Monday, September 28, 2009
And then there are there are the jewels of education, who are tucked away in a classroom where very few people are even aware of what they are doing. They are ESL instructors. They teach individuals of all ages who do not possess sufficient English skills to excel in any educational endeavor. Some of these teachers are instructing 5 year olds in an ESL kindergarten class. Others are trying to help that middle school age child, who is at an age that is notoriously awkward, to learn the same curriculum that their peers are working through.
There are also a lot of adults out there who really want to learn English! Those same jewels of the education field are instucting immigrants in the evenings and finding time to tutor such individuals at various times and places during the course of the day. It is not an easy undertaking for a teacher. Thankfully there are no helicopter parents hovering over the adult ESL classroom, but there is also little acknowledgement from the outside world for a job well done. When an ESL teacher tells others what they do, they are more likely to hear snide comments about immigrants then get a pat on the back.
I heard from one of these jewels of education today. She is in the process of teaching an ESL student how to keyboard. Some of us learned this skill on an old IBM typewriter back in the day! She found a good tutorial website for the student to use, and they were up and running.
And then it got interesting... The teacher asked the student: How do you feel about learning this skill? And the student's response? She said: This is my life's dream come true.
October is rapidly approaching. Golden and auburn leaves fell from the trees and onto the sidewalk as the teacher left that ESL class this morning. The weariness that typically overcomes teachers around the first of October was noticeably absent. The comment from the eager student refused to leave her head...This is my life's dream come true... I am thinking about teachers today. I am especially thinking about the jewels of the educational system who are toiling away where few people have the privilege of seeing life's dreams come true. May God bless them for their commitment to the least of these....They are the real treasures of our communities.
In 2007, we started envisoning a free standing building to distribute food, furniture, and applianaces as well. The vision began to expand to include counseling services, recovery groups, support groups, and community education classes of all kinds. The final detail to be considered was...money. The church responded generously in special contributions in 2008 and 2009. All of the funds to construct a building that will be approximately 6,000 square feet have been raised.
The fun officially got underway September 20th with a ground breaking ceremony. The city of Granbury finished running electrical service to the lot last week. In order to stay within the confines of our budget, we are going to have use as much donated labor as possible. Kudos to Jerry Turner. He is donating his time as general contractor. We had a pretty motley volunteer crew out there this morning laying sewer line. I didn't think I would ever see the day that a sewer line would get me excited, but that was certainly the case today!
It won't be long until the service center is up and running. I can't wait! In today's economy, the timing of this ministry is indeed providential. There are a lot of people in Hood County in need.
The service center will soon be buzzing with activity.
Be sure to check out Trey Morgan's blog. He has some good perspective on the responsbility of the church to the poor: www.treymorgan.net
Sunday, September 27, 2009
I am not really into breakup songs, but this one actually has pretty compelling lyrics. One line reads as follows: There’s gotta be a better way for me to say what’s on my heart without leaving scars. Is there?
I prided myself for years on being blunt. I justified spilling out the unvarnished version of the facts on the basis that I was telling the truth. When strong emotions were driving those comments, the varnish was replaced with the acid of a sharp tongue.
Knowing my propenisty for bluntness, I asked the same question posed in the breakup song. Is there a better way for me to say what’s on my heart without leaving scars? My mind was immediately drawn to my favorite neurosurgeona, as I considered such a question.
Several years ago I had the privilege of undergoing back surgery. An old injury from an accident finally caught up with me. Neurosurgeons possess the ability to wield some damage. A careless mistake could lead to someone not ever walking again. But thankfully my surgeon was fantastic. He did a great job and I have been able to enjoy a full recovery. But… I still have a scar on my back. As far as I know, that scar is going to be with me for the rest of my life.
Is there a better way for me say what’s on my heart without leaving scars? The answer is: I doubt it. When we are forced to have unpleasant conversations, emotional scars are inevitable. I find myself in the position of having to communicate grave information to someone almost every week. I deal with people who have been victims of serious crimes or other traumatic events. The interaction I have such circumstances is often painful.
All of us find ourselves in situations of various kinds where we have to communicate hurtful or unpleasant information to another person. Breakup songs are popular because everyone has experienced a romantic breakup at some point in life. Supervisors find themselves in the position of having to discipline employees not living up to organizational expectations.
Painful conversations are going to leave scars. But we can alleviate as much damage as possible by being thoughtful, well-prepared, and compassionate. There is no excuse plowing into a critical conversation in a thoughtless or callous manner. It would be like my neurosurgeon cutting on my back with little or no advance preparation regarding surgical procedure. He could do some irreparable damage in a matter of minutes. We of course can do the same thing with our tongues! Say what is on your heart. Be honest. Be fair. Be kind. In many cases, being blunt is not the best mode of communication. Try your best not do any damage that would be terribly hurtful, but expect to leave some scars…
Saturday, September 26, 2009
It seems that every non-profit agency in our community hosts an annual golf scramble as a means of raising funds for their particular service. That is fine with me. What a great excuse to play golf! This morning I got together with a few of the police officers and put together a scramble of our own. Our motives for such an event were not as lofty. We just went out to have fun. The scramble format makes for a great golfing experience.
