Monday, January 30, 2017


On my mission several of the Elders were called to teach the Hmong people. They were refugees to our county because they were being killed in their home land. I was on exchanges one night and went to a dinner appointment at an elderly lady's home. I spoke no Hmong and she spoke no English, so we only spoke through translation of my companion. The dinner was the worst I ever tasted. Some purple rice cooked in some sort of basket with a soy mush. There were chicken feet and a big bowl of broth, that was from the soy stuff, in the middle of the table that we were all supposed to drink out of.

We were there most of the night and she gave me a home made tie and as I was leaving she gave me a Hmong name. I don't recall how you said it, but it meant something like Elder Tiger or maybe it was Squirrel. The details are fuzzy.

Looking back I was touched that a woman would: let a total stranger in her home, feed him the best food she could afford (though little it may be), give him a hand maid tie that took hours of labor, and in every way possible honor and love him.

Refugees have continued from that time forward to have a wonderful impact for good on mine and my families life. They have been a powerful example of love, the pioneer spirit and ability to persevere through the worst this world has to offer. Ree Reh, (Here is an amazing article my brother wrote about him) a deaf, Karen refugee, smiles and gives me a huge hug every time I see him. He like so many truely are lights in, what to me would be, a dark world.

I pray Trump figures out whatever security risk he hopes to find in our process in 90 or 120 days and we can get back to sharing this great gift that is America. For America truely is great, but like all great gifts if hoarded for ourselves will only cankur and rot, but if shared will blossom and grow. And I cannot help but think that to deny them access to our country is only to deny ourselves something much greater.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Does He Even Have a Chance?

If you are looking for homeless people, or myself, in any given town, one of the first places to look is the local 99 cent store. When I stopped by one such store in Yuma, Arizona, a young man was helping patrons by returning their carts, saving them a few seconds walk. No sign declared his financial need or desire for help, but everything else about him did.

I approached and introduced myself. His name, Oswaldo, was new to me. I began to ask, "Have you...,"

"Found Jesus?" He jumped in before I was able to finish my sentence.

"I was going to say, 'had dinner', but if you want to talk about Jesus, I'm okay with that. But why don't we find a place to eat while we talk."

We begin walking to the nearest restaurant, and being in Yuma, we find a very nice authentic Mexican restaurant nearby: Taco Bell.

"So are you from a church?"

I really didn't know how to answer that. Some years back, I represented my church as a missionary and I am still very involved in church, but regarding this meeting, I wasn't sure if I would say I was, "from a church."

"I go to church," I responded, "I'm Mormon."

"Oh, isn't that like Amish? You don't dance and use technology."

"Not too much like Amish. We use technology and even dance, but your right, our dancing could use some work."

As it turns out, Oswaldo is the first, "homeless interview" I have done who wasn't homeless. Near homeless, would better define him. A nearby apartment was his for two more days. Family Self Sufficient (FSS), a program in Yuma, had given him the apartment. The program was straight forward enough. It gives the homeless an apartment for a few months while they find work, with the hope that by the end of the program they can afford the rent on their own.

Oswaldo had not timed out. Rather, he was being kicked out for failure to follow rules. His landlord had grown lax with the "no pets" rule and Oswaldo had collected several cats and dogs. But this minor infraction was not his most significant worry. The big issue for FSS and Oswaldo was drugs.

Unfortunately, drugs and Oswaldo had a long history. Heroine was his mother’s drug of choice and at age 6 he was taken from the home, she being unable to keep both children and a drug habit. From there he was in and out of foster care. Part of the time was with his Uncle. It was while with his Uncle that he ran away and found his mother again. At this point she had another child and had either learned to handle a child and the drug addiction or at least gotten better at avoiding CPS. His schooling was not a priority for her and quickly became nonexistent for him. Spending all day with fellow drop outs, it was during this time that he starting using drugs, mostly meth.

Drugs led him to paranoia and violence, and as you can guess the home had no shortage of drama. Being kicked out for periods of time was not uncommon during his later teen years and Oswaldo became comfortable living on the streets. By 19 he stopped coming back home at all and spent all his time on the streets.  Two years later at the age of 21 he found out that his mother had died. 

