Monday, August 31, 2009

I Don't Do Windows

Gil Sanchez directs Casa De La Esperanza, a children’s home in Northern Mexico. I have taken volunteers skilled in various building trades to do remodeling and new construction at Casa for several years now. The home does an amazing job providing a secure place in a Christian environment for orphaned children to live. At any given time there are over 60 children in Casa’s care.

Gil has done amazing things at the home since assuming responsibility as director several years ago. I learned about one of his leadership secrets this past weekend. His philosophy is: We all do windows. You have no doubt heard the phrase: I don’t do windows. Gil has taken a common phrase and assigned new meaning to it. We all do windows. In other words, we all serve. Everyone does what is necessary to accomplish the objective. The director could be seen working in the kitchen. The assistant director could be working on financial statements in the morning and pouring concrete in the afternoon.

I like Gil’s philosophy. In a world that is becoming more specialized all of the time, such a simple principle still works. A willingness to roll up our sleeves and serve where we are needed could be critical to the accomplishment of our organization’s mission. The attitude: I don’t do windows hurts morale and impedes progress.

Servant leaders set the right tone. Police supervisors willing to direct traffic in the rain at an accident scene gain the respect of the officers under their command. Ministers willing to show up at the church work day and donate their labor like everyone else show the congregation that they are sincere. Children’s Home directors like Gil Sanchez, who wear multiple hats on any given day, inspire volunteer groups to return year after year.

I am going to remember that phrase. Now I know what to tell my kids when they complain about doing household chores. But more importantly I know what to tell myself when I am inclined to complain about something I have been asked to do. My colleagues may hear me mumbling under my breath: We all do windows, we all do windows…And they will wonder why is John mumbling something about windows? I will just smile and tell them I need to make a visit to Casa De La Esperanza soon. I need some additional lessons on window washing and leadership from Gil Sanchez. They may walk away a little puzzled, but that is alright too…

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Who Remembers Hank Williams Jr?

I had lunch today with Jaime and Lalo Rocha. They are making final preparations this fall to move to Mexico City to initiate a new church plant. If I can progress in Spanish as fast as Lalo has moved in his command of the English language, I will be in good shape! He is an inspiration.

Lalo made an interesting comment about life in Mexico City, while we ate.
He observed that marital breakdowns are really having an impact on churches in that sprawling city. He went on to note that good resources, such as marriage and family therapists, are not readily available. Counseling couples in trouble in Mexico City could be a legitimate mission for someone so inclined.

We were talking over music blaring in the restaurant during the course of this entire conversation. I found it a little ironic that the song playing during our discussion of marital breakdowns was nothing other than an old Hank Williams Jr. song. The title of the song? Women I have Never Had. The second verse goes like this:

I take a little smoke and a lotta wine
I get high on all old friends of mine
I like the sweet young things and OLD GRANDAD
And I like to have women I've never had

I don’t recall the year that song was released, but it is quite possible that Lalo was not even born then. That maybe just as well. i recall listening to that song long before I was married in a place that certainly did not promote the pursuit of what is holy! You get the idea... The blend of old memories, our discussio on marriage, and the accompanying music reminded me of several things.

Good people who are able to assist families in crisis are needed everywhere. Marriage counselors are needed in Mexico City and they are needed in Granbury, TX. We need to encourage people seeking degrees to consider making a commitment to helping professions of all kinds. They are needed all over the world. I was reminded of the importance of being b-lingual as well. The potential exists to help more people in more places. Finally I was reminded that pop culture is very unlikely to encourage the pursuit of marital fidelity and family enrichment. Lalo’s call for help in Mexico City against the backdrop of Hank Williams Jr. was a not so subtle reminder of that fact.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Who are You Going to Call?

Who are you going to call? Who are you going to call when your favorite appliance in your home decides act inappropriately and flood the house with water? Who are you going to call when your car suddenly craters in the middle of rush hour traffic? When there is a major family crisis, who will you call? Who we choose to call under such circumstances is very revealing.

It was 1992. Randall was three years old. Daniel was 8 months old. Jan had not been feeling well for several days, so she drove herself to a clinic one Saturday morning, while I watched our two little guys at home. A couple of hours later she called me from the emergency room at the local hospital. She calmly informed that the doctor diagnosed her with an acute appendicitis. She also told me in an equally calm voice that she would be undergoing surgery within the hour.

I hung up the phone and had a temporary meltdown. What am I going to do with a three year old, and an 8 month old who is still nursing? More importantly…who am I going to call? I called my close friends, Larry and Nicki Suttle. They were there in a matter of minutes to take charge of the boys. I was able to head to the hospital to be a…well to be a calming presence…As I look back on it, I realize how fortunate I was to have someone to call. Not everyone is that blessed.

Earlier this year I delivered a death notification to a family who had lost a loved one in a very tragic set of circumstances. After completing the initial notification, I followed standard protocol. Who can I call for you? The response: no one. Can I call your neighbors? I don’t know my neighbors. Can I call your minister? We do not belong to a church. Can I call friends in town? I don’t know anyone here. I continued down the list, and still found no one to contact on behalf of this grieving person. Officers from two law enforcement agencies that were also present during the notification that night graciously stayed with me for several hours, as we attempted to comfort a lady who was all alone in a cruel world.

