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Life, Madison House

Sex Trade.

“The lights go out and I can’t be saved.” -Chris Martin-

 

I’ve received fantastic feedback on my book; everyone that gets into it says the same thing without prompting, “I couldn’t put it down!”

For this praise, I am very thankful.  Then there’s this follow-up, “It’s very redemptive, and deals with a lot of tough subject matter.”

You ain’t whistlin’ Dixie.  Try writing all that down.  Putting it together was an extremely difficult, very emotional process.  A straight month of sleepless nights.  But would I rather a really tight, fast-paced, action-packed thriller, that no one can put down, or the most boring book you ever read?    I’ll take the pain if it means a great product that deals with social/class/religion, and every issue in between.

Here’s the thing: it’s part of what I see every day.  Children disappearing without a trace, drug dealers, gang-bangers, detectives, racism (from every race), unparalleled class privilege, violence, murder, suicide, prostitutes, religious failure, and redemption.  So instead of asking, “How could you write this?” instead ask the question, “How could anyone live through this?”

Not me, the children I’m working with.

What bothers me the most is what is happening to the girls and women.  Maybe it’s because I know what happened to my wife as a little girl, maybe it’s because I have three beautiful daughters that I don’t wish any harm upon.

“I’m deep inside your children, they’ll betray you in my name.” -Zacharias Manuel de la Rocha-

Two months ago I was walking past “the Blue House.”  All the staff have to walk past this house for different reasons from time to time.  Now and then, when business is slow, they  put the girls out front.  Today was one of those days; but like I said, I have to walk past.

She sees me as I see her and she crosses her fishnet stockinged legs, staring me down, lifting her arms and adjusting her jet black hair.  I haven’t looked directly at her yet but she looks very young, too young.  No one should ever be in this line of work, I don’t care how old they are.  Instead I focus on the pimp behind her.   Out of my peripheral she steps directly in front of me as I approach and opens her stance, staring me down and pasting on a smile.  I’m still watching the pimp, and as I pass her (having to step off the sidewalk to do so because she’s completely blocking the way now), he starts to move towards me while holding out a cigarette, and asking, “Do you have a light?” He realizes that I may be an undercover cop and so, “Do you have a light?” is not really a question, it’s an attempt to re-direct my attention to the poor dolled-up girl on display without really soliciting me for sex.  I also feel compassion on the woman; I’m sure if she doesn’t come on to me as hard as she is, there will be consequences from her pimp.

“No I don’t, I actually work at the youth center with the little kids and am just looking for someone.”

He recoils, more so than if I had slapped him and I keep moving, praying for the poor girl in the thrall of sex and drugs.

“They say the devils water it ain’t so sweet, you don’t have to drink right now, but you can dip your feet every once in a little while.”  -Brandon Flowers-

My little four-year old snuggles into my lap, puts her hands to my face, smiles and says, “I love you, Daddy.”

Tears come to my eyes because she is so sweet and precious. I never want anything to hurt her.

Maybe that’s why I don’t have any judgements on the girl by the blue house or any other woman that’s ever made a pass at me.  All I see is brokenness.  All I see is Rahab the Prostitute, or the Woman at the Well, or the One Caught in Adultery.  Such stories of amazing redemption, and I pray for the women who in their broken marriages and painful daddy issues see me as a way out instead just another trap door.

I see my three daughters and I pray, “Dear God, these women you’ve put into my care will leave this house one day and make their own decisions. Please help them to choose Jesus instead of pain followed by pleasure in an endless vicious circle.”

All I can do is pray and love them, every second, at every opportunity.

My wife has me completely, body, mind, and soul…but only because Jesus has all those things first.

“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.”

-Jesus-

 

 

 

 

Life, Madison House

On Bullying. All Fat and Phony

I’ve tried never to be a bully.  I’ve also never taken bullying and have always stood up for myself or ignored it.

I had to;  I was always “the new kid”, “the nerd”, “that religious kid” that no one invites out.

Moving all over the place when we were children…Let me see: Canada, Oregon, Canada, Joseph Oregon, Mt. Vernon Washington, Sublimity Oregon, Dilley Oregon, Canada, Laurel Oregon, Beaverton Oregon, Oceanside Oregon, Hailey Idaho, Seattle Washington, Idaho, Minnesota, Idaho, Canada, Seattle, Canada, Yakima.

There. I’m sure I missed some along the way or got some out-of-order but still, point being, we moved a lot.

