Saturday, December 1, 2007

At the Bus Stop

Imagine that you are driving along on a stormy day. You see the following three people:

1. An elderly woman who looks as though she is about to die

2. An old friend who once saved your life

3. The woman/man of your dreams (if you are married, imagine that you are not for this question)

Which one would you pick up, knowing that you have only one seat?

I chose the elderly woman and so did the teen guys in my group. They just figured that she needed help.

This was a question on a job application. Out of 200 applicants one was hired because he answered with the following:

I would drop off the keys with my old friend so that he could take the older lady to the hospital. Then I would stay behind waiting for the next bus with the woman of my dreams.

Ah, thinking out of the box. May the Lord help us to think in creative ways to accomplish his Kingdom work.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Not Understanding Grace to Understand It

One of our church members was talking to me in the hall today. He said, "You know, I just don't deserve the mercy that God gives me. His grace that He shows me is just beyond my understanding." His face showed seriousness. After hearing what he said, I said back to him, "You know, the fact that you say, you don't understand grace, makes me think that you do understand grace. You don't just say, 'Oh, yeah, He died for me and loves me,' and then move on." Seems paradoxical--to understand grace you must not understand grace.

Monday, October 29, 2007

LIFE with Roaches

This afternoon I helped a family move for about 15 minutes. Seriously. They had moved some of their belongings out on a prior day, but here I was ready for at least a good hour of maneuvering and man-handling. We moved some mattresses, a bedframe, a dresser, two nightstands, two lawnmowers, a TV, a washer, and a dryer, all into a U-Haul. We were done.

I was humbled as I went into their ex-home. I had never really been beyond the living room, but I got a glimpse of LIFE. I went to grab a mattress and noticed a roach who looked very much at home with his buddies. I flicked him (or her for that matter) off just as one of the family walked into the room. I almost felt bad that I was acknowledging the presence of roaches in their home. So many times on visits we do not point out what is obviously there.

This reminds me of a story of a friend named Anthony Wood. He has shared this story over and over, so I do not think that he minds me sharing. He was trying to get into the lives of people in "inner-city" Memphis. He started a Bible study with a gentleman. The study was in this guy's home. This man would get up in the middle of the study and go get some coffee. After the first few visits, Anthony wondered when the man would offer him some. Finally he did. Anthony went into the kitchen with him. He wanted to put some creamer in his coffee, so he needed a spoon. He asked where the drawer was and pulled the drawer open. He discovered roaches were already there, and they were crawling on the spoons. Anthony thought for a second about what he should do. He did not want to offend the man by washing the spoon off, so he put the spoon directly into the hot coffee hoping that the high temperature would sanitize the thing. The gentleman saw the situation and said casually, "We just normally wash the spoon off in the sink." Anthony points out that sometimes you've got to put the spoon in the coffee--unwashed.

The family member was not upset. He did not even acknowledge what I had done. He probably did the same--flicking away-- when he spotted one. When it comes to poverty and its effects, I felt the tension today of wanting and not wanting to acknowledge what I see right before me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Remembering Birthdays

Tonight I talked briefly to a teen who seems to be "slipping away." He has trouble with authority at school and church for that matter. He is asked to be the man of the house being just a young man. A friend has said that people have called him a "crashtest dummy," a person who makes stupid choices. He comes across cocky and tough. At the end of our little conversation, he said, "Last Sunday was my birthday." There it is. The reminder of humanity. The reminder of youth. The reminder of wanting to be reached out to even when everything else about the person says, "Get out of my face."

Monday, October 1, 2007

Kung Fu Fighting

Well, I have entered once again into the realm of martial arts. As a second grader, I took karate lessons with my dad and brother. After a few weeks, I realized that sparring would not happen for a while. I had to learn the fundamentals. My eyes could not be averted though from the amazing fighting that was going on just four mats over. I got out of karate by offering my parents the lame excuse, "My feet hurt too much." Now at the age of 30, I am starting over for the sake of ministry. I have a group of older teen boys that I thought would be interested in learning karate. Each of us can go to this karate shop, which is a ministry of a local church, for the low cost of $5/person per month. They expressed interest. I took three of them the first time. They loved it. The next week, one of them returned. The following week, one again. What I have found is that these few hours is time for this guy to get the attention that he deserves. Sarah and I talk often in our household about how good kids get less attention than those who get into trouble. Since the numbers have dwindled to the two of us, he has shared more of his great personality that is often unnoticed behind his quiet ways. He is not a Christian--yet. After the karate workout, we share about what was tough and neat from the class. We learn self-defense techniques. The instructors pray and are very evangelistic. Through this and Bible studies with this guy, I invite him to be a follower of Christ. And little does he know, that the discipline to learn karate is a taste of the discipline one needs to follow Christ.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Not Enough