Who are you going to call? When you figure out who you are going to call, stop and give thanks. Give thanks for that person. You are fortunate. And by the way, the people on the receiving end of such calls are equally blessed. People appreciate being asked to serve. Being on call for our friends is important. Friendships are solidified in times of stress and tragedy. I am on call today. What about you? Are you on call too?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Memories of Training Wheels

I have a confession to make. I have never shared this with anyone. When I little pres-school age boy, I got my first bike. Of course it was gold in color, typical of the ‘60’s. I don’t think it was a Schwinn. I didn’t get my first Schwinn until a few years later, but I digress. It is confession time… I had training wheels on my first bike. I have never told anyone that. Please don’t share such an embarrassing revelation. Any self-respecting young boy should be able to ride his bike confidently with a perfect balancing act from the very beginning. Or maybe that is not true? Maybe it is an issue of pride.

I think I carried my disdain for training wheels into my adult life. For some reason I think I have to be able to do something perfect before I do it at all. If an objective cannot be attained in a reasonable amount of time, I get really discouraged. I have silly tendency to give up before I start. That is really foolish thinking. I hate to admit this, but I think it could be a common ailment among all males. I do believe it is indeed an issue of pride.

My Spanish teacher this week in a continuing education course I took at Tarrant County College reminded us repeatedly that we can get our point across in Spanish without speaking it flawlessly. She told us that over and over again in several different ways. I needed to hear it, because I struggle with that issue of pride.

I have wanted to be fully bi-lingual for quite some time, but the task of learning a second language is overwhelming. My college Spanish professor, Mary Perez was exceptional. I continue to use what she taught us over 25 years ago. Numerous mission trips to Mexico over the past 12 years have helped a lot too. Spending time with the police officers in the field has been an additional aid.
But I have been hesitant to practice my Spanish, because I still make a lot of mistakes. Could that be called pride?

Our instructor this week, J.C. Romero, is a great lady. She did not learn Spanish until later in life, because her parents did not emphasize spoken Spanish in their home. Naturally they wanted their children to excel in English. I found her story to be encouraging. In fact, I just found her to be a great teacher.

She convinced me this week that if I am going to learn it well I must be willing to speak it imperfectly for a long time. That has inspired me to try harder than ever to move toward my goal of being bi-lingual. I need to be patient. I am going to have to work at it for a long time. In fact, I may not be able to remove the language training wheels for quite some time. That is ok. I left my pride alongside the road somewhere on the way to class this morning.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Memories of Farm Life

Guest Blogger Today: Jan Knox

Chris Frizzell's words a few days ago regarding “dogie” lambs opened a chamber of childhood memories for me. While I never had any experience with sheep, I did have numerous opportunities to bottle-feed orphaned calves. I would mix the powdered milk with water in a two-quart calf bottle, then head out to the cow pen, calling the calf’s name as I went. Sometimes, if I didn’t get out there quick enough, the calf would call for me, bawling incessantly until I (or rather the bottle) came into view. Either way, it never failed – the calf would come running to meet me at the fence and drain the bottle dry in a matter of minutes. It would suck on the six-inch nipple with surprising force, almost pulling the bottle from my hands in its zeal for the milk.

These are the images that come to mind as I contemplate today’s reading. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word…” (NASB). “Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness” (NLT). In assessing the strength of my hunger for God and His Word, I ask myself this question, “Do I crave the wisdom and presence of the Lord with the same passion as that of those young calves gulping down the life-giving flow of milk from the bottle?” There is no good reason not to because I have experienced more than just a taste of the Lord’s kindness in my life.

May God use these reflections from the past to increase our desire for Him today.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Habla Espanol

Today was my first day of school right along with all of the public school students. I am taking a Spanish class in a short course format this week. It has been enlightening already. I am reminded of how time consuming it is to learn a second language. There really are no shortcuts. It just takes time and patience coupled with lots of practice.

The teacher is exceptional. She is taking a very pragmatic approach that will aid all of the students immediately. I shared the following observation in class today: It has been my experience that if I speak in Spanish to a person who apparently does not know English, they will change to English, if they can speak it. That is indeed an accurate observation.

I always thought that was because they were just trying to hide the fact that they can speak English. My instructor says that is an incorrect conclusion. She pointed out that many native Spanish speakers do not feel very confident in their English. And that is why they are not inclined to speak English when a conversation first begins. If I am willing to go out on a limb, and speak in broken Spanish, they are more inclined to reciprocate and do likewise with their English.

I think there is a learning curve here. When we are willing to make an effort to reach out to a person in a manner that is most comfortable to them, they will do the same with us. Guards come down. We can laugh at ourselves. We can laugh with each other. We stop dwelling on our differences, and find commonality.

Overcoming language barriers is not the only context where such a thing occurs. Age difference can impede meaningful interpersonal communication.
Socioeconomic differences create chasms between people. Someone has to initiate positive communication. Someone has to go out on a limb. It is not easy by any means. It necessitates some vulnerability.

I have made lots of mistakes in my attempts to communicate in Spanish. Years ago I mistakenly asked a teenage girl to go to the hotel with me, because I used the incorrect form of a verb. More recently I said in Spanish: “I have many men.” I intended to say: “I am very hungry.” Tengo mucho hombre is very similar to Tengo mucho hambre. Those silly mistakes led to a few good laughs. The individuals I was addressing still appreciated the effort. I think I had better go back to class early tomorrow morning. I still have a long ways to go in learning a second language…In the meantime, Vaya Con Dios! Go with God!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

An Unexpected Trip Home

Life is good when it is neat and tidy. Would you not agree? Life is good when things are rocking along with the least amount of complications. I came to work bright and early one morning last week. Life was good that morning until I read the obituaries in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal online.