Along the way I picked up a nickname.  I believe it was in Dilley Oregon.  We didn’t have much money and my father refused to put us on a government-funded lunch program.  Something about model Americans needing to pull themselves up by the boot straps.  At the age of 6, the metaphor was completely lost on me.  I just knew that I really loved chocolate milk at school and no matter how much I examined my boots, they had no straps.

So every day I took the same items for lunch to school.  Some fruit, apple or orange,  and a Bologna sandwich stuffed in a brown paper bag.  On Fridays, when lucky, I would get a Bologna sandwich with cheese!  When I asked about a beverage, I was told to drink water from the drinking fountain.

Yum, takes like aluminum.

 

So there I was, in the lunch room, skinny and alone with my Bologna sandwich.

“Hey new kid, why do you always bring a sack lunch? You poor?”

“No, I’m hungry. I eat the sack too.”

“Ha! What is that? Bologna sandwich? You like Bologna?”

I sigh and look down at my crumbling food, “Sure, it’s great.”

“What’s your name, new kid?”

“Tony.”

“Cool, what if we call you Tony Bologna All Fat and Phony? Ha, ha! That’s a good one.”

He starts to sing, “Tony Bologna, All Fat and Phony, Tony Bologna All Fat and Phony.  You like that?”  He slaps my shoulder. “Funny, huh?”

I take another bite and give a shrug that involves my upturned palm, eyebrows and shoulders, “Sure, it’s great.”

So that was me for the rest of first grade, ‘Tony Bologna All Fat and Phony.”  I went with it. I somehow instinctively knew that fighting back would garner worse results.

We moved at the end of the school year and the nickname stayed behind, until recently.

A kid was getting picked on at my job so he punched the kid making fun of him.

I pulled him aside and got down on his level, “Hey man, you can’t simply punch everyone that makes fun of you.  Do you know how many people I would have punched by now if I had slugged everyone that called me names?  Even today I have people that don’t like me, talking trash behind my back and tellling lies and saying all kinds of things that aren’t true.  I can’t punch them. You have to let that stuff go and just walk away, otherwise they know they can get to you.”

He frowns unconvinced, so in an effort to cheer him up I say, “Hey, when I was a kid do you know what they called me?”

He shakes his head, still frowning.

“They called me, ‘Tony Bologna All Fat and Phony.'”

A glimmer of a smile twists his countenance, “Really, they called you that?”

“Yeah of course! If you smile and let it roll off your back you become the leader of the joke and not the butt of it.”

He grins and walks away, nodding and saying something under his breath.

And that’s why, for the last six months, wherever I go anywhere at work, kids yell at me with big smiles on their faces,

“What’s up Tony Bologna All Fat and Phony?”

And I smile, point back at them and say, “That’s right! I’m doing great!” And with no emotional response, the joke is getting old on their own lips without me ever having to call it out.

No one can bully you unless you let them and there are innumerable ways of fighting back, the last resort being physical confrontation.

Blessed are the Peacemakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life

The Blessed Curse

“Hey dad, didn’t one of your ex-girlfiends die?”

“Huh?”  I’m driving and lost in thought as my middle daughter’s question invades the empty space.

“Your ex-grilfriend. Mom told us she died.”

“Oh did she now? Well yes, that’s true, she did die.”

“Didn’t she die of cancer?”

“You seem to already know all the details…why are you asking these questions?”

“Just curious,” she responds with a flip of her hair.  I glance at her dark hazel eyes in the mirror and tell by the look on her face the interrogation is not over.  Like all women, hearing the story second hand isn’t good enough; she wants every detail, of every thought, from all corners of the room.

I sigh and wait.

 

Sure enough.

“Dad? Were you sad when you found out your ex-girlfriend was dead?”

Toys R Us is not that far away, but it feels like we will never get there.

 

I pause, “Yes, but I wasn’t sad for me; I was sad for her husband and family. They were very good people.”

“Do you think they were sad?”

“Yes, I’m sure they were devastated.”

“Are you glad you have mom instead of her.”

“Yes, I’m very happy with your mother, she is perfect for me. I love her very much.”

“Did you love the other girl too?”

“As much as someone can convince themselves they love someone at the age of 22. In all seriousness Sweetheart, I can barely remember what she looked like. I’m so filled with love for your mother it makes it impossible for other women, past, present or future to gain access.”