As I walked into her house today, I saw her sitting on the floor. Barbara (not her real name) was very upset. Her son had just been arrested again this morning for drug possession, this time within 100 yards of a school. He is 18 and in jail as I write this. He is a Contact teen that we saw much potential in to reach amazing goals and dreams. I heard his mom say that she feels like maybe she didn't do enough to help him. All I knew to do was sit on the floor with her, listen, and lament in prayer with her.

I feel that too with the youth that come my way. "There is only so much that you can do." "You have a family to take care of." "It is their choice." Those are true, and I accept them. There are times though to lament the way the world is, the effects of a world in which there is free will. And yet, as long as he breathes, the story is not over.

God help your child in jail right now. Help his mother. Let them know that You are with them. We groan for You to make all things right and new. In Jesus name. Amen.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Last night I was rereading a book I picked up somewhere while I was in college. It’s a collection of essays called “Paper Trail” by Michael Dorris. I stumbled upon the book in college, but it stuck with me because several of the essays were about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). The author, Michael Dorris, adopted 3 children who were all, to greater and lesser degrees, affected by this syndrome. His is a sorrowful and almost hopeless story of life with these three children whom he loves deeply, yet can do so little to help.

For those who don’t know, FAS is the result of alcohol consumption during pregnancy. It is unknown how much alcohol must be consumed in order to injure the fetus, but no amount of alcohol during pregnancy is considered safe. FAS children can have an array of physical impairments, but the most alarming aspect of FAS is how it affects the ability to reason and make choices. Dorris explains it this way:

My grown son has a full range of physical disorders: seizures; curvature of the spine; poor coordination; sight and hearing. But his most disabling legacy has to do with his impaired ability to reason. FAS victims are known for their poor judgment, their impulsiveness, their persistent confusions over handling money, telling time, and in distinguishing right from wrong.

While it is estimated that 8000 babies are born each year with FAS, another 65000 are estimated to be born with Fetal Alcohol Effect (FAE). (These stats are from Dorris’ book.) Though FAE children are not as severely affected as those with FAS, they can still exhibit many of the mental symptoms that make good decision making almost impossible. Dorris says,

Our older children, now all adults or nearly so, often cannot function independently, cannot hold jobs, tell the truth, manage money, plan a future. They have all at one time or another been arrested or otherwise detained for shoplifting, inappropriate sexual conduct, and violent behavior. Despite all our efforts to protect them, they have periodically come under the influence of people who, for instance, worship Satan or take advantage of them physically, mentally, and/or financially. They maintain no enduring friendships, set for themselves no realistic goals, can call upon no bedrock inner voice to distinguish moral from amoral, safe from dangerous.

Why write about this here? Because it struck me in rereading this essay that some of the children and teens (and adults, for that matter) we know at Contact have likely been exposed to prenatal alcohol. How much of their poor decision making skills and impulsivity is the result of normal childish behavior, and how much is linked to the alcohol? We’ll never know. But it made me wonder… and it made me sad. They probably wouldn't be diagnosed with FAS or FAE, but still, it seems logical to me that there could be consequences to the drinking, or smoking or drugs their mamas did while pregnant. Our kids seem to have so much in life already stacked against them – dysfunctional families, low-performing schools, lack of good healthcare – and now this – alcohol in the womb before their first breath. It is a discouraging thought, to say the least! Yet when we look at this, Bob and I, all we know to do is try to keep fighting the odds. Some days it seems we’re pouring water into a bucket full of holes. Though I know and believe that God can heal the most wounded of souls, the most dysfunctional of families, it all too often seems only a miracle akin to the parting of the Red Sea will cause these kids lives to really change. I have to remind myself that faith moves mountains. (But why oh, why does it seem like we have such big mountains here in Tulsa?!) So we, like each of you in your neighborhoods, continue going about the business of not losing faith. We keep praying for these children and teens, keep trying to help them make better choices, keep teaching them about God’s love, keep giving them second chances, keep having faith that something we’re doing is making a difference. Please pray for these children and all children in the world who start out life with so many disadvantages. And pray for us too, that we will not lose heart in a world that tries to steal our faith.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Summer family photos