Everyone starts the hole by teeing off. The best tee shot is chosen, and everyone in the foursome hits from that position. The same format continues until the hole is completed. The score is obviously much lower at the end of the round, and everyone in the foursome has contributed to that team's success.
I like the scramble format, because it is fun to see the unique strengths of each player. One person is strong off the tee box and another one can save the day by sinking a long putt. In a crunch, the team is depending on those strengths! It creates a great bond among four players during the course of the round.
I wish I could take this principle from a golf scramble and translate it to the challenges that life brings everyday. Most of us work with other people on our jobs everyday. Each of those individuals have positive attributes to bring to the workplace. They also bring liabilities too. I suspect a lot of us focus primarily on that person's weak spots and not on their giftedness.
What if we looked at work like a golf scramble? What if we made it clear to our co-workers that their unique gifts are desperately needed, if the mission of the organization is to be accomplished? Why cannot we not figure out ways to compliment each other? Why do I think it has something to do with egos as big as Texas?
A golf scramble is no fun at all, if one person's ego takes center stage in the game. A scramble format will not work under such circumstances. There has to be an appreciation for what each person can do, or it is impossible to put together a decent score. It has been my experience in all of the tournaments I have played in that most people are able to check their egos in the parking lot before they unload their clubs. What if we could do the same thing at work? It could transform an orgnization.
I think I will promote the idea of playing in more golf scrambles. After all, it teaches teamwork and respect for the talents of others. Golf is enriching professionally. Perhaps orgnanizations should allow additional enrichment for their employees by allowing time off for golf scrambles. I am liking this idea more all of the time. I think this is a great line of reasoning to impress on Jan next time I am invited to play in a scramble. I am sure she will buy into it immediately...Or maybe not? Hmm...I have two more golf outings on the calendar coming up soon. If that line of reasoning does not work, I had better be coming up with one that will!
Friday, September 25, 2009
I was also reminded that we can be surrounded by people and still be lonely. We can enjoy all sorts of social interaction and still be overcome by fear. That sounds odd, but it is true. I recall going through a time of feeling abandoned and alone. It made no rational sense. I was not like the hospital patients who lacked a support system. There was no shortage of people who loved me. My sweet bride was as wonderful then as she is now. My kids were as much a blessing then as they are today. The list could go on... But I still felt abandoned. I was a grown man who felt like a little boy who had been separated from his parents at Walmart. I yearned to be nurtured like a child. I often thought: How silly!
Henri Nouwen published a series of essays in a book entitled: The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom. Nouwen composed this work when he was at a particularly difficult time in life. He even states in the preface that this book is his secret journal; written during the most difficult period of his life.
There is a quote in the book that transformed my thought processes about abandonment and loneliness. It reads as follows:
No one person can fulfill all your needs. But the community can truly hold you. The community can let you experience the fact that, beyond your anguish, there are human hands that hold you and show you God's faithful love.
I read that quote at least a dozen times before I figured out what he was trying to say. His thought helped me realize why I continued to feel lonely and abandoned, even though I was among such good people. I needed to allow my community to embrace me. I had to let them in my heart. I even had to allow members of that community to touch me and hold me. I realized that I had sealed myself off from people emotionally, and that added to the feelings of loneliness and abandonment.
During times of profound loneliness we long for human touch. It may be a subconcious longing, but neverthless it is there. We need to be held like a small child. Nouwen is correct. No single person can meet all such needs. But the community can embrace us, if we are willing.
I have been trying to take cues from Nouwen's conclusions about living in community, and you know what? I think he was on to something. I am more open with those closest to me. I take the time to hug more or to place an assuring hand on someone's arm. I have let my guard down and allowed the community to embrace me. It really makes a difference.
I hope I am now better prepared to reach out to those who have no one, because there seems to be no shortage of people in hospital rooms today without loved ones to see about them. I cannot imagine what must be going through their minds. If they have no community of friends, then I must begin to form such a network for them. Perhaps a warm touch or a gentle hug is in order. My prayer is that I can show them God's faithful love, as others have done so for me.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Bob was a retired troooper with the Texas Dept. of Public Safety. He was a towering man's man. If you didn't know him, you might say he was intimidating. As I got to know him in the final days of his life, I found him to be a fascinating person. He had a great career in the highway patrol division of the DPS. He helped untold people over a period of three decades. His love for his sweet wife and children was unquestioned.
What am I supposed to say to his daughter? She is 31 years old. She has a good husband and precious children. I am 16 years her senior. You would think that I would have something comforting to share. Hmm...I know what I want to say. I want to say: It is ok. Give it time and you won't miss him anymore. But that is not true. She is going to continue to miss him. I speak from experience. My father died 7 days before she was born. It has been over 31 years now, and I still miss him.
What can I say then? I should say as little as possible. I should shut my motor mouth and allow her to express her grief, as she feels it today. And I need to repeat the funny stories about her dad that I recall. She needs to hear the memories over and over again. It is profoundly healing.
It strikes me based on her post that honesty is the most important gift that I can give her. I can honestly say that it will get better. I can honestly say that there will continue to be good days and not so good days for many years to come. And, I can honestly say that the journey of grief will change her. The grief journey actually has the potential to make us better people. I am pretty confident that I can call on her for help, if I am serving a younger person facing the loss of their father. I tend to think she will be very understanding and compassionate...She knows what it means to miss someone you love.
