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Here it is if you want to buy it:

544 Elm Ave.

Doesn't it look lovely!

If you or anyone you know wants to buy a beautiful (and affordable) home in Old Southwest, click here for the listing.


Evidently the google maps truck drove past our house recently.

Gretchen and I have decided to take a drastic step in a new direction.

To get right to the point, we’re planning to open a restaurant here in Roanoke where we can serve good food and also do on-the-job training for chronically unemployed and homeless folks in our community.

Our plan is to open a little place somewhere downtown that just serves breakfast and lunch. People who are looking for an opportunity to get back on their feet can come and work for us for 6 months or so and then move on to full time employment somewhere else. While with us they’ll learn about food preparation, sanitation, professionalism and a variety of other topics that will help prepare them for a career in food service. They’ll also get some training in financial planning and some other life skills in order to improve their quality of life and help equip them to keep a job long term. After 6 months they’ll receive a Food Handler’s Sanitation license and we’ll help them put together a resume and find a permanent job.

Now I realize that, to some of you, this might sound like a naive and incredibly stupid thing to do, and I imagine that some of our close friends and family might want to discourage us from pursuing it. We understand that it’s risky and has no guarantee of success, but we feel that it’s something worth trying. Below are some of the questions people have been asking me and how I’ve been answering them.

Q1. Doesn’t it take a lot of money to start a business? Do you have any money?
Yes, it does take a lot of money and no, we don’t have any. Our plan is to incorporate as a non-profit so that we can raise the capital we need to get started.

Q2. Running a restaurant is hard. Do you know what you’re doing?
No, not yet. I’ve worked in restaurants before, but not recently and definitely not in this capacity. I approached a local restaurant chain with my idea and they said that I could come work for them for a year and learn what I need to know to run my own place. Lord willing, when we try to get this off the ground next year I’ll have the knowledge and experience I need to make it work.

Q3. Aren’t homeless people usually pretty lazy and unreliable? What makes you think that you could get them to come work for you?
As many of you know already, we’ve been very active with the homeless in our community for a while now. We’ve had the privilege of getting to know quite a few of the folks in our community who are chronically without homes or jobs, and in a few cases we’ve really come to love them. Most of them are homeless because of some sort of mental illness or problem with chronic substance abuse, and many of them lack either the ability or the desire to re-enter the work force and become productive, self-supporting members of society. Those people wouldn’t be the ones we’re looking for.

Our program will be open to those men and women who are homeless because of other circumstances. There are a lot of individuals who end up on the street because of an accident that resulted in inability to work, or a move and a bad investment, or a divorce and a period of severe depression. When people find themselves in those situations it can be very difficult to get their lives back together. Our hope is to provide a way for them to get back on their feet. I’ve been talking to some of our homeless friends about this idea and the response has been very positive. I’ve even been getting some questions about when we’ll start and how soon they can apply.

Also, there are a few places across the country doing this already, including a couple restaurants in DC that have been open for almost 20 years. They’ve had a lot of success and hundreds of people have gone through their program and settled into full time jobs.

Q4. What’s the matter with you? Why would you lead your family into financial ruin just so a few homeless people can learn how to cook?
Gretchen and I believe very strongly that Jesus Christ is God, and that the things he said when he was here on earth were true. As a result, we believe that if we make sacrifices in order to obey him, he’ll look after us and make sure that we’re alright. We also believe that he wants rich people to be generous to poor people. So generous, in fact, that they don’t stay rich very long.

We want our kids to grow up seeing us live by this principle, even if it means that they won’t have every little thing they want. We want them to grow up knowing that selfishness is unacceptable, and that giving to the point of sacrifice is normal. The Bible says this about Jesus Christ: “though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you, through His poverty, might become rich.” We want our kids to grow up seeing us act like Jesus in this way. We hope that maybe one day they’ll be better people because of it.

For more about God’s feelings about the poor, read these passages in the Bible: Deuteronomy 15:7-11, Proverbs 14:21&31, 19:17, 21:13, 22:9, 28:8&27, 29:7, 31:30, Isaiah 58:6-12, Matthew 19:21, Matthew 25, Luke 6:20, and 2 Corinthians 8:9.

