Posts Tagged ‘Aurora Avenue’

ImageI just bought a new car last week, 1990 Honda Accord. It’s black, lowered a bit, fun to drive. Its going to be nice to save some money on gas.

Two days after I bought it was the last day of 2012 and since the world hadn’t come to an end yet I went to pick up the Epic Life mail one last time from my good UPS friend John Apple down at the Oaktree village. Thumbing through the stack of junk, packages and letters I crossed the sidewalk without looking up, hit the remote, and opened the door to my new ride.  As I slid into the driver’s seat my eye caught a girl walking the same sidewalk I just crossed. She landed in a iron chair outside of the UPS store I had just left. As she sat down our eyes connected and the corners of her mouth turned up and she winked at me with a, “Hey Honey…” wink. I smiled back and turned my attention to getting my key in the ignition as fast as I could and powering on my space ship and flying.

But it didn’t start.

I looked up and the young lady was still sitting there and from under her furry brimmed hoodie came another smile. I tried turning the key again but to no avail, the car wasn’t going to come to life and whisk me away, back to my busy life. After a few more tries it was time to call Tony, I know he has Mondays free so maybe he could come get the car started. I looked up again and became aware that I was still being watched.

So… I got out of the car and went and sat down next to her. She said, “Hey there.” I replied, “Hey there.”

And then I asked her how long she had been working on the streets. I was surprised at how fast she moved into conversation about prostitution with me, as she told me she had been working at a regular job but had a girl friend earn in two days on the streets what she would make in a month at a job where she paid taxes. She needed money to live and this paid the bills. She spoke between slow draws on her cigarette, raising and lowering her hand to her scarred chin and cheek.

Then I told her that she is much more valuable than surviving a life of giving her body to be used and living alone in a motel room night after night along Aurora waiting for another guy named John to call her. 

Heather crumbled into her lap and began to weep uncontrollably. 

I spoke of the great and miraculous love of Jesus and the transformational power of Grace and forgiveness and that I have these great friends all around me who would welcome her as part of their family. I then offered to take her home, to spend New Years eve with my family. I would even buy her time if she needed that.

Her sobs where audible to anyone walking past as she relayed the story of her horrendous experience as a child. A kind woman, who passed by two minutes earlier, offered us a couple of lattes as she returned. She had to be an angel. 

Heather declined my offer, said she couldn’t do that, she would only hurt us, and became very skittish of the situation she had found herself in. It seemed time to let her go, so I wrote mine and Kristine’s name and my cell number down on a napkin and told her that no matter when or where, if she needed to call I would answer. If she needed protection I would be there. She quickly folded the napkin in half and pushed it into her purse, while wiping her mascara smeared eyes with her sleeve.

Tony arrived. 

Heather left.

The car started on the first try.

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Since being in Seattle God has given many of us new eyes to see those around us who are hurting and need love. We have been able to become friends with many who call the street their home. Men and women who literally live under the bushes behind the theater we meet in for our Sunday morning gathering of Epic Life Church. These men and women have their street name, but are always introduced to us by their given names. One such man, whom God gave me the privilege to come to love and call, “Friend,” is Ken Weed.

Ken is 45 and has been on the street for around five years. He has a nursing degree from the University of Washington and was working in a local hospital up until he got drunk in a bar late one night and got into a fight that consequently got him sent to jail and then fired. He has told me many times how much he regrets that night, but now looks at the cold facts of being a drunk, homeless and jobless without opportunity for something better.

Over the past three years Ken has become part of the Epic Life family. Most of the time we would see Ken he would be drunk, much too drunk to carry on a good conversation. Often at the end of a Sunday service he would find himself passing by me and reaching out for a hug telling me, “You know I need help quitting, or You know so and so needs help, or You know I’m trying.”

Early this past winter I was leaving my office later than usual and as I walked out into the dark parking lot Ken approached me out of the drizzly Seattle rain. He was cold and hungry. I was late getting home and knew dinner was already on the table, but I paused. I can still see his eyes; there was death in those eyes.

“What would it matter?” Was his question. I knew what he meant. “What would it matter if he killed himself that night? No one would miss him and the pain would be over.” “No one cares, do they Pastor Keith?”

“No one cares, do they Pastor Keith?”

