Monday, November 30, 2009

To Protect and Serve

I am praying for the families of the four Lakewood, Washington police officers killed in the line of duty early yesterday. Washington State Patrol officials were in a desperate search this morning for a man suspected of ambushing the officers in a cold blooded attack. I was nearly late for an important lunch meeting today as I watched the coverage of that event on the news. The phrase protect and serve was on my mind, as I pulled out of the driveway. I really needed to get that event off my mind and get focused on the impending lunch meeting. As I made the trek to Benbrook, my mind quickly shifted to a set of events that took place in March of 2008.

I will never forget March 3, 2008. I was on my way back to Granbury from a very successful medical mission trip to Northern Mexico when the calls to my cell phone starting coming in rapid succession. The dispatcher for the Hood County Sheriff's office called. Several officers contacted me from their cell phones, as they investigated a fatal car crash only a couple of miles from my home. I was still over three hours away from Granbury, as tragedy was unfolding at home. I felt so helpless. Little did I know that the events that were taking place back in Granbury would prove to be life changing for me.

16 year old Alyssa Dix was killed upon impact in what could be characterized as a true accident. It was not a case of reckless driving or a driver being impaired by alcohol. It was an accident. Her two sisters were injured in the crash and air lifted to trauma centers in Ft. Worth. They were treated and later released. I had three hours to think on the way home that afternoon. A lot of images flashed through my head. I was concerned for my officers and a for a family that was unnamed at that point.

It was the first fatal car crash for the two young officers who were first to arrive on the scene. I was reminded of my first experience as a chaplain to be called to the scene of a crash, where there has been the loss of life. I felt immediate and deep empathy for both of them. I spent the next day with those officers striving to provide comfort and a spiritual presence in a time of overwhelming sadness.

Both officers asked me over a cup of coffee at our favorite break stop if it would be appropriate for them to attend young Alyssya's funeral service. They did not want to invade the privacy of the family in any shape or form. I strongly urged both of them to attend the funeral and promised that I would join them. We put on our "Class A" uniforms out of respect. The crosses on the shoulders of my uniform coat symbolize my role in the department. We joined hundreds of mourners the day of the service. Alyssa was deeply loved in the entire Granbury community. The church was full. We planned on standing in the back, so friends from the high school would have a seat. But the funeral director seated us near the front, as a gesture of respect.

By the time the procession made it to the cemetery for the internment service, it was starting to rain. One of the deputies directing traffic insisted that I wear his raincoat.... The two officers that I accompanied that morning asked me what they should say, as we waited in line to greet the family. I never knew either of them to be at a loss for words! Tragedy has a way of shutting our brains down temporalily. I told them: Be yourself and be generous with your hugs.... The family already loves you! So we did. We stood in the rain and loved on that family. It is all we knew to do. We were composed and professional until we returned to the patrol car... Private tears were shed then.

One of the officers could really identify with the young ladies impacted by this accident. It had not been that long since she was 16 years old herself. She reached out to the family affected by this life changing event, and they in turn embraced her. Mutual comfort was given and friendships were formed. I was touched simply by watching all of this unfold.

I ended up being incredibly blessed by having lunch with Alyssa's father not long after the crash.
I went with the intent of serving him, but I felt like I was the one on the receiving end! His faith and love for his family was a tremendous encouragement to me. Our noon meeting that summer day led to more lunches together. He would ask about the officers who responded to the accident everytime we got together. He always wanted to know how their families were doing. During one of those times he made an interesting observation that I have shared with the officers I serve on more than occasion. He said: You know that phrase: Protect and Serve? I have always understood the protect part of it, but it was not until Alyssa's death that I grasped the serve part.

I had lunch with Alyssa's father today. We visited at length about our families. He asked about the officers and their families. I was not surpised. He genuinely loves them. As I pulled out of the parking lot of the Cracker Barrel in Benbrook, I thought about the phrase.....Protect and Serve...I am praying tonight for the families of the four officers in Lakewood, Washington, who gave their lives in the line of duty, as they protected and served the citizens of their community.... I hope there are good citizens like Scott Dix in Lakewood tonight, who will love on the families of the slain officers, and those in that department left to pick up the pieces.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What Difference DO It Make?

I just finised the second book written by Ron Hall and Denver Moore. Their recent release is entitled: What Difference Do it Make? It is a sequel to their first work: Same Kind of Different as Me. Ron is a successful international art dealer. Denver spent some time years ago in the infamous Angola Prison. He was a homeless man making his way on the streets of Ft. Worth when Ron met him. The story of their unlikely friendship and the impact it has made on countless people is inspiring to say the least.

Ron and Denver have enjoyed extensive speaking engagements since their first book climbed to bestseller lists. In the second book, they tell the story of being invited by a non-profit organization in a community to speak at a fund raising event for the local homeless shelter. Ron and Denver took it upon themselves to pay the shelter a suprise visit. They were surprised all right. The shelter was in horrible condition. It was overcrowded, dirty, and furnished poorly. The coditions were deplorable.

Ron and Denver spoke at the fund raising event after their visit to the shelter. In the process, they broke all rules of fund raising protocol. Ron rebuked members of the community present at that event. His question to them: How have you allowed this to go on right under your nose? One lady in attendance that evening had a compelling response afterwards.

She approached the speakers in tears. She had served on the board of the homeless shelter for a period of years, but had never stepped foot in the building. She was honest enough to say that she had dropped used clothing off near the front door, but had chosen not to go inside. I think Ron and Denver's direct approach really touched her heart. By the way, they raised $800,000.00 that night to benefit the shelter...

My first reaction to that story was to view the people in that unnamed city through a lens of self-righteousness. How could that be so callous? But then I was convicted about my own tendencies to want to help from a distance... Rolling up our sleeves and serving people is messy. People in need don't always smell good. Their social graces are severely lacking. As Ron and Denver are quick to point out, a large percentage of the homeless population are struggling with some form of mental illness. Choosing not to go inside is a safe choice. As I read What Difference Do It Make, I was reminded that I need to give up my own tendencies to serve via remote control.
So...What Difference DO it Make? Read the book and find out. But be sure to read Same Kind of Different as Me first!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Here...Have Some of My Traditions...