Q5. That’s a very interesting idea. How can I find more information about it?
We’ve had a lot of success with this blog as a medium for communicating with our family and friends about recent happenings in our lives. I’m planning to use my own little blog as a forum for discussion as we work towards making this dream a reality. Up until this point it’s just been politics and weird stuff I found on the internet peppered with the occasional blustery monologue, but going forward I’ll be using it to chronicle our experiences changing careers and opening a restaurant. If you’re interested, go to and watch for updates.

Just a quick note for those of you wondering what’s going on in Roanoke: There was some very strong wind in our area yesterday and as a result a lot (80,000) people are without power right now. The damage also caused quite a few fires in the area and some folks out in Bedford have had to evacuate their homes. A section of 81 was shut down temporarily because of the smoke, some traffic lights are out and there have been an unusual number of traffic accidents throughout the city.

Our house lost power yesterday afternoon and when it had not returned by 8pm we decided to head over to a friends house to spend the night. Evidently there were so many people without heat that the Red Cross opened up a shelter in the civic center. The news is reporting that power should return by Tuesday night, Wednesday at the latest.

Many of you know that Gretchen and I have been in the process of getting our roof replaced for quite some time. Our home is in a historic district and is subject to certain architectural “guidelines”. It’s a long story, but after almost two years of interacting with the Architectural Review Board in our area we’ve finally gotten permission to replace our leaking roof.

During that time another couple in our neighborhood was denied permission to replace their roof. The roof was under contruction when they were forced to stop work and as it stood our neighbors could not put the old roof back or put up a new one. The ARB’s decision made their home unlivable and unsellable, and threatening to destroy the fourteen years of equity they had been building. I was at the city council meeting when their appealed was turned down, and I can tell you it was both sad and infuriating to see our city government unapologetically place the appearance of a building over the quality of a man’s life and that of his family. I was left wondering what I would do if our request ended the same way. We couldn’t possibly absorb that kind of loss, was our city going to force us into financial ruin over the material of our roof?

Well, they didn’t, and we’re waiting for work to start on our new roof in the next few weeks. There may be a happy ending to our neighbor’s story too. This article ran in today’s paper:

Old Southwest couple wins right to replace roof

An Old Southwest couple whose requests to finish replacing their roof were denied by Roanoke's Architectural Review Board and city council found victory this morning in Roanoke Circuit Court.

Judge William Broadhurst ruled that the board's denial of a certificate of approriateness to Aubrey and Linda Hicks to replace their tin roof with asphalt shingles was arbitrary and capricious. The board and the council denied the certificate to punish the Hickses for not following proper procedure rather than on the need for the replacement, the judge said. "There's simply no other reason for that to have been done."

Aubrey Hicks gained notoriety in October when he was threatened with arrest for having contractors continue working on his roof after stop-work orders had been issued. A judge ordered Hicks to seek permission for the work, which the review board denied. City council upheld the board's decision on appeal.

Broadhurst ordered the city to issue a certificate of appropriateness for the roof change. Assistant city attorney Steve Talevi said this morning that he did not know if the city would appeal the decision.

Thank you Judge Broadhurst for being reasonable.

This is Roanoke is a new news site that aggregates news and information specific to the Roanoke area. It’s not quite as slick at, the official website of the Roanoke Times, but it’s more straight forward and has less advertisements (and none of those terrible animated ads!). It also includes feeds from local bloggers, including for some inexplicable reason. So, if you’re interested in a fresh source for Roanoke news and you want to keep up with us at the same time, take a look.

At the shelter everybody gets a hot lunch everyday, but most mornings the only things available to eat for breakfast are stale doughnuts and peanut butter on white bread. I know that any food is better than no food, but a meal like that is not a good way to start the day, especially for folks who spent all night sleeping on concrete. In fact, I think it’s a shame that people often use this “beggars can’t be choosers” sort of reasoning to justify providing substandard services to the poor, and then having the audacity to call it “mercy ministry”. Imagine if Matthew 25 reflected that mentality: “When I was hungry you begrudgingly fed me your scraps, when I was injured you hastily slapped a bandage on my wounds, when I was naked you pointed me towards a clothes closet a few miles down the road…” It sort of loses the punch doesn’t it?
Read the rest of this entry »

By now I’m sure everyone is aware of the shooting that took place this morning at Virginia Tech. It’s on every TV station here, every radio station and the cover of every news website I’ve visited.