My best friend from junior high lost his dad. The man’s obituary appeared in the online edition of the newspaper. I felt really bad for him and his younger sister. I felt called to reach out to both of them, but there was negative history there. My friend and I had grown distant when were in college. Our parting was not a good one, and I lay the blame right at my own feet. I wanted to leave things alone. That would keep things in my life neat and tidy.

The spiritual nudging I felt finally won. I started using my investigator skills to track down both my friend and his sister. Facebook is pretty useful little tool.
I found her first. She was cordial and kind in her response. She encouraged me to come to the funeral service and in turn join the family for a meal afterwards at a restaurant in Lubbock.

I left my neat and tidy world Friday morning and headed west. Lots of memories started flooding through my head. Images crossed my mind that had been dormant for nearly 28 years. I laughed to myself and I shed a few private tears as well. When I reached the Lubbock city limits, I started feeling a little anxious.
I yearned for neatness and tidiness. But it was too late…

I greeted my long lost friend before the service began. He told me his mother died in Lubbock on November 7th, 1991. I in turn told him that my mother died on October 30th, 1991….We experienced such a similar tragedy during the same time frame and never knew it…We both knew what it felt like to lose a mother.
A new bond between us was forged very quickly.

I was pretty reflective during the service. More memories vied for space in my head. The time to visit and catch up after the service was rich. The process of reconciliation between my friend and me got underway in earnest. It is not complete, but it has begun. His little sister was…well she was a little sister back in the day. Now she is a very poised lady and mother of three children. The time with her was insightful and encouraging.

I am thankful to say that my neat and tidy world was disrupted last week. God chose to use a time of sadness in someone else’s family to work on my heart, because my heart is far from being neat. It is cluttered with mistakes and pride.

Sometimes I need be reminded of the heart clutter that has been stored for so long that I have nearly forgotten about it…God gladly provides such opportunities, because life is good when our heart is truly and neat and tidy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Memories Remain

The song: September, by the group Daughtry, is a piece that reflects on the tender memories of growing up. The chorus says:

Of all the things I still remember
Summer’s never looked the same
The years go by and time just seems to fly
But the memories remain

The summer of 2009 is officially over at 1:00 this afternoon. Mitchell will pick up his school schedule at that point. This year will be the final one for him in the middle school. Daniel secured his schedule earlier this week. This year will be the final one for him in high school. When kids pick up their schedules, reality hits. The party is over. Summer has come to a screeching halt.

The years have gone by… But I still have vivid memories of the summers of yesteryear. There were Kick the Can games that always lasted until dark. It was our juvenile version of Capture the Flag. We of course had our own elaborate rules. It was a game that we did not take lightly. Of course on Friday evenings we had to come inside long enough to watch the Brady Bunch on television. I marvel at the innocence of it all now. While we were playing our games and riding our bikes to each other’s houses, there were men ten years our senior fighting for their lives in the jungles of Vietnam.

The decade of the 1970’s moved on rapidly. By 1978, most of us had driving privileges. Some of us had cars. My best friend drove a hand me down 1971 Pinto station wagon. Of course it was a brown paneled station wagon. We spent our evenings getting into all sorts of mischief. My pinto driving friend told a few years ago that I owed law enforcement agencies in the state of Texas lots of volunteer chaplain time, because I spent the first half of my life running away from those guys.

I don’t remember the specific things we did as much as I do the people that I spent those formative years with. I probably should say that my memory is somewhat selective. There are things that probably should be forgotten! I have renewed contact with the vast majority of that group. Each of them is special beyond words. We formed bonds during the summers of the late 1970’s that have impacted each of us for a lifetime.

The innocence of the Kick the Can days was replaced with all of the uncertainties that accompany the teen years. We wanted to be independent. We all desired an identity apart from our parents. We felt called to rebel. And rebel we did. It was a time for first love. It was a time to learn about the meaning of friendship. We lived for the moment and gave no thought to the future. It was a time of experimentation.

We could have destroyed our lives during one our summer evening escapades. One or more of us could have been killed when we drove home in a drunken stupor. It was a time of grace. Thankfully God had obvious plans for each of our lives.

The summer of 2009 is officially over. It has been a good summer. I had the privilege of attending two church camps with my boys. I celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary with my young bride. I spent time with friends that I have known since I was a teen, and others I have known for a much shorter period of time. I formed new friendships as well.

I had several great speaking opportunities for churches and law enforcement agencies alike. I played a few rounds of golf. I spent some time in the front seat of a patrol car instead of running away from the red and blue lights. But the summer of 1979 is very much on my mind this morning, because…..

Of all the things I still remember
Summer’s never looked the same
The years go by and time just seems to fly
But the memories remain

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Tidal Wave of Abandonment

I work with a very talented and competent youth minister. He is in the process of pursuing a graduate level degree that will better equip him to serve families. Naturally he comes back to Granbury armed with all kinds of new information that he is gleaning from his coursework. I love it. I can be in school again vicariously. He is on the cutting edge of research being done about families, which is helpful to all of us on the church staff.

Last week he presented some material to the entire church regarding teen culture. It was very insightful data. When he pointed out research that indicates that adolescence is stretching into a person’s mid-twenties, I wanted to run away from home. He is also pointed out that adolescents of all ages in today’s world feel incredibly abandoned. Even kids who have two parents at home are not immune to feelings of abandonment. That caught my attention…

Our culture fosters a scary kind of isolation for young adults. I see it in the lives of the teens I interact with everyday. Parents are busy with their own lives and their children are doing their own thing. Kids are left alone to maneuver through the maze of decisions that are faced with everyday. The sense of community that small town life offered kids growing up is disappearing fast.