A lot of people are shopping today and searching for holiday bargains. I just don't have time to shop. I need to spend some time taking inventory, because I am crying inside for a young man today. I suppose I should explain...

In response to my recent blog about family tradtions a few days ago, a long time friend responded by sharing the following story about her daugther's boyfriend. The young man's mother is wrapped up in her own issues, and his father is in the process of divorcing from his stepmother. I have changed his name and pertinent details to protect his privacy. Here is her reply to my blog entitled: The Smells and Tastes of Home.

I asked Greg the day before Thanksgiving if his family had any must have traditoinal dishes for the holidays. He looked at me with this odd look, and said no... It was almost stated in the form of a question. I said: no special pie, no dips, nothing like that? He said: Well my dad is mostly good at grilling. I asked him if there was something he wanted me to make. He said: Yeah, your queso. I was already making it, since ya know, it is a tradition... But it stuck with me all night and I couldn't get over how much tradition actually plays a part in this whole holiday stuff and how it brings this warm, cozy feeling. It made me want to give Greg a big hug and say: Here...have some of my traditions, I will share. Then I was thankful for us moms out there who do the traditional thing and make it to where our kids are mad when they come home and there is no pumpkin dump cake. But I was thankful for dads who are mostly good at grillling too.

My heart was touched by her comments. You really need to know this friend of mine who had the conversation with her daughter's boyfriend. She really means it when she says: Here have some of my traditions, I will share. That boy has been adopted, whether he knows it or not. She will give him motherly advice whether he asks for it or not. And he will get a dose of the truth in a form that will likely embarrass her daughter .

But most importantly, she will share a lot more with him than just a batch of homemade queso. She will be the first to tell you that she no angel when she was a teenager. I know, because I was beside her stirring up trouble when we were in high school. Life experiences have made her more compassionate and kind. That young man will be loved and nurtured unconditionally. I wonder if my friend realizes that she is making a lifelong impact in that young man's life?

I need to take inventory today. There is someone within my sphere of influence whom I need to say: Here, have some of my traditions, I will share. Who is that person in my life? Who is it in your life? Don't let this holiday season go by without sharing some traditions.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Circle of Life

It is Daniel's senior year, so I am feeling a little nostalgic. He will soon become the second child in our home to sprout his wings and leave home. This time of year I attend debate tournaments at least twice a month with the Granbury High School team. I love it, because I am a former debater. Traveling all over the state as a high school debater gave me some much needed confidence, but most importantly it opened the door to the formation of lifelong friendships.

I have encouraged the boys to seek out that same avenue for an academic extra-curricular activity. Randall competed in cross-examination debate and Daniel continues to do Lincoln Douglas debate. It has been a lot of fun traveling with the team as a sponsor and judge. I have even had the opportunity to coach the orginal oratory event this year. The season however is almost over. Daniel will soon be anticipating graduation.

The last tournament of 2009 will be held at Coronado High School in Lubbock in two weeks. How can I not look over Daniel's teammates who will graduate with him this year, and wonder if he will stay in contact with them once they all go to college. I never gave much thought to such an idea when I was a senior at Monterey High School in Lubbock. I hate to admit it, but I was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons early in my senior year. A potential debate scholarship to Texas Tech was eradicated by the choices I made in one weekend. Despite my poor choices, the friendships that were formed at the very first debate tournament I attended in 1978 ended up being lifelong relationships.

Most of met at that first tournament of the season in 1978. We became exceedingly close as we traveled on chartered buses all over the state of Texas during the course of the next several years. Little did our coach know that we visited the Alamo at 2:00 in the morning during a tournament in San Antonio in 1979. There were of course other antics that simply don't need to be mentioned in order to protect the guilty. Strong bonds were formed. We grew to love each other. And then we all went our respective ways.

Over the past 5 or 6 years we have all reunited. Several of us have children in college now. Most of us are getting close to having all of our children raised for that matter. The experience of paying for our raising has hunbled each of us. We would not look favorably at our children visiting the Alamo in the middle of the night during a school trip. Our relationships today are more meaningful than ever. A shared past coupled with a little maturity makes for great friendships.

I hope Daniel will take take a few moments during the Coronado tournament to observe his friends very carefully. I hope he will savor the moment. I hope he is grateful for each of his teammates. It will be the final tournament of 2009, so it would be a good time to be reflective.

His coach asked me to accompany the team to the Coronado tournament. I eagerly agreed to go! Coronado High School was our cross town rivalry! There is nothing quite like going back to the town where so many memories were formed. I will insist that the team eat at least one meal at Taco Villa, because that is where I ate with my teammates nearly everyday! The Coronado tournament will be one of Daniel's final competitions for his senior year. He will soon be thinking about other things. When Daniel's coach asked me to join them, I failed to share a very important and personal detail.

The Coronado High School Debate Tournament was the first debate event I attended in 1978, when I initially joined the team. Little did I know that fateful weekend that the people I met at that event would become lifelong friends? Now life has come full circle.

Daniel's tenure as a high school debater will reach a climatic point at the same place where mine all began 31 years ago. I am feeling more than a little nostalgic as I anticipate walking the hallways of that school after all of these years. Most importantly I am grateful for each of the indivuals I met within the confines of those school walls in 1978. I value them more today than I ever have before. Thanks to each of you for enriching my life and making it fun. It is good to be thankful on Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Smells and Tastes of Home...

The Thanksgiving Holiday got underway officially at the Knox Manor last night with the arrival of our firstborn from college. It was a typical entrance. Nothing was out of the ordinary. He headed for the refrigerator immediately. But unfortunately disappointment ensued. He just knew there would be some of his mother’s cowboy stew leftover in the fridge. His brothers had inhaled the last spoonful the day before. There were no Ziploc bags of cornbread on the counter either. He had hoped to walk in the door to smell the sweet aroma of his dad’s famous chocolate chip cookies, but instead he was faced with the smell of Mitchell’s tennis shoes that were left near the entryway. And then we added insult to injury.

