Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cast Aside The New Year's Resolutions

2009 did not turn out like I expected.  In looking back at 12 months ago, I am not exactly sure what I anticipated that the year would bring.  I think I probably had some grandiose plans in December of 2008 for the upcoming year. I think I probably made a list of New Year's Resolutions, but I am not doing that this year.  Life is too unpredictabe for resolutions!   I am going to cast them aside this year.  2009 brought a plethora of unexpected events.

The first few months of  the year were challenging and disappointing.  I attended the swearing in ceremony of newly elected Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds shortly after midnight on January 1st.  He was quickly indoctrinated into the realities of his position.  He called on me to assist the Hood County Sheriff's  Dept. with a couple of very tragic and unexpected traumatic events early in January. One of those calls for service involved the FBI. That was a first for me!  During that same period it seemed that we were having more than our share of funerals at church.  In February, we made the decision to cancel a medical mission trip to Northern Mexico due to drug-related border violence.  In spite of all of these trying circumstances, the addition of Roger to the law enforcement team in Hood County has been a great blessing

As spring approached, it became evident that the we would have sufficient funds at church to begin construction on a community service center.  The idea of a service center that could fill a variety of needs started began early in 2006. A talented engineer at church spent countless hours drawing and editing building plans.  After a special contribution for the sevice center, we were still short on the funds needed to construct our dream building.  One contributor made a commitment to the project that put us precisely where we needed to be in terms of funding.   The remainder of the spring and all of the summer was spent drawing plans, conducting water studies, and fulfilling other pre-construction requirements.  It was far more involved than I ever dreamed!  It was a test of our patience, but worth it in the end. Framing began in the fall.  As 2009 ends, we are ready to begin roofing and brick work anytime.  Even though we had been dreaming about the existence of a Christian Service Center for over 3 years, it was still an unexpected blessing to see the walls actually go up in the fall.

2009 was a time to renew old friendships.   A close friend from junior high lost his dad early in September. I had not seen him since 1981, but decided I needed to attend his father's funeral in Lubbock.  I am glad that I did. It turned out to be an important trip.  The funeral trip prompted me to start digging around on Facebook to see who else I might need to reunite with.  I ended up corresponding with several friends that I had not seen since 1975.  That initial correspondence led to a trip to Wisconsin early in November and a visit to Round Rock, Texas in December.  The entire experience was an unexpected blessing.

In October of this year, I officiated at Staci Walker's wedding in Woodward, OK.  Staci and her family have been dear friends for almost 12 years.  I walked away from her wedding realizing that kids really do grow up and become responsible.  I feel certain Staci's dad had his doubts about her a time or two... :) :)  We were blessed by longstanding friendships over that weekend in October. 

The fall also brought the opportunity to conduct one of  the most successful medical mission trips I have been involved in over the course of 13 years . Our dentists were able to make use of portable labs for the first time. We were fortunate enough to have two medical doctors on the team.  After a false start in February, it was indeed an unexpected blessing.

My children matured this year.  Randall continued to excel in college.  He started his junior year in August. Daniel had a good season on the debate team, and did very well on  his college entrance exams.  Mitchell furthered his political career by being elected to the student council.  I learn new things from my children every day. They are indeed a blessing.

There are many other events that took place that I am not mentioning here that are of great significance.  I am not making any grandiose plans as 2009 comes to an end.  I have not even formualated any New Year's Resolutions. I feel compelled to pursue one train of thought.  I am determined to get up every day in 2010 and embrace it.  Capture the day.  I feel compelled to accept each day for what it brings.  I don't want to be guilty of complaining or whining.  Contentment is the key word for 2010.  Contentment - one day at a time...
I recognize that these are not very original thoughts, but they seem really important.  And they sound an awful lot like New Year's Resolutions...


Monday, December 28, 2009

Visiting the Hall of Nightmares

I don't think being raised as preacher's kids has been all that rough on my boys, but I am sure they would tell a very different story.  I am sure it would be one worth listening to very carefully.   They were conscripted into doing a few things that normal kids did not have to do.  When I needed to make pastoral visits at the nursing home, I often coerced them into going with me.  Older people confined to care facilities love small children, and I knew it was not going to hurt mine to join me on such excursions.  I did not realize at the time that I was actually doing myself potential harm!

