It starts with Steve

By Laura Rinas

I’m taking a break from my regularly scheduled Oops I Failed At Life Again posts to bring you this family.

I went to college with Ashley. Ashley’s sister is Amanda. Amanda married John Huddle. Amanda and John had three babies, pretty closely to my three babies. Amanda’s middle son is named Elijah. Amanda and I live parallel lives.

Amanda and John run with World Vision. John just ran 40 miles to raise money for kids he may never meet, so they would have a chance at a better life.

Amanda and John are amazing. They Church like nobody else I have ever seen. They Church how we should all be Churching. They don’t Church to a specific demographic. They don’t poll their Church to see what would pull in more crowds. They Church in their homes, with food, and love, and games, and laughter, and tears, and life. They Church by opening up their space to everyone who shows up.

Including a man named Steve. Steve lost not only his best friend, but also his home, and found a space under a bush to sleep. The Huddles found him some temporary housing, but after plenty of prayer and I am sure a little bit of a hail mary pass, they have relocated their entire family to their new house in LA, and are fixing up the basement for Steve to come live with them. I know so many people who yell that we need to do more for our homeless. I know fewer people who actually hand them money when they see them with a sign. I know two people who would literally relocate their entire family just to have enough space for one homeless man. And that is John and Amanda.

This world is in a terrible place right now. And through the graces of social media, we have a lot of SAYERS, but not a whole lot of DOERS. The Huddles are doers. They are out there, unconcerned with the undulations of opinions, taking Jesus to the doorsteps of the broken.

Our world is suffering because there aren’t enough DOERS. So let’s help the ones that are. Talk it over with your spouse, talk it over with Dave Ramsey if you have to. But if you find your heart pulled in their direction, they need about $5000.00 to finish the renovations of their basement to be livable for Steve. I can promise you that this money will blow the top off of their ministry there. It starts with Steve. I can’t imagine that that is where it will end.

John and Amanda have figured out that, with God in them and for them, they need but whisper and mountains will come crashing down. And since I can’t hand over $5000 on my own, I am putting it on your Thought Plate.

Here is their story, and it includes a link to where you can donate (tax-deductible).

https://www.gomsc.org/Donations/Apartment-Fund

 

Six Hours From Death

By John Huddle

Most of you know we’ve moved, and most of you know about my friend Mr. Steve. Amanda has written an awesome post about the full story, but I wanted to post, too. In 2009-10 we helped start a church on Friday nights at Westchester Park here in Los Angeles (folks in the park called it Nomad). We saw 42 people get off the street and into half-way houses or better. That’s where I met Steve. I could write a book about Steve. According to the fed, Steve died a decade ago. At the time, he was following this guru who required him to change his name, legally, but because of some other issues, the fed listed him as deceased. But Mr. Steve is not dead yet smile emoticon though I have literally found him at the point of death three times. Steve says I’ve saved his life FOUR times lol. The first time, of course, was in 2010, when I was blessed to lead him into a relationship with Jesus. This last time, though, was late summer early fall of this year. According to Dr. Kaplan, his emergency room doc, he was “six hours from death” which Steve suggested should be the title of our book.

What’s he like? He’s like Captain Spock in the old Stark Trek IV – on earth, and brilliant, but, well, weird as can be. He can recite Japanese history back over a thousand years. He has the presidents, vice presidents, and their spouses’ names memorized. He has an incredibly insightful view of the person of Jesus, how he answers the questions Steve has pursued his whole life. We love this man. I haven’t posted about this yet bc, frankly, I don’t want to be telling his story. I still don’t feel right about it. Though we have a health directive w him, he manages his own affairs and is his own person. He’s high functioning, for sure, but he has never lived alone in his life. Because the fed listed him as deceased, he can’t get on public aid – though we did get him on mediCal and believe the ball is now rolling.

The house we’re in now is/was a foreclosure. It was designed for our situation – located in a great neighborhood, near friends, close enough to Westchester for me to pastor, AND there’s a one bedroom/bath small but perfect apartment for Steve – with it’s own entrance. I got (miraculously) approved for a loan and hustled like crazy for every bit of info I could get on this house. I spoke with people in three different states, became friends with lawyers’ assistants who would float me info that kept us “in the know.” At every point, in every conversation, I told them what God was doing in Steve’s life – why we were so on fire for this crazy house. At one point, we found an investor, a follower of Jesus, who would’ve fronted us the money, and the day I was meeting on the phone with the lawyer to make the offer, I got a kidney stone and missed the meeting. After that, “the auction was set” was all I could get out of the office.

