Contacting Craig

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Thoughts on hope, from a formerly homeless man. (Spoiler...Obama didn't give me my hope)

      “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12
Today marks the 73rd day I’ve been employed here at Liberty University. For six years I struggled to find work while living as a homeless man. I’m intelligent, very hard working, willing, and able. I took anything offered while looking for the “perfect” job. I’ve built chicken coops and pressure washed driveways and even cleaned windows for a hundred bucks.
When I first lost my job in 2008, I refused to collect unemployment. I’m old school and I wanted to work my way out of it. A friend reminded me that state unemployment is insurance. It’s a policy you have been paying into since the day you started working on a W2 basis. For me that was since age 15 when I worked at the local Gino’s restaurant. He told me this was my money; I had been paying into the fund and paying for others when they were having a hard time and so I should take what I’d earned. So I did. That lasted about six months. After that I was told to enroll for the federal unemployment program. This I refused. Federal unemployment is taxpayer funded and it wasn’t money I had worked for. That’s how I saw it, at least and so I refused. I refused food stamps and Section 8 housing too.
I am entirely convinced that this stubborn refusal to accept a handout was the reason I kept trying to solve the problems instead of simply giving up and becoming a shame-filled, broken, humiliated dad, who lost any shred of hope and was enslaved by the system. I didn’t do that. It doesn’t make me a hero. But it makes me different from a lot of folks these days.
Sadly, the long, drawn out battle also stripped me of something besides my dignity and pride. It dimmed my hope. I’ve always been an optimist. So much so that my friends would frequently have to reel me back in from taking leaps of faith because I always saw everything as an opportunity, every person as basically good, every day as a new chance. Six years of homelessness, broken dreams and mostly deferred hope, changed that.
Most of my life I was the funniest guy in the room. I was always singing a song, if not out loud, at least in my heart. I was quick with a smile, just as quick to laugh, and quicker to forgive. I had a long fuse and a thick skin. I had the same passions and the same bedrock values, but I didn’t defend them with the edge and the anger that, sadly, became more and more prevalent as the last six years progressed.
But as the years dragged on, my heart grew sicker and sicker. This verse is one of the most perfect observations of humanity in the entire Bible. I think that I will ask Solomon one day; “What were you observing when you recorded this bit of wisdom? Whose life had been so badly shattered, who was it in your administration, or your family, who had been beaten and defeated for such a long time that you literally saw his heart getting sick?” That’s something to ponder for a lifetime.
I’ve lived this for the last six years. I saw my own heart grow colder and harder and sicker as time wore on. Each day, the scar tissue got thicker and the flame grew more dim and the warmth turned tepid. The laughter was gone. The jokes weren’t funny anymore, the smile faded. In their place were tears, anger, a short temper, words that hurt more than encouraged, and almost no optimism. I became an almost entirely different person than I had been for the forty-five years prior.
I started my job on August 18th. The first month or so I had some difficulty adjusting. I was very wary of people. I had not been in a daily social setting since 2008 and it is sad how you can get out of practice when you live in such an isolated way as I had been. I told a coworker today that I understand why homeless people talk to themselves so much. It’s because nobody else talks to them. We aren’t made to be so isolated, and it eventually renders every other person an intruder. I think that’s the real danger of so many mobile devices. We walk around texting, reading email, Facebooking or checking sports scores with our heads down looking at a six-square-inch screen and we are quickly becoming a world full of individuals without recognition of anyone else. We don’t see people as people anymore…we see them as Twitter handles, Facebook “friends” or “Selfie-Stars” (That is officially MY term. Don’t you rascals steal it)
I was living like Will Smith in “I am Legend” walking alone through my own personal post-apocalyptic world and talking with mannequins to fight the sheer loneliness of my life. The hope had been deferred for so long that my heartsickness was almost terminal.
It took a month for me to begin to feel like my old self again. It took another two weeks after that to really feel comfortable around my coworkers and begin to crack jokes or say hello in the hallway or smile. But it has happened. It’s wonderful that, while six years of damage was done, it only took two months to restore so much life to my soul. I have a lot of hope again. But I will never forget what hopelessness feels like.
When I began this journey six years ago, our nation had just elected a man who promised “Hope.” He was wrong. We have less hope now than ever before. We are more changed and less hopeful and, sadly, more broken as a society and less united as a country than ever in our history. Obama failed. But as much as I dislike this president and his politics and his personal beliefs, I’m not blaming him entirely. We should have known better. No president…NO president, can simply imbue hope in the hearts of people by passing laws or passing out money. You can’t give hope. Only God can do that. What we can do for each other is cultivate hope; we can fertilize it and protect it for each other. But we can’t grant it. Reagan never tried to give us hope…he pointed us within ourselves and told us how to find the hope we had already.
People don’t need free money, free cell phones or free health care. They need a job. They need a purpose. They need a dream that pushes them and they need a reason to believe that they can –with hard work- achieve that dream. They need opportunity. I finally got an opportunity and it made all the difference.
I feel my heart healing at light speed and it makes me happy, but it also makes me sad. I hurt people while my heart was so hardened and my hope was so deferred. I have asked forgiveness from those I needed to ask and I’ve received it for the most part but it still makes me sad. It makes me sad for a lot of others out there who are also feeling their heart shutting down day by day, and because of this, they are running people off when they really need their company. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. A sick heart shuts off the light of the soul. I have hope again but I wonder about those who do not.
Remember this when you interact with someone who has been losing hope for a long time. Remember this when they bark at you or snipe at you or simply walk past you without a smile or a nod. They aren’t trying to be monsters…they’re simply heartsick. They need hope. Not a government program, or a free check or a cell phone or a handout. They need a reason. They need a purpose. They need to feel like real productive people again. They need to come home to a house they are paying for, sit at a table they bought, eat groceries they didn’t buy with a “SNAP” card, and sink into their own bed, feeling worn out but thankful for work and for the promise that tomorrow brings.

