Monday, June 29, 2009

The Sacred Places

I really do believe there is such a thing as a sacred place. I am not really using the term in a profoundly theological manner. I would say that there is such a thing as a special place, but sacred is more descriptive. The campus of Lubbock Christian University is a sacred place for me. I can still go and stand in the very place where I first got to know Jan during the spring semester of 1983. We sat next to each other in a sociology course, and ended up having lengthy talks after class in the mall area of the campus. The trees in that mall are much bigger today. The campus today just looks different, but our little spot remains sacred. Romance bloomed in there. It is just sacred.

Our first home in Lubbock was a dump. We lived in a duplex in what was commonly referred to at that time as “The Sunset Ghetto.” The affectionate term for our neighborhood was given by Sunset School of Preaching students who lived in the inexpensive rental properties in that area. Our little home was cold in the winter and hot in the summer. The carpet no doubt was installed in 1957. It was filled with an odd assortment of vintage early marriage furniture. I suspect those pieces are now for sale in an antique shop for a handsome price today. But it was our first home, and it remains a sacred place.

The little church in Hamby right outside of Abilene is sometimes referred to as the church of the “Holy Belt Buckle.” Students coming from a rural background in the 1980’s were drawn to the country church at Hamby. Willard Tate is an outstanding preacher. He drew crowds of students every Sunday out at Hamby. I was fortunate enough to be a ministry intern for that church from 1985-1987. To say that they were good to us during that time period is the understatement of the year. The church building is simple. The auditorium is very plain. There is a medal building attached to the auditorium that houses an equally simple fellowship area used to feed hungry college kids. I preached my very first sermons in the pulpit at that church. The people there were encouraging and kinder than I deserved. The little church at Hamby will always be a sacred place.

I heard not long ago that the hospital where Randall and Daniel were both born may soon be closed. I am really not sure why they did not consult with me first, but I suppose they are going to do what they want. How can such a place not be sacred? The very building where two of my children entered the world… It is the place where I held them for the first time. And then Mitchell entered this world in 1996 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Lubbock. It too is a sacred place in more ways than one… I had a very strange feeling when I walked out of that hospital with him in my arms, because in 1978 I left that hospital moments after my father passed away in the very same place. It was a healing experience that is hard to describe, and it made that place sacred in a unique way.

I think it is good to travel back to the sacred places. They are a tangible reminder of God’s presence and work in our lives. They remind us that God puts people in our lives at the right time and in the right place. When we visit the sacred places of our lives, we can’t help but give thanks. Take a journey back to one of your sacred places soon, and give God the glory for the things He has done in your life.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Choose Your Words Carefully!

Choose your words carefully. You never know what kind of impact that you are about to make in someone’s life. As a minister, I have heard everything. As a police chaplain, I have been called everything. That is a bit of a stretch, but it is not too far off from the truth.

People’s verbal reactions to sermons can sometimes be amusing, and other times not so entertaining… A number of years ago a colleague received the following reaction in the church foyer after a sermon:
The lady walked out and said: I have heard good preaching and I have heard bad preaching, but you are the worst. All of us knew that she was unstable, but such a comment still bites.

This morning I received some verbal feedback that I will treasure always. One of the ladies at church told me that she was as proud of me, as if I were her own son. That is a very kind thing to say for beginners! I am not sure that she realized the significance of what said. My mother has been deceased for almost 18 years. Even 47 year old men still yearn to hear praise from their mother. The word of encouragement I heard this morning cut pretty deep. It was meaningful and touching.

Unfortunately we frequently don’t know much about each other’s stories. Consequently we end up saying things that are insensitive or foolish unknowingly. I studied under a history professor years ago as an undergraduate student who stated in the classroom how he was not at all attracted to Asian women. He was saying this in the context of being a part of the military forces in Japan in the aftermath of World War II. It was a very inappropriate thing to say. Little did he know…there was an older student in the class who was married to a woman of Korean descent. The man was highly offended by the professor’s unnecessary comments. The professor knew so little about the man’s story.

Conversely we can also say things that cut to the heart in a positive manner without ever knowing it. I am proud of you as if you were my son…. She will never know what that meant to me, and that is fine.

I would challenge us this week to communicate warmth and encouragement in ways we have never thought of before. Hearts could be touched in ways that we have never imagined. If we do nothing else this week, let’s choose our words very carefully!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

That Poster is Vulga!

Two pop culture icons of my formative years died on the same day this week: Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. Farrah’s famous swimsuit poster sold millions of copies, when it hit peak popularity in 1976. I was a freshman in high school that year. I always wanted one of those posters in my room, but my traditional Southern mother would say in her typical drawl: That poster is just “vulga.” (That is Southern for “vulgar’” by the way.) And then there is Michael Jackson. I am old enough to remember 12 year old Michael singing with the Jackson 5 in the early ‘70’s. My reaction to both of these deaths is likely different than most people.

My first reaction was a stark reminder of my own mortality. Michael Jackson is only three years older than me. Farrah was several years older, but she was a member of the infamous Baby Boomer Generation, that I too am a part of. It seems strange that both of them are gone.

My second reaction is that both of them ultimately led very sad lives. I would even go as far to say that both of them led tragic lives. News reports today regarding Michael Jackson were very revealing. One article stated the following in regard to Jackson: He felt very alone. Michael had no close friends around him and he always harbored miserable feelings with his father. He was always sad that his family was not with him.

Michael Jackson is commonly referred to as the “King of Pop.” The king led a miserable and unhappy existence. Addiction was the controlling factor in his life. Popularity cannot provide peace. Apparently Michael never found peace.

In reading today’s news report regarding his death, I was reminded of the importance of being a good father. I pray and hope that there are never miserable feelings between my sons and me. We have our moments today, but in the final analysis my prayer is that peace and mutual love will reign. I really don’t desire fame and fortune for my boys, but I do desire that they have healthy relationships with mom and dad, with each other, and with their friends.

Finally, I was reminded of how fortunate I am to have a circle of trustworthy family and friends. The same news source today stated this in regard to Michael:
Jackson tried to replace his missing family with hangers-on… He surrounded himself with people who used him, and he was terribly paranoid about people using him, so he fired staff constantly. It was just nonstop people in and out of his life. I am so thankful today. In fact, I feel very humble. I have a great family. I have the most loyal friends imaginable. That is not something to be taken for granted.

Perhaps my mother was right. Farrah’s swimsuit poster probably did border on being “vulga.” Maybe she was really trying to get me to focus my attention on people who could be real role models. When you are 15 years old, the young woman in a swimsuit poster sure looks more appealing… 33 years later I am reminded that we are all mortal. Even Farrah Fawcett is mortal. We will all have to answer to God for our lives. I hope these deaths this week will inspire me to reach out to those around me who are experiencing profound loneliness. May God touch the hearts of those who have no peace.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Boxer Short Defiled Fountain

Why do I agree every year to be the Head Men’s Counselor for Camp Zenith? Why would any person in their right mind want to supervise over 250 high school age boys, and 22 college age counselors? I know one thing for certain. Sanity has nothing to do with it.

