Wednesday, February 17, 2016

For When You Come Home... {A Post by Tony}

Yakima, Washington.  

From time out of mind, it never mattered.  It was just another town I had to reduce my speed for on the way from Seattle to Sun Valley, Idaho.

I came here once, by accident, in 2005.  I ventured as far off the freeway as the Olive Garden where my wife and I stopped for lunch.  I remember us telling each other as we left, "It seems like a nice town".

In 2011, when Starbucks transferred me out to Yakima to open a new store, I wasn't too worried; I had no connection to Yakima and people telling me I would be killed or shot, or worse, seemed like the normal panic I assign to those who are overly concerned about a life and death they can't control anyway. 

      "Don't worry about it', I told my wife, '"There are bad parts of Seattle too and we avoided those once we were aware of their locations."

 So this week, early on a Monday morning I found myself in the Terrace Heights Cemetery stumbling and slipping in the wet grass and mud during a rare downpour, trying to find a body, or at least what was left of it.

  In 1858, Leonard Andrew Foster was born in Ohio.  In 1899 his wife died giving birth to his last child and he decided he'd had enough.  He didn't want to live with the memories her life and death brought by the very familiarity of his surroundings so Leonard packed up and moved to a place with no memories:  

Yakima, Washington.

He remarried a woman named Alvira who was from Kansas, lived in a quaint little house behind Target and worked as a night watchman until his death in 1942 at the age of 84. 

When Leonard moved west he brought his son Claud with him.  Claud settled down and had a son of his own named Ken and Ken had a daughter named Karolyn.

Karolyn lost a brother in Vietnam and swore that her sons would never play with guns. But, boys being boys, and fathers having the last word, the first time I was ever shot at was at the age of 13 while my father and I took cover in some rocks, bullets whining past our heads.  The hunters below us had buck fever and couldn't see past the deer they were shooting at so we hid in the rocks while they spent all their bullets, missing everything.

 The week of Thanksgiving, 2015, I was at my house, across the street from Madison House when 5 of the older kids dropped by needing gloves and scarfs.  I told them I would meet them at their house, and headed to Target.  

Their house is further up and further in to the area known as "The Hole". (As you can see, I've wisely taken my own advice and stayed out of the dangerous parts of town.)

 Before I can knock, shots ring out just down the street, another volunteer is with me and we stop and listen thankful for the concrete walls of the basement entrance.  More shots fire into the cold night air, 12 shots have been fired in total, two revolvers. A couple seconds later one of the kids I am bringing gloves to flees down the alley behind the house and looking back I see 3 more MH kids running along the front of the street. 

I head back out to the street knowing this is the moment when I could be killed, but I also know that fear is a weakness I have always resented when I sense it in myself.

Jesus did not call us to weakness but to acts faith and great kindness.  Besides, once the shooting starts, I am fully aware that it is over quickly and the instigators take flight almost immediately.  As I reach the street in front of the house I see residents coming out of the their homes armed with bats and other weapons in case further fighting breaks out.  I take a head count of the kids I was bringing clothing too, all are present.  An unmarked police car pulls up and I take point, explaining who I am, what I am doing down on 7th.  The police let us leave without further incident and I hug each of the kids and tell them to stay safe; I know they won't.  I head home to my wife and kids, thankful to be serving God in this capacity of His work - it is truly a blessing to be used by Him.

I never had a connection to Yakima until my sister was digging through some of my grandmothers old papers last week.

 I stare down at the small brick that has been depressed into the earth by time.  It is covered in mud and I had to kneel down on the soaked earth of Terrace Heights Cemetery and remove the leaves and filth just to read the name stamped into it: Leonard Foster. 

If I could speak to him I would tell him that his wife's death, was not in vain.  That even then, God, knowing everything, was planning to use his great great grandson's life to reach kids in Yakima, but that Leonard would have to lose someone he cared about for that purpose to come to fruition. 

 God gave us His son, someone He loves, because He loves us. For the same reason, I am not afraid to die, so that others may know Christ.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

To Love: A Valentine's Post {by Tony}

I'm fifteen years old and I'm in the backseat of the car.   My friends and I have just left youth group and the conversation has turned strange to me.  They are discussing how attractive our youth leader's wife is.  I sit listening for a few minutes and then I blurt out, like a dumb kid, 

"Hey that's another man's wife!"  

 There's a pause and then the boldest and the oldest of us smirks and says, 

"Who cares, she's hot." 

 I don't respond because I've already said my peace and been overruled. Besides as I relive this conversation in my head, I also notice that I'm a scared, young kid, giving in to peer pressure and going down without much of a fight.   

  Fast forward 7 years and I'm in college, I'm listening to another conversation and feeling a different level of confusion.  Our friend who's getting married that summer is excited about his new discovery,  "I found a website where you can count down how many days it is until you get married. I only have 110 days until I can have sex!" 

 Internally I think, 
"You can actually have sex any time you want at this Christian institution as long you have a car and no conscience." 

  Out loud I say, 
"Why are you marrying this girl? What is it about her that you love?" 

There is initially a blank stare. I've ruined the joy, but the blank stare is quickly replaced by this explanation, 

"Well, uh, she loves God and is smart, and she's really hot!"  

yell out the other guys in the room to much high-fiving and "that's what I'm talking about!"  I leave the room realizing that I'm probably just going to make people angry.  

