Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at craigd2599@gmail.com
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at www.craigdaliessio.com


Saturday, May 31, 2014

Lessons from a (Formerly) Homeless Dad...

                                                               Formerly Homeless
                                                    Lessons from a ^ Homeless Dad

Good Saturday morning, everyone.
It’s 10 AM here in the highlands of Virginia, where I now reside with my daughter.
This is the second Saturday in years that I’ve woken up in my own place. The second Saturday that I sat at my kitchen table as the sun rose and sipped my coffee, from my LU coffee mug. Coffee that I made in my coffee maker (one of the very few surviving household items from when I last owned a home) and then went over my prayer list, and read the Bible, and prayed for things, and thought, and planned, and did what most everyone takes for granted.
It’s been almost two weeks since we’ve been here. It took some getting used to...this crazy idea of sleeping indoors, showering in my own bathroom, cooking real food in my kitchen, and doing the things that parents do for my daughter.
I’ve run the gamut of emotions from disbelief, to joy, to relief. I’ve felt the walls that I constructed around my heart, to hide the shame and embarrassment, begin to crumble.  With each piece of those walls that fell, an accompanying river of tears fell too. I would not dare to pretend that what I have endured over these last six years is anything remotely like the dreadful terror of battle, but I do think that the way the human body handles stress is the same, regardless of the stimulus.
I’ve talked to soldiers who will unanimously say that when the bullets are flying and the bombs are exploding and the shrieks of pain and horror are mixed with the resounding thunder of artillery, you don’t have time for emotion. You are scared, and you are pumped up on adrenaline and you are in survival mode. You see the horror but you don’t have a single moment to process it, so it gets stored away someplace. It’s not when the battle is hottest that your tears come, and your hands shake, and your nightmares begin. It’s after.
It’s in the deathly silence that follows the cease fire, when the smoke is clearing, and the battlefield becomes visible again, and you can see how much this war has changed the landscape...and how much it changed you. That’s when you let out your breath and reflect on what you just lived through, and that’s when you start to feel it. That’s when the tears fall.
That has happened over the past two weeks. It happened this morning. I was sitting at my table, reading my book. A few years ago I heard Ravi Zacharias describe his morning worship time by relaying that he struggled for years getting his mind into the right frame. I was shocked, to say the least, as Ravi is my hero, and one of the greatest minds in modern Christendom, and a man devoted wholly to God. To realize that, he too wrestles with the mind being unruly at an early hour gave me hope. He shared, on his broadcast, his routine for his worship time and I began following it to great success. He reads one chapter from a Christian book, most frequently Malcolm Muggeridge or C.S. Lewis. This gets his mind in the mode of processing sacred writing. So he moves to his Bible reading. Then after that he is ready for prayer.
This morning I was reading through (for the second time) “Building Dynamic Faith” by my beloved Dr. Falwell. I moved from there to the first four chapters of Matthew and then I began working on my prayer list. Already, in the two weeks since we’ve been here, there are a couple of small items I was able to cross off. A microwave, some dishes, carpentry jobs until my position within LU opens up, success in my first interview. I’ve already received some answers for these.
I started to write down the updated requests and the tears began. I stopped and put the notebook down and I was hearing in my mind, the words of the great Zig Ziglar who said “If you fail to be thankful for what you have, before long you won’t have anything to be thankful for.” I thought about the day in July 2011 when I drove to Dallas at the invitation of Zig’s daughter Julie, and met he and his wife, and Julie and her brother Tom, and we spent time walking around the office and then went to lunch at Zig’s favorite Chinese restaurant. I thought about how many times I have played those now-worn cassettes that a friend gave me, and how much Zig’s wisdom kept me going in this darkness. I thought about him saying that we need to be thankful for everything.
So right here in my kitchen, at 6:30-ish this morning, the dam broke again and I sat here in tears, praying my thanks for everything I could think of. Thanks for my coffee and this table that sits in my kitchen, that is part of my new little townhome, where my daughter lives with me. Thanks for the opportunity I have to go to work for my alma mater. To work with the hockey program I am so proud to have been a part of. Thanks for the work I have gotten that will pay the bills until I am officially hired at Liberty. Thanks for my daughter. Thanks for God not getting tired of me when I doubted His plan. Thanks that, while my faith was frequently messy and weak and ragged...it was enduring. I failed many times along the journey. But I did not quit. This morning I remembered Zig repeating to me in his office that day, what he’d said so many thousands of times before... “Failure is an event. Not a person”

