Thursday, October 29, 2009

She Says She Wants to be a Doctor

She says she wants to be a doctor. I am impressed that a 7 year old is already assuming such a remarkable ambition. According to my limited math skills she will be out of medical school and ready to practice about the time that I will need a good doctor more than ever. I do hope she considers gerontology as a potential field of medical specialty.

My 7 year old future doctor happens to be the student I am assigned to work with this year in the BEAM program at Baccus Elementary School.

BEAM which stands for (Baccus Elementary Academic Mentors) is an educational program in the school which utilizes community volunteers and student mentors to assist students who need additional help with learning. My student this year is a cute Hispanic girl with long dark hair and mischievous brown eyes. After I read her biographical sheet this morning, I wanted to go on a search for books with medical terminology. But I resisted, and instead listened to her read aloud about a fat cat who was dealing with a rat and a bat.

As I mentioned in a blog dated September 21st, I was in the Blue Birds reading group in the first grade. Who were the Blue Birds? I can tell you that we were not considered to be future doctors of America in the eyes of our teachers. We were the low readers. (Be sure to mention that only in hushed tones.) As the blog from last month indicates, Miss Erick transformed this Blue Bird into a confident reader in the 2nd grade. I left the Blue Birds never to return again. Miss Erick is Mrs. Kreutz now. Her children are grown and she is enjoying retirement. She has left a legacy of former Blue Birds that are excelling in careers everywhere.

I have been volunteering for the BEAM program for several years now. BEAM coordinator Dana Reinke continues to be very patient with my often unpredictable schedule. As I listen to my students struggle to sound out words, I get a vision of blue birds flying off into the distance. Now I can add a new image to repertoire of daydreams. I can envision my little 7 year old girl walking into an examining room reading a medical chart. I actually like the idea of her reading my chart! When she scolds me for not eating correctly or not exercising enough I will be tempted to remind her that I taught her that vowels are long on words that end with certain letters! I suppose I will resist that temptation. Maybe I will tell her that I am glad she too left the Blue Birds. No…that is a not a good idea either. She might recommend that I be placed in an institution for mental evaluation. When she reads my medical chart, I will choose to be thankful that I had a small part in her education. I will choose to keep all other thoughts to myself.

When May rolls around in 2010, I do think I will tell my student that this Blue Bird is a doctor. (Her beautiful olive skin may turn pale when she hears that news.) I am not a medical doctor, but I do hold an academic doctorate degree. I want that young student to know that the BEAM program exists so dreams can become reality. She is not a Blue Bird. She is not a low reader. She is a future doctor. Now that Miss Erick is retired it is time for another generation to take her place. Dana Reinke is off to a good start in leaving a legacy of students that will excel in careers everywhere. Maybe Dana and I can enjoy a good conversation someday in the waiting room of our physician and former student. Why not? She says she wants to be a doctor.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Case of the Lunch Box Assault of 1969

Memories have a way of fading over time. I distinctly remember throwing my medal Flipper lunch box at my best friend, Colleen, in the second grade. That was in 1969. I also recall that it gave her a black eye. For years I have felt genuine remorse for that juvenile act of aggression. I have had some email correspondence with Colleen recently. Her recollection of that altercation is much different.

Colleen says that she threw her medal Snoopy lunch box at me. For 40 years she too has felt genuine remorse. Colleen also confessed to kicking me with her ice skates. I am convinced that is a figment of her vivid imagination, because I don’t remember that incident at all. I lean toward guilt on my part and innocence on hers.

Coleen and her four siblings were our neighbors, when I was in elementary school. I played football in the backyard with her. We created intricate tunnels and castles in the expansive sandbox in Colleen’s backyard. We played tennis at the Village Green. Our neighborhood baseball teams resembled the characters portrayed on The Sandlot. We skated on the frozen pond that joined our respective yards. I recall intense games of hockey, but no kicking episodes.

In 1975, my family moved to Lubbock, Texas. At age 13, I left the familiarity of the old neighborhood, and all of the friends who made it special. The sandlot and the sand box soon became distant memories. But I never forgot my close friends. My 13 year old son uses facebook, text messaging, and email to keep up with his friends. In the dark ages, there were no such electronic privileges. The years went by with little to no contact with my fellow baseball, football, and hockey teammates.

I suspect that we have shared a lot of the same experiences over the past 34 plus years. I really don’t think any of us were angels when were teenagers.
There is not much doubt that we all experienced first love and a host of other milestones of growing up. I went on to tear up my share of cars, struggle with discipline issues in high school, and even flunk out during one semester in college. But during all of those milestones of life I often wondered what ever happened to my childhood friends. Thankfully I won’t have to wonder much longer.