Around 2:00 this morning I received my annual call. The annual call is generally worded something like this: “You have ____ number of campers out of their dorm rooms.” "They are ________ . " The last part of the sentence has a little variation. "They are running toward the girls’ dorm." “They are streaking through the boys’ dorm area.” Last night’s call was: “They are swimming in the fountain in their boxer shorts.” What a pleasant thought…. Some poor university donor no doubt contributed a lot of money to build a large decorative fountain in front of the campus. The money was probably given in the name of a faithful saint from the past. These boys had the nerve to defile this adornment to the campus by swimming in the fountain in their boxers. How nice…

The youthful offenders were racing back to the dorm when I intercepted them. I called for them to stop, but my commands went unheeded. I could not believe that authortity was being defied. The chase was on. They were shocked. How could that old man keep up with them? I barreled down on them up the stairs, and we nearly collided in front of their dorm room. After a brief, but fruitful investigation, I determined that there were additional offenders at large. We finally found them about 3:30 this morning hiding out in another camper’s dorm room.

This afternoon I served as prosecutor, judge, and prison guard. I had my 6 first time offenders pick up trash in the dorm rooms as punishment. We all relived last night’s activities. Laughter replaced the more serious tone from the wee hours of the morning. They asked me: “Did you ever do this kind of stuff at camp?” “Of course not,” I quickly said. They were not buying it. I told them about toga football games in hotel parking lots at school functions. At that point, it was obvious that we were bonding. I also told them that I did not grow up going to church camp. “I did not grow up in church,” I told them. They actually looked thoughtful for a moment...

I think I realized at that point why I come back every year. I want those kids to have the opportunity that I missed. Church camp is a place to build memories that will last a lifetime. And, if the truth be known, I have yet grow up. No wonder I bonded so quickly with the youthful offenders. We are all in good company with one another. I think I will commit to coming back next year, but sanity has nothing to do with such a decision!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

I am Still Waiting...

In July of 1989, I started anticipating the arrival of my oldest son. Jan was due on July 6th, so I scheduled my vacation to begin that very day. I was under the assumption that babies arrive right on schedule. Why would my male brain think anything differently? The 6th of July came and went. There was no hint of labor pains. There was a dad to be in the house who was on the verge of becoming a pain, but that was all. So…I cleaned windows. I mowed the yard three times a day. I disinfected the baby’s room hourly. I made Jan hearty protein milkshakes to ensure good health for the baby and her. Labor was looking awful good to her by the time he finally decided to enter this world on July 15th.

The waiting does not cease once they are born. I remember our lives revolving around nap times. “Let’s go to the mall.” The standard response? “We can go when he wakes up from his nap.” It always seemed like an eternity until he stopped taking naps. At that point, you can’t wait for bedtime at night, because a nap less 3 or 4 year old gets really grouchy before bedtime.

A couple of weeks passed in our lives, and he was driving a car. 16 years went by in a flash. Once again the waiting does not cease. I remember waiting up until I heard the music in my ears that I longed for…the sound of a car pulling in the driveway. I whispered many prayers of thanks for safety.

And then it is time for college. The waiting game begins anew. I wait for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I wait for some random excuse to encourage him to come home. I generally go the meat market and buy a really nice steak to cook outside. It is a special occasion. An honored guest will be at the dinner table.
We have all waited patiently for such a time and such a meal.

This week at camp a counselor became very ill, and was forced to go home.
I contacted Randall. Could he flight out to Oklahoma City the next morning, and fill that slot? He agreed to do just that. I got up the next morning and drove to the airport. I could not hide my excitement. You would have thought I was going to meet a dignitary traveling in from a foreign country. As I approached Will Rogers International Airport, it occurred to me that I was nearly as excited as I was the day he came into this world. I guess dads are just funny creatures.

I often say to young fathers that every stage of parenting a child is a great joy.
The infant and toddler stages are great. The pre-school years are too. The years in the lower grades are fun, and even middle school has its positive moments.
I would issue a word of warning: Get ready to do a lot of waiting, because that never stops.

I am still waiting after all of these years. I stood near baggage claim Monday morning waiting patiently for the arrival of my firstborn, and I realized that life does not get better.

Lessons Learned from a Parking Meter

My friend and colleague in ministry, Trey Morgan, wrote this on his Facebook status earlier today regarding his son, who is doing urban mission work in Florida:
Taylor got a parking ticket yesterday in Miami. He said, "I didn't even know what that parking meter was." Gotta to love a small town kid.

I am with Trey. The relative innocence of small town kids is refreshing. I see it in our youth group in Granbury. The teens who attend Tolar, a 1A rural school, look at the kids going to school in Granbury like they are from outer space at times. The Granbury kids are exposed to a lot more much faster. They are all living in the same county, but they are functioning in two distinct cultures as students.

I would like to say that I grew up in the good old days where innocence reigned, but that is not true. I grew up way too fast, and saw things long before I turned 18 that no teen should see. In theory that makes me a better minister, but it is just that, a theory. In hindsight, I yearn for a greater degree of innocence.

Trey’s story about his son reminded me of an often overlooked Scripture in Romans. It says:

19Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.
Romans 16:19

That is a very interesting text. It dispels the idea that we need to have first hand experience in the sphere of spiritual darkness to be an effective witness for Christ. It really is ok to be naïve. Lack of exposure to the realities of human failing is not a bad thing. I think this is especially true for kids.

In law enforcement chaplaincy in particular, I see abused children, and kids exposed to mom and dad’s drug habits. I have seen 5 year olds who were conscripted into shoplifting with mom. I so wish that those precious children could be innocent about what is evil.

Perhaps this passage in Romans could serve as a springboard for effective parenting. Our desire should be to raise children who are wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil. I wonder where television fits in with that goal? What about the impact of the internet in the lives of our children and teens?

It is really is ok that Taylor did recognize the parking meter. I suspect he will be exposed to several things in Miami that he has never seen before. And that is ok too… Trey’s desire for him is that he be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil. In fact, that is a worthwhile goal for kids in urban areas as well as those from America’s small towns. Maybe Taylor can share these thoughts with the muncipal judge in Florida, and find mercy?

Camp Commentary: The Tuesday Late Edition

I like to make up stories about people. I observe random people at the airport while I am waiting for my flight at the gate, and create stories. The man sitting across me in a dark suit talking on his blackberry is a mafia Don strategizing about impending criminal activity in Chicago. The well dressed lady in the grey suit and black high heels is a top advisor to the new CEO of General Motors. No doubt she is typing a memo on her laptop that will chart the future of the auto giant. It is fun to make up stories. Occasionally my overactive imagination can be put to good use.

I saw one of our campers in worship tonight sitting alone. That is generally a red flag. And then I noticed something even more significant. She was crying.
She was trying really hard to hide it, but the tears would not stop. My fatherly instincts kicked in as fast as a fully automatic weapon. What is wrong? I thought to myself. What do I need to do? Should I go find her a Kleenex? Should I go track down the boy who broke her heart and do him bodily harm? The minute part of my brain that triggers rational thoughts kicked in for some reason, and I reached a quick conclusion. I should do nothing… I need to do let her work through her tender emotions, and not interrupt the process.