The knife cut deep. I didn’t know what to do. There is so much life; good and bad choices; abused and abuser that brought us to that interaction late that night. I was confronted with so much. Pastors, mentors, counselors and well meaning people in my mind telling me my family needs me, he’ll be OK. “You can’t help everyone.” “He got himself to this place.” “You’ve have already put 60 hours in this week, go home.” “You need some ‘me’ time.” “You don’t have the money to help him.”

Really?

I knew he was heading around the back of my office to sleep on the cold concrete out of the rain without food, without a blanket. So I put my arm around him and said, “I care Ken. I would miss you.” I walked him to my van and we drove to the 125th St. Grill, just up Aurora Ave. This happens to be the same restaurant where I attend a weekly Rotary meeting. We walked into the restaurant together, me talking to him like he was clean, well kept and a paying customer; well, like he was my friend.

We sat in a booth facing each other by a window. I wondered if he was feeling all the looks from the other restaurant patrons; those questioning eyes; those raised eye-brow conversations. He ate a very large steak complete with juicy goodness running down his full scraggly beard and a cigarette break outside. I ate pasta, with a clean face and no cigarette break. He was dirty and smelled really bad. I was clean and didn’t smell as bad.

We talked and drank some coffee and had some dessert for another hour. I talked about what surrendering to Christ would be like. He wants to, but thinks he can’t. That Jesus wouldn’t accept a drunk like him. I told him Jesus comes looking for us even when we are drunk.

We left the restaurant that night with a deeper friendship. I drove him back to my office, got him a blanket and handed him my left over pasta, gave him a big hug and said, “Ken, you’ve got to hold on, for just a little longer.” He and I parted that night going in such different directions on so many levels. As I drove towards my warm home and happy family I knew that, at least that night, God had allowed me to bring Ken back from the brink of death. He would remind me of that night many times in the coming weeks.

It was soon after the events of that night that Ken enrolled himself in a six month recovery program at the Salvation Army. We were all so ecstatic and happy for him. I would get several phone calls over the next few weeks and he sounded so good. I felt that there was hope and that Ken would make it out of the enemy’s ditch and it wouldn’t be long that Ken would be recovered completely and working and living in an apartment. The future looked good.

But that isn’t how it worked out.

Ken decided the program was too hard and left after just two months only to find himself back on the streets and soon back to the bottle. This time the intoxication was worse.

Some of the street people told him not to go to Epic Life anymore because we were mad at him. But we found him on the street and made sure he knew we still loved him and would be there for him, but wanted to see him leave this life of being imprisoned by alcohol. But he went downhill pretty fast.

About three weeks ago, late at night, I received a phone call from a number I didn’t recognize. It was Ken from an emergency room several miles north of our home. I wrote a recent blog post about that night and if you want to know this piece of the story in depth read that here. June 22nd Post 

Long story short, Ken had stolen a $45 bottle of Jack Daniels and drank it all, as he walked north. The ambulance picked him up face down on the side of Aurora Ave. I picked him up and told him that we were going to go back to the store and pay for the bottle. I told him that in the absence of him having any money that I would pay for it, but he promised me he would come back with me in two weeks and he would pay the debt.

I dropped him off at the park that night. In my heart I knew he would not make it another month.

I saw him one more time.

This Tuesday I receive the call from Alicia, who works at a local market, which is also the local street hot line in the neighborhood. She told me she had just heard that Ken’s body had been found on Monday morning. I wasn’t shocked, but my heart sank hard. I would later learn from the Medical Examiner that he probably died on Saturday and lay there in the empty lot behind the China Dragon for two days.

I felt like the “walls” of the world were closing in on me and I couldn’t make out what my thoughts should be. Tears started to fill my eyes. Images of Ken started flashing through my mind; the times we played cribbage in front of Qdoba just before church started, his smile at the block party, his intoxicated hugs after worship, even his smell wafting through the layers of coats.

Then all I could think of was the debt that was still owed at Bartell Drugs; $48.00 for a missing bottle of Jack Daniels.

Soon I found myself sitting on a curb in Bartell’s parking lot, weeping for my friend. My head buried in my hands with tears pouring through my fingers and pooling up on oil stained asphalt. My grief was so great and uncontrolled. I felt I had lost a close friend who almost made it out of the darkness, but was taken under as I watched.

Finally I stood up and wiped my face off and walked into the store. The first isle I came to was the liquor isle where I happened to find the manager also. I looked at her after she identified herself and said, “This is going to sound a bit strange, but…” and I shared much of this story with her.

