Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cast Aside The New Year's Resolutions

2009 did not turn out like I expected.  In looking back at 12 months ago, I am not exactly sure what I anticipated that the year would bring.  I think I probably had some grandiose plans in December of 2008 for the upcoming year. I think I probably made a list of New Year's Resolutions, but I am not doing that this year.  Life is too unpredictabe for resolutions!   I am going to cast them aside this year.  2009 brought a plethora of unexpected events.

The first few months of  the year were challenging and disappointing.  I attended the swearing in ceremony of newly elected Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds shortly after midnight on January 1st.  He was quickly indoctrinated into the realities of his position.  He called on me to assist the Hood County Sheriff's  Dept. with a couple of very tragic and unexpected traumatic events early in January. One of those calls for service involved the FBI. That was a first for me!  During that same period it seemed that we were having more than our share of funerals at church.  In February, we made the decision to cancel a medical mission trip to Northern Mexico due to drug-related border violence.  In spite of all of these trying circumstances, the addition of Roger to the law enforcement team in Hood County has been a great blessing

As spring approached, it became evident that the we would have sufficient funds at church to begin construction on a community service center.  The idea of a service center that could fill a variety of needs started began early in 2006. A talented engineer at church spent countless hours drawing and editing building plans.  After a special contribution for the sevice center, we were still short on the funds needed to construct our dream building.  One contributor made a commitment to the project that put us precisely where we needed to be in terms of funding.   The remainder of the spring and all of the summer was spent drawing plans, conducting water studies, and fulfilling other pre-construction requirements.  It was far more involved than I ever dreamed!  It was a test of our patience, but worth it in the end. Framing began in the fall.  As 2009 ends, we are ready to begin roofing and brick work anytime.  Even though we had been dreaming about the existence of a Christian Service Center for over 3 years, it was still an unexpected blessing to see the walls actually go up in the fall.

2009 was a time to renew old friendships.   A close friend from junior high lost his dad early in September. I had not seen him since 1981, but decided I needed to attend his father's funeral in Lubbock.  I am glad that I did. It turned out to be an important trip.  The funeral trip prompted me to start digging around on Facebook to see who else I might need to reunite with.  I ended up corresponding with several friends that I had not seen since 1975.  That initial correspondence led to a trip to Wisconsin early in November and a visit to Round Rock, Texas in December.  The entire experience was an unexpected blessing.

In October of this year, I officiated at Staci Walker's wedding in Woodward, OK.  Staci and her family have been dear friends for almost 12 years.  I walked away from her wedding realizing that kids really do grow up and become responsible.  I feel certain Staci's dad had his doubts about her a time or two... :) :)  We were blessed by longstanding friendships over that weekend in October. 

The fall also brought the opportunity to conduct one of  the most successful medical mission trips I have been involved in over the course of 13 years . Our dentists were able to make use of portable labs for the first time. We were fortunate enough to have two medical doctors on the team.  After a false start in February, it was indeed an unexpected blessing.

My children matured this year.  Randall continued to excel in college.  He started his junior year in August. Daniel had a good season on the debate team, and did very well on  his college entrance exams.  Mitchell furthered his political career by being elected to the student council.  I learn new things from my children every day. They are indeed a blessing.

There are many other events that took place that I am not mentioning here that are of great significance.  I am not making any grandiose plans as 2009 comes to an end.  I have not even formualated any New Year's Resolutions. I feel compelled to pursue one train of thought.  I am determined to get up every day in 2010 and embrace it.  Capture the day.  I feel compelled to accept each day for what it brings.  I don't want to be guilty of complaining or whining.  Contentment is the key word for 2010.  Contentment - one day at a time...
I recognize that these are not very original thoughts, but they seem really important.  And they sound an awful lot like New Year's Resolutions...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Visiting the Hall of Nightmares

I don't think being raised as preacher's kids has been all that rough on my boys, but I am sure they would tell a very different story.  I am sure it would be one worth listening to very carefully.   They were conscripted into doing a few things that normal kids did not have to do.  When I needed to make pastoral visits at the nursing home, I often coerced them into going with me.  Older people confined to care facilities love small children, and I knew it was not going to hurt mine to join me on such excursions.  I did not realize at the time that I was actually doing myself potential harm!

Occasionally, we visited a facility that will remain unnamed to protect the guilty. It was awful.  A putrid odor permeated every nook and cranny of that forsaken building.  I would not be able to sleep at night if I knew my loved one was living in that dump. I did not see any obvious signs of abuse, but I strongly suspected some of the employees were frequent flyers in the judicial system.  Unfortunately, my boys are keen observers. They continue to use the childhood experience of visiting this hall of nightmares against me.

When I fail to meet the expectations of my three boys, they collectively remind me that they will seek a placement for me in the above mentioned nursing home.  They even remember the name of it!  Obviously, I will be at a point in life when I can no longer care for myself, if that need arises.  They are threatening to put poor old vulnerable dad in a place like that!   And of course putting their mother in such a place has never been mentioned.  The worst thing about all of this is: they smile as they tell me.   Do they not have conscience at all?

Old dad is actually several steps ahead of them.  I have this thing figured out.  I will get Daniel to pick out my nursing home. He is thoughtful and cautious.  I will count on Randall to be my personal advocate.  If a nursing home or Medicare or anyone else tries to take advantage of me, I will actually feel sorry for them before it is over. Randall is not easily intimidated.  I want him on my side. I won't be lonely at the nursing home because Mitchell will come to see me.   He is very compassionate.

How will I avoid becoming a victim of their threats?  I have not told them the news.... The state closed down the nursing home in question several years ago.  I am just keeping that under wraps.  I need some time to prepare them for their respective roles.  In this process, I have actually learned something...

It is important to practice the Golden Rule with everyone. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
If I want to be treated with respect and dignity in my old age, then I should treat my children with respect and dignity now.  Raising children has never been easy.  But I don't think anyone ever told me to practice the Golden Rule with my children.  Those particular words were not said.  It is important.  We should treat them the way we want to be treated.  It sounds pretty basic, but I think we often miss the target in that regard.  I know I do.  I am going to think about the Golden Rule this year, as I parent three boys that are nearly grown.
And I will grin to myself because they don't know that their favorite nursing home is now a part of history!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I Believe that I Like Surprises...

I underwent the initial training to serve as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain almost exactly 20 years ago.  One of the department's deputy chiefs reminded us that the officers serving in the field would at some point be calling on us to minister to someone who was the perpetrator in the a criminal event.  In other words, the person that the chaplain automatically views as the victim could very well be the perpetrator instead.  The chief was right.

In 1990, I was riding with an officer when he was dispatched to a call of a baby not breathing.  The child's mother was standing outside of her apartment screaming about the bathtub.  While the officer I was with checked the bathtub, I found the deceased 13-month-old child lying on a bed.  My immediate thought was to comfort the child's mother.  But I quickly ascertained that it was the mother who had placed the helpless baby in scalding water in the tub.  The chief was right.
There have been other instances over the span of 20 years where the person I was called to serve was an instigator in the situation at hand.  It is always wise to use extreme caution, but it is also unfair to make premature judgment calls.  I am glad that the chief gave us some forewarning about such instances, but he failed to give us a balanced picture.  He did not tell us everything.

I have been called on to minister to some incredibly good people over the years.  There has been no shortage of opportunity to serve people who have been vicitms of awful crimes.  Every year brings opportunities to reach out to those impacted by tragic events.  Several of those families will always stand out to me.  Just this week I met some very nice people impacted by the suicide of a loved one.  The deputy chief doing our training in 1990 did not tell us that about the people who would impact our lives forever.

I got a call earlier today from my dear friend, Scott Dix.   He and his wife, Lori, along with their youngest daughter, Brianna, came by the house this afternoon.   He brought a music cd that was put together in memory of his and Lori's precious daugther, Alyssa.  Alyssa was killed about 2 miles from my home on March 3, 2008 in a car accident.  She had just celebrated her 16th birthday.  When the Granbury Police Department called me to assist their officers in serving the Dix family, I had no idea what impact it would make in my life.

I have had the distinct privilege of enjoying several meals with Scott since that time.  I always walk away from those times feeling inspired.  Scott is a natural encourager.  His faith and his love for people continue to amaze me.  He has also made an impact on the officers responsible for investigating the crash that took Alyssa's life.  The chief did not tell us about people like Scott during our training experience. He was a veteran officer.  Surely he had encountered people of Scott's caliber during the course of his career.  Maybe he wanted us to be surprised. I am actually glad that such information was withheld from us during our initial training.  Being surprised is a good thing.  After Scott and his family left today, I felt particularly inspired to start my 21st year of service in this field.  And that is a good thing... I believe I like surprises.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Comment Away Sue!