I am flying back to my childhood home next Monday. I am particularly thankful that the mystery of the lunch box assault has been tentatively solved. I found out recently that Colleen works with juvenile delinquents professionally. The case is closed! Her interaction with me at a young age prompted her to spend her career helping aggressive kids! I hate to admit it… The unconcealed weapon was indeed the Flipper lunchbox, and not the Snoopy one. I suppose I am ready to turn myself in at this point. But perhaps before this cold case is closed we should go back to the original scene of the crime and do some serious reminiscing? I can’t wait for next Monday to arrive. I am thinking we will cite the statue of limitations, and declare each other innocent.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Medical Mission 2009: Part III

Language barriers make communication in a clinical setting somewhat of a challenge. One year I inadvertently invited a teenage girl to my hotel room, because I used the wrong tense of a verb. Another year I said something else that was much worse. We have been very fortunate on this year’s medical campaign to have several native speakers as translators. They have worked very hard to assist the dentists and the doctors. I found out tonight that important life issues don’t have to be lost in translation.

A young couple named Othiniel and Paloma Guiterriez helped us today at the clinic. They later joined us for dinner this evening at a Chihuahua restaurant. I was determined to practice my Spanish with them. I thought a conversation about our children would be fairly simple. I told them that I had three boys. I shared the ages of the boys. I told them in Spanish that Jan talks incessantly and of course was corrected immediately by my colleagues. And then he Othiniel said something I thought was rather odd.

Othiniel told me in Spanish that his son just went to sleep. I wondered why that was significant. He went to sleep. Most children do that every night. The meaning was lost in translation until he used the word muerto. I recognized that as the Spanish word for die. I quickly put it together. Their child died from SIDS.
I used the English phrase crib death and he recognized it immediately. My Spanish vocabulary is not advanced enough to convey verbally what I wanted to say to both of them, so I relied almost exclusively on nonverbal communication.
I found that very little is lost in translation when nonverbal cues are used to get something important across. They could sense how I felt about their loss.

I have used my poor Spanish skills as an excuse in the past for not having meaningful conversations with people when I am in Mexico. I refuse to do that anymore. When I fail to try, I lose out on the opportunity to hear someone’s story. Friendships remain shallow until we are willing to listen critically to the other person’s story. The conversation with Paloma and Othiniel continued tonight and we discovered we had quite a few things in common. I listened intently, sought language assistance a few times, and enjoyed the conversation immediately. There were times when neither of us could find the correct words in our native language, but it is awful difficult for love and mutual respect to be lost in translation.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Medical Mission 2009-Part II

The dental and medical clinics in Chihuahua got underway in earnest this morning. We were able to see a total of 64 people on this first day. There was a quite a range in age and need. The doctors saw very small children with coughs, and elderly people with more severe health concerns. The dentists provided an entire range of services for their patients.

Two events stand out to me today. I recall taking dentists to Mexico in past years where all they could was extractions. There were years that they worked outside under a canopy. Running water was not available to use for suction. Dependable electricity was always in question. This year our dentists used portable dental labs that pack up like a suitcase. They roll through an airport with great ease. The portable labs include basic tools for dentistry like a drill, suction, and the like. It was so exciting to see our professionals do the same kind of work that they would do in their practice at home. I can tell you for sure that the needy patients we saw today were treated with the same kindness and dignity that people in the dental practice at home receive.

The second event involves a 16 year old girl. She received a severe burn on her leg as the result of a boiler explosion some time back. I don’t recall the exact time frame that it happened. Her leg looks awful. One of our doctors located the proper kind of medication and also did some wound care for this young lady.
She also prescribed medications that the patient will need to continue to take.
The doctors pointed out to me that a burn of that nature would have been treated quickly in a much different way in our country. We are fortunate to have the level of medical care that we largely take for granted. This girl did not have access to such care. We did the best we could for her under the circumstances today. It reminded of the importance of this effort.

I am grateful tonight for a lot of things. In particular I am thankful for the dentists and doctors who have given up time and money from their practice to serve those who are less fortunate. I am also thankful for our makeshift nurses. We do not have a nurse on the trip this year, so we have two men taking blood pressures and temperatures. More on them tomorrow….They are doing a superb job. I am thankful the hospitality of the ladies who served us traditional Mexican food for lunch today! It was a treat to be in Javier and Fatima Adame’s home for a noon meal. More adventures tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Medical Mission 2009-Part I

It all started almost 11 years ago…. In the winter of 1999, my long time friend and former co-worker, Albert Garcia called about a medical mission trip to the city of Nueva Rosita in Northern Mexico. He informs me that he does not have a dentist for the trip. Could I possibly find one? I asked him when the trip was scheduled. In three weeks, I was told. I just laughed and told him he was asking for the impossible. Dentists cannot rearrange their schedule that quickly. But Albert is a very close friend, and you will do things for such individuals….

I told him I would speak with my friend, Dr. Teri White. If she was willing to go on such short notice, I would go too. Teri is in a dental practice with her husband, so she committed to go on the trip short with such short notice. Mori would cover for her somehow. I called Albert back. He was thrilled. He had another question. Could I find a doctor for the medical mission? I totally went off on Albert. I asked him how he planned to host medical clinics without a dentist or a doctor. Of course at that point I knew I had been conned. Thankfully Dr. Helen Chiou agreed to accompany us on very short notice. Albert was passionate about reaching out to that particular community because of family ties. He knew that his good friend John Knox would work out the details.