I needed a word of hope after his message the other night. I needed to know that there are still good things happening in families. I needed to hear a story of hope in the midst of the craziness. It came rather quickly.

A friend in another city wanted to find her biological father. It was her intent to at least be able to gather family medical history. But God had much bigger plans in mind. He always does. Her brother found her on Facebook of all places. His search and subsequent discovery led to his newly found sister meeting him, her father, and a host of other family members. His simple search led to a family gathering that will no doubt linger in every participant’s mind for many years to come. It was a sweet reunion. It was a moment of reconciliation. It was a time to catch up. I suspect that hugs and tears were abounding all weekend. And I have a strong hunch that most, if not all of those family members have felt the hollowness of abandonment over the years.

Abandonment hits people like a tidal wave every single day. It is a damaging wave that refuses to go away. But the damage can be averted. Healing begins when someone takes that first step. Someone has to log on to Facebook, and start searching. Someone in the family has to be willing to be vulnerable and risk potential rejection. God can work miracles in the midst of such actions.

When I heard this story of reuniting, I thought immediately of the movie, Antwoine Fisher. It may very well be one of my all time favorite movies. In the final scene, the matriarch of the family reaches out to the young man who has finally found his relatives, and grabs his hands. The camera pans in on the older woman’s wrinkled hands, as she says…..Welcome…. That is the cure for abandonment. A warm welcome from those whom we love the most… Let’s stop the daily wave. Let’s choose to make the first step.

No Gloating: I Promise!

I am really not gloating that Tiger Woods “choked” during the final Round of the PGA Championship this past weekend. At least I am trying not to gloat… I did not think I would ever see the word “choke” and Tiger Woods in the same sentence though. That is the very word that sports commentators are using today to describe his conduct during the final round of the tournament.

I am kind of excited to see a relatively unknown person on the tour win a major tournament. Y.E. Yang of South Korea edged out Tiger Woods in the PGA Championship. Yang did not even pick up a golf club until he was 19 years old. At age 21, he was serving in the South Korean Navy. He is ranked at #110 on the professional tour. This is what Yang had to say yesterday:

I don’t consider myself as a great golfer. I’m still more of the lower-than-average PGA Tour player. So my goal today was to just hit at least even [par], not go over par. I think probably that’s the different mindset.

I find this whole episode invigilating. I suspect golfers around the world feel the same way. Most of us like movies like Hoosiers and The Natural, because the underdog wins. His unexpected triumph tells us that underdogs win in real life, and not just on the big screen. Furthermore Yang’s victory in Minnesota yesterday is a reminder that humility really is a good quality.

Y.E. Yang’s cool headed demeanor under pressure stands in stark contrast to Tiger Wood’s cursing and lack of general self-control on the course. I am not the star student in the school of cool headedness, but I admire prominent people who show me what that virtue is supposed to look like. I hope this is not the last we have heard from South Korea’s newly found golf hero.

I am going to try really hard today not to gloat, but I sure do like underdogs! And I need to be reminded periodically that humility and self-control lead to more than one kind of victory…Today is my day off. I think I will head to the golf course. Maybe I will chip one in for an eagle today. Or maybe I will just try to work in being humble… No gloating: I promise!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Leave the Rescuing to the Firefighters

The needs of people around us are inexhaustible. Everyday marriages are crumbling right under our noses. Close friends struggle with addictions. Serious illness and death is a constant reality. And those of us inclined to be unselfish servants at times feel somewhat overwhelmed by it all. I have felt overcome by the darkness of the world we live in recently. I hate what has happened to close and long time friends. I finally realized today that perhaps I am more self centered than I once thought.

I can’t change anyone’s life. God causes the growth. I can do everything short of standing on my head to help another person, and the outcome may still be far less than ideal. Those of us in people helping professions are so inclined to put on our turn out gear and race to the fire. We get in rescue mode. We are going to save the person on the receiving end from certain destruction. I think I better leave the rescue work to my friends who are trained firefighters.

In light of that conclusion, I have a new philosophy of service. I need to assess what I am unable to do before I race into provide assistance. What are my limitations? Unfortunately such a practice has a very difficult prerequisite. It takes authentic humility. I must be humble in order to admit my limitations up front. Self-deception is not an option. I really have to be honest with myself!

There is a real irony in such a choice. When I admit my limitations, God is able to do more than I could have possibly imagined. In an atmosphere of humility, he assumes control. I relinquish control. The final outcome is better. Lives really are changed. God causes the growth.

There is an added benefit to my new philosophy of service. When the person I am serving self-destructs, I no longer shoulder all of the responsibility. My expectations are realistic. My efforts at service are done in a context of fitting boundaries. I can continue to serve without being overcome by the darkness that sin so eagerly provides. The needs of those around really are inexhaustible, so maybe self-imposed limitations and boundaries are not such a bad thing…

Saturday, August 15, 2009

He Never Came Back....

The deed is officially done. The school shopping has been completed. It will be my last year to take Daniel school shopping for his K-12 education. He will begin his senior year in just over a week. We found bargains at Ross, Kohls, and Target. And we had a blast. The final stop of the day was at Rack Room Shoes.
I like the buy one, get one half off deal. It gives me a good excuse to buy a pair shoes when the boys need some. This year’s experience was slightly unique.