“Why do you think God didn’t allow you to be with her?”

“I can honestly say we just weren’t right for each other. We both loved God and each other but knew it wasn’t right.  I also believe that God knew he was going to take her home with cancer the same year that my father killed himself and that I wouldn’t have been able to handle both losses mere months apart.  What seemed painful in 1997 would have killed me in 2009.  The curse at the time was really a blessing, it just took twelve years to realize that God was saving me and not casting me out.  Besides kid, you and your sisters and brother wouldn’t even be here right now if it I hadn’t married your mother,” I tussle her hair as we climb out of the van, “and that would be the saddest of all.”

She laughs, her 10 year-old-girl giggle, and gives me a giant smile as we head into Toys R Us.

I know a lot of you reading this feel disconnected or have lost loved ones over the years, but it doesn’t have to be a curse.  Finding my father’s body on New Years’ Eve was truly terrifying, but my wife and I were determined to follow Jesus.  He has shown us all the fatherless children that are lost and hurting and need a Savior.  A father abandoning you can cause immeasurable pain and without my own scars, I would never have been able to see where the children we work with are coming from.

Jesus promises to never leave you or forsake you.

There are loved ones that have gone before us and it’s easy to lose focus on the task at hand and feel sorry for ourselves.

But the truth is that the dead are no longer in our sphere of influence, it’s those that are lost and dying that we need to focus all our love and attention on.

This holiday take your eyes off yourself and your own problems and back onto Jesus, asking this simple question, “Who needs to see the love of Jesus Christ today? How can I pour myself out for them?”

 

 

Life

Crazy to me.

I’m often criticized for moving my family down to 4th street.  To my face it’s stated kindly, as a question, concerned citizens:

“Are you sure that’s a wise move, for the children?”

“Well, what did your wife say?” (As though I dragged her to 4th street with a lock of her hair clenched in my enraged fist).

 

Then there’s what I hear behind my back:

“He’s crazy. He’s totally irresponsible. He’s not taking care of his family.”

“He is the worst parent, don’t they know they could get killed?”

 

My favorite is the one people direct at me when they say, “Don’t you know you could die?”

I always say with great cheer, “Oh I have every intention of dying.”

“What!? How can you even say that?”

“You’ll die too,” I shoot back, “One way or another, you’ll be dead before you know it.  Car accident, house fire, old age, either way, you’re going down.”

 

This information is often met with a litany of facial expressions; shock, outrage, anger, silence, then a head nod, shrug of the shoulders.

“So,” I say, in follow-up, after they’ve struggled with this concept, “the question isn’t, ‘are you going to die?’  the real question is, ‘Since we all pay with our souls, where do you want cash that check?'”

In the book, Radical, by David Platt he addressed the American idea that life should be easy, that Jesus commands are secondary to the comfort he also offers.  “Jesus loves you.  – THAT’S ME!”  “Go into the world and preach the gospel. – THAT’S SOMEONE ELSE.”

Or as Francis Chan puts it,  “No, you’re crazy, because some day you’ll have to stand before God and answer for not following his commands.”

 

Here to me is crazy, Kids I miss, or have lost someone since i started this job:

1. 18 year old girl shot in the back while running from rival gang members

2. Two kids, ages 5 and 6 woke up to find they were sleeping with their mom; she was dead, mixed the wrong prescriptions.

3. Dad died of a heart attack; left behind four kids, mom works to make ends meet and is never home.

4. 18 year old shot in the chest 6 times, point blank range.  We lost his friend too, so high all the time I almost didn’t recognize him when I ran into him while out shopping.  It was the eyes, so dead.

5. Last year a kid didn’t have a Christmas tree, so I gave him one from work.  When he and his mom left town, she came to me crying, her car riddled with bullet holes.  I haven’t seen them since.

6.  5 kids that grew up with me, all in prison, or on the run for murder or attempted murder.

7. 3 suicides this year of kids I know and worked with.

Is that enough for now? Because there’s more. I could go on but there’s no point beating it to death.

Crazy to me is if I see my 8 year old son running with a knife in his hand, and do nothing to stop him.

If the area of Yakima I live in is really that dangerous, shouldn’t I do something about trying to stop it?

If you’re reading this and doing all you can for Jesus Christ, thank you. Awesome.

But if you’re like me, and reading this, you should be thinking, there’s more I could be doing.  I only have so much life left.  Have I used all my influence and abilities to reach as many people as I could have for Jesus?