We started making a few phone calls. I promoted the trip in the church bulletin. In a very short time, we had 20 people signed up for the impromptu trip. I received a call a few days later from a nurse named Cheryl Siders. She wanted to join us. She also knew a young man who was completing his residency in family practice. He too would like to join us. I met Jason Ray the day we left for Nueva Rosita.

It was a great trip that year. Teri White discovered that she was expecting a child not long before the scheduled departure, so Mori ended up going in her place in 1999. Teri’s initial enthusiasm set the wheels in motion for a decade of such efforts. Jason Ray finished his residency in family practice. He has not missed a medical mission trip to Mexico with us since that time. His wife, Kathy, is also a physician. She has joined us on several of these outreaches. In fact, Kathy is accompanying us on this trip.

There has been a trip to some location in Mexico every year since 1999. We have taken dozens of medical professionals and a lot of willing volunteers too! Dr. Chris Cheyne added a great dimension to the mission by offering optometry services. Dr. Elizabeth Berry, Dr. Robert Lepard, and Dr. Mike McCoy have all offered dental services along with Drs. Teri and Mori White. Elizabeth’s husband, Dr. Jason Berry, has graciously covered their dental practice in her absence for a number of years now. Dr. Chiou and Drs. Kathy and Jason Ray have also been tremendous assets over all of these years.

How many people have been seen in the clinics over this ten year period? I wish now I had better records. I would venture to say that the clinics have hosted close to 5,000 people at this point. It all started with Albert’s passion for a group of people and Dr. Teri’s willingness to be very spontaneous and enthusiastic about working with a couple of nuts like Albert and myself. This is the first year that Albert has not been a part of this trip. I feel a little bit like a pouting 4 year old whose best friend cannot attend his birthday party. I miss Albert. He will be anxious to hear all of the details. I can’t wait to see who might join us in future years! To God be the glory!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hanging out at the Donut Shop-Part I

Tomorrow I am teaching an 8 hour continuing education class at Tarrant County College’s Criminal Justice Training Center. Police officers in Texas are required to complete a certain amount of approved coursework every year in order to keep their certification current. Tomorrow’s subject matter includes: death notifications, line of duty deaths, stress in law enforcement, and suicide.
Will the students go home feeling totally depressed after a day of such subject matter? Hopefully tomorrow’s time in the classroom will be productive as well as preventive.

The average citizen envisions a police officer doing one of two things: Either that officer is sitting in a donut shop or he is writing some innocent citizen a speeding ticket. (By the way, if they are receiving a citation, there is a really good chance that they are anything but innocent.) I would challenge anyone who perceives officers in that light to spend one shift in the front seat of a patrol car.

A typical shift entails dealing with people that have all kinds of problems. What is an officer supposed to do with an 18 year old kid who is sleeping in a public restroom at night, because he no place to go? That same officer fails to win a popularity contest when he takes an abusive husband to jail for family violence. The abused spouse may have obvious signs of a physical assault, but she still loves Bubba. Officers arrest individuals for theft at local retail stores nearly every single day. They stop drivers that are driving at dangerous levels of intoxication every singe evening without exception. Those are all very routine calls for service. What about the more intense situations?

When a 19 year old girl comes home to find her deceased father in the floor of their home, she is going to call 911. A police officer will likely be the first one on scene. When a depressed 50 year old man takes his own life at his home, his aged mother will greet a police officer at the front door. When an injury car crash occurs, officers will carefully work their way through snarled traffic in an attempt to arrive on scene as quickly as possible. They never know what to expect in such situations. The police additionally deal with people who are irrational and dangerous.

Officers periodically are called to face off with people threatening others or themselves with all kinds of weapons. Such individuals are never in a rational state of mind. Intoxication often factors into such situations. The mental state of that person is often in question. They all have one thing in common: they are imminent danger to themselves and to others. They are capable of doing anything.

Will tomorrow’s time together be depressing for the officers in attendance? I really don’t think that will be the case. The class may actually serve as a safe place to discuss stressful events of the past. I hope I can provide some helpful resources. Believe it or not I think it will be a great day for everyone involved!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Short Fuses Leave a Path of Destruction

I readily admit that I am inclined to have a short fuse at times. I have worked really hard over the years at developing the virtue of patience. Consistently being the non anxious presence is quite the challenge. I had the opportunity to work on that virtue not once, but twice yesterday.

We drove into Woodward, OK about 1:30 Friday morning after a six hour drive. I officiated at a funeral in Granbury Thursday afternoon before we took off. Another funeral was scheduled for Friday in Woodward. I was looking forward to a few hours of sleep. The night clerk at the hotel was waiting on another person ahead of me, when I arrived. She was slow! She seemed new to the job and obviously lacked confidence. I was so tired that I was tempted to vault the counter in the hotel lobby and learn the computer program to register people myself. When my turn finally rolled around, she could not find our reservation.