Occasionally, we visited a facility that will remain unnamed to protect the guilty. It was awful.  A putrid odor permeated every nook and cranny of that forsaken building.  I would not be able to sleep at night if I knew my loved one was living in that dump. I did not see any obvious signs of abuse, but I strongly suspected some of the employees were frequent flyers in the judicial system.  Unfortunately, my boys are keen observers. They continue to use the childhood experience of visiting this hall of nightmares against me.

When I fail to meet the expectations of my three boys, they collectively remind me that they will seek a placement for me in the above mentioned nursing home.  They even remember the name of it!  Obviously, I will be at a point in life when I can no longer care for myself, if that need arises.  They are threatening to put poor old vulnerable dad in a place like that!   And of course putting their mother in such a place has never been mentioned.  The worst thing about all of this is: they smile as they tell me.   Do they not have conscience at all?

Old dad is actually several steps ahead of them.  I have this thing figured out.  I will get Daniel to pick out my nursing home. He is thoughtful and cautious.  I will count on Randall to be my personal advocate.  If a nursing home or Medicare or anyone else tries to take advantage of me, I will actually feel sorry for them before it is over. Randall is not easily intimidated.  I want him on my side. I won't be lonely at the nursing home because Mitchell will come to see me.   He is very compassionate.

How will I avoid becoming a victim of their threats?  I have not told them the news.... The state closed down the nursing home in question several years ago.  I am just keeping that under wraps.  I need some time to prepare them for their respective roles.  In this process, I have actually learned something...

It is important to practice the Golden Rule with everyone. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
If I want to be treated with respect and dignity in my old age, then I should treat my children with respect and dignity now.  Raising children has never been easy.  But I don't think anyone ever told me to practice the Golden Rule with my children.  Those particular words were not said.  It is important.  We should treat them the way we want to be treated.  It sounds pretty basic, but I think we often miss the target in that regard.  I know I do.  I am going to think about the Golden Rule this year, as I parent three boys that are nearly grown.
And I will grin to myself because they don't know that their favorite nursing home is now a part of history!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

I Believe that I Like Surprises...

I underwent the initial training to serve as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain almost exactly 20 years ago.  One of the department's deputy chiefs reminded us that the officers serving in the field would at some point be calling on us to minister to someone who was the perpetrator in the a criminal event.  In other words, the person that the chaplain automatically views as the victim could very well be the perpetrator instead.  The chief was right.

In 1990, I was riding with an officer when he was dispatched to a call of a baby not breathing.  The child's mother was standing outside of her apartment screaming about the bathtub.  While the officer I was with checked the bathtub, I found the deceased 13-month-old child lying on a bed.  My immediate thought was to comfort the child's mother.  But I quickly ascertained that it was the mother who had placed the helpless baby in scalding water in the tub.  The chief was right.
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There have been other instances over the span of 20 years where the person I was called to serve was an instigator in the situation at hand.  It is always wise to use extreme caution, but it is also unfair to make premature judgment calls.  I am glad that the chief gave us some forewarning about such instances, but he failed to give us a balanced picture.  He did not tell us everything.

I have been called on to minister to some incredibly good people over the years.  There has been no shortage of opportunity to serve people who have been vicitms of awful crimes.  Every year brings opportunities to reach out to those impacted by tragic events.  Several of those families will always stand out to me.  Just this week I met some very nice people impacted by the suicide of a loved one.  The deputy chief doing our training in 1990 did not tell us that about the people who would impact our lives forever.

I got a call earlier today from my dear friend, Scott Dix.   He and his wife, Lori, along with their youngest daughter, Brianna, came by the house this afternoon.   He brought a music cd that was put together in memory of his and Lori's precious daugther, Alyssa.  Alyssa was killed about 2 miles from my home on March 3, 2008 in a car accident.  She had just celebrated her 16th birthday.  When the Granbury Police Department called me to assist their officers in serving the Dix family, I had no idea what impact it would make in my life.