My fatherly instincts would not go away, so I distracted myself by making up a story about her. She has a troubled home life. Her father left the home when she was 10 years old. More recently she had a boyfriend abandon her for someone else. (Visions of bodily harm re-enter my thoughts.) She has made some really poor choices during this most recent school year. Visions of alcohol driven parties ran through my mind. And now it is all crashing in around her.

Camp is the first opportunity she has had to really evaluate where she is in life. God’s presence is very real to her this week. The classes have been convicting and the worship time moving. By the time Tuesday evening rolls around, she cannot hold in the emotions any longer. She feels compelled to sit alone and try to begin the process of unraveling the tangled web of her young life.

Most of my stories about the people I observe are strictly for personal entertainment. They are of course 100% fiction. I really think the narrative I created about the young lady sitting in front of me in worship may have more than a grain of truth to it. Her heart is broken. I think that is a fact indeed.

Thankfully she is in a safe place. Camp is a safe place to rediscover God’s powerful presence. Camp can be the catalyst for a change in life direction.
Worship with 500 other teens is powerful no matter where you are sitting, or who you are sitting with at the time. There is nothing fictional about any of those things.

I don’t know that girl’s name, but tonight, as my head hits the pillow, Psalm 51: 10 will be on my mind.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Camp Commentary: Monday Afternoon Edition

It is camp time. We take our children to Walmart a few days before departure. If we have boys, we purchase Axe body wash, and urge them to use it more than once during their 6 day stint away from home. There is a boy raised in my home who came home from camp when he was 9 years old beaming with pride. He had gone the entire week without a shower. So…purchase the body wash and give detailed instructions. Hope for the best… Showering at least once during the course of the week is not the only thing parents wonder about when their child leaves for camp.

Will they make friends? Will they have an attentive counselor? Will they eat right? Will they take their vitamins? Will they miss mom and dad? In the case of high school boys, that answer is generally a resounding, “no.” In some cases, parents hope that their little angel is not a discipline problem. In general, parents wonder how there kids will fare out of their normal environment and established routine.

Today at lunch I ran into Tyler. He is a tall and handsome young man. Actually Tyler sought me out at lunch. (I am impressed with any teenager who will initiate talking to an old man.) He told me: “My dad told me to find you at camp.” My immediate response to Tyler was: “You do realize that you have the finest parents on the face of the earth?” He did not flinch. He did not pass go. He did not collect $200.00. He immediately responded with a smile, and said: “Yes I know that.” By this point I was more than impressed. A teenage boy who appreciates his parents.... I wanted to call someone and have Tyler placed on the endangered species list.

I wanted to say: “Tyler, I know things about your parents that you don’t know.” But I resisted. I wanted to say: Tyler, I remember very well when your mother was baptized into Christ several years before you were born. I remember how excited your mother and dad were when they were expecting your older brother.
I wanted to tell him how his dad patiently allowed my boys play on the trucks at Fire Station #8 in Wichita Falls. Most importantly I wanted to tell him that his mom and dad made some important choices before he was born that are going to positively impact him for the rest of his life. There is no point in sharing that now. In a few years, he will comprehend that fully.

In a few years, he will find a young lady who is just like his mother. (You know boys do that… They are drawn to girls who are like their mother. That is good news for Tyler and it is good news for my three as well. He and that young Christian lady will be able to get off to a good start, because of his deep family roots. He will look back and appreciate his parents with greater depth than he does today.
There are not a whole lot of perks to getting old, but I sure am enjoying watching the children of my friends grow up. None of us realized that the choices we were making when we were in our 20s and 30s were going to impact our children who were not even conceived at that moment in our lives. We didn’t know that they would not take showers at camp when they were 9 years old. And we prayed that they would grow up to be God fearing, respectful teenagers who are capable of communicating well with adults who are their parent’s age. God is good.
May He be glorified in the lives of all our children.

Commentary from Camp: The Monday Edition

Camp is officially underway. Once again I have been coerced into be the Head Men’s counselor for Camp Zenith hosted on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University. I want everyone to think that I have been coerced. Those who know me well will point out that camp is actually is personal high point of the entire year.

Last night when I did dorm check I was not the least bit disappointed. The boys’ dorm rooms were giving off that familiar aroma of dirty socks and cologne. They are here to impress the girls, you know. There were already empty cans of Pringles, and enough clothes to open a second hand store strewn along the floor. I felt comforted in knowing that the younger generation is still holding on to time held and uniquely male camp traditions.

I was genuinely surprised by one event that took place not long before lights out last night. In my search for some needed paperwork, l happened upon the dorm room where several of the Granbury boys are staying. They thought they were in trouble when I showed up! When they figured out that they were actually innocent, each of them ran up to me and embraced me manly hugs. The boys from other youth groups looked at them like they had just flown in on a space ship from Mars. I could read their minds… Why are you hugging that old man?

I wanted to tell the boys from the other group the truth, but it would have been embarrassing to our guys. The truth is: our boys know that I love them. It really is that simple. They know I care about them. They know I am going to tease them unmercifully.

I was reminded of two important facts last night. The first one is: You don’t have to be cool to relate to teens. You just have to love them. They can sense it. Fifteen year old boys are not always real lovable. Their dorm rooms smell hideous. Their efforts to impress the girls more often than not are somewhat lacking. But occasionally you might get a very manly hug from them, and that is worth quite a bit in my estimation!

I was also reminded of a second fact. I have a huge responsibility toward these boys to conduct my life uprightly. They are taking cues from me today. As a fatherless 15 year old boy, I had great male role models in my later teen years . None of those men disappointed or embarrassed me by their conduct. I was very fortunate. I walked away last night feeling the weight of such a responsibility. It was the last thing on my mind as I drifted to sleep in my own dorm that smelled like a mixture of dirty socks and cologne…But wait a minute…I am not 15 years old!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Easy Target

I celebrated my first Father’s Day in 1990. I just barely missed the cut off in 1989. Randall did not come along until July 15th that year. I wanted the whole world to know that I was a father. I felt like I deserved a discount on my noon meal that day at some local restaurant. It was a big deal for me. I had walked the floor with my young son late at night the previous 11 months, when he had colic. I had changed enough diapers to become the male authority on the subject. Public recognition was in order in my estimation. I vaguely remember paying full price for my lunch that day. And I think my colleague in ministry most likely preached a sermon that day that called on dads worldwide to a greater level of commitment.

I had nothing to complain about then. Fatherhood had its perks back in those days. There is nothing better than rocking your baby to sleep. Life just cannot be any better during those moments. During my second year of fatherhood Randall started forming his first words. When I would rock him at night, he would say: “song.” That was intended to signal me to sing to him. I would start out with a song, and he would say: “not that song.” I would go through a fairly lengthy repertoire of songs until he would finally say: “that song.” His playlist varied from night to night. I was his walking i-pod. He was quite adept at playing possum in those days. His little eyes would get droopy, and he would appear to drift off to sleep. I would place him in his bed, and those same droopy eyes would pop open. He would inevitably look up and say: “song.” He must have known that I was an easy target.