We discussed the options and finally got something worked out. When we got up to the room, the boys fell asleep immediately. But the saga was not over. We soon discovered that the commode was not functional. By now it was past 2:00 in the morning. My patience ran out of energy during the reservation interchange. I was ready to unload on that poor girl at the desk.
I took the elevator down to the first floor. As I walked across the lobby, I saw that her getting all flustered as she attempted to check in a trio of characters into their rooms. I suddenly saw that girl in a different light. It occurred to me that she is about Randall’s age. I started wondering if she had a husband or a child at home. The idea of her dealing with all kinds of people in the middle of the night started troubling me. I gently told her that the commode was not working in our room. I could tell by the way she looked at me that she was expecting me to be really angry about it. She apologized profusely. I told her that she had no control over non-functioning commodes. We both enjoyed a good laugh. She moved us to another room and we got a few hours of sleep.

The hotel saga continued the next day. They had made a mistake on the billing process. My patience waned once again. I drove out there after the funeral Friday afternoon. My guns were loaded. I was ready to fire a few verbal bullets. When I walked into the lobby this time, the young lady behind the desk greeted me warmly. John: it is so good to see you! I saw your name on the list and I was so excited about getting to see you. I immediately told her how glad I was to see her as well. I unloaded my verbal bullets as unobtrusively as possible, as I leaned across the counter to catch up with someone I had not seen for at least six or seven years.

I have a lot of growing to do in the patience department. I have been reminded over the past couple of days that people are far more important than our minor inconveniences. The night clerk was young and very inexperienced. The hotel management had done her a disservice by leaving her on that late night shift all alone. She needed someone to extend some grace to her more than anything else. I could have done permanent damage to a friendship, if I had allowed my lack of patience to carry the day. Short fuses blow up relationships and destroy people. I think I better keep on working on that whole patience thing…

Friday, October 16, 2009

It is Not West Palm Beach, FL...

If you wait until you can afford to have kids, you most likely will wait a long time. If you postpone going to college until everything is just right, you will never get a degree. And if you delay serving other people until your own life circumstances are just right, you may forfeit the privilege of giving of yourself to others.

Last night shortly after midnight we drove through Clinton, OK. Clinton is a mid-sized Oklahoma town just north of Interstate 40. Years ago old Route 66 went through the Clinton area. It is not a place that I would choose to visit for any length of time. Clinton is not exactly West Palm Beach, FL. But my family has very fond memories of Clinton, OK.

Eleven years ago we were driving through Clinton after attending a reunion, when our Suburban decided to have acute engine failure. My entire family was stranded on the side of a fairly desolate road late on a Sunday afternoon. Our youngest son was only two years old. I took off walking, because there was no cell service where the Suburban decided to call it quits. Before I got too far a lady driving in the opposite direction happened upon us.

She stopped. And she immediately offered to drive us into Clinton. I had been working with law enforcement officers for eight years in 1998. I wanted to tell her: Don’t let us get in your car! My family could be a cover for my ominous motives.
I knew she was a decent person. I read people pretty well…

She took us into Clinton. In fact, she took us to her home. I called a friend and he agreed to rescue us. I called a wrecker service and told him that the Suburban needed to be admitted to intensive care immediately. We met other members of her family. We even met her mother. You see her mother was terminally ill. The family was caring for her at home with the assistance of Hospice.

I felt so humbled. I was ticked off about an uncooperative Suburban. I was mildly inconvenienced that Sunday afternoon. The lady who took us to her home had real problems. She did not let her personal concerns impede her from being a Good Samaritan. We would have been tickled if she would have just driven us to town, where the cell phone service was decent. She treated us like we had been neighbors for years. I learned a valuable lesson back in 1998… You don’t have to wait until your personal circumstances are in order to make a difference in another person’s life. We could not help but smile as we drove right outside of Clinton, OK last night. It is not West Palm Beach, FL, but it is a pretty special place for my family.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Dark Suit and a Pressed White Shirt...

Our society is becoming increasingly casual. When my father worked for International Harvester and later for the J.I. Case Company, he wore dark suits and a pressed white shirt everyday. I seriously doubt that corporate employees across the board are that formal anymore. I still wear a dress shirt and a tie on most Sundays, when I preach. I am not inclined to wear a suit in the summertime. But that has not always been the case. There was a time when I wore a coat and tie every Sunday. Keeping a wardrobe current on a young minister’s salary was sometimes a challenge. One December about 9 years ago that was not an issue…

Joy Martin worshipped with the church I was serving at the time in Woodward, OK. Joy was a lady in her 70’s. At least everyone else thought she was in her 70’s. Joy thought she was still in her 20’s. She dressed cool, thought young, and loved being generous.

One Sunday Joy gave me the business card for a very nice men’s store in Oklahoma City. I had driven by the store on several occasions, but that was as close as I had ever gotten. My budget did not allow me to even get within a 100 yards of a store like that. An upscale purchase for me would take place at the annual suit sale at Dillard’s, if I had experienced a good year. The business card represented a store that made look Dillard’s look K-Mart. You get the idea…

Joy told me not to pass to pass go or collect $200.00. I was to go directly the men’s store and be fitted for a suit, shirts, ties, and a pair of matching dress shoes. I am a little surprised she did not include a pair of silk boxers in the deal.
I was stunned. I wondered if it would be ok for me to park my old Ford truck in front of that store, of should I borrow a Lexus for the day.

I made my way to Oklahoma City one cold December day. I don’t think an item in that store had a price tag on it. I had never been in a store like that before, but I tried to act at home, and enjoy some small talk with Franc the suit man. He measured everything down to the length of my index finger. I picked up my suit a week later. Wow! Church members had no clue that John could clean up so well.

It was a special treat that Christmas. I will never forget her kind generosity. When I grow old, I don’t want to do it like most people. I want to grow old like Joy Martin. I want to be cool, think young, and be generous.

Joy Martin passed away yesterday. It was her birthday…. I miss her terribly.
Friday morning I have the privilege of speaking at her funeral service. I think it would be a good idea to wear a dark suit and a pressed white shirt.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Letting Go...

This week has been a whirlwind. I am officiating at funerals on both Thursday and Friday. I will in turn officiate at a wedding on Saturday. Major life changes for all three of the above mentioned families. They are all fine people. In the midst of those life altering events, I saw this quote on still another facebook status: "Some people think it's holding on that makes one strong--sometimes it's letting go."

Reading that quote actually caused me to want to go back and preach a sermon I delivered a few weeks ago all over again with a much different approach. I preached on the virtue of perseverance. The theme was: never give up! I even made up a word to use in that lesson: stickability. I stressed the biblical ideal of persevering, so we can become mature and complete. After seeing the above quotation, I realized that my approach to the subject of perseverance was seriously flawed.

There are times that letting go is the right thing to do. It is not the easiest choice. It is not painless. Letting go of something that has given us security actually demands more courage and tenacity. It is a lot easier to remain in a friendship that is unhealthy than to walk away. Holding on to bitterness is like drinking a daily dose of acid, but even that becomes secure in a twisted sort of way. Letting go of bitterness is one of the ultimate tests of character. Letting go of bitterness truly makes us strong.

Relationships end, but the associated feelings do not vanish into thin air overnight. Careers are halted due to sudden termination or a layoff. Educational endeavors are postponed, because of a financial setback or family crisis. We wonder how we will carry on with life. We choose to be strong by letting go, and opening a new life chapter.

Fear can be crippling. It destroys confidence and self-respect. And yet we hold on to destructive fear, because that is all we have ever known. Strength is renewed as we let go of our fears, and trust in Him.

Holding on to pride impedes the life changes that need to be made so desperately. But we hang on to pride, as if it were a prize trophy. We could be embarrassed if we actually swallow a little pride. Relinquishing pride and embracing humility makes us strong.

It necessitates wisdom to know when to persevere and when to let go. Sometimes we just hold on to the wrong things at the wrong time. In looking back, I realize that I have erred on both sides. Sticking it out will often make us stronger and better people. Sometimes letting go makes us strong as well. I needed to hear that today. In fact, I may go back and preach that sermon on perseverance again. I wonder what the church would think…

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Generosity is in Style

I am not very good at keeping up with the latest trends in men’s apparel. I am content to wear a pair of Levis and my t-shirt that says: Old Guys Rule on the back. I can even be seen a freshly starched shirt with a tie periodically too. During a recent school shopping run to Kohl’s the boys informed that scarves were stylish for men. You have got to be kidding?

I immediately had flashbacks to my formative years. My mother wore hideous looking scarves around her head to keep her 1960’s poufy hairstyle from being destroyed by the wind coming off of Lake Michigan. Now my mother was a very pretty woman, but the scarves were anything but stylish. As we looked at scarves for members of the male gender, my mind also flashed back to a more recent event…

We have a close friend who has a 20 year old daughter. I have always wondered what it would be like to have a girl. Watching our friend raise her daughter, who is the same age as our firstborn son, has given me some good insight as to what such an experience could have been like. While Randall was doing what typical 15 year old boys do, this young lady was diagnosed with Lupus.

Lupus is a strange and complicated disease. One of my sisters teaches in a medical school, so I immediately consulted with Dr. Kerry Knox about such a diagnosis in the life of a 15 year old girl. Her response to my inquiry was not at all encouraging.

The young lady experienced all sorts of testing procedures, treatments and lengthy hospital stays. The treatment strategy ultimately led to a hospital associated with the University of Chicago. A highly risky procedure involving stem cells ensued. The process also involved a regimen of chemotherapy. A beautiful 17 year old girl faced the loss of all of her hair.