Crazy to me, is being outside the will of God.

I can assure you that, where I live, feels like home to my family, and we’ve never felt safer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life

We’re Not Better than Matt Lauer

I don’t see people fail and wish them the worst.

It makes me sad, especially when it’s at a level where they fail in a public manner.

My dad wasn’t a ghost in the community.  He was  an outspoken pastor who strongly believed in what he was doing.  He wrote letters to the editor, spoke boldly from his pulpit and loved Jesus and his family.

As we got older it became a running joke:

My mom would ask, “Do you want to go to the store with your dad?”

We would roll our eyes and say, “No, because even though the store is 3 blocks away, and we only need a jug of milk, we’ll be there for four hours because we’ll run into fifty people dad knows.”

There are times where I’m sure I come across as rude at a Starbucks when I”m with my kids and I simply ignore everyone. I want my children to know they have my full attention but I can’t always.

 

“Dad, do you know everyone?” My second daughter asked me the other day.

Curses, it’s happening.

I’m becoming my dad.

Oh well, I tried.

 

He had his detractors too.  People hated him.

It was surprising the vitriol I would experience just for being his son:

Teachers at school, “Oh that guy is your dad?”

Someone  I worked with,  “Oh you’re his son!”

Or my favorite, “That guy is your dad, really?”

 

Sheesh. “No you’re right, that’s not my dad, I made a mistake. After 17 years you’d think I’d know who my dad is.”

 

So…When he committed suicide, there was a massive outpouring of love to my mother and the rest of us.  There were also a lot of people who had nothing but hateful things to say.

Those hateful words hurt worse than anyone can possibly imagine.  Sitting in my hometown for an entire summer, trying to be a support to my mother – she needed us more than I will ever understand.

My dad ultimately failed and people say, “Ha, you’re dad’s a hypocrite. He said Jesus was the way and then he killed himself!”

And my response has always been the same.  “My fathers first suicide attempt was when he was 18. Instead, Jesus saved him and used him to reach hundreds of people.  For the next 43 years, he battled suicidal depression. Jesus was the only thing keeping dad alive.”

When I see people like a Matt Lauer fall, I am instantly saddened.  I  pray that Jesus, the only thing keeping me alive, will help me not to fail.  I immediately acknowledge that I’m a sinner, saved only by Grace, and ask that God’s grace will keep me from transgression, and not any works of my own heart and mind.

The first thing I looked up when I read the news article about Matt Lauer was how many children he has and I prayed for them.  That they, if they hadn’t already, would find Jesus and He would carry them through this, as He carried me when my earthly father failed.

Where else would I go?

John 6:68: Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

Pray without ceasing for those you see falling, the victims they take with them, and their families; this is the will of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life

A Real Lady: A Christmas Story

Our cat died.

I was in fifth grade, and all of us kids really wanted a dog.  We had never had a dog before and the prospect seemed very exciting.

I remember, maybe incorrectly, that my sisters, feeling out numbered by boys in the house 4-2, voted that it was their turn to pick the name of the female Golden Lab that my dad brought home one fine fall evening.

So we named her Lady.

It seems suspicious to me now that she wasn’t a puppy and someone was so willing to give away such a beautiful dog for free.

The first act of nobility she performed was to chew everything we owned into little pieces.  In fact I was reading to my kids the other night from my fifth grade library book, “Choose Your Own Adventure: The Abominable Snowman.”

“Hey kids, do you want to know why I own this library book?”

They laughed and asked, “Why?”

I flipped it over so they could see the back half of the cover was missing and only teeth marks remained. “Because in fifth grade, our dog Lady chewed the back cover up and l had to pay $3.95 for this dumb book!”

The next thing she did was start vomiting. But not any normal vomit mind you.

There was a horse pasture across the street from our house.  We had trained Lady that when she wanted to come back into the house she should scratch at the door and we would open it for her.

My little brother, who was 3 at the time, also knew to open the door.  So Lady would scratch, and he would run and open the door, and she would slink over to the fireplace and sit down on her bed in the corner.

It was early winter and snow was covering the ground.  Living in a town, at an elevation of over 5000 feet surrounded by mountains, there isn’t much light for very long in the winter and things freeze quickly and stay that way till spring.

The same rule applies to horse manure.  And horses, like most animals, tend to defecate in the same area, creating very large chunks of horse apples.