I can say honestly that her facebook status still has my full attention.
I told Angela that my mother used to watch The Guiding Light and other soap operas, when I was a little boy. I am not sure she appreciated me referring to her now defunct daytime drama as a soap opera, but I thought it was funny. My sarcasm soon turned to self-righteousness. I had the audacity to tell Angela that I don't have time to watch day time dramas, because I see enough of that stuff in real life. Patrons ordering their eggs over easy that morning should have started diving for cover, because lightening was about to strike. I left out a few details about my lack of affinity for dramas in the conversation that took just a sharp turn down self-rigtheousness avenue.
I failed to mention that I love classic dramas on the big screen such as: Casablanca, The Godfather, Dr. Zhivago, The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, and the list could go on.... Most of us like well developed dramas, because we can identify with the characters. We at least identify with the human emotions they experience. I...well I sort of left all of that out of the conversation. I was having too much fun giving Angela a hard time about the disappearance of her outlet for drama.
We like complex drama portrayed by good actors, but there is an interesting irony that frequently plays out in most of our lives. Friends or family members encounter difficulties in their relationships and we often respond by saying: That is just too much drama! I just can't handle it. It is entertaining when it takes place on the Guiding Light. But it is more than we can handle when a friend is facing layers of personal issues? It sounds amusing, but it is really not funny.
Where are our friends going to turn, if we choose not to listen? What does it mean to be loyal, if we abandon the ship when things get too dramatic for our comfort? I find that there is some form of drama in my life on most days. One of my close friends is facing a major crisis on most any given day. There are moments when I am tempted to say: That is too much drama for me! You work it out. But I think we are called to a deeper level of loyalty.
You may get up tomorrow morning and sense that someone close to you is agitated. Do you dare ask what is wrong? I will let you figure that one out. I need to determine what drama I want to put in my netflix queue. And it would not be a bad idea to be nice to Angela tomorrow morning. She may need to a real guiding light one of these mornings...
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
As my aunt and I enjoyed fresh seafood, I got to hear the remarkable story of my parent’s life before I came along in 1962. A few moments before my departure I dropped the bomb on my sweet, aging aunt.
I understand that my father had a previous marriage, I told her. She immediately got this glazed and faraway look in her eyes. In her traditional Southern drawl, she said: I don’t know what you are talking about suga’. (Suga’ is Southern for sugar) It is a term of endearment my mother also used on the rare occasions that I was in good graces. I pressed my aunt with a few more details. At that point, you could have skated on her glazed eyes. Avoidance is endemic to established Southern culture. There are certain things that you just don’t talk about. Did my sweet aunt remember the events of my father's life between 1945 and 1950? I suspect she recaled most of those details. But even my well developed interrogation tactics that I have learned in the process of raising three boys did not get that information from her. She was attempting to protect me from the hurt that burrowing up the past can bring.
Is it best to leave the past unplowed? Should we allow selective memory to carry the day, and only recall the details that we want to remember? I dearly love my aunt. She is the only sibling left from my father’s immediate family. When it comes to the past, I have not chosen avoidance. I have consciously chosen to be an archeologist of sorts. I continue to choose to dig around in the past, and learn what I am able to learn. Archeologists are known to unearth treasures on occasion. I have found that be true.
Recently I have reconnected with people from elementary school that I have not seen for almost 35 years. Some of them recall events and situations that I had long forgotten. They have mentioned names that I have not thought about in decades. I have speculated with them regarding the current life status of mutual acquaintances from those innocent years. I have learned a lot. These individuals were wonderful people back in the day and they are today as well. I have unearthed true treasure. Priceless treasure to be more precise…
Is the entire archeological experience a positive one? Not really. A few unpleasant memories that I had pushed back to a dark closet full of cobwebs in my brain have surfaced. But that does not bother me. I got out some Lemon Pledge for brains and dusted the contents of that closet off very carefully. When the dusting was completed, I was able to view those events pretty objectively. Having the privilege of interacting with the true treasures of life supersedes the stress associated with digging up memories that are distasteful.
I may never know about the events of my father’s adult life that took place from the time he graduated from the University of Georgia until he met my mother in 1950. If I do get that information, it won’t come from my aunt! I am not afraid of that data in the least, because I am confident that there are true treasures lurking the past. We just have to be willing to be archeologists. There is indeed treasure to be unearthed out there. Priceless treasure to be more precise… I am thankful for that treasure today.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Miss Erick was my teacher in the second grade at Wind Point Elementary School. She was young and pretty. And she was sweet and encouraging too. And...she always smelled good. When I entered the second grade, I had already concluded that I was not the brightest bulb on the light strand. That was made clear to me in the first grade. I was in the blue birds reading group in the first grade. The blue birds were the slow readers. Miss Erick obviously had little interest in birds, and less interest in grouping kids by their reading ability. She convinced me before Christmas break that I was a good reader! There was no mention of the blue birds the entire semester. My intellectual shortcomings in the first grade obviously did not deter my new educational hero.