The lady asked me if I would like to donate toward a fund they were managing to purchase needy children shoes for school. Little did she know that pushing the shoes button with me was not such a bad idea… My mind immediately raced to a conversation I had with my dad when I was about 10 or 1l years old.

My paternal grandfather died very suddenly, when he was 36 years old from an infection. My father, the youngest of three children, was almost three years old.
My grandmother proceeded to complete her college degree at the University of Georgia. In 1934, she packed her three children up and moved from Georgia to the mountains of Kentucky. She joined her brother-in-law as a faculty member at Stuart Robinson School in Blackey, KY. Stuart Robinson was a boarding school for very poor mountain children. Letcher County Kentucky at that time had no public schools. The Presbyterian church supported this mission effort to touch these kids in desperate need of an education.

My father received his education at Stuart Robinson. His mother taught home economics and later served as principal for the school. When I was growing up, he shared very little about his years at Stuart Robinson. There was however, one exception. And that story involved shoes of all things…

A non-boarding student showed up at school one day barefooted. His family could not afford shoes. My dad made this confession to me: “I laughed at that kid, because he had no shoes. And he never came back to school again.” My father was still deeply troubled by his actions decades after the event occurred.
I know that he was trying to make an impression on me. It worked! I have not forgotten the conversation. The lady at Rack Room had no clue that she hit the jack pot when she asked me to contribute today to a fund to purchase shoes for needy children!

I hope all of us will think carefully today before we laugh. Let us choose our words cautiously. We never know what kind of permanent damage we could potentially incur. We also have no clue as to the effect that our actions will have in our own lives.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Tribute to Youth Ministers

Youth ministers are not supposed to officiate at funerals. Old guys like me responsible for the church at large are entrusted with that responsibility. Some of us do it on a very regular basis. Believe me when I say: it never becomes routine. Sometimes 17 year old kids die. And it can happen very unexpectedly. The youth minster, who is accustomed to planning teen mission trips and directing camps, is suddenly thrust into uncharted waters of service.

My wife’s 17 year old nephew, Stephen, passed away very suddenly last May. He was a tall, athletic, and energetic young man. He appeared to be the very eptitome of good heath. He was fun loving and compassionate. I am sure he was a teacher’s nightmare at times, because he was 100% boy. He was a colorful character who loved life. Most importantly he was a fine Christian young man.

His youth minister did a great job handling a memorial service geared for the teens at church and at school the night before the funeral. It was well planned and handled with compassion. The same young minister in turn played a significant role at the funeral. I was impressed. He was thrust in a position that is difficult for anyone, but particularly hard for someone who may have never officiated at a funeral before.

When the service was over, I took a few moments to observe the crowd. As my eyes scanned the auditorium, I saw an older man embracing the young minister.
The younger man was overcome with emotion. The adrenenaline he had been operating on for several days must have finally crashed.

My mind raced back to one of the first funerals I ever officiated at…a service for a 6 month old baby. I was about the same age as the youth minister. I felt tremendous empathy for him. I also knew that good would come from this experience. That particular youth minister will never be the same. His view of the teens that he serves will never be the same. Youth ministers are not supposed to officiate at funerals, but when they do it changes them forever.

I need to think about the older man who embraced the young minister. That is my job now. My calling is to be the encourager and the comforter. My prayer is that I will fulfill it well. I am calling on my colleagues, who are old guys like me, to do likewise.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Reality is Your Friend

Hiding under the seemingly secure cover of denial is very appealing. Living in a state of denial is the best way to avoid the coldness of reality. So we set up our little tents of denial, and we crawl in them, thinking that they will protect us from the elements of reality. Unfortunately it never works. The unrelenting winds of reality blow those tents over in a matter of seconds, and leave us exposed once again. We found ourselves tangled up in a piece of nylon or canvas that failed to protect us.

The news today reveals the family fall out that is occurring following a devastating car crash that took place on July 26th. Diane Schuler was driving a vehicle the wrong way on the Taconic Parkway in New York. Schuler, her two year old daughter, and three young nieces were all killed in a crash that ensued. Three men occupying a second vehicle in the crash were killed as well.

Toxicology tests revealed the presence of alcohol and marijuana in Schuler’s system. Schuler’s husband, Daniel, has denied that she was driving drunk or stoned. Diane Schuler’s brother is infuriated at such denial and has effectively cut ties with his brother-in-law during this awful period in both of their lives.

Denial is powerful. It is appealing. It feels better than reality. I feel tremendous compassion for Daniel Schuler. I cannot fathom the depth of his grief. Unfortunately he is taking cover under a tent that will quickly blow away in the winds that he is about to face. Relationships that he needs right now are unraveling, as he seeks cover. The healing process is being circumvented by the presence of denial that is repulsive to those who could be caring for him.

Let’s not be quick to race to judgment. Mr. Schuler is hurting. His family life will never be the same. His life will never be the same. He is taking cover in the denial tent. When the wind blows that shaky shelter into oblivion, I hope there is someone there to embrace him, and love him unconditionally. He is going to need it. I pray that there will be people who love him today and tomorrow…

I have the same prayer for all of us. In some shape or fashion, we are all taking cover in the denial tent. After all, it is so appealing. I am reminded today of a phrase that my friend and mentor Charles Siburt often uses: Reality is your friend…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Tradition is a Good Thing

It is the second week in August and quite naturally I have Furr’s Cafeteria on the mind. That is what I should be thinking about. Every year, during the second week in August, my mother took me school shopping. We always shopped at Anthony’s, which later became Beall’s. I bought my first suit at Anthony’s to wear at high school debate tournaments. It was an Angel’s Fight suit, which reflected the disco era of the late ‘70’s. I felt like dynamite in my black suit and stacked heels.

