A Bear and My Dad

This post was written in 2013, three years ago, in honor of Father’s Day. Some of the writing is less than stellar and its been a little while since these events took place. However, I can’t think of a story that more clearly shows the heart of my father. 

I will never forget the night my dad met Bear.

It was the day of Grace Community Church’s annual community service blitz, known as Operation Serve.  It was huge, with mission projects taking place all over the city.  My dad was one of the main directors for Operation Serve that year, and I had been serving as his right hand man that day.  As the day winded down, there was only one project still being worked on.  It was an Extreme Home Makeover type project, where a house was being totally renovated.  Pretty cool.  What was even cooler was that the people who lived there would be coming home that night to see their transformed house.  My dad and I decided to end our night at this project and see the reveal.  We waited patiently outside the house with a few other men.  This is where we met Bear.

He came stumbling down the middle of Summit Heights Road.  He was about 6′ 2″, with a massive face, thick glasses, worn out jeans, and no-longer white sneakers.  From the moment any of us saw him it was clear he was heavily intoxicated.  He continued to lumber towards the group of men I was standing with.  He addressed the group, with no apparent person as a target for conversation, like he was just throwing out a net, seeing who he would catch.  All of the men, including myself, sheepishly looked right, left, at their watch, at the ground, anywhere but at Bear.  I was busy checking my phone when I heard a familiar voice issue a response.  It was my dad.  I think we all cringed a little, knowing full well that once my dad started talking to him, he would be here for awhile.  Within minutes my dad found out: he was known as Bear, he lived down the street by himself, and he was on a mission to sell his watch for drug money.  As the conversation went along, people slowly started to drift away.  This man’s presence alone was enough to make us all uncomfortable. Not my dad though. Leaving this man wasn’t an option for him. Miraculously, my feet were firmly planted in the ground and I decided I wasn’t going anywhere either.

A few good samaritans decided to stick around and assist my dad, probably out of fear for his safety. As people drifted away, my dad continued a steady conversation with him.  All Bear wanted was for somebody to buy his watch, so he would have some cash to get his fix. No dice. Instead, he received a half hour of loving and encouraging conversation.  He revealed that he knew there was a God, but he was way too messed up for him. My dad gently corrected him.  He mentioned how he would like to go to church but he was way too dirty, inside and out, to walk into a church.  My dad and others found him a ride to church the next day.  Through all of this, he was still set on getting his fix.  The men pleaded with Bear not to go further into the ghetto. You WILL get hurt they told him.  They did everything they could, but there was no stopping Bear.  Apparently his name was an earned one.  He said his goodbyes, thanked the men for talking, and continued on his mission for crack.  He looked even worse walking away then when he stumbled upon us. He didn’t make it more than ten steps before his legs gave out on him, and he fell to the ground with a solid THUD.  I can’t explain what made him fall, but it seemed like God literally sat him on his butt.  Bear wasn’t getting away from God tonight.

My dad bolted to his aid.  He and a few others painstakingly got Bear back on his feet.  My dad continued to show him love as he loaded him up in our truck and drove him a block over to his house. My dad helped him into his house, got him situated on a couch, and even left him with a DVD we happened to have in the truck, Radio I believe. He reminded him about his ride to church in the morning, knowing it was a long shot, and we were on our way. I had been silent the whole night, both overwhelmed by the situation and in awe of my dad’s actions. I remained speechless until we were in the car heading home.  I don’t know why, but I lost it. I broke down, and I cried.  What I had witnessed had shaken me to the core.  I had seen God working so clearly, through my dad, through the other men, and even through Bear.  On a day completely dedicated to missions, the purest ministry had happened through simple conversation with a random stranger just looking for a fix.

The next morning at church I talked to friends as they all shared incredible experiences from their Operation Serve project.  I wanted desperately to talk about Bear, but I didn’t even know where to begin, so I kept my mouth shut. I walked over to get a drink of water, and when I looked up, I saw a 6’2″ man, with a massive face, thick glasses, worn out jeans, and not-so-white sneakers come lumbering through the doors, carrying a DVD in his hand.  I wanted to cry, I wanted to shout for joy, I wanted to thank God.  I timidly walked up to Bear, reached out my puny hand to shake his enormous hand, and asked if I could sit with him.  He kindly said yes, apologized for his actions the night before, and walked into service with me.  We sat through most of the service in silence, with him mentioning a few times how groovy the music was.  We chatted briefly after the service until we found his ride home.  I shook his hand, thanked him for coming, and wished to see him again.