That…is hope. Without it, there is only sickness.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

My Review of Dave Ramsey's "The Legacy Journey"

Life is funny.
You don’t have to live very many years to understand this, but the older you get, the truer it is every day. Life is funny.
If you know me at all and know my story these last six years or so, you know how almost surreal it is that I am sitting at my kitchen table, in Lynchburg Virginia, writing a review of Dave Ramsey’s latest book.
Just that sentence alone is chock full of miracles. I’m sitting in my kitchen. At my table. In Lynchburg Virginia. Writing a review of Dave Ramsey’s latest book. For the uninitiated let’s review why this is so many answers to prayer all in one line of type.
For the last six years I have been homeless. I slept in my 1996 Yukon, parked on a friend’s property in Franklin TN. Before that, I slept in my 1995 Volvo 850, until it died at the 250,000 mile mark. That was the car I had when I lost my entire career, my home, and for the six years that ensued…my hope. When I first became homeless I would hide it behind the Oak Hill Assembly of God on Franklin Road in Nashville TN, where I lived the past seventeen years.
So my having a kitchen -with a table- is nothing short of a miracle to me. My kitchen is in my little townhouse in Lynchburg, Virginia. I’m here because I work for my alma mater, Liberty University. So I have a job, a home, a kitchen with a table, a new (to me) car, and best of all…I have hope.
I also have this friend in Nashville. Maybe you’ve heard of the guy. His name is Dave Ramsey.
Now, that line right there made some of you chuckle. Or it made you “LOL” as we say these days. If it made you laugh, then you know why. If it didn’t, here is a link to the recent history with Dave and myself. This explains most of it.

There is a lot more to this, of course but this isn’t a story about me and Dave. It’s about his new book. However, in the spirit of full disclosure I wanted to get these things on the table because I know…let me emphasize…I know, that I am going to get slammed for writing this review. I got slammed for merely having dinner with the guy, so I expect a few torpedoes here. But honestly...I don’t care.
So here is my review of Dave Ramsey’s newest book: “The Legacy Journey”
And for the record, Dave did not approach me at all about reviewing this book. He doesn’t even know I am doing this.

The Legacy Journey
Dave Ramsey
Copyright 2014 Lampo Licensing LLC
Published by Ramsey Press, The Lampo Group, Inc.
Brentwood TN
236 Pages