She and her mother visited a high end boutique situated on the first floor of the Chicago hotel where the family was staying. (I think boutique is the correct term to refer to such a place.) They were searching for scarves to cover her head during the chemotherapy ordeal. The wind coming off of Lake Michigan can be very cold in the fall and winter…

They found a handmade scarf that was stylish, but the price tag would scare off anyone who works for a living! They quietly put it back in its rightful place at the boutique. You have to realize that my friends from rural Oklahoma have never met a stranger. And I am quite sure they were somewhat of a novelty in downtown Chicago. Mother and daughter are beautiful people on the outside and on the inside too…Their story naturally came out during the course of discussion with the employee at the boutique.

Later that afternoon there was a knock on the door of my friends’ hotel room. A delivery person presented them with a mysterious box. When they opened the unexplained package, there were several handmade scarves staring them in the face. The accompanying note explained that the employee of the boutique had contacted the lady who had crafted the scarves. She wanted the young girl undergoing chemotherapy to have them as a gift.

Scarves are stylish for men this year. I think I may purchase one at Kohl’s to wear under my wool coat this winter. It can serve as an important symbol. It can be a symbol of generosity and compassion. It can remind me to be aware of strangers around me, who are trying to maneuver about in a strange city. I suppose I will indeed purchase a scar this week, but today I need to realize that there may be some form of a scarf that I need to give to someone else. I wonder if the wind coming off Lake Michigan is cold today?

Friday, October 9, 2009

I Just Can't Help It

I just can’t help it… People in the counseling profession occasionally hear such firm assertions. When confronted with inappropriate behavior, the response is: I just can’t help it. That is pretty weak. A good counselor will guide a person to see the importance of personal responsibility. I heard the: I can’t help it phrase in a much different context this afternoon at the funeral service for Neva Lacy.

Neva was a dedicated volunteer at the Southside Church of Christ in Ft. Worth for over 60 years. At the service today, one of the officiators guessed that she probably prepared at least 5,000 meals over that 60 year period for families experiencing a time of sickness or a death. But her favorite avenue of service was volunteering at the Tarrant County Jail in Ft. Worth.

As a law enforcement chaplain, I have been in a lot of jails over the years. My role, however, has always been to serve the officers, and not the inmates. I do know firsthand that county jails are not the most desirable places to visit. They have their own distinct odor and it is not pleasant. The behavior of inmates, when visitors are present, can be obnoxious and vulgar. It is a jail, so there is some degree of threat to personal safety.

Neva told people repeatedly that the female inmates she visited did not have a grandma. It was her calling to be a grandma to those women. She continued to visit and encourage women, who in some cases had been charged with felonies. At age 83, she realized it was time to retire from her service at the jail.

There are rules for those who visit the Tarrant County Jail in a volunteer capacity.
One of those rules is: you cannot hug an inmate. That is a clear violation of volunteer protocol. Neva had a response to that rule. She said: I know we are not supposed to hug the inmates, but I just can’t help it… She decided it was a case where it was just easier to get forgiveness than permission. I doubt Tarrant County had a jailer in their employ who had enough courage to tell Neva Lacy that hugs were off limits.

I suspect she quite literally touched the lives of a lot of women for decades in the Tarrant County Jail of all places. I find myself tempted to use the: I can’t help it phrase in reference to all kinds of behaviors. But I am not sure I have ever used it for such a noble reason. Neva has been added to my personal hall of fame of heroes. I too want to be able to tell my friends that I hugged someone who was vulnerable and in trouble, because I simply could not help it.

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Matthew 25:34-36

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not Just Anyone Visits the Police Department

I knew he was in desperate need… I got a call today to assist a young man traveling through Granbury who was without a vehicle, out of money, and hungry. I had a pretty idea that he was legitimate. In fact, I knew he was desperate. He showed up in the lobby at the police department late this afternoon.

People that have something to hide don’t frequent the police department for any reason. As I interviewed him, he inhaled the food that one of our supervisors purchased for him. He told me he had been walking and hitchhiking for 30 hours.
I have been around long enough to be able to sense when someone is lying. This young man was legitimate.

The receptionist at the police department went to work and found him a bus ticket back to his home in Arizona. We made all of the arrangements for him to get on a bus in Ft. Worth. The forty mile trek from Granbury to Ft. Worth is quite feat for a young man on foot. I was unable to take him myself because of prior commitments.

Another man standing in the lobby who can come down to the police station to purchase an accident report or accomplish some other routine matter heard my conversation with the young man in need. He immediately volunteered to take him to the bus station in Ft. Worth.

It sure is nice to see the basic goodness of people in action. The young man in question obviously had not had an opportunity to bathe for several days. He was a complete stranger to our Good Samaritan this afternoon. The man who drove him over to the bus station ended up staying with him until the bus departed. He treated him like any of us would treat a family member or a close friend if we were sending them off on a trip. I appreciate people who don’t talk about serving others in an unselfish spirit. They just do it. And they choose to serve in ways that draws little, if any attention to them.