You might think that the woman who consistently chose drugs over him, and more recently kicked him out onto the streets, would not hold a significant grip on his heart, but you would be wrong. The death was over 14 years ago, and tears began to form as he spoke of her death. She had HIV, a failed liver, was a drug addict and alcoholic. Given this, it is hard to call her death unexpected, even at age 42, yet it became a life changer for Oswaldo. He moved from Southern California where he had lived when he heard of the death, to Yuma, Arizona to be closer to his sister, Ruth. But the move was the littlest change. Far more significant was the fact that he got a job at a cotton factory and went clean. For the next 3 years, he worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day and stayed clean. Since childhood it was the longest he had ever been clean and in his entire life it was the longest he ever held a job. "I could only do it because I was so busy," he explained, "The pay stunk, but being clean and working felt great." 

This would be the largest victory in his life, and ever since the victories have been much smaller, "Sometimes I quit for a week and get a job, but I always seem to go back. I can't work and use. Some people are somewhat functional users, not me. Recently I had a friend offer me a job as a lettuce picker and sorter but I didn't want to take it until I was clean because I knew there was no point."

"So, you just beg for enough to get food?"

"Food, drugs and dog food. My three staples. I beg but I feel awful about it. I feel so much better working."

"What are your next steps?"

"I have to take my pets to the animal shelter. I feel awful about them. I have cared for them so poorly and without the apartment I can't just release them. So, I'll go to the shelter and turn them in. Then I'd like to clean my place. FSS was good to give me a place to live and I hate to turn it back a mess. Then I need to focus on sobriety. I've been clean before, I know I can do it again. Then a job. I've got to work. I see guys in their 50's still begging and I don't want that to be me."

"What is the one thing society could do to help you?"

He paused. The pause became awkward, he looked to me almost shrugging as if to say, I'm not sure. But I looked back clearly wanting an answer. His eyes looked up as he continued to think, "I wish they could understand that recovering from drug addiction is a journey, not an event."

I told one of my work colleagues about Oswaldo. He said, "It's sad but he never had a chance. The problem occurred when his mom had a baby as a drug addict."

My colleague has a point. No doubt drug addicts having children is far from ideal, but does he really have no chance? 

What do you think? Raised by an addict, perhaps born with addiction, a drop out at 13, a meth addict by 14: Does he even have a chance?

I fear many programs set up to help people like Oswaldo are merely set up to keep them alive, not to help them truly change. Why? because deep down we don't truly believe they can. 

The first thing he thought I was going to ask him was, "Have you found Jesus?" Why? No doubt because many of those willing to approach him ask him that. They are Christian themselves and at its core Christianity is the belief that through Christ we can all change. No matter who we are. No matter how far we have fallen, we can all change. 

I don't know exactly how we can help facilitate that change. But, hope, I firmly believe is the first step, both for Oswaldo and for us.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Affordable Housing?

This past week I went to Boulder City Council Meeting. Of most interest for me was an appeal that was filed against a variance that the city planning committee had granted. It allowed a local developer to put in a town home project in our city.

One of the key points made by all the council members who voted for the variance to be upheld was the idea of affordable housing.  The concept of a starter home/affordable home is not a bad one but I think we need to be careful how far we take the idea of "affordable housing". This is the point I make this week in my opinion piece. I hope you will read it.

I also just wanted to say how happy I was at the city council meeting. Not because of the outcome necessarily but because of the process. I was glad the people had a way to appeal a decision made by the committee. I was glad to see council members really ask some good questions and try to get good resolution. I was glad to see people be able to speak their mind. I was glad to see reasonable minds be able to speak to both sides of the issue. I was glad to see council members disagree and not be disagreeable. I was glad to see citizens disagree and not be disagreeable.  Overall it was a great process for a great city.

I am grateful for those who are passionate on both sides of this issue. I am grateful for a man willing to develop and try to make this city better. I am grateful for citizens who speak up when they think the development is not being done reasonably. I am grateful for city council members who are willing to weigh the issues and try to make well thought out votes.