Virginia Tech is about 45 minutes from our home in Roanoke and our community has a lot of ties with the school. On the way back from work today I saw at least a dozen VA Tech bumber stickers, including one “VA Tech Dad” sticker. Thanks to all of you who have been calling, but neither Gretchen nor I know anyone who is currently a student or faculty at VT personally. If you’re inclined to pray, pray for the families of those who were killed, and those who still don’t know if their loved ones are alive.

Here’s a link to the live VA Tech webcam:

At the Samaritan Inn things are busiest during the lunch hour. All morning folks usually just sit around and catch up on their sleep or talk and drink coffee and eat whatever breakfast pastries are available that day. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and everyone is welcome to come and go as they please.

But when 12:00 rolls around the doors shut and Wayne starts talking. Generally he shares a mixture of Bible verses and life stories for about half an hour, then we pray together and eat lunch. The folks who listened to Wayne’s talk get in line first and everyone who stayed outside pours in after them. The food gets served in big portions and is eaten quickly. When everybody’s had enough folks start packing up and trickling back out onto the street. About a dozen or so usually linger until right at 1:30 when everything shuts down to clean up and get ready for the next day.

After lunch last Saturday while most folks were talking and gathering their things, a stocky man with a gray beard approached me. He introduced himself as Curtis and asked if I had a minute to talk. We sat down in Wayne’s office and closed the door and I asked him what was on his mind. Curtis told me about his former life as an electrician and a handyman. He told me about his family and his hobbies and how much he had taken for granted while he was still strong. He’d had a stroke less than a year ago and in the process lost everything. He lost the use of his left arm and left leg, and as a result he lost his job and the ability to make a living. Then, when he couldn’t provide for his family anymore he lost them, and with them his home and his possessions. Now he was living at the Rescue Mission and had no idea what the future held for him.

When he had finished his story we sat there together in silence for a few moments. “I’m sorry”, I said. “I’m so sorry.” He asked me if I would pray for him, and I did. I asked God to have mercy on him, to protect him while he was so vulnerable and give him the strength to carry on. I thanked God for caring so much about weak people like us and for loving us even though we don’t deserve it.

When I was done praying I said, “You’re a brave man. If I were in your shoes I would be so scared”. Curtis looked at me, and all of the sudden he was crying. I started crying too (even though I wasn’t really sure what we were crying about) and hugged him. He sobbed a little bit and then said, “Thank you for saying you would be scared. I’m terrified to be so helpless and it makes me feel like a little baby.” Then I lost it too and we were both sobbing.

Sometimes it’s simple things that are meaningful to us. Remembering someone’s birthday or the anniversary of when they lost a loved one. Giving a little gift or making a phone call for no reason. Just telling Curtis that I would be scared too made all the difference to him. In the same way, it’s the little things about Jesus that make him such an accessible person. The way he wept for the crowds and made such a fuss over little kids, or the way he willingly spent time with to crazy people and listened to the poor. I am so thankful that God pays attention to details.

An update on this situation:

The “word on the street” is that the kids who were perpetrating the violence against our homeless neighbors have been apprehended. I’ve seen nothing about it on the news or in the paper, but evidently a police officer stopped by the shelter recently and told some guys that they were caught last week. Whatever happened, the attacks have stopped and folks feels a little safer. I would say that they’re “resting easier”, but the cold weather is making that difficult. I have a hard time imagining what it’s like to spend all night on a freezing cold sidewalk, but some of these guys spend every night that way.

I’ve been spending more and more time at the shelter recently and I’m getting to know some folks pretty well. Gretchen is down there four days a week working in the thrift store, so she’s meeting some great people too. I’ll try to post some stories soon.

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RSS Verse of the day

  • Matthew 5:3
    "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."