Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Today was a good day!

In light of my current circumstances, it may seem counter-intuitive, but I have to say that I had a really good day today. I'm writing this at 11:30pm on Wednesday, Sept. 30 - the day I got laid off from my job. I wanted to post this earlier, but so much is going on. I could probably babble ad nauseum, but will try to do this in list form to keep it succinct.

* It was the end of a hard week of long-hours and lots of stress
* I had a great time this morning with the Lord, reading through Psalms
* Someone bought lunch for me again (two days in a row)
* Several people on-site and off, in person, in email, and on the phone had a lot of nice things to say to me
* I laughed often
* Throughout the day, I had a great amount of peace and calm
* I have (had!) such great bosses, who have pledged references, help, encouragement, etc. whenever I should need it
* I got to leave at 3:30
* Someone bought me dinner
* Set-up to run sound was eerily straight-forward and worked more easily than usual
* I was able to worship
* While taking communion, I was overwhelmed with a sense of God's love for me, and I felt nothing but gratitude, peace and joy
* I got to have a great time of conversation throughout the evening with a friend
* I got to chat with (and pray for) my brother whom I have been continuing to grow closer to
* I got to see my kids run up yelling "Daddy!" with smiles
* I got more ideas and vision for how to build this homeless ministry adventure
* I rec'd an incredibly generous gift from someone at church to help by food for the homeless, and for my family
* I rec'd wedding anniversary card & gift from my parents so Wendy & I can go on an anniversary date! (Bro is watching the kids!)
* A friend offered to take our kids overnight so Wendy and I can have time for just the two of us!
* I have a couple interviews and job leads lined up over the next week or so
* I have 8 hours of work this weekend doing setup/tear-down for a special event that will bring in some cash
* I'm excited about the all-day Prayer workshop on Saturday
* I get to sleep in tomorrow!
* I have so many things to be thankful for, that I'm having a hard time remembering/thinking of them all!!!

Can you see why it's impossible for me to be anxious, depressed, etc.? I've been in such a good mood today.

Thank you Lord for loving and providing for me and my family!!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Acacia Park Saga: Week 3

Well, Saturday turned out to be pretty full/ I'm just now getting to this after 9:00pm....

I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this point that God showed up again, right? It's also interesting that after doing this for 3 weeks now, each week God has provided and "shown up" in very different ways. Since last week there weren't any leftovers at work, Wendy offered to make taco fixings to take. And she also made about a dozen scarves. Do I know how to pick a good wife or what? =) (Ok, actually she picked me. Ok, actually God set us up.) It just so happened that there actually were some leftovers from work also. It was our last Friday lunch ever (KPSG - my company - officially ends next Wednesday), and it was a Southern spread: fried chicken, fried catfish, fried okra, collard greens, corn on the cob, cornbread, etc....

So between the leftovers from work, and the 60-ish tacos we had, I figured we would have more than enough food. Vanguard has started a new ministry called "Beyond Ourselves" focusing on homeless ministry and missions last week. Through it, I sent out an invite for people to join me; and 4 people did! So shoutout to Sarah, Josh, Dave, & Chad for coming out. (And luckily they brought drinks because I forgot those this week) Sarah & Josh said they were also going to pick up a couple pizzas, so I'm now worried that we have way too much food.


Word is starting to spread. A couple people I spoke with said that someone told them that there was food, and I saw many new faces that I hadn't seen the last couple of weeks. So it was a pretty decent crowd. (Read: 25-30) I was kind of surprised that the catfish and okra were big hits, not being a fan myself.

Aside from the logistics of the food, new people, etc....there were two main highlights for me.