Here are few family pictures from the summer. It has been pretty busy around the Logsdon household. God has been good to us though and kept us going even on these hot summer days. Miriam has been a wonderfully flexible toddler. She seems to really enjoy all the activity around here.

Miriam had her first experience with paint this summer. As you can see, it was pretty messy business!

Miriam recently discovered stickers. She loves them!

Miriam enjoys playing in the laundry while I'm trying to fold it. Here she is wearing one of my shirts. :)

Here we are - just relaxing. (Check out those stickers!)

Here's a picture from our Memphis trip. Miriam Loved the bball hoop in the pool.

Another thing Miriam loves is shoes. She got around surprisingly well in this one with a heel. "Shoes" was one of her first words, and it remains one of her favorites. I'm a little afraid of what this might mean for the future!

Miriam is getting really good at putting the shapes in the shape sorter. I know every child goes through these same developemental stages - walking, talking, learning words etc.. - but to see my own child grow and learn seems like a small miracle everytime.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Walking in Memphis

Our much-anticipated trip to Memphis is over… After months of car washes, bake sales, and thrift sales, the money is spent, the pictures have been taken, and Elvis is just a memory. But what a memory!

Friday night, July 27th, we arrived in Memphis. We crossed the mighty Mississippi and were welcomed to the city I called home for four years. Although it no longer feels like home to me, it was good to be back in the land of sweet tea and barbecue! After a meal at “Hard Rock Café” the girls headed to Linda Bateman’s house to get settled in for the night. Linda is a dear friend who opened her home to us. She fed the girls breakfast every day and dinner two nights, as well as providing late night snacks for hungry teenagers. She was a blessing.

Saturday we began our adventure as tourists. The girls took in Graceland and the Pink Palace museum. They loved seeing Elvis’ home, despite the somewhat dated décor. Saturday night we took the girls downtown to “Rendezvous” and introduced them to real barbecue, Memphis style. Sunday morning we went to church at the Downtown church of Christ where Bob and I used to go (where we met, in fact). It was wonderful to be there again and see many familiar faces. After church, the girls headed to the Stax Museum and then Sun Studio, where they saw the microphone Elvis sang into when he was just starting out as a young, unknown singer.
We had a relaxing evening swimming at Dr. and Mrs. Bland’s pool. Dr. Bland is a former professor of Bob’s from Harding Grad. They were so gracious in allowing us to swim in their pool. On our last day of sightseeing, we headed to the zoo. There was a slight glitch in our plans when we got a flat tire on the van. God was watching out for us though. We were right next to a tire shop where the mechanic kindly repaired the tire for free! We did finally make it to the zoo where we enjoyed the pandas and the polar bears and all the other animals. That afternoon we went downtown to the National Civil Rights Museum. I think seeing the struggle for equal rights in our country and how far we’ve come touched us all. It was a good way to end our time in Memphis. Tuesday morning we packed up and let the girls hit the mall for a few hours. Then we headed home to Tulsa.

Miriam and I missed out on at least half of the sightseeing adventures due to the many needs of a growing toddler. Timilyn Towers, one of our other chaperones, was tour guide extraordinaire. She took over the responsibilities of keeping up with everyone, as well as keeping everyone laughing and having fun. Thanks, Timilyn! We were also blessed to have Larita, a grandma of one of the girls, along with us. She was a trooper, keeping up with all that walking we did!

In reflecting on the trip I’ve tried to think of one story that highlights what this experience meant to the girls. I don’t think I have one, probably because Miriam and I were having a somewhat different travel experience (those of you with toddlers will understand!). I do know though that the girls benefited from seeing the world is bigger than their neighborhood, bigger than Tulsa. This was the farthest from home most of them have ever been, and there is no way it could have happened without the help of many people.
I know the girls felt the love of D who arranged spending money for each of them, of Linda who let them sleep all over her living room, of Dr. Bland who let them use his pool, of “Miss T.” who drove them all around Memphis in the van and led them in devos every night, of everyone who helped us with fundraising or who prayed for this trip to be possible. To each of you we say, “thank you”.