Miss Erick knew how to motivate her students. If we finished our work in a timely way, she would read Uncle Remus stories to us. Wow! Miss Eric was the ultimate dramatic reader. She would assume her place on a stool at the center of the classroom and read to a group of mesmerized second graders. I can still hear her reading about the legendary Brer Rabbit. I found myself imitating Miss Erick after class. Now I don’t mean in a disrespectful manner. I adored that lady. I would go over the story in my mind and copy the inflection of her voice on my walk home after school.
Miss Erick is really the one to blame. She inspired me to be a good reader. I never regressed back to the blue birds again. She showed me that reading could be fun, dramatic, and really funny! It was the first step in cultivating an interest in the dramatic. Next time Jan inquires about the content of a Mitchell Bear story, I am going to blame my second grade teacher! Thank you, Miss Erick. Wherever you are, you were one of the best teachers I had! You instilled confidence, provided a secure place to learn, and made it all fun in the process. And to top it all off, you really smelled good....
Saturday, September 19, 2009
I am very suspicious of simplistic formulas. Take this pill and you will lose 20 pounds in a week. Buy this program and you will be fluent in Spanish in a matter of months. Spread this on your lawn and you will be an instant nominee for yard of the year in your community. And the list goes on… But I heard a simplistic formula a funeral yesterday that actually made sense.
The person eulogizing Roy Castles, who died just weeks before his 80th birthday, made a very compelling observation. Roy lived by this rule of life: A person is successful in life; if he uses the gift God gave him to love other people. That is a simplistic formula indeed, but I think Roy was on to something.
I have my days when I look at the outward success of my peers, and I wonder where my train derailed? They are investing their money wisely. They are driving Escalades, and living in sprawling homes. They are playing golf with the clubs that I drooled over this afternoon at the sporting goods store. Outwardly they are successful.
Some of my friends are already anticipating retirement. They started their careers right out of college, and so now they are approaching the 25 or 30 year milestones with the organizations that have employed them during that time period. Retirement can be a reality by age 50 for some people. They are ready to start a second career. I see that a sign of success, and question the vocational choices I have made over the past 26 years.
Roy was on to something. There is no doubt it. When it comes time for my funeral, it won’t make any difference what kind of vehicle is parked in the garage. In fact, what if I don’t have a garage? That too is of absolutely no consequence. And what about that wonderful pension I am missing, as I approach age 50 in the not so distant future? I need to be working. I would get into too much mischief, if had a lot of time on my hands.
Roy figured out at least one of the secrets to success. He used the gift God gave him to love others. Roy was a mentor. That was his gift. Two people who were deeply touched by his influence spoke of his obvious love for them. One of them was a man who came to Texas from Vietnam in the 1970’s. Roy took him in his home and treated him like a son during that time period. The other man worked for Roy in a traditional dime store many years ago. Son-in-laws and grandchildren conveyed the same message during the service. He had mentored them in a spirit of love. Roy made an indelible impression on each of their hearts.
Roy Castle’s success formula is pretty simplistic, but I am having a hard time rebutting the value of it. Perhaps there is more inherent value to simplistic conclusions about life than what I once thought. I am ready to put it into action. I am eager to use the gift God gave me to love other people. I think I will start tomorrow! But wait a minute… What is my gift? There is my assignment for the week. It may be an assignment that could take months! I must determine my own giftedness. It is not an impossible task. Roy obviously figured out his giftedness, and I think he was very successful.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Monday afternoon one of co-workers lost her father. He died very suddenly and unexpectedly. I did not know him well, but I always appreciated the brief interchanges we would have occasionally. And I knew him by reputation as well. He was highly respected in this area. As I sat with the family in the tiny family room adjacent to the ER, an interesting fact about his life was revealed. It was his habit to pray the following prayer everyday: “Lord, lead me to the people I can serve today. And help me not to get in the way.” I love it!
God accomplishes His purposes despite our human frailties and shortcomings.
I took his cue Tuesday morning bright and early. That is precisely what I prayed, as I drove into work. Little did I know that my troopers here with the Texas Dept. of Public Safety here in Granbury were investigating a fatality accident at the very moment I was praying? The direction my day would take was about to take an unexpected turn.
I reported to the scene of the crash, as requested by the investigating trooper.
As I drove out there, I thought about what I had prayed earlier that morning.
I prayed again: But this time I stressed the “don’t let me get in the way part more.” In my role as DPS chaplain, I am placed in the position of bonding with people in severe crisis in a matter of minutes. As a rule, I don’t know them, or have any previous relational history. Divine intervention is therefore paramount in such situations.
In this case, the family was comprised of hard working and very decent people.
They could have been mine or your next door neighbors. The victim was a wife and mother and grandma. It was immediately apparent that her family held her high esteem. I tried to treat them precisely like I would want my loved ones treated in a similar set of circumstances the day of the crash. And I thought a lot about not getting in the way…
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I have a great hair stylist. And by the way, that is the correct way to address an individual in that particular profession. They are indeed called hair stylists. I used to get Bubba down at the barber shop to cut my hair. I am not sure what I am supposed to call Bubba, but hair stylist for some reason just does not fit. My stylist has other professional talents too. It was in the context of a discussion about her secondary career that I learned that hair stylist is the correct professional phrase.