Lubbock did not have Walmart at the time, and my mother was just not a K-mart shopper. K-mart just did not fit her traditional Southern genteel ways. The word “quality” was a favorite in my mother’s vocabulary. In her estimation, K-mart just did not reflect “quality.” (You have to pronounce that word with a Southern accent to get the full effect.) It did not take long to buy school clothes for a boy. A stop at Anthony’s followed by a run through J.C. Penney’s pretty well did the trick. My sisters had long since left home. School shopping was a lot more fun without both of them. And then it was time for Furr’s…

Eating out was a big deal back then. Our family always dined at home. Every year I loaded my tray with chicken fried steak and fried potatoes from Furr’s. The iced tea just seemed to taste extra good on an August day in Lubbock. The meal was topped off with a generous slice of chocolate pie. How would I ever be able to wear those 30” waist Levi’s that I just purchased at Anthony’s? To have such problems today….

I had my best conversations with my mother during those annual visits to Furr’s. I am quite sure that I was not the most pleasant person to be around when I was a teen. The chicken fried steak and iced tea must have broken the barriers down between us. My mother did not mind sharing her traditional values of loyalty to friends and principles of good hospitality. She grew up in a very dysfunctional home. Consequently she was very sensitive to people who had not had all of the breaks in life. I suppose you could say I learned a lot at Furr’s every August. It was a great tradition.

Next Monday I am going to take my younger boys school shopping. Their older brother has graduated on to more costly retail endeavors with his father. Mitchell is already complaining about shopping at Kohl’s. How I wish K-mart was still around! Threatening to purchase a pair of Rustler brand jeans at Walmart generally puts a stop to his commentary about stores.

The boys are not fans of Furr’s Cafeteria. I suspect we will eat in the Food Court at the mall. I hope the conversation is rich. I hope we build some good memories and form our own traditions. Last year I bought Daniel a suit for debate tournaments. This year I may have to buy him another one. Angel’s Flight suits and stacked heels are of course out of the question.

One August day I will get in the car and drive to Lubbock. I will have to make a small purchase in the Beall’s store, where Anthony’s once stood. I will go by myself to eat a chicken fried steak at Furr’s. I will finish the day by placing fresh flowers on my mother’s grave, which ironically is not too far from where K-mart once stood…. I promise to tell her that all of my purchases reflected good “quality.” I will even imitate her Southern accent. And I will think about tradition. It is the second week of August, and quite naturally I have Furr’s Cafeteria on the mind. You know…tradition is a good thing.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

It is Time to Move On!

It is time to move on. We all reach very decisive moments in life. Times when new commitments are made or old ones are renewed. The brief moment in time, when commitments are solidified, is of utmost importance. It is man and a woman saying their wedding vows to each other. It is a decision to remarry that same spouse, after a divorce has occurred. I know of two couples who have done just that in recent years. It is the decision to follow Christ... Committing to any kind of life change is a momentous occasion too. Those are the decisive moments. The significance of such times cannot be underestimated.

After the initial commitment is made, then it is time to move on. It is time to make that commitment come alive! Old habits must be eradicated. New patterns of behavior must be adopted. The old is gone and the new has come.

I find that making life changing commitments is very hard. I think I suffer from chronic paralysis of analysis. I also find that actually following through with significant, potentially life changing commitments is even harder. The journey on the follow through road is often treacherous, with steep hills to climb. My resolve to stick with the process sometimes lacks the four wheel drive needed to make the climb. The roadblock of discouragement prompts me to turn back, but I try not to let that happen. I have even driven over a few cliffs on that road a time or two, but I try to brush myself off and restart the journey. Perhaps most importantly I must realize that the trip cannot be undertaken successfully alone.

I am in the planning stages of an 18 week series of sermons focusing on the book of James in the New Testament. I have entitled the series: It is Time to Move on! I have found the strength needed to stay on the follow through road in this particular book. The words of wisdom are timeless. They are far more valuable when they are shared. I hope that my commitment to move on will be enhanced, as I share these insights with the church. My prayer is that the words from James will inspire others to make and follow through with life changing decisions. And I look forward to moving on with my close friends, as we all strive to follow through with the important commitments in our lives.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Living Years

I was stunned. I know at my age there is no excuse to be surprised, but for some reason I was really taken back… I visited with a man recently who had traveled a great distance to attend his father’s funeral. I asked him a few casual questions about his father, and found out quickly that he knew very little about his dad. He was actually very forthright. He told me that he had not seen his father for nearly 4 years. They talked on the phone about once a month, but the conversations were awkward and stilted.

I walked away from that conversation with several reactions. I felt really real sympathy for the son. He is about my age. He is married and has children at home. It broke my heart that there was such emotional distance between him and his father. I figured something probably occurred over the years to forge a chasm between them. What a waste.

I also could not help but feel some sense of resentment. I have longed to have the privilege of calling my father for advice or to just swap funny stories. My father’s premature death in 1978 made that impossible. I have gone through my entire adult life without such a conversation. The feelings of resentment passed quickly, because a third reaction overwhelmed the first two.