Monday, August 6, 2007


The #1 hit song in the church van this summer is...Rescue by Acappella. We have the old Acappella album (the tape version!!) in our van, and during hours of driving around town, we don't listen to the radio (my choice), but Rescue..over and over and over. Not a bad song to put into the hearts and minds of teens. There is nothing like hearing teens ask,"Can you rewind that song (Rescue) again?" Sure beats hearing "Bay Bay Bay" (a popular rap song). Grace and peace on the road.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Muscles and Clay Dyer

A couple weeks ago a few of my Contact Church brothers went to a conference in which they saw a video clip made by ESPN. They profiled a man named Clay Dyer, a Bass Pro fisherman. Doesn't sound too interesting until you see that he has no legs and no arms, except for a short stump on his right shoulder. He ties the lures using his mouth.

I was talking with our teen boys recently about what they would give up if they had to lose either their vision or hearing. One guy chimed in with an eye-opening statement (pardon the pun): I would kill myself if I went blind. Sitting in the room with us was Muscles. He is an adult member at Contact. He has one arm that functions right, the other arm can be used sometimes. His eyes squint most of the time, making it hard to see. He never complains. He spoke up about how he felt like dying a few years ago as he faced this new disability. Since he has come to Contact, he helps around the building and keeps the grounds looking good. He has found a true niche.

I was so thankful for his words. Clay Dyer was asked in the clip if he would change anything if he could about his life. He said "no." He does everything that any other professional fisherman does. He realizes that his life reveals the miracle of living in the midst of our pain and brokenness. I am so thankful for my brother, Muscles. He inspires us to live for the LORD and wait on the LORD during the rough moments. That clip can be found at

Monday, July 23, 2007

"I Don't Need to Go to Church"

My heart hurts tonight. For what feels like the thousandth time, I heard the words above. I dropped some teens off in their neighborhood, and a guy approached asking what we were upto with our church. He told me that he prays to God and reads His Bible. The way that he said it, seemed to be telling me the following: "I don't need to go to church. I have my own relationship with God." I asked him if he had anyone who knew his business, if he had anyone to whom he could confess his sins. I told him that he can come as he is to Contact Church, no need to dress up. He asked if we had child molesters at our church.

What is underneath the surface of his statements and questions? Mistrust of churches. Being burned by people in authority at churches. Not seeing the love of God among Christians. Dislike at having to walk with people that you don't like but are saved by Jesus and being sanctified by the Spirit. Pride in having to admit that you are weak and need others to help you walk with God. I think most Christians who go to church have probably had those thoughts or feelings at one time or another. I do not know his story. That is perhaps the reason that my heart hurts. He has reached a point in which he has found individualism as a yoke that is easier to bear than the yoke of community. In some ways, I cannot blame him. Why go to a place where you feel horrible about yourself, and that the people there don't make it any easier for you? Maybe the community of God's people does not image God together, the way we image God individually.

What I dream of doing is going up to Cody and saying, "Let's have church right here. Where two or three are gathered...right?" Pray for the church that we can represent God well as His community.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Lucy has a home

Well, Lucy has found a home with Mike and Kim, a wonderful dog-loving family from Contact. They live out in the country and are the people who helped us get her in the first place. They also helped us train her as best as they could over the phone. We are happy and glad that our ol' dog Lucy has a good home. She is going to love chasing those rabbits.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Goodbye, Lucy

Well, we got rid of our dog. We decided to take her in mid-January though we were not looking to get one. We liked the idea of having a dog, but we are just not "dog people" (whatever that means). We didn't have the time to give her the attention that she needed as such a social animal. We have put an ad in the Tulsa World for a good family to take her. In the meantime, she is at Mike and Kim's out in the country, living it up, I'm sure.