1. Matt
There's a guy named Matt who I've seen all 3 times at Acacia Park, who is in a wheelchair. Last week he mentioned having 12 seizures and his heart stopping, so I was looking forward to talking to him again and finding out more about his story. Sarah, Josh and I got to hear some of it. He's 25. His first 12 years he was raised in France. He speaks 9 languages. His mother was raped and decided to keep him. She was murdered when he was 15, forcing him to take care of his little sister and brother. He was an assistant manager at KFC during high school and graduated at 16. His sister (who had cerebral palsy) was raped. After high school he played soccer semi-professionally in Sacramento and Boston. He did kick-boxing for 13 years, and was an MMA fighter for 3. The disease came on kind of fast and progressed through stages 1, 2, 3 and is now in stage 4 hodgkins-lymphoma. In 53 days (if he is still alive) he will officially be the person to have lived the longest with stage 4. He kind of seems to be a pillar at Acacia Park. Everyone looks out for him, and he tries to help everybody else. He's homeless. He's in high spirits and an incredibly nice guy.

He continued speaking with Sarah and Josh, but I didn't hear the rest of what he said, because....

2. Lee
As Matt was talking, one of the more "scroungy" homeless people I've seen at the park walked up, listened for a while, then asked if he could sit down next to me. I can't possibly describe with accuracy what transpired over the next 30 minutes - and I really wish I could have audio or video recording of stuff like this. But I'll try....

First - what we notice first: his appearance. Older (at least 50's or 60's). Skinny. Big, bushy, scraggly grey beard. Yellowish substance seeping from the corner of an eye. Both eyes pretty red and moist. Snot running into his moustache. Reeking of alcohol.

Let me pause and share what I reflected on later. My point in coming to Acacia Park isn't just about meeting the physical need of providing food. My hope has always been to build relationships. To find out what's going on in their lives, show them that I'm interested and care, and be genuine with them. Up until the last few months, I think I've always avoided social interactions with strangers in general, let alone homeless strangers, let alone a homeless stranger who looked and smelled like this. So what was surprising to me, was that I didn't have a reaction of revulsion. I didn't pull away or look around for an escape. I leaned in and thought, "This guy is why I'm here!"

That being said.....the first thing he says is how Mother Nature done him ugly. I chuckle a bit, and he continues saying that when he dies, that's the first thing he's going to do is ask Mother Nature why she done him ugly. I tell him, "You know, it won't be Mother Nature you're talking to after you die." He nods, and looks up "Him."

I can't recall word-for-word the whole conversation, but several times he says things like "Most people don't know this, but do you know what Jesus did, while He was on the cross?" "What?" I ask. "He smiled," Lee said. "He died for us. He loves us. I am the most worthless piece of s**t there ever was, but He loves me. I don't understand that." Woah. He tells me he was in prison for 37 years - not for nothin'. He says he lives in a box in an alley, and isn't worried about getting food or being too cold. He says when he goes to sleep tonight, Jesus will fill him up and keep him warm.

There was more than that, but alas: no recording + bad memory = that's all I got. Of course he also said he's a mean, ornery SOB who is 3-0 in fights in this park. And he said Jesus will help him find his next obviously I'm taking everything he said with a grain of salt. I'm not sure if he was plastered at the time, or dry and looking for his next fix. But for that half hour, his face was within inches of mine, he whispered "He loves us" many times, and teared up a few times (as did I). He put his arm around me, and I put mine around him. He called me "brother".

I still don't fully know what to make of my experience with Lee, but I feel like each time I go down to Acacia Park, God gives me deeper insight into how he sees people, and I hear that refrain from the song "Hosanna": "Break my heart for what breaks yours..."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

God Showed Up Again (Big Surprise!)

So since I was planning on going back to Acacia Park again, I was hoping for another good crop of leftovers at work. A friend from church, Tim, was bringing a few food items too (granola bars, fruit, etc.) but I was hoping to give them a full, hot meal. Steak, chicken, mashed potatoes, etc....should be good! Except there were zero leftovers this time! Uh-oh. A little disappointed, I'm resigned to the fact that the food items Tim is bringing will have to do. But not long after lunch, a lady in the office comes by and hands me $30, saying she hoped it would help since there weren't any leftovers.

Score! Silly quickly and easily I was giving up. God intended on providing all along, just differently than how I expected. So I was totally stoked as i hit Albertson's after work and got enough chicken, potato salad, macaroni salad and water for about 20 people. While they were getting the chicken ready, I thought "why not talk to a manager and see if there's anything else they can help with?". So I talked to manager, Eric, and while he said they need a month in advance request through a charitable organization to do "official" donation-type stuff, he let me take 6 loaves of their day-old clearance bread.