I realized almost immediately the importance of keeping the lines of communication open with my own boys. When they become independent, it is easy for the distance to grow. I was reminded today that as the father, I have the primary duty of fostering good will between us. If things ever do become tense, then I must be the one who takes the high road. Good relationships of all kinds necessitate a lot of work and commitment. My hope is that if I keep the communication lines open today, then our relationship will be strong when they are in their 40’s, with families of their own. I think I know what to add to my daily prayers for my boys… I don’t want any of us to have regrets.

Mike and the Mechanics stated it well in a song released in the 1980’s entitled the Living Years…

I wasn’t there that morningWhen my father passed awayI didn’t get to tell himAll the things I had to sayI think I caught his spiritLater that same yearI’m sure I heard his echoIn my baby’s new born tearsI just wish I could have told him in the living yearsSay it loud, say it clearYou can listen as well as you hearIts too late when we dieTo admit we don’t see eye to eye

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Take Me Back to Denial...

Over the next several weeks, dads across the nation will be moving their 18 year olds into college dormitories for the first time. They will not find the experience nearly as joyous as the high graduation ceremony. Oh, I have so much to say these unsuspecting parents. They have quite a road ahead of them in the next year or two.

Most universities require students to live in the dorm for at least a year. Some schools even require a two year stint in the dorm. University officials will say that it helps student retention. Students tend to get plugged in better on campus, when they reside in the dorm. There are several other seemingly legitimate reasons for such housing policies. But I know the truth.

The real truth behind universities requiring students to live in the dorm their freshman year may not be what you would expect. It all has to do with a father’s sanity. The psychological well being of a student’s father drives housing policies on college campuses.

When good ole’ dad moves Junior into the dorm, it looks like Junior is going to camp…for a rather extended period of time. Dad likes the idea of Junior going to camp…for 13 weeks. Dad does not like the idea of his son leaving home, and becoming independent. The thought of his daughter leaving the nest would send any self respecting man over the edge. These thoughts cause dad heartache and stress. They upset his psychological equilibrium, if he ever had any in the first place. He likes the idea of Junior being 18 months old again. Living in the dorm is a good thing. It helps a college freshman’s father live in denial.

After a year or two, camp comes to an end. The college freshman is a sophomore, or even a junior. It is time to move on from life in the dorm.
Good ole’ dad’s moving skills are called into action once again. But this time he is moving Junior into an apartment. It is much more difficult to live in denial at this stage. Apartment living resembles real life. Responsible adults with jobs live in apartments.

Over the next several weeks, dads across the nation will be moving their 20 year olds into apartments, for the first time. . It is a big step for a junior in college, but it’s not very good for the psychological well being of the father. He likes the idea of his child still being a baby.

Denial is such a good place to live. The whole apartment thing blows denial all to pieces. Dads everywhere will be on the verge of breakdowns, as they realize that Junior is not so young anymore. He is becoming independent. He is growing up. Those poor dads will think back to the day that they assembled the baby bed, in anticipation of Junior’s impending arrival. Bless those poor men. They may need counseling before September arrives.

I will do my best to offer them support and encouragement. But first my back must recuperate from carrying in supplies to set up household in my son’s first apartment today. Take me back to camp…Take me back to denial….

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

After Midnight Talking-Part I

I did it again last night. You would think that I would know better. I participated in after midnight talking. You have heard of such a vice? It can be a very a scary mode of interaction. Perhaps a definition is in order. After midnight talking is the type of interpersonal communication that takes place late at night, when everyone is tired. Fatigue does a number on healthy inhibitions. After midnight, we are more inclined to say things that we may possibly regret the next day. The inhibitions go out the window like a failed diet, and our mouths engage while our brains remain in neutral. All of this of course happens after midnight...

Last night's after midnight talking came in the form of a rash statement. I expressed rather firmly that a man's wife can either build his self-confidence, or completely destroy it. I went on to to say that there is no such thing as, in between, in this process. She either builds it or tears it down.
Rash statements like that always get me in trouble. That is why after midnight talking is generally not a good habit to assume. I am standing by last night's sweeping statement. And I think I have sufficient evidence to support such a conclusion.

My little bride has been building my confidence for a long time. My grades as an undergraduate student suddenly improved, after I met her. She convinced me that I could survive a master's degree program. I always viewed myself as being academically inferior. And then she continued to build my confidence when I completed a doctoral level graduate degree. She told me in countless ways: You can do it!

I have always thought I was a square peg in a round hole as a minister, because I do not fit the mold.
She has told me over and over again that I am unique. I have asked her a time or two to define unique, and she has graciously invoked her fifth amendment privilege. In the final analysis, my confidence was boosted after such conversations.

I can't possibly recount all of the ways that my little bride has injected confidence into my heart.
My math skills are simply not that advanced.

The opposite is true as well. I have witnessed compelling evidence presented by other men's wives.
I have seen women belittle their husbands, both overtly and subtly. I know men whose dreams have been dashed, because of the negativity of their wives. That list is also way too long for me to recount accurately...

I am generally very cautious about after midnight talking. Today I am grateful that one of the first comments out of my mouth just after midnight regarded my confidence boosting wife. She deserves it, because today we celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. She has had all of that time to becomce quite proficient in the confidence boosting business. I would say that she is a resounding success. I am off to bed early, because I may not be as fortunate in the after midnight talking arena tonight. It can be a very scary form of communication, you know! More on after midnight talking tomorrow...