After being forced to heat a frozen dinner, Randall asked his mother a simple question just for confirmation purposes. We are having pumpkin dump cake on Thanksgiving Day? He posed the question in a tone that sounded a little cautious, but yet hopeful. No, Jan says…Your Aunt Rena is bringing the desserts this year. The look on his face was priceless. You would have thought that his mother had told him that she was giving him up for adoption, at age 20. Pumpkin dump cake is an annual tradition. How could we break with tradition? You could tell by the look on his face that he was seriously wondering if mom and dad had been smoking crack. He proceeded to interrogate his mother regarding several other time held traditions around our household. Unfortunately he did not receive the answers he was anticipating.

Have we damaged our son for life? I am not feeling very sympathetic this morning. Jan made a last minute run to the store bright and early this morning to purchase everything needed for all of his favorites. What mothers will do for their sons! I learned two important lessons from our brief interchange last night. I think they are worth sharing.

Randall grew up enjoying all kinds of homemade delicacies, because his mother was a stay at home mom. When he was younger, he did not have the latest gaming system or the fastest computer. We had to forgo such luxuries for our kids. We were living on one income. There were no expensive vacations or elaborate birthday parties. But he grew up with his mother singing to him all day when he was a baby. She read to him all through the day during the preschool years. Now we have an adult son who is an avid reader and a great musician.

There was a smiling face to greet him after school everyday. And in the evening he was spoiled with a homemade country style meal prepared by a mom who grew up on the farm. We no longer do some of the things he inquired about last night, because she works fulltime now. Lesson learned last night: Jan staying home with the boys during their formative years was a great thing.

I find it intriguing that college age kids want to be independent. They want to do their own thing. They perceive mom and dad as being hopelessly out of touch in many areas of life. In the final analysis, they are traditionalists through and through. They still yearn to come home to the familiar. Time held family traditions becoming increasingly important as a college student matures. Lesson learned last night: Mom and dad have a responsibility to uphold the family traditions out of respect for the children. I find that to be an interesting irony of life actually.

I am looking forward to having all of my boys’ home this week. We will watch old school James Bond movies featuring Sean Connery. There will be at least one vicious game of Monopoly. Granny will go back to the boys’ rooms and listen to the hideous music on their i-pods. I will force them to watch my all time holiday favorite: Planes, Tranes, and Automobiles. But I do plan to set the timer on the oven; because I don’t want the pumpkin dump cake to burn…..It is tradition. Oh the smells and tastes of home!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cousin Eddie is Coming to Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is about to roll around again soon. Families will get together to eat and watch football. There might be a round or two of golf around here, if the weather is pretty. Deer hunting is probably another option for some. I also know that Thanksgiving fires off a season that can be sad and stressful.

I did not grow up sharing the holidays with extended family. There were a lot of reasons for that. It was just a fact of life. Jan is related to most of the state of Texas, and a few in New Mexico too. After we got married in 1984, I quickly learned about holidays with an extensive network of family. There are a few characters in the family. That may be the understatement of the year. I have learned a lot from all of them over the years.

Jan has interesting array of aunts. I dearly loved her Aunt Rita, who is now deceased. Rita could be a little rough around the edges, so I could relate to her. I loved her unvarnished viewpoints that were always seasoned with humor. And then there is Aunt Cordelia. Cordelia is just cool. One of her sons is a police investigator for a DFW area department. When he was assigned to patrol right out of the academy, his mother rode out with him on a shift. How cool is that! When I asked her about that experience at a family function years ago, she said: Those guys know who the enemy is… They are all out there in the field to take care of each other. They don’t let their quirks or personality differences impede that process. They don’t view each other as the enemy. She proceeded to make the proper application as well. In churches and in families, we shoot our own! We often view each other as the enemy.

I have always remembered that astute observation. And I have shared that insight repeatedly when I am asked to speak to Citizen’s Police Academy groups or police chaplains around the state. Her observations during the initial ride out were right on target. I have been thinking about Cordelia’s experience, as I prepare for the holidays this year.

Members of my family are not the enemy. I may get really irritated with Cousin Eddie this year, but he is not the enemy! (You know every family has a Cousin Eddie. Of course my main concern is that I could be Cousin Eddie!) Jan’s aunts and uncles are not the enemy. Jan is certainly not the enemy! We are all playing on the same team. Family members should be there for each other for love and protection.

Let’s enjoy each other during the Thanksgiving Holiday. Let’s acknowledge that this could very well be the last the holiday we enjoy with some family members. Aunt Rita’s husband, children, and grandchildren will miss her at the table again this year. She has been gone over three years now. She was integral part of the team. I may even be tempted to grin for a minute during the Thanksgiving meal, as I think of something she said that I thought was particularly funny.

There maybe empty chairs at the table of Thanksgiving for other reasons too…When we allow a family member to become the enemy, conflict causes places at the table to go unseated. How should that be handled? More in my blog tomorrow, because Thanksgiving is about to roll again pretty soon…

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

No Need for Apologies...

I am extremely fortunate to have a circle of loyal friends who come from many walks of life. Some are peers and others are considerably older. In the case of some of my friends, I am old enough to be their father. My older friends provide wisdom about the issues that still lie ahead. They no longer fund car insurance for their boys and they have walked their daughters down the aisle. My peers reassure me that I that I am not crazy. They share so many of the same feelings and experiences during the same time period in life. My younger friends keep me up to speed technologically. I learn about new music and new sayings! If it were not for my younger associates, I might still be listening to eight tracks and wearing my shirt tails tucked in all of the time.

I am still learning new things about friendship everyday from all three of those groups. Two in particular stand out today. Here is the first one: a friendship is not completely sealed until there is a shared crisis. Perhaps that has a morbid tone, but it is true. When a crisis arises, real friends put their life on hold for the other person. In some cases it is a major and possibly life altering event. As a law enforcement chaplain, I have gotten people out of bed in the middle of the night more than once, so they can comfort a friend in a time of immediate tragedy. Sometimes it just entails a flashpoint in the day. We all have those days when we are jarred by an event or a piece of news. It is something that is upsetting or stressful. Our friends are there simply to walk with us. When the direct predicament is over, the relationship with the person we shared it with is not the same. The friendship is sealed.

When we feel totally comfortable calling someone during a crisis, it is a sign of deepening friendship. If I have to apologize for imposing on someone else, then that relationship still has a ways to go before it can be characterized as a real friendship. I always smile to myself when a friend calls me and does not apologize for a perceived imposition. When the unloading process gets underway immediately, it is a really good sign!