This is why Lady shot past us so fast and over to the fireplace, where she proceeded to eat her enormous prize.

After a while, the fire would heat up the manure and we would all start to smell an un-pleasant odor.  Following the scent we would use a towel to wrestle her meal away from her and toss it back outside.

The fireworks weren’t over though, she had eaten enough horse manure that within a couple of hours we heard wretching/splattering noises from some dark corner of the house, and ran over to find Lady throwing up excrement along with all her dog food onto the carpet.

Christmas dawned bright and early, and that morning we gathered around the tree.  It takes a lot of presents to satisfy 6 kids, ages 3-15.  Our family opened presents one at a time, pushing all the wrapping paper behind us in a big pile.  Lady looked bored and wandered around the house, not really a part of the moment.  Present after present was unwrapped and ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhed,’ over and the dog quickly forgotten.

We were nearly done, there were only few presents left under the tree, and then a putrid smell assaulted our nostrils.  We all quickly looked around for the source and there was Lady.  She had climbed up onto the massive pile of spent wrapping paper and was crouched, splay legged, depositing last nights dinner and water in one large brown steaming mess that cascaded in rivers down every little crease and angle of the crumpled wrapping paper.

Everyone started yelling and screaming at once and Lady bounded into the air in terror so fast that half a deposited log snapped off mid exit and splattered onto the floor.

My dad reached her first, much to her chagrin, cringing there on the rug, and taking her by the collar yanked opened the door, and unceremoniously launched her over the threshold and into the massive snow bank that had built up on the edge of the porch.

We cleaned up the mess, but that was it for dad, any excuse to get rid of the dog and within’ a matter of weeks he had one.  Lady was caught in a chicken house with another dog that had been killing chickens and when that happens you have to put a dog down.

Lady wasn’t caught with a  chicken in her mouth so she was given back to us but dad said, “I would hate for her to have to be put down, so I’m going to give her into the care of local farmer from church were she can roam around on 40 acres free of constraint.”

“Don’t they have chickens?”  We asked.

It was after all, a farm.

Dad cleared his throat uncomfortably, “Well…yes…but, the farmer knows she has a penchant for chickens and we don’t really know that she’s killed any. So I’m sure he’ll be able to assess the situation correctly and make the right call.”

Translation, “Dad is sick of the dog.”

So to this day, when someone says in relation to a woman they know, “You should meet her, she’s a very classy lady.”

I feel deep concern.

 

Life

I Will Stab You!

“I will stab you,” is not something I want to hear.

But…it’s something I do hear, in one form or another, almost on a weekly basis.

No one has threatened to stab me, at least not to my face.

It might be over a video game, a dropped pass, a broken friendship, but those words still come out and it’s always frightening.  Not because of what I think they’ll do to me, but because of what they’ll do to each other.

That might seem like a stretch, but consider this.  Last month one minor walked up to another minor, blocks from my house, and shot him in the chest more than enough times, killing him.

Sad.

Sadder still is the kid that killed the other kid was someone we had taken to camp and shared the gospel with.

I simply have no answer.

Fear is not the answer.  We are commanded not to be afraid.  It’s easy to read a verse like Isaiah 41:10; “So do not fear for I am with you,”  That sounds nice. It feels different when you’re walking back to your house in the dark.  A kid I work with was too afraid to walk home alone, so I walked him home.  On the way back a local gang banger pulled a gun on me in the dark before realizing who I was.  When I saw him reach for his gun I simply raised my hand, waved and said, “Hey,______, how’s it going?”  He hesitated, put his gun back into his pants, laughed and said, “Good, how are you?”  Ha, Ha, We talked for a bit and then parted ways, neither of us ever mentioning the gun.  I’ve shared the gospel with him before, I’ll look for an opportunity to do it again.

From when I was a child, my first memories of going to Sunday School, I was told to be brave, to be courageous, that God was with me!  Christians teach their kids their whole lives to look up to people like Daniel, Joseph, Paul and King David: men of valor who trusted the Lord.  Then their kid says, “I want to be a missionary,” or “Move to the ghetto,” and the church they grew up in and the parents that raised them say, “What are you crazy? Don’t you know how dangerous that is?!”

Until our words match up with our actions, we will continue to lose our children.

As I write this post,  all that comes to mind are my own mistakes, my own issues I need to work on.

How can I be a better example of Jesus Christ?  What is the spiritual legacy that I will leave for my children?