Last week I completed one of those ridiculous facebook applications that I usually ignore. But this one actually turned out to be pretty interesting... It compiled all of my status updates from the previous year and placed them in one document. I found it to be very revealing. I was reminded of a few serious events that I have been involved in this past year. There also were a few posts that I thought were pretty funny at the time. In fact, I still think they are funny.

I have learned something this year that really should be the subject of a master's thesis for a student studying in the discipline of interpersonal communication. I have learned that people's comments on facebook reveal a lot about their personal character. One friend of mine consistently posts things that range from being mildy amusing to being just downright funny. He is not crude or inappropriate. He just sees the lighter side of life and shares it. Thanks James.
You brighten my days with your humor.

There are others who have a tendency to demonstrate a lack of social awareness. That is a nice way of saying that they use facebook as a forum to share things most of us would rather not hear. Too much information is revealed. Need I say more? I will just graciously decline the opportunity to cite examples.

A person's status update can be a cry for help. There is a crass side of me that really does not appreciate personal problems being aired in such a context. In a way, I feel like I am being manipulated by such behavior. But that is my problem... A cry for help is just that. It is a cry for help. A fitting response is in order.

I find those who use comment forums on facebook in a positive way to be a source of inspiration.
Sue is not a lady I am personally acquainted with. She is a friend of several of my friends. I think that makes sense... Sue consistently posts comments to my friends that are positive, upbeat and well-composed. She is a thoughtful lady who uses the social networking site to encourage those she cares about. Her thoughts reveal an ability to think of others in an unselfish way.

I am wondering if the comments that I made to friends on facebook this past year were positive and helpful. I know that I have a tendency to type like I talk. Type now and think later...
I think I want to be like Sue when I grow up. My goal for this year is to be more purposed in the comments made to others. In a world that is drowning in negative communication, a good word is well-timed.

I will continue to cringe when I see comments that reveal too much information. And yes I will also respond to those crying for help during 2010. But I sure hope Sue has time to comment a lot on my friends' status updates. Her breaths of fresh air will remind me of my resolution to be positive this year. Comment away Sue. Your friends and their friends are counting on you!

The Walmart Dialogues

The holidays are upon us in full force. I went to Walgreens this morning to pick up a few stocking stuffers and received an amazing brainstorm regarding some items to put in Jan's stocking late tomorrow evening. Of course my latest idea will necessitate a special trip to Ft. Worth, but what can I say? When inspiration hits, you have to act on it! I love spontaneity. I have a couple of other stores in Granbury to hit today as well. Jan is out shopping too, but I won't have to worry about running into her. She is going to Walmart. It could be well after Christmas before she actually makes it through a check out line.

I am choosing to avoid Walmart for an entirely different reason today. My friend Richard served as a general manager for our Walmart store when we still had a child in diapers. I made regular visits to the retail giant back in those days and often ran into him in the process. We had plenty to talk about, because our children are exactly the same age. We enjoyed our Walmart dilalogues. He was dealing with three little girls at home and I had three boys to wrestle with everyday. But I won't see Richard in Walmart this year or next year either.

Richard passed away several years ago. His sweet wife lost her battle with breast cancer not long after his death. Both of them were in their early 40's. They left three young girls to be cared for by members of their extended family. The girls are now: 21, 18, and 14. I won't be talking to Richard in Walmart this year, but I have already corresponded with one of the girls.

Can I empathize with the girls based on my own life experiences? Yes...to a degree. But more importantly I have a responsibilty to those girls. Their parents were my friends. Now that friendship must be extended to the next generation. I have a duty to treat those girls the way I would want my friends to treat my kids if they were in a similar set of circumstances. I will think about Richard, as I quickly walk through the diaper section this year at Walmart. Thankfully there is not a need to buy diapers, but it will trigger that scattered brain of mine to stay in contact with the girls.

I am thankful to be with family this year for Christmas. I am grateful for last minute brainstorms. That is gift buying at its finest! And I am thankful that friendship extends from generation to generation, because someday in eternity I want to be able to tell Richard: I took care of your girls.... I am avoiding Walmart today. But if I do make it over in the next few days, I may pause for a second in the diaper section for a rather private dialogue...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Grinch Crashes the Police Dept. Christmas Party

Confession is good for the soul. I must admit that the Grinch is my all time favorite character in the reporitire of characters that Dr. Seusss so cleverly created. Here is the problem: I like the Grinch before his heart grew. I am serious. Perhaps it is not entirely true. Actually I am a reformed Grinch. The My own heart has actually grown. But I used to despise the Christmas holidays. Thus...why I like the small-hearted and unreformed Grinch.

During my small heart days I was of a mind that we should be generous and kind year round. We should give to those in need in July as well as in December. I still believe that actually. But I have had a change of heart.... Christmas is a good time to slow down long enough to enjoy special traditions. I had an experience last night confirming that conclusion.

We enjoyed the annual Granbury Police Dept. Christmas party at the newly constructed convention center. The Citizen's Police Academy Alumni Association funded the meal and invited Santa Claus for the children of the officers. In fact, they went to a lot of trouble to make it a memorable evening. The alumni association models to other agencies around the state what citizen partnerships can look like.

Shift work in a police setting makes it very difficult for everyone to be together at one time. The Christmas party is an annual event where officers and civilian employees can bring their spouses and children for a fun night out. There were newborn babies who were not with us last year. The children of other officers have seemingly grown up overnight. The Chief had an opportunity to show off his beautiful grandchildren. It is a tradition that everyone has grown to appreciate. The award for the officer of the year is presented as well at the Christmas party.

I was reminded last night what caused the growth in that Grinch like heart of mine. It occurred to me very recently that holiday tradition is all about security. Every year I attend several Christmas gatherings with family, law enforcement officers, co-workers, and church friends... I can't help but reminded that these are people I love and appreciate. I spend time with them every week accomplishing tasks or just being family. In a setting like a Christmas party, we all slow down long enough to realize how important these people are in our lives.

This year as I scanned the rooms full of friends at several annual parties, I felt a great sense of security. I have friends! I am a very fortunate person! I am grateful for tradition, because it is all about fortifiying that sense of security for all of us. I didn't realize it, but my heart grew as I scanned one of those rooms this year! I suppose Christmas may be good around the Knox Manor this year just like it was in Whoville the year that the Grinch's heart grew. Confession is good for the soul and celebrating Christmas is good for relationships.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Welcome to My Doghouse

Someday I want to build a home out in the country. I have a vision of its design in that little twisted head of mine. It will be two story with Granbury stone on the outside. It will also include a full basement and a large front porch. The kitchen will be roomy with plenty of counter space to prepare meals for large groups. My thought is this: I need three guestrooms with their own baths. Each son can come home with his family and they can have their own territory. This should make points with the daughter-in-law's that I hope exist someday. There is probably not much I will not do for those saintly members of the female gender. A large media room in the basement for grandchildren will make the design complete.

What about decorating? Here is where it gets interesting. I have definite opinions about such matters. I should have been an interior decorator. I prefer leather furniture and Western Art. I want an old fashioned antique four poster bed in the master bedroom. Furthermore I prefer tile over carpeting. I prefer epoxy floors over tile. Jan could potentially veto a couple of those things, but that is not a problem. She will figure that compromising is a virtue.

I am thinking I need a room in the basement that becomes an official doghouse by default. Every man needs a doghouse. A place he can call his own.... A place to go when compromising fails. My doghouse will even be a place to host friends who come to visit. I will of course make all doghouse decorating choices single handily. The veto power of my sweet bride stops at the door of the dog house.

There will be an epoxy floor for starters. Spill all you want and there will be minimal concern. There will be a need for a place to sit for guests, so I will have one of the booths from the Taco Villa in Lubbock installed in my doghouse. The booths at the 50th St. location in Lubbock are the same 1970's gold ones that we sat in for lunch everyday in high school. My doghouse simply must have one of those booths. There will be times to host larger groups in this basement hideout, so I will need to travel to Racine, Wisconsin to secure a table and accompanying chairs at a restaurant called Kewpies. Now those tables only seat about six people, so surely I can find another set of table and chairs from the Pioneer Restaurant in Wichita Falls. That should do it...
My doghouse will have plenty of seating for guests.

The rest of the house will have tasteful Western art adorning the walls unless of course Mrs. Knox exercises her veto power. What shall I hang on the walls of the doghouse? I think pictures of people.... Yes...pictures of people from the different eras of my life. Pictures of people I ate lunch with at Taco Villa and Kewpies and The Pioneer...