I have failed often over the last 6-plus years. But I did not quit. If you fail nine times but you succeed on the tenth...you are a success. Because you stayed in the game until you made it work. Doc always said “It’s not what it takes to knock a man down that he is measured by...it’s what it takes to keep him down.”
                                                         
January of 2007 I lost my home. May of 2008 I lost my career, and could not renew my lease, and became homeless. In that time I was hired by three companies that all ended up going out of business. That’s four bankrupted companies if you include the mortgage company that folded and began this mess. I was also hired by one mortgage company who promptly rescinded the offer one week later because of Obamacare and the cost of adding another loan officer’s benefits package. But in that same period...that exact same time frame...I returned to college and completed my Bachelors degree. I wrote four books and have become – I think- a progressively better writer with each effort. I started a small carpentry business and did some very impressive work. I preached in three churches and taught a men’s conference that changed lives. Most of all...I showed my daughter that her dad loves her more than creature comfort, more than his pride, more than his reputation or his standing in the world. I was there for every single school activity and every birthday. I stood tall and refused to let her see me defeated. She saw me beaten, but she never saw me quit. I am thankful that God gave me just enough strength to endure to the end.
I believe the best is yet to come and that it’s right around the bend. I believe I have already written at least one best seller. My Christmas book The Ragamuffin’s Christmas, is a classic and one of the most unique takes on the nativity I have ever read. The only thing keeping it anonymous is word of mouth. It will happen. I believe “Remembering America...” is a joyous, fun, sweet read that also has the potential to be a best seller, because it leaves you feeling great when you are finished reading it. I believe my daughter’s best two years of high school will be these final two years. I believe I will get to tell my story –and so will she- and we’ll inspire others to simply not give up.
I realized one great truth in this. That God is always up to something. He knew, long before the mortgage industry collapsed and I lost my house, that this was all part of the plan. What felt catastrophic and permanently devastating was merely the boat pulling away from the dock and leaving the safety of the harbor. Those endless nights trying to sleep in the front seat of a Volvo, and later in the cargo area of a Yukon...those were just my years at sea. My walk through the desert. My time when God was taking one unshaped piece of metal, and beating on it until it was reshaped and then fine tuning it until it became a sculpture.
I’ve learned a lot of lessons and I guess I’ll be recounting them here over time. But the first and most important was, and is...”Never quit.”


                                                     You may fail, but you can never quit.

                                                         Someday, you will say “thanks.”

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yesterday...