Yesterday I read an article in USA Today about the rising suicide rate among ministers. The combination of unrealistic expectations, being the confidant for everyone else, and yet having no one who can be trusted with their personal information provides the ingredients for depression among those in ministry. At first glance, I thought I should not be reading such material on a Monday! And then the rational part of my brain kicked in. I am grateful that I have friends that I can call when I am discouraged. I feel no need to apologize for such a call. I am equally thankful for those who feel free to call me, and not apologize…

I was reminded of those two rules of friendship today. Friendships are sealed during times of crisis. Unapologetic phone calls are a sign that the relationship is deepening. It is comforting to go to bed tonight knowing that a real friend is only one unapologetic phone call away, when the inevitable crisis arises. I am grateful for all of my friends of all ages tonight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Little Creativity Won't Hurt!

I am not a creative parent. I may be a decent parent. I think I can be a real pain as a parent, but I am lacking in the creativity department. I do recognize that creativity is a good thing, when it comes to the parental role. I appreciated an interesting parental story that Donald Miller shares in his most recent release.

It seems a father was engrossed in ESPN or the like when his daughter came in to show off her new prom dress. He dutifully muted the television and complimented her dress. She went on about her way and he went back to his ballgame. That is where I part ways with him. I would have extended the compliment and given little more thought to the interchange. He had this feeling gnawing at him that he should have said more to his impressionable teenage daughter.

Enter creativity into this scenario. The father of the teenage girl proceeds to turn his show off and go change into a suit and tie. He then knocks on the door of his daughter’s room. She comes to the door with straight pins carefully place in the dress that her mother is preparing to alter. She of course asks her dad what is up with the suit. And he says……I thought I had better look nice if we are going to have our picture made together. So they did…Pictures were taken and the creative father proceeded to dance with his daughter and his wife in the living room until 1:00 in the morning. I wonder if that girl will ever forget the events leading up to her high school prom.

I am not a father of daughters, which is probably a good thing. When I read that story, I was reminded that a little creativity goes a long way in making a memory for a child. I am sure that girl feel affirmed and loved in a special kind of way. Such parental creativity does not come naturally for the vast majority of us, but that is no excuse. We just need to turn off the television and let our minds wonder a bit. Lifelong memories could be closer than what we think.

As I read the story recounted by Donald Miller, I was reminded of the lyrics from the Steven Curtis Chapman song entitled: Cinderella. I think they are a pretty good reminder even for those of us who are fathers of boys.

She spins and she sways to whatever song plays, Without a care in the world. And I'm sitting here wearing the weight of the world on my shoulders. It's been a long day and there's still work to do, She's pulling at me saying "Dad I need you! There's a ball at the castle and I've been invited and I need to practice my dancin'" "Oh please, daddy, please!" Chorus: So I will dance with Cinderella While she is here in my arms 'Cause I know something the prince never knew Oh I will dance with Cinderella I don't want to miss even one song 'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight And she'll be gone. Verse 2: She says he's a nice guy and I'd be impressed She wants to know if I approve of the dress She says, "Dad the prom is just one week away And I need to practice my dancin' "Oh please, daddy , please!" Chorus: So I will dance with Cinderella While she is here in my arms 'Cause I know something the prince never knew Oh I will dance with Cinderella I don't want to miss even one song 'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight And she'll be gone Verse 3: Well she came home today with a ring on her hand Just glowin' and tellin' us all they had planned She says, "Dad the wedding's still six months away but I need to practice my dancin' "Oh please, daddy , please!" Chorus: So I will dance with Cinderella While she is here in my arms 'Cause I know something the prince never knew Oh I will dance with Cinderella I don't want to miss even one song 'Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight And she'll be gone

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Drift Toward the Acceptable: Part I

I love autobiographies. I find them inspiring. I am willing read the entire gamut in this area of literature. I have not always been a big fan of Teddy Kennedy, but his autobiography is in my reading queue. I just completed an autobiography of sorts. Donald Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz, recently released a new work. The title is: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It is autobiographical for sure, but he writes with the purpose of inspiring those who have given up on life. Here is a summary included in the forward of the book:

Every life is a story. Whether it is a story worth telling or talking about, though, is up to you. People set out with grand dreams of changing the world, falling in love, doing something amazing. But the drift toward the merely acceptable happens almost without notice…

Miller is not very structured in his writing style, and I love it! The key points he is trying to get across are not broken into chapter divisions or in some other kind of neat and tidy list. You just have read, pay attention, and be ready to internalize the golden nuggets of wisdom that he drops along the way. He is the first one:

Humans are designed to seek comfort and order, and so if they have comfort and order, they tend to plant themselves, even if their comfort isn't all that comfortable. And even if they secretly want for something better…

I found this quote troubling, because unfortunately he is right. It is indeed the drift toward the acceptable. As I approach my 48th birthday, I have become aware of two things going on my life, and in the lives of my close friends. I think across the board we are more humble and pleasant to be around. When I look back at some of the arrogant attitudes I held onto at age 25, it scares me. All of us have had our share of life bumps. Gone are the days of social snobbery that characterized the middle school and high school years. Even the days of feeling compelled to make some kind of materialistic statement have vanished for most of us. We are actually very pleasant to be around these days! We are kinder and more empathetic.

I also think most of us have drifted toward the merely acceptable. It seems to me that it is important to experience a life wake up call, where we can rethink our goals. It is a time to throw caution to the wind and dream again. A time to go back to school, a time to try again, a time to do something we have never done, a time do the hard work of reconciling broken relationships…

Miller’s most recent book has given me the perspective I need to accomplish such objectives. Quite frankly I don't like some of the things he shares. It is easier just to stay in the familiar comfort zone… But I am going to take his thoughts to heart, because I really do want to travel a million miles in a thousand years. More on Miller’s book in tomorrow’s blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Racing Down the Judgmental Freeway

I concluded that he just did not like me. I worked for a police supervisor a number of years ago who is a fine man. For some odd reason I had a very difficult time connecting with him. He seemed distant. I found it difficult to communicate with him. And yet those who had known him for a long time obviously had great respect for his character and leadership. Long time friends seemed to have positive connections with him. My imagination is vivid. I proceeded to formulate a lengthy list of reasons for him not to like me. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts.

