I’m always impressed by how quickly kids make friends and include you in their lives. Why is it the case that adults can be so standoffish and at times almost rude if you’re perceived to be too forward in attempting to make a friend? 

My mom was the one who rather forced me to see strangers not as potential enemies but friends. I have memories as a kid being dragged around our new neighborhood being introduced. Clearly, my mom understood that everyone would live for a couple of years max so the sooner we connected the better we all would be. 

The amazing story behind understanding the practical way to love God has always been to see how His love is both horizontal and vertical. It’s rather easy to say I love God but yet the proof of my love of God is seen in how I treat my neighbor and intentionally choose to get to know them so I’m able to love them. 

So, think about loving God through loving your neighbor and then being able to love yourself! 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

New Life even when you’re old?

One of the more amazing aspects of life as you age is the fact that you choose how you live! There isn’t anyone telling you how to act, what type of mindset to have or how to dress. I’m always energized when I’m around kids and teens. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same thing about adults. How is it possible for someone who is still relatively young to act as if they are old and ready to check out of life? I have a few grandmas who put me to shame by how they are able to make their lives special and meaningful at 87. Go grandma Bernice, Doris and even Hattie! 

I get it that making New Year’s resolutions is a great way to begin change. Yes, talking about dieting, saving, spending less and doing something that counts is so important. Yet, isn’t it possible to live this way 24/7 and 365? Do we have to wait till December 31 to make significant changes part of our DNA? I’m always taken back as to why end of the year giving is such a big push? Isn’t it possible for those who are committed to give all year round to see the day to day needs of an organization or an individual who has real needs? 

We have some dear friends who stayed with us over the Christmas break that have two kids. I think our friends were rather suspicious as to whether their two would be bored out of their minds staying with Anne and Dave. The jury is no longer out both kids can’t wait to come back to see our herd of dogs, parrot and fish. The bigger pic was that I got them hooked on playing with my little robot, Sphero with their dad or mom’s iPhone. Yes, it’s possible for the old to live like they are young and even for the young to realize that their grandparents can actually be COOL!

 One of our more recent holiday traditions is now going to the Zoo over Christmas break with our grandson, Hudson. Soon it will be with a larger group of grandsons that will number four! What was so much fun was to race around the zoo with my little friend screaming out grandpa, grandpa, come grandpa. I’m so thankful to be young at heart and be capable of chasing or running around doing crazy stuff with my grandson!

What was even crazier was our choice on New Year’s Day to visit Odysea Aquarium. The crowd was incredible. It was such a delight to see all of the different families watching the various fish, penguins, Otters, Cockatoos and even the Sloth. I’m so grateful to have a wife who is adventurous and willing to get up, get out and do something special! Can’t fathom what life would be like sitting on the sidelines. 

The more important picture in life is the realization that spiritual renewal can happen on a daily basis. Yes, I can experience new life, even at 65, as I acknowledge that I’m a new creation in Christ and my life has meaning, significance and purpose that is incredible. My hope and optimism in life isn’t based upon the stock market, political parties but upon a God who created a fascinating universe. The amazing truth is that God created me in His image where I can grasp that life has meaning because of the purposeful life, coming and ultimate sacrifice of His son, Jesus Christ. Yes, it’s possible to be born again, even in your old age with your rebellious nature. 

I know that not all little kids are fearless and that at times I too have to admit that I’m a little cautious when it comes to pushing it to the edge. Yet, being able to breath in the fresh air after a rain or today it was actually scrapping off the ice on my Anne’s little car was transformative. So, yes make your New Year’s resolutions but also discover that real gift and blessing of living each day to it’s fullest. 

Celebrate the New Year and each day as a gift from the incredible God who created life!