Yesterday sure was interesting.
If you’ve read my blog before, particularly in the last few weeks, you know about my dinner with Dave Ramsey and his wife, and the reasons behind it. You can scroll down and see it if you somehow missed it.
Well yesterday was the high point for this blog as far as hits goes. Almost 1200 people read, and in some cases re-read, my post. This happened because of an internet article from Matthew Paul Turner, exposing allegations against Dave and his alleged employment policies.
I used the words “alleged” and “allegations” because only one person was actually named when quoted. Well, two, if you count me, but Turner never contacted me and worded the article as if I was a former Ramsey employee. (Which I am not)  I called him out on it via Twitter, because comments were disabled on the site where the story ran. He re-worded the article to make it clear that I was never a Ramsey employee. However, he never did ask me for my side of the story or why I thought I had an axe to grind with Dave Ramsey. My gut feeling is that my side of it would have softened the tone of the article -which was a classic hit piece- and left the reader at least pondering the possibility that maybe the problem isn’t all Dave. When one is out to ruin a guy, one can’t have any softener in the mix.
But that’s life and that’s “journalism” in the era of the National Enquirer and the internet, and so what? In a world of information overload, this will be old news by next week.  Ultimately, nobody cares about Dave Ramsey except people who care about Dave Ramsey, either pro or con. Dave probably didn’t lose a single listener from his core, and I doubt there were many folks who read the article and said “You know...I was going to sign up for FPU and get my finances in order, but now I won’t.”
Matthew Paul Turner has a new book coming out, another one where he attacks fundamental evangelicalism as evil, unscriptural, and “Americanized.” I’m sure this article will go a long way toward ginning up attention for it, and I’m guessing that was at least a portion of the reason behind it. He digs controversy and it serves his purposes. I tried listening to him on his short-lived radio show in Nashville and I just couldn’t stomach it.
You know how some teenagers will disagree with their parents just to get attention and be disagreeable and contrarian? Yeah that’s him. He’d say things about the Bible and Christianity and take the opposing view and then wait for the phone to ring. Then you’d get the smug attitude in his voice that revealed that you disagreed simply because you have an archaic, draconian view of scripture, and if you were as enlightened as he, you’d agree with him. I listened and called...I know whereof I speak. I was so infuriated I had to stop listening.
Whatever... the world is populated by those folks these days. I could just write him off as another neo-evangelical who wants to be loved, where Jesus said we’d be hated. But yesterday something happened on social media that made me sick and I thought about writing about it last night but decided to sleep on it first.
First of all, I asked MPT to correct his errors where I was concerned and he did...then he stopped following me on Twitter. Really? Because I was the one guy who took Dave up on his invitation, met with him, and heard him out, and came away with a different view? I don’t follow MPT’s party line so I’m off his friends list? It’s not that I care, because I don’t. But seriously...I refused to be lumped into his story as if I was party to the others’ input and he took offense to that? Sorry Matt...that was the truth. My situation was entirely different from what you were writing about and I simply asked you to make that clear. But it got worse...
On Facebook, I became "friends" with someone a few months ago. I won’t give her name, because that’s how angry social media wars begin, and this isn’t meant for that. But her newsfeed picked up Matthew Turners FB page, and I saw where he posted the article on his wall.  In the comments were the expected anger and vitriol. I’m not going to enter that fray. I’m not here to be a Ramsey defender and I don’t believe Dave expects me to, simply because he showed me kindness. I never worked for him. I can’t, with integrity, defend his methods as a boss because I don’t have an hour’s experience there. But when one of the commenters made the leap from Dave’s allegedly difficult tactics as a boss, to him being a domestic abuser...I spoke up.
It’s one thing to “expose” a man’s flaws, and it’s quite another thing to outright try to ruin him...especially with unfounded, evil fantasy. Especially by using something as despicable as alleging abuse. I spoke up, and instantly I was the bad guy. That woman “unfriended” me (which I always find hysterically passive-aggressive)
To which I respond...
What the heck is wrong with you people?
I don’t care if Dave Ramsey walks the halls of his building with a bull-whip and a cattle prod. Tying him to something criminal and horrible like domestic violence with ABSOLUTELY NO BASIS IN FACT is as evil as it gets. In a way, you made his point for him...he has a very tough stance against gossip and that one comment was all the proof anyone would need to understand why.
(*I was informed this morning [5-31] that the comment was removed)
I let myself obsess about the man because I was angry. I was angry because I was stinkin’ HOMELESS for almost SIX YEARS. I would hear the most heartless things spit at me by the “beloved of God” where I lived at the time, and they always seemed to attach Dave to it. “Dave says...” or “Like Dave says...” In the fog and depression and disillusionment  of the life I led then, I got angry at him for it. He was an easy target and I needed comic relief.
Ultimately, even that isn’t an excuse...so what is the excuse of the guy who made the jump on Facebook? What is Turner’s? Because Dave is better at radio than he is? Because he’s rich? Because he doesn’t adhere to the liberal theology that Turner preaches?
Disliking a man and criticizing a man, even dogging his steps for the things he does wrong (that you have real PROOF of ) is one thing. But creating a monster from conjecture, in order to destroy him, simply because you don’t like him, is another...and it’s wrong.
It’s more wrong than anything Ramsey was accused of in the article and it’s evil, pure and simple.
Social media has, at times, bestowed doctoral degrees on morons. It has also given an opportunity to some people with some real talent, who wouldn’t have had the chance otherwise. (I think I fall into both categories) But it has also caused a few deaths from the exponential transmission of evil gossip. It’s sad that we get incensed when it happens to some teenaged girl or boy, but if it’s a rich guy we don’t care for, limits are off and that blood in the water means all is fair.
That’s a travesty.

My former pastor back home used to have a saying that he used all the time. It was this: “It’s never right to do wrong in seeking to do right.”  Apply that here. If your goal was to correct Dave Ramsey for his alleged “unChristlikeness,” being even more unChristlike is not the way to accomplish it.

Oh, and since you've all stopped by to dig some dirt...how about you help out a single dad and buy a book or two. Make this whole thing worth your time.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Journey of a Homeless dad: Will I ever trust God again?