I have not rocked one of my three babies in over ten years now. We passed that milestone a long time ago. They have not asked me to sing to them in quite awhile now. On the other hand, they have requested on several occasions for me not to sing. Their desires today are quite different. Can I have your gas card to fill up my car? When are you going to buy me a phone? Can we have money for pizza tonight? I need some new running shoes, and the list goes on… They know I am an easy target.

I am ready to go back to the simper days. The only request I want to hear is: “song.” I am even glad to hear “not that song” again. I am not holding my breath. Life clocks only move forward.

I have nothing to complain today. Fatherhood has its perks today. Earlier this week Randall called to seek my thoughts on a new job that he is considering. He actually wanted to know what my opinion was on the matter. It was a great conversation. His thought processes sounded like that of a responsible man. It was as a signal to me that he is maturing. He is becoming an exceptional young man. It was great. I miss the baby days, but I am grateful for what today brings.

It did occur to me when we got off the phone during this recent conversation that he inquired about purchasing boots and a hat, and white western shirts for this new job… I suppose he was asking in a round about way that I purchase such necessities for his new venture? Oh well…he knows that I am easy target.

Happy Father’s Day men!

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Priceless Lady

All three of my boys consider themselves to be scholars of the Apostle Paul in Scripture. That is probably a bit of a stretch, but they would be quick to tell you that they sat at the feet of a teacher who described the life and teachings of Paul, as if she were with him on the road to Damascus when he saw the bright light. Her name is Dorothy and she really is a Pauline scholar.

Dorothy started teaching vacation Bible school in Woodward, OK not too long after Paul and others completed the missionary journeys described in the New Testament. Every summer she teaches an eager group of first and second graders at the Woodward VBS. Dorothy has never had any formal theological training. In fact, she I am not sure if she ever went to college. However she possesses some key qualities that any teacher instructing any subject should have.

Dorothy loves children, and it shows. She lavishes affection on all of them, and never hesitates to be generous with her praise. Kids can always sense it when an adult truly cares about them. She loves the kids who have deep family roots at church and she cares about the children brought in on buses from the community with equal fervor. Dorothy’s love for children fills the air of the church I served in Woodward, and somehow made us all better people. Good teachers love their students, and are not afraid to demonstrate it.

Dorothy knows her subject matter quite well. The depth of her preparation is obvious. She teaches with confidence and the students walk away with a wealth of information. My college age son today attributes his knowledge of certain aspects of Scripture to the influence of Dorothy Price. She taught him at VBS and during Sunday morning Bible hour for children. It usually takes kids a few years beyond their college experience to appreciate the adults who impacted them, but that is not true in this case. My son readily acknowledges today that Dorothy was a magnificent teacher for him when he was a young boy. Good teachers are well prepared.

Dorothy is extremely enthusiastic about the subject matter of her classes. How do you keep the attention of first and second graders? She would say that you need to be excited about what you are teaching! She does not hide her overwhelming zeal, and the kids love it! Good teachers are passionate about their subject matter.

Last night I watched the kids sing their songs at the closing program for Vacation Bible School here in Granbury. A number of adults put a lot of time and energy into making VBS a neat experience for the kids. Watching first and second graders up on the stage brought back a lot of memories. I have had Dorothy Price on my mind all week. The impact she made in the lives of all three of my boys will live on for many years to come. Thank you Dorothy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Coffee Lover and not a Millionaire

Cleverly created signs always grab my attention. I saw a great billboard on Loop 820 in Ft. Worth yesterday. The sign advertising McDonald’s Coffee stated: “I am a coffee lover and not a millionaire.” It was an obvious jab at perceived overpriced java at Starbucks. That is good marketing!
There is another coffee sign that I am forced to see ever time I make the trip home from Ft. Worth that grabs my attention in a much different way. The temporary signage states that a drive through coffee house is coming soon. It will be housed in the now vacant building behind the banner. A drive through coffee house in a prominent location on the way to Ft. Worth is a good idea. They will capitalize on commuters as long as their prices appeal to coffee lovers and not millionaires. There is a very disturbing aspect to the rise of still another coffee house though.

In the background, leaning up against the small wood frame building, is another sign. It is the sign that signified what was housed in that building before a java entrepreneur made plans for it. The sign says: Church of Christ…… I think it lists the service times and other relevant information. A church has not met in that location for months now. The sign has therefore been cast aside. It will lean up against the building until the final clean up crew comes in and discards it permanently.

As they remodel, what will do with the pews? What will become of the baptistery? Is there still a pulpit in the building? Avid coffee drinkers will sit in there soon with their laptops and i-pods. New friendships will be forged and business deals will be made over a caramel latte. The espresso machine will hum in the background. In a matter of months, customers will not even know that a church met there once upon a time.

It is sad when a church dies. I have no idea what factors contributed to the death of this congregation, but they closed their doors permanently. I will be among customers of the coffee house soon. It will be a convenient place to set up my laptop and edit a sermon. But I won’t be able to order my medium blend coffee without hearing congregational singing in the background. I will sit at a table and wonder who was baptized in that building? And as I sip on my coffee, I will pray that a coffee house never occupies the building where I stand in to preach every Sunday. I know that any church can die. It happens for a lot of reasons. Many of the factors that contribute to the death of a church can be controlled. More often than not churches die because of human shortcomings. The sign propped up against the building that was once called a church is a visual reminder to remain committed to the growth and health of the church.

I will gladly drive down the street to find my coffee. I don’t usually buy it in McDonald’s, but maybe I should start now. I really am a coffee lover and not a millionaire.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Audacity to Complain

There have been several prominent news stories recently regarding insurance companies that lack financial solvency. If you are insured with State Farm, you don’t have a thing to worry about. I am paying them enough in car insurance premiums alone to keep them fiscally sound for decades. It is called having two male drivers under the age of 25. I think they must know that a third one is waiting in the wings, and are charging me accordingly. Actually I don’t’ have a thing to complain about. State Farm has been a good neighbor to me through some difficult moments with those teenage drivers. In fact, I am very grateful to every individual and organization that has helped me get those boys raised.

Last week I actually had the audacity to complain. I received an invoice in the mail that reflected a new driver, and an additional vehicle to the Knox fleet. I whined and grumbled under my breath that entire morning. I entertained the idea of selling all of my vehicles and purchasing a new fleet of “beaters” for each of us to drive. Jan shared some information with me the next day that changed everything.

She found out that one of the immediate tasks that my brother in law had to complete in the days following his 17 year old son’s death was to cancel the car insurance on the young man’s car. The biblical phrase “cut to the heart” comes to mind, as I reflect back on my reaction. I was felt tremendous empathy and compassion for my brother in law. I could not hold the tears back. I realized immediately that I actually had the audacity to complain.

