Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Lighter Side of Darkness {A Post by Tony}

“How was your weekend?”


It’s a question we ask each other and the normative response is generally, 

“Great.”

Follow up. 

“What did you do?” 

And you find yourself going down a list of things you did that weekend.




People ask me this question and I’m always ready with a response based off who they are and what I really think they are asking.


There are people just asking in general how it’s going but they really don’t want to know.  


Let’s use this weekend as an example. 


So on the follow up question, “What did you do?”, to that person, I would say, 

"On Friday night we hung out with our kids, played games and watched movies.  Saturday we cleaned the house, and went shopping at Costco.  That evening, Kimberley took our three girls, along with Gane, to the Davis High school production of Beauty and the Beast and I stayed home with my son and watched Monster Trucks, a movie about a family of Friendly Octopus Sharks, or whatever they were, that help kids overcome the evil environment ruining oil company by becoming the engine in their trucks.  It was your basic E.T. rip off and my son was none the wiser and loved the whole thing.  We went to church, took three Madison House kids with us, took everyone to Starbucks afterwards and then that afternoon had a family of Madison House volunteers over to the house for dinner, just so they knew how thankful we are and how much their help and more importantly friendship means to us."  


That’s so happy! 





Here’s what I left out of that story. 


Friday night there was a prevailing feeling of spiritual darkness over the area.  

At 10pm someone stood in front of our house and unloaded a .45 revolver into the house next door.  

Six police cruisers, all with their lights off, pulled up within a matter of minutes. There was no ambulance so we had to assume no one was hit.  With no shell casings, no witnesses and no bodies, the police left within the half hour. 

Saturday morning one of the kids that lives in that house, a Madison House regular, came out on the porch to let me know that even though the bullets went through 3 of his walls, he was alright!

Great.  

Sunday afternoon the family of volunteers we had over decided they wanted to end the evening playing on the Madison House playground.  We headed over but in a matter of minutes we had to leave because an MH kid warned us that, “There’s a guy driving around with guns in his car and my brother said you guys should all get off the street and into your homes.”

As the family got into their car and left I walked back to the house and Kimberley and I could hear gunfire break out from the next street over.

Both those stories are true, I simply tailor them for who happens to be asking and what state of mind I’m in when asked.


Yesterday, Tuesday morning, our daughter Lyla was awakened by a crack addict screaming profanity and pounding on the dumpster in the alley behind our house as he came down off his high.  Someone called the police and a cruiser came down and slowly escorted him out of the neighborhood. 

Kimberley made mention later that she was feeling anxious that day and I began to pray.



That evening it was nice out and my family, along with Gane' and a couple of the MH kids that live next door all sat out on the front porch drinking Starbucks and talking while we watched Lyla practice with her soccer team across the street.  During practice I walked over to the house next door.  Gang members were all over the porch as though they were expecting a war and I greeted the ones I know by name and made sure the ones that didn’t know my name now did.  I reiterated to them as I have many times that should anything go wrong they can come over to my house and we’ll help them out.  

Jesus did not come to heal those who are not sick. 

10 minutes later Lyla came home from soccer practice and 5 minutes later a silver Honda pulled up in front of our house and shot eight times into the house next door (there’s one house between my house and their house, who is my neighbor?), hit the gas and disappeared. 

My wife, Gane, our kids and the MH kids all did as we’ve instructed and practiced many times, they hit the ground or piled into the house. 

Police showed up and cordoned off the area, tagging shells and taking witness statements.  Again, no one was hit and some of the gang members across the street lamented their disappointment that, “They didn’t have a chance to fire back.”  

I silently thanked God they didn’t because it would have meant they were firing in my direction.

I spent the next half hour walking home scared kids that lived close enough and driving home the ones that didn’t. 

We have so much to be thankful for and this is where my mind always settles.



   

My wife and children, though a little shell shocked are fine.  

This will mark our fourth summer living living on Fourth Street and it’s becoming old hat.  That’s not callous, it’s simply true. You live a certain way long enough and what may have seemed crazy or difficult at one time, now seems normal.

Lyla, didn’t seem overly concerned and when I asked her how she was doing she said, “I’m fine. It’s like you always say dad, Jesus is going to take care of us; whether it’s keeping us safe on earth or taking us to be with him in heaven, either way he has our back.”  

No Madison House kids or gang members were killed. Praise Jesus. We still have an opportunity to reach them before they stand before God.

I had an opportunity to talk more about Jesus to the kids I was walking or driving home.