I haven’t seen Bear since that day. For months after, I watched patiently every Sunday, hoping and praying he would walk through the doors.  My dad and I went by his house once or twice a couple months later hoping to find him home.  It appeared he didn’t live there anymore. I started volunteering with Manna Cafe Ministries, hoping to run into him there, or maybe meet someone who knew where to find him.  A few people had heard of him, and gave some vague ideas as to where he might be, but nothing substantial. I don’t know what happened to Bear.  But I do know that for that one night, he was freed from the hold that drugs and alcohol had on him by the simple love and kindness of a few good men.  For that one night, Bear was shown the love of God.  All because one man, my father, decided to live out the Gospel to a random stranger.  Thank you Dad, for showing me how to live out my faith, to love people well, and to serve boldly. 

My Cake Donut With Chocolate Frosting and Rainbow Sprinkles

I shifted my bag from one shoulder to the other, doing my best to evenly disperse the weight. My legs were starting to sweat and I was regretting the last minute decision to wear jeans. Never call an audible when you are already wearing shorts. I started to get that impossible to describe itchy feeling you get when the sun is beating down on your cotton t-shirt. At least I put on some good shoes.

I was 15 minutes in to my 25 minute walk. I had set out from my house a quarter of an hour earlier with one thought in mind: donuts. Chuck’s Donuts to be exact. It was about noon on a Saturday and I could almost taste a cake donut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. I can almost taste it as I write this. But I never did. Because as I turned the corner towards the mini-shopping center where Chuck’s Donuts is located I was heartbroken to gaze into a dark storefront full of empty shelves. Almost as soon as I saw the darkened “Open” sign I was reminded that a coworker had explained to me that they bake their donuts fresh every morning and they’re only open until they sell out. Of course they would sell out early on a bright and sunny Saturday morning.

donut

I looked around the parking lot to see what else was around. There was a drive through coffee stand with nowhere to sit, and a convenience store connected to the Exxon gas station. I glanced once more at the barren donut shelves and reluctantly walked into the neighboring convenience store. I scanned the shelves for anything close to a fresh cake donut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. I ended up with an overpriced coffee cake that was probably made months ago. Awesome.

You see, I don’t have a car right now. For the past couple weeks I have been dependent on the generosity of coworkers who are willing to pick me up for work and even take their car to the grocery store. My independence and mobility has been somewhat limited. Walking to the nearby donut shop was going to be my victorious moment of freedom. As I sat down with my less than mediocre coffee cake I started to feel pretty defeated. It was my day off, and the best I could do was walk to a donut shop that was out of donuts. Nonetheless, I decided I would do what I could to salvage my trip and sat down at one of the dirty tables placed there as an afterthought.

As I sat down to eat my coffee cake and read, I could almost feel my perspective start to shift. I watched countless people come in and out of the convenience store. There were people from all walks of life. All of them had stories. All of them had some kind of struggle. There were a lot of people who walked into that store while I lazily munched on my silly pastry, and there was a lot of hurt that came with them. There were struggling parents, and lonely teenagers, and cranky old men, and numerous people with heartbreaking eyes. And there was me.

Me. A fresh college graduate who is in the Seattle area for the summer working at an incredible church that has already blessed me in so many ways. Me, living with an amazingly gracious couple that has taken me in for the summer and made me feel abundantly welcome. Me, who had the financial freedom to buy a totally unnecessary snack. Me, whose biggest problem of the day was that I didn’t have a car and felt stuck in the comfortable, air conditioned house where I am living for free. Me, who had a legitimately emotional response to a donut shop being closed.

seattle

Why am I telling you this? To remind you how much better off we have it then all those poor, depraved people I saw? Absolutely not. Those were all hard working people just trying to find their own way in the world. To confess my guilt about my poor attitude in light of the abundant life I live? Maybe. But more than that I tell you this to speak to the power of perspective.