As I told her that my friend had stolen the bottle and I was there to pay for it, she was taken back. She knew the day and knew that there had been a loss of inventory, so she headed to the counter. Her movements where slow, like she was purposefully moving methodically so she could think this through. Then she said it.

“Why?”

“I don’t understand why you are doing this.” She said through her green eyes that seemed to want to cry.

Tears instantly started down my checks, right there at the checkout, 8:30 pm. I told her that I am well aware of what debt means and when there is debt there needs to be payment. I told her that I had a grand debt that I couldn’t pay and the penalty was death. But that Jesus paid that debt for me, offering be an unmerited Grace. And I got to share the Gospel with her and tell her at the end that Jesus paid that debt for her also.

So I handed her $40 and she said,

“I’ll need $8 more.”

With a smile I paid the rest and said good night and as I left the building I heard her turn to a coworker and start relaying the story.

I cried a lot last night, all the way home, in front of my oldest son, and most of the night. Kristine is gone this week with my youngest three, so the night was long and quiet. I really needed her, but maybe it was good for me to be alone. There are so many questions. Did we do enough? What could have we done? Do we know how blessed we are? Why am I not in Ken’s shoes; why weren’t our circumstances switched? What do we learn? How can we do better next time?  Will this make me calloused? What was that I told him. “Just hold on Ken, for a little long.”

We will hold a memorial serve this coming week for those who knew Ken. We will celebrate life and eternal Hope and we will continue praying and working to see Seattle transformed through an epic life in Christ Jesus. For this is what we have been called to do and it is what we will do with confidence.

Last night at 8:30 I was called to pick one of my friends up at the emergency room. He had walked north on Aurora, way north, entered a local drug store and swiped a half gallon of Jack Daniels and started drinking straight away until he passed out on the sidewalk.  A passer-bye called 911 and he got a ride in the ambulance that he won’t remember as they brought him back to this world in the emergency room.

When he came to and became a bit coherent the nurse gave him a phone to call for a ride; my number was lodged in his brain. He wasn’t sure if I would answer the call and even if I did, would I drive to the hospital and get him? 

I kissed Kristine goodbye and drove north. On the way I picked up my buddy, Brent, who is the youth pastor at Oakwood Baptist in Texas and was visiting the city with a group of high-schoolers.  He and I walked in the emergency room where my friend waited to be released.

I knew what I was about to do and it was going to be hard. I would take him from the emergency room back to his home…the park, just off Aurora Ave and 97th. He has been living in the park most of the winter and before that wondering the city for about four years.

As we drove south last night he told me he had stolen the liquor. The $40 that it would have cost to purchase the bottle was not something my friend had on him or would any time soon. I felt God’s direction. So I turned into the parking lot of the drugstore and told my friend that we were going to walk into the store, and I was going to pay for his crime. This kind of surprised me but that is what God wanted me to do.

My friend got very scared, agitated, verbally abusive and almost violent. His sin was surfacing and he could see it, taste it, touch it. He threaten to jump from my moving truck, right in the middle of a busy Aurora Avenue. Great fear confronted him as he was confronted with his sin and the payment for that sin.

Then the reason for this decision came out. I explained to him that God knew that we, too, couldn’t pay for the sin in our lives, we don’t possess the ability or the desire to pay it back. But, God knew this and so he paid the price through Jesus; the ultimate sacrifice to pay the ultimate price. 

Oh how I needed to be reminded of this. My friend lived in fear, but he could be living in the freedom that comes through Jesus.

The night didn’t get much better for him, I bought him a pack of cigs and dropped him off at the park. He thanked me, was apologetic, embarrassed, ashamed. I prayed he would not drink more tonight, but would find himself too tired and would sleep.  As we drove away, he was curled over dry heaving, sucking on a cigarette and I know wanting another drink, of which, if he indulged that soon he would be dead in the morning.

There are so many levels of struggle in this story…

What happens next?

What does his future look like? As long as he is on the streets, no job, no options, no home, he will return to the emergency room again and again.

His bad choices took him from an RN job to the streets in less than five years. Can it be reclaimed?

How do I continue to sleep in my warm house, soft pillow and bed and behind locked doors, knowing he, and many others, are living where he is?

What can we do? What has been done for him hasn’t worked. What’s next?

How does God continue to restore us even when we continue to run after the entertainment of our Self.

Can I continue to do this long term? Can my soul take this?

The truth is, the more I walk with people like my friend last night, the more I realize my own depravity and see the amazing amount of Grace my Savior has had on me, an undeserved Grace, paying a penalty that I could never pay. Jesus even paid for my return to my own vomit.