I have had the distinct privilege of enjoying several meals with Scott since that time.  I always walk away from those times feeling inspired.  Scott is a natural encourager.  His faith and his love for people continue to amaze me.  He has also made an impact on the officers responsible for investigating the crash that took Alyssa's life.  The chief did not tell us about people like Scott during our training experience. He was a veteran officer.  Surely he had encountered people of Scott's caliber during the course of his career.  Maybe he wanted us to be surprised. I am actually glad that such information was withheld from us during our initial training.  Being surprised is a good thing.  After Scott and his family left today, I felt particularly inspired to start my 21st year of service in this field.  And that is a good thing... I believe I like surprises.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Comment Away Sue!

Last week I completed one of those ridiculous facebook applications that I usually ignore. But this one actually turned out to be pretty interesting... It compiled all of my status updates from the previous year and placed them in one document. I found it to be very revealing. I was reminded of a few serious events that I have been involved in this past year. There also were a few posts that I thought were pretty funny at the time. In fact, I still think they are funny.

I have learned something this year that really should be the subject of a master's thesis for a student studying in the discipline of interpersonal communication. I have learned that people's comments on facebook reveal a lot about their personal character. One friend of mine consistently posts things that range from being mildy amusing to being just downright funny. He is not crude or inappropriate. He just sees the lighter side of life and shares it. Thanks James.
You brighten my days with your humor.

There are others who have a tendency to demonstrate a lack of social awareness. That is a nice way of saying that they use facebook as a forum to share things most of us would rather not hear. Too much information is revealed. Need I say more? I will just graciously decline the opportunity to cite examples.

A person's status update can be a cry for help. There is a crass side of me that really does not appreciate personal problems being aired in such a context. In a way, I feel like I am being manipulated by such behavior. But that is my problem... A cry for help is just that. It is a cry for help. A fitting response is in order.

I find those who use comment forums on facebook in a positive way to be a source of inspiration.
Sue is not a lady I am personally acquainted with. She is a friend of several of my friends. I think that makes sense... Sue consistently posts comments to my friends that are positive, upbeat and well-composed. She is a thoughtful lady who uses the social networking site to encourage those she cares about. Her thoughts reveal an ability to think of others in an unselfish way.

I am wondering if the comments that I made to friends on facebook this past year were positive and helpful. I know that I have a tendency to type like I talk. Type now and think later...
I think I want to be like Sue when I grow up. My goal for this year is to be more purposed in the comments made to others. In a world that is drowning in negative communication, a good word is well-timed.

I will continue to cringe when I see comments that reveal too much information. And yes I will also respond to those crying for help during 2010. But I sure hope Sue has time to comment a lot on my friends' status updates. Her breaths of fresh air will remind me of my resolution to be positive this year. Comment away Sue. Your friends and their friends are counting on you!

The Walmart Dialogues


The holidays are upon us in full force. I went to Walgreens this morning to pick up a few stocking stuffers and received an amazing brainstorm regarding some items to put in Jan's stocking late tomorrow evening. Of course my latest idea will necessitate a special trip to Ft. Worth, but what can I say? When inspiration hits, you have to act on it! I love spontaneity. I have a couple of other stores in Granbury to hit today as well. Jan is out shopping too, but I won't have to worry about running into her. She is going to Walmart. It could be well after Christmas before she actually makes it through a check out line.

I am choosing to avoid Walmart for an entirely different reason today. My friend Richard served as a general manager for our Walmart store when we still had a child in diapers. I made regular visits to the retail giant back in those days and often ran into him in the process. We had plenty to talk about, because our children are exactly the same age. We enjoyed our Walmart dilalogues. He was dealing with three little girls at home and I had three boys to wrestle with everyday. But I won't see Richard in Walmart this year or next year either.