He concluded that I did not like him. About 14 or 15 years ago I got off to a really bad start with another gentleman. And he concluded that I did not like him. He was actually correct in that assumption. At the time, I did not like him. After all I had done my homework. I asked a credible individual about his character and did not get a favorable report. He was immediately tossed aside in the relational waste basket. I could not have been any more foolish. It is indeed very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when only have some of the facts.

About a month ago I ran into the police supervisor. He was cordial and friendly. We connected immediately. I could tell he was very genuine. What is the difference? I discovered there were stressful issues going on in his life during the time period I worked with him. He was preoccupied and withdrawn for quite some time. And that just happened to be about the time that I entered the picture. I determined recently that he always liked me. I volunteer for another department now, but he truly misses me. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts.

In recent years, I have become very close to the gentleman I got off to a bad start with. What an irony. That bad start actually deteriorated into intense conflict. We both knew we didn’t like each other! After burying the hatchet, we learned a lot about each other. When we initially met, neither one of us were in a good place in life. We were facing our respective conflicts on different fronts. Unfortunately we did not take the time to peel a few layers back and discover the real people buried underneath the surface. Today we enjoy a deep and meaningful friendship. I will always protect what we enjoy with each other. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts.

Today I will be tempted to judge someone prematurely. I hate to admit it, but I know it will happen. I am not always very fair with people. I can be judgmental. I intend to consciously catch my thoughts long before they start racing down the judgmental freeway. I plan to assume that the person I am tempted to judge may very well be facing hurdles that I know nothing about. Those same individuals could be dealing with chronic issues that have damaged them emotionally. It could be just a bad time in life for that person.

The real story actually can and will come to the surface, but I know that is not possible unless I choose to be an excellent listener. Traveling at a high rate of speed down the judgmental freeway precludes hearing the real story. Today I will shut the freeway down and block the entry ramp with two good ears. Life is too short to allow meaningful relationships to be destroyed before they have an opportunity to blossom. Just imagine what we are missing out on as we race down a freeway that leads only to misery and conflict. It is very unfair to jump to conclusions about people when we only possess some of the facts….

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Out of My Way Old Man!

It is going to happen. I promise… You are going to get behind someone in traffic today who is moving at a snail’s pace. And you will be tempted. I know you will. You will be tempted to sit on your horn, or say something under your breath that would not make your mother proud.

If that doesn’t happen, then it could be that you are going to be behind a person in line at Wal-Mart who is not familiar with the latest check writing procedure that has been recently introduced. Signing what does not look anything like a signature on some electronic contraption is not what that person is accustomed to doing. Once again you will be tempted. Your natural inclination is to get an exasperated look on your face and secretly wish that the individual in front of you could have found another line.

You may have wait a little longer at your doctor’s office today, because that same individual is discussing the lengthy list of medications that he takes everyday with his doctor. Some of those prescriptions are costing him up to $7.00 per day per pill. He never dreamed in a million years that he would be taking all of those meds. Or it could be that he is discussing other health related issues with his physician…

When we get behind that person in traffic today, I wonder where he is going. He acts as if he has nowhere to go and all day to get there. I have a hunch that is not the case. It could be that he is trying to make it to the nursing home by noon, so he can feed his wife of over 60 years. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few years back, and now he can no longer care for her at home. There are good days, when she recognizes him. And there are not so good days too. Our elderly gentlemen may very well have been purchasing necessities for her at Wal-Mart, as he attempted to work through the latest check signing procedure at America’s favorite retailer. The consultation at the doctor’s office took a little longer than the average visit. Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease….

I really should introduce you to this elderly gentleman. He is indeed a figment of my imagination in the sense that he does not have a name. But most importantly he is a veteran. He landed on the beach at Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Or maybe he jumped out of airplanes in the Pacific during WWII and rescued downed pilots. Perhaps he served in a medical unit in Korea in the early ‘50’s. Even some of our Vietnam vets are reaching the stage in life of being elderly and more dependent.

Think twice today before you get impatient. He sacrificed a lot in his life long before any of us were born. He may have left a young bride behind to serve his country back in the day. He postponed his education and his career to protect freedoms that we take for granted. He put his life on the line for each of us. Take a few moments to listen to his story. He has a lot to share.

My father would have celebrated his 84th birthday on November 26th this year, if he were still living. If he were still around, he could very well be one of those old men in traffic holding up progress. My father was a WWII veteran. He was in pilot training preparing for a Japanese Invasion when President Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on Japan in August of 1945. He was discharged honorably from the Army Air Corps not longer after that event, and completed his education at the University of Georgia. I am thinking about him today. In fact, I am thinking about all of our veterans today. I know it is going to happen, but could be possibly envision that old man in traffic in a crisp military uniform before we get all bent of shape?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Kentucky Bound in 1932: Part II

My grandmother and her three children moved into the Teachery, as it was called, at Stuart Robinson School in 1932. Stuart Robinson was nestled back in the mountains in Letcher County, Kentucky. The Teachery included a classroom for home economics on the first floor and apartments for teachers on the second floor. My father and his two siblings grew up in that second floor apartment at the Teachery.

Stuart Robinson was one of several Settlement Schools founded by Presbyterian Church leader and physician, Dr. E.O. Guerrant. Guerrant had been an army officer during the civil war. It was during that time period that he came in contact with the very poor people of the Appalachian Mountain Region. W.L. Cooper, the long time superintendent at Stuart Robinson writes this about the impact the mountain people made on Dr. Guerrant.
Hardships of every kind, disease, ignorance, and extreme poverty were familiar companions in many homes. When the war was over and his duties no longer carried him into the mountain regions, he found that he had left his heart there, and that he would be ever unsatisfied not to share with these fellow countrymen some of the opportunities and privileges which had been his. (W.L.Cooper, p.11)

Stuart Robinson opened its doors to students in 1914 largely due to the influence of this man, who was passionate about reaching out to the mountain people. By the time my grandmother joined the faculty in 1932, there were 300 students on campus. Many of them were resident students, who lived in the dormitories.