I pulled up right next to where Tim had parked and at about 10 til 6:00 we were setting up dinner. No wait this time, I recognized many faces hanging around, and they converged on us before we had gotten anything set up. I said "Hi" to a couple guys walking up, calling them by name. They seem surprised that I remembered their names. Twisted M asks, "Are you here to give us food again?"
"I sure am," I reply.
"You rock!"
Smiles all around.

Not surprisingly, the goes pretty quickly, as there were probably a little over 20 people. There were several new faces from last week, so it was fun learning new names and hearing a little bit about their stories. Vaughn had a bad cold and a headache. Zac was planning on "camping out" at the America the Beautiful park for the night. Bo needs new shoes because the soles are falling off of his current ones. "Mouse" and his wife/girlfriend have 2 kids with them - a 3-year-old and a baby that looked about 6-8 months.

After the food is gone, conversation winds down, and some of the group move on, Tim and I take our leave....but I have one more stop.
Remember Mark from last week? He had told me where he lived - some efficiency apartment across the street from the park. And he had mentioned a few items that he and his wife needed. Tim had brought a couple bags of stuff for Mark. So I went and found Mark.

When I saw him in the lobby of the place, I called out his name, and he spun around surprised. He explained two reasons for his surprise.
1. Most people don't call him by Mark, but by one of his nicknames "Chaos" or "Devran". (??)
2. Most people who he tells where he lives, and say they'll stop by...never do.
He was very appreciative of the items, and I told him I hope to see him again soon.

I tell these things, not to give myself a pat on the back. How could I be "proud" of what "I did", when I had no clue what I was doing?!? Clearly, throughout the day I was again doubting if the trip would be worth it. I had no planned words, and only a vague plan of action.
All of the cool stuff that happened was God
1) telling me to remember that He is in control, and to have faith that He will "show up"
2) telling those I interacted with: "I haven't forgotten you."

Join me in praising such an awesome, generous, merciful, loving God!!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Special Gifts

I discovered something very coincidental and emotional today.
I have two friends on Facebook who I'm sure don't know each other. Both have a son named Caleb whose birthday is today.
One is celebrating with joy their 4-year-old...the other is grieving their Caleb that would have been born today, but was lost before his first breath.

What are the odds of that? What is the proper response? Celebrate with one family, and grieve with the other, I guess
Romans 12:15 - Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

And so I remember what special gifts from God my children are.
Thank you, Lord, for such special blessings!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lunch with Habakkuk

So today I felt like reading a minor prophet during lunch, and settled on Habakkuk. So here's what I picked up on...

The nation of Judah is about to get pounced on by the Babylonians in judgement for turning to idols. Habakkuk questions God, asking how long He will let evil go unpunished, and why he will use the wicked (Babylonians) to punish a more righteous people? This struck me as similar to the way Job spoke to God. These are men of the Bible who were considered righteous and apparently had a close relationship with God. Is this something we should hope to attain? A relationship with God that is so close and real that we can talk to him like a brother?

I like that God doesn't drop the hammer on Habakkuk as hard as he did with Job. Instead, he gently but firmly reminds Habakkuk that He will bring judgement in His own timing, and that we are to wait for it and live by faith and trust Him. At the end of His response to Habakkuk, God says, "the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him." God is Holy. He is in control. He rules. We are to be silent. Humility and reverence seem to be the proper frame of mind to keep.

Habakkuk responds with praise and worship and reverence. He ends by saying that regardless of circumstances, even when there is loss and seeming lack of provision, "Yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation." (3:28)

Friday, September 11, 2009

A Night of Victories (Or "My Expectations = wrong!")

Sorry...this is a lengthy one. I've tried to make it a little more narrative so it's easier/more interesting to read.

