Posts Tagged ‘hope’

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.

The Eventual Day

Posted: November 18, 2010 in poetry
Tags: , , , , , , ,

So many important things,

Lose their significance.

When a life is broken.

We travel at light speed,

but forced to stop.

When tragedy is spoken.

We are strong

we are tough

we are indestructible,

except when we’re not.

 

We are taught that we must

succeed and be on top.

We cry, “I have arrived!”

Men pursuing the next

level of recognition.

In that, our worth derived.

We are tenacious

we are rugged

we are unbreakable,

except when we’re shot.

 

Buy the house of prestige,

get the car of distinction.

Producing the right perception.

Extremely clean on the outside

but dieing on the inside.

Because of the deception.

We are solid

we are stable

we are impenetrible,

except when we’re caught.

Some tell us to ignore

our hidden eternal soul.

You’re too young to die just yet.

Pamper your precious body,

make your days full of bliss.

Thinking about the end causes fret.

We’re trying to be strong

we’re trying to be tough

we’re trying to be eternal.

Stumbling at Night we will grope.

Come to find out

our lives are fragile.

In just an instance life disappears.

One inescapable moment

brings life to a hault.

Cutting off the expected years.

We think we’re strong

we think we’re tough

we think we’re immortal,

But we will come to the end of our Rope.

 

There will be a day

when you’re driving along.

Thinking of the days to come.

You will crest the hill

one eventual day.

And you’ll hear the final drum.

Are you strong?

Are you tough?

Are you immortal?

Do you have eternal Hope?

I just got home from a small party some of the Epic Lifers threw at a small garden space located on Aurora tucked between the Cicada tattoo parlor and the Easy Smoke shop and directly across the street from the newly established “Dancing Bares” club, a very seedy strip club. We have been given this space by the owner of the land to do with what we would like, so in this space of darkness we are in the process of creating a space of light and color. Tonight the lights were strung over the space as we gathered with a few of the local homeless around some live music, food and conversation.

We are praising God for this moment that began one year ago as we began speaking with the skeptical owners, creating relationships with the business owners and being present on the street. And actually three years prior to this event, prior to moving to Seattle, God shared a vision with me that we would be entering a city with no color and seeing color come to the homes because of Jesus’ blood. Tonight, after being “opened” for less than a year we were gathering with the homeless, the recently drug/alcohol free, the recently released from prison, families and singles who were gathering to bring glory to God. I believe it was a true picture of our favorite verse, John 10:10 “…I have come to give an abundant Life.”

We are positioned in a fantastic place on a not so fantastic highway called Aurora, which is full of prostitution, drugs, abuses, homelessness, human trafficking and everything you can imagine that may come with these. We are in the middle of establishing the Church on the very street that represents the beginning of John 10:10, “The thief has come to steal, kill and destroy…” At this young stage of the life of Epic Life we meet in a theater located in the middle of this darkness and God is giving us great influence and a beautiful name in and amongst the neighborhood. We are seeing men and women come to Christ and be baptized from seven different nations, young and old, affluent and poverty stricken, Lost and Returning. It is truly beautiful.

Jon Bon Jovi sang it well, “Living on a Prayer,” although probably not realizing the beautiful declaration it truly is. Living on a Prayer is exactly where Kristine and I have been finding ourselves over the past two years and especially within the past ten months.

I have been cautious about blogging on my own personal finances but have arrived at a place now that I believe what I am about to share can be huge encouragement to many who may find themselves in the same place.

We are a people who feel a false security in lives that are financially secure. We seek, pursue and wage war to have financial stability…but have no idea what that really means. Having a “little change in my pocket going jingalangalang” creates a facade of safety in our lives. It is fleeting and will soon be consumed and will demand a higher pursuit of gathering more to feed the proverbial monster, which causes our focus to be moved from sharing Christ with others to keeping the change “jingling.”

And the cyclone continues.

In this church starting journey God has us traveling on he has constantly pushed us, encouraged us, and strengthened us. It has, from day one, been the biggest financial stretch God has ever placed us in. We left a city where we had financial security and a long standing job in ministry that was growing and wouldn’t go away and arrived in a city with zero financial security and job that wasn’t.

From month to month we watched as many faithful partners helped fund the ministry here in Seattle; as God gave us property and increased our vision for this city; and we watched as last January came and the money disappear and our pay checks cut in half and then vanish all together.