I will cook burgers on a backyard grill and will sit around tables that hold significant memories. Thankfully those table cannot talk, because there would be tales to tell.... I am going to build that home in the country someday. If you are a casual acquaintance, we will visit in the living room with the leather couch and chairs. (Unless Mrs. Knox exercises her veto power, and in that case the furniture may not be leather.) Perhaps we can have a pleasant discussion about world leaders learning to compromise. If you are a friend, we will quickly make our way to the dog house. It is a place where old memories come alive and new ones are formed. It is a place where confidences can be shared, because remember.....the furniture does not talk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Honesty is Still a Good Policy

I have taken courses on ethics in graduate school. The study of human behavior and choices at that level is a stretch for most anyone. Sometimes it is helpful to return to the basics. I had that experience today.

We had an area meeting for one of the law agencies I serve today. The newly appointed captain came out to meet those working under his command. He is an impressive leader both in stature and in attitude! He told those who will answer to him two things that I took note of today.

He impressed on everyone that lying will not be tolerated. In fact, dishonesty forms the basis for immediate dismissal. That sounds like ethics 101, but in a litigous society many departments will jump through a lot of hoops before dismissing someone who has obviously been deceptive.
Even if an officer has made a horrible mistake, honesty is still expected.

The second theme he touched on is candor. He urged those under his command to speak up and speak candidly at will. I find that his comment interesting. In my 20 years of working around law enforcement leaders, I have taken note that good cops don't always make good supervisors.
I should explain: Cops are tempted to deal with each other the way they deal with a criminal on the street. That of course very unhealthy and does not promote trust or mutual respect. I sense that this new generation of law enforcement leaders are ready to embrace more effective models of leadership. Words like collaborate and candor are now an integral part of their vocabulary.

I am sure the officers are wary. They are going to check out their new leader carefully, but they like what they are hearing. Cops are generally a good judge of character. They sense that our new captain is the real thing. I am excited about serving under a leader who exhibits and expects integrity. Honesty and candor are both good ethical qualites that cannot be learned in the classroom.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Weeping Willow Tree

I don't know if I am a stereotypical Baby Boomer or not, but I did grow up in the '60's and '70's. I rode a Schwinn bike and watched the Brady Bunch at 7:00 every Friday evening. Love American Style came on at 9:00, but that was off limits unless my parents happened to be gone. My sister failed to monitor what racy shows I might be viewing on one of the three network channels available to us during those pre-cable years.

When I was growing up, my mother did not work outside the home. On cold days she made sure we had enough clothes on to keep an entire army warm in Siberia. She welcomed us home every afternoon after school and prepared home cooked meals every evening. It never occurred to me that she could have made other choices. She could have had a very interesting career. But she made the choice to stay home with us.

I was reminded of that fact today as I read the obituary of a long time friend's mother. Colleen and I grew up together. We built entire civilizations in the massive sandbox tucked underneath the weeping willow tree in her backyard. We put on pads and helmets and played tackle football together in my backyard. There was a pond in both of our yards that would freeze over during the winter months. There was ample time to play hockey and skate. Colleen claims that she kicked me with her skates, but I don't think that ever happened. Although I am quite sure there were times that I deserved to have those skates thrust right into my knee!

Colleen's mother was also a stay at home mom during our formative years. She was raising five children that were fairly close in age. I was in and out of her house constantly. She was in mine as well. Our mothers took turns supervising us. Although I don't think we needed much oversight. There were always a a game of some kind to play. Sue was Colleen's mom. She was Mrs. Burke to me. In my mind, Mrs. Burke did what she was supposed to do. She took care of the kids. I did not know until I read her obituary today that there was much more to her life.

Colleen's mom held a BA in psychology and a paralegal degree as well. I was taken back for some odd reason today. It occurred to me that we don't realize when we are kids that we are around people who have done things in life other than just be our friend's mother! I suppose there must have been a lot of stay at home moms back in the day who were highly educated. My mother earned her bachelor's degree in French from Florida State University.

I am grateful today for the moms in our old neighborhood. I didn't realize how much they had to offer us. We were too busy running out to play hockey or football.... I think we failed to fully appreciate our moms who were making the sacrifice to stay home and wash our dirty football jersies and sweaty baseball socks.

Colleen is a sucessful juvenile probation officer today. She is trying to prevent kids from totally destroying their lives before they turn 18. I think she is having quite a bit of success actually.
I don't know if she is a stereotypical Baby Boomer or not. But I do know that she grew up watching The Brady Bunch at 7:00 on Friday evenings. And her mother made sure that she had enough clothes on to keep a Siberian army warm on cold days... Our moms were far from perfect, but in their own way they prepared us for the world we now face everyday.

My friendship with Colleen has entered a new phase. We now share more than just memories of building with Tonka trucks in the sandbox under the weeping willow tree. We have the shared experience of losing our mothers. There is a new sense of commonality that is hard to explain.
I have a vision of the weeping willow tree in my mind tonight....On the eve of Mrs. Burke's funeral, it seems to be a fitting image.

Tiempo para aprender español

When my older boys were in middle school, the campus always named a student of the month. That student's picture would be featured in the local newspaper. The school would list academic and extra curricular accomplishments to accompany the photo. I never had to worry about being student of the month. I attended school everyday simply because my parents forced it on me. I was not one to play up to the teacher either. So student of the month awards evaded me .

Something happened when I was a junior in college. It occurred to me that I could do something with my life that I wanted to do if I would just settle down and study. What a novel idea. It took fourteen years of format education to reach that point, but I finally got there. I actually made straight "A's" that semester. Miracles have not ceased after all! Education is all about motivation.

I have been going to Mexico on mission trips for 11 years now. Spanish taken in college coupled with Spanish I have picked up serving with police officers has been helfpul. But ultimately my Spanish skills are still really lacking. After returning from Mexico this year, several new friends have started corresponding with me on facebook. We both make generous use of google translator. That whole process generally ends up being amusing.

I am actually serious about learning Spanish for the first time. What has changed? I have Spanish speaking friends who want to communicate with me on a regular basis. I hate it that a language barrier holds us back. Why didn't I pursue language training years ago? I suppose the motivation was just not there... Education is all about motivation.

There must be a moral to this story for educators. Discovering what motivates a student is paramount. You would think that leading mission trips to Mexico would be sufficient motivation for me to hone my Spanish skills, but my behavior shows otherwise! Factor in socializing and making news friends and it becomes a different story! I have this new found motivation! I am hoping that 2010 will be the year that I signficantly expand my Spanish vobabulary! Why would I not? It will enhance my abililty to be a socical creature and that is great motivation!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Absence of Trouble

An absence of trouble or just an absence... I would love to raise my kids in an environment that factors out trouble. I wish there would not destructive forces that posesses the capacity to change the course of their entire life. I further wish that I could steer them away from areas where trouble lurks in the shadows. I have been down many of those dark alleys myself. I hate to see my children venture down such areas.

Today in a juvenile court hearing I witnessed a really good kid suffer the consequences of plowing down several dark alleys that he should have avoided. He has already suffered the consequences to some degree. Be locked up in a juvenile detention center is not one of life's more pleasant experiences. There has been no absence of trouble in this young man's life recently.

I have attended several court hearings and trials over the years for both juveniles and adults. Frequently there are notable absences at such events. Parents are often counted absent. Grandparents and other extended family members are absent more often than not. Under such circumstances I walk away wondering where the accused will find support and encouragement.

Today was an exception. This child's parents were present. He also had both maternal and paternal grandparents routing for him. His adopted grandparents from church were also there to express their love and concern. Nobody was tardy and there no absences.

I will never get my wish. There will never be a complete absence of trouble for my children or for the kids that I have grown to know and love from the church and the local community. We live in a fallen world. I am confident however that there is a greater propensity for trouble to be absent when mom and dad hang in there. Abandoned kids struggle the most. I have been counted abesent for less than noble reasons in my life. I have done my share of skipping school and avoiding formal events that I did not want to attend. But I am not going to be counted absent when it comes to seeing to the needs of my children. I don't intend to be absent when any child I know is in trouble. I suppose the reason for my commitment to be present is pretty basic. There were adults in my life who chose not to be absent when I needed them the most, because there was no absence of trouble in my life. An absence of trouble or just an absence... One we cannot control and one we can.....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

He Does not Look Good on Paper...

He doesn't look very good on paper. The documentation on him reveals a pattern of truancy, fighting, and a few other delinquent type behaviors. Consequently he has scared off moreht than a few prospective foster families. The future for a big strapping six foot plus 15 year old kid with that kind of record in the foster care system is not real bright. In a few short years, he will age out of the system, and be on his own.