Are we sad that she's gone? Not yet. We feel like we are getting our backyard back. She taught me a lot though. Through all of the dog-training books and help from Mike and Kim, I realize that I too need lots of training and lots of love to become the kind of person that I was meant to be as a disciple of Jesus and child of God. I think that I am a better parent because of her. A calm, firm voice goes much further in discipline and training than yelling. Please pray that she finds a good home, she deserves it.

What Makes Me Angry

Yesterday I sat in our church building's conference room with three 13 year old guys who go to the Contact Church of Christ. We had just finished reading about Nehemiah's grief in response to the news of the sad state of Jerusalem. I was curious to know what injustices or things in the world that are not right, which make them mad or sad. Here's our list:

1. Crime--robbery, break-ins
2. Girls getting raped
3. How some rich people treat the poor
4. Hypocrites
5. Moving poor people out of a neighborhood to build something else
6. People getting "jumped" (one guy fought by a group of guys)
7. The fact that it takes the police a long time to come to their neighborhood even though the police station is close by
8. When someone gets shot in the hood and no one is willing to tell the police who it was even though he/she saw the event happen

Talk about some a great discussion. Even better was to hear two of our teen guys pray over this list. One of the best prayers that I have heard in a while.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Last night I talked to a good friend about the problems of the world, especially poverty. In America, we agreed hunger is usually not the main problem. There are plenty of resources available. From his research, one of the biggest needs to help end poverty is the ability to read. What do you think? I know that it has broadened my horizons and opened doors and worlds that I never knew existed. He has seen the good effects by participating in a program called WizKids, which took volunteers to children after school and read with them. He quoted stats for me that told me of the link of reading ability and whether or not a child will end up in jail someday. I commend my brother for wrestling with the underlying needs. I also wonder what the poor would say their needs are. Let's keep asking tough questions. I am tired of assuming that I know what is need and just maintaining the same outreach efforts.

Demonizing Single Mothers

I read that phrase in a book recently. This is what happens to single mothers in the hood. Do they make bad decisions? Yes. Do they make good decisions? Yes. Here is a story that opened my eyes a little more to their world:

One mom had an eight month old son who went to childcare. The childcare usually dropped him off, but one particular day they had to take the kids home early. They didn't have enough room for him on the first round, so he was at the childcare facility. The mom expected him home at a certain time. When he wasn't there, she went down there. When she walked in, she saw her son trying to pull himself up on his feet. Everytime he got up, the adult worker there knocked him back down with her foot. The mom watched this a few times in horror, not believing what she was seeing. She confronted the lady, and from that day on, she does not trust childcare. She told me that she doesn't work because she has kids that she wants to raise. My respect for her just went up a notch.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Pink Flamingoes

Back in 2004, when Sarah and I first joined the work here in Tulsa, there was a teen girl that I was trying to reach out to and build a relationship. Her birthday came up, so I decided to surprise her. I got up that morning before school started and placed a pink flamingo in the ground right in front of her door. I put a "Happy Birthday" note on the plastic bird. She was surprised. All day she tried to think about who did it. She called around after school and finally found the guilty party.

I was reminded of that as I saw her again this past week at our annual church camp. A group of college students from the University of Southern Florida come over and run a camp for our Contact youth, first grade to high school. It is quite the highlight of the year. She and her brother now live in Florida with their dad. Since they have been there, there has been transformation. They are in far less toxic environment with stability and support. The college group is an hour away from them in Florida, so they have lots of interaction. We are praying for them to find a church family to be connected to as they go home this week from camp.

They don't make pink flamingoes anymore, at least the last factory closed down here in America. As I saw this young lady little did I know that a pink flamingo would be a sign of hope as she and her brother now live in the land of pink flamingoes, Florida.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Crying for the "Tough Guys"

Today I went to visit a teen guy who presents a pretty tough facade. He has only come to Contact a handful of times, and those times were all about life on his terms. One of his first visits was at a basketball fellowship time with the teen boys. I laid out the rules of conduct for how we as guys need to respect each other. He came up to me after my talk when all the guys had cleared out from signing the contract of conduct. He felt like I was looking at him the whole time. I knew then that this guy had been judged before by people in authority and that this could be a rough relationship as he carried a chip on his shoulder.