What was it like to grow up in a mission school deep in the mountains of Kentucky? My dad lost his father when he was 2 years old, so that was another factor to consider in his upbringing. My dad rarely mentioned the experience, but I picked up hints when I was a kid that it was far from paradise. I think my dad must have seen some great acts of kindness, but I also sensed there was hypocrisy too. It was not until I visited the old Stuart Robinson Campus last year that I began to put at least a few pieces of the puzzle together.

Stuart Robinson graduated its last class in 1957. Today the campus is an outreach center for that entire area. It is called Calvary Campus. Jamie and Rachael Reynolds are directing the ministry there. About this time last year I arranged a visit to the campus. As I drove into Letcher County for the first time, I tried to imagine what must have been going through my Grandmother’s mind during her initial trip in 1931.

Jamie took me on the grand tour. We looked at every single building. One of my grandmother’s former students met us out there that afternoon. She of course is well into her 80’s! She implied that my father and his brother were anything but angels back in the day… It was soon time for me to drive back to the Hampton Inn, where I was scheduled to stay that night. But Jamie and Rachael insisted that I stay in their home…The former Teachery…I actually slept on the second floor, where my family once resided so many years ago. It was at that point that I finally began to understand my father’s background a little better. More in tomorrow’s blog…

Monday, November 9, 2009

Kentucky Bound in 1932

It was Christmas Eve of 1927. Hunting was popular in Hart County, Georgia among the men, just as I am sure it is today. So a group went hunting that fateful December evening. While stalking their prey that night, one of the men pricked his finger on a briar. That is a common occurrence that most people would think very little about. However this particular prick led to the onset of a disease known as Blastomycosis. This fungal infection is very treatable today, but apparently that was in the case in 1927.

The man stricken with this infection was known to the small Georgia community, where he served as school superintendent, as Professor Knox. He was my paternal grandfather. He died June 21st, 1928 from complications associated with Blastomycosis. His wife, Elizabeth Knox, was left with three small children. Frances was ten at the time. Raymond was seven, and my father, Arthur, was two.

What does a young widow with three small children do under such circumstances in 1928? It is my understanding that she had no family of her own to seek out in such a crisis. Enter a lady known to the community of Hartwell as Miss Emma. Her name was Emma Kay. Miss Emma was the post-mistress in Hartwell. She was a single lady with a large home. Miss Emma took the young family into her home. I no nothing about the details, but I do know that my grandmother attended the University of Georgia during the years immediately following her husband’s death and completed her bachelor’s degree in Home Economics Education. During this time period they lived in Miss Emma’s home.

My grandmother thus began teaching home economics in the Hartwell school system, where her husband had once served as superintendent. During Christmas break of 1931 her brother-in-law, Sam Knox, invited her for a visit to the mountains of Kentucky. At that time, he was serving in several roles for a mission boarding school in Blackey, Kentucky called Stuart Robinson. The mountain kids that the school served were extremely poor, and of course the Great Depression was in full swing by Christmas of 1931.

My grandmother took a long train ride all the way to Blackey, Kentucky that December. She immediately fell in love with the school and the mission it was trying to accomplish. I wonder all of these years later what Sam’s motives were in inviting my grandmother out to Kentucky during that Christmas break! The rest is history. She packed up her three children and they moved to Kentucky. She assumed teaching responsibilities at Stuart Robinson School not long after her initial visit. She later became principal of the school as well.

I have admired my grandmother’s faith and tenacity for decades now. She was a strong lady. She was a Godly person. Her writings that have been preserved indicate a lady who did not let the loss of her husband at age 32 hinder her from doing great things. Her career as an educator ended up being very meaningful. She accomplished things that few women were able to in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

I often wondered what it must have been like for my father to grow up in that environment. He discussed those days only on rare occasions, and then only briefly. I tried to visualize in my mind what the campus looked like. My grandmother taught there until 1942. Stuart Robinson graduated its final class in 1957. But the campus is still intact….It is no longer a school, but good things are happening there! In October of 2008, I visited the campus where Stuart Robinson School once resided. The visit provided great insight regarding my family roots. More on that trip tomorrow…

Friday, November 6, 2009

40 Years of Probation!

I got a call from Misty Walters at the Behavioral Transition Center yesterday. The BTC, as it is called, is a separate campus for middle school and high school aged offenders, who have gotten in serious trouble at school. Some districts refer to such facilities as the alternative school. I still get a little nervous when the BTC number appears on my cell phone. I wonder: Did I not finish my time back in 1979? Are they going to make me go back?

Misty called to tell me she has student for me. Several of us in the community mentor kids who are assigned to the BTC. We can bring in lunch for them and just spend some quality time visiting. I was a charter member of In School Suspension at Monterey High School in Lubbock, so I am imminently qualified for the mentoring role over there. The kids I mentor see a local minister on the surface. Little do they know that the principal at Monterey placed me on 40 years of probation following graduation? Some would say that I am wasting precious time with those kids. They would say: What is the use?

Why should any of us bother? They are heading to the penitentiary at some point. What is the use of trying? They are nothing more than juvenile delinquents. They are a burden to society and a cost burden to taxpayers. Why bother to invest a lot of time and energy in people who are destined to be institutionalized for the rest of their life? In a law enforcement setting, I occasionally hear such comments, but my childhood friend Colleen makes a strong case for putting a lot of time and energy into these kids.

Colleen is a veteran probation officer. She is quite good at what she does. Colleen is nobody’s fool. I would love to see one of her probationers try to snow her. In fact, I would love to be around when that happens! I might actually feel sorry for the troubled kid before it was all over. Little does he know that Colleen is a natural red head in addition to be a seasoned probation officer?

Everyday she is dealing with kids who have no concept of self-discipline. Many of them could not tell you the name of their biological father. Some of them are finding a sense of belonging in a gang. Drug abuse often enters the picture. These kids have been caught stealing, assaulting other people, and doing a host of other crimes that can indeed land them in the penitentiary when they are of age.

Colleen will tell you that she goes home in tears after work on some days. It is an overwhelming job. I asked her the other night if there were enough success stories to keep her going. Her face lit up like a Christmas tree in Central Park. She proceeded to share stories that would give goose bumps even to the most hardened among us. She told of a former probationer who became a medical doctor! There were other compelling stories as well. I am so grateful for Colleen’s commitment to troubled kids.