A little over a week ago, I began a new journey in this wild, roller-coaster-gone-off-its-rails life of mine. A new chapter that seems to place the coaster solidly back on it’s track.
Last Monday, my daughter and I arrived in Lynchburg, Virginia to begin a new life together.
I was homeless for 4 ½ of the past 6 years and I’ve been divorced for almost 14 years now. In all that time, I lived with one goal...the day she’d come to live with me. It didn’t happen the way I had thought it might. When I laid out my life map, I didn’t see the detour through homelessness. I didn’t see the “Man Under Construction” signs. I didn’t see 4 ½ years where she couldn’t spend the night, I couldn’t tuck her in, or make her breakfast.
But God did.
There is a lot for me to digest, now that this is over. The first two days we were here I found myself sneaking off to my room, many times, to break down into sobs where she couldn’t see me. First it was the pain I felt that my daughter is with me, and that means she’s 500 miles from her mom. It had to be this way –which angers me on several levels- but her mom knew this was the best thing for her and she agreed to let her come here. We haven’t gotten along for much of our post divorced life, but I have to give her credit for doing what is best for our daughter on this.
Still...it seemed like the first two days here drew a giant exclamation point on the fact that I am divorced. That my daughter has never really known an intact family. I was broken hearted. This was not the dream I had for my little girl when she was born.
Then too, I think I wept so frequently during those first few days, because I was finally able to say I was formerly homeless. Over the past six years this had become my identity. I wore this like a holocaust cloak and it grew heavier every day. In my gut I still have a nagging fear that something bad might happen, and I’ll be homeless again. Maybe this is what those folks who lived through the Depression felt...never again feeling like they had enough security, no matter how much money or food they could stockpile, or how far ahead they could pay their bills. I suppose that’s not an entirely bad thing, it will keep you hungry, and make you smarter with what you have. But there is no rest there.
And I need rest.
This thing has worn me down to a nub and I feel the effects. I hope the old happy-go-lucky Craig reappears someday soon. Mostly...I hope my prayer life can be restored. I don’t pray for myself very much. I have a hard time trusting God to do the things I need done each day, and so I take the burden onto my stout shoulders and find my own way. I guess the combination of Immigrant grandparent work ethic, having success at most stages in my life, (before the mortgage collapse) and the haunting feeling of being alone in this world, drives me to find a solution as fast as I can. I have a terrible time with looking at a problem and saying “Okay Lord, I don’t have an answer...it’s up to you.”
I have to have an answer. I’m a dad. My daughter is depending on me to have one.  If I fail this time she goes down with me. That wakes me up at night.
I feel numb. I thought that when this long desert was over I’d have a lot to say about it, but –at least right now- I don’t. I can barely string my thoughts together where my life as a homeless dad is concerned. It’s all a blur. A long, embarrassing, agonizing, shameful, painful blur. The only thing I know, that I know...is that God is good. God was always with me in this, and somehow the pieces will come together and this puzzle with take on a shape and ultimately it will have a purpose. That last statement just brought me to tears. Because over the past 6 years, when I have raged in the night, shook my fist at heaven, barked out my anger, demanded that God tell me “What the &^%$ do you want from me?!” (which I had literally screamed at the top of my lungs more than once during this debacle) and once or twice imagined myself walking up to His throne and punching Him right in the face, (yes...I’m sorry but I got that angry with Him sometimes) I always fell back on that one truth. That one lifesaving truth that reminded me that God was not surprised by my calamity, and that He still loved me. Sometimes He just has a funny way of showing it. But He is good. He had a plan all along and I am blessed enough to still be alive to see it playing out. I don’t know what lies ahead. I do know that my daughter is along for this portion of the ride and that gives me hope.
Which I haven’t had in a long time.

The journey continues...

Monday, May 26, 2014

Divorce and the Santa Barbara Killer...

My thoughts about the Santa Barbara Killer...some things you might not have thought about...
Santa Barbara Killers Family situation
This might be wildly unpopular to say, and I certainly don't mean it as a blanket statement about all of these incidents and / or all divorces. But you see these horrible massacres and if you're paying attention at all, the majority (not every single incident, but the majority) that take place have one something in common that gets overlooked...divorce. Does divorce produce anti-social, maniacal killers? NO! I am not saying that. But it DOES produce a vacuum in the souls of the children. That vacuum is different for boys and girls. With girls, it produces, almost unanimously, the devaluation of her womanhood as she deals with the absence of her daddy. (Writing this from the presumption that -as is the case in most divorces- the dad leaves and becomes far less involved in the life of the children, even if that's not the way he wanted it) It accelerates the desire to be "seen" by the next man after her dad...which is normal at a certain stage in a woman's life but becomes a need-filler in cases where the dad is distant. In boys it strips him of his role model for manhood and, having done this, it leaves him wondering if he is a man or ever will be one. As Ed Tandy McGlasson ( Visit Ed's site here for GREAT info for dads!) brilliantly puts it.."How does a boy know he's become a man if another man doesn't define it for him and tell him when he has achieved it? It's like playing football without end zones...how do you know you scored?"
The other thing at play here is the Biblical position of a dad as the spiritual covering and bodyguard for his family. Do I think that all homes without fathers are invaded by evil? No. But I do think that since God specifically ordered the father to be the "priest of his family" and the covering until adulthood, if he abdicates that role, he leaves his family unprotected. It's hard enough battling evil when you DO have an intact home...removing the person designed to provide spiritual guidance and protection stacks the odds against your family and leaves evil an open door. This young man's parents were divorced. Is that the reason he did what he did? NO! But it sure is amongst the common denominators in these things. More and more I realize how important it was for me to have endured the six years of hell and stayed active in my daughter's life.
Dads...know your role and do not quit!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Dinner With Dave (and Sharon...)