The auction finally arrived. I fasted and prayed for two days and went to the auction. I made friends with the trustee who wouldn’t let me bid, of course, since we didn’t have cash, though you know I asked. He laughed, said no, but he let me hang out. My wife and my mother were praying in the room w me. Steve stayed home – he didn’t think he could handle the stress. He clasped his hands – he’s very dramatic at times – and growled, “I will PRAY…” Once the winner had the deed in hand, I walked up and asked, “Sir, could I have five minutes of your time.” He said yes. So I told him the story and made an offer on the house, right there. He said he represented two investors and gave me their cel. The investor asked, “Is the house financable (some investors don’t even scout these properties)?” and I said, like an idiot, “I guarantee it is!”

One week later they accepted our offer. The two investors said they were doing this “because of your family story, Johnny” and their representative, Melissa, took no commission for the sale. They sold it as-is, with all the old antique possessions of the former owner (who was deceased) still in their places. You wouldn’t believe the hoops God jumped through to get the keys in our hands – amazing, hilarious, awesome, exhilarating, terrifying. And Steve’s last life-or-death moment began…the first week of escrow.

Now why the link. While Manda’s post is much more “tastefully” written, the bottom line is we need help crossing the finish line on this remodel. We are inches from the finish. My amazing brother Howard and I have done most of the plumbing ourselves. I have had volunteer help doing the demo in his apartment. The entire apartment was water-damaged, so all walls (except two) had to come out and the floors are cracked concrete slab that will have to be dealt with. We need to finish plumbing, lay new floors, new drywall and, ideally, prime and paint and light fixtures, railings in the bathroom so he can sit and stand independently. I really think we can get it all done + furnish this sucka for $5K bc of the people we’re working w.

The Gathering ministry has adopted Steve as one of their giving focuses, and so if you’d like to be a part of this story you can make a tax-free donation to Steve’s remodel via the link. And here’s my belief: the best years of Steve’s life are ahead of him. His health bills have been staggering, but God has provided Steve with what he’s needed to address every bill, to secure a vehicle and keep it insured, and to maintain a cel phone. I believe this is because Steve’s purpose and function in the next few years will be CRUCIAL to the lives of everyone surrounding him. His work is not done.

I cannot tell you how nervous I am to post this. Honestly, even if no one donates, praise the Lord. So many of you have asked us for a chance to give. This short paragraph became this long story. God is good.

We have moved!

For those of you who have not yet heard our news … between Thanksgiving and Christmas WE MOVED! After 8.5 years in the LAX area of Los Angeles, God led us to purchase a home just 6 miles east in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Many of you have heard me say over the years, “Even if we could afford to buy a home in LA, why would we?! It’s too expensive!” And we have indeed had an amazing 3-bedroom, 2-bath home to live in and bring our babies home to. In our previous home we had 4 people come to live with our family in our spare bedroom for at least 6 months, and over a year in the case of our oldest son Carlton (who moved into his own apartment just a week before Lucy was born). Over the years we have hosted hundreds of friends “for church” once a week. We eat dinner together, we sing, we pray, we talk about Jesus, C.S. Lewis books, philosophers, atheism and world religions, we watch YouTube videos and take unauthorized selfies on each other’s phones, we laugh and cry and pray for one another, kids run all over the house and the yard and it’s messy and beautiful and life and relationships happen … it is our family’s calling. We do this very same thing at coffee shops, restaurants, and at local parks with people of all backgrounds and ages and we have come to loosely know it as “Organic Church” or … “people following Jesus and/or people who want to be around that gathering together to eat and figure it out together.”

So, back to “Even if we could afford to buy a home in LA, why would we?!” In May of 2014 our friend Steve, whom we got to know though one of our organic churches at a local park, very suddenly found himself homeless when his best friend and roommate died unexpectedly. Steve turns 69 on Feb. 8 and has some serious health issues. It was several months before we realized how dire his situation was — John discovered that he’d been sleeping in a sleeping bag under a bush in Westchester Park, and that year Steve had to be rushed to the hospital with life-threatening infections related to his poor prostate health. We were able to find him temporary housing. He has had another episode of illness and this last time – this fall – he almost didn’t survive. He has never lived alone and needs, well, a family!

Despite his health challenges and socially awkward personality, Steve’s favorite activities include 3-4 mile walks, talking about the historical books he reads at the library, and fellowship with his church family. John and I talked up and down and inside out how we could bring Steve into our family in the home we were living in with our three children — and the roadblock always became that the property would need to be significantly altered to accommodate him (even though he doesn’t need or demand much and has never asked us for anything!). Since we did not own the home we lived in, building a tiny house in the backyard or converting the garage into an an apartment were just not possible.