Today we talked outside of his home on the small concrete slab of a front porch. We chatted for a while, and then he asked if I have a daughter. He then asked if I cried when she was born. I don't remember crying per se, but I do remember being close to it with all of the joy in the moment. He asked if my wife Sarah cried. Yep. He said, "That's dumb to cry about that." My knee jerk response was to give him the three point sermon about why he was wrong. I just said that crying is not a right or a wrong thing, not even a dumb thing. He said that he doesn't cry. He just holds in the anger and started to explain that this is probably why he feels so angry. He caught himself in the midst of this and went back to making rude comments. He made rude comments about stuff in which he knew nothing. He wanted to get a rise out of me, and with the Lord's grace, I didn't take the bait. He had felt uncomfortable letting his guard down, if even for a moment. I told him that I realize it's hard being uncomfortable talking about stuff on the inside, but he wasn't having anymore of that being vulnerable stuff.

He told me not to come back to his house anymore, that I was of no benefit to him. As I left him, I said, "I love you, man." He turned around and asked, "Are you gay?" I just said "no" and left the premises.

As I reflected on my drive back to Contact, I realized that this guy was throwing out at me all of the ugly stuff that he could muster. He wanted to see if I would beat him down, if I would judge him, if I would let him know that his hurt and anger was too ugly to look at. The ugliness coming out is a sign of the "ugliness" that he sees in himself--"Could God really love me as I am?" When I go to see him next time, I'll let him know.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Mother Daughter Tea- by Sarah

Last weekend the teen girls hosted a Mother Daughter Tea for their Moms and Grandmas. It was the result of several weeks of planning by the girls and numerous trips to the store by me. It was definitely worth it when I saw them sit down with the important women in their lives and enjoy tea, cookies, and laughter.

The girls gathered on Friday night and set up tables, arranged flowers, painted flowerpots (as gifts for moms), laid out centerpieces, etc… It was a late night, but well worth it. When we left the building, the Contact “café area” was transformed into a tearoom, complete with china teacups and cloth napkins. Quite different from our normal paper plate affairs at Contact!

Saturday afternoon my mom, grandma, and sister (who came into town for the event) helped me put the finishing touches which mostly involved making sure the food was ready- cucumber sandwiches, mini-tarts, and shortbread cookies, and of course, tea. The girls arrived with their moms and grandmas. We took their pictures together to remember the day. One of our teens, who generally has a very solemn demeanor, had the most beautiful smile for the camera.

When everyone had arrived they were welcomed by two of our girls. Then they were ready to serve tea and snacks to their families. In this soda pop and latte culture I truly expected everyone to just sip a little tea and be done. I was so surprised to see everyone, including the teens, going back for refills and enjoying the tea and company.

When the teapots were getting close to empty, we played a game, “How well do you know your mom/daughter?” I asked a series of questions such as: “What is your daughter’s favorite T.V. show?” and “What is your mom’s least favorite household chore?” It was so funny to watch the girls and their moms try to get inside each others’ heads. In the end, Porsche and her mom won the prize. This was especially meaningful since Porsche and her mom have only recently begun to develop much of a relationship.

I hope this is the beginning of a Contact Mother’s Day tradition. I loved watching the girls and their moms enjoy the time together, but I also enjoyed getting to help walk the girls through the planning of an event like this. I would guess most of our teens rarely sit down to a meal of any sort with their family, especially with fancy china and cloth napkins. This was an opportunity to learn how to plan an event, participate in a dress-up tea, and make a positive memory with family. Mission accomplished.

Special thanks to my mom, Mary Ashlock, my Grandma, Mary Wood, and my sister, Rachel for all their help. Thanks also to D. MacGuffee for letting us borrow her china. You guys helped provide a great memory for the girls and for me!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Pray for Everybody

I find in urban ministry that when you ask people what to pray for, they answer, "Well, just pray for everybody." A few years ago, a dear sister Marie Thomas in Memphis would always ask us to pray for everybody as we sat in her apartment unit waiting for her kids to come home from school. She died at the hospital, while taking care of one of her children. She had medical problems that she didn't seek help for because she was so busy thinking of her children. Yesterday I rolled around Tulsa with a young guy named Taylor. When I asked him who we could pray for, he guessed it, "everybody." He didn't want to leave anyone out. He has a single dad who takes care of him and his sister. Tonight Miriam and I went to visit a family with nine children. One of them is on the verge of either going the way of the world or possibly the way of the Lord, probably the first option. When I asked his family what we could pray for, he said, "Everybody." I said, "Well, let's get more specific." The response "everybody" is a heavy burden that often leaves me speechless before God. They are right--we can't leave anybody out.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cesar's Way