This is it. The final blog article I will write from as a Nashville resident. It’s Sunday morning, May 18, 2014. In a few hours, my daughter and I will point my bedraggled Yukon northeast and begin the trek to our new life. It is bittersweet in many ways and certainly not what I envisioned for myself or for her.
It ended as it has ended virtually every night for the past six years, with me tucking myself into a foam “bed” in the back of my truck. It began as it has for most of those same six years...with roosters crowing, and the sun just beginning to make itself known over the hills just east of where I parked. The kind of thing you’d enjoy if it happened for seven days while you were vacationing in the country. But not the kind of thing you love if you’re sleeping in a truck, and the first thought in your head when the rooster crows at 4:15 is “Is my daughter okay?”
It will end in a motel room, probably somewhere around Bristol, TN and tomorrow the journey will conclude at our new home.
Home. Just typing the word makes me teary-eyed. Thinking of how I’m going to cook breakfast for my daughter again. How my kitchen is going to smell like my grandmother’s “red gravy” by this time next week. How I won’t be at the mercy of public rest rooms or showers at the gym. How I’m finally going to dislodge this chip from my shoulder and maybe be the happy-go-lucky guy I was before. Before divorce, single-fatherhood, business catastrophe, and extended homelessness ripped it from my heart.
I’m going to be nice again.
This brings me to my main topic.
Thursday evening I had dinner with the very last person in Nashville that anyone who knows me would ever suspect me having dinner with. It’s so shocking as to be scandalous.
I had dinner with Dave Ramsey.
I’ll give you a moment to regain your wits. Have a seat if you need to.
It happened like this...
In September, I started a Twitter account to parody / mock Dave. I won’t give the name here, because I have deactivated it. Why did I do this? Dave asked me the same thing. To be honest I couldn’t remember the exact reason at the moment he asked me. But after a day or two of thinking about it, I remembered. It happened right after someone I had recently met, and was doing a little carpentry job for, someone who once worked for Dave, attacked me viciously for my situation.
During the time I was working on this person’s house, I was also about 5 weeks into what would become a ten-week application process for a mortgage job. It was – seemingly- the perfect job for me at the perfect time. It was a great company with a federal charter, and I had a trove of friends in the real estate business who had been begging me for years to re-enter the mortgage industry. Earlier that summer, I had lost one mortgage job when the company who hired me on a Friday, notified me by the following Thursday, that they were freezing hiring because of Obama care. That hurt me badly. I had permitted myself to hope again and in one weeks time, hope was dashed.
So in August, this new company came calling. By early September, the process was dragging out and I was getting suspicious. After ten weeks, I was informed that they were not going to offer me the job. I was broken. My daughter and I had planned out a move to a nice little apartment in Franklin, a change of high school for her, and her living with me. Once again, I had to tell her that something happened to the promise and our plans were thwarted. I have broken her heart so many times with things like this happening that she came to accept it. She knew it wasn’t my fault or my doing, but it hurt her nonetheless. Right about that time, I posted something on Facebook about how much this hurt and how hopeless I was becoming. That’s where the former Ramsey employee came in...and where my anger toward Dave was born.
This person responded...on Facebook...that I was merely lazy, I didn’t want to work, there were plenty of jobs out there, and then she recounted to me, at length, about her struggles and her difficulties and her life. (Which was difficult, but nowhere near the same as what I was enduring. She was cold, heartless, cutting, rude, and –because she did it right in the open on Facebook- humiliating.
As so often happens with these people, she seasoned her barrage with “Dave-isms,” things Dave is known for saying daily on his show and often in his speaking and writing. I’ve endured this before, this attack of Dave wannabes who think that they need to be gigantic jerks about someone else’s misery.
It’s like this: You remember when we were kids and we all pumped our arms in the batters box because we saw Joe Morgan do it? Few of us even know why he did that. He did it to remind himself to keep his outside arm up during his swing. We all did it because we saw him do it. We imitated him. We pumped our little arms so much we looked like we were doing the “Chicken Dance” at an Italian wedding. We all do this. We find a hero, and emulate them too much and become a bad caricature of them instead of being ourselves. Many of Dave’s followers are bad about this. This happened to me and I’d had enough, I was hurting badly, and I saw it as all stemming from Dave himself.
So that afternoon, after blocking this former friend from all contact on FB, I started the previously mentioned Twitter account.
At first it was innocuous parody. Certainly not without offense, but mostly satirical...like if “Mad Magazine” had a Twitter account. But then two more events occurred and blew the thing out of proportion, and ultimately brought us to dinner last Thursday.
The first thing happened in November. Dave posted a list of twenty things the wealthy do that the poor do not do. He did not author the list, but he reposted it on his blog, which –in the blogosphere- means one of two things. You agree with it wholeheartedly, or you think the author is such a drek-spewing cad, that you repost it in mockery. Dave was the former. He took a beating for it and a day or two after he posted it, someone sent it to me on Twitter. It hurt. It hurt and I told him so on my blog. It hurt because, while I understand the nature of the list, this economy has changed the dynamic for many folks. There are a lot of poor folks these days who are poor because of none of the reasons stated on that list. The list felt personal. The list felt like it was aimed specifically at me.
So I went after him on my blog.
A few weeks later, I made myself listen to his show, which I never do. Not because of any personal distaste, but simply because of the timing of it. I’m usually working when he is on and I typically work in silence because trim and finish carpentry requires a lot of thinking. I think better in silence.