If you would like to pray for us, please pray not only for us but that "Jesus' love would continue to be acted out through our lives, and the kids will see our good works and glorify God, accepting him as their Lord and Savior.”

Pray that no one who doesn’t have Christ is killed. 

Pray that the community will start to see and act - Nothing changes when you do nothing. 




Thank you for all your prayers, volunteering and financial support, but most importantly, your  prayers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Dear Miriam

I stood in the back of the room looking for a seat,

looking for someone I knew in the sea of women seated facing forwards.


I saw her near the front and I headed in her direction.

Only, by the time I got there, she had leaned forward.

I could hear her sobbing.

Women jumped up before I got there and surrounded her with arms and tissues and the quiet murmurings of voices slipping underneath unspeakable pain to help bear the weight.


I slid into the end of the pew feeling helpless and small, unable to reach through to join in. Feeling foolish for not having seen the pain before.


We stood to sing together, the tune of the hymn familiar and strong. I opened my mouth and joined my voice to the hundred or so other voices around me.


What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer...


I have sung these words since I was small, learned to play them on the piano and know the feel of the chords beneath my fingers.

I have known the truth of them and they became my prayer for my friend bowed over in grief.


There was a book wrapped up and placed under our Christmas tree about 3 years ago now and I eagerly devoured the pages.



I remember falling asleep in evening services to strong voices around me lifted up in the rich and ancient truths found in the hymnals tucked into the front of the pew near my knees.

I remember that Sunday the projector made its way on to the stage at the front of the sanctuary, the words and chords laid down on transparent paper and songs like Majesty and Faithful One and guitars and drums joining in with the piano and organ.

I remember my first worship service that felt nothing like the quiet sanctuary of the small church I had been born into. The rush that I was somewhere modern, somewhere new.


I remember the joy I felt the first time I heard the beginning chords of a hymn after years of the absence of one. Oh, it had been reworked, yes, but it was beautiful.



This book I had read, it talked of the importance of the "why" of what we sing.

We sing during worship, not for our emotional filling or really for anything about us - we sing during worship for each other. As we sing, we are singing praise to Jesus, yes, but more importantly, we sing to encourage the brothers and sisters around us. We sing to strengthen broken hearts and point them back to the tender and holy mercy of our amazing God.

We sing to hold the gospel out to those around us who don't know Jesus. To surround them with the beautiful truth of a compassionate and loving God who sent His Son to die for the sins of the world and draw us to Himself.


Every Sunday at the end of the service, our pastor, without fail, closes with an opportunity to know Jesus. With all our heads bowed, he extends the invitation for anyone to raise their hand, to receive the gift of eternal life.

And then, without fail, he asks us to all join our voices together and lift them in prayer...us who have already prayed and received. Us who have already walked with Jesus for years. I lift my voice and it joins in with the many and brothers and sisters lift up the voice of one who is receiving Jesus for the first time and I am reminded that we are not meant to walk through this life with Jesus alone.



On the edge of the Red Sea in the book of Exodus the Israelites are found standing. They are facing a charging, angry Egyptian army who are hell-bent on taking the people back who they believed were rightfully theirs. They stood there full of doubt and fear. But God, faithful and steadfast in His love and mercy proved in a mighty way that these weary and broken people were His.

Moses breaks into a song of praise that wraps around each Hebrew heart and draws their eyes up to the Most High God who had set His love on them and rescued them, first through the marking of blood and now in the parting of water.

As his song fades away, his sister, Miriam, takes on the song and I wonder if she isn't an example to us as sisters in Christ:

Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. And Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;

the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.”  

Exodus 15:20-21


It doesn't say that she led some women, or a few women...

it says that all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing.

And in this beautiful picture of celebration, Miriam sings to them:

Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously...


The Creator of the world around us, the One Who set the sun and moon and stars in place - Who upholds the hugeness of the universe by the very power of His word,

He created you.

And not just created, as amazingly beautiful and tender as that is,

but our God who creates and is sovereign over all things, He bent low and He became man, He died for you and for me and He really did triumph gloriously.


Where can you be a Miriam? Where can I? Where can we pick up our voices in praise and lead all the ones God has purposely placed around us to see the beauty and grace of our Savior...and not just to see, but to know the One who became the Way, the Truth, and the Life for us.



This road winds and twists and is marked by death and fear and so many unknowns, but this road is one, when we believe in Jesus is one that rings with the song of hope.