Meggan mentioned to me, while she styling my hair, that she teaches exercise classes. I said: “Is that sort of like aerobics?” Now you have to realize that not only is Meggan pleasant, but she is nice too. She chose not to tell me that I was hopelessly out of date in my exercise lingo. She graciously avoided calling me an old fossil head or a dinosaur. In fact, she was so gracious, that she corrected my dated exercise vocabulary in an indirect manner. She said: “You know they used to call people in my profession operators. She hit a chord with me. My grandmother used to talk about going to her beauty operator every week. And then I realized, I had been had… She had ever so gently corrected my dated exercise lingo.
The cat was out of the bag. I am not a fitness expert. I proceeded to tell her that I was walking a couple of miles every day and working on getting in better shape.
Men my age really need to give attention to matters pertaining to physical fitness.
She had great insights to share about exercise and diet as well. It was nice to visit with someone about that subject who just has an affable demeanor. I frequently find that people who have put the effort out to get in good physical condition become obnoxious about the subject. Having conversations with such individuals about diet and exercise is about as pleasant as a hemorrhoid operation.
I think Meggan’s approach to the matter of diet and exercise might even apply to all aspects of life. Making people feel inferior because they are hopelessly ill-informed about a subject is rude and counter productive. The gentle and indirect approach to correcting another person’s dated word use or ignorant comments generate good communication. I left my hair styling establishment with renewed enthusiasm to exercise and watch my diet. Bubba never offered such useful information when he did whatever it was he did to my hair. I am thankful for Meggan today. In fact, I think my beauty operator is pretty cool.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
My mother-in-law, Barbara, is fully capable of befriending a rattlesnake. I have watched her in action for over 26 years. I don’t recall ever hearing a negative word about another human being ever coming out of her mouth. If she is inclined to deride others, I have missed it every time. She consistently reaches out to people in a spirit of compassionate concern. She is oblivious to racial or socioeconomic differences. It just never crossed her mind that generational differences create huge divides between people.
A few weeks ago a young couple moved in the farm house not far from where my in laws live out in the country. Ironically the young couple moved in the very home where my mother-in-law grew up. When I say young couple, I do mean young…He is 18 years old and she is 17. My mother-in-law is 69 years old. Her oldest grandchild is 21. She ignored all generational barriers and welcomed the young girl with a homemade pie and a personal visit.
It is my understanding that a fairly lengthy and meaningful conversation ensued. How does that happen? Barbara is very old school. She has never been on facebook. She only carries a cell phone for an emergency. She does not even subscribe to cable television. She has so little in common with members of the younger generation. But a young 17 year old bride told Barbara that she was looking forward to another visit. She confided that she was lonely and enjoyed having someone to talk with.
I have left out a really important detail out of this narrative. It is a detail that explains a lot. Barbara does not have time to gossip, deride, or otherwise assail another person’s character, because she is an excellent listener. She listens empathetically and consistently. I suspect that the young bride who received the pie probably has a story to tell. I can think I can say with confidence that her story was heard the day the pie was delivered. Generational gaps close in quickly when people care enough to listen.
Monday, September 14, 2009
I find on a fairly regular basis that people are a lot like that table. People are not covered with coats of paint. They are covered instead with the trials and disappointments of life. When people are scarrred by life, they tend to coat their hearts with a layer of protection, so they won't be hurt again. If those layers are ever scraped away, then something of great beauty is rediscovered.
There is an ironic twist when such beauty finally comes to the surface. People think that if their friends really knew them intimately they would no longer like them. That is not true at all. As each heart layer is removed, it is identified like the color of a coat of paint. Friends are able to see precisely what those whom they love the most have experienced in life. Perhaps a layer of grief over the losss of a loved one is stripped away. Or maybe it is the layer of abuse, or it could be the layer of a broken relationship. Perhaps it is the layer of abandoment.
I find it helpful when those close to me expose the things that are layered across their hearts. I don't ever think less of them. In fact, as a rule I have greater respect and admiration for them. When all of the protective layers are peeled off, something of great beauty remains. We are able to see our loved ones in a new and refreshing light.
I don't take on many wood refinishing projects anymore. I am either getting lazy or my patience is getting thinner! If the truth be know, I am actually more interested helping people peel back layers off of their heart than I am in stripping off coats of paint. People are important. Helping another person perceive themself more accurately is really important. I do know this: I am not painting my kitchen table. I am afraid my kids my laugh at my choice of colors thirty years from now!
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Every time I have to go up in our attic to retrieve something stored up there, I think of the deacon coming through the ceiling on Easter Sunday. I am of course extra careful to walk on the joists, and not directly on the sheetrock. I wish such caution was a consistent theme in all of my choices.
When we walk on solid ground or solid wood in the attic, we have nothing to fear. When we walk on a surface that is not so sturdy, it creates all kinds of issues. The Scripture says: “God’s solid foundation stands firm.” (2 Timothy 2:19)
The statement is made in the context of false teachers misrepresenting the truth.
When I walk on his firm foundation, life is good. When I get careless and stray, it is just a matter of time before I put my foot through the ceiling.
When a person goes through the ceiling, bones can be broken. It damages the structure. At best, it takes time to re-group and start all over. I have experienced all of the above at various times. I have veered off the sturdy beams of life that God graciously provides countless times. I have broken a few spiritual bones, and I have done collateral damage as well. There are times such experiences were well intentioned, like the deacon turned air conditioning repairman. The outcome is still the same. Embarrassment, brokenness, and widespread damage ensue. I am going to think about the deacon’s legs dangling down from the ceiling for the whole church to see before I make choices that are going to lead away from the solid foundation that God provides.