And so we began to seriously evaluate our finances. We began to plan. We began to dream. We began looking in earnest for a home that would be safe and comfortable for our three young children and also provide an independent living space for Steve. If you’ve ever watched the HGTV show Flip or Flop you can guess that in Southern California a home that fits that list exists, but at a hefty price. We knew a fixer upper in a new neighborhood was in our future. And we set out to find the worst house in the best neighborhood possible and this summer WE SUCCEEDED! Wait, what?

The story of how we found this house and came to buy it despite the fact that it was not even for sale is a story for another day. The original condition of this home (which was atrocious!) is a story another day. The story for today, however, is that this home built on the side of a hill, has a family home upstairs and a separate apartment downstairs – a room with a fireplace, a kitchenette, and a bathroom. Just enough space for an old man with no belongings aside from a bed, a car, and a few changes of clothes.

The first phase of bringing our family to this new house was to completely gut and renovate it on the inside with the help of our amazing contractor and his team, who understood our mission for this home and did everything within his power to make it functional, safe, and beautiful on a small budget. Now that we are moved in and sorta settled in, it’s time for us to begin phase two … renovating Steve’s apartment so that we can move him in too!

Many of our close friends and family know what we are doing and why, and have known what we were up to for quite a while. As word has gotten out, people have asked … what do you need? How can we help? What can we do for Steve? As we finally turn this corner to providing safe, permanent housing for our friend we felt led to open up to our community about what we are doing. The Gathering of Men, a ministry that has partnered with us over the years through John’s dad, has made Steve one of their special ministries and set up a giving webpage where tax-deductible donations can be made to go directly toward providing Steve a home, a project we estimate will cost around $5,000. We have already completed most of the electrical rewiring and some demolition. We need to finish the plumbing, refinish the floors and kitchenette, redo the drywall and insulation, and paint in a 650-ish square foot space. If you feel led to contribute toward Steve’s new home (where he will live rent-free as long as he chooses to stay!), you will do more than help give him a roof over his head. Having a permanent address gives Steve access to the public health services he has long needed, and the safety and security of having a family who cares for him nearby — something he has so desperately needed for so long. It is our hope to move him in on or before his birthday on Feb. 8.

Thank you for reading and for your prayers and encouragement to us over the years! We are constantly blown away by all God does in our lives and how he has led us here. We are so excited to share this with you and see where God takes it!

http://www.gomsc.org/Donations/Apartment-Fund

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Click here to view updates on our fundraising total.

The death blog

(There are some other things – Fun things! – that I will be processing through on this website in the coming months. I am not at liberty to talk about them right now, so for now I am processing through some other stuff. Death stuff. Welcome back to the Haunted Mansion.)

A few months ago we were driving through the neighborhood, on our way to the Goodwill drop off center that is near the vet where we used to take our dogs. It is the same vet office where we said our final goodbyes to each of our dogs. Elijah from the back seat proclaimed, “Look! There’s heaven! Let’s go visit Henry and Juicy!” It took me a moment to find my composure before I explained to my young son that the veterinarian’s office was not, in fact, heaven. Heaven was the next place we go after we die (in contrast to the place where we die. Ugh). But to his mind it made sense … this was the last place he’d seen his beloved Bubba to say goodbye. It was the place we’d said we were taking Juicy because he was “going to heaven.” Gulp. I’d bungled my words and … he’d taken us at our word. I did my best to explain to him what I’d truly meant, even felt relatively satisfied with my response.

*Fast forward several months.*

A friend of ours is in the hospital after a very, very close call. He is an older man, “S”, who has no family. We have – for all intents and purposes – adopted him. Yesterday the whole family went to the hospital to visit him. The older kids squished together in a chair near the foot of the bed with the iPad between them. Lucy slept in the Ergo at my chest. S picked at his Jell-O and watched the kids. It was good medicine for us all.

On the ride home, Elijah asked, “When S gets out of heaven will we get to see him again?” Followed by Sydney’s question, “Is S going to DIE?!” which then led to Elijah asking again, “Where is my Grandfather? (referring to my dad)” and then to “When will *I* die?”

Oh my precious babies. They are so little and they are doing their best to wrap their minds around the very real and present facts of this life. John and I have decided to always tell our kids the truth. People like to poke fun at us for telling our kids that Santa isn’t real (and same goes for that pesky Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy! And don’t pity them, they still get very full stockings, Easter baskets loaded with treats, and they get paid – under the pillow in the traditional way! – when they lose a tooth). But we want our kids to be able to trust us when the time for the Big Questions comes. And in our life, the questions have come early because of, well, just plain old circumstances.