So let your life be one that fearlessly goes out into the broken spaces around you with praise and joy, even through tears of sorrow, because our trust in the last words that Jesus spoke here on earth are the ones that fuel our faith.


Sing loud, dear Miriam - we all long to hear you.


Friday, March 10, 2017

Oscar Wilde and Me {A Post by Tony}

The great playwright Oscar Wilde once said there was only one thing he couldn’t resist …

Temptation.




“Do you want to come over this weekend? My roommate is away and I don’t have plans...”

I’m 20 years old and this isn’t the first time a woman has acted interested but it’s the first time they’ve put it so bluntly. 

“Oh,” I mumble, “That’s okay, I have plans with family this weekend but thank you for asking, that’s very nice of you.” 

 I don’t want her to feel bad, but I’m not coming over, and since we’re in the middle of our shift at the restaurant I don’t want her to feel uncomfortable at work.  

Too late, now it’s out there and we have to face it. 

If I’m honest I have to say I see the reason: generational sexual sin has been an issue in my bloodline for, well...generations.  Like the circular marks from a hot stove, I see the scars at family reunions, birthday parties, and weddings.  Satan sees this too; I should be an easy mark, but my stubbornness makes me resist this idea even more, the idea that I can be easily duped, manipulated, pulled under.



There’s this reminder too:
  
A couple years before that when I was 18, a girl that I worked with at camp got me alone under false pretext and when she suddenly realized I wasn’t going to take advantage of her she started to cry and admitted that before becoming a Christian she had let men take advantage of her and that she was thankful I didn’t. 

We talked and she left feeling better, instead of used.

The opposite sex will often get emotional or angry when you refuse their advances, they take it personally at a very deep level, but later, if you continue to show you care about them they come around to the idea that you’re not hating or judging them. Instead you are loving them in the way God intended, as a brother or sister in Christ.  The love you’re giving them is the one they really need.  A love that doesn’t selfishly drink stolen waters for the benefit of themselves but keeps those waters safe for the one God intended for them to share it with - their future spouse, or in volatile cases, their current one.

I can honestly say my wife Is the only woman I’ve ever been with and that not until we were married. I am so thankful to God for this piece of grace in my turbulent life. It can be done but not under your own power. Jesus Christ alone carries you through.   




It’s New Year’s Eve and my father is hanging dead from a tree. (Don’t turn away, get in front of it.) I can wrap my arms around my wife and mother while they weep but apart from that there’s nothing else I can do.

In the next year I spend nearly every moment of every hour going over the day he killed himself and the time we spent talking, where I desperately tried to convince him that we needed him. I could feel him fading away and knew the end was near but there was nothing I could do. He slipped out of the house and never came home. 





“Papa go to heaven?" My 3 year old daughter asks.

“Yes,” I choke out.

Her big brown earnest eyes bore into mine, “But why?”

My voice is a hoarse whisper, and I shake my head, “I don’t know...I simply don’t know.”

She starts to cry.

That year was hell and every night after we put the kids to bed I would turn up the music, the football game, the movie, whatever and wrap my hand around a cold glass of scotch and just fade away into evening, never getting drunk but close enough to the rusty razors edge where I could fall asleep as quickly as possible.  Anything, anything at all to dull the pain. 


But something woke me up.




I was working at a job where I was the Director of Operations and answered to the president as head of a large number of departments.  At 34 it was a promising future; 60k a year, free health care, new car and only 400 dollars a month in housing payments. I couldn’t lose on that career path and I was proud of that position.  

But something was wrong with every financial report that came across my desk.  

Money was missing but It wasn’t from my end of things.  

As I dug deeper I found that 250,000 dollars was missing, on top of that another 15 grand, and so on and so forth.  It went right to the top and as it turned out the president, the CEO and the chairman of the board had been approving large increases for themselves and then paying off their houses, buying new cars and wardrobes and whatever else they needed for a more than comfortable life, while disguising the loses in the mountains of financial shifting and slick accounting. 

The worst part of it was that they were firing long time employees left and right and telling them with tear filled eyes as they wrung their hands, “We’re  experiencing financial trouble and we can no longer keep your position open.” 

They displaced one family after another, families that had trusted them.  I confronted the president and was told, in a round-about way that I could quit or get fired if I didn’t keep my mouth shut.  I chose to quit AND not keep my mouth shut.  Calling my former boss at Starbucks in Seattle I was immediately rehired and given the option of moving to Yakima or Eugene.  

The choice was clear to Kimberley and I.