      First of all, let me say I simply love books. I love all kinds of books. I love the way they look and the way they smell and the way they feel in your hands. I will probably never own a Kindle version of anything, because a book is simply something you hold in your hands and feel the pages between your fingers. So the first thing I would say is, as a product, The Legacy Journey is beautiful. It looks like a journal. And in many ways it is. Half a lifetime has gone into the development of this particular chapter of Dave Ramsey’s life.
     But a book review is not about the outside. It’s about the content.
Right up front, you need to know that if you think this book is simply "Okay, I've followed the steps of Financial Peace, I'm what?" You are in for a surprise. This book isn't just about what to do once you've accumulated those "piles of cash," Ramsey frequently references. It's about something far more important.
This book taught me a lot. It taught me a lot about Dave Ramsey that I simply did not know before. Living in Nashville for seventeen years, where everyone claims Christianity, it’s easy to simply assume that everyone there was born a Believer and has had a faith-walk all their lives. This book explains that Dave came to Faith in Christ as an adult. When you put this in perspective, you begin to understand that he was maturing as a Christian at the same time God was taking him down a path he had not planned on. A path that challenged him at every turn but also blessed him beyond what he had imagined.
It’s hard to mature as a believer when you are having success. That’s just human nature. The more you have, the more doors seem to open for you and the easier it is to be caught up in your own hype and read too many of your own newspaper clippings. Dave Ramsey had to intentionally cultivate his spiritual growth even while his financial and professional life was exploding exponentially. That takes discipline. We’ve seen the other side of this with the rock stars and celebrities who come to Christ and are thrust in the evangelical limelight before they have a chance to put down roots. Ramsey had to make it a point to avoid this sort of pitfall. That’s simply not easy.
But it explained a lot as I read it, knowing that the Dave Ramsey I heard on the airwaves in Nashville when I first got to town in 1997, was in many ways not the same radio host I heard on my last day there this past May. Ramsey has grown as a believer. That’s obvious, and much like those members of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4 who saw the dramatic change in Peter and John and could only attribute it to their having spent much time in the presence of Jesus. Jesus will work off your rough edges if you let him and it is evident through this book that Dave is at his most reflective, and the imprint of his years with Jesus are showing more boldly than ever.
      There was one troubling section of this book that I need to address. It’s chapter two.
The chapter is called “The War on Success” and to be honest…I hate it. I hate that it had to be written. I hate that in this country, the day has come when successful people –particularly successful people of faith- have to literally hide their success for fear they will be run-through by the acid tongued both outside the church and, sadly, within.
It’s funny…when I was a homeless man, the people who attacked the wealthy could not believe that I didn’t hate them, rage against them for being wealthy, and twist scriptures to condemn them. But I couldn’t. I am a full-on, hard core capitalist. I have no problem with people being wealthy. Heck I want to be wealthy. I know as many mean-spirited, unkind, unfriendly “poor” folks as I do rich ones. Money only amplifies what you are. If you’re a jerk at your core…you’re just going to be a jerk with cooler toys. Why people have become so animus toward people who work hard and have success is something I’ll never understand. Dave addresses this in his book and he does it with patience and kindness, explaining it in a way that assumes that perhaps those folks simply never did the numbers. He treats their contempt as an oversight, and a result of their lack of information. The chapter is a perfect rebuttal to those who hold to a mantra that money is somehow akin to evil.
The chapters that follow are some of the best writing I’ve read on the value of being a better, deeper, more whole person. This isn’t a book about money…not really. This is a book about really being rich. Rich in wisdom, rich in integrity, rich in character. Rich in the things that your kids grow teary-eyed when they reminisce about them to your grandchildren one day. When you’re seven years old, you might brag about how much money your dad has, but when you are a little older, you want to be able to brag about the man your dad is.
That is really what this book is about.
Dave Ramsey takes his readers on a journey to a mountain top. Mountains give us the advantage of looking both backward in victory, and forward in expectation. On this particular mountain, Ramsey reflects not only on who he was way down in that valley you can barely see anymore, but who he became along the way, and who he sees himself becoming as he takes on the next leg of the journey.
His regular listeners and readers have made this journey with him, and while their mountain might look a little different, the view is likely just as rewarding. Reading this book you begin to understand that all his talk about stewardship, and being intentional, and setting goals and having plans, is not just for the financial areas of life. In fact that’s the easiest place to learn those traits, because the results are instantly visible, and palpable. No, reading this book you come to understand that the character you develop here with your money, becomes character everywhere else. Tithing is just a dollar figure, but a giving heart is cultivated. Carefully managing your checkbook becomes carefully managing your daily planner. A good steward of his paycheck becomes a good steward of his workday and honors his boss. A person with financial integrity, reflects a person with spiritual integrity. Money problems are really just symptoms. This book is about those who saw the symptoms, diagnosed the problem, took the medicine, got well, and then became stronger than ever. That is the Legacy Journey as Dave Ramsey describes it here.
His chapter on “Safeguarding Your Legacy” moved me deeply. I finished reading this book in the lobby of my church, waiting for my daughter to finish her small groups. On the way home we discussed my legacy, frankly and openly. It was a good conversation and I explained to her why I had asked. This chapter made me renew my vow to God to live my life before her in a manner honoring our Lord. It has been a hard road these last six years and she suffered much along with me. It was good to read Dave’s thoughts on what a legacy really is and how you measure it and how you guard against ruining it. These are great tips I am implementing before I even go to bed tonight.
Dave writes at great length about the value of family, history, integrity and faith in this book. But one story touched me deeply and I’ll close this review with this.
He writes a wonderful story about a man named Clyde Eckles West. To relate the entire story would be to spoil one of the wonderful, sweet moments in this volume. But suffice it to say that I blinked back a few tears as the story unfolded and the legacy of this man came into focus. Legacy really is everything.
In closing, I have to say this is a really great book. Great in its necessity. There is a lot more to this work than “Just another Dave Ramsey book about money.” Far more. A few years ago I read a wonderful book by a fellow Liberty University grad, Mark DeMoss. The book was “The Little Red Book of Wisdom.” It’s one of my favorite books about just plain being a better person. Dave Ramsey’s new book is a similar work. Sure, there is the expected money advice. That’s what he is known for.
But over the years, this is also a man who has been broken, rebuilt, and reshaped many times as God continued to “complete the work he has begun in you.”
The Legacy Journey is about taking a longer than usual pause to reflect, give thanks, reset the compass, and prepare for the rest of the voyage, while carefully leaving the road you travel a little better for the next sojourner.
It’s a wonderful read and I give it five stars.