I knew he was in desperate need. And it is obvious that someone else did as well. Thank God for generous citizens who are willing to help a neighbor in need. It is impossible to do much good alone, but when we all team up good things have a way of happening. I probably won’t see that young man again, but I hope the gentle hum of the wheels of a Greyhound bus will lull him to sleep tonight.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Memory Lapses

My short term memory is really lacking. I misplace my keys at least once a day. My glasses are seldom put in the same place in the evening before bedtime. When I leave for working early in the morning, I am notorious about leaving my cell phone at home. I have told Jan that such events occur because I am thinking about the theory of relativity and pondering some aspect of metaphysics.
She claims attributes the daily search and rescue missions for my keys to excessive air in my head. In the big picture, such memory lapses won’t hurt anything. There are other things to remember of much greater importance.

A dear friend posted on his fb status this morning that today would have been his son’s 12th birthday. The young man passed away suddenly when he was 7 years old. As a rule, I don’t take fb status updates too seriously The one I read just before I saw his bordered on the ridiculous. In fact, after the one from the grieving father, I found the other preceding one just downright offensive and petty.

I am not overly sensitive, but how can one father not weep for another father?
How can a father of boys not feel overwhelming compassion for a dad who has lost a son? I confess. I really am pretty sensitive. I know from experience that being sensitive is far better than being hardened and cynical.

What can I say to my friend? Do I tell him that it will get better over time? Time does not necessarily heal all wounds. It would actually be better for me not to say such a thing. Honesty is always a good policy. I can simply tell him that I shared in his grief today. I can tell him that I thought about him this afternoon. I think it is ok to tell him that the tears were free flowing. I am not too worried about my masculinity being questioned.

The most important thing I can do is to mark my calendar. This date is an important one to remember. Misplacing keys is no big deal. Hunting my glasses in the morning is just a daily ritual. But remembering key dates for a grieving friend is of utmost importance. I would be remiss to forget something of such great consequence. My short term memory is really lacking, but it can function just fine when it is really necessary.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The World of Mom and Pop Businesses

Our friends Joe and Elaine Pruett were in from San Antonio this weekend. Joe and Elaine just recently moved back to the states, after a lengthy stint in Guadalajara. Their Hispanic neighbors in San Antonio are quite shocked to hear their three fair skinned boys speaking flawless Spanish.

I asked Elaine today: What do you miss the most about Guadalajara right now? I think they miss a lot of things about it actually. She told me that she misses having the mom and pop stores within walking distance from their home. I have been in those little stores! The shopkeepers can cram more into a small space than you can imagine! Mom and Pop stores are out of fashion for the most part in metropolitan areas here in the states. In fact, that has been the case for decades. I miss the whole concept of mom and pop businesses, but for an entirely different reason.

Elaine triggered a flood of memories for me. When I was in college, I worked in old fashioned full-service Texaco gas station. Mr. Groux had been the owner and operator for many years went I went to work for him in 1980. He was a very successful businessman. As employees, we were expected to wear clean uniforms, shave everyday, keep our cut short, and be extremely courteous to his extensive base of customers. Mr. Groux was good to me. He had very high expectations, but I learned invaluable life lessons from him. Here are the things that stand out today.

Mr. Groux was honest with customers and employees alike. He never lied to anyone or implied that work needed to be done on a car that was not absolutely necessary. He modeled a kind of professional integrity that I have taken with me for my entire career.

He was determined that I was going to finish my undergraduate education. There were times that I wanted to quit and work fulltime. He encouraged the pursuit of a college degree in many ways.

He rewarded all of us with generous raises, as we learned to take on additional responsibility. It was a prosperous business that did very well. It took committed employees to make it run smoothly. He recognized the value of a dedicated worker. I learned a lot about responsibility during the five years I worked for him.

He cared about all of us. At one point, I was going to move in to a house with a bunch of my buddies. He knew that it was going to be one big party at an animal house. He told me one evening in his office that I was going to do no such thing. I was intimidated enough by him to listen, and so the plans to move into the animal house were thwarted.

He modeled people skills that I have been using for almost thirty years. Mr. Groux knew how to listen to people. I really believe people came into the business just to have someone to talk to at times. He was warm and cordial, but very wise too.

Bill Groux retired and sold the business a number of years ago now. The full serve gas pumps have been removed. The old service station is now a state of the art auto repair shop with computerized diagnostic equipment. The wash bay where we did hand car washes is now occupied with a sophisticated front end alignment apparatus. The old school cash register is collecting dust in a closet somewhere. The old cans of motor oil that we dispensed in cars can be seen in antique shops now.