Friday, September 11, 2009
By the time I reached the hospital, there was a lot of nervous chatter among strangers on the elevator leading up to ICU. I ended up spending the day in a hospital waiting room with people who had loved ones in a trauma intensive care unit. All of their relatives were in very serious condition. It is hard to describe what it is like to experience a national tragedy with those who are no strangers to crisis. Natural bonds among people tend to be forged in setting like that. They look out for each other, inquire about the status of each other’s loved ones, and share goodies that friends bring. The added stress of a national threat in Oklahoma City of all places made the bond grow even deeper.
My friends lost their son. He died the next day on September 12th, 2001. I officiated at his funeral a few days later. He was a fine Christian gentleman who had been raised by the most wonderful parents imaginable. A nation was asking the “why” question a lot that week. A small gathering of family and close friends were doing the same thing in the trauma intensive care unit at OU Medical Center.
A number of my colleagues in law enforcement chaplaincy packed their bags and made the trip to New York. Some of them ministered to police officers and emergency workers at Ground Zero. Others were assigned to the morgue, and were asked to assist with death notifications. Their presence was needed. They made a huge difference, and their lives were changed forever.
I stayed home and served one family. I had no desire to be anywhere else.
My capacity to feel for people in crisis increased substantially on September 11th, 2001. I spent the day with people who changed my life. I can tie my shoes again, for which I am grateful. I am thankful for what I am called to do, and I particularly thankful for those who have taught me how to do it better.
Jan goes to the store armed with a list that few could ever replicate. It always has milk at the top, because the milk is at the far south end of the store. The remainder of the list follows the layout of the store down the final loaf of bread that is stocked on the far north wall, opposite of the milk. She has tried to convert me to using one of her orderly lists on my grocery shopping ventures. It will never work. I really have tried. I generally lose the list before I ever make it to the store. The meticulous method of shopping is just not for me.
My highly recognized school is somewhat unorthodox, when it comes to teaching people how to shop effectively. I too emphasize starting out at the back of the store. Put that milk in the cart first, because there is no concern about getting it crushed. The next step is to go up and down each aisle, and take everything in that good ole’ Walmart is marketing. Does spaghetti sound good for that week? Good! Go and on pick up some sauce and spaghetti. When you get to the cereal aisle, look up high on the shelves, if you want to be healthy. There are weeks when I feel compelled to reject my mother’s constant tendency to buy everything that was healthy and put a big box of Lucky Charms in the cart. Sometimes things that happened in our childhood just affect us. Go up and down every aisle. Don’t miss any of them. Put things in your cart that you know will be used. It is a system that works well, and it actually makes a dutiful chore sort of fun. It is an unorthodox way to shop, but I find that I come home with sacks full of good things.
I have found that my method of shopping is actually applicable to several areas of life. Personal prayer is no exception. Does that sound really strange? A number of years ago I shared a prayer concern with a friend. She took the time right there on the spot to write down the matter I conveyed. When I inquired about what she was writing, she told me it was her prayer list. As a young Christian, I had never heard of such a list. But I was impressed. At various times over the years, I have tried to keep track of a prayer list. I have had about the same amount of success as I do with the grocery list.
I pray much like I shop. When I go for my daily walk, I go up and down the aisles of my life in my head, giving thanks to God for what exists on that aisle. One aisle is designated for family and another one for friends. Still another aisle is designated for sermons and another one for the police officers I serve. It is a visual way to remember all of the important people and issues in life. The first run up and down those aisles is focused exclusively on thanksgiving and praise. Subsequent trips are reserved for intercessory prayers for others, or personal petitions to God. It is probably an unorthodox way to pray, but I find that I come home with a heart full of good things. I wonder if Jan will ask me to do the grocery shopping this week. I doubt it, so I think I will go on a walk while she shops tomorrow.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
All of us go through times in life when nothing is funny. That really is troubling. Stress can rob us of our joy, if we allow it to have free reign. Stress can also hijack our sense of humor, it we allow it to enter that compartment of our brain. God created us with a sense of humor. It is not a part of our fallen state. We were created with the capacity to laugh.
I am convinced that laughter truly is good medicine. I am not sure how I would survive life without impersonating my friends, pulling practical jokes, creating nicknames for friends, and otherwise placing those I love the most on the edge of their seat. I even use humor in sermons nearly every week. I can’t help it. That is just who I am. My friends know that I am going to find the humorous side of things in most situations.
I am coming out of a period of not thinking anything is funny. Life has been way too serious lately. I am ready to laugh again. It is time to do some scheming on a new and innovative practical joke. No one is immune to such antics. Friends beware. My sick brain is about to be engaged. Laughter is good medicine, so I plan to take an extra dose over the next few weeks. After all, I think everything is funny.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Several Law Enforcement personnel in Hood County were involved in an officer related shooting not too far from our home. About 9:00 I was called to assist.
There were ministry needs on many levels awaiting. My mind immediately went back to May of 2007, when I assisted the Texas Department of Public Safety in serving the needs of the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department in the aftermath of two deputies being killed in the line of duty. The situation last night did not involve a line of duty death, but it was still a similar ministry situation.