The reality of having no paycheck is, the bills continue. So God placed our family in the epicenter of a renewed shocking realization that we are living on his security not financial security. Literally we have gone months without any money coming into the Carpenter family household. The money our partners and tithing Body of believers here at Epic Life is going to continue ministry, starting the church and taking care of bills we are responsible for as a church.

But…God is still taking care of us. We are stretched to the point of breaking, but not breaking, because he doesn’t give us more than we can handle and at the same time we literally have no income. Its so crazy.

Three years ago I had many people who asked me about  the wisdom of leaving Winona, MN and the security that it represented and moving to something like starting a church and the intense insecurity it represents. One person said to me. “What are you going to do when you are in Seattle and you don’t have a church around you to ‘bail’ you out?”  And, there were many who said that it just wouldn’t work. Others who tried to stop it all together. Were they right?

No.

Yes.

The fact is…God called us to start a church, a movement, a visionary journey of creative discipleship and reconciliation that will change a city. So in the long run it really doesn’t matter if there is money available to live on or not, we will do what he has called us to do. Period.

Please don’t feel sorry for us. Feel sorry for yourself if you have never been taken to brink of disaster and taught to lean on Jesus in greater ways. Sure our family doesn’t have the money to keep up with our bills, we don’t have the money to take a family vacation or set up a retirement and savings program or buy the latest flat screen TV or go to a movie or buy gas for our cars. But we do have Jesus and he tells us not to worry about our clothing and food…He will take care of us.

Honestly, I don’t see it yet.  I just told a gentleman here in the Green Bean coffee shop that I feel like a cliff jumper and I am falling through the air and my hand is on the rip cord but God is saying, “wait for it,wait for it,” and I am waiting for his signal as the ground approaches at a wild speed.

Many of you who read this blog have been God’s answer to prayer. Two of you have sent us huge gifts, taking care of our mortgage. Many of you sacrificially give on a monthly basis allowing God to stretch you. Most of you spend time praying for my family, Epic Life Church and the massive influence God is giving us here on Aurora in North Seattle as we encourage life transformation by finding an epic life in Jesus Christ.

I am confident in these points.

  1. We are in exactly the right place at the right time in the History of Seattle.
  2. God will provide in miraculous ways. He is Faithful!
  3. Epic Life Church will continue to grow and thrive on Aurora.
  4. God has provided the perfect leadership for Epic Life.
  5. Our Faith in Christ is solid.
  6. My wife is confidently by my side.

Now I believe it is time to write the book about the success of God’s church in Seattle before it is. We are doing more than living on a prayer we are living on a calling.

Well that may be a pretty bold statement about Easter, but I have to stick to it.  Just three days ago I experienced such an amazing day of worship.

I don’t consider Easter to be a one hour slot on a Sunday morning when the calendar tells us to celebrate. I consider an Easter celebration to be a full day celebration starting just after Friday night. And this weekend was just that.

Sunday though was so sweet!  We arrived at the Oaktree Cinema at our usually bright and early time of 7:00 am to set up. That in itself was total worship! Everyone works so well and with great attitudes, “as unto the Lord.”  We gathered to testify, pray and encourage at 9 am as we always do and hear how God has been working throughout the week. It is so encouraging to hear of his greatness.

The sun came out and then people started showing up, early.  Like, …what?  Twenty minutes early! Crazy, I know.  In the lobby we had the “Cross Project” (crosses in art form from the Epic Life family) this was a beautiful display attracting much thought and attention.

David kicked the music off with a worship choir of eight adults and six kids, that really rocked the house! The music was spot on and the house was filling up…140 people, twice our regular attendance.  And people who aren’t just visitors but will come back.

I got up to deliver God’s word and realized that I had misplaced my notes and Bible, so with a borrowed Word and the Spirit’s leading, God cranked out a great talk that hit home and celebrated the Hope of Easter morning. We got to celebrate with more music and close the morning out.

But the conversations that ensued were the best!  A dad who was in tears because his entire family was a church for the first time, a mom who is struggling as a parent and whose marriage is falling apart, a young woman who has been addicted to crack for too long, a dad watching his son go from death to life, a leader desiring to live in the Hope of the Resurrection, an owner of a local business with her whole family, families of brand new Christians, and more.  There was so much joy and hope and love. It was beautiful!

Afterwards my family joined three other families, not necessarily Epic families for an Easter lunch, our first time for a holiday meal in a Seattle home. God allowed us to encourage and build into our hosts.  The night ended with other leaders joining us at our home testifying what God had done that morning and what he is and will be doing here in Seattle.

Epic Life Church is Epic because we live in the Hope of the Resurrection!