A few weeks ago at the library, I picked up the CDs for the book Cesar's Way. The author Cesar Milan is also known as the Dog Whisperer. What a name! I was excited to hear more from him since we have a 6-7 month old dog named Lucy. We got Lucy back in January from Mike and Kim, fellow Christians at the Contact Church. Mike and Kim get several dogs dropped at their doorstep, so they have a ministry to provide homes for these dogs. They called us about Lucy, and after some "counting the cost" discussions, Sarah, Miriam, and I took her into our lives. We are rather behind in knowing how to help a dog get trained, so Cesar was a welcome friend in helping us (and also Mike and Kim).

In the midst of listening to him (and watching him also on a DVD), here are some insights that have helped me from dog training in applying them to youth ministry (I hesitated to post this, but it really has helped me gain insight into how to train and nurture youth--though I heartfully acknowledge that they are not animals):

1. Dogs have a dog psychology, not a human psychology. Cesar says that we tend to humanize dog behavior with our own human psychology. Dogs need an alpha dog to lead the pack, to show them how to live. If you don't become the alpha dog, they will. Dogs also live in the present moment, not in the past and the future. Sounds like the ways things work with youth to me. If there is not a clear leader, then youth will take the reins. The ability to live in the present is often under-appreciated by adults, but we are often poor at this. This also means that the lesson you taught youth yesterday could be forgotten today and then tomorrow. The lessons have to be repeated over and over.

2. Dogs respond best to calm, assertive energy. Cesar says that Oprah is the best example of this, although I've seen her lose her "cool" a few times. Dogs, like youth, can feel the energy. When we get frustrated, they can feel it, and often that energy damages the relationship. From deep within our core, we can respond to youth in a calm, assertive way. I find myself wanting to be in check when my anger starts to rise. Maybe I'm taking their actions or behaviors personally. Maybe I'm making too much of something or come with unrealistic expectations.

3. Dogs need exercise, nutrition, and affection--in that order!! Last week, during Spring Break, we had a day with the teen boys devoted to basketball. We played from 1 PM, took a short supper break, and then played until 8:00PM. This verified a theory that Matt Hurley, a co-worker of mine, and I have held. These boys could play ball all day long. Around 4:30 PM, I noticed that the teens starting picking at each other and getting annoyed a little bit easier. Time to load up and eat at CiCi's Pizza. Throughout the day, we had times to stop and talk about being role models for the younger guys and how well they could do that. They listened a lot better because the first two needs were met.

4. Dogs get frustrated and need ways to channel that energy. Cesar points out that dogs get so much energy built up that they get frustrated and don't know what to do with it all. He tends to work with strong breeds of dogs the most since they are such high-energy dogs and owners don't know how to help them. He will get a Pit Bull on a leash, put some roller blades on, and go for a ride. The Pit Bull won't listen to anything before the ride. After the challenge of keeping up with Cesar, he is tired and better able to listen. I believe that youth have the same trouble, so much frustration is built up which comes out in awkward or hurtful ways. This can be redirected into exercise or an activity as a distraction, and then you can talk later about what was going on back there.

5. Dogs need to be rehabilitated, owners need to be trained. Cesar believes that since dogs are naturally pack animals, as they live with humans, they forget how to be dogs. In his words, he needs to help them to "learn how to be a dog again." He rehabs them and helps the owners to know how to let their dog be a dog. Often I wonder how much of problems that arise with youth is the junk--emotional baggage, sins unconfessed, addictions, misunderstandings from not listening-- that parents/adults carry in themselves. This is the junk that we then pass onto them. Don't get me wrong, I believe youth can be rebellious and choose wrong. I just think that youth, in the city or suburbs or rural areas, often have to grow up way too fast because adults are not being the grown-ups that they should be. Teens often need to "learn how to be youth again" in this season of life.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What Kills the spirit

Tonight I did pick-ups for the teen girls' weekly Bible Study fellowship. My wife Sarah and Taryn Towers do a wonderful job loving on these young ladies on Tuesday nights. What I thought would be a quick first stop ended up in a conversation about how life changes directions.