The cynical among us would say that prison could figure prominently in his future. I might be tempted to conclude the same thing, but I am privy to some pertinent information that causes me to think otherwise. This particular 15 year old has an angel looking over his shoulder. The court system refers to her as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA volunteer for short. A CASA volunteer is a trained citizen appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of an abused or neglected child in court. Her friends just call her Leah.

Leah definitely has his best interests in mind, but most importantly she really cares about him. He is no longer in a foster home in the county where she resides, but that has not stopped her from reaching out to him. There are of course legal restrictions on what she can and cannot do.
She dutifully follows the guidelines down to the last letter.

I have no idea what kind of experience that young man has had in the foster care over the years.
Of course something horrific occurred to trigger a removal from his biological family in the first place. Where will he turn when he becomes an adult? Where will he find a place at a Thanksgiving meal? Will there be someone to buy him a Christmas present? Will he rediscover biological family? Will a kind foster family include him in their holiday celebration? I just don't know... I don't particularly like not knowing!

As a law enforcement chaplain, I often meet young men just like him with in less than ideal circumstances. I am thankful I can go to bed tonight knowing that there is one 15 year old in the foster care system who has angel looking over him. Leah and her husband Kevin will warmly welcome that young man into their home. He will have a place at the table and a gift under the tree. He wil be loved and not abandoned. He doesn't look very good on paper, but his guardian angel still thinks he is great. May we thank God tonight for the tender and kind among us....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Throw Me a Life Jacket!

Well that is no big deal! What is your problem? Get over it! Those are among the top ten phrases not to use when someone has been impacted by a traumatic event. I would add these common quips to that list as well: I have seen a lot worse. That is just life. That should not bother you. Why are you still talking about it? People process trauma differently. The same event can affect a group of involved individuals in a a variety of ways. Each person is unique in their response. One person goes about their routine with little or no disruption for the long term. Others experience nightmares, loss of appetite, and relational disturbances. Still others appear to be fine initially and experience a break down of some kind months after the crisis event. One one occasion I recall being tempted to use one of the forbidden phrases just listed.

I encountered an individual struggling with all kinds of relational issues. I listened. I poked and prodded trying to get down the real source of the problem. It finally came to the surface. This person had been involved in a traumatic incident. It was legitimate. It was genuinely a bad situation that would be troublesome to anyone. But I was still tempted to say: I have seen worse. Why are you still struggling with this after all of this time? I am so glad I kept my active mouth zipped that day.

This young person had probably led a pretty sheltered life. She was not accustomed to seeing or experiencing shocking episodes. When she was the witness to a death, it had a long term effect on her life. Apparently she had not had the opportunity to process what she had encountered with another person.

I was reminded after visting with her of the walking wounded among us. People who are harboring intrusive memories of past trauma. In some cases, professional help is an absolute necessity. Seeking out qualified people to assist should never be postponed. Loyal friends can make a difference as well. In the 2007 movie, Reign Over Me, Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler
demonstrate the important role that friendship plays in the life of someone facing post traumatic stress. One movie critic makes this observation: Reign Over Me is an emotional film with clear messages that none of us have perfect lives. Sometimes it is a close friendship that provides the life jacket to keep us afloat.

Are you willing to provide a life jacket to someone you care about today? Here are a few insights that might be helpful in the process.

  1. Remember the List..That is no big deal! Get over it! I have seen a lot worse..etc. etc.Practice active listening. Don't be afraid of silence. Listen, listen, and then listen some more.
  2. Avoid Counter-Story. Oh you think that is bad? Let me tell you about what I experienced back in 1978.....That is counter story and it should be avoided at all costs. It is about your friend and not you.
  3. Use Non-Verbal Communication-Be generous with hugs. Listen with your eyes. Watch your posture. Don't get distracted.
  4. Be Loyal and Patient-Reign Over Me is an excellent commentary on befriending someone struggling with trauma, because the characters problems don't go away soon.

The holidays can be particularly difficult for people who have experienced grief, loss, or some other form of trauma in their life. Let's be especially alert to those whom we can serve and help, because to them....it is a big deal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger Woods: Innocent is the Right Word

A friend of mine duly noted on his facebook status this morning that he was tired of hearing about the troubles of Tiger Woods. I imagine he is not the only one. An early morning car crash soon led to rumors of domestic violence and marital infidelity. The media has been relentless in their coverage. Tiger finally conceded on his website earlier this week that he regrets his transgressions with all his heart.

Is Tiger sincere? Does he have a penitent heart? Is he really sorry for the transgressions he mentions? I don't know. I am not his friend. I am just a fan who loves the game of golf. But I do have an opinion about the events that have unfolded this week.

It was mentioned in the news today that a lot of people stand to profit from this whole thing. I found that to be disgusting. A person's personal failures become the basis for another's profit? Tiger's wife has been scrutinized on many levels, but I have yet to see an article that expresses empathy for the personal pain she must be feeling. Surely there are people who care...

The media is all over this thing, because it is profitable. It is a story that generates readers and viewers for their respective outlets. I wonder if the media has given any thought to the impact their coverage will have on Tiger's children? Those kids have done nothing wrong, but they stand to suffer the most from this entire fiasco. I recognize that Tiger has brought this thing on himself, but wouldn't it be nice if people across the board were genuinely concerened about the long term welfare of his children. Constant media coverage will do little to help Tiger and his wife put their marriage back together. A healthy marriage for them is obviously the best thing for the kids.

I am afraid we live in a society that is more concerned about profiteering than the welfare of children. Am I tired of hearing about Tiger's problems? I really am. There are other world issues I would rather think about. But tonight I am thinking about his children. They are the innocent ones in this whole thing. They deserve some resepect and decency. Innocent is the right word in the Tiger Wood's saga. Those kids are innocent. I am praying for them, because they are caught in a firestorm that is not of their making.

Monday, November 30, 2009

To Protect and Serve

I am praying for the families of the four Lakewood, Washington police officers killed in the line of duty early yesterday. Washington State Patrol officials were in a desperate search this morning for a man suspected of ambushing the officers in a cold blooded attack. I was nearly late for an important lunch meeting today as I watched the coverage of that event on the news. The phrase protect and serve was on my mind, as I pulled out of the driveway. I really needed to get that event off my mind and get focused on the impending lunch meeting. As I made the trek to Benbrook, my mind quickly shifted to a set of events that took place in March of 2008.

I will never forget March 3, 2008. I was on my way back to Granbury from a very successful medical mission trip to Northern Mexico when the calls to my cell phone starting coming in rapid succession. The dispatcher for the Hood County Sheriff's office called. Several officers contacted me from their cell phones, as they investigated a fatal car crash only a couple of miles from my home. I was still over three hours away from Granbury, as tragedy was unfolding at home. I felt so helpless. Little did I know that the events that were taking place back in Granbury would prove to be life changing for me.

16 year old Alyssa Dix was killed upon impact in what could be characterized as a true accident. It was not a case of reckless driving or a driver being impaired by alcohol. It was an accident. Her two sisters were injured in the crash and air lifted to trauma centers in Ft. Worth. They were treated and later released. I had three hours to think on the way home that afternoon. A lot of images flashed through my head. I was concerned for my officers and a for a family that was unnamed at that point.

It was the first fatal car crash for the two young officers who were first to arrive on the scene. I was reminded of my first experience as a chaplain to be called to the scene of a crash, where there has been the loss of life. I felt immediate and deep empathy for both of them. I spent the next day with those officers striving to provide comfort and a spiritual presence in a time of overwhelming sadness.

Both officers asked me over a cup of coffee at our favorite break stop if it would be appropriate for them to attend young Alyssya's funeral service. They did not want to invade the privacy of the family in any shape or form. I strongly urged both of them to attend the funeral and promised that I would join them. We put on our "Class A" uniforms out of respect. The crosses on the shoulders of my uniform coat symbolize my role in the department. We joined hundreds of mourners the day of the service. Alyssa was deeply loved in the entire Granbury community. The church was full. We planned on standing in the back, so friends from the high school would have a seat. But the funeral director seated us near the front, as a gesture of respect.

By the time the procession made it to the cemetery for the internment service, it was starting to rain. One of the deputies directing traffic insisted that I wear his raincoat.... The two officers that I accompanied that morning asked me what they should say, as we waited in line to greet the family. I never knew either of them to be at a loss for words! Tragedy has a way of shutting our brains down temporalily. I told them: Be yourself and be generous with your hugs.... The family already loves you! So we did. We stood in the rain and loved on that family. It is all we knew to do. We were composed and professional until we returned to the patrol car... Private tears were shed then.

