Monday, March 12, 2018

"Please Daddy Make Them Stop" How Fatherhood taught me about God's love in Painful Times

It started with a phone call in March of 2008.
I was sitting in my office in Franklin, TN where I had lived for seventeen years. I operated the local branch of the largest privately funded mortgage company in the United States. I worked hard, had been very successful and won numerous awards and recognition by our home office.
But beginning in July of the year before, things had begun to slow down. There were rumblings within the industry and they became an earthquake. I had not closed a loan since October of 2007. Applications kept coming in, but fear had gripped the industry and loans simply weren’t being approved like they once were.
By March the decision had been made to close my office. I had been living off savings for almost six months. By May 2008…I’d lost my home.
This began a long, six-year journey through the darkest days of my life.
My daughter was ten years old when this happened. Her om and I had divorced in 1999 and I was content being a single dad and devoting myself to my only child. She was all the family I had, and I was happiest just spending every moment I could with her.
I had a modest house in the country, on five acres. We had a garden where we planted vegetables. On cottony summer nights, we chased lightning bugs and kept them in a mayonnaise jar in her room. We had two beloved Springer Spaniels – Bonnie and Cooper—and a precocious cat named Giacomo. I felt alive on those every-other-weekend visits and for the two months in the summer when she stayed with me full time. She was, and is, my world.
Yet in May 2008, the rest of that world of mine began to unravel. My daughter had a place to live -her mom had remarried several years before—but losing my home meant not having a place for her to come for the weekend anymore. Making matters worse, her mom’s husband had returned to his chemical dependency and my daughter was enduring horrors on an almost daily basis.
I couldn’t find work in Nashville and I couldn’t leave, because my little girl needed me.
So, I stayed.
Staying meant sleeping in my car, hidden behind a church on Franklin Road in Nashville. It meant showering at the county recreation center, and sometimes making a meal out of the sample kiosks at the grocery store. It meant working every odd job I could find and still not having enough for more than a tank of gas and a meal every day or so.
But I stayed because she needed me. Her life was a nightmare and I was the only barrier between her mom’s abusive husband and my daughter. So, I stayed.
I have been asked many times, how this affected my faith. Did I question God? Did I shake my fist at Heaven and curse under my breath? I’ve had folks ask me if it was somehow a mystical period of isolation with God, where I heard only his voice and drew closer to Him, like a mendicant. I’ve been told that I was being punished for some unknown sin and I’ve heard I’d been especially selected for a lonely walk with only God as my companion. My answer to all these is… “Yes.”
Yes, it affected my Faith. Sometimes for the worse, much of the time for the better. It stripped it down. It forced me to ask questions that I had always wondered about but never asked. It taught me about suffering. It taught me about gratitude. Mostly…it taught me that God will permit the painful things in our life because they so often result in our betterment. So much good came out of my six years of homelessness.
My daughter saw, beyond a doubt, that literally nothing short of death would separate her from her daddy. That no matter what it meant to me personally, or how much it cost me in terms of money or comfort, I would always be there when she needed me. Always.
I learned so much about homelessness. So much about what it does to a person’s soul. How lonely it is. How soul crushing that loneliness and isolation is and what it does to you long-term. Things I’ve used when I’ve spoken to other homeless men. Lessons forged in a fire only they understand.
I learned the truth behind one of my very favorite quotes. Something that Dr. Falwell used to tell us at least once a week when I was a residential student at Liberty University many years ago. He would say; “You do not determine a man’s greatness by his talent or wealth, the way the world does. But by what it takes to discourage him.” He sometimes said it this way: “You don’t measure a man by what it takes to knock him down, but by what it takes to keep him down.” I learned that it takes a lot to keep me down. During that six-year period, I completed my bachelor’s and walked across that stage to get my degree…while still homeless. I rediscovered my love for writing and have published six books now. I met one of my heroes, Zig Ziglar and have become friends with his family.
In 2014 I was hired by Liberty and I work here in Virginia now. My daughter lives with me and is a music major.
But sometimes I still wonder why. Why? Why did I have to lose my career and my house and six years of weekends with my daughter? Some answers I’ve found over time, but in my quiet moments I still wonder why.
I was thinking of this last week as I was pondering this article. I remembered a story from my daughter’s childhood. She was four years old and had contracted a strep infection on her skin. You couldn’t even see the rash, it was invisible. You could feel it, but just barely. It felt delicate but rough…like a kitten’s tongue.
She didn’t respond to oral antibiotics and the pediatrician was concerned and eventually they admitted her to Vanderbilt Children’s hospital. The course of treatment was simply going to be four days of IV antibiotics along with assessment by an epidemiologist.
Her mom and I took her in to Vandy around 2pm on a Monday afternoon. I was tasked with, maybe the toughest thing I’ve had to do as a dad. I had to hold her down while they inserted and IV needle into her leg. My daughter was and is a daddy’s girl and she trusted me then as she does now. She knows I won’t let anything hurt her. But that day…I had to. I had to hold her while she cried and begged me “Daddy make them stop” as they placed the needle in her leg. She cried. And her 6’ 4” 250-pound, college hockey player daddy cried too. But I turned my head, so she couldn’t see my tears. I had to be strong. I had to let her feel a little pain, in order to avoid the greater pain of an untreated infection.
I was thinking about this last week and it made me cry with each memory. But I suddenly thought how this was so much like what God had to do during my six years living in my car. He knew the plan, but I did not. So, when I cried out to Him; “Daddy make them stop hurting me…” He too had to turn His head and keep me in place until the process was through. I lost so much but then, I gained so much. Would I ever want to go through it again? No. But would I go back, and undo do it if I could somehow? I can say confidently…No!
So often we can’t see anything but the darkness we are trapped in, and we can’t see God working. We wonder why He isn’t making the pain stop or taking away the troubles. But just as I had to do with my little girl, He is always…only, letting things happen for our good. Even when they don’t seem that way. He is still our Father, He is only wanting the best for us. And, I believe, sometimes our temporary pain hurts Him worse than it hurts us. But remember…just as it was love for my daughter that made me hold her while she felt pain, it is His love for you that will bear you up and get you through to the day of victory. Trust in His love.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