Anyway, I heard Dave talking to a few callers and I noticed that it seemed he had softened. When I first got to town, I couldn’t stand the bombast, and to be honest, rudeness. But I didn’t hear that. I heard a guy who was actually trying to help. He was still tough, and still staunch in his beliefs in his system, but he wasn’t out to “make great radio” with every call.
So, I wrote him a letter. I told him of my situation and gave him my personal story and explained to him why that list hurt me so much. I included two of my books, as it was near Christmas time, and I wished him well, and asked him to merely consider that there were some of us out there who had done it right, and yet God had permitted calamity to befall us anyway. I was one of those folks.
My note went unanswered, (it turns out that someone else opened it and apparently Dave never got it) even though I know that someone from his company began reading my blogs almost immediately after I dropped off the package containing the books and the note, at his office. About a week later, he posted an article on his blog, defending his posting of the list. I (wrongly) assumed he had read my letter and chose to ignore it. I assumed he didn’t care. I assumed he was as uncaring and unChristlike as so many others I had encountered along this dark, desert road.
I assumed.
Remember what Benny Hill said about making assumptions? He was right.
For the next several months, I ratcheted up the meanness a little on the twitter. I also got connected to some others who were doing the same thing, but with much more viciousness than I was. Much more.
There is a lot to that part of the story, but I don’t want to give credence to that stuff so I won’t discuss it further. I will simply say that the ugliness attached itself to me and sadly, I permitted it.
These events all brought us to dinner last Thursday evening. A week ago, I got an email from Dave, telling me he’d been reading my postings on twitter and he knew who I was. He also knew that I wasn’t hiding my real identity. He was obviously bothered, but he asked me to meet him and hear his side of things, and maybe work out the perceived differences between us.
I was instantly suspicious, as any good Italian from Philly, (who grew up watching mob stories in real life on the news each night,)  would be. But, despite our differences, Dave Ramsey is my brother in Christ, and I am obligated –if I take the Scriptures literally, and I do- to hear a brother with a grievance. So I agreed.
We met Thursday and he brought along his lovely wife Sharon. (Dave...you outkicked your coverage, my friend. She’s a keeper!) He brought along a copy of one of my books, and we laughed at the similarities in our childhoods. He’d really read it, not just dog-eared a few pages to make it look like he’d read it. He was nice. He was just a guy.
Dang-it...I started to like him.
We talked for a long while. We ate dinner and exchanged stories. He asked me about my life, my daughter, my situation. Then...he broke my heart.
At one point –and I knew it was inevitable...this was the purpose for the meeting- Dave leaned back a little and paused. He looked at me and said, “Did we ever meet?” I knew why he was asking this. “No.” I answered with a mild chuckle. “Then...what did I do to you, that you came after me like that?” was his gentle response.
He could have been an attack dog. In fact, he could have just ignored me, or sent a threatening letter, or started a parody account in response to mine, and ripped me to pieces. But he did the Christ-like thing and talked to me. When he asked me “What did I do to you?” he was humble. He really wanted to know. It wasn’t a rhetorical.
It almost made me cry.
I told him, “You never did anything. But six years of this nightmare and one thing was consistent...most of the most horrible, most cutting and damaging things that were hurled at me in the darkest nights came from the lips of those who most loudly proclaimed their adherence to you and your teachings. You were just the focal point for all the anger they made me feel.” Sharon almost finished my sentence for me. She grasped it right away.
I instantly felt awful. The kind of awful that you don’t soon forgive yourself for. Because after all...Dave Ramsey is a man, like everyone else. Words can hurt. Even if you know they aren’t accurate, or even if they’re outright lies...they hurt. They hurt because if you are any sort of decent human being, you wonder why someone would try to hurt you. You can, of course, take the other tact and simply blow it off. “Hey it’s not true, so what do I care?” That might even be the wisest move sometimes. I’ve had to do that. But Paul charged us to do our best to “If possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18)
Dave Ramsey could have just ignored me, but instead he asked me to dinner and then asked me what was wrong. He found out that the roaring lion simply had a thorn in his paw. Some dogs bark because they are mean, some because they are scared, and some because they simply want to remind themselves they are still a dog. That was me.
There was a lot more. We had a very nice, two-hour chat. Dave and his wife blessed me and my daughter. I won’t go into detail, because I am certain he didn’t do it for accolade or recognition. But he and his wife let us know they really did care. It was authentic.
I apologized to him for holding a grudge. He understood why it was there, but I still felt awful.
 I chewed on this for a couple of days because I tend to be very passionate and that can turn into knee-jerk sometimes. I wanted to make sure I got this right. I heard a great quote once that said “The circle of forgiveness should be no bigger than the circle of offense.” In other words, don’t puke a protracted apology all over the place when a simple “I’m sorry," specific to the people offended, will do. I agree. Mark DeMoss, in his brilliant, “The Little Red Book of Wisdom” said the same thing. Keep it simple. Just say you're sorry and ask forgiveness, then let it go. But since the circle of offense was the internet, that’s where I wish to make my apology.
I was wrong. Dave Ramsey was not my enemy but I treated him like he was. He is my brother in Christ and I treated him like he wasn’t. I was wrong. I am sorry. I asked Dave privately to forgive me, (he did, that very night) and I am asking publicly, because my heart tells me this is right.
He handled this the exact right way, and I hope –in turn- I did as well.
Dave Ramsey is a good man. He’s not perfect, nor does he claim to be. But he’s someone’s husband and someone’s dad and he was bought with the same price I was.