Coming Home

I came home today. When I say I came home, I mean that I actually drove to my hometown, where I grew up. It is a good four hour plus drive. I had lots of time to think. The closer I got to home the richer my thoughts became. I even thought about the prodigal son making the long trek home. I wondered if his thoughts became richer, as he got closer to home. But you know that they say: You can’t go home. I think I know what that means, but I am not sure…

I think it means that hometowns change. People change, and so formative relationships with running buddies from the old neighborhood are not quite the same. Families move away and new people take up residency where close friends once resided. The old restaurants where I took my first dates, as a 16 year old, are long gone. The car wash that served as my first place of employment has been torn down. The assistant principal who provided a place for me in ISS (In School Suspension) is deceased now. Even the Dairy Queen is gone. How many cherry cokes did we buy there? So…you can’t go home. It is not the same.

I came home today. I actually drove by my old house today, where I grew up. You know they say: Home is where the heart is…I sold that house in 1991, after my mother’s death. But that house is still home. It will always be home. There are many cherished memories that reside in the depths of those walls. My mother cooked wonderful meals for all of my friends and me. I held my niece in that home, when she was born. I brought my fiancĂ© home to meet my family in that home. I said my final words to my father, prior to his unexpected death in 1978, on the driveway of that home. I grew up in that home. A part of my heart still resides there.

I came home today. I spent the evening with cherished friends. Later today I will attend a funeral service in a community not far from here. I will see people at that service that I only interact with on rare occasions. It will be a treat to see each of them.

This trip has reminded me that home is where God is present. God was present in the lives of the people I knew here many years ago. In fact, God was actively working in the lives of a lot of people here back in the day…As I drive by different landmarks, I thought of the people from home who profoundly impacted my life. I also gave thanks for those that reside here, who continue to shape me.

Perhaps at some level we really can go home then, because God’s presence is an ongoing reality. Home is where the heart is, and I want my heart to be in the presence of God…I am thinking about the prodigal son tonight. He found himself in a distant country, far away from home. He chose to go home. He wanted to be in the presence of his Father. I too want to be in the presence of the Heavenly Father. I came home today…

Sunday, August 2, 2009

When Your World Falls Apart

I have never experienced firsthand a natural disaster in which the physical world around me was literally falling apart. But I have heard some personal stories from those who have, and I listened attentively as they recounted the sheer terror and helplessness they felt in the midst of it.

Although we may never encounter a physical calamity such as this in our lifetime, all of us have times in our lives when the warm, secure walls of our emotional world come crashing down around us. Illness, death, loss, stress, or conflict can shatter our world and leave us feeling defenseless with nowhere to go.

The writer of Psalm 46 reminds us that even when our world is falling apart, God is still in control and is always there for us. We can run to Him for strength and protection. And when we reach the safety of His arms, we can just be still and know that He is God (v. 10). So the next time you find your world in broken pieces around your feet, run to the only One who can provide true refuge.

The Lord Almighty is with us;
The God of Jacob is our fortress.
Psalm 46:11

Jan Knox
Guest Blogger

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Partners in Crime

When I have the opportunity to lecture at law enforcement chaplaincy training conferences, I often tell new chaplains that they can expect to go through the same emotional cycle that most police officers experience. It looks like this:
When you first begin working with people on the streets in a variety of crisis events you are ready to save the world. In the case of an officer, you are going to put every bad guy in a jail for a very long time. Chaplains are going to rescue people from all of their difficulties permanently. I call this first stage rookie-itis.

Eventually you come to the stark and perhaps very unpleasant realization that you are not going to save the world. The bad guys will bond out of jail before the paperwork pertaining to their arrest is finished. The second stage sets in: I call it the cynical stage. You get to the point that you don’t like people anymore. Everybody in your mind is a bad guy. Everyone lies all of the time. It becomes difficult to see the better side of human nature. People have no problem calling the chaplain every name that they would cause my mother to wash my mouth out with soap when I was a boy.

And then you read the third and final stage. It is the realism stage. You are no longer striving to be some kind of super hero. You are acutely aware of your shortcomings and limitations. But you still want to help people. You are willing to concede that there really are decent human beings in the world. And most importantly, you know that it takes teamwork to help people in a meaningful way.
I have been a law enforcement chaplain for almost 20 years now. I try to spend most of my time in this stage. Sometimes I need periodic reminders that teamwork is of utmost importance.

This morning one of the officers called me to assist with a welfare check call at Walmart. She had discovered two elderly gentlemen living in their car on the Walmart parking lot. One of them is confined to a wheel chair. Diabetes is ravaging his body. They have no ties to Granbury whatsoever. Neither of these men have the ability to read or write. They are a part of America’s homeless population that is facing the hard realities of aging on the streets.

I reminded them in a gentle manner what the officer told them prior to my arrival. Panhandling is not allowed in the city of Granbury. I was also forced to inform them that our community does have a homeless shelter of any kind. Ironically I had discussed that very fact with the city manager just yesterday.

After a quick huddle, the officer and I decided to fill their car with gas, buy their lunch at Wendy’s and purchase a few groceries for them that they can take on the road. We both hated that we could not do more for them.

I went left the parking lot at Walmart feeling that thankful that I could something.
Most importantly I felt grateful to serve with officers who genuinely care about the welfare of others. In some cases, it is not safe to reach out to strangers. The officer was able to run their names to determine if the individuals possessed any outstanding criminal warrants. I could do my job and feel secure.

It really takes a lot of teamwork to accomplish any kind of service that is meaningful. The emotional cycle will fluctuate quite a bit, but serving with capable people makes even the most difficult circumstances far more bearable. Do you want be an effective servant? Find some good partners. God will bless everyone involved.