One of the officers could really identify with the young ladies impacted by this accident. It had not been that long since she was 16 years old herself. She reached out to the family affected by this life changing event, and they in turn embraced her. Mutual comfort was given and friendships were formed. I was touched simply by watching all of this unfold.

I ended up being incredibly blessed by having lunch with Alyssa's father not long after the crash.
I went with the intent of serving him, but I felt like I was the one on the receiving end! His faith and love for his family was a tremendous encouragement to me. Our noon meeting that summer day led to more lunches together. He would ask about the officers who responded to the accident everytime we got together. He always wanted to know how their families were doing. During one of those times he made an interesting observation that I have shared with the officers I serve on more than occasion. He said: You know that phrase: Protect and Serve? I have always understood the protect part of it, but it was not until Alyssa's death that I grasped the serve part.

I had lunch with Alyssa's father today. We visited at length about our families. He asked about the officers and their families. I was not surpised. He genuinely loves them. As I pulled out of the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel in Benbrook, I thought about the phrase.....Protect and Serve...I am praying tonight for the families of the four officers in Lakewood, Washington, who gave their lives in the line of duty, as they protected and served the citizens of their community.... I hope there are good citizens like Scott Dix in Lakewood tonight, who will love on the families of the slain officers, and those in that department left to pick up the pieces.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Difference DO It Make?

I just finised the second book written by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Their recent release is entitled: What Difference Do it Make? It is a sequel to their first work: Same Kind of Different as Me. Ron is a successful international art dealer. Denver spent some time years ago in the infamous Angola Prison. He was a homeless man making his way on the streets of Ft. Worth when Ron met him. The story of their unlikely friendship and the impact it has made on countless people is inspiring to say the least.

Ron and Denver have enjoyed extensive speaking engagements since their first book climbed to bestseller lists. In the second book, they tell the story of being invited by a non-profit organization in a community to speak at a fund raising event for the local homeless shelter. Ron and Denver took it upon themselves to pay the shelter a suprise visit. They were surprised all right. The shelter was in horrible condition. It was overcrowded, dirty, and furnished poorly. The coditions were deplorable.

Ron and Denver spoke at the fund raising event after their visit to the shelter. In the process, they broke all rules of fund raising protocol. Ron rebuked members of the community present at that event. His question to them: How have you allowed this to go on right under your nose? One lady in attendance that evening had a compelling response afterwards.

She approached the speakers in tears. She had served on the board of the homeless shelter for a period of years, but had never stepped foot in the building. She was honest enough to say that she had dropped used clothing off near the front door, but had chosen not to go inside. I think Ron and Denver's direct approach really touched her heart. By the way, they raised $800,000.00 that night to benefit the shelter...

My first reaction to that story was to view the people in that unnamed city through a lens of self-righteousness. How could that be so callous? But then I was convicted about my own tendencies to want to help from a distance... Rolling up our sleeves and serving people is messy. People in need don't always smell good. Their social graces are severely lacking. As Ron and Denver are quick to point out, a large percentage of the homeless population are struggling with some form of mental illness. Choosing not to go inside is a safe choice. As I read What Difference Do It Make, I was reminded that I need to give up my own tendencies to serve via remote control.
So...What Difference DO it Make? Read the book and find out. But be sure to read Same Kind of Different as Me first!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Here...Have Some of My Traditions...

A lot of people are shopping today and searching for holiday bargains. I just don't have time to shop. I need to spend some time taking inventory, because I am crying inside for a young man today. I suppose I should explain...

In response to my recent blog about family tradtions a few days ago, a long time friend responded by sharing the following story about her daugther's boyfriend. The young man's mother is wrapped up in her own issues, and his father is in the process of divorcing from his stepmother. I have changed his name and pertinent details to protect his privacy. Here is her reply to my blog entitled: The Smells and Tastes of Home.

I asked Greg the day before Thanksgiving if his family had any must have traditoinal dishes for the holidays. He looked at me with this odd look, and said no... It was almost stated in the form of a question. I said: no special pie, no dips, nothing like that? He said: Well my dad is mostly good at grilling. I asked him if there was something he wanted me to make. He said: Yeah, your queso. I was already making it, since ya know, it is a tradition... But it stuck with me all night and I couldn't get over how much tradition actually plays a part in this whole holiday stuff and how it brings this warm, cozy feeling. It made me want to give Greg a big hug and say: Here...have some of my traditions, I will share. Then I was thankful for us moms out there who do the traditional thing and make it to where our kids are mad when they come home and there is no pumpkin dump cake. But I was thankful for dads who are mostly good at grillling too.

My heart was touched by her comments. You really need to know this friend of mine who had the conversation with her daughter's boyfriend. She really means it when she says: Here have some of my traditions, I will share. That boy has been adopted, whether he knows it or not. She will give him motherly advice whether he asks for it or not. And he will get a dose of the truth in a form that will likely embarrass her daughter .

But most importantly, she will share a lot more with him than just a batch of homemade queso. She will be the first to tell you that she no angel when she was a teenager. I know, because I was beside her stirring up trouble when we were in high school. Life experiences have made her more compassionate and kind. That young man will be loved and nurtured unconditionally. I wonder if my friend realizes that she is making a lifelong impact in that young man's life?

I need to take inventory today. There is someone within my sphere of influence whom I need to say: Here, have some of my traditions, I will share. Who is that person in my life? Who is it in your life? Don't let this holiday season go by without sharing some traditions.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Circle of Life

It is Daniel's senior year, so I am feeling a little nostalgic. He will soon become the second child in our home to sprout his wings and leave home. This time of year I attend debate tournaments at least twice a month with the Granbury High School team. I love it, because I am a former debater. Traveling all over the state as a high school debater gave me some much needed confidence, but most importantly it opened the door to the formation of lifelong friendships.

I have encouraged the boys to seek out that same avenue for an academic extra-curricular activity. Randall competed in cross-examination debate and Daniel continues to do Lincoln Douglas debate. It has been a lot of fun traveling with the team as a sponsor and judge. I have even had the opportunity to coach the orginal oratory event this year. The season however is almost over. Daniel will soon be anticipating graduation.

The last tournament of 2009 will be held at Coronado High School in Lubbock in two weeks. How can I not look over Daniel's teammates who will graduate with him this year, and wonder if he will stay in contact with them once they all go to college. I never gave much thought to such an idea when I was a senior at Monterey High School in Lubbock. I hate to admit it, but I was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons early in my senior year. A potential debate scholarship to Texas Tech was eradicated by the choices I made in one weekend. Despite my poor choices, the friendships that were formed at the very first debate tournament I attended in 1978 ended up being lifelong relationships.

Most of met at that first tournament of the season in 1978. We became exceedingly close as we traveled on chartered buses all over the state of Texas during the course of the next several years. Little did our coach know that we visited the Alamo at 2:00 in the morning during a tournament in San Antonio in 1979. There were of course other antics that simply don't need to be mentioned in order to protect the guilty. Strong bonds were formed. We grew to love each other. And then we all went our respective ways.

Over the past 5 or 6 years we have all reunited. Several of us have children in college now. Most of us are getting close to having all of our children raised for that matter. The experience of paying for our raising has hunbled each of us. We would not look favorably at our children visiting the Alamo in the middle of the night during a school trip. Our relationships today are more meaningful than ever. A shared past coupled with a little maturity makes for great friendships.

I hope Daniel will take take a few moments during the Coronado tournament to observe his friends very carefully. I hope he will savor the moment. I hope he is grateful for each of his teammates. It will be the final tournament of 2009, so it would be a good time to be reflective.

His coach asked me to accompany the team to the Coronado tournament. I eagerly agreed to go! Coronado High School was our cross town rivalry! There is nothing quite like going back to the town where so many memories were formed. I will insist that the team eat at least one meal at Taco Villa, because that is where I ate with my teammates nearly everyday! The Coronado tournament will be one of Daniel's final competitions for his senior year. He will soon be thinking about other things. When Daniel's coach asked me to join them, I failed to share a very important and personal detail.

The Coronado High School Debate Tournament was the first debate event I attended in 1978, when I initially joined the team. Little did I know that fateful weekend that the people I met at that event would become lifelong friends? Now life has come full circle.

Daniel's tenure as a high school debater will reach a climatic point at the same place where mine all began 31 years ago. I am feeling more than a little nostalgic as I anticipate walking the hallways of that school after all of these years. Most importantly I am grateful for each of the indivuals I met within the confines of those school walls in 1978. I value them more today than I ever have before. Thanks to each of you for enriching my life and making it fun. It is good to be thankful on Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Smells and Tastes of Home...