As I was finishing up the responsibilities associated with that situation, the police department called for assistance in a case of domestic violence. It was acute situation that needed immediate attention. They called me to assist, because they felt genuine compassion for the victim.
When I got home early this morning, I was reminded of a few simple facts. I have known these things for a long time, but I need periodic reminders. While we eat burgers and watch the little ones play, there are men and women out in the field protecting and serving. They are out there ready to protect a total stranger in a moment’s notice. They are out there serving as well. Serving in a spirit of compassion….
I continue to learn good things from our public servants. I think God calls on all of us to serve people from all walks of life in all kinds of situations. In a church setting, there are times I hear more about what people want and desire than I do about serving and caring. We are all selfish by nature. The truth is: I also focus too much on what I want and desire, and not enough on serving. Spending some time with servants who are in the trenches gets me on the right track in a matter of minutes. I am tired this morning, but I am grateful for unselfish servants who knock me back onto the right path by their example.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Several years ago I had to undergo a physical examination for an insurance company. A lady came out to the house to complete forms long enough to cause the IRS to be envious. The questions poked around in areas of my life that I preferred to leave in the past. I thought at one point she was going to ask me how old I was when I had my first kiss. When she finally completed the interrogation, she told me to roll up my sleeve. I told her: "I am feeling a little chilly right now. I think I will just leave my sleeve down." She did not appreciate my humor in the least. I could tell by the look on her face that she did not intend to back down. My sleeve was about to be rolled up.
I confessed. I told her that I was a big sissy. I shared with her that blood drawing needles scared the daylights out of me. She didn't laugh. I took that as a good sign. In a voice that any military general would envy, she ordered me to stretch out on the couch, and roll up my sleeve. She got out all of the necessary equipment and drew my blood in record time. After the brief ordeal was over, she asked me how I felt. Well..."I feel great." She resumed the conversation in her command presence voice and instructed me to tell all future blood drawing needle bearers to have me stretch out on a couch before proceeding.
I have been following her advice for nearly 18 years now. My doctor's 20 something nurse laughed at me a couple of years ago, but I did not let her youthful lack of empathy deter my plan. I actually learned an important lesson from the blood drawing general. There is more than one way to conquer a fear.
When we are facing a fear, we need to think out of the box. It is not a time for the traditional approach. There are usually multiple ways of approaching the issue at hand. Anxiety is crippling, so it also a good idea to seek input from credible people. My blood drawing general is an expert in her field. Her advice was thus very useful. I am thinking today that my experience with having blood drawn may very well apply to any number of life issues. I will have to consider those matters a little later, because in a few moments a lady is coming to the house to do an insurance exam. I am prepared for the detailed interrrogation. I refuse to tell how old I was when I experienced my first kiss. And while I am on the couch in a few minutes I will think of ways to conquer other fears...
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Here are a few things I have learned about golf that are not necessarily mentioned directly in the book, but Rotella's work no doubt influenced me to some degree.
- Relax It is really important to relax and enjoy the game. When I tense up, my swing is way off. I can't hit the ball well for anything! When I relax, I tend to hit the ball right down the center of the fairway. My short game also enjoys a greater degree of accuracy.
- Confidence I am on not Tiger Woods. In fact, I am not a great amateur. I am a weekend golfer. There is no reason for me not to step up to the ball in a state of confidence. I know what I am fully capable of doing. Big egos are extremely destructive in golf, but confidence helps.
- Be Yourself I am not going to drill the ball 300 yards down the fairway off the teebox. But I am capable of making up for my lack of distance hitting by giving a lot of attention to accuracy. There are times in the final analysis that I can actually beat the long hitter. I have learned to feel good about what I am capable of doing and not worry about my partner's style.
You may not be a golfer. You may not have any interest in golf whatsoever. The three principles listed above apply to a lot of life situations. Relax. Enjoy what you are doing. When we get uptight, we fail to do a good job at anything. The people who have to put up with us can sense it when we are uptight. It is not a pleasant experience for anyone.
Arrogance is not a good quality. Noboby appreciates being around an obnoxious jerk. Confidence is contagious. When we are confident, we breed the same quality in those closest to us. Confident leaders cause their followers to feel secure. I enjoy being around people that are confident. I learn from them. I am apt to follow their helpful example. I just like being around confident people.
I have to be reminded periodically that I need to be myself. There are times as a preacher I feel compelled to be like someone else. I feel like I should be able to preach like ole' ________. When I realize I am not that person, I feel like a failure. Confidence is eroded. I don't relax in the pulpit. Preaching ceases to be an enjoyable experience.
I just need be to relax and be myself. Confidence will soon follow and those listening will benefit accordingly. I always enjoying speaking when I am relaxed. It just feels good to be myself. I think golf has taught me a lot about all kinds of life situations both professionally and personally.
Perhaps I should play a lot more often... I might could become a scratch golfer...There I go again...wanting to be someone I am not. OK, back to the formula: relax, be confident, and be yourself! That is my advice, and I am sticking to it.
Friday, September 4, 2009
I spend my time doing different things than I did 10 years ago. I try to do a better job expressing compassion. I try harder to attend funerals. I try to listen more and talk less. I tend to become more emotional when I hear sad news about someone I love.