In the days following that incident, I have had the opportunity to visit with a dear friend who has lost not one, but two sons. The same evening I encountered another special friend who recounted to me what it is like to experience “grief triggers.” Seeing a sea of police units investigating a major accident triggered flashbacks of her young son’s untimely death… I tried to listen. I tried to keep the commentary to a minimum. Active listening is so important in terms of serving those in grief. But I was again cut to the heart. I had the audacity a few days earlier to complain. Today I am thankful. I even am grateful to pay insurance premiums. God works on our hearts in very mysterious, but convicting ways.
My prayer is that I will never stop listening.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Memories of Muleshoe

People often laugh at me when I tell them that I spent three years in Muleshoe, Texas. I think they have this image of a Jeff Foxworthy redneck paradise. That of course is the farthest thing from the truth. Muleshoe is a very prosperous agriculturally based town. I moved there after 8 wonderful years serving on the staff at the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ in Wichita Falls. Muleshoe marked my first opportunity to fly solo and be in the role of preaching every week. Family reasons drew me to that small West Texas town more than any other factor. My mother died in 1991, so I felt compelled to be closer to my sister and her family. Jan’s family lives in neighboring Friona, so the benefit of their presence was appealing as well. Muleshoe would provide the proximity I wanted to family, but they would actually contribute things to my family life that I never expected.

Randall was six years old when we moved to Muleshoe. Daniel had just turned three. There was no Mitchell in the picture in 1995. Our family of four moved into a church owned parsonage in June of that year. I distinctly remember Gary Hooten and his 14 year old daughter, Amy, coming over to the house to assemble the swing set for our boys. I could not believe that any 14 year old girl would willingly accompany her dad on such a project. And she seemed to enjoy it… Little did I know that was an early indicator of things to come…

The teens who comprised the youth group at the church I served in Muleshoe to this day are some of the finest people I have known in my career in ministry. Ther were no Sunday night youth activities, so they showed up for evening services every week. They insisted on our young boys sitting with them during church. Daniel would fall asleep in someone’s lap every Sunday evening. My sermons can have that effect! The teens would take our boys to McDonalds after services were over. I had the privilege of teaching this stellar group of young people on Sundays and Wednesday nights too. What a treat! They were a joy to take on trips and a pleasure to serve. This group of teens sang at funerals, led worship, taught at VBS, and otherwise embraced the mission of a small town church.

That whole group is all grown up now. I have officiated at many of their weddings. Now they have children falling asleep during someone else’s sermons. Today they are lawyers, pharmacists, teachers, physician’s assistants, public accountants, missionaries, and moms and dads…I am as proud of them as I am of my own children.

What made the difference? Why was that group so strong? Why were they such good kids? Why are they such fine adults today? There is an answer. It is actually pretty basic. Their parents had their head in the ballgame. Their parents were engaged in the whole process of parenting. I moved to Muleshoe, so I could be closer to my family. I ended up learning how to be a parent during that three year stint. Here is what I learned from the pros of parenting in Muleshoe, TX.

Don’t wait on a youth minister to serve the spiritual needs of your kids. These parents took the teens in ski trips, and other social events themselves. They taught classes and mentored teens on a personal level.

Get involved in a personal way. My Muleshoe parents were personally committed to all kinds of school activities. They showed up at ballgames, but more importantly they volunteered their time with willing spirits.

Support other peoples kids. This group of parents went to see the basketball games of their friend’s kids. They would travel annually to Austin to the state track meet to see another person’s child compete! I was amazed and inspired by such commitment. It made a difference.

Love on the babies. Mitchell was born in 1996. He was passed around at church from the time he was an infant, but the ladies at church never got to hold him. It was the men who loved on the babies! What a great memory.

Teach the teens to serve. The young people were involved in every facet of church life. Some of that can be attributed to the size of the church. I think the adults were purposed in including their children in meaningful ways.

We left Muleshoe in June of 1998. I had decided at that point it was time for me to go back to graduate school to pursue doctoral level studies. I will be forever indebted to the real pros of parenting in Muleshoe, TX for teaching me how to be a dad. As I grieved the loss of both of my mother during that time period in my life, I needed some good mentors. I think God puts the right people in our life at the right time to prepare us to serve Him more effectively.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ready to Go to Camp?

Ready to go to camp? Of course I am not ready to go to camp. I am not even thinking about camp. It is the middle of January. Why would anyone in their right mind be thinking about summer church camp in the dead of winter? Jack would greet me every Sunday with that question. There was never an exception. It did not make any difference if it was January or September. Jack was ready to go to camp. Don't be too quick to make assumptions. Jack is not an overly eager 10 year old prospective camper. Jack is in his 60's. I find his story to be moving.

Jack worked for the City of Wichita Falls for over 40 years. In the days before automatic car washes, he hand scrubbed police cars and other city vehicles. In his later years with the city, he ran a weed eater and did odd jobs. Professionals would likely say that Jack had a below average IQ. Perhaps that is true. I found that Jack's emotional intelligence certainly surpassed my own in several ways.

In a work setting, Jack was overly kind and terribly vulnerable. Co-workers preyed on him by borrowing money from on payday and otherwise taking advantage of his childlike demeanor.
Thankfully a fine Christian man intervened. Dennis took charge of Jack's financial affairs. He made sure that Jack had a modest place to live, three square meals, and someone to do his laundry. Dennis took his role as Jack's caretaker very seriously.

At one point, some of the men at the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ took Jack with them to a work day at Quartz Mountain Christian Camp near Altus, OK. Jack found his niche. He loved going to camp to mow and do odd jobs. But more importantly he loved kids. He understood what camp could do for kids. He embraced the whole idea of church camp like no one I have ever seen!

I directed a session at Quartz Mountain Christian Camp for 17 years. Jack only missed one year, as his health began to fail. Every year we would have to throw him in the pool fully clothed, or he would be terribly disappointed. Jack could work circles around anyone. I had to force him to take a break from mowing and weed eating in the heat of the Southwestern Oklahoma afternoon. It was during those breaks that I had my best conversations with Jack. We would both retreat to the rock house, as it was called, to catch a mid-day nap. One afternoon Jack told me: It is Thursday! Camp is almost over. I said: Yes I know! I was looking forward to getting home to my sweet wife and my pre-school age boys. As I looked at Jack, I saw tears his eyes. He was not even close to being ready for camp to be over. When Friday finally rolled around one year, Jack gave me a fifty dollar bill. He instructed to me buy pizza for all of the kids from our church on the way home. It was tradition to stop at Mazzios Pizza in Altus. At that time, fifty dollars would actually buy a lot of pizza.

In one of the later years at camp, Jack told me that he wanted me to officiate at his funeral, when that time came. I was very touched in a way that is difficult to explain. You see Jack was an excellent judge of character. He would quietly tell me when he didn't like someone. There were times that I dismissed his character assessments, but I soon discovered that he was almost never wrong. I felt affirmed in a strange way when he asked that I officiate at his funeral. He was giving me his stamp of character approval. That stamp meant a lot to me, because I knew sincerity of it.