I hope my apology did some justice to the Name we both share.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Happy Birthday, Sweet Sixteen...

Sixteen years ago I became a dad.
I guess maybe, in my heart, I was always a dad. But sixteen years ago it became tangible. At exactly 10PM on May 7th, My wonderful daughter Morgan –my precious Daisy- silently entered this world. She never cried. Not even once. She was a quiet new life as she is even today. Quiet. Thoughtful. Introspective. Always churning over the fertile ground of her heart, and her surroundings.
She’s had a tough road these last 6 years as my life unraveled. I won’t go into details because they aren’t necessary here. Let’s just say she has dealt with more than any little girl should have to as she transitioned into adulthood.
But here she is...sixteen. She’s more adult now than child, and I am proud of her.
I’ve done my best to “train her up in the way she should go...” an oft-misquoted Bible reference that speaks of really knowing your child and the way their heart is “bent” and what it is they were put here to do.
I’ve done what I could do toward that end. She loves art. She lives and breathes music. Great music too...not the Justin Beiber, GaGa, nonsense that the brainless horde clings to. She listens to stuff that I end up loving. She reads great books and loves great art. She has talent. Real, honest-to-goodness talent, not just what a blinded-by-pride dad claims is great.
She has a loving, caring, compassionate soul, and people like that are often bruised by a world that is exactly opposite of those qualities. She loves and loves and loves. She has character and principles and integrity and her soul is not for sale. She knows who she is and what she believes. To say I am proud of her is like saying the Mona Lisa is a “pretty good picture.” I am bursting. I am amazed. I thank God every single day that she has become what she is in the face of circumstances that surely could have made her turn to drugs, or drink, or behavior, to dull the pain she has felt.
She has wounds. She has things that hurt her that I am trying to fix, and damage I am trying to repair. But through it all she remains grounded.
Sixteen years ago, life really began for me. Before her arrival, love was something I had locked away in my soul, showing it only to a chosen few, in measured doses. But when she came into this world that Thursday night in 1998, the door to that part of my soul was torn from it’s hinges. The limits were removed. I have never loved anyone as I love my daughter.
I have two years left until she goes off to college and out into the world to find the target she was created to hit. Two years to finish the job, shape this arrow into the perfect instrument of flight and then –on that great and terrible day when I hear God whisper in my ear: “That’s her target...let her fly...”-  I will pull my bow with shaking hands, line my sights through tears, and send her on her way. That day will be here too quickly. Like these first sixteen years have come and gone too quickly.
Daisy...I love you. You are the one thing I look to in my life with pride and happiness. You are what every dad hopes he has in a daughter. I would breathe my final breath to you and consider it a privilege. I would set my own dreams on fire to light the way for yours to come true.
Your is the world, and everything in it. Your future is in your heart, and together, we’ll mine it from it’s depths and plant it in a fertile field and watch it bloom.
Oh...the places you’ll go.
I love words. Love them like an artist loves oils. I love the best written words and the best spoken words and the ones that others miss.
The best words I’ve ever said are “I love you” when I said them to my daughter.