The Thanksgiving Holiday got underway officially at the Knox Manor last night with the arrival of our firstborn from college. It was a typical entrance. Nothing was out of the ordinary. He headed for the refrigerator immediately. But unfortunately disappointment ensued. He just knew there would be some of his mother’s cowboy stew leftover in the fridge. His brothers had inhaled the last spoonful the day before. There were no Ziploc bags of cornbread on the counter either. He had hoped to walk in the door to smell the sweet aroma of his dad’s famous chocolate chip cookies, but instead he was faced with the smell of Mitchell’s tennis shoes that were left near the entryway. And then we added insult to injury.

After being forced to heat a frozen dinner, Randall asked his mother a simple question just for confirmation purposes. We are having pumpkin dump cake on Thanksgiving Day? He posed the question in a tone that sounded a little cautious, but yet hopeful. No, Jan says…Your Aunt Rena is bringing the desserts this year. The look on his face was priceless. You would have thought that his mother had told him that she was giving him up for adoption, at age 20. Pumpkin dump cake is an annual tradition. How could we break with tradition? You could tell by the look on his face that he was seriously wondering if mom and dad had been smoking crack. He proceeded to interrogate his mother regarding several other time held traditions around our household. Unfortunately he did not receive the answers he was anticipating.

Have we damaged our son for life? I am not feeling very sympathetic this morning. Jan made a last minute run to the store bright and early this morning to purchase everything needed for all of his favorites. What mothers will do for their sons! I learned two important lessons from our brief interchange last night. I think they are worth sharing.

Randall grew up enjoying all kinds of homemade delicacies, because his mother was a stay at home mom. When he was younger, he did not have the latest gaming system or the fastest computer. We had to forgo such luxuries for our kids. We were living on one income. There were no expensive vacations or elaborate birthday parties. But he grew up with his mother singing to him all day when he was a baby. She read to him all through the day during the preschool years. Now we have an adult son who is an avid reader and a great musician.

There was a smiling face to greet him after school everyday. And in the evening he was spoiled with a homemade country style meal prepared by a mom who grew up on the farm. We no longer do some of the things he inquired about last night, because she works fulltime now. Lesson learned last night: Jan staying home with the boys during their formative years was a great thing.

I find it intriguing that college age kids want to be independent. They want to do their own thing. They perceive mom and dad as being hopelessly out of touch in many areas of life. In the final analysis, they are traditionalists through and through. They still yearn to come home to the familiar. Time held family traditions becoming increasingly important as a college student matures. Lesson learned last night: Mom and dad have a responsibility to uphold the family traditions out of respect for the children. I find that to be an interesting irony of life actually.

I am looking forward to having all of my boys’ home this week. We will watch old school James Bond movies featuring Sean Connery. There will be at least one vicious game of Monopoly. Granny will go back to the boys’ rooms and listen to the hideous music on their i-pods. I will force them to watch my all time holiday favorite: Planes, Tranes, and Automobiles. But I do plan to set the timer on the oven; because I don’t want the pumpkin dump cake to burn…..It is tradition. Oh the smells and tastes of home!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cousin Eddie is Coming to Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is about to roll around again soon. Families will get together to eat and watch football. There might be a round or two of golf around here, if the weather is pretty. Deer hunting is probably another option for some. I also know that Thanksgiving fires off a season that can be sad and stressful.

I did not grow up sharing the holidays with extended family. There were a lot of reasons for that. It was just a fact of life. Jan is related to most of the state of Texas, and a few in New Mexico too. After we got married in 1984, I quickly learned about holidays with an extensive network of family. There are a few characters in the family. That may be the understatement of the year. I have learned a lot from all of them over the years.

Jan has interesting array of aunts. I dearly loved her Aunt Rita, who is now deceased. Rita could be a little rough around the edges, so I could relate to her. I loved her unvarnished viewpoints that were always seasoned with humor. And then there is Aunt Cordelia. Cordelia is just cool. One of her sons is a police investigator for a DFW area department. When he was assigned to patrol right out of the academy, his mother rode out with him on a shift. How cool is that! When I asked her about that experience at a family function years ago, she said: Those guys know who the enemy is… They are all out there in the field to take care of each other. They don’t let their quirks or personality differences impede that process. They don’t view each other as the enemy. She proceeded to make the proper application as well. In churches and in families, we shoot our own! We often view each other as the enemy.

I have always remembered that astute observation. And I have shared that insight repeatedly when I am asked to speak to Citizen’s Police Academy groups or police chaplains around the state. Her observations during the initial ride out were right on target. I have been thinking about Cordelia’s experience, as I prepare for the holidays this year.

Members of my family are not the enemy. I may get really irritated with Cousin Eddie this year, but he is not the enemy! (You know every family has a Cousin Eddie. Of course my main concern is that I could be Cousin Eddie!) Jan’s aunts and uncles are not the enemy. Jan is certainly not the enemy! We are all playing on the same team. Family members should be there for each other for love and protection.

Let’s enjoy each other during the Thanksgiving Holiday. Let’s acknowledge that this could very well be the last the holiday we enjoy with some family members. Aunt Rita’s husband, children, and grandchildren will miss her at the table again this year. She has been gone over three years now. She was integral part of the team. I may even be tempted to grin for a minute during the Thanksgiving meal, as I think of something she said that I thought was particularly funny.

There maybe empty chairs at the table of Thanksgiving for other reasons too…When we allow a family member to become the enemy, conflict causes places at the table to go unseated. How should that be handled? More in my blog tomorrow, because Thanksgiving is about to roll again pretty soon…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No Need for Apologies...

I am extremely fortunate to have a circle of loyal friends who come from many walks of life. Some are peers and others are considerably older. In the case of some of my friends, I am old enough to be their father. My older friends provide wisdom about the issues that still lie ahead. They no longer fund car insurance for their boys and they have walked their daughters down the aisle. My peers reassure me that I that I am not crazy. They share so many of the same feelings and experiences during the same time period in life. My younger friends keep me up to speed technologically. I learn about new music and new sayings! If it were not for my younger associates, I might still be listening to eight tracks and wearing my shirt tails tucked in all of the time.

I am still learning new things about friendship everyday from all three of those groups. Two in particular stand out today. Here is the first one: a friendship is not completely sealed until there is a shared crisis. Perhaps that has a morbid tone, but it is true. When a crisis arises, real friends put their life on hold for the other person. In some cases it is a major and possibly life altering event. As a law enforcement chaplain, I have gotten people out of bed in the middle of the night more than once, so they can comfort a friend in a time of immediate tragedy. Sometimes it just entails a flashpoint in the day. We all have those days when we are jarred by an event or a piece of news. It is something that is upsetting or stressful. Our friends are there simply to walk with us. When the direct predicament is over, the relationship with the person we shared it with is not the same. The friendship is sealed.

When we feel totally comfortable calling someone during a crisis, it is a sign of deepening friendship. If I have to apologize for imposing on someone else, then that relationship still has a ways to go before it can be characterized as a real friendship. I always smile to myself when a friend calls me and does not apologize for a perceived imposition. When the unloading process gets underway immediately, it is a really good sign!

Yesterday I read an article in USA Today about the rising suicide rate among ministers. The combination of unrealistic expectations, being the confidant for everyone else, and yet having no one who can be trusted with their personal information provides the ingredients for depression among those in ministry. At first glance, I thought I should not be reading such material on a Monday! And then the rational part of my brain kicked in. I am grateful that I have friends that I can call when I am discouraged. I feel no need to apologize for such a call. I am equally thankful for those who feel free to call me, and not apologize…

I was reminded of those two rules of friendship today. Friendships are sealed during times of crisis. Unapologetic phone calls are a sign that the relationship is deepening. It is comforting to go to bed tonight knowing that a real friend is only one unapologetic phone call away, when the inevitable crisis arises. I am grateful for all of my friends of all ages tonight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Little Creativity Won't Hurt!

I am not a creative parent. I may be a decent parent. I think I can be a real pain as a parent, but I am lacking in the creativity department. I do recognize that creativity is a good thing, when it comes to the parental role. I appreciated an interesting parental story that Donald Miller shares in his most recent release.

It seems a father was engrossed in ESPN or the like when his daughter came in to show off her new prom dress. He dutifully muted the television and complimented her dress. She went on about her way and he went back to his ballgame. That is where I part ways with him. I would have extended the compliment and given little more thought to the interchange. He had this feeling gnawing at him that he should have said more to his impressionable teenage daughter.

Enter creativity into this scenario. The father of the teenage girl proceeds to turn his show off and go change into a suit and tie. He then knocks on the door of his daughter’s room. She comes to the door with straight pins carefully place in the dress that her mother is preparing to alter. She of course asks her dad what is up with the suit. And he says……I thought I had better look nice if we are going to have our picture made together. So they did…Pictures were taken and the creative father proceeded to dance with his daughter and his wife in the living room until 1:00 in the morning. I wonder if that girl will ever forget the events leading up to her high school prom.

I am not a father of daughters, which is probably a good thing. When I read that story, I was reminded that a little creativity goes a long way in making a memory for a child. I am sure that girl feel affirmed and loved in a special kind of way. Such parental creativity does not come naturally for the vast majority of us, but that is no excuse. We just need to turn off the television and let our minds wonder a bit. Lifelong memories could be closer than what we think.

As I read the story recounted by Donald Miller, I was reminded of the lyrics from the Steven Curtis Chapman song entitled: Cinderella. I think they are a pretty good reminder even for those of us who are fathers of boys.

She spins and she sways to whatever song plays, Without a care in the world. And I'm sitting here wearing the weight of the world on my shoulders. It's been a long day and there's still work to do, She's pulling at me saying "Dad I need you! There's a ball at the castle and I've been invited and I need to practice my dancin'" "Oh please, daddy, please!" Chorus: So I will dance with Cinderella While she is here in my arms 'Cause I know something the prince never knew Oh I will dance with Cinderella I don't want to miss even one song 'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight And she'll be gone. Verse 2: She says he's a nice guy and I'd be impressed She wants to know if I approve of the dress She says, "Dad the prom is just one week away And I need to practice my dancin' "Oh please, daddy , please!" Chorus: So I will dance with Cinderella While she is here in my arms 'Cause I know something the prince never knew Oh I will dance with Cinderella I don't want to miss even one song 'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight And she'll be gone Verse 3: Well she came home today with a ring on her hand Just glowin' and tellin' us all they had planned She says, "Dad the wedding's still six months away but I need to practice my dancin' "Oh please, daddy , please!" Chorus: So I will dance with Cinderella While she is here in my arms 'Cause I know something the prince never knew Oh I will dance with Cinderella I don't want to miss even one song 'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight And she'll be gone

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Drift Toward the Acceptable: Part I

I love autobiographies. I find them inspiring. I am willing read the entire gamut in this area of literature. I have not always been a big fan of Teddy Kennedy, but his autobiography is in my reading queue. I just completed an autobiography of sorts. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, recently released a new work. The title is: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It is autobiographical for sure, but he writes with the purpose of inspiring those who have given up on life. Here is a summary included in the forward of the book:

Every life is a story. Whether it is a story worth telling or talking about, though, is up to you. People set out with grand dreams of changing the world, falling in love, doing something amazing. But the drift toward the merely acceptable happens almost without notice…

Miller is not very structured in his writing style, and I love it! The key points he is trying to get across are not broken into chapter divisions or in some other kind of neat and tidy list. You just have read, pay attention, and be ready to internalize the golden nuggets of wisdom that he drops along the way. He is the first one:

Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn't all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better…

I found this quote troubling, because unfortunately he is right. It is indeed the drift toward the acceptable. As I approach my 48th birthday, I have become aware of two things going on my life, and in the lives of my close friends. I think across the board we are more humble and pleasant to be around. When I look back at some of the arrogant attitudes I held onto at age 25, it scares me. All of us have had our share of life bumps. Gone are the days of social snobbery that characterized the middle school and high school years. Even the days of feeling compelled to make some kind of materialistic statement have vanished for most of us. We are actually very pleasant to be around these days! We are kinder and more empathetic.

I also think most of us have drifted toward the merely acceptable. It seems to me that it is important to experience a life wake up call, where we can rethink our goals. It is a time to throw caution to the wind and dream again. A time to go back to school, a time to try again, a time to do something we have never done, a time do the hard work of reconciling broken relationships…

Miller’s most recent book has given me the perspective I need to accomplish such objectives. Quite frankly I don't like some of the things he shares. It is easier just to stay in the familiar comfort zone… But I am going to take his thoughts to heart, because I really do want to travel a million miles in a thousand years. More on Miller’s book in tomorrow’s blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Racing Down the Judgmental Freeway

I concluded that he just did not like me. I worked for a police supervisor a number of years ago who is a fine man. For some odd reason I had a very difficult time connecting with him. He seemed distant. I found it difficult to communicate with him. And yet those who had known him for a long time obviously had great respect for his character and leadership. Long time friends seemed to have positive connections with him. My imagination is vivid. I proceeded to formulate a lengthy list of reasons for him not to like me. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts.

He concluded that I did not like him. About 14 or 15 years ago I got off to a really bad start with another gentleman. And he concluded that I did not like him. He was actually correct in that assumption. At the time, I did not like him. After all I had done my homework. I asked a credible individual about his character and did not get a favorable report. He was immediately tossed aside in the relational waste basket. I could not have been any more foolish. It is indeed very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when only have some of the facts.

About a month ago I ran into the police supervisor. He was cordial and friendly. We connected immediately. I could tell he was very genuine. What is the difference? I discovered there were stressful issues going on in his life during the time period I worked with him. He was preoccupied and withdrawn for quite some time. And that just happened to be about the time that I entered the picture. I determined recently that he always liked me. I volunteer for another department now, but he truly misses me. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts.

In recent years, I have become very close to the gentleman I got off to a bad start with. What an irony. That bad start actually deteriorated into intense conflict. We both knew we didn’t like each other! After burying the hatchet, we learned a lot about each other. When we initially met, neither one of us were in a good place in life. We were facing our respective conflicts on different fronts. Unfortunately we did not take the time to peel a few layers back and discover the real people buried underneath the surface. Today we enjoy a deep and meaningful friendship. I will always protect what we enjoy with each other. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts.

Today I will be tempted to judge someone prematurely. I hate to admit it, but I know it will happen. I am not always very fair with people. I can be judgmental. I intend to consciously catch my thoughts long before they start racing down the judgmental freeway. I plan to assume that the person I am tempted to judge may very well be facing hurdles that I know nothing about. Those same individuals could be dealing with chronic issues that have damaged them emotionally. It could be just a bad time in life for that person.

The real story actually can and will come to the surface, but I know that is not possible unless I choose to be an excellent listener. Traveling at a high rate of speed down the judgmental freeway precludes hearing the real story. Today I will shut the freeway down and block the entry ramp with two good ears. Life is too short to allow meaningful relationships to be destroyed before they have an opportunity to blossom. Just imagine what we are missing out on as we race down a freeway that leads only to misery and conflict. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts….

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Out of My Way Old Man!

It is going to happen. I promise… You are going to get behind someone in traffic today who is moving at a snail’s pace. And you will be tempted. I know you will. You will be tempted to sit on your horn, or say something under your breath that would not make your mother proud.

If that doesn’t happen, then it could be that you are going to be behind a person in line at Wal-Mart who is not familiar with the latest check writing procedure that has been recently introduced. Signing what does not look anything like a signature on some electronic contraption is not what that person is accustomed to doing. Once again you will be tempted. Your natural inclination is to get an exasperated look on your face and secretly wish that the individual in front of you could have found another line.

You may have wait a little longer at your doctor’s office today, because that same individual is discussing the lengthy list of medications that he takes everyday with his doctor. Some of those prescriptions are costing him up to $7.00 per day per pill. He never dreamed in a million years that he would be taking all of those meds. Or it could be that he is discussing other health related issues with his physician…

When we get behind that person in traffic today, I wonder where he is going. He acts as if he has nowhere to go and all day to get there. I have a hunch that is not the case. It could be that he is trying to make it to the nursing home by noon, so he can feed his wife of over 60 years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years back, and now he can no longer care for her at home. There are good days, when she recognizes him. And there are not so good days too. Our elderly gentlemen may very well have been purchasing necessities for her at Wal-Mart, as he attempted to work through the latest check signing procedure at America’s favorite retailer. The consultation at the doctor’s office took a little longer than the average visit. Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease….

I really should introduce you to this elderly gentleman. He is indeed a figment of my imagination in the sense that he does not have a name. But most importantly he is a veteran. He landed on the beach at Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Or maybe he jumped out of airplanes in the Pacific during WWII and rescued downed pilots. Perhaps he served in a medical unit in Korea in the early ‘50’s. Even some of our Vietnam vets are reaching the stage in life of being elderly and more dependent.

Think twice today before you get impatient. He sacrificed a lot in his life long before any of us were born. He may have left a young bride behind to serve his country back in the day. He postponed his education and his career to protect freedoms that we take for granted. He put his life on the line for each of us. Take a few moments to listen to his story. He has a lot to share.

My father would have celebrated his 84th birthday on November 26th this year, if he were still living. If he were still around, he could very well be one of those old men in traffic holding up progress. My father was a WWII veteran. He was in pilot training preparing for a Japanese Invasion when President Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan in August of 1945. He was discharged honorably from the Army Air Corps not longer after that event, and completed his education at the University of Georgia. I am thinking about him today. In fact, I am thinking about all of our veterans today. I know it is going to happen, but could be possibly envision that old man in traffic in a crisp military uniform before we get all bent of shape?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kentucky Bound in 1932: Part II

My grandmother and her three children moved into the Teachery, as it was called, at Stuart Robinson School in 1932. Stuart Robinson was nestled back in the mountains in Letcher County, Kentucky. The Teachery included a classroom for home economics on the first floor and apartments for teachers on the second floor. My father and his two siblings grew up in that second floor apartment at the Teachery.

Stuart Robinson was one of several Settlement Schools founded by Presbyterian Church leader and physician, Dr. E.O. Guerrant. Guerrant had been an army officer during the civil war. It was during that time period that he came in contact with the very poor people of the Appalachian Mountain Region. W.L. Cooper, the long time superintendent at Stuart Robinson writes this about the impact the mountain people made on Dr. Guerrant.
Hardships of every kind, disease, ignorance, and extreme poverty were familiar companions in many homes. When the war was over and his duties no longer carried him into the mountain regions, he found that he had left his heart there, and that he would be ever unsatisfied not to share with these fellow countrymen some of the opportunities and privileges which had been his. (W.L.Cooper, p.11)

Stuart Robinson opened its doors to students in 1914 largely due to the influence of this man, who was passionate about reaching out to the mountain people. By the time my grandmother joined the faculty in 1932, there were 300 students on campus. Many of them were resident students, who lived in the dormitories.

What was it like to grow up in a mission school deep in the mountains of Kentucky? My dad lost his father when he was 2 years old, so that was another factor to consider in his upbringing. My dad rarely mentioned the experience, but I picked up hints when I was a kid that it was far from paradise. I think my dad must have seen some great acts of kindness, but I also sensed there was hypocrisy too. It was not until I visited the old Stuart Robinson Campus last year that I began to put at least a few pieces of the puzzle together.

Stuart Robinson graduated its last class in 1957. Today the campus is an outreach center for that entire area. It is called Calvary Campus. Jamie and Rachael Reynolds are directing the ministry there. About this time last year I arranged a visit to the campus. As I drove into Letcher County for the first time, I tried to imagine what must have been going through my Grandmother’s mind during her initial trip in 1931.

Jamie took me on the grand tour. We looked at every single building. One of my grandmother’s former students met us out there that afternoon. She of course is well into her 80’s! She implied that my father and his brother were anything but angels back in the day… It was soon time for me to drive back to the Hampton Inn, where I was scheduled to stay that night. But Jamie and Rachael insisted that I stay in their home…The former Teachery…I actually slept on the second floor, where my family once resided so many years ago. It was at that point that I finally began to understand my father’s background a little better. More in tomorrow’s blog…

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kentucky Bound in 1932

It was Christmas Eve of 1927. Hunting was popular in Hart County, Georgia among the men, just as I am sure it is today. So a group went hunting that fateful December evening. While stalking their prey that night, one of the men pricked his finger on a briar. That is a common occurrence that most people would think very little about. However this particular prick led to the onset of a disease known as Blastomycosis. This fungal infection is very treatable today, but apparently that was in the case in 1927.

The man stricken with this infection was known to the small Georgia community, where he served as school superintendent, as Professor Knox. He was my paternal grandfather. He died June 21st, 1928 from complications associated with Blastomycosis. His wife, Elizabeth Knox, was left with three small children. Frances was ten at the time. Raymond was seven, and my father, Arthur, was two.

What does a young widow with three small children do under such circumstances in 1928? It is my understanding that she had no family of her own to seek out in such a crisis. Enter a lady known to the community of Hartwell as Miss Emma. Her name was Emma Kay. Miss Emma was the post-mistress in Hartwell. She was a single lady with a large home. Miss Emma took the young family into her home. I no nothing about the details, but I do know that my grandmother attended the University of Georgia during the years immediately following her husband’s death and completed her bachelor’s degree in Home Economics Education. During this time period they lived in Miss Emma’s home.

My grandmother thus began teaching home economics in the Hartwell school system, where her husband had once served as superintendent. During Christmas break of 1931 her brother-in-law, Sam Knox, invited her for a visit to the mountains of Kentucky. At that time, he was serving in several roles for a mission boarding school in Blackey, Kentucky called Stuart Robinson. The mountain kids that the school served were extremely poor, and of course the Great Depression was in full swing by Christmas of 1931.

My grandmother took a long train ride all the way to Blackey, Kentucky that December. She immediately fell in love with the school and the mission it was trying to accomplish. I wonder all of these years later what Sam’s motives were in inviting my grandmother out to Kentucky during that Christmas break! The rest is history. She packed up her three children and they moved to Kentucky. She assumed teaching responsibilities at Stuart Robinson School not long after her initial visit. She later became principal of the school as well.

I have admired my grandmother’s faith and tenacity for decades now. She was a strong lady. She was a Godly person. Her writings that have been preserved indicate a lady who did not let the loss of her husband at age 32 hinder her from doing great things. Her career as an educator ended up being very meaningful. She accomplished things that few women were able to in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

I often wondered what it must have been like for my father to grow up in that environment. He discussed those days only on rare occasions, and then only briefly. I tried to visualize in my mind what the campus looked like. My grandmother taught there until 1942. Stuart Robinson graduated its final class in 1957. But the campus is still intact….It is no longer a school, but good things are happening there! In October of 2008, I visited the campus where Stuart Robinson School once resided. The visit provided great insight regarding my family roots. More on that trip tomorrow…

Friday, November 6, 2009

40 Years of Probation!

I got a call from Misty Walters at the Behavioral Transition Center yesterday. The BTC, as it is called, is a separate campus for middle school and high school aged offenders, who have gotten in serious trouble at school. Some districts refer to such facilities as the alternative school. I still get a little nervous when the BTC number appears on my cell phone. I wonder: Did I not finish my time back in 1979? Are they going to make me go back?

Misty called to tell me she has student for me. Several of us in the community mentor kids who are assigned to the BTC. We can bring in lunch for them and just spend some quality time visiting. I was a charter member of In School Suspension at Monterey High School in Lubbock, so I am imminently qualified for the mentoring role over there. The kids I mentor see a local minister on the surface. Little do they know that the principal at Monterey placed me on 40 years of probation following graduation? Some would say that I am wasting precious time with those kids. They would say: What is the use?

Why should any of us bother? They are heading to the penitentiary at some point. What is the use of trying? They are nothing more than juvenile delinquents. They are a burden to society and a cost burden to taxpayers. Why bother to invest a lot of time and energy in people who are destined to be institutionalized for the rest of their life? In a law enforcement setting, I occasionally hear such comments, but my childhood friend Colleen makes a strong case for putting a lot of time and energy into these kids.

Colleen is a veteran probation officer. She is quite good at what she does. Colleen is nobody’s fool. I would love to see one of her probationers try to snow her. In fact, I would love to be around when that happens! I might actually feel sorry for the troubled kid before it was all over. Little does he know that Colleen is a natural red head in addition to be a seasoned probation officer?

Everyday she is dealing with kids who have no concept of self-discipline. Many of them could not tell you the name of their biological father. Some of them are finding a sense of belonging in a gang. Drug abuse often enters the picture. These kids have been caught stealing, assaulting other people, and doing a host of other crimes that can indeed land them in the penitentiary when they are of age.

Colleen will tell you that she goes home in tears after work on some days. It is an overwhelming job. I asked her the other night if there were enough success stories to keep her going. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree in Central Park. She proceeded to share stories that would give goose bumps even to the most hardened among us. She told of a former probationer who became a medical doctor! There were other compelling stories as well. I am so grateful for Colleen’s commitment to troubled kids.

I am getting ready to head over to the Behavioral Transition Center to meet my new student. I am anxious to visit with him. Colleen will be at the front of my mind during that time. She inspires me to keep on trying, as I volunteer in that setting.Hopefully they will release me after a nice visit. You see: Colleen and I both decided we could not beat the system, so we decided to join it. It just occurred me….I feel sorry for the kids who have to deal with both of us!