Jack found a family at camp. The Saturday work days to repair cabins and trim weeds were like a weekend family gathering for him. The weeks he spent with camp manager Paul Brown and his good family during the winters were like going to visit close relatives. Summer camp was probably the only family reunion setting Jack ever experienced in his entire life. It is no wonder that he dreaded Thursday to roll around during camp week. He had no family to go home to, when the week was over.

Jack passed away during the summer of 2007. I drove to Wichita Falls to fulfill the promise I made to him fifteen years earlier. I miss Jack. He taught me a few things about being an unselfish servant. I also learned a few things about assessing character from Jack! Most importantly I learned to appreciate what it means to be a part of a family. The song: "God's Family" took on new meaning for me. We are all truly a part of the family...

I leave for camp one week from today. Am I ready for camp? Oh...probably not. But I yearn to hear Jack ask me one more time if I am ready for camp though. I will go to church camp and love those children like every single one of them were my own. Jack would be disappointed if I did anything less... Ready to go to camp? I think so...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Case of the Bighearted Loner

Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, 10, and his family were living in a deplorable Indian slum until they received a 250-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment this week. Why would that be of interest? He happens to be the child star featured in the 2008 academy award winning movie, Slumdog Millionaire. Not too long after the movie’s release, I read where both of the young child actors featured in the film were still living in dire poverty. It seemed ironic at the time that a movie produced to entertain affluent Americans, which did quite well at the box office, would be unable to support those two children and their families in the most basic way. I have discovered over the years that the relationship of money to a person’s living conditions can be very surprising…In that regard, I was reminded today of an odd phone call that I received one winter afternoon 15 years ago.

In January of 1994, newspapers started collecting on Don’s front porch. Don is actually not his real name, but every aspect of the story I am about to share is very true. Neighbors started worrying about their somewhat reclusive neighbor after a few days, so they called the police. Officer Jones surveyed the collection of newspapers and the uncollected mail, and became immediately concerned. She secured permission from her sergeant to forcibly enter the home, in order to check welfare. The elderly gentleman who lived in the home had been deceased for about two days. He died of natural causes. He lived alone, and his neighbors knew very little about him. Officer Jones had to be certain of his identity. She noticed a collection of church bulletins on his coffee table. That is when she called me. I was the chaplain commander for the Wichita Falls Police Dept. at that time. Officer Jones knew those bulletins came from my church.

I quickly identified Don, but the real work was about to begin. None of us knew very much about him. Where would we begin in the search for next of kin? She started at one end of the house, and I started at the other. We began invading that poor man’s privacy, in a way I hope I never have to do again. We were searching for any clue that might lead us to a relative to notify. After about 20 minutes, I found Don’s last will and testament. I read his will aloud to Officer Jones. His estate was to be left to the church, a childrens’ home, and one other non-profit organization. I just stood in his living room in amazement… I think my police officer friend was a little stunned too…

You see Don’s home was not a pleasant place. It was meagerly furnished. It felt cold and impersonal. Men characteristically are not good housekeepers, and Don was no exception. The house was really just nasty. The funeral home director, who came to remove the body, said it was the worst home he had ever been in before. Officer Jones and I chuckled at his comment, because both of us had been in much worse!

Months later I learned that Don’s will was legitimate. The church received a very large sum of money from his estate, as did the two other non-profit entities. If you had looked at his home, you would have never guessed that he had plenty of cash reserves. I don’t think any of us at church would have deduced that this elderly and very reclusive man had an extremely generous heart. As I recall, he really did not have any friends at church. I had never made the effort to visit him.

I learned some good life lessons that afternoon. Lessons about not judging people by mere appearance… I learned for the first time that there can be a very surprising relationship between money and a person’s living conditions. The old frame house is probably gone by now, but Don’s legacy of generosity still impacts the church today. Oh and by the way…we found his next of kin. After about 45 minutes of feverishly rummaging through his personal effects, Officer Jones found a sheet of notebook paper taped to the wall above the television would read: If anything ever happens to me, contact my brother at this number. She said we were both idiots. I resented that comment! I wonder if Don resented be ignored and chalked off as a reclusive and anti-social old man? I guess I will never know…

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Brace for Impact

US Airways Captain Chesley Sullenberg became an overnight celebrity in the wake of his heroic actions during Flight 1549 on January 15th of this year. Birds collided with the jet engines, which placed the aircraft in mechanical danger in a matter of seconds. The captain made an instantaneous decision not to fly the disabled aircraft back to New York’s LaGuardia Airport. Instead, he made an emergency landing in the Hudson River. He of course was applauded by aviation officials for his cool headed skills as a pilot.

During a federal aviation safety hearing yesterday, Captain Sullenberg expressed regret over one aspect of that day’s events. He stated that he regretted being unable to let the passengers and crew know that a water landing was coming.
The only notice that was given before the splashdown was: “This is the Captain-brace for impact.”

Captain Sullenberg is truly a hero. There is no need for him to regret the lack of a detailed warning. He did what all good leaders should do during times of crisis. He quickly evaluated the situation and made a choice. If had been indecisive for even a matter of seconds, loss of life would have been imminent.

I want the leaders in my life to make decisions with confidence. I don’t need any advance warning. They don’t need to consult with me. My philosophy is: make a decision and I will support you. Unfortunately good people in positions of authority often feel crippled during crisis periods, because it has become sport to second guess, criticize, and otherwise arm chair quarterback every choice that leaders make. I am thankful that Captain Sullenberg obviously gave little consideration to the fallout he would face in the wake of landing a commercial airliner in the Hudson River. His willingness to be decisive saved lives. What about us? Are we willing to support the choices that our leaders make during periods of crisis? I don’t know, but either way, we too must brace for impact.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Daddy's Hands

Robert came to live with us in June. The year was 1988. Actually it all began with a very innocent phone call from the director of a church supported boys' home in Hollis, OK. He casually told me that the house parents at the home were scheduled for a three and one half week vacation. All of of the children under the care of the home would be placed with individual families for a few weeks, while the employees received some much needed reprieve. How nice, I thought. He did manage to work in the phone conversation that one 11 year old boy had not been placed. Could we possibly take him for three and one half weeks? Well of course we can take that poor orphaned child in our home, I quickly told him. The only boy not placed? I just ignored caution light #1. Why would we not take him in our home? We were a young couple, at that time, with no children of our own. Perhaps that very fact was caution light #2, that I also duly ignored.

I hung up the phone and immediately got a sick feeling. I had not consulted with Jan regarding our introduction to parenting a pre-teen for a few weeks. She will be thrilled, I thought! I called home, and there was a deaf silence on the other end of the line. I want to think about this commitment before we agree to do it. This a big responsiblity, she stated somberly. Ok, I said. My palms became sweaty as I weighed the advantages between permission and forgiveness in my mind. And then she dropped the bomb... You already told the director that we would do it, didn't you? My forehead was dripping with perspiration, and I so hoped that forgiveness was actually better than permission. My response: kind of, sort of, maybe...

Robert came to live with us one June evening after work. The look on his house parents' faces marked caution light #3, which I did not ignore completely... I soon ascertained that he did not have sufficient clothing for the 25 day visit at our home. We stopped at Target to pick up a few necessities. I have not ever forgotten that experience. I suspect the employees at Target that evening are still traumatized. The company probably formed new corporate policies regarding adults who have no abilty to control children after our eventful visit. Need I share more?