Thank you!

Aurora Avenue North

After reading a recent letter to the Major of Seattle, “Hell Starts Here, 145th & Aurora”, posted in the Aurora Seattle Blog (which does a great job of keeping ‘eyes’ on Aurora Ave. N.), my cranium started into a grey matter tsunami about the people I have encountered on Aurora, which Richard, the author of the letter to Major McGinn, tells us resembles Dantes Circle of Hell.

But what, or who does Aurora represent? Indeed if we have eyes that only see the physicality of our immediate surroundings which hem us in on all fronts accosting our eyes with the mere tripe of this facade of stone and steel. This plastic and glass empire wanes heavy and indeed does resemble the inferno of the underworld where man is hopeless without Christ.

At first glance, or for some at second and third glance if not at each glance through his or her life, the Corridor of Aurora Avenue accosts the eyes and mind and the innate desire to be surrounded by beauty, even if it is a man made beauty, stirs our beings to scream, “Hell Starts Here!

The tsunami in my mind is fierce, flooding and disorienting my thoughts because I live in this great city called Emerald that has no belief or desire to believe in a God who is loving yet just. This city, a landscape of 700,000 souls with millions just over the fence, pretends to believe there is no moral Right…but is quick to condemn the many who are described, not by their ideas or character or eyes or even their names, but instead by the “concrete waste land” they have been forced to inhabit.

How is it that a society that believes there is no God and therefore no moral right or wrong can pass judgement so quickly on people who are suffering deep despair and isolation? But when our focus is on our surroundings and the eye candy that we ignorantly suck on, we will miss the souls of the people who drive those cars, who sell those cars and who live in those cars that traverse “Gasoline Alley.”

The common solutions, that I have heard and read, to the problems of Aurora Avenue go something like this, “We need to bulldoze the entire strip of alley cats and rats who call Aurora home, and while we are at it put in a bicycle path running from Pike Place Market to 145th in a park that once was Aurora Ave. N.”  The fact is; if Aurora Ave. N. “closed” thousands would be out of work and thousands would lose their businesses. It would displace businesses into the coveted, almost worshiped, neighborhoods and their quiet streets. Causing yet a greater crisis.

Does it ever occur to anyone that we need the commerce of Aurora? The basic needs of a city lie along this strip along with those who derive their livelihood, those who, by the way, have names. Names like Pericles, Azi, Chey-Sun, Cynthia, Bud, Ryan, Fay, Will, and the list goes on. Sure there are many nefarious activities that occur along the strip but does that mean we throw out the baby in the proverbial bath water? Or…do we make a shift?

What if we seek to transform instead of throw away?

I wish you, yes you, could sacrifice one of your precious well paid hours and walk on Aurora with me and look long into the eyes of the small business owner, or the customers who frequent the same businesses. Come look into the haunting eyes of the homeless, prostitute and “dancer.”  My hope is that it breaks your four chambered muscle pounding with in your chest. My hope is that you and I remember these people where once children with bright eyes, hopes and dreams. Many ruined by their parents and hence trapped in this prison we so easily condemn to hell.

At some point we need to stop throwing insults and condemnation at the problem and start getting involved.

At some point we need to stop throwing money and hopes that the “government” will do something and start getting involved.

At some point we must stop speeding down the Aurora Corridor with blinders held tightly to our eyes and start seeing and hearing.

In a somewhat crazy emotionally unstable state,  I truly believe this strip can be transformed, healed and reconciled to beauty. Don’t ignore it, don’t throw stones. Take a lesson from Jesus, “You who are without guilt may throw the first stone.”

Want to link arms and see North Aurora Transformed…Please join me.

Tomorrow, 10.16.2010, 10am, we are going to have a “Mural Signing” event at the incredibly colorful mural that we got to be a big part of. It’s located on the North Park Grocery south wall on 103rd & Aurora. We got to take the wall from this…

 

Blank Wall

 

To this…

 

New Mural on North Park Grocery 103 & Aurora

 

And looking at it from the walking bridge it adds a lot of color to the neighborhood.

 

Mural looking north from the walking bridge

 

If you remember in a blog post a couple of years ago I talked about God’s vision in which he showed me that we were bringing color to a colorless place. I look at this mural see only a fulfillment of a three year old vision coming to fruition.  What a blessing to get to be exactly where God wants us, bringing color, life and transformation to a city.