My only fear is that this passion for city politics will turn to anger against one another. We should never let that happen. Boulder City is better than that.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Serpentine Stone

Thousands of years ago, a powerful wizard created a serpentine stone. The stone served various masters, being passed down from Father to Son. It was a manifest stone with the particular power to grant whatever the owner truly desired as long as he kept the stone in his possession. The serpentine stone, itself, was not a ruby or sapphire, but a rather common looking stone. It was slightly smaller than a quail egg, but similar in shape and  was of reddish, brown hue. Because of its power, it was only given to those who had proven themselves. A very wise master, realizing his inability to control his desires, stood at the edge of the woods and hurled the rock deep into the forest, knowing he would never be able to find it.
There it sat in the woods among the earth and decaying branches for over 200 years when a gathering of woods people took place. Among these woods people was a man known for his spirituality, a Shaman. Sensing the connections of all things was second nature to him both among those things that modern science calls living and those things they do not. While the stone to you and I would have been impossible to notice to him its inward powers shown like a great flame sitting on the forest floor. Not only was the stone easily found by this man of great discernment but he also recognized instantly what powers the stone had. Adding it to his pouch, he knew that his next job was to find the stones next master and that he must choose wisely for the stone's power could bring great good or great calamity to the earth.
While at the gathering, he met Carlos. Carlos was not always wise but he was sincere. Several times he had determined to give Carlos the stone, only to see the foolhardy youth error, causing him to retract his decision. But no matter how many times he determined his choice would be someone else, Carlos kept coming to mind. At the last day of the gathering he met with Carlos. The stone was given but so was a charge that he not take this responsibility lightly, for to have all your true desires met puts great responsibility on the owner. They must learn to control and decide wisely what their true desires would be. For the stone would help you get your desires but it would not be without repercussions. Bad desires would be achieved with at times, dire consequences. Carlos was determined to be deserving of this charge.
Carlos soon found that the stone was exactly as advertised. At first, he was very careful to control his desires and keep them in check. He could not control regular whims but with effort he could keep unwise thoughts or directions from becoming true desires. However, over time he found it easier and easier to allow unwise and foolhardy enterprises to become his desire. In these he found victory but the more unwise the pursuit the more sorrow he left in his wake. It was only when a particular victory almost led to the loss of that which he loved most that he realized he had failed his charge, he was undeserving of the stone. Wisely he began to seek out the wise man who had first given him the stone.
Friends told him that the Shaman would once again be at another wood gathering at the exact location where the stone had first been given to Carlos. The gathering was much larger than it had been in years past. The main fire was set in the middle of the various camps. Word of Carlos arrival spread quickly, as the years had made him a powerful man. Most of the camp was gathered as he came to main fire where the Shaman, the same man who had found the stone stood counseling various leaders.
The camp fell quite as Carlos approached.
“I know why you are here.” The Shaman said.
Carlos held the stone out in his hand. He was determined to return the stone but now that the moment had come, he was torn. How could he voluntarily give up such immense power? For years, would he look back on this moment with regret? Yet, he knew he could not handle the power any longer, that it would be unwise not to give the stone back.
The group stood in silence and the pause became uncomfortable. The Shaman calmly approached and said with an open palm, “It is your choice, you must give it of your own free will.”
Never had Carlos been so torn. He felt his desire for the stone and his desire to be rid of the stone both as overpowering. As silence prevailed suddenly a loud crack filled the camp. The small stone was now two stones in the hand of Carlos. The light the stone once emanated, that had been so clear to the Shaman, was now gone. The stone, charged with granting the desire of its owner was pulled so intensely in two directions that it split loosing it’s power forever.
This story was told to me by Carlos (a homeless man who I will write about later). Many of you may assume it is fictional but I can say with much confidence that while it may be a fictional tail, it was very real to Carlos. He regularly attends gathering of rainbow people in the woods and told me this story while holding half of a small stone, what he claimed was the serpentine stone. He had pulled it out of a small pouch, the kind of pouch you would expect a woodsman to keep his coins in. It was filled with small stones, Knick knacks, and jewels. He also pulled out a quartz crystal, something else he said was known to have powers and gave it to me. This small pouch held a majority of Carlos’s worldly possessions and I was honored he shared some with me.
I was also honored to have the story shared with me. I am not sure what aspects of the story are true but there is much we could all learn from it. For one, I believe in the serpentine stone not as the holder of the power but as a very effective icon to bring out something that we all already have. Psalms 37:4 “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.” The older I get the more I believe, in as much as our desires are in line with natural law, God grants them to us. Like Carlos the responsibility to control and be intentional with our desires is important. For even poor desires can be granted but not without consequences. The greatest reason we may still fail to gain our desires are: They do not align with natural law such as finding happiness in sin, or we can’t truly decide what our desires are. Like Carlos in the story we are torn. We can’t decide what our goals are or what we truly want. Under such circumstances, God like the serpentine stone cannot grant us our desires. However, if you are united internally, in heart and mind you will reach your desires, whether or not you have a serpentine stone in your pocket, so choose wisely.