Friday, December 31, 2010

Don't Get Bitten by the Anxiety Bug!

This is my second and final rerun blog to complete 2010.  I wrote this one almost a year ago, and I still find the thoughts to be challenging.
I talk to myself on a very regular basis. But I am not crazy in the least. I know this to be true because I don't answer myself. My mother always told me that a person is not crazy unless he answers himself. Why would I not believe my own mother? She was a credible person. Honesty is always a good policy. I suppose I do sort of answer myself because I carry on entire conversations with myself. There is not a doubt then - I am crazy. Last week I carried this idea of self-communication to a new and dangerous level. I wrote an essay to myself. Is that not disturbing?

In recent months, I have found myself surrounded by people who are anxious for various reasons. Anxiety is contagious. I don't want to catch that bug, so I composed an essay. Here is the title: Surviving and Thriving in an Anxious System. I listed some guiding principles in the essay that are intended to keep myself from catching the anxiety bug. I believe the technical term in family systems theory for such an objective is: self-differentiation. I would rather refer to such a condition simply as the anxiety bug. Here are my principles:

1. I must be committed to taking care of myself spiritually and physically. No one can do that for me. I must be dedicated to those two related objectives.
2. I must avoid unnecessary conversations and entanglements. This objective must be clarified. It is not helpful to engage in conversations about sources of anxiety that are pointless and unproductive. If the conversation is not intended to work toward a solution, then it just needs to be abandoned. Unproductive conversations just cause more high blood pressure and grief.
3. I need to work hard, so I can enjoy some daily fun. It is important to have a little fun sprinkled in every day, and it provides a little extra motivation to get the work done!
4. I must interact with people in need when I feel like it and when I don't feel like it. Being around anxious people makes me want to withdraw, but that is counter-productive.
5. I need to seek out and prioritize friendships that are healthy and mutually beneficial.
6. Being content with what a particular day brings is important. Every day brings some kind of mix of good and bad. Being content with the circumstances of that day is imperative.
7. A thankful spirit to accompany the pursuit of contentment is important as well.

That was the essence of the essay I wrote to myself. I know my mother told me that answering ourselves is a sure sign of craziness, but perhaps she was partially incorrect. I think I need to read the essay I wrote to myself periodically and answer it. Allowing ourselves to be mindlessly sucked into an anxious system is very unwise. As we all start a new year, let's avoid being bitten by the anxiety bug.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I am Sorry, But this NOT Disneyland!

Editor's Note:  I am republishing a couple of my favorite blogs today and tomorrow as the year ends.  I originally shared this one in 2009.

Life is not Disneyland….

It was a beautiful summer day in 1992. Mom and dad loaded four kids up bright and early, and left the hustle and bustle of life in Dallas for a vacation at Disneyland. Plans were foiled however about fifteen miles southeast of Vernon on Hwy. 287. A car crash left both parents with serious injuries, and four pre-school children shaken and scared. The ambulance transported the vacation bound family to Wichita Falls for treatment. The injured mother was taken into surgery immediately and the father was admitted as well.

What do you do with four pre-school children who are temporally orphaned? It turns out that the dad is a sergeant with the Dallas Police Dept, and the mother is a trauma nurse at Parkland Hospital. Dallas PD contacted law enforcement in Wichita Falls and the chaplains on call went into action. One of the chaplains babysat all night, while the children slept peacefully in the ICU waiting room at the hospital. I took the next shift early the next morning. I will never forget the sight of four sweet little children in that waiting room in their torn and blood stained clothes. A trip to Gibson’s Discount Center was in order! The children were fed and clothed, and in a few hours their grandparents arrived to relieve us from a duty that was truly a privilege.

The parents recovered fully from the injuries and made the trip back to Dallas. The Disneyland plans were foiled for that year.

A few weeks later we received a warm thank you note from the family.

Helping that family was one of the joys of being a chaplain. They were nice people with sweet kids. The entire scenario was a tragedy that actually had a happy ending. There were gracious sentiments expressed by everyone.

But….let us be reminded. We are frequently called to serve in situations that don’t have happy endings. We are often called to assist people that are not gracious. Sometimes we are cursed at by belligerent adults instead of being received by children eager to make a new friend. We are here to serve.

Serve on the good days and serve on the bad days. We need to remember occasionally….life is not Disneyland.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Stop Beating Yourself Up!

When I did coursework in church history as a graduate student, I was introduced to the term asceticism. The dictionary defines asceticism as: a religious practice of strict discipline and self denial. Based on what I know from history such a definition is not strong enough. When the famous reformer, Martin Luther was a young monk, I am told that ascetic practices led him to be physically self abusive.

Unfortunately extreme asceticism has not proven to be a helpful discipline in terms of promoting spiritual growth.

As the year ends, we tend to be somewhat reflective regarding the past 12 months. I think it is pretty important to take inventory of everything that would cause us to give thanks. But I am afraid that is not where our thoughts naturally gravitate during such times of personal reflection. I am fearful that we obsess on our faults and shortcomings. Such thought processes in a way become a form of mental asceticism. If we beat ourselves up enough, perhaps it will make things better. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am reminded today that heaping down tons of shame is not going to help me to become a better person anymore than physical asceticism helped Martin Luther. I know that to be true intellectually at least. Everyday I am reminded of the need of extending to myself the same level of grace and forgiveness that I am more than willing to give to other imperfect people. That is particularly challenging at such a reflective time of year.