Happy Birthday from your dad.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Six years as a homeless dad...

Yesterday marked six years of homelessness.
It’s not something I’m proud of. I didn’t celebrate with dinner and a cake and party favors. It’s humiliating. It’s embarrassing. It crushes my soul. It makes me cry.
A lot.
Six years ago, I was hastily loading every single thing I owned onto a friends open trailer and driving them to a barn where he said I could store them for a while. It was an all day job and it was made longer by the hurt of what was happening to my world and my fatherhood. I had no idea where I’d go. No job prospects, no friends with an extra room or a couch I could crash on. Six years later none of that stuff remains. I have no beds. No furniture. Not even silverware and dishes. Nothing.
About six weeks prior, the mortgage company I had worked for, for the last four years, folded it’s operations and moved out of Tennessee. Within another year, they’d be out of business altogether, bankrupt and the owner slapped with a two-billion dollar federal lawsuit.
It wasn’t just the fact that the company I worked for was gone. They were all gone. I couldn’t just latch on with another mortgage company because the entire industry was imploding. In one year, the entire industry went from about 600,000 employees, to about 100,000. That’s 80% of the entire mortgage workforce gone...looking for something else in a collapsing economy.
I’ve detailed my life over these last six years so there’s no need to do it. But there are some highlights...or lowlights.
Since 2008 I have worked for FOUR companies that ended up going out of business. FOUR! How many people can make that claim?
I graduated from College while still homeless. I thought it would give me a chance at a better future but this economy is far to damaged to provide opportunities for anyone with qualifications. And we have a president who wants it that way.
I remained here in Nashville when I could have gone to one of the few areas in this country that still have employment opportunities, but that would have required me to leave my daughter behind. I could never do that and the events in her life over the last 4 weeks have borne out the fact that I was correct in that decision. Me staying here likely kept her alive.
I wish I could rightly describe what this life feels like. What it’s like to wake up at 3 AM and break into sobs because you snap out of the fog of sleep and realize “I am someone’s dad and I’m homeless.”
I wish I could express to you what it feels like to drift from place to place when it’s raining and you can’t work, because you have no place to call your own.
I wish I could tell you how demeaning it is to be entirely dependent on public restrooms and showering at the gym, having to arrange your work day so that you get a shower before they close at night.
I wish you could understand what it’s like to open the door of your car and feel the rush of shame when you realize someone caught a glimpse of the inside and they surely realized you are living in there.
I wish you could grasp how all this feels when you have a daughter and she knows you are homeless and she tries to encourage you because you stayed in her life and you did this for her sake. But she really needs you and needs you to have a place to live so she can escape the hell she is living in.
I wish you could understand what it’s like to literally feel the days escaping your grip.
I have doubted God. I have wondered where He was and why He wasn’t answering. I have shaken my fist at Heaven and spit at the ground. Then, always, I have broken down in tears and confessed that I still believe in Him and trust Him that somehow...this is part of His plan.
There is nothing left for me to try. Nothing I haven’t done. I work 14-16 hour days as a carpenter, hoping to scrape together enough to move my daughter and I to a new town that promises a new start. I need to succeed this time. She needs me to succeed. I need a place to lay my head.
I need a home.
It’s day one of year seven.

I hope not many more of these days remain.