We have had to talk to our kids a lot about what death is, and what it means. They are at different developmental stages. Children cannot understand death as a permanent concept until they are between 6-7 years old, up until that point they understand everything very literally and do not yet understand that when someone dies they will never come back. Like clockwork, when Sydney turned 6.5, we would find her weeping in her room clutching a photo of our dog … who had died a year and a half earlier. It was as if her brain has suddenly grasped the concept that death is permanent. It was crushing as her parents to watch her go through this (and admittedly, we know that some of it was her also processing the death of her friends’ father who was a fixture in our life when he suddenly died). After a few weeks, her grief gradually lessened, but she keeps her photo of Bubba close by and often speaks of missing him … in contrast to our son who talks about “going to see” the dogs and views heaven as a place, rather than an abstract.

I find it all fascinating, as challenging as it is. Before I became a parent I anticipated having difficult conversations about sex and money with my kids when they were older (and I even knew that I would have to explain my father’s death to them, sadly understanding that they would never know him). I never, ever expected that as a parent of young children that this would be so, well, thematic. We don’t talk about it every day, but it comes up often. And in line with our policies on Santa and the Easter Bunny, we try to never, ever brush off the questions with the pat answers parents are so famous for (“because I said so!”). It is a process for all of us. It is a mountain that we are climbing one step at a time.

What are the difficult – albeit productive – ongoing conversations that you have with your children?

The mountain high, the valley low

In the weeks following the anniversary of my father’s death things have been low. I guess in some ways that is to be expected. How foolish of me to be surprised by my lack of patience for my husband and children! We had a lovely 4th of July birthday celebration for our Lucy with family from out of town and it was so wonderful. John and I commented to one another that it had been one of our best kid birthdays! And it was! 

On the Monday that followed my brother-in-law and mother packed my 8-months-pregnant sister up in the car for the long drive home and I found myself angry, but couldn’t place why. Everything was bothering me! It was July 6, the death-iversary! I should be sad! Not mad! And … shouldn’t I be more healed than this? It was frustrating.

A few days later word came that my father’s sister’s heart had finally given out after years of cardiac issues. After a few days in the hospital her heart just quit and she was no more. After my father’s death my aunt and I did not maintain a relationship, despite a few small efforts on her part. It was too complicated for me, and I was still too young and hurt to know what to say or do. So I distanced myself from that part of my family and they allowed it. A few years ago my grandma passed away and my sister called to tell me, much like she had to call and tell me about our aunt. Everything stirs the pot. Her death was a punch to the gut. The waves of grief overcome afresh. People who are close and people who are distant when they should not be move on from this life. It all leaves you wondering. It all leaves you regretful. And now you’ll never know.

Yesterday I got word that an old friend from high school is severely injured after being hit by a car while she was out training on her bike with a group. She was the type of person you loved to get in trouble with. We ran on the track and cross-country teams together. We spent countless hours in her bedroom singing into hairbrushes. We TP’ed her neighbors and met up for Mexican food when we were home from college. She’s now married with four young children. She is on life support. Things are critical. She will always carry damage from this. I am reeling thinking about her and her family and praying for her, thankful that for now she does not fully realize her new reality. (Here is a link to the Go Fund Me for her if you feel led to help her family financially  http://www.gofundme.com/za3n8b3)

Sometimes when it is like this I wonder … is the valley ok? Is it ok for it to be hard for me to get out of bed? Am I faithless if I feel sad and a bit downtrodden? My family needs me. I can’t bail on everything and dive headlong into grief and really I don’t want to, well, not all the time. I just want it to go away. I want life to go on with me unscathed. And that is the crux of life and death and perhaps a part of the injustice: Earthly death does not stop the world from turning. Very few will stop for you in your grief for longer than a moment. Six billion people wake up, do their work, eat what they have to eat, choose to love or not to love, do the miscellaneous good or bad or benign things they do, deal with their lives, and then go to sleep. Some of them do not make it sunrise to sunset, and that is how it is. Some of them go to sleep and wake no more and that is how it works.

Some moments alter everything as we knew it, and not for the better. It is not fair and it is not right. It is devastating and horrific and we have to see it. We have to hold it as it bleeds and tell it that everything’s going to be all right, even if it’s not. We have to cradle it as it takes it’s last breath. We have to bury it with our tears. We have to pack up it’s belongings and figure out what’s next. We must pick up and keep moving or be swallowed by it all. At best we can compartmentalize or misplace it for a moment but we can never forget. The troubles of this world are so real. Thank God they are temporary. Thank God new life is always on it’s heels. It has to be. Please God let there be new life.