Sunrise

I love the sunrise, to see it you must get up early. Many people miss the sunrise because it forces you to go out of your way to see it. Those of us who have seen it know the beauty and will find ways to be present when this miraculous event happens.

I see the world around me in the same way.

I have recently gotten to walk with Ben Carlson along Aurora and introduce him to what God is doing on our street. Ben is visiting us from South Africa where he works with the Navigators and is a professional coffee taster. He has a lot of vision for life and future, and talking with him gives me a huge shot of encouragement.

As we walked from the AXIS to the garden space along Aurora and I got to introduce him to business owners and homeless men and women and show him where we minister, sparks started to fly as we praised God for his greatness. We entered the garden space and started envisioning the space green and with a small stage for music and tables and chairs and umbrellas for conversation and a coffee cart where we could sell or give away java to the “customers” of the Space.

Wouldn’t it be beautiful if this space was where we held a Bible study for whoever may be walking on the street? Maybe very late at night or really early mornings. That gives me the chills just thinking about it. How about small concerts just for the purpose of bringing music to Aurora? Maybe some vegetables that are growing and people have the freedom to snack? Then Ben says, “Maybe this is your coffee shop that you’ve been dreaming about? It doesn’t even need a building!” Maybe? Oh yeah! What if the tattoo parlor next door actually started partnering with us and looked forward to us being there? Or opened up their back “yard” space to join up with the garden space for a larger venue?

The “what if’s” are huge, when you allow God to push it…

So…on another note but not really, we are at a place financially as Epic Life Church where we are living in the negative, you know – the red numbers. This is a scary place to live, that is strengthening our faith and resolve. But just because we don’t have the finances and resources to pull off dreams doesn’t mean the dreams stop coming. In fact if anything the dreams are growing and God is asking more of us. So we are trusting him in our poverty and owning this new Church as a community in greater ways than if we hadn’t found ourselves in the negative.

Praise God for people like Ben and the business owners who may not even have a personal relationship with Christ and those who are walking Aurora and those who are on our Finance Team with beautiful gifts and leaders who are moving forward even in difficult times and for a church Body who know what they are here for and vision, pure God-driven, life-infused, transformational vision.

“To see North Seattle transformed by finding an epic life in Christ Jesus.”

Find ways to “see” the “sunrise” in your world. It is beautiful and miraculous!

I wish I could draw an illustration on my blog, this map will have to suffice for now.

The focus of Epic Life church is narrowing in on the Aurora Avenue North communities between Winona St. at about 80th all the way up to 109th st. In this two square mile plot of urban earth there resides approximately 20,000 people from all over the world along with the North Seattle Community College, which boasts 18,000 learners coming and going on a daily basis. There are a few lower scale shopping areas, some small eating establishments, a large health care clinic, and mostly lower income housing intermixed with brand new ridiculously priced condos. Aurora Avenue cuts through the middle of this tract of land with 24,000 cars a week on six lanes of traffic and boasts of run down businesses, six adult video stores, several palm readers and their kind, many run down seedy hotels and several empty retail business fronts. On the southern most end of this area there is one healthy church. One. God is directing our steps and they are leading to N47 42’9.18″ and W122 20′ 41.62″

This particular point on the earths crust, if you look at the map above, is right across the street from a movie theater and small shopping center, just in between 101st and 102nd. The 3,000 sq. ft. building is currently for lease and would make a beautiful creatively designed coffee shop environment with the creative flare of our team and one hand of the Epic Life Church extended into the community. It could be a business that would give aesthetic beauty to the street’s fairly rundown faces and would be a “house” that would allow us to be the aroma of Christ with the aroma of coffee wafting through the air. Half of this space could be transformed into a Righteous creative studio with the journey of art in the moment of creation.

The business idea would also allow us to offer a third “environment” setting for people who are seeking out a community other than the less the reputable establishments hosted by the Avenue of Desire. We would also run it in such a way that we would be able to pay professional barristas and create an income that would be turned back into Epic Life Church’s ministry foci.

Across the street are a couple of 600 seat theaters where Epic Life Church would come to life on Sundays. And just North two blocks is a very small Baptist Church that God is maneuvering into position for a yet to be determined partnership. We are praying and following God’s leading and timing. If we were to move forward on the Coffee Environment we would need $200,000 up front, to remodel and cover costs for a year.

Please pray with us for God to continue to show us his ways, to provide the finances we will need to proceed with this idea and the vision to see and act. Your prayers are more powerful than you think.