I left the convenience store with a spring in my step and a quiet smile on my face. My circumstances hadn’t changed. The coffee cake really wasn’t that good. And I still didn’t have a car. But my perspective had changed. That whole morning I had been dwelling on a few facets of my life that I wished were different. Through all of the beauty and joy that could be found in my life, I found a few unfortunate things and made them THE things. And as I honed in on those few unfortunate things, everything else seemed to drift in to the periphery. But when my focus shifted, and I took in the broad picture, the few unfortunate realities became but splotches on the canvas of my life. My circumstances didn’t change; my perspective did.

We can’t always control our circumstances, and I don’t mean to tell anyone that life is not hard. It most certainly is. (ex: I still haven’t eaten a cake donut with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles.) There is a lot of hurt in this world, and to some level, there is nothing we can do to change that. But we can control our perspective, and when we allow ourselves to take in the broad picture, we might just find that its a lot more beautiful than we realized.

 

Stimulating my Creativity Away

I’ve had a hard time writing lately. Partly I have struggled making the time to write. More than that though, I think I have been lacking the motivation to write. There was a time when an idea for a blog would pop into my head and I just couldn’t wait to sit down in front of my computer and get the idea out of my head and into words. I would burst with excitement as I frantically typed away and could hardly contain myself as I prepared to share it with the world (or at least with my Facebook friends).

Lately it seems like every couple of weeks I would think, “Gee, I haven’t posted anything on my blog in a while,” and then I would spend an hour or so trying to articulate a half baked idea that I struggled to piece together. Most of the time, I was relatively happy with what I wrote, and I’m glad that I at least wrote something. But the enthusiasm and excitement was missing. It felt more like a chore to come up with something to write about instead of the sheer joy that came with sharing something that I was really psyched about.

What changed? Did I lose my knack for writing? Did I lose my passion for sharing thoughts, ideas, and stories? I don’t think so. I still get those bursts of energy and life tingling through my body when I read something that really captivates me or discover something that I can’t wait to share. I still find joy in it, it just seemed to be happening less often. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what has been going on, but I (finally) have an idea: I have been depriving myself of time to think. I have been starving my creativity, and it has been wasting away like an arm left in a cast for too long.

It seems as if over the last couple of months I have slowly eliminated all of the still, quiet moments that served as time to think, opportunities for my soul to rest and breathe. I managed to go through each and every day without once being bored, because I was always feeding myself some kind of stimulation. My guess is that you can probably relate. Think about it:

Boredom fosters creativity. It allows our minds to wander. It gives us time to think, to ponder, to question, to invent, to problem solve. But in today’s affluent culture, we don’t ever have to be bored. We can listen to podcasts while we cook, clean, shower, drive, walk, run (all of which are activities known to produce great ideas). If we show up early to an appointment, no problem, we can catch up on the 20 minutes of social media that we missed since the last time we checked it. Nothing to do on a Friday night? No problem, Netflix has more shows and movies than you could consume in a lifetime (not a proven fact but probably true). Walking from the car to the grocery store is a great chance to text back all of your friends. Is there a long line at the coffee shop? No problem, because you have a long list of articles you need to read. No boredom there!

In the past week, part of my job has included “brainstorming” and I was blown away by how difficult this was for me. I grew restless quickly and my brainstorming was interrupted by incessantly checking my email. It was a frightening revelation of the fact that, to a certain extent, I had forgotten how to think! Through months of neglecting my creative muscle and experiencing constant mental stimulation, my creativity was lacking, my writing was struggling, and my ability to brainstorm was essentially nonexistent.

Now, this isn’t exactly my confession as a smart phone addict or a social media junkie. I have tried to be intentional in my use of these things and the role that they play in my life. I typically avoid pulling out my phone when I am with other people and I try to limit the amount of time I spend on social sites. I of course don’t do this perfectly, but it would be inaccurate to say that a smart phone addiction is the reason for my struggles writing. I just haven’t given myself the time or space to think, to be bored, to be creative.

Rather than being a person floating aimlessly from stimulation to stimulation, I want to be proactive about creating opportunities to think and create. I run for the silence it affords me. I aim to seek out that same silence through all of the still, small moments of my day. Throughout the next couple of months I will be exploring different ways to create silence, boredom, and opportunities for thoughtfulness in my daily life. I can’t wait to share my experiences with you. I can already feel a little tinge of energy and excitement welling up inside. I hope that it finds its way into words soon and often.