I was of the mind that Robert just needed a lot of love and nurture. Jan lived in the real world. She knew that we were in for a very challenging three weeks. She of course was right...

I was feeling somewhat homicidal toward poor Robert by day 17 or 18. It was time to press the emergency button. I called two of my most dependable students involved in the university ministry that I led. Lee and Stephanie were not married at at the time. They are now. In fact, they are missionaries in Romania. I think the experience with Robert must have prompted them to leave the country for an unspecified amount of time. They took Robert to the park, while I recovered from 18 days of...well 18 days of you know what. After a few hours of reprieve, Stephanie called me from the emergency room. Lee got hurt at the park, but he is going to be ok, she told me. I intuively knew that Robert had done something to Lee. I fumed all the way to the emergency room. I vowed that Robert would not live to see his 12th birthday...I stormed in the waiting room, and there he sat, like a little angel. Lee's injury was truly accidental.

Robert came to live with us in June. Every night he played one track on a Holly Dunn cassette we had in our home. The title of the track? "Daddy's Hands." It was a song that hit the country charts in the late '80's and contributed to Holly Dunn's popularity as a contemporary Country singer. I find it difficult now to hear that now oldie song on the radio. It reminds me that Robert was suffering from what is known as "Father Hunger." I did not know anything about "Father Hunger" in 1988. I was a well intentioned, but clueless young man. Robert was in a Boys' home because there was no mother or father to take care of him. He was starving for the love and nurture that God designed fathers to provide sons. I did not know in 1988 that research has proven that "Father Hunger" will cause women to be promiscous and men to be out of control in other ways. I didn't even learn much about my own "Father Hunger" until my children were well on their way to being grown.

Robert came to live with us in June. He came to live with us, in my heart, on this June day in 2009, because I think of him every year when summer rolls around. He is 32 years old now. I hope he has settled down. I hope he has a family. I hope he is doing well. Most of all, I hope that his "Father Hunger" has been fulfilled in a relationship with our Heavenly Father. After all of these years, I still favor forgiveness over permission. I still ignore caution lights. I am still somewhat impulsive, and I still yearn to touch my dad's hand, Robert. Wherever you are, go with God...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Queen of Hospitality

My mother was the Queen of Hospitality. When I was 16 years old, she would make homemade chicken tenders and all of the trimmings, and bring it to the car wash where I worked. My friends inahaled her Southern delicacies. I have tried to replicate her chicken tenders on more than one occasion, but finally gave up. When I was in college, we were welcomed home from Texas Tech football games with homemade stew and cornbread. My friends living in the dorm loved it. My mother would have been proud of me. She actually taught me a few things about hospitality. When Randall was in high school, I would often get phone calls informing me that anywhere from 2-15 teens were at our house, and dinnertime is quickly approaching. I never attempted to fix chicken. Burgers or fajitas were standards on the dad menu. I never got any complaints.

Hospitality is important. Hosting people in our homes is rapidly becoming a lost art. I don't recall the last time I ate homemade chicken tenders. In the past two weeks I have learned some new lessons about hospitality. When we were getting ready to make the 16 hour trip to Ft. Collins for our nephew's funeral, friends from church brought a cooler of cold drinks and enough peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to feed a small army. I ate the first one about 10:30 at night, when we stopped in Post, TX for a break. A pbj never tasted better. It is as if I could taste love in a sandwich.

After being gone for 5 days, we returned to work and attempted to get our wits about us. The second day we were home more friends from church brought dinner one night. Roast, gravy, and all of the trimmings... It was a huge help. We were so behind. There had not been time to go to the store or even think about cooking for that matter. We sat around the feast that night and acted like we had never seen roast beef before.

I am thankful that I was raised in the home of the Queen of Hospitality. I am equally thankful for wonderful friends. The gift of hospitality is important. Providing basic needs for people when there is a crisis going on their family is a priceless act of service. I think I will buy an extra jar of Peter Pan peanut butter this week. I can't do chicken tenders, but I can make a mean pbj sandwich.

Friday, June 5, 2009

I Was SO in Love!

It was late fall in 1980. The leaves were golden, the weather was turning crisp, and my first semester at Texas Tech was almost over. I got off work one night just as the breathtaking West Texas sunset was casting shadows over my drive home. That is when I saw her... I almost ran into the person in front of me in traffic that evening. My heart skipped a beat. I swallowed hard. She was sitting all by herself at the corner of Indiana Ave. and South Loop 289 in Lubbock. She was black and she was beautiful... She was a 1979 Chevy Silverado pickup. I quickly turned around, so we could become better acquainted. I was speechless. I did not know what to say to her, as I took in all of her beauty. I just kicked her tire, and then immediately felt as awkward as a 7th grader at his first school dance. "I am sorry," I told her! How could I be so clumsy?

I could not sleep that night. I was in love. How will I ever be able to pay for her? She simply must come home with me! The next morning before work I went to inquire about her. Would I be deemd an adequate suitor by the car salesman? Was I too young? Was I too eager? A man in a leisure suit took me back to a smoke filled office and sized me up. I swallowed hard and finally mustered enough courage to ask the salesman how much it would cost to purschase the truck of my dreams. "Well, I will have to go ask my, sales manager, Bubba about that son." Today I would tell him: "Let me talk to Bubba." But I was 18 years old and in hopelessly in love. They had me and they knew it. I soon discovered it was going to cost a whopping $4,500.00 to drive her off that lonely car lot. Where would I come up with that kind of money? That is where Mr. Wallace enters the picture.

T.J. Wallace was the president of Plains National Bank in Lubbock at that time. I was one of the bank's best customers. There were times that my checking account actually had $100.00 in it. My father died in 1978, so I didn't have a man to accompany me to the bank that morning to inquire about a car loan. I went by myself. Thankfully Mr. Wallace had known my father professionally.

I was so nervous. Mr. Wallace was not wearing a leisure suit. He was dressed sharply and even had his own secretary. I don't remember anything about our conversation. All that I recall is that he allowed me to sign that 36 month car note without a co-signer. He trusted me. Or so I thought! I felt like a man that fall day in 1980. I walked confidently out of the bank, and quickly made the trek back to Pollard Friendly Ford to bring my truck home to her rightful place of residence.

I actually paid that first car note off well before the 36 month period was completed. The monthly payments were all of $112.00. The truck loan was paid off, but my debt to Mr. Wallace will never be paid. He is still in the banking business today in another city.

Fatherless boys will always struggle with confidence. They feel self-doubt as they encounter situations where a dad would normally accompany a son. Like buying a first car... When men of character and depth step into such situations, they make an impact that will last for a lifetime. I have been blessed with good credit all of my adult life. I have taken out 10 car loans since that fall day in 1980. I have had three mortgage loans. I have never been turned down on a credit application. I think T.J. Wallace gets his share of the credit for that process. I am almost 29 years overdue, but it is never too late. Thank you, Mr. Wallace. You have been one of my heroes for a long time.