Richard passed away several years ago. His sweet wife lost her battle with breast cancer not long after his death. Both of them were in their early 40's. They left three young girls to be cared for by members of their extended family. The girls are now: 21, 18, and 14. I won't be talking to Richard in Walmart this year, but I have already corresponded with one of the girls.

Can I empathize with the girls based on my own life experiences? Yes...to a degree. But more importantly I have a responsibilty to those girls. Their parents were my friends. Now that friendship must be extended to the next generation. I have a duty to treat those girls the way I would want my friends to treat my kids if they were in a similar set of circumstances. I will think about Richard, as I quickly walk through the diaper section this year at Walmart. Thankfully there is not a need to buy diapers, but it will trigger that scattered brain of mine to stay in contact with the girls.

I am thankful to be with family this year for Christmas. I am grateful for last minute brainstorms. That is gift buying at its finest! And I am thankful that friendship extends from generation to generation, because someday in eternity I want to be able to tell Richard: I took care of your girls.... I am avoiding Walmart today. But if I do make it over in the next few days, I may pause for a second in the diaper section for a rather private dialogue...

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Grinch Crashes the Police Dept. Christmas Party

Confession is good for the soul. I must admit that the Grinch is my all time favorite character in the reporitire of characters that Dr. Seusss so cleverly created. Here is the problem: I like the Grinch before his heart grew. I am serious. Perhaps it is not entirely true. Actually I am a reformed Grinch. The My own heart has actually grown. But I used to despise the Christmas holidays. Thus...why I like the small-hearted and unreformed Grinch.

During my small heart days I was of a mind that we should be generous and kind year round. We should give to those in need in July as well as in December. I still believe that actually. But I have had a change of heart.... Christmas is a good time to slow down long enough to enjoy special traditions. I had an experience last night confirming that conclusion.

We enjoyed the annual Granbury Police Dept. Christmas party at the newly constructed convention center. The Citizen's Police Academy Alumni Association funded the meal and invited Santa Claus for the children of the officers. In fact, they went to a lot of trouble to make it a memorable evening. The alumni association models to other agencies around the state what citizen partnerships can look like.

Shift work in a police setting makes it very difficult for everyone to be together at one time. The Christmas party is an annual event where officers and civilian employees can bring their spouses and children for a fun night out. There were newborn babies who were not with us last year. The children of other officers have seemingly grown up overnight. The Chief had an opportunity to show off his beautiful grandchildren. It is a tradition that everyone has grown to appreciate. The award for the officer of the year is presented as well at the Christmas party.

I was reminded last night what caused the growth in that Grinch like heart of mine. It occurred to me very recently that holiday tradition is all about security. Every year I attend several Christmas gatherings with family, law enforcement officers, co-workers, and church friends... I can't help but reminded that these are people I love and appreciate. I spend time with them every week accomplishing tasks or just being family. In a setting like a Christmas party, we all slow down long enough to realize how important these people are in our lives.

This year as I scanned the rooms full of friends at several annual parties, I felt a great sense of security. I have friends! I am a very fortunate person! I am grateful for tradition, because it is all about fortifiying that sense of security for all of us. I didn't realize it, but my heart grew as I scanned one of those rooms this year! I suppose Christmas may be good around the Knox Manor this year just like it was in Whoville the year that the Grinch's heart grew. Confession is good for the soul and celebrating Christmas is good for relationships.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Welcome to My Doghouse

Someday I want to build a home out in the country. I have a vision of its design in that little twisted head of mine. It will be two story with Granbury stone on the outside. It will also include a full basement and a large front porch. The kitchen will be roomy with plenty of counter space to prepare meals for large groups. My thought is this: I need three guestrooms with their own baths. Each son can come home with his family and they can have their own territory. This should make points with the daughter-in-law's that I hope exist someday. There is probably not much I will not do for those saintly members of the female gender. A large media room in the basement for grandchildren will make the design complete.

What about decorating? Here is where it gets interesting. I have definite opinions about such matters. I should have been an interior decorator. I prefer leather furniture and Western Art. I want an old fashioned antique four poster bed in the master bedroom. Furthermore I prefer tile over carpeting. I prefer epoxy floors over tile. Jan could potentially veto a couple of those things, but that is not a problem. She will figure that compromising is a virtue.