A Story From Our Homelessness

Some of you might know we are trying to buy a home. The house in question is a foreclosure and in a severe state of disrepair. I have been approved for a mortgage, but not for the purchase / construction loan we'd need to renovate the house. So we're doing a crowd-fund campaign in the hopes of purchasing the home and then when it's done, taking a mortgage for the amount we receive and donating that to charities. (We are NOT trying to get a free house) I wrote this story this morning and posted it as an update on the campaign. I thought I'd share it here. 

A story from when I was homeless: My homelessness started in May 2008. Daisy would spend June and July with me every year, that was our divorce arrangement. (Beside the usual Once a week and every other weekend) That first summer, a friend let us stay in a nice loft room he had over a barn on his property. It wasn't home, but it was better than not seeing her. It had a shower and a TV and some couches. We slept on the floor on air mattresses. She had just turned ten, and didn't understand what had happened to our house or to my job. I didn't want to trouble her with it so I explained the little I could and let her go on being a little girl. One weekend, she went to stay overnight with her friend Shirley Puinno. Shirley's mom had a yard sale that particular weekend and Daisy found two framed sketches of kittens. She brought them home with her when I picked her up on Sunday. The next morning, I woke early, as I always do, and sat there looking at our situation. I was living in a friend's loft, sleeping on air mattresses, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. I looked across the room to where Daisy was asleep on her air mattress and I spotted those two pictures in their frames, propped against the wall near her head. She didn't have bedroom with a wall to hang them on, so she leaned them there before she went to sleep. I had to go outside because I was sobbing and didn't want to wake her. That was a low point for me. There would be many others. If my homelessness had ended right there it would have been painful enough a memory for the rest of my life. But it wasn't. It had only begun. I kept those pictures. They're in my storage shed. My goal is to hang them in our house one day. That's why I'm trying so hard for this house. To finally have something of our own again after ten years. We've talked about planting another vegetable garden like we used to. Having a fenced-in yard for our dogs. Being able to wash our cars without needing a pocketful of quarters. Having neighbors that aren't transient and are separated by more than four inches of studs and drywall. Please keep praying that this happens for us. It's much more than just buying a house.
More info is available here: A Home of Our Own

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Who is The Real Killer? A Christian's Thoughts on the Florida Killings.