So, until tonight, I've never had any experience with feeding the homeless. I suppose it's the typical mixture of lazy, selfish, scared, "waiting for the right opportunity" etc. But the paradigm shift that began in me at retreat is changing my philosophy from having good ideas and good intentions, to being a person of good actions. I've often (read: almost always) meant to do things like this, but never have. More and more now, when I feel a nudge from God about something, I try to act on it ASAP, instead of waiting till I have a plan, or think about it, or whatever. Acting in obedience instead of over-analyzing and procrastinating.

Anywho, so today at work, we had lunch catered from "On the Border" (Mexican food). After everyone had their fill, we still had only eaten half the food. Usually what ends up happening is a few people take some home, and whatever's left gets tossed. So as the afternoon wore on, I felt like it would be better if the leftovers could be given to someone who was hungry and needed it.

"Not this stuff."
"There's hardly any meat left...just rice and tortillas and chips"
"Wendy needs you at home"
"You've worked some long, hard hours this deserve to just go home and rest"
"What if you can't find anyone?"
"What if someone 'corners' you on a God/life question, and you choke!? You'll make things worse!"

Etc....plenty of thoughts, questions, and doubts entered my mind before I even left work.

"Bite me. I'm doing it." Maybe not quite those words, but that's the answer I gave to my misgivings. As this pattern of behavior of acting immediately to the Lord's promptings becomes more common and comfortable, it gives me a resolve knowing that I'm just gonna do whatever I feel like He wants me to do, even if it doesn't makes sense or feel "comfortable."

A couple people at work noticed me taking ALL the leftovers, prompting questioning glances or comments.
VICTORY #1: The door is opened for me to share about Christ - why I'm doing this.

As I left work, I thought "Well....tortillas and rice with the little bit of meat that's left is ok, but they'd be better with cheese. And what about something to drink?" So I stopped at the store to get cheese and a flat of 2 dozen water bottles. When I got within a couple blocks of the park, I pulled over for some final preparations: reading a few verses of the Word, and praying that God would give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and words to say. I'm not the kind of person who likes going into something without a plan, but I decided to just trust that God would handle the details.
VICTORY #2: I consider this a victory, because already I sense that God is molding my character and teaching me how to let go of control of my life and learn to trust Him.

I pull up to the curb at Acacia Park. A friend from church who has experience with homeless ministry (shout out to Sarah!) had suggested I go there. It's surrounded by a high school, a YMCA, and several local businesses. I had heard it was a place many homeless frequented. As I get out and start getting my load of stuff ready, I glance around the park....ummm...hello? I had built up an expectation in my mind of dozens of homeless people milling about everywhere. I saw a couple of clusters of what looked like high school kids hanging out, and one or two other people by themself.

Re-enter the doubts:
"There's no homeless people here: FAIL!"
"You're too early, there won't be any until after dark."
"What are you gonna do with all that leftover food, genius?"

I carry everything over to the little outdoor amphitheater, and notice 2 people that sort of look "homeless?" (That feels like such a judgemental thing to say, but really how do I approach someone to offer them dinner unless I assume they're homeless?) I start by asking if they'd like a bottle of water, and the woman says no thanks, she's set (showing me her large bottle of whiskey). Then I realize: they have bottles of alcohol, a pizza, cell phones, and bicycles. Maybe not homeless.
VICTORY#3: How's that a victory? The woman says that was sweet of me to offer. Somehow, I feel encouraged and ok to keep going.

I've got everything lined up: all the trays with tortillas, taco shells, rice, beans, meat/veggies, bag of chips, and bottles of water.

It's 5:42.
I wait....and wait....6:00 rolls around. I've watched as different clusters of teens walk around talking to each other. A family walks through the park to their car. An older guy with a beard and a cammo jacket - maybe he's?? he's not.

By now I've gone through my mental list of options a few times: maybe the homeless folks really don't show up until late at night?, do I take everything back to my car and try again tomorrow?, am I being impatient and need to wait longer?, do I need to walk up and down Nevada and Tejon to search for someone who "looks" homeless?