 So let me get this straight: women are supposed to, 
- be smart and hot, 
- really hot, 
and, oh yeah, I almost forgot, if you're Christian,
- love God. least say you love God so your parents will approve of your spouse. 

OK, got it.  So apart from the standards of the world the only other criteria of Christianity is 'love God.'


I wasn't asking these questions at this age out of anything other than confusion and concern.  Women in general at the high school level did nothing I thought was very impressive (I wasn't impressive either) and in college I felt that the only reason women were there was to procure a husband.  I wasn't' there for a wife so I was not meeting any of their expectations.  My wife still laughs at the story I told her about the time I didn't hold the door open for a girl in college and she yelled at me, as a large group of us headed into church,

"Hey Tony Baker, you didn't hold the door open for me!" 

 "Why should I?", I shot back, "Your arms don't look broken. You can open it yourself." 

Yeah I know, subtly wasn't my forte, or necessary in the mind of a 21 year old. She quickly lost interest the second those words left my mouth.  


Nowadays I just fight a war of sedition and contrition against any woman showing more than passing interest. A well placed e-mail or a disappearing act are just as effective and no one gets as embarrassed or hurt.

So, what did I want?  

I kept coming back to, 'Love God.'  

Taylor Swift, in the song, Blank Space, states,

"'cause darling, I'm a nightmare dressed like a daydream." 

I believe this is a excellent description of the entire human race.  

All of us walking around in this macabre attire pretending to be Snow White, but that poison apple we willing took from the wicked witch is slowing seeping it's way into our already tainted blood, just waiting for the perfect set of pride and circumstance to eliminate our witness and neutralize any threat we pose to the king of evil angels.    

 If you really believe the Bible is true, that Satan is a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour then, 'love God' is really your only chance.  Besides, isn't Jesus seeking you, not to devour, but because you are his creation. He's the very sacrifice that paid for our salvation.  He FIRST loved us.  This is love, that Christ loved us and gave himself. 

  There it is: Jesus sacrificed.  In Ephesians 5, men are asked to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  

  When I got down and my knees at the age of 26 and asked Kimberley to marry me, I wasn't asking her to have sex with me for the rest of my life because she was hot.  Getting down on my knees was an act of service, not just that one time, but for all time.  I was asking her, "will you let me sacrifice myself for your every need for the rest of my life."

   This last weekend, Kimberley used the Madison House to put on an 'IF' women's conference.  She was going for small and intimate to reach a few women at a deeper level.  This still took hours of her time planning and organizing.  I put our four kids, ages 3-10, to bed by myself on Thursday night.  When she got home late I asked her, "What more can I do to help?"  She needed to talk for about an hour and then she really needed to sleep.  Since I had already done all the dishes and organized the kids into a house cleaning army before she got home, she could sleep in peace.  

 Photo credit: Nicole Spellman

 Friday night was the first day of the conference and it was supposed to run from 7-9pm,  I took the kids home from Madison House around 5:30pm. We cleaned the house again, washed dishes, solved 25 different fights about chocolate, seating, and so forth; did devotions, read a book and then I put the kids to bed around 9:30pm.  Kimberley  texted me and asked me to pray because the feed was going out on the Internet.  The conference lasted until 11:30pm.  Kimberley got home and into bed around 1am.  I tried to wake up and talk but I remember nothing except thinking, "she needs more from me tomorrow."

Saturday was the last day of the conference so I was responsible for the kids breakfast, lunch, and dinner and everything in between.  We re-cleaned the house, and then tackled laundry, mountains of laundry.  Elias claimed, like he claims every time, that he "forgot how to fold a pair of pants."   A quick frown from me and shake of the head got him back on track.  The 3 oldest quickly formed themselves into a laundry folding assembly line and we took about a hour to fold all the clothes.  We did the dishes, again, cleaned the house, again, and then it was time for shopping and dinner.  

 Midway through Costco I was practically hanging from the cart and my two oldest daughters grew concerned and asked, "Daddy, are you ok?"  "Oh yeah," I said, "just fine, I have been fasting today for your mother and her conference.". They asked what fasting was and I explained it was something that their dad does for spiritual reasons.  This particular day I was fasting and praying for their mother to be strengthened but more importantly that the ladies she was working for would be blessed and encouraged by the Word of God. 

 We got home, cleaned the house, again, did the dishes, again and folded the last of the laundry that had finished drying while we were shopping.  Wash, rinse, repeat - this is having children.  Next was devotions and jammies.  

  When Kimberley got home all she had to do was help me pray for the kids and then put them into bed.  I had let them stay up till ten because I knew she missed them and after three days with old dad, they REALLY missed her. 

  As Kimberley and I settled into the evening she needed to talk for a couple of hours about how well Saturday had gone, in juxtaposition to Friday.  She was glowing, the whole experience was a blessing.  She talked till it was late and I was so excited to have been a part of it.  I get deep satisfaction from working hard for her and seeing the fruit it produces in her life.  

  The next day, after church, we went over to Madison House and broke down all the set-up, did all the dishes and brought everything back over to our house.  The only truly happy marriage is one of sacrifice.  I didn't complain, I didn't throw any Mantrums(man tantrums), I found joy in serving Kimberley, her joy over the event was enough for me to feel that I had served the purpose that God has given me for that specific weekend.  

 So...what's the plan for Valentine's Day?  Our Friends from Seattle moved out to Ohio for a couple of years and I've conspired with them to send Kimberley out there for five days while I watch the kids.  I can't wait, I love Jesus, I love our children, I love my wife.