I am thinking I need a room in the basement that becomes an official doghouse by default. Every man needs a doghouse. A place he can call his own.... A place to go when compromising fails. My doghouse will even be a place to host friends who come to visit. I will of course make all doghouse decorating choices single handily. The veto power of my sweet bride stops at the door of the dog house.

There will be an epoxy floor for starters. Spill all you want and there will be minimal concern. There will be a need for a place to sit for guests, so I will have one of the booths from the Taco Villa in Lubbock installed in my doghouse. The booths at the 50th St. location in Lubbock are the same 1970's gold ones that we sat in for lunch everyday in high school. My doghouse simply must have one of those booths. There will be times to host larger groups in this basement hideout, so I will need to travel to Racine, Wisconsin to secure a table and accompanying chairs at a restaurant called Kewpies. Now those tables only seat about six people, so surely I can find another set of table and chairs from the Pioneer Restaurant in Wichita Falls. That should do it...
My doghouse will have plenty of seating for guests.

The rest of the house will have tasteful Western art adorning the walls unless of course Mrs. Knox exercises her veto power. What shall I hang on the walls of the doghouse? I think pictures of people.... Yes...pictures of people from the different eras of my life. Pictures of people I ate lunch with at Taco Villa and Kewpies and The Pioneer...

I will cook burgers on a backyard grill and will sit around tables that hold significant memories. Thankfully those table cannot talk, because there would be tales to tell.... I am going to build that home in the country someday. If you are a casual acquaintance, we will visit in the living room with the leather couch and chairs. (Unless Mrs. Knox exercises her veto power, and in that case the furniture may not be leather.) Perhaps we can have a pleasant discussion about world leaders learning to compromise. If you are a friend, we will quickly make our way to the dog house. It is a place where old memories come alive and new ones are formed. It is a place where confidences can be shared, because remember.....the furniture does not talk.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Honesty is Still a Good Policy

I have taken courses on ethics in graduate school. The study of human behavior and choices at that level is a stretch for most anyone. Sometimes it is helpful to return to the basics. I had that experience today.

We had an area meeting for one of the law agencies I serve today. The newly appointed captain came out to meet those working under his command. He is an impressive leader both in stature and in attitude! He told those who will answer to him two things that I took note of today.

He impressed on everyone that lying will not be tolerated. In fact, dishonesty forms the basis for immediate dismissal. That sounds like ethics 101, but in a litigous society many departments will jump through a lot of hoops before dismissing someone who has obviously been deceptive.
Even if an officer has made a horrible mistake, honesty is still expected.

The second theme he touched on is candor. He urged those under his command to speak up and speak candidly at will. I find that his comment interesting. In my 20 years of working around law enforcement leaders, I have taken note that good cops don't always make good supervisors.
I should explain: Cops are tempted to deal with each other the way they deal with a criminal on the street. That of course very unhealthy and does not promote trust or mutual respect. I sense that this new generation of law enforcement leaders are ready to embrace more effective models of leadership. Words like collaborate and candor are now an integral part of their vocabulary.

I am sure the officers are wary. They are going to check out their new leader carefully, but they like what they are hearing. Cops are generally a good judge of character. They sense that our new captain is the real thing. I am excited about serving under a leader who exhibits and expects integrity. Honesty and candor are both good ethical qualites that cannot be learned in the classroom.

Monday, December 14, 2009

A Weeping Willow Tree

I don't know if I am a stereotypical Baby Boomer or not, but I did grow up in the '60's and '70's. I rode a Schwinn bike and watched the Brady Bunch at 7:00 every Friday evening. Love American Style came on at 9:00, but that was off limits unless my parents happened to be gone. My sister failed to monitor what racy shows I might be viewing on one of the three network channels available to us during those pre-cable years.

When I was growing up, my mother did not work outside the home. On cold days she made sure we had enough clothes on to keep an entire army warm in Siberia. She welcomed us home every afternoon after school and prepared home cooked meals every evening. It never occurred to me that she could have made other choices. She could have had a very interesting career. But she made the choice to stay home with us.