A couple minutes later a teen walks up.
"Hey, what's goin' on? You givin' out food or something?"
"Ya," I say, nodding; wondering if he's a local high school kid looking for a free meal, or what.
"Cool. I'm just waiting for somebody," he says walking towards a group of other teens.

Then a guy rides up on a bike at about the same time a crusty-looking guy with huge backpack complete with bedroll walks up. While they're talking to each other and rolling cigs, I tell myself what the heck, give it a shot, and walk up to them and ask if they'd like anything to eat or a bottle of water.

They do.
VICTORY #4: Finally...what feels like affirmation that the trip wasn't a waste.

I meet John, the guy on the bike. He's friendly and genuinely appreciative. The other guy is listening intently to his hand radio and doesn't seem like he wants to talk. As they start getting their food, the teen I spoke with before comes up, flanked by three or four others. A couple of them ask if they can have a water.

"Sure," I say. If they are high school kids who don't really need a free meal, it feels like a waste, but then again, I've only had two takers so far anyways, so why not?
Then a girl asks me if I work for a church. I tell her no, but I go to church.

"Awesome!" she exults giving me a high-five. "You're the first person who doesn't work for a church that's ever come down here!"
In my head: "Whaaaa?? That doesn't seem likely."
Out loud: "My pleasure."

She tells me her name is Skye. Then I meet Vaughn. Then Matt. Then DJ. Then Mike who goes by "Twisted M".

Then another girl asks if anyone has told the rest of the group that there's food. I see her indicate a group of people at the other end of the park that I had assumed were more high school students. Within minutes I'm surrounded by about 20 people queuing up for food.
VICTORY #5: Woah! I just had to wait a few minutes longer than I expected for things to "happen"!

10 minutes ago I was worried about what to do with all the leftover food I was going to have on my hands, now it doesn't look like it's nearly enough!

Skye has taken it upon herself to tell everyone, "Hey guys - Josh was nice enough to come down here and feed you all, so be sure to say 'thank you'!" And everyone is very polite and appreciative. A couple guys make it a point to thank me 2 or 3 times. Very appreciative.

I exchange comments with several of them, but most get a few bites to eat then walk off. A few stick around watching and waiting to see if they can get seconds. Pretty soon, it's all gone except for the huge bag of chips. Everything has happened so fast I almost forget to watch for the opportunity to talk to them, look for that open door to share Christ. (Side note: aside from feeding homeless, evangelism is the next thing I've never really done, or felt comfortable trying)

But then I strike up a conversation with Mark. He tells me a lot about what's going on with him, and also fills me in on the others. Most of the teens here either "camp out" "couch-hop" (staying at different friends' houses) or stay at shelters. He says that this kind of thing helps a lot. He tells me how most churches and other organizations have stopped coming to help out, seeming pretty disappointed/miffed about it. I'm trying to take everything with a grain of salt, not wanting to dismiss everything he's saying, but not everything he's saying quite jives.

At any rate, I find out he lives in an "efficiancy apartment" (which I've never heard of), and he and his wife are barely living on food stamps. He said he had spent all day today scrounging for change on the street corners nearby. He gives me his address and asks if I can find any household items or food for him that I can bring it by.
VICTORY #6: I connect with someone. I feel like it's the beginning of building relationship - which is the cornerstone of how Jesus did ministry (same for Vanguard)

I tell Mark I'll be thinking about and praying for him, and that I hope to see him next time I stop by.
I head back to my car.
That hour went by pretty quick, actually.
Wait.....I had fun!
Something I didn't expect: I want to hang out with these people more! As I drove home, I couldn't help but think "This could be my new hobby!"
VICTORY #7: I get a sense of the compassion Christ has for people. I feel fulfilled and changed - and I want more.

Such a long post, I know. Sorry...but my heart's pretty full right now, and I want to get my thoughts/feeling out while the fresh and undiluted. I'm excited about doing more of this, and I'm hoping I can find some ziploc bags, food containers, milk, other foodstuff to take to Mark soon.

Added to my prayer list: Mark, Skye, John, Twisted M, Vaughn, DJ, Matt, Adrian

Matthew 25: 34-40
34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. 37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' 40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'