Jay (not his real name), the boyfriend to one of the teen's relatives, informed me that the teen girl I was looking for was out of control and was not to be found. He related this situation to his life. His mom taught him a healthy fear of her authority. He would never do wrong in front of her or be disrespectful toward her. At the same time, he still allowed himself the option to do wrong when she was not around to see. Before he went through that door though, he had followed a good path. He was active in sports, especially football. He asked his mom to come to his games. She said that she was too busy or had too much work to do. He kept asking her. He pleaded with her to come to his games. She still would not come. Then he started missing practices, or he would go to practice but not really give it his all. He developed relationships with some guys who ran the streets. Finally, he gave up football. He got hooked to life on the streets--gangs and drugs. Eventually, he had to learn the hard way, serving time in the state penitentiary.

Upon reflecting on his mother's unwillingness to come to his football games, he said, "I don't know. I guess it just killed my spirit to play." You could feel the tender hurt in his statement. That was a big part of his life story. He sees now that he could have decided to play just for himself. Toward the end of the conversation, he said, "When I have kids, I am going to do all that I can to be there for them at their games, even if I have to lose my job or something." I believe him.

Friday, March 9, 2007


Last May, the teens at the Contact Church had just about finished a good evening of fellowship on a Friday night. Then chaos broke out over some trash talk about who won or lost the last basketball game. In the process, two teen guys got up in each other’s faces, ready for who knows what. What eventually happened is that one of the guys made a serious threat toward the other guy. The words “I’m gonna shoot you if…” flew out of the mouth of one young man. This was new territory for me. In all my days as an urban youth minister, I had not encountered this kind of threat on another teen. The teen admitted that he said it. For the safety of others, we told him to stop coming to Contact.

What didn’t stop was the development of a game plan to help this teen get restored back to a right relationship with the other guy, the Contact Church, and the Lord. I contacted an organization called Urban Youth Worker’s Institute and asked if anyone in this field of ministry had ever encountered a similar situation. One person replied that something like this happened in California. Two guys got into it with each other, and a youth leader stepped in to help resolve the situation. He ended up taking the two teens on a boating trip to help do something fun together. In the midst of the trip, there was some stormy weather. The boys were desperately working to get water out of the boat, and needless to say, their relationship grew in that moment.

One youth worker named Detra sent this to me:

Furthermore, when we talk about apologizing, this youth also needs to know that he should be asking for forgiveness not just saying “I’m sorry.” He also needs to know that in spite of the discipline he will get, that the ministry still loves and forgives him as Jesus does. My biggest concern is that if you decide not to let him back into the ministry, there may be some unresolved issues that could result in future problems. Win him over as Jesus did, with lots and lots of LOVE. If he trusts you or one of your youth leaders enough, you will be able to win him over.

I thought that she said well the things that we (Contact Staff, parents of the two teens, and myself) were wrestling with in this process of restoration. What does true repentance look like for the teen who made the threat? He and I talked about that. He was getting anger management counseling at school that helped him to develop an approach to fights at school that was way less reactive. At one moment last fall, he seemed ready to ask for forgiveness. When I went to pick him up to meet the other guy and his mom, I asked if he was ready. He said, “I guess so,” with little or no interest in going to make things right. I was not about to drag him off to apologize, so he stayed home that day to mull it over some more.

Restoration does happen. A few weeks ago, the two teen guys sat with me in a Braum’s restaurant parking lot to get right with each other. The teen who made the threat said what he needed to, and the other guy apologized as well. The following Sunday they stood up in front of the church together. The first teen said that he made a big mistake, regretted it, and had learned what to do when there’s a fight. The other teen stood by him and apologized because it “takes two people to have a fight.” The response was overwhelming from the adults in the church. Many came up there to pray with them. After the prayer, I got to see adults hugging this teen who had made this threat. As we hugged him, we got to reflect the unseen God in a visible form with lots of LOVE, like Detra suggested. He got to meet the God who is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked” (Luke 6: 35). The one that I have met and known along the Way.