I was reminded of that fact today as I read the obituary of a long time friend's mother. Colleen and I grew up together. We built entire civilizations in the massive sandbox tucked underneath the weeping willow tree in her backyard. We put on pads and helmets and played tackle football together in my backyard. There was a pond in both of our yards that would freeze over during the winter months. There was ample time to play hockey and skate. Colleen claims that she kicked me with her skates, but I don't think that ever happened. Although I am quite sure there were times that I deserved to have those skates thrust right into my knee!

Colleen's mother was also a stay at home mom during our formative years. She was raising five children that were fairly close in age. I was in and out of her house constantly. She was in mine as well. Our mothers took turns supervising us. Although I don't think we needed much oversight. There were always a a game of some kind to play. Sue was Colleen's mom. She was Mrs. Burke to me. In my mind, Mrs. Burke did what she was supposed to do. She took care of the kids. I did not know until I read her obituary today that there was much more to her life.

Colleen's mom held a BA in psychology and a paralegal degree as well. I was taken back for some odd reason today. It occurred to me that we don't realize when we are kids that we are around people who have done things in life other than just be our friend's mother! I suppose there must have been a lot of stay at home moms back in the day who were highly educated. My mother earned her bachelor's degree in French from Florida State University.

I am grateful today for the moms in our old neighborhood. I didn't realize how much they had to offer us. We were too busy running out to play hockey or football.... I think we failed to fully appreciate our moms who were making the sacrifice to stay home and wash our dirty football jersies and sweaty baseball socks.

Colleen is a sucessful juvenile probation officer today. She is trying to prevent kids from totally destroying their lives before they turn 18. I think she is having quite a bit of success actually.
I don't know if she is a stereotypical Baby Boomer or not. But I do know that she grew up watching The Brady Bunch at 7:00 on Friday evenings. And her mother made sure that she had enough clothes on to keep a Siberian army warm on cold days... Our moms were far from perfect, but in their own way they prepared us for the world we now face everyday.

My friendship with Colleen has entered a new phase. We now share more than just memories of building with Tonka trucks in the sandbox under the weeping willow tree. We have the shared experience of losing our mothers. There is a new sense of commonality that is hard to explain.
I have a vision of the weeping willow tree in my mind tonight....On the eve of Mrs. Burke's funeral, it seems to be a fitting image.

Tiempo para aprender español

When my older boys were in middle school, the campus always named a student of the month. That student's picture would be featured in the local newspaper. The school would list academic and extra curricular accomplishments to accompany the photo. I never had to worry about being student of the month. I attended school everyday simply because my parents forced it on me. I was not one to play up to the teacher either. So student of the month awards evaded me .

Something happened when I was a junior in college. It occurred to me that I could do something with my life that I wanted to do if I would just settle down and study. What a novel idea. It took fourteen years of format education to reach that point, but I finally got there. I actually made straight "A's" that semester. Miracles have not ceased after all! Education is all about motivation.

I have been going to Mexico on mission trips for 11 years now. Spanish taken in college coupled with Spanish I have picked up serving with police officers has been helfpul. But ultimately my Spanish skills are still really lacking. After returning from Mexico this year, several new friends have started corresponding with me on facebook. We both make generous use of google translator. That whole process generally ends up being amusing.

I am actually serious about learning Spanish for the first time. What has changed? I have Spanish speaking friends who want to communicate with me on a regular basis. I hate it that a language barrier holds us back. Why didn't I pursue language training years ago? I suppose the motivation was just not there... Education is all about motivation.

There must be a moral to this story for educators. Discovering what motivates a student is paramount. You would think that leading mission trips to Mexico would be sufficient motivation for me to hone my Spanish skills, but my behavior shows otherwise! Factor in socializing and making news friends and it becomes a different story! I have this new found motivation! I am hoping that 2010 will be the year that I signficantly expand my Spanish vobabulary! Why would I not? It will enhance my abililty to be a socical creature and that is great motivation!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

An Absence of Trouble

An absence of trouble or just an absence... I would love to raise my kids in an environment that factors out trouble. I wish there would not destructive forces that posesses the capacity to change the course of their entire life. I further wish that I could steer them away from areas where trouble lurks in the shadows. I have been down many of those dark alleys myself. I hate to see my children venture down such areas.