There is a problem in America and it isn’t guns. It uses a gun sometimes. Sometimes it uses a knife, or a car, or a truck, or a homemade bomb. Whatever tool it chooses to do its dirty work is immaterial. The problem isn’t the means…it’s the cause.
What causes a 19-year-old kid to walk into his school and gun down 17 children? What caused him to beat his mother and have such a history of violence that the police were at his house no less than 36 times in the last 18 months? (I’ll leave the dereliction of duty by the FBI, who were warned twice about this kid, for others to discuss.)
What rages inside a teenaged young man that causes him to do these things, and then almost immediately surrender and appear repentant? By all accounts, almost as soon as he was apprehended, he was saying he was sorry for the hurt he caused and was willing to plead guilty to avoid causing the community further pain.
You see this all the time. A person tortured by the demons of mental illness, (I use the term “demons” figuratively and literally…more on that in a moment) and filled with an unexplained rage, comes to the point of murder and almost as soon as the deed is done, they surrender peacefully, or they kill themselves.
Why? What are we missing in these events?
We see the carnage. We blame the gun. (We only blame the guns. Nobody ever calls for the banning of trucks, even though they’ve been use to greater effect in mass murders than guns lately. Nobody ever calls for a ban on knives, even though we’ve had mass stabbings) We call for legal action to strip weapons from people who have never used them to harm anyone, and then we scratch our heads when these things happen anyway.
There was murder long before there were guns. Murder didn’t develop as a result of there being weapons. Murder was always here. Ever since Cain killed Abel…probably with a rock or a log.
Because there is evil in the world.
There is evil in this world and it is larger and more powerful than people want to believe. I saw people posting things about “Being more loving” and “Love conquering hate” and I shrugged. These folks don’t get it. They don’t understand evil and what it really is and who it really comes from.
There is a hate problem in this world. But it’s genesis isn’t between humans…it’s a battle on a much larger, and unseen, front. The problem is Satan. The problem is sin.
God brings life. God brings love. God brings hope. God brings peace.
Satan is the antithesis of all those things. Where God is the author of Life…Satan causes death. Why do you think abortion is such a terrible thing? Because a baby is slaughtered? YES! Of course! But also, because when we, as humans, take a life, we tell the Author of life that we have no regard for Him. We take the most precious gift He gave us other than His Son –life-- and we destroy it in the name of convenience.
When one human murders another, it is the act of extinguishing a life that is the most egregious. The violence is terrible, but the death is the insult to God.
Psalm 139 tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” The word for “made” in the ancient Hebrew was the same word in Genesis that described God “making” Adam. He formed him with His own hands. Man was the only thing in all of creation that God created by touch. Everything else, He spoke into existence. But Man, He created by His loving, careful, artistic touch. It’s no coincidence that the same word is also used in scripture when describing an artist making art with his hands. We are God’s art.
We are His beloved.
And His arch enemy hates us for it.
Make no mistake…Satan is real, and he has one goal in all eternity and that is the defeat of his enemy. Knowing this is not going to happen, his intent is to take as many with him as he can, and to damage as much of God’s beloved as possible.
He hates us. He hates humanity. He grinds his teeth in rage at each and every human soul. Why? For one reason: Because God adores us, and since Satan can’t harm God…he’ll harm what God loves.
This is his domain, this world we live in. This is his finite kingdom. He knows how this will end but he has convinced himself that he can change the outcome. His problem always was pride. It still is.
He seeks any open door and he’ll spring as soon as he sees one. And then…when he’s done his dirty work and he’s wrecked his havoc…he leaves the scene and moves on to the next atrocity.
He finds cracks in the souls of men. Things like anger, bitterness, isolation, and so often, mental illness. When the soul’s natural defenses are weakened, he makes his move and takes control. Call it demon possession, demonic influence, or whatever. Name it what you will, but recognize it.
The vast majority of human beings do not have the capacity, on their own, to take a life. Not intentionally and not without remorse. If this were not true we would have murder in the streets to the extent that we’d be extinct. And don’t think the weapon would make a difference. We’d use our bare hands. If not for the flicker of the image of God in our souls, we’d be entirely without restraint and chaos would rule the day. The Holy Spirit of God is active on this earth and His presence in the hearts of Believers is what holds Satan at bay and keeps humanity, for the most part, at peace with each other.
But there are times. There are people, who break down emotionally, or mentally, or physically, often all three. And when this happens, Satan swoops in and takes control. He seizes an opportunity, inflames the already damaged sense of restraint, and uses that person to carry out his greater plan.
In Florida, this morning there are families whose lives are forever changed. Parents who have been pulled into a nightmare that will never end…not while they still breathe.
Because Satan found himself a very damaged, very wounded human. A young man filled with rage, and bitterness, and a broken soul. He was mentally ill. His natural decency was easily influenced by this evil one. Maybe Satan whispered in his ear and fed his anger and amplified his pain, all the while convincing him that he was his buddy. That he understood. That there was this one way to get revenge, or get noticed, and to finally not be an invisible, broken kid anymore. Maybe the words were audible, or maybe they were internal. But they worked.
They worked and This kid bought himself a gun and decided to kill students in the high school he was expelled from a year ago. Maybe Satan convinced him the he really did have an axe to grind. That he really had been wronged. That these kids and those teachers really did need to pay. That the enormous pain in his heart and in his head, was somehow their fault and that killing them would finally make people see him. Satan convinced him to surrender himself to his control. The kid didn’t realize that’s what was happening. He just thought he made a decision to kill. But he gave control to Satan and Satan gladly used the vessel. And as soon as his work was done, he dumped the boy and moved on looking for another willing accomplice, and the boy –no longer under Satan’s grip—surrenders without incident.
I don’t know…I’m guessing. But I do know that no normal human being has the capacity to walk through a high school and gun down kids. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve had to defend yourself, and the possibility of deadly force was on the table, you know it’s not what the average human wants to do. It’s scary and it’s humbling and it makes you a little ill in your heart. I know. I came close to it once when an intruder was approaching my home. A man with known mental illness and who had committed murder years before. I held him at bay with a bow and arrow, (Because it was the nearest weapon) until the cops arrived. When it was over, and my adrenaline receded, I almost broke down in tears at the mere thought that I might have had to kill him. Murder isn’t normal for God’s creation.
But it’s the way of doing business for Satan. It’s the coin of his realm. Jesus came that we might have life. Satan comes to kill, steal, and destroy. (John 10:10)
Does this absolve Nicholas Cruz of the murders he committed? Never. But until people –especially Christians—take this seriously and stop thinking that “we just need to love each other more,” we’ll never see an end to this. We’re not likely to see one anyway. This is part of the end of days.
What Christians need to be doing is praying more. Really praying. Not just chit-chatting with God. Seriously grasping the truth that our prayers, and our lives and our presence on this Earth are the only boundary that remains between Satan and his devices, and the rest of humanity. Spiritual warfare is real. The battle in the heavenly realm is real.
Satan is real.
Sadly, Christians behave as if he is a fairy tale.
Until we wake up and see the battle for what it is and realize our role in it…we’ll see more killing, not less. You’re not going to “love” this away. This is war.
Get in the fight.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thoughts on a Rainy Saturday Morning. A Man Who Once Was Homeless...Longing For a Home

