Sunday, October 26, 2008

Providing Hope

During our recent trip to Texas, my wife Suzanne and I visited a remarkable facility located in the urban, inner city area of Fort Worth. We were blessed to spend some time with Gary Randle and Noble Crawford the co-founders of H.O.P.E Farm. The acronym H.O.P.E. stands for Helping Other People Excel.

Both Randle and Crawford are former law enforcement officers who felt a calling to help young, fatherless, African-American boys become men. As they say, “All boys deserve a chance to become men.” The “farm” consists of several buildings that were formerly drug houses for local gangs. Randle, an imposing figure at 6’ 8” tall, is a former TCU college basketball player who believes that without positive male role models these boys are doomed to end up involved in drugs or in prison. Started in 1989, the farm develops boys into leaders—men who stand, men who stay, and men who lead. During our visit 35 boys were registered for their program which trains boys in a variety of traits including Christian values, work ethic, manners, and other valuable life skills. They strive to give at-risk boys a chance to know Jesus Christ and develop life skills consistent with biblical truths. This long-term leadership development program teaches what it means to be a Godly man who leads by respect, trust, generosity and love.

The boys in the program generally enter the program between 5-7 years of age and continue through high school. Several of their graduates are now enrolled in college. Those who attend public school come every weekday after school and stay through dinner time. Those who attend a nearby Catholic private school come two days a week all day, and three times a week after school. The boys do chores, working alongside men as well as attend classes on a variety of subjects. Each night, all of the boys are given a healthy and generous dinner cooked by “Granny.” As Randle says the boys are like wolves—they are constantly hungry and food plays a big part of the work they do. During meal times the boys are taught table manners and proper etiquette. Each meal also involves a debate of a controversial subject with some boys chosen to support one side of the issue and others chosen to support the opposing side. This teaches the boys the skills to discuss an emotional topic without resorting to guns or violence.

During our visit about 10 well groomed and well dressed boys from the ages of 5-10 years old arrived from school and were asked to come into Gary’s office. Seeing visitors--without being told--they marched in single file and very politely introduced themselves to me one at a time by looking me in the eyes, shaking my hand, and saying, “Hello, pleased to meet you. My name is _____.” They then took care to walk behind my chair so as not to disrespectfully walk in front of me, and introduced themselves to Suzanne in the same way. Afterwards they lined up to politely await a joyful hug and words of encouragement from Gary. All this was as natural and unrehearsed as a “normal” family--as it should because both Gary and Noble consider all these boys their sons. It was an unexpected and wonderful illustration of young boys learning important life skills that will help them succeed no matter what they choose to do in life.
The boys’ single mothers are also required to be a part of the program and must pass specific requirements for the boys to enroll in the program.

We were truly blessed to see this program and meet these “real” men. If you’d like more information on HOPE Farm or would like to support this remarkable and life-changing ministry (HOPE Farm’s funding all comes from individual donors, they receive no federal or state funding), call 817-926-9116, or go to their web site at You will be blessed just to watch the video and see the lives of boys who probably had little hope changed before your eyes to one’s who have a chance to succeed in life. You won’t be sorry you did.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Life’s Unexpected Challenges

One of the very enjoyable activities my son and I have experienced together over the years is to go deer hunting. Because of my schedule the past several years we have not been able to go. This year I was determined to make it happen as my son is now 22 years old and getting closer to starting a family of his own. I am concerned that our time together in the woods is going to become scarce as he gets older.

I cleared and jealously guarded my calendar for the dates we had selected to go and had my son get time off from his job. I applied for our licenses and tags early and decided to opt for a challenging unit called Murder’s Creek. It is a beautiful area of east-central Oregon that not many tags are given out for and so are difficult to get. Thus, the bucks are larger and perhaps more plentiful than the other areas of the state that have been hunted out or decimated by the proliferation of cougars. We took off early Saturday morning with the weather forecast cold but sunny, planning to spend four glorious days hunting and telling stories around the campfire. But life’s challenges were about to change my plans to one much like the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.”