Today in a juvenile court hearing I witnessed a really good kid suffer the consequences of plowing down several dark alleys that he should have avoided. He has already suffered the consequences to some degree. Be locked up in a juvenile detention center is not one of life's more pleasant experiences. There has been no absence of trouble in this young man's life recently.

I have attended several court hearings and trials over the years for both juveniles and adults. Frequently there are notable absences at such events. Parents are often counted absent. Grandparents and other extended family members are absent more often than not. Under such circumstances I walk away wondering where the accused will find support and encouragement.

Today was an exception. This child's parents were present. He also had both maternal and paternal grandparents routing for him. His adopted grandparents from church were also there to express their love and concern. Nobody was tardy and there no absences.

I will never get my wish. There will never be a complete absence of trouble for my children or for the kids that I have grown to know and love from the church and the local community. We live in a fallen world. I am confident however that there is a greater propensity for trouble to be absent when mom and dad hang in there. Abandoned kids struggle the most. I have been counted abesent for less than noble reasons in my life. I have done my share of skipping school and avoiding formal events that I did not want to attend. But I am not going to be counted absent when it comes to seeing to the needs of my children. I don't intend to be absent when any child I know is in trouble. I suppose the reason for my commitment to be present is pretty basic. There were adults in my life who chose not to be absent when I needed them the most, because there was no absence of trouble in my life. An absence of trouble or just an absence... One we cannot control and one we can.....

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

He Does not Look Good on Paper...

He doesn't look very good on paper. The documentation on him reveals a pattern of truancy, fighting, and a few other delinquent type behaviors. Consequently he has scared off moreht than a few prospective foster families. The future for a big strapping six foot plus 15 year old kid with that kind of record in the foster care system is not real bright. In a few short years, he will age out of the system, and be on his own.

The cynical among us would say that prison could figure prominently in his future. I might be tempted to conclude the same thing, but I am privy to some pertinent information that causes me to think otherwise. This particular 15 year old has an angel looking over his shoulder. The court system refers to her as a Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA volunteer for short. A CASA volunteer is a trained citizen appointed by a judge to represent the best interests of an abused or neglected child in court. Her friends just call her Leah.

Leah definitely has his best interests in mind, but most importantly she really cares about him. He is no longer in a foster home in the county where she resides, but that has not stopped her from reaching out to him. There are of course legal restrictions on what she can and cannot do.
She dutifully follows the guidelines down to the last letter.

I have no idea what kind of experience that young man has had in the foster care over the years.
Of course something horrific occurred to trigger a removal from his biological family in the first place. Where will he turn when he becomes an adult? Where will he find a place at a Thanksgiving meal? Will there be someone to buy him a Christmas present? Will he rediscover biological family? Will a kind foster family include him in their holiday celebration? I just don't know... I don't particularly like not knowing!

As a law enforcement chaplain, I often meet young men just like him with in less than ideal circumstances. I am thankful I can go to bed tonight knowing that there is one 15 year old in the foster care system who has angel looking over him. Leah and her husband Kevin will warmly welcome that young man into their home. He will have a place at the table and a gift under the tree. He wil be loved and not abandoned. He doesn't look very good on paper, but his guardian angel still thinks he is great. May we thank God tonight for the tender and kind among us....

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Throw Me a Life Jacket!

Well that is no big deal! What is your problem? Get over it! Those are among the top ten phrases not to use when someone has been impacted by a traumatic event. I would add these common quips to that list as well: I have seen a lot worse. That is just life. That should not bother you. Why are you still talking about it? People process trauma differently. The same event can affect a group of involved individuals in a a variety of ways. Each person is unique in their response. One person goes about their routine with little or no disruption for the long term. Others experience nightmares, loss of appetite, and relational disturbances. Still others appear to be fine initially and experience a break down of some kind months after the crisis event. One one occasion I recall being tempted to use one of the forbidden phrases just listed.