Some of you might ask me … how do I find God in those moments? My answer to you is this: I did not find God in these moments. He found me. 

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

#survivesummer

At the end of the school year we were all ready for school to be done. Even ME. I was tired of multiple drop offs and pick ups (Syd to elementary every day and Elijah to preschool for 3 hours 3x a week). Tired of the grind of packing lunches and peeling kids out of bed and getting homework done and shuffling through paperwork and schedules and forms. We were so ready to be done, the lot of us. 

And then it came! School let out! John headed to Africa for work and the kids and I drove North for a blissful long weekend with friends. We came home and I began digging through the laundry. Elijah had a few more days of school. John came home. Elijah graduated from preschool. And suddenly things settled down and it began: “Mom. Mom? Mom! MOM. MO-OM! MAMA! MOMMY! Mah-muh?! Momomomomomom.” 

And here we are. It’s been weeks since I had my thoughts (much less my body or the house or ANYTHING) to myself. All is a Catch-22. If they’re quietly “entertaining” themselves, this is what’s happening:

   
 
If they’re not trashing the house, they’re asking to watch tv for the hundreth time (no), asking for a millionth popsicle (no. You’ve already had two!), pummeling (and in Lucy’s case BITING) each other to  tears, waking the baby up from her nap, asking me what I’m doing, touching what I’m doing, turning their noses up at any activity I suggest, interrupting me one billion times so that even completing the smallest task is infuriating …

Guys? It’s not going well. I’ve hired a teenage neighbor to be a mother’s helper who comes once a week to entertain them and give me the space I need to FOLD LAUNDRY (how SAD). I take them to the YMCA several times a week – they are basically sponsoring this post by the way because that’s how this is possible! – they go to the playroom for 2 hours and I hide in a “stretching area” corner of the locker room away from the crazy naked ladies and try to have a little quiet time before pounding out my frustrations on the elliptical. And YET, despite these things, I feel crazed. I have begun to hate summer.

I keep wondering if it’s because I’m an “introverted extrovert” and I need quality quiet space to recharge … and can that really happen in the YMCA locker room with hairdryers buzzing in the background? Or on the elliptical while Ina Garten makes guacamole salad? Probably not. But at least no one’s yelling or making a mess.

I keep wondering if it’s because my kids are all still so little. Still 6, 4, and 2. It’s just still physically so hard right now. They’re not old enough for things like summer day camp and pool days yet. AND I have a two year-old whose twos are definitely terrible. SIGH. “It will pass!” I remind myself. Soon they will be bigger and won’t need to be told to put on their shoes 324 times before it’s done.  One day they will be old enough to ride their bikes around the block 500 times without supervision! There will be summer camps and day-long playdates with friends and pool days! Real Summer!

And then at night I rock Lucy before bed and look down at her little face and lament, “IT WILL PASS!” SOB! Little hands wind into my hair and little faces lift to mine for a kiss and I cannot figure out what is wrong with me. Why is it so hard for me that they NEED ME? They want my attention! I cannot wait for it to pass and it will! And then… It will be gone. And I will hate that too. Won’t I?

Let me know if you figure it out. I have an elliptical date with Ina to keep. School starts for my two older kids on Aug. 17. Until then … I will be surviving summer.

The thing is

The thing is that life and death go hand in hand. My parents come up a lot with my children. Last week as we were driving my 4 year old son asked me out of the blue, “Where is my grandfather?” It was not in our usual “grandma-papa-yaya” language. He was asking me where my dad is, and I told him the truth. That his grandfather died before he was born. That his grandfather would have had loved to know his grandson! His grandfather was funny and handsome and loved to play! And I fight angry, disappointed tears because he should be here. My son deserved that. 

Each of my children at different phases of their development have noticed that their dad has two parents, but their mom does not. They themselves have two parents, but their mom does not. Their friends now have one parent, but they used to have two. Children notice, and why not? It is plain to see. It is fact. I suppose this is the life part. We live on. We live in the wake of decisions people make. We must explain, plainly in language that children can understand, that death comes when it comes. That Mama had a daddy but he is gone now. He has gone ahead. 

Our minds often travel to our late friend Alexis. We cannot hide from his loss even though it has been more than a year. A year is not a long time. I used to think it was but now I know. I nearly rolled my eyes at myself for still feeling the loss of my own dad even though it has been nine years since his death and nearly 13 since he was a part of my life. But I stopped. It is ok. Death close up alters your perspective. It is real and large and I hate the word “traumatize” but it shakes you up in a way that cannot ever be fully reordered. It cannot go back to the way it was. You heal, time is kind that way. You can get back on your feet. You can love again. But it is not restoration. It is management.