Yakima had a much higher crime rate.




I’ve presented before you the three basic ideas from 1 John 2:16,

 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.

Three temptations we all face: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life. 

Sex, power, wealth.  

Do not be deceived.  

I am not racing ahead of you.  I am not falling behind you, I am not better than you.  I am not worse than you, I’m nothing more than a sinner saved by grace that is clinging to this promise from 1 Corinthians 10:13,

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 

God provides a way out of all temptation, and I’m acting out in faith on that promise.  In the iconic movie Jurassic Park, when the T-Rex attacks the children the lawyer runs away and hides; the little girl is left alone to defend her younger brother. Deep in shock, she repeats over and over again, “He left us, he left us.”  The protagonist calmly puts his arm around her, looks her in the eye and says, “But that’s not what I’m going to do!”  



Many people in your life will allow themselves to slip into sin and betray or leave you but that’s not what Jesus is going to do. He’s there with you every step of the way, praying for you, holding you up and fighting every battle for you. The way of escape.

A final story




Gane and I make another attempt at getting her to play.  

She's only been at Madison House for a couple of weeks.  

She disappeared for a week, but she's back now.

"Come play with the rest of the kids, there's nothing to be afraid of."

We smile and encourage but her eyes drop down and she quietly shakes her head.  Gane looks at me and I shrug.  

Nothing we can do.  

She's the second oldest with a few younger siblings. 

They have all joined in the game. 

One younger brother, about 6 years old didn't show up,  

he normally does. 


I start to walk away because we've reached the point where I will just annoy her. 


Later Gane tells me the girl took her aside and partially pulled up her shirt exposing a swath of bandages around her abdomen. 

Bullets started flying through their house a week ago and she flung her younger brother to the ground. She was only grazed but as we find out later her 6 year old brother got the worst of it.

He had to be flown emergency style to Harbor View.  

The surgery was successful but they are not sure if he'll ever be able to use his hand properly again.  

The bullet entered at the elbow, traveled up his arm, and came out his palm.  


Another week goes by and I'm standing on the front steps greeting children when I see him coming toward Madison House.

"Hey" I ask with utmost concern, "How are you?

His young face flushes with happiness.  "I GOT SHOT!"

"Oh, okay," I'm not sure what to say next, so I say, 

"Well, are you going to be okay?"

He is hopping up and down with excitement.

"It was awesome!"

"Why was it awesome?"

"I got to fly in a helicopter to Seattle!" 

His feet dance and his smile never fades, he has a monstrous cast that covers his arm from mid bicep to the tips of his fingers, he waves it like a flag an exclamation point to his every word.

"And do you know what Tony?!" 

"WHAT?!"

"At the hospital in Seattle you can order whatever you want to eat and they have to bring it to you! It was amazing!"

He pushes past me into Madison House, running up the steps and out of site. 

For the rest of the day I can hear him from different points on the playground yelling excitedly, "HEY GUYS, I GOT SHOT, AND IT WAS AWESOME! "

He is the star of Madison House for the day and he deserves to be.

That family is with us for another week and then they move away to a safer town.
Not because of gang violence, drugs, or poor housing.  I quickly learn from the neighborhood rumor mill that there is more than one father involved in creating this particular family.  

Before you judge that too harshly, read Genesis.


One of the fathers didn't appreciate being cut out of the picture and came back with a gun. 
How does it feel to be betrayed by your own father? How does it feel to hit the floor as a bullet ruins your arm, knowing that a man you call ‘father’ is the cause of your wounds instead of the healing balm, the protector they were created to be? I can tell you from first hand experience it doesn’t feel great. 

I was either going to break or fight back. 

Nothing could have been easier for me at the loss of my father to give up; to float away, to slowly weaken myself to the point where even the most innocuous seeming temptation would have broken me.

But that's just not me. How WE feel, or what WE want is immaterial to the mission of Christ and the Cross.

I encouraged one of my brothers by telling him that, "With dad gone, we're already a man down.  If you drop your weapon and flee that's exactly what the enemy wants, to pick us off one by one, until we give in to subtle attrition and fade away into the night.”   




Once you present yourself before God as an act of service, the enemy, Satan, our real adversary, takes immediate umbrage and starts shooting and he doesn’t stop until he kills your ministry or you go home to be with Jesus.  When I finally die and lay on my face before God, he’s going to ask me, “How did it go?”

 I’m going to answer in praise, 

“I got shot and it was awesome!”