I am getting ready to head over to the Behavioral Transition Center to meet my new student. I am anxious to visit with him. Colleen will be at the front of my mind during that time. She inspires me to keep on trying, as I volunteer in that setting.Hopefully they will release me after a nice visit. You see: Colleen and I both decided we could not beat the system, so we decided to join it. It just occurred me….I feel sorry for the kids who have to deal with both of us!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Release Those Chains!

Turn those cell phones and electronic devices off. I heard that on every flight during my recent trip. Flying on a commercial carrier is one of the rare times when people actually cut themselves off from the electronic chains that so control our lives. I found it amusing to watch fellow passengers turning their phones back on just as soon as the wheels of the plane made contact with the ground.
Can you call that an addiction? Or is the image of a chain more fitting?

Last night’s flight from Kansas City to Dallas proved to be especially interesting in the electronic device department. An older gentleman and his wife sitting across from me were obviously wrestling with their cell phone. Finally the man asked the flight attendant if she could figure out how to turn the phone off. She was incredibly kind. She did not make him feel inferior. She joked with both of them, as she turned off that silly contraption that we call a cell phone.

Several things ran through my head as I watched this brief incident unfold. The older couple will never be controlled by electronic devices. I even wondered if their children or grandchildren insisted that they get a cell phone in the first place.
They will enjoy their remaining years unchained from an electronic world to a large degree. That may not be all bad…

As I watched the demeanor of the flight attendant, it occurred to me that sometimes it does not take a lot of extra time or effort to be kind. I have flown enough over the years to see a handful of burned out, impatient flight attendants. This attendant was gracious and compassionate. She treated that little couple as if they were her parents. Those who choose to respect the elderly get high marks in my book.

We landed in Dallas late last night. The wheels of the Boeing 737 barely made contact with that sacred Texas soil before people were nervously grabbing their cell phones. But not everyone followed suit… The elderly couple across the aisle from me seemed pleased to be on the ground, but their phone remained stowed away in a carry-on bag somewhere. They appeared to have no interest in digging that silly contraption out. Someone released them from that chain. I am sure they were thinking: Why would you want to be chained again once you have been released? It makes sense to me. Perhaps there are more lessons to learn from the older generation than we think.

The Sandlot Reunion: Final Thoughts

We had no clue what the future held for us. Why should we worry about such things? We were busy listening to Miss Erick read to us from the Uncle Remus children’s books in the second grade, and we were forced to square dance with each other in the fourth grade in Mr. Waltenberger’s class. There were intense marble games and all kinds of acrobatics on the monkey bars during recess. We rode our bikes all over the neighborhood, played ball at the Village Green, and turned the golf course into a winter paradise for sledding. Each of us came from imperfect homes, where our parents were facing issues much larger than the marbles we lost to our opponents on the playground. We had no clue what the future held for us.

The elementary school years flew by. The years at Jerstad Junior High went even faster. Some of us went on to Horlick High school, and some of us moved out of state. Undergraduate degrees were sought out at various institutions of higher learning. That part of our education was not an easy process for any of us.
And then life happened…We still had no clue what the future held for us.

Most of us fell in love and got married. Some chose to remain single. We had children. We all struggled to make a living and to get started in life. It was a busy time. There was not much discretionary time, when we were busy changing diapers and dealing with all of the demands of being young parents. It was also a time of getting established in a career. We tried our best to make our marriages meaningful. We did not want to repeat the mistakes of our parents. But we too stumbled. Those years flew by as well. We had no clue what the future held for our most important relationships.

We looked up one day and our kids were teenagers. Our own children were driving cars and going off to college. Their world is much different than the world we grew up in. They have grown up with the internet and constant cell phone use. They have had play stations and x-boxes for most of their lives. They have never played marbles. Monkey bars are reserved for zoos, in their mind. We have no clue what the future holds for our children.

They socialize with each other on social networking sites such as myspace and facebook. And then the old people began to invade facebook. We figured out that we too could socialize with current comrades and even reconnect with old friends that we knew in the innocent days of marbles and monkey bars. The class of 1980 from various high schools formed facebook groups and old friends slowly found each other. The immediate reactions go something like this: oh he has changed, or she looks much younger than 47! Those initial reactions go by the wayside quickly. We have no clue what the future holds for old friendships that are being rekindled.

Correspondence on facebook at some point leads to face to face interaction. We quickly discover that all of these years we have shared a lot more than marbles and monkey bars. We all grew up in homes with parents who struggled with similar issues. Most of by this point in life have buried loved ones. Our kids have had growing pains of every imaginable kind. Each of us made grievous mistakes over the years. Shared roots and life experiences form the basis for friendships that will help carry us through the next chapters of our lives. I am grateful the security, the laughter, and the loyalty that long standing friendships bring. I am going to pray for my friends whom I have rediscovered every single day, because we have no clue what the future holds.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Parenting 101

I have been enjoying a wonderful reunion with childhood friends this week. It has been enlightening on several levels. My hosts, Ginny and Mike Walters, have been gracious and generous in every possible way. They are in the mortgage lending business professionally, but I have another business venture for them if they ever get bored.

Ginny and Mike are raising four children. The two younger kids are 13 year old twins. During my two day stay in their home this week I have been reminded of some important parenting strategies that actually make a major difference in the lives of children. I watched Ginny take time to play a game of ping pong with her 17 year old son. That may sound a little trite on the surface, but I find that such simple pleasures with our teenage children are often foregone. It is no great surprise that he is a polite and respectful young man who meets adults very well.
Taking time for recreational companionship with our children is of utmost importance.

Ginny mentioned this morning that she has date nights planned for each of the four children in the very near future. Tickets for live shows are being purchased and dinner plans at unusual restaurants are being scheduled. My hunch is that each of those kids will remember every detail of those meaningful outings with their mother. Investing significant blocks of time in each individual child in a family is one of the wisest choices a parent can make.

Their older son is already out of high school. They are successfully coaching him through the maze of financial and academic responsibility, as he completes coursework at a local technical school. They do not expect the school or anyone else to complete that very challenging aspect of parenting a young adult for them. Parenting kids after they turn 18 gets interesting. It is not a journey for the faint in heart. I deeply admire my hosts for their commitment to their oldest son during this critical time period.

The final event I observed over these past two days is a ritual that has largely gone by the wayside in the fast paced life of most American families. My host family sat down to a home cooked meal tonight. Cloth napkins were even included in the table setting. The kids were engaged in positive conversation and good manners were observed. I find it a true shame that this time honored ritual is fading fast. Good things happen when families put their feet under a table together at home!

The reunion has been exceptional. I have a lot of information to process over the next few days. Journeys down memory lane are somewhat complex. There is a lot to think about. But tonight I am convicted about going home and being a better dad. I have had the privilege of watching some real pros over the past two day, and for that I am grateful. I am fairy certain that the mortgage lending business will keep Ginny and Mike's attention for years to come, but just in case they get bored.... How about a parenting consulting business?

Monday, November 2, 2009

I was Born in 1975!

How many times have I said it? How many times have I relished the opportunity to say it? I love to say: “I was not even born then.” Another favorite is: “I was born the year that you graduated from college, got married, or entered military service.” The smirk that accompanies such comments is nearly painted on my face. Those kind of comments have a way of coming back to haunt us.

Last week I told a Granbury police officer I was riding out with that I was going to see some childhood friends this week that I had not been with since 1975. He is a much nicer person than I am, so he resisted the temptation to smirk. He just said in a very casual manner: “Oh, I was born in 1975…” I am feeling a little ancient today, but perhaps that is not all bad…

I purposely avoided my 10 year high school reunion. I was just not ready to go back. I had a good experience in high school for the most part, but for some reason at the 10 year juncture the memories felt unpleasant and raw. The dumb stunts I pulled were still fresh on my mind, and quite frankly a little embarrassing. I was afraid that the statute of limitations had not been reached yet on some of my infractions.

The 20 year reunion came around pretty quickly. By that point, we had three children. I was enrolled in doctoral program. My career was well established.
The statute of limitations was definitely working in my favor by that point. I briefly entertained the idea of actually attending the reunion, but in the final analysis fear of the past won out.

In 2005, plans were made for a 25 year high school reunion. I eagerly signed up.
I was ready and willing to return to the scene of the crime. By that point in life, I was feeling pretty humble. I had two teenagers in the house and another one not far from that phase of life. I had a strong suspicion that other classmates felt equally humble. It turned out to be an enriching and affirming experience. There was ample opportunity to encourage old friends who were facing an entire array of life challenges.

This summer we will gather again for a 30 reunion. All of us are now are officially closer to 50 than to 40. That does not seem possible. I still feel like the 17 year old who wanted to look older, so he could buy beer. (I have no desire to look older now.) My goal this summer is to reach out to old friends once again, and listen to their life stories. There is a lot to be told.

This week I am attending a much different kind of reunion. I did not go to high school with the friends I have not seen since 1975. My family moved after I was in the 7th grade. This week’s informal reunion is what I am calling the “Sandlot Reunion.” I will see friends from my elementary school days that I played ball with on the sandlot at the Village Green. We built forts, played hockey, rode bikes together, and explored every nook and cranny of the “woods” that joined our neighborhood. We tried smoking for the first time together, and discovered that mischief had no problem finding us.

A lot of life occurs in 34 plus years. Careers are indeed well established. Our children are nearly grown. Some of us have lost both of our parents and others have lost one parent. Most of us are wondering if we will ever be able to retire. We are still learning. Some of us are still pursuing a formal education and the rest of us realize there are still many life lessons to be learned.

I am excited about the Sandlot Reunion that officially gets underway late this afternoon. It is a time of embrace. It is a time to offer and receive forgiveness.
It is a time to listen. It is a time to offer a word of encouragement. It is a time to heal and a time to celebrate the future. It is a time to reaffirm the value of old friendships and a time to forge new ones as well.It is a time to go back to the Sandlot. It is a time to laugh a lot and perhaps to shed a tear as well. A lot of my friends were not born in 1975, but they had no clue what they were missing!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

We are Among Greatness

…Whoever wants to become great among you must become your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all…(Mark 10:43-44)

My brother in-law, Robert Ross, is no doubt a direct descendant of Daniel Boone. Robert grew up in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. I don’t know what they do for fun up there. I am not sure I want to know. I just know that Robert could be perfectly content to spend his days fishing, hunting, camping, or otherwise imitating his ancestor, Daniel Boone. There is actually a lot more to Robert’s character than just his affinity for the wilderness. Robert is a great guy. The poor Michigan native married into a very traditional Texas farm family. He must have thought all of us were from the planet Mars, but he has always been exceedingly gracious. Robert is an automotive repair technician at the Saturn dealership in Fort Collins, CO. Unlike his balloon launching neighbor in Fort Collins, Robert is very humble and unassuming. He is just a down to earth man who possesses a good blend of common sense and compassionate concern for people. I have always known him to be generous and kind. He is a very tender hearted individual.

Last week Robert became a hero. When he was on his way to work before sunrise last Wednesday morning, he witnessed a car going off the snow packed roadway. Robert is not one inclined to panic under such circumstances. (His ancestor Daniel Boone no doubt fought bear on his way to work.) Robert immediately dialed 911 on his cell phone.
He then proceeded to investigate. A 19 year old girl partially ejected from the vehicle, which came to rest on top of her. Robert lives in the real world, where common sense prevails. He and two other good Samaritans kept that car lifted off of her chest for 20 minutes, while they waited for an emergency crew to arrive. She would not have been able to breathe had it not been for their quick and helpful response.

Robert became a hero in the eyes of the Denver metro area this past week. He of course was featured on the local news station, and in appeared in the newspaper. Unlike his media grabbing, balloon launching neighbor, Robert could have done without the attention. I am quite sure he is content to plan still another hunting trip or fishing expedition. He is also content to be a quiet servant, who helps others with no desire for attention or fanfare.

The injured girl is still listed as being critical at this time. We pray for a complete recovery for her. I hope she will take the time to meet our modern day Daniel Boone. She will discover quickly that they really don’t come any better than Robert. The community of Fort Collins will soon move on with their life. Robert’s name will be forgotten. In the eyes of his extended family, he was a hero before last Wednesday, and he will continue to assume that status indefinitely. After all we are among greatness.