Someone else occupies that office where Mr. Groux told me that I had no business moving into the animal house. I suspect there is a computer sitting on top of the massive desk that he occupied. Mr. Groux knew nothing about quickbooks, but he was pretty good with a #2 pencil and a ledger sheet. I can’t help but wonder if the person sitting behind the desk is modeling integrity, responsibility and the value of an education to their employees? I wonder if the employees have to wear clean uniforms and shave everyday. I agree with Elaine. I miss the mom and pop businesses too…I miss Mr. Groux today.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Toga Football Returns...Maybe Not

Someone called the police. I really don’t know why. Several patrol cars suddenly descended on the dark parking lot, where we had gathered. The year was 1978. I was participating in a high school debate tournament in Odessa the night the cops showed up. To be more precise, I was in the parking lot of the hotel where we were staying. A group of us decided that evening to play toga football in the parking area adjacent to our rooms. It was innocent enough. A bunch of guys all wrapped up sheets taken off the beds from our hotel rooms.

My friends immediately tapped me out to be the spokesman on behalf of our group. What are you doing? The officer inquired. I calmly informed him that we were simply playing toga football. I think he was trying very hard to keep his composure. He told me they had received a call of a fight in progress. In all innocence, I told him we were just having a little fun. Thankfully he was amused and not irritated. No doubt he had done such things as a teenager. He did not even roust our teacher out of bed that night. It would not have been a pretty sight for us, and for some he reason he knew that.

I am leaving this morning to serve as a sponsor on a high school debate trip. This is Daniel’s last year to compete at the high school level. This is my 5th year to work with his coach and serve as a sponsor. She is highly competent. I have not shared everything that we did back in the day, but I think she has strong suspicions. For some odd reason Jan always lectures me about being a good influence and not Daniel, when we get ready to depart for tournaments. I have yet to figure that one out.

Jan has little to worry about. I have given up toga football. I have no intentions of making out on the bus, unless she wants to join us on the trip. There were other things done during tournaments that won’t be mentioned. The statute of limitations ran out on those offenses several years ago. Actually I really don’t have time to get into mischief anymore. I have a completely different purpose.

It has been a real privilege to get to know the kids as we travel all over the DFW metroplex. Some of them come from great homes. Others are nearly raising themselves. All of them are trying to find their place in this world. Taking the time to listen to them is my first priority during the down time on tournaments. Watching their events and working in a word of encouragement is near the top of the priority list as well. Having fun during the process is of course of utmost importance. They are all great kids and I have grown to love each of them.

I have been in a patrol car with a police officer more than once when the need to respond to a fight in progress arose. But I strongly suspect none of my officers have ever responded to such a call that ended up being a bunch of knuckleheads playing toga football. I am glad we able to enrich an officer’s professional life in Odessa in 1978. Who knows? Our hotel tonight has a roomy parking lot. An officer from Dallas PD could be enlightened in such a way tonight! But wait a minute…I promised Jan…

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Why Bother

Why bother? Why bother packing up a group of professionals and willing volunteers to go travel to Northern Mexico for a medical mission trip. It is a complete waste of time and energy. I have been told that it really does not make any difference. When we come home, the poverty many of the people face will still pervade cities and rural areas alike. We are not going to change anything on a permanent basis. Why bother?

I have been leading medical mission trips to Mexico since 1998. My friends really should not pose questions to me about the legitimacy of the trip. I think they should ask the lady who had a very sick infant in the city of Reynosa one year. Dr. Jason Ray left the makeshift clinic we had set up late one afternoon and made an old fashioned house call in a very impoverished area of that large city. Dr. Ray was visibly moved by the experience. I think he was convinced the baby could have died. It might be good to ask that child’s mother if we should bother…

And then there was the year that another participating physician saw a lady who was suffering from advanced breast cancer. I won’t mention that doctor’s name. She would not want everyone to know that she paid for that patient to have testing and treatment done at a hospital. It was an act of quiet compassion. Those of us that witnessed that event will not soon forget it.

A couple of years ago we were closing the clinic one evening when a man who actually spoke English approached us, and asked if we could see one more patient. It was late. We were tired and hungry. I was thinking: Tell him to come back in the morning. When I saw the young patient the man brought with him, I quickly changed my tune. The 12 year old boy looked like he had been severely burned on his face. As it turned out, he had suffered eye damage from an accident. He underwent a botched eye surgery that did significant damage. That is why his face looked like it had been burned. We were able to do some networking to insure that a specialist in Chihuahua City would see him. I ought to give that boy a call on the days that I think we should not bother…

Our dentists see young children from Casa De La Esperanza every year that tug at their heart strings. Those kids are in a children’s home because they were abandoned, abused, or neglected. The care they receive at Casa is amazing.
Director Gil Sanchez envisions a child raised at Casa being the president of Mexico someday. I love Gil’s faithful optimism. Someday we can go back and ask those children if we should have bothered to provide dental care for them each year.

I am fully capable of being cynical and crass. When I saw the cost of conducting our next medical mission trip, I wondered how we are going to get it done in this economy. I actually asked the why bother question. I think in the future I had better keep a more detailed journal of each trip as a reference point. Those journal entries will remind me that the trip is not about me. Such entries might serve as good reading for my friends who think that such endeavors are a complete waste of time and money. Why bother? I think I know why now…