Why has it taken me so long to reach this point? It makes me wonder what I will figure out I should have been doing all along when I turn 60. Why am I slow learner? Is that just the nature of life? I am very aware these days that I still have a lot to learn.
Life experience continues to be a good instructor. In fact, life experience serves as a constant reminder of what is really important. Just this week life taught me a few things. A close friend buried her 28 year old sister this week. A mentor and hero of mine was diagnosed with cancer this week. Another dear friend was also diagnosed with cancer this week. She is a year younger than me. Two other friends are grieving the loss of their father this week. And two friends who live in different states are dealing with addiction issues in their families this week.
Am I depressed by now? Not at all. I figured out somewhere along the way that life is not a big party. I still have a lot to learn, but I have figured out that nothing could be more important than serving those I love in the Spirit of Christ. Learning something and doing it are two very different things. I don't want to reach age 60 and realize what I should have doing all along, so I am trying really hard to practice what I have learned! And it not always very easy!
Of course there is still so much to learn... I wonder what I will learn tomorow or the next day?
I really don't know. When it comes to life lessons, I hope that I will cease to be a slow learner!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
If they have a circle of friends, that is frosting on the cake. But all teenagers need one best friend. His observation countered what I had always thought up until that point.
When I was a young parent, I wanted my kids to have a wide array of friends to run around with. I was a proponent of youth group activities at church, and looked forward to the day when my boys would be old enough to participate in such events. It did not cross my mind that what the boys would really need is one best friend. I tucked my friend’s observation back in my head, and pondered it over the years, as my children quickly grew up.
I have found that his conclusion is correct. Teens indeed need one best friend.
As a parent, you want such a close associate of your child’s be a great kid. I have been fortunate. All three of my boys have made pretty solid choices in the friendship department. Their respective best friends have been a good source of support and fun for all three of them.
They have participated in group activities too. And that has proven to be important as well. I am not underestimating the value of church youth groups and extracurricular activities at school. Both of those resources are extremely valuable. My friend was correct. Every teen needs one best friend.
What about adults? Do adults still need friends? I would certainly hope that is the case! I am more fortunate than most. I have an array of close friends of all ages. I have been close to some of them for over 30 years. Others entered my life when I was a young minister. Still others entered the picture only recently.
I thank God for each of them very frequently.
Adults also need one best friend. I would submit that for married adults that person should be none other than your spouse. I am leading a marriage enrichment class on Wednesday nights featuring a video presentation by marriage counselors and speakers Jerry and Lynn Jones. Jerry and Lynn lead a ministry called Marriage Matters. In the presentation we watched last night, they reaffirmed the ideal of marriage partners being best friends.
I was reminded of my fiend’s comment years ago about teen friendship, as I watched the video presentation. Married adults need one best friend too…
It seems like such a basic idea. Why do so many couples miss that point?
I wonder if we get the order reversed. The social groups we are a part of as adults take precedence over friendship with our spouse.
I am grateful for my best friend. We have been best friends for over 26 years now. It is amazing that she still likes me. We do all of the things that best friends are supposed to do. We enjoy each other’s company. We have fun together. We share common interests. We have quite a list of private jokes that exist exclusively between us. She does not hesitate to put ice cubes down my back or squirt toothpaste in my hair, when I push her buttons. I am grateful for my best friend. I think every adult needs one. And every married adult should already have one. Best friends should buy lunch every now and then. I think I will sponge off of mine, and make her buy today…uh…again
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Imogene's Siburt's son, Charles has been a hero in the faith to our entire family for a number of years. We were so privileged to know his mother during the years that I preached in Muleshoe, Tx. Jan honors her in this wonderful tribute.
I met Imogene at a monthly gathering of ministers and their wives who served congregations in eastern New Mexico and the western edge of the Texas Panhandle. By the time I became acquainted with her, she was at the age that many would consider “past her prime.” She served effectively as a preacher’s wife for many years, dedicated to her husband and his work in the Lord’s kingdom. But he had passed from this life several years before, and she lived as a widow in a small town in the region.
Most in her shoes would have, at that point, closed the “minister’s wife” chapter of life, moving on to the next area of service, whatever that might be. But Imogene had other ideas. She was not yet finished with her God-given role of “preacher’s wife.” Through the years she had come to realize that many ministry families live a lonely and isolated existence. Often they are held to a higher standard, seen as “super Christians” who have somehow transcended the ordinary, every-day concerns, feelings, and needs of the average person. Imogene had developed a passion for encouraging those women who worked in the trenches of ministry with their husbands, consistently organizing luncheons and seminars for the specific purpose of building them up. Even after her husband’s death, she continued to look for ways to support and share her wealth of knowledge and experience with that unique circle of women who might have otherwise had nowhere to turn.
After a few years, our family moved out of the area to serve the Lord in another place. Imogene grew older and eventually went to an assisted living facility in Abilene to be near her son. Upon hearing of her death a few days ago, I thought about all that I had learned from this spunky Christian lady. I am grateful for the legacy she has left, not only to her family – especially her son and two grandsons who serve in ministry today – but also to the countless women like me whose lives she touched in a special way. Thank you, Imogene Siburt, for being a woman on a mission. May we all follow your example of love and service to the end!