I encountered an individual struggling with all kinds of relational issues. I listened. I poked and prodded trying to get down the real source of the problem. It finally came to the surface. This person had been involved in a traumatic incident. It was legitimate. It was genuinely a bad situation that would be troublesome to anyone. But I was still tempted to say: I have seen worse. Why are you still struggling with this after all of this time? I am so glad I kept my active mouth zipped that day.

This young person had probably led a pretty sheltered life. She was not accustomed to seeing or experiencing shocking episodes. When she was the witness to a death, it had a long term effect on her life. Apparently she had not had the opportunity to process what she had encountered with another person.

I was reminded after visting with her of the walking wounded among us. People who are harboring intrusive memories of past trauma. In some cases, professional help is an absolute necessity. Seeking out qualified people to assist should never be postponed. Loyal friends can make a difference as well. In the 2007 movie, Reign Over Me, Don Cheadle and Adam Sandler
demonstrate the important role that friendship plays in the life of someone facing post traumatic stress. One movie critic makes this observation: Reign Over Me is an emotional film with clear messages that none of us have perfect lives. Sometimes it is a close friendship that provides the life jacket to keep us afloat.

Are you willing to provide a life jacket to someone you care about today? Here are a few insights that might be helpful in the process.

  1. Remember the List..That is no big deal! Get over it! I have seen a lot worse..etc. etc.Practice active listening. Don't be afraid of silence. Listen, listen, and then listen some more.
  2. Avoid Counter-Story. Oh you think that is bad? Let me tell you about what I experienced back in 1978.....That is counter story and it should be avoided at all costs. It is about your friend and not you.
  3. Use Non-Verbal Communication-Be generous with hugs. Listen with your eyes. Watch your posture. Don't get distracted.
  4. Be Loyal and Patient-Reign Over Me is an excellent commentary on befriending someone struggling with trauma, because the characters problems don't go away soon.

The holidays can be particularly difficult for people who have experienced grief, loss, or some other form of trauma in their life. Let's be especially alert to those whom we can serve and help, because to them....it is a big deal.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tiger Woods: Innocent is the Right Word

A friend of mine duly noted on his facebook status this morning that he was tired of hearing about the troubles of Tiger Woods. I imagine he is not the only one. An early morning car crash soon led to rumors of domestic violence and marital infidelity. The media has been relentless in their coverage. Tiger finally conceded on his website earlier this week that he regrets his transgressions with all his heart.

Is Tiger sincere? Does he have a penitent heart? Is he really sorry for the transgressions he mentions? I don't know. I am not his friend. I am just a fan who loves the game of golf. But I do have an opinion about the events that have unfolded this week.

It was mentioned in the news today that a lot of people stand to profit from this whole thing. I found that to be disgusting. A person's personal failures become the basis for another's profit? Tiger's wife has been scrutinized on many levels, but I have yet to see an article that expresses empathy for the personal pain she must be feeling. Surely there are people who care...

The media is all over this thing, because it is profitable. It is a story that generates readers and viewers for their respective outlets. I wonder if the media has given any thought to the impact their coverage will have on Tiger's children? Those kids have done nothing wrong, but they stand to suffer the most from this entire fiasco. I recognize that Tiger has brought this thing on himself, but wouldn't it be nice if people across the board were genuinely concerened about the long term welfare of his children. Constant media coverage will do little to help Tiger and his wife put their marriage back together. A healthy marriage for them is obviously the best thing for the kids.

I am afraid we live in a society that is more concerned about profiteering than the welfare of children. Am I tired of hearing about Tiger's problems? I really am. There are other world issues I would rather think about. But tonight I am thinking about his children. They are the innocent ones in this whole thing. They deserve some resepect and decency. Innocent is the right word in the Tiger Wood's saga. Those kids are innocent. I am praying for them, because they are caught in a firestorm that is not of their making.