This morning is a very rainy, chilly February morning in Lynchburg, Va.
We're expecting rain for the next 36 hours, maybe as much as 3 inches. (Thank goodness this isn't snow! It would be three feet!)
When I lived in TN and owned a home, I enjoyed days like this. I didn't want them often, because being a single dad and busy in my business at the time, I didn't have the luxury of very many weekends with nothing to do. There was yard work, or housework and every other weekend was filled with time with Daisy. (Which, of course, I never minded) 
But once or twice each winter I'd wake to find a cold, rainy Saturday and it became a chance to just relax. Typically, I made soup, or chili, for Saturday and Daisy and I would make gravy for Sunday. 
I would read a lot. If Daisy was with me that weekend, we'd watch movies and she would draw for hours. 
I could relax. I could let my breath out, realizing that; nobody would have any expectations for me on a day like this. No mortgages to write, no reports to run, no real reason to go to my office.
I didn't have to cut the grass. You can't hang your clothes on the line when it's raining. (One of the things I miss the most is a clothesline!) Nothing to do outside the house on a day like this.
Often, in the morning before Daisy awoke, I would make coffee, and sit in my living room with the blinds open and look out at my front yard and across the street to the cattle farm. I'd spot some deer making their way across the fence line, or the flock of turkeys that ranged from my neighbors yard, to mine, and over to the farm in their grazing pattern.
I could read the Bible and pray and think. It allowed me time to sort through the tangled yarn that our hearts become every few months or so. 
In a lot of ways it was healing. Healing from the divorce that broke my heart and from the intermittent fatherhood I had to accept due to that divorce. The rainy Saturday's when Daisy was with me were the best. In the quiet of those mornings, when the only sound was the rain hitting the roof, I could be sitting in the living room, knowing in my heart that she was asleep in her room, in my house, and for that day at least...everything felt normal.
In the two weeks since I found this house we're looking at, and since I let the idea of home ownership make it's way back into my heart, I've found myself reminiscing about when I last owned a home. How much I miss it. How much days like today were a gift. I can already see the new house in finished state. This morning, if we lived there, I'd be sitting in the living room, with the blinds open, looking out at the woods that the house backs up to, and the Peaks of Otter off in the distance to the West. Daisy would be asleep in her bed and it would feel like we finally landed from this difficult journey we've been on. 
I'm safe. I have a good job. I sleep indoors again.  Homelessness is over. But our life here is punctuated by noisy neighbors, doors slamming, car alarms going off, people who drive as if the gas pedal only has two positions...all the way up, or all the way down.
The music of the rain outside is interrupted by cars passing, the echo of the factory across the open field behind this townhouse, and the trains that run up and down the tracks at the end of the block. 
Of all the things that others consider negative about this neighborhood, the train tracks are the least negative in my book. Whenever a train comes by, I still stop to see it. Trains still turn me into a little boy.
I'm a little afraid because I've let myself hope about this house and at this stage I'm not close to getting it. I know God is able, and this is no big thing to Him, but to Daisy and me it is, literally, everything right now.
If you're sitting in your house this morning, and your day is stalled because of the rains we're getting, or if you're about to spend a busy Saturday running errands...stop and think about what you have. Home is truly our haven. It's our safe spot. It's "home base" in the great game of tag that we play each day. 
Whether your home is a mansion or a shack...if it's yours, and those you love are there with you, and you're relatively's a kingdom. 
Please keep praying for Daisy and this can be our Saturday one day soon.