As we got to within five miles of the turn-off to enter National Forest land our unit was located the “check engine” light came on in our Jeep. With over 200,000 miles on it, it did not seem like an inconsequential item to ignore, so we drove another 30 miles into the small town of John Day. John Day is the only town of consequence within about a 150 mile radius. The only auto facility open in John Day on Saturday was a Les Schwab Tire Center. After much fuss and confusion, the staff hooked us up to their diagnosis machine and found out that the problem had to do with our “generator” status. Since the battery gauge had been “discharging” all the way to town I assumed it had to do with the alternator. With no mechanics available in town I had them put a new battery in the car and hoped we could head back to the slightly larger town (10,000 population) of Prineville some 120 miles distant. Not having tested a battery before in this circumstance, I had no idea how long it would last before dying. The trip seemed to take forever as the battery slowly entered into the red zone—praying didn’t seem to help. As darkness approached, turning on the head lights caused the battery to go dead with sudden finality. With systems shutting down one after another, the car died just as I pulled off the highway. With the same finality, our cell phone did not have a signal either. Thankfully the first car to approach stopped and informed us we were still 15 miles from Prineville. The man inside had an amplifier on his cell phone as no coverage was available in the region. He allowed me to call AAA and a tow truck was discharged within an hour. Interestingly, no other cars stopped the entire time it took the tow truck to arrive. After hooking us up he called a mechanic friend who offered to come in on Sunday morning to put in a new alternator. On the way into town we stopped at the scene of a rollover accident and waited as the driver helped flagged traffic for the next 40 minutes. The mechanic then opened his garage and allowed us to store our car in it overnight and the tow truck driver took us to a hotel. The next morning my son and I walked the three miles back to the shop taking turns carrying my very heavy duffel bag containing our clothes and toiletries. Our car was fixed and we proceeded to limp on back home, our hunting trip defeated.

All was not lost however. The great part about this trip was that my son and I got to spend several days of quality time together. He got to see me react in some very challenging circumstances, watching how I dealt with them and how I faced life’s challenges. He got to see me interact with a variety of men in difficult situations and the fact that I kept a good attitude in the face of adversity. The truth is we really had a pretty good time—even though the cost of the battery, hotel, and alternator was way more than I had planned on spending. It was about the same cost as processing the meat of the two deer we didn’t get would have been. We actually smoked our traditional cigars on the way home in triumph of actually getting back in lieu of bagging a trophy buck like we normally would.

Finally, I got to talk with my son that this trip actually mirrors lifes circumstances. We make plans but often they fail or something comes up that ruins them. It requires us to be flexible and pliable, to think on our feet, and to keep a good attitude despite our circumstances. I also got to talk to him about the importance of having choices in life. By not allowing ourselves to be put in situations where we had no options (like going into the wilderness anyway when the check engine light came on), we were much more successful. The truth is that the only constant in life is change, and how we face those changes determines our success or failure in life.

Now the rifles and long johns are put away for another year. This trip was a big learning and growth experience for both my son and I. But I still wish we could have spent some days in the autumn woods hunting and just being together as father and son.

Double Standard?

While attending a marriage conference several weeks ago, I watched a television news program on Sunday morning in our hotel room while I was waiting for my wife to finish getting ready. The panelists consisted of three men and two women, all of whom were either television or print journalists. The topic of discussion was Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

The question of concern was Palin’s ability to fulfill the position of vice president as the mother of five children, one of whom has special needs and one who is pregnant. Interestingly, both of the women journalists emphatically stated, “No, she cannot do the job and be a mother to five children. She cannot have it all.” When asked by the male journalist why Barak Obama is never questioned on his ability to fulfill the position of president while being a father of two children, Washington Post journalist Sally Quinn replied to the effect, “It is different. Men do not shoulder the burden of child rearing. I have many friends who are CEO’s of businesses and to a woman they say they struggle being a mother and a businesswoman.”

These comments coming from mainstream media representatives beg to examine a number of significant issues. First I suspect if Sarah Palin were a liberal democrat we would not be having these discussions. Secondly, feminists have been telling us for years that women can have it all—they can be successful in the workplace and as mothers (BTW--if a man had made the statement that Quinn did it would have caused an uproar heard across the land). Third, if the journalist’s CEO friends were able to be successful in their careers and families then why is Palin not capable of fulfilling both roles? Lastly, why isn’t Obama’s (or any other male politician) ability to serve as a father questioned in the same vein as Palin’s as a mother?

Frankly, I’m by no means a feminist, but I was more than a little offended by the tone of the entire discussion. Sarah Palin appears to me to be a confident and successful woman, wife, and mother who should be getting praised for her achievements, not demeaned because she is faced with the same circumstances as every other person on the planet. She is a model of everything the feminists have touted as being admirable in women, and yet liberal women are attacking her with vitriolic fury. I cannot help but think that if she believed in abortion and homosexual marriage, she would be getting praise heaped on her by the media. Instead they are questioning her ability to do the very things that they once lavished praise upon Hillary Clinton for. I’ll take a woman who can successfully be a mayor, a governor, a wife, and a mother for vice president candidate over a presidential candidate who’s never accomplished anything significant in his life any day of the week. At least from the tone of the program I watched, it appears there is clearly a double standard involved with the media where Palin is concerned.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Parenting--Not for Weinies

My wife Suzanne and I just got back from speaking at the annual MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) Convention in Dallas, Texas. It was a wonderful time of seeing over 4,000 young mothers get a break from the constant pressure of raising little tykes and receive some practical skills and advice for their marriages and for raising children. This year I was introduced to a woman I had never met and frankly I didn't even know who she was. Her name was Lynn Spears. When I met her I thought she was just another speaker and was not aware that she was Brittany and Jaimie Lynn Spears' mom.

But Lynn's topic really hit home with me. Among other things, Lynn was asked, "Some moms have a plan for raising their children, did you?" She responded, "I had a plan. A perfect little plan. But I couldn't control the outside influences my children were subjected to. Now all I can do is rely on my faith." Despite my initial, uninformed negative opinion of the kind of mother Lynn probably was, she struck me as just an average mom who had tried the best she could and is now shell-shocked by the things that have happened to her children.

When I was a young parent I self-righteously believed that parents were always responsible for how their children turned out. But as an older parent with adult children I now realize that we do the best we can and then our children make their own choices. Sometimes they make good choices and sometimes they make bad choices. Hopefully we provide a good foundation for them to make decisions from. Often our children get to a certain age and we have no control over them any more. One of those factors is the outside influences they are subjected to. Despite having been told by many pious church leaders that if you parent your children right, they will turn out right; I have observed that this is not always the case. I know great parents who have raised several children into excellent young adults only to have one or more stray along the way. Likewise, I have seen terrible parents whose children turned out wonderful. Go figure. I think perhaps those parents who's children turn out good are maybe luckier than they know. One man told me he believed that God had given him compliant daughters because God knew that he would not be able to deal with ones who rebelled.

Finally, over the years it has been my observation that Brittany Spears and many of the other young "pop tarts" are actually victims. Yes, they have fame and fortune but most are desperately unhappy with their lives. Brittany appears to have been used and abused by many men over the years who should know better. These girls frequently come from homes that are fatherless or have uninvolved fathers. As such they are eager for masculine attention and vulnerable to men in general. Agents, managers, the press and media, record executives, and other men have made billions of dollars off her by advising her and giving her poor advice. They did not have her best interests in mind nor did they protect her like authentic masculinity is supposed to--after all she really was just a child. Instead, they sold and raped her soul for their own profit. Hopefully someday, they will have to give an accounting to a being powerful enough to treat them as they have treated her.