I have a friend who often tells struggling colleagues: “Stop beating yourself up!” It is a good exhortation. Mental asceticism is probably not going to make things any better. I am committed today to resisting the temptation of allowing shame to break my spirit. I would encourage my friends to do likewise. In fact, my message to my friends today is: “Stop beating yourself up.”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2011: The Year that Hearts Can be Restored

 This week I am working on a lecture that I am scheduled to deliver in Little Rock, Arkansas in March regarding stress in law enforcement. I am to teach this core training course at the annual Regional Training Seminar for the International Conference of Police Chaplains. I will delve briefly into the concept of post-shooting trauma, but my primary focus will be on the day to day stress of being in law enforcement.

One of the principles that I will stress to the group of chaplains taking this course as a part of their basic certification is the importance of being excellent listeners. The average police officer sees a lot of human suffering in a relatively short period of time.  They are often the first ones to arrive when a child has been abused or an elderly person robbed.  Traumatic events are are part of their daily existence.

Many spouses of police officers don’t want to hear about when their husband or wife comes home after a shift. The officer’s friends don’t have a clue what it is like on the streets, so it can be difficult for them to empathize. The chaplain is often lifeline in this regard.

When it comes to the occurrence of traumatic events, I have learned a valuable lesson in recent years. Police officers are not the only ones carrying the pain of past trauma with them. I seem to consistently meet people who are carrying around some kind traumatic event with them as a constant companion. In many cases, they have never shared it with anyone.

I will try to do a good job training a group of new chaplains in Little Rock in March, because I think they can make a difference in the lives of the police officers they serve. But I am convinced that all of us can make a difference in the lives of those who have been traumatized on some level.

The lady whose toddler was run over by a vehicle still needs someone to calmly and kindly listen to her story decades after the event took place. The person who has been abused definitely needs a confidant who can listen without passing judgment. Adults who lost their parents at a young age need people to hear the story of their loss. The list could go on and on…

It would serve all of us well in 2011 to be quick to listen and slow to speak. There are a lot of hurting people out there. There are stories that need to be told. What can you do during the course of the upcoming year to bring healing and heart restoration to those you know well?  I will do extensive research for the class I am going to teach, but the best preparation I can do is to simply get out there and reach out to those I need to serve with a listening ear.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

I Did Not Meet Any Old Lovers in the Grocery Store on Christmas Eve....

My Christmas Eve passed by safely without meeting any old lovers in the grocery store. And that suits me just fine! Those of my generation will quickly recognize the reference to Dan Fogelberg’s song from 1981: Same Old Lang Syne  from the album The Innocent Age. The opening lyrics to the song are as follows:

Met my old lover in a grocery store
The snow was falling Christmas Eve
Stole behind her in the frozen foods
and I touched her on the sleeve
She didn't recognize the face at first
but then her eyes flew open wide
Tried to hug me and she spilled her purse
and we laughed until we cried…

Apparently the song is based on an actual experience that Fogelberg had in his hometown of Peoria, IL in the mid 1970’s. He and his former high school sweetheart ran into each other at a Peoria convenience store on Christmas Eve. Both of them graduated from Woodruff High School in 1969, but ended up going to different colleges.  Reunions can certainly be bittersweet, and this one was no exception. One of the lines in the song that stands out to me is: We drank a toast to innocence; we drank a toast to now. Tried to reach beyond the emptiness but neither one knew how… All of us had friends and romantic interests alike during our innocent years. And then there is now… We have lived well beyond the innocent age.

I did not run into any old lovers the grocery store all year, but I have reunited with several special friends from back in the innocent age. Thus far I have found such times of coming back together to be rich beyond words. Perhaps that is because there is more distance between the innocent age and now. Fogelberg and his high school sweetheart had been out of high school less than ten years on that fateful Christmas Eve.

Some of us have buried our parents. Others have experienced painful divorces. We have had challenges in our careers. Some of us are going back to school at age 50. We have struggled to be the right example to our children, but most of our kids are better people than we were at that age. The gap between the innocent age and now is widening quickly.

A new year is about to dawn. 2011 probably will not be the year of reunions. But I firmly believe it could be the year where old friends are able to solidify and deepen friendships that have been renewed. I think we have already moved well beyond the emptiness. We can look back at the innocent age with fond memories, but our relationships with each other are deepening now.   Such depth in renewed friendships is what I am looking forward to in 2011.  We can benefit from each other now in ways we coudl not have imagined in the innocent age.

Just for a moment I was back in school
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home
the snow turned into rain…

Dan Fogelberg-Same Old Lane Syne from the Album: The Innocent Age

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas is a time when you get homesick, even when you’re home….

Christmas is a time when you get homesick, even when you’re home….

-Carol Nelson

It was 1984. It was our first Christmas together as a married couple. When we got married in August of that year, I had just finished my undergraduate degree in speech communications. My plan was to stay in Lubbock and pursue graduate level work, but at the last minute I withdrew from the program to which I had been accepted. Being with my new bride at that point was more important than studying around the clock.
I found a job as a counter salesman at Lubbock Bearing Service. It was a perfect fit for me at the time. Go to work at 7:00 a.m. and get home before 6:00 p.m. We lived in a dump. It was a duplex that was heated with a tiny built in floor heater and cooled with a swamp cooler installed in the bedroom window. There was a huge bathtub, but no shower. The kitchen had a 1950’s vintage gas stove. We paid a whopping $200 a month for rent.

As Christmas drew near, we knew we had to find a tree. But we were of course very limited on cash. Miraculously TG&Y had a Christmas tree on sale for $7.00. We called it our “Charlie Brown” tree. We were so proud of our purchase that evening! We of course decorated it flawlessly. I even put the ornament I had made in the 3rd grade out of construction paper and elbow noodles with paint and glitter of course. (Elmