Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Role Reversal

Roles are reversed this weekend. I am so accustomed to serving families in grief. It is a huge part of my life as a minister, and more importantly it truly is my calling. This weekend I am watching the good people in Ft. Collins, CO serve our extended family, as we try to come to grips with the reality of losing my 17 year old nephew. Neighbors are flooding in with enough food to feed a small army. Friends from church continue to come by the house, just to offer love and support. Our family is camped out on top of each other at two of Jan's sisters homes. I usually prefer my personal space and lots of privacy, but I am actually loving the security of such intense togetherness. I had no idea when this week started that I would be in Colorado on Saturday to preparing to attend a funeral for a family member.

What am learning this weeekend in such stressful and extraordinary circumstances?
  • You have heard it before, but I don't mind saying it again. Family is important. Don't take anyone for granted. Be grateful for every moment you have with those you love.
  • Good friends are a gift from God. Need I say anymore?
  • When people have faced a loss, don't ask them what they need. Don't offer to provide assistance. Just do it... Bring food, mow the lawn, go to the store, do the laundry. Look around and go to work.
  • If you have fences that need to be mended with people, what are waiting for? Get it done. Get rid of your foolish pride and seek reconciliation today.
  • Enjoy those you love. Value them! Take advantage of every single moment.

I am going to be ready to go back to work next week. I want to serve people in need like never before. I needed to be on the receiving end. Valuable lessons can be learned. Sometimes having a reversed role is a blessing straight from God.

Friday, May 29, 2009

There is No Place Like Home...

I am feeling overwhelmed this morning. Last night we received the news that my 17 year old nephew, Stephen Arnold, passed away very suddenly. He collapsed during a basketball game with some friends. At this point, we do not know any further details.

It is final examination time at the high school and common assessment testing at the middle school. I thought it would be impossibe for our younger boys to miss any claasses. I was wrong. School officials could not have been more supportive or helpful. My co-workers eagerly took on preaching duties with virtually no notice. When I let the police department know that I would need to be relieved on call chaplain status for a few days, their only concern was what they could do for us. Friends have called with offers of assistance in various ways. Everyone I have spoken with has been extremely supportive.

We have lived in Granbury for 5 years now. People have been welcoming from the first day we unpacked our bags, but it has never felt more like home than it has today. We are blessed with an indescribable church family and the best friends imaginable. I suspect that I will come home with a far more grateful spirit. There is no place like home.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Back Porch

What is wrong with the world today? Why are people so stressed? Why are we seeing so many emotional meltdowns around us? I have the answer. It is really quite simple. None of us are getting enough back porch time. When life is overwelming, I like to head to the back porch. I watch the squirrels in the back yard. I listen the birds. I write in my journal. I read a good book. I even write my best hand written letters, when I am sitting on the back porch.

Can you imagine how therapeutic it would be to grab a close friend, and share some space together on the back porch? There is something soothing about being outside together. Enjoying God's creation on the porch threads our hearts together. It loosens our tongues in a good way, and we can talk about all sorts of things with true candor.

My lawn chairs still have their winter covers on them, and the leaves need to be swept off the porch.
And then I will be ready to have those closest to me join me out back. I am looking forward to the summer, because I will spend at least some of it out on the back porch, with those I love the most.
Stress will be released, meltdowns will be averted, and friendships will be fortified. I am thanking God today for the back porch.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Take Me Back to the 7th Grade

It has been a long time since I was in the 7th grade. I do mean a long time. 1974 to be more precise. I was an awkward 7th grader with very little self confidence. I remember giving a speech in English class that year. I was an avid golfer, so I did a demonstration speech on the game of golf. Apparently my English teacher was not impressed with my speaking abilities, or my knowledge of golf. I received a "D" on the speech. There have been times that I have wanted to go look that teacher up and tell her that I taught freshman speech in a university on a part-time basis years later. I would show her! I decided against it, because my golf game is still at the same level it was when I was in the 7th grade. The poor grade on the speech is not a reflection on her abilities as a educator. I was just an awkward kid with very little self confidence.

I also figured out that world was not a nice place in the 7th grade. I attended a junior high school that was experiencing court ordered racial integration for the first time. It was not a pleasant experience. I was not inlined to be racist, even as a 12 year old. But I found out in the 7th grade that there are a lot of racist people in the world. I saw some cruel and awful things take place that year. That experience did little to promote self confidence, or help any of us grow beyond our pre-teen awkwardness.

Heather _________ was my heart throb in the 7th grade. I will not include her last name, because she never knew that she was the object of my adolescent romantic inclinations. It is probably best at this point to keep it that way. I just admired her from a distance. I never had the nerve to actually go talk to her I was just an awkward kid with very little self confidence.

7th grade finally came to an end in June of 1975. I was relieved. I did not leave anything behind. There were no memorable teachers that year. It was good to be relieved of the tensions that forced integration brought to that campus. Heather did not know that I existed.

8th grade was a much better year for me. 9th grade was marked with even more significant improvements. I quickly blocked everything that happened in the 7th grade out of my memory. Even Heather was quickly forgotten. Well....maybe not quickly forgotten, but she too became only a vague memory. My mind has really traveled very few times back to 1974 until yesterday...

I was packing for a last minute trip to see Randall in Abilene late yesterday afternoon, so I put Mitchell in charge of getting dinner prepared. I coached him through each step, and he eagerly embraced the responsiblity of being the lone chef of the evening. The car was packed and dinner was on the table. I praised him in front of Jan and Daniel. "You did a great job Mitchell!" He just beamed with obvious pride. You see...Mitchell is in the 7th grade.

In a split second, my mind traveled back to 1974. A sudden feeling of overwhelming awkwardness came over me. I felt what is was like to have no self confidence. I looked at Mitchell with a new level of empathy. Of course he beamed when he was praised. I thought to myself: "He is in the 7th grade stupid!" Next Tuesday will be his last day in the 7th grade. I am so glad for him! I was reminded yesterday of the importance of building him up, and instilling a sense of self worth in his heart. I wonder what has gone on at school this year that he has not shared? I wonder if his "Heather" will promote to the 8th grade with him next year? I do know that I need to dig up memories that I would prefer to leave buried if I am going to be a good father. After all, I was just an awkward kid with very little self confidence in the 7th grade...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Overtime for the Holy Spirit

Is it possible for the Holy Spirit to work overtime in a person's heart? That sounds like very strange theology. I am fearful that my theology professors are going to cringe at such a suggestion. I am sure they will get over it. They have always known I am a bit crazy. I remain convinced the Holy Spirit is working overtime in my life right now.

There are too many things taking place to chalk it off to a strange set of coincidences. I have been overwhelmed recently with the right people coming into my life at the right time. Several important conversations and interchanges with people in the past few days are evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work, in all of His mystery. I received a revelation from a close friend regarding family priorities that was very helpful. She shared a comment one of my boys made that was stinging. It was not a pleasant revelation by any means, but I needed to hear it. And then I had an intense phone conversation with a longtime dear friend. It was pretty painful too. There are things going on in that individual's life that are gut wrenching. I got off the phone shell shocked and full of pain. But then I thought about the nature of friendship. God gives us each other, so we can be supportive of one another during such times. I felt blessed to be able to share that person's journey. God was at the center of that conversation. I can't imagine facing traumatic issues in life without other believers who love me. And then I joined a long time friend at Starbucks for a coffee this afternoon. Another conversation where God was at the center. It was great. The Holy Spirit is working overtime on my heart. During each of these recent interchanges, my heart was softened and I was emboldened to press on forcefully in serving God. I am so thankful that the Holy Spirit is not only active, but sometimes He even works overtime, when He knows we really need it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

My Extended Family

I am sure everyone has memorable holidays that were spent with extended family members. Jan fondly recalls going to New Year's Eve parties at her Aunt Nora's, when she was growing up. July 4th was spent at her Aunt Julia's house, where her granddad would strategically place firecrackers that were intended to give some unsuspecting soul a surprise jolt. Christmas was more of the same. First and second cousins only lived a few miles away. They all shared the closeness of a rural life, that has vanished before our eyes in the past few years. All of that was a new experience for me. I did not grow up with extended family. Their rural closeness was as culturally foreign to me as living in Russia would be for most Americans.

Memorial Day, however, is a memorable holiday for me. I interviewed for my first ministry position, after finishing a master's degree at Abilene Christian University, in 1987 during Memorial Day weekend. One of the professors on my oral's committee suggested that I contact the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ in Wichita Falls. They were searching for a campus minister with a graduate level degreee, because a part-time teaching position at Midwestern State University was a part of the job description. I was thrilled to say the least.

The search committee scheduduled us to come interview on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. We drove up there in a old, beat up 1977 AMC Hornet. What a car! Our first impression was very negative.... The auditorium at the church had faded 1960's "hospital green" paint. It was hideous.
It appeared so cold and uninviting. We looked at each other and could read reach other's minds. What have we gotten ourselves into? What a cold church!

I am so glad first impressions are often wrong. A tall man with bright red hair was the first person to greet us. Wayne Doran it turned out was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base there in Wichita Falls. We soon discovered that Wayne was a Christian gentleman of the finest caliber. There were a few characters on the search committee. That was a glimpse of things to come... There are a lot of colorful characters at the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ. I preached my little 25 year old heart out that night during the evening service. Mack Lyon, of the Search for the Lord's Way television program, just happened to be present in the service that night. He told Tom Taylor, one of the elders, to hire that boy! I have always been indebted to Mack. He helped me get my first real job.

We moved to Wichita Falls on July 15th, 1987. We were young, broke, inexperienced, and full of ideas. The church was reeling from the oil bust and other internal issues. Larry Suttle had just vacated the position I assumed at the university to assume preaching duties. It was just the two of us on the ministry staff. I got to do it all. I served as default youth minister for the first first two years. I assisted Larry with hospital visist and funerals. Larry took the time and effort to be the finest mentor and encourager that any young minister could ever dream of having. The friendship, shared humor, and teamwork was a blessing I will never forget.

The elders were supportive and kind. The members welcomed us warmly from the first day we arrived. They celebrated with us when Randall was born in 1989. And they celebrated again when Daniel was born in 1992. Several of the Tenth and Broad family drove out to Lubbock to grieve with us in 1991, when my mother passed away. I don't recall how many fifty dollar bills Don Elwell slipped me, when I was making two trips a week to Lubbock to care for my mother. He wanted to make sure that I did not run short on gas money. The weather was awful that day, but it did not stop them. They held our hands and wept with us in 1995, when Jan experienced a miscarraige.
And then later in 1995, they sent us on our way. The time came for me to leave the security of the nest at Tenth and Broad, so I could pursue a pulpit preaching role. I spent eight great years with some of the finest people I have ever known.

We love to go back to see our friends at Tenth and Broad. Friends is not the right word... I love to go back to Tenth and Broad to see members of my extended family. I too have spent some memorable holidays with members of an extended family. I did not grow up with extended family, but I grew into it as an adult. In fact, I think it is about time to plan a trip to Wichita Falls.

I Have Camp on the Mind...

Camp is on my mind right now. In less than a month, I will assume my annual responsibilty of being the Head Men's Counselor at Camp Zenith hosted on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. Our youth minister, Chris Robey, asked me a couple of years ago if I would be interested in filling that role. I actually thought it was time for me to retire from church camps, and draw my camp pension. In a moment of weakness in the spring of 2007, I told Chris I would be glad to fulfill that role. What was I thinking? Did he slip something in my coffee that morning?

I supervise the counselors who have charge of over 300 boys in three dormitories. It is actually a great job. I have not been cool for years, but the kids know I love them, and that is all that is important. They will think of few stunts that I have not already pulled or seen done. Zenith is a terrific camp. Youth ministers from several states teach a variety of classes. The worship experiences each evening are amazing. The potential for the campers to form meaningful relationships among themselves is endless. It is a highlight of the summer for most of the campers.

I still get a little nostalgic when I pull up at OC's campus to get in camp mode. I directed a session at Quartz Mountain Christian Camp at Lone Wolf, OK for 17 years. QMCC, as we called it, was a typical rural church camp. When I first started going in 1988, there were old A-frame cabins with large shutters to control the air flow. Each cabin had submarine style bunk beds lined down both walls of the A-Frame. A long picnic table was situated in the middle of reach cabin. I still remember sitting with groups of high school boys having discussions about a whole range of topics well into the night at those cabin tables. If my memory serves me correctly, those cabins were hot during the day and cold at night in the early weeks of summer.

At QMCC, there were early morning hikes up "Devo Mountain" and singing on the basketball pavilion late at night. And there were late night baptisms at the pool. The week was not complete without a talent show and a skit night. I was "Mrs. Doubtfire" one year at the talent show. I was a sight to behold in my pink dress I purchased at the second hand store in Altus.
We had a water balloon launcher mounted on the back of camp manager Paul Brown's truck. The girls could not walk to the bathhouse from their cabins without being bombarded with water balloons sailing through the early morning air. The week was filled with practical jokes, late night serenading at the girl's cabins, campfires, and a lot of fun...

I look back at the campers and counselors I had at QMCC with very fond memories. One of my former campers is the worship minister for the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas. Another former camper is a missionary in Africa. Still another camper from my session is the youth minister for the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ in Wichita Falls. of my former campers from QMCC is the youth minister at the Granbury Church of Christ. I could not ask for a better person to full that needed role in the lives of my boys. I gladly assist Chris at Zenith every year. My camp pension can be put on hold for a few years. I have some inkling of the good that camp can do in the lives of teens. Some of them even become great youth ministers.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Accused...

Ravaged is a good word....Yes I do believe that is the most descriptive word I can find to describe my recent experience. I rode out with one of the supervisors with the Granbury Police Department last night. As a law enforcement chaplain, my most effective ministry takes place riding in the front seat of a patrol car. In fact I have a lecture that I deliver for police training events entitled: "Everything I ever needed to know I learned in the front seat of a patrol car." There was a time in my younger days when I feared that everything I ever needed to know was going to be learned in the back seat of a patrol car. Thankfully that did not happen.

Last night there was a DWI Task Force in place attempting to enforce laws that pertain to drinking and driving. I don't like waking people up in the middle of the night to tell them that there loved one has been killed in an alchohol related crash. I was excited to see the task force in place. All through the evening, city police officers, sheriff's deputies, and DPS troopers arrested individuals accused of driving while intoxicated.

As the jail began to fill up last night, the sadness of it all was striking. I saw several people's lives ravaged by years of alcohol abuse. It is equally heart breaking to see a young person's life changed forever, because of one night of partying. Confidentiality impedes me from sharing details, but I can say that that the offenders ran the scope in terms of age, gender, race, and socioeconomic background. Last night, however, there was commonality among them. Each of their lives are unraveling due to alcohol abuse.

I am not sure if it would do any good or not, but I wanted to take each of those individuals back in time with me. We would travel back to Wichita Falls, TX. The year is 1992. When we arrive, each of last night's offenders will be sitting at a metal kitchnette table with me in a small, but tidy frame house. They will observe me holding a ladies hand and attempting to comfort her.
One of the offenders will no doubt blurt out: "What is wrong with HER?" I will turn from the woman overcome with emotion, and tell them: "I just told her that her son was killed in a car crash less than a 1/2 away from home. And I had to tell her that he was very intoxicated." I might even tell them that she and the man's grandmother were watching footage of the crash on the 10:00 news just as we we approached their home, and knocked on their door... How would last night's offenders react to such an experience in time travel? I am not sure.
I am quite certain that the lives of the affected family members have never been the same since that awful night. Alcohol abuse ravaged that family.

As the foreboding doors of the jail closed slammed behind the accused last night, I realized quickly that time travel was not going to become a reality. The DWI Task Force will hit the streets again tonight, but I won't be joining them. I think I will go to bed early, and be prepared to deliver a message of hope tomorrow morning. As I look across the eclectic audience tomorrow morning, I suspect I will see more than a few folks whose families have been ravaged by alcohol abuse. I will feel real empathy for each of them. My own family of origin was ravaged by the destructive seduction of alcohol. Yes...ravaged is the right word. I know that to be true from experience.

Meanwhile the accused will sit in jail and wait to see the judge. If the truth be known, we could all be referred to as the accused. We will all be judged someday. But thanks be to God for his mercy and grace extended to each of us in Christ Jesus. Time travel is pretty unrealistic, but hope for a new life in Christ is not. A life surrendered to Jesus overpowers even the ravages of alcohol.

Friday, May 22, 2009

What will it Take to Get Our Attention?

I was really looking forward to following Phil Mickelson in the gallery at the Colonial professional golf tournament next week in Ft. Worth. He is the defending champion of that PGA event, and the #2 golfer in the world. Phil won’t be there this year. And he is not playing in the Byron Nelson this weekend either. Phil cancelled all of his professional golf commitments until further notice, because of his wife, Amy's health concerns. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I admire his obvious dedication to his wife. I especially appreciate the immediacy of his decision. There was no vacillating. His professional life as a golfer took an immediate backseat to the needs of his wife. Breast cancer has Phil’s attention. The Mickelslons are no strangers to tragedy. In 2003, Amy nearly died in childbirth. Their newborn son went 7 minutes without breathing. Phil's professional life suffered then too, but he devoted his time where it was most needed.

What will it take to get our attention? Tragedy has uncanny way of doing it every time. As a young married man, I got out of the habit of calling my mother on a regular basis. I am not a mama’s boy. I had the needs of my own family to consider. And then I was in an accident in 1988 that resulted in a 4 day hospital stay. After that unexpected little twist, I started calling my mother every week. She died three years later. I am glad that the accident got my attention. As a very young and inexperienced law enforcement chaplain, I was exposed to raw tragedy every on a regular basis. I learned to celebrate life by rocking my babies and hugging those I love.

This week I received an update on my long time friend and mentor, Willard Tate. Willard is also facing a very uphill battle with cancer. He preached for the Hamby Church of Christ, when I was an intern for that little country congregation outside of Abilene from 1985-1987. I was a young graduate student at Abilene Christian University at the time. Willard was a great encourager and role model. He has served as a reference on my resume for nearly 22 years now. I think about Willard every day. In fact, I am thinking about him in a special way today. The church I serve has employed two youth ministry interns for the summer. I am not the youth minister, but I will still interact with them every day. I want to have the same kind of impact in their lives that Willard did in mine. That is a tall order! I think it is a feat that can be accomplished, because cancer has my attention too.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Save Your Tears...

There was record heat in Wichita Falls, TX on July 16th, 1989. I am really not that interested in weather trends, but I distinctly remember bringing my baby boy home that day. It was so hot that I ran the air conditioner in the car for a few minutes before I would let him and Jan leave the comfort of the hospital. When we got home, I checked on him, as he slept in his baby bed, every ten minutes. I was afraid he might stop breathing. Or maybe I was just in awe of my perfect little boy? We did the childbirth classes prior to the big event that took place on July 15th that year. I was a little amused by that whole experience, and even mocked the teacher on the way home after each session. Jan was not amused with the class, or with me at that late stage in her pregnancy…When they rolled her in the deliver room, I was not laughing. I had no idea how the experience of witnessing childbirth was going to affect me. There was an immediate rush that went through my head as they cleaned my newborn up and weighed him. I was overwhelmed with the very existence and presence of a divine creator. How can anyone witness childbirth, and not feel stunned by the power and infinite wisdom of a great God? The rush left quickly and then I felt overwhelmed with emotion. Tears started to form in my eyes. I think I must have had a glazed and look across my face. The nurse said: “Is dad ok?” “Dad is fine.” I told her. I suppose she was the first person to refer to me as “dad.” I quickly regained my masculine composure and readied myself to care for a newborn and his exhausted mother. I saved the tears for later.
Two days later I sent that same boy off to college. That is not really an accurate timeline, but it feels that way. Everyone told us that we would be overcome with emotion when we dropped him off at the dorm at Abilene Christian University. We actually fared pretty well on that hot August day in 2007. It was a joyous occasion. He was ready for his independence, and we were too. I recall coming home late one Saturday night about two weeks after school started that fall. It occurred to me as I pulled in a driveway that was missing his car that he was not away at church camp for a week or two. I felt the emotion coming on again, but I immediately walked in the house to see about two other male, and equally special, additions to our home. I saved my tears for later.
A couple of weeks ago I moved my baby boy home from the college to work in Granbury for the summer. It took him about two hours to figure out that he did not want to be in Granbury for three months living with mom and dad again. It took me about 24 hours to reach the same conclusion. Even Jan calm and patient Jan reached the same decision in about 72 hours. So…I gave him a month’s rent and some grocery money, and sent him to Abilene to find a job for the summer and attend summer school. He got a lecture about managing money and being independent. He took it all really well. Last Friday he packed his belongings in the backseat of his car, hugged his mother and me too. He looked me in the eye and said: “Thank you.” I told him: “You are welcome.” And then he repeated himself. He said more firmly: “Thank you.” I heard the car pull out of the driveway, and once again a familiar rush came over me. I had felt that rush before almost 20 years ago. I intuitively knew that he will likely never live under my roof again. I could not control my emotion this time. It came in a flood at that moment, and has continued to return periodically since he left last Friday. I am glad now that I saved my tears for later. I have needed all of them this week. It realy was a hot day on July 16th, 1989.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I am Grinding My Life Away

My dentist tells me I am a grinder.... This was a rather stunning revelation initially. What does grinding entail? Is it contagious? What are the implications of being a grinder? Will I get to see my family again? She gently explained that it means I grind my teeth at night while I am experiencing what I always thought were pleasant dreams. My inlination toward such unitentional dental destruction has of course led to me spending some time in a chair that has a bright light attached to it.

No one looks forward to going to the dentist. Some actually have a fear of needles, drills, and probes. My dentists and their capable assistants, however, make you feel at ease. I always feel a little foolish when I need work done in their office. I am an educated professional. You would think that my teeth would be in tip top shape. That is not the case, because I am a grinder... They have never made me feel inferior. One of their assistants even empathized to the point that she said: "I had a root canal myself done last week."

I actually go the dentist's office pretty willingly. I know that I will be probed, shot, drilled, and fitted for all kinds of helpful equipment for my mouth. Sometimes it hurts a little bit, but the compassion of the dentists and their employees make it tolerable.

I left the dentist's office today thinking less about root canals and more about hearts... I suppose I really should explain. I wondered to myself if people feel some of the same pressures at church that they do at the dentist's office? People come to church because their hearts are like my teeth... a little imperfect. Somtimes it is necessary for a hard heart to be probed and drilled.
That process can be painful....

Do we empathize with people when their hearts are hurting? Do we walk with them as they experience the spiritual equivalent of a root canal? I have never felt embarrassed or belittled in the dentist's chair. I am convinced that it is not necessary for people to feel such emotions in the pew either for meaningful heart change to take place.

I will back in the dental chair soon, because I am a grinder....I even feel comfortable asking other patients in the waiting area if they are grinders as well? We might as well be honest with each other!

But more importantly I will strive to model the same qualities of compassion, professionalism, and kindness that I see in my dental team to every person who walks through the door of the church building this week , because I suspect some of them are grinding their lives away in an abyss of hard living. Hand me a probe and prep the drill. It is time to go to work on some hearts...

Friday, May 15, 2009

Small Talk Anyone?

I am discovering that I have very little tolerance for small talk… At the present time, I have a close friend who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. I have several members of my own family dealing with significant life transitions. I often think of my friends, Benny and Niki Nowell, as they minister to homeless children and teenagers in Colorado. They were thrilled this week to receive a contribution from a church that will fund gift cards to purchase meals and other basic necessities for kids living on the streets, and dealing with addictions of all kinds. I witnessed the mother of an Abilene police officer killed in the line of duty in 2007 tearfully receive a plaque in her son’s memory at an annual law enforcement memorial service recently. Last week I had lunch with a gentleman who lost his beautiful 16 year old daughter in a car crash a little over a year ago. So…I have little tolerance for small talk.

Conversations that tear down instead of building up drain me of the energy I desperately need to serve others. Petty and unhelpful discussions seem empty. Foolish talk and coarse joking really are sinful. People who have something to say recharge my batteries. Two weeks ago after the second morning service a gentleman approached me and said: "You did a good job and I want you to know that I love you." I appreciated the affirmation regarding the sermon, but an open expression of genuine love from a man in his 60’s was more meaningful than I can say.

There are individuals around us dealing with major life issues. There are no doubt people close to us feeling a sense of despair and hopelessness. I pray that what I say will build others up, according to their needs. (Ephesians 4:29). I so desire to fill people’s emotional tanks, and not be a drain. In fact, I think I will tell someone close me how much I love them today, because am discovering that I have very little tolerance for small talk…

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It is Mother's Day and Harry Chapin is on My Mind...

The song Cat’s in the Cradle flashed through my mind yesterday when my son rolled in from college to spend what will probably be his last summer at home with mom and dad. His sophomore year is now history. The rest of his time as an undergraduate student will no doubt fly by even faster. His brothers have grown taller and look more like men since he left for school last August.

It is Mother’s Day today, and Harry Chapin is on my mind again. At the Granbury Church of Christ, Mother’s Day is marked by a baby blessing. We pray for our all of our young families with newborns. Today there were 11 children who have been in the last year. We honored each of these families in the service and presented them with a personalized quilt to mark this important milestone. It was a very moving experience, but Harry Chapin was never far away in my thoughts…

Chapin and his wife Sandy composed the epic song, Cat’s in the Cradle, which was released in 1974. Many of our young parents at church this morning were born sometime after 1974, so maybe it is good idea to share the lyrics…Its message is poignant.

The Cat’s In the Cradle
Harry Chapin
A child arrived just the other day,He came to the world in the usual way.But there were planes to catch, and bills to pay.He learned to walk while I was away. And he was talking 'fore I knew it, and as he grew,He'd say, "I'm gonna be like you, dad.You know I'm gonna be like you."
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,Little boy blue and the man in the moon."When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,But we'll get together then.You know we'll have a good time then."
My son turned ten just the other day.He said, "Thanks for the ball, dad, come on let's play.Can you teach me to throw?" I said, "Not today,I got a lot to do." He said, "That's ok."And he walked away, but his smile never dimmed,Said, "I'm gonna be like him, yeah.You know I'm gonna be like him."
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,Little boy blue and the man in the moon. "When you coming home, dad?" "I don't know when,But we'll get together then.You know we'll have a good time then."
Well, he came from college just the other day,So much like a man I just had to say,"Son, I'm proud of you. Can you sit for a while?"He shook his head, and he said with a smile,"What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys.See you later. Can I have them please?"
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,Little boy blue and the man in the moon."When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,But we'll get together then, dad.You know we'll have a good time then."
I've long since retired and my son's moved away.I called him up just the other day.I said, "I'd like to see you if you don't mind."He said, "I'd love to, dad, if I could find the time.You see, my new job's a hassle, and the kid's got the flu,But it's sure nice talking to you, dad.It's been sure nice talking to you."And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,He'd grown up just like me.My boy was just like me.
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon,Little boy blue and the man in the moon."When you coming home, son?" "I don't know when,But we'll get together then, dad.You know we'll have a good time then."

During the course of the service today my eyes kept flashing back between the families with new babies that we were honoring, and three boys sitting on the back row who share my last name! Actually they are not boys anymore. They are all young men, and I had to gather my composure, because…. A child arrived just the other day. He came to the world in the usual way.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I Still Miss My Mother...

My boys will soon receive the annual Mother’s Day Lecture. It is a lesson that is never forgone around the Knox household. It generally includes the same key points: wear nice clothes to church, sit with your mother in the worship assembly, be home for lunch, no crude discussion at the table, and above all….be on your best behavior for the day. They always take it well, and generally go above the call of duty to honor their mother.

This year the boys will join me in putting on a roast and all of the trimmings for the annual Mother’s Day meal. Jan will be banished from the kitchen, and we will even do the clean up job. After the counter is finally wiped down, the boys will go outside to play basketball, and I will sit down for just a few moments of quiet reflection regarding my own mother.

My mother was a very traditional Southern lady. I am convinced she wrote the book on proper etiquette. She was very aware of the social graces, and was quick to point it out when others violated such rules. I nearly cried when I saw Driving Miss Daisy. My mother tracked one generation behind the memorable character that Jessica Tandy so effectively portrayed, but there are some striking similarities in personality and attitude.

My mother’s name was Louise. I found out as an adult that her real name was Emma. She thought the name Emma was hopelessly out of date, so she went by her middle name. She would be shocked today to see so many 4 year old and 10 year old Emma’s running around everywhere. My friends fondly referred to her as “Weezy.”

I remember growing up with strict rules that accompanied the call to Southern etiquette. When I was in trouble at school, she always sided with the teacher, much my chagrin. She fried homemade chicken strips for my friends and me long before Chicken Express hit the scene. I have tried to replicate her recipe on an occasion or two, but have long since given up. She opened our home to all of my friends and treated them like they were her own. As recently as this year, several of my friends from high school have commented on her obvious love for them.

I watched my mother grieve when my father died in 1978. She was a widow at age 50. She was never the same after that pivotal event in the life of our family.
She continued to play tennis several times a week, even after she turned 60. She adored her grandchildren. But life was never the same for her… She was a very traditional lady, whose world revolved around her husband and children.

My mother was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer when I was 29 years old. Our oldest son was two at the time. Jan found out that she was expecting our second son weeks before she died. She lived for 90 days after the diagnosis. One day before her 64th birthday, she passed from this life with all of us at her side. That was October 30th, 1991.

My mother has been gone for almost 18 years now, but I will still sit in quiet reflection on this Mother’s Day, because I still miss my mother.

Monday, May 4, 2009


I am feeling rather nostalgic today. General Motors announced last week a plan to discontinue the Pontiac line. I did not think much about it at first, and then I read an article about America's romance with the Pontiac muscle cars. I guess I am no exception. I too have always been enamored by the classic GTO's, Firebirds, and Trans-Ams. My second grade teacher had an awesome 1968 Pontiac Firebird. It placed her a notch higher in the eyes of the boys on the playground. Masculinity itself was defined in the 1970 GTO! Such classic muscle cars will be viewed like a Model T in the eyes of my grandchildren someday. What a shame!

Life moves on and change is inevitable. I don't like all of the changes that I see everyday. I don't like the disappearance of my favorite muscle cars. I sometimes wish we could slow the pace of life back to the time when the GTO was first introduced in the 1960's. It was a simpler time in 1970 when I watched the Brady Bunch on Friday nights at 7:00 p.m. But even Pontiacs disappear...

Nostalgia is fun, but God calls us to live in the present. That means accepting the disappearance of the symbols of my youth, like the Pontiac muscle car. That means accepting the reality that my boys think a Mini Cooper is a cool car. But more importantly it means that I choose to make the most of everyday. God calls us to live in the present, one day at a time. So...just for today I will accept the extinction the Pontiac and everything it represented.