Funny thing happened today... I purchased another black chevy silverado. $4,500.00 would not cover it this time. The banker's name was Julia. She did the application online with a large worldwide corporate bank. She was pleasant and helpful, but she must have thought I was in another world. The truth is...I was back sitting in T.J. Wallace's office at Plains National Bank in Lubbock today...And I wondered to myself if I was the only fatherless boy she had encountered today.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Memories of Summers Gone By...

Summer is officially here. Mitchell has already approached First National Bank of Dad twice today. I have good summertime memories. I got my driver’s license right after Memorial Day weekend in 1978. My mother had a 1976 Oldsmobile Regency 98. It was a boat… During my first night out with the car by myself I took it up on Loop 289 in Lubbock to accomplish a major driving objective. I would even call that experience a rite of passage…The objective? I needed to see, in precise terms of course, just how fast that Oldsmobile would go. It was actually a pretty hot car. Thankfully none of Lubbock’s finest enforcers of traffic laws ran across me that June night.

My friend Jake (not his real name) and I would often go play tennis after work that same summer. Cruising around the Sonic on 34th street was a necessity after a few sets of tennis. We were certain that there were members of the female gender just waiting for us to pull in at the Sonic, and sweep them off their feet. I think female feet were pretty safe at that particular Sonic during the summer of 1978. One evening when Jake picked me up, he told me that his dad had been arrested the night before. I was shocked! I did not perceive his dad to be the criminal type. He was accused and later convicted of sexually assaulting Jake’s younger sister. I did not know what to say to Jake. I felt awkward. I learned that the world is a dark place in the summer of 1978.

By the time the summer of 1979 rolled around, I had my own car. My mother’s Oldsmobile was back in the safe arms of its rightful owner. I ran around with quite a group of friends. We were mischievous, to say the least. When we were bored, we would ride around in Scott’s 1971 Pinto Station Wagon, and spray unsuspecting motorists who had their windows rolled down at the stop light with water from a pressurized sprayer that I would operate from the back seat. It was great fun. I experienced first love that summer of 1979. I will not mention her name to protect the guilty, but I think most will concur that first love changes you forever. Occasionally I will hear a certain song from the Commodores that brings a flood of memories back. I learned that relationships are complicated in the summer of 1979.

I had my future mapped out in the summer of 1980. I graduated from high school early that year. It was not because I was the brightest bulb on the strand at Monterey High School either. My debate partner and I were removed from the team for disciplinary reasons in the fall of 1979. The principal urged me to go on and finish after the second quarter in February. I made plans to attend Texas Tech in the fall. I was going to do the following: major in marketing, make a gross amount of money, and remain single all of my life. I had no desire to be married or to be strapped down with the responsibility of children. I would share my stacks of money with no one. I really should not repeat all of the things we did during that fateful summer. I learned how to be arrogant and foolish in the summer of 1980.

Summertime is fun…I have wonderful memories of the people I spent so many hours with. I am grateful to say that most of the friends during that period of my life are still friends today. Scott is an engineer for NASA in Houston. Paula teaches taught 4th graders. Marty (the debate partner) is a broker. Elizabeth manages a Mercedes dealership. Lisa is raising her triplets and teaching too. I have lost track of Jake…

And, I am a minister. My friends still chuckle at the very idea of John speaking to a church every Sunday! I think of Jake when the police department calls me out to assist a victim of sexual assault. And I can’t help but laugh to myself when I am with an officer who tickets some unsuspecting 16 year old trying out his parent’s car. In ministry, I see lots complicated relationships and young people who are still in the arrogant stage. I still have a lot to learn during this summer of 2009. I wonder where my car might be right now. My 17 year old said something about playing tennis and I think I heard the word “Sonic” mumbled under his breath…You don't suppose...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Pet the Stray Dog!

When it comes to relating to Jan's extended family, I have never received passing grades. I have actually had over 25 years to practice too! I have been a resounding relational failure in that area of life. My friends find such a revelation to be shocking. I am generally perceived as being a people person. I love being with my close friends. Many of my friendships have spanned for over three decades. I am always open to the cultivation of new and mutually rewarding relationships.
How do I reconcile that with a string of failing grades, when it comes to relating to Jan's family?

The answer is really quite simple. For years they have intimidated the daylights out of me. I did not grow up with extended family at all. There were no family reunions, large holiday gatherings, or vacations spent together. Jan is related to most of the people who comprise three rural West Texas counties. They love to get together, and they really love each other.... When I married into this network of familial ties, I froze up like a transplanted Southerner spending his first winter in Alaska. I was truly intimidated. I did not know how to "do" extended family. They would get together for DAYS on end at holidays. They would plan vacations together. Reunions were placed on the calendar annually. Getting together was a normal part of life.

I found myself feeling like a stray dog. A dog without a family looks on with interest, but he won't let anyone get close enough to pet him. I went to the reunions and looked on with interest... I spent my days with everyone else at holidays, but I did not cultivate relationships. I was still the stray dog. Family members were all pretty patient. They threw me some really nice bones. They even tried to get close enough to pet me, but I quickly cowered and ran. I felt like a stray. I acted like a stray...I was a stray...

Sometimes stray dogs will bite, if you end up invading their space. I must confess. I bit members of Jan's family a few times... It is not my nature to bite. I am people friendly and even house broken. When a stray feels intimidated, he will bite. It is a very strange defense mechanism. People will think twice before petting a stray again, if they he is going to bite. I continued to snarl and bite periodically. I also continued to get failing grades in the extended family department of life.

Jan's sister and brother-in-law lost their 17 year old son very unxexpectedly last Thursday. They need someone to comfort them. I am sure their family will gather around to fulfill that need. Comforting those who grieve? That is a pastoral duty. Wait a minute! That is a what I do! I really should go and serve them. And then those feelings of intimidation came over me like a tidal wave crashing to shore. I can't do that... I am the stray... And sometimes I have even been known to bite. I found such excuses to be incredibly weak!

I asked the Lord to put a collar around my neck, as if I belonged. I made the 16 hour trek to their home to comfort and console. I had a very strange experience this time. I was not intimidated. How can you be intimidated by people who are truly broken? I just opened my heart. I expressed affection. I tried to be myself. It was pretty scary. was VERY scary. Those overtures of love were immediately reciprocated. I stopped looking on with curiosity, like a stray would do. I actually let them pet me, and I found no need to snarl or bite.

I have known for years that tragedy redefines relationships, either for good or for bad. Important relational networks cannot be unaffected by tragic events. In this case, the family took in a stray dog during their time of acute grief. They cleaned him up and made him feel welcome.

Living as a stray is not much fun. Being adopted by a loving and caring family is much better. So...go on and pet that stray. He may snarl and bite, but deep down he wants be loved too. And if you feel like the stray, then ask God to put a collar around your neck, and open your heart to those around you. I think you will be glad that you did.

I don't plan on taking my collar off anytime soon, because I have a family now. Let's plan the reunion and get together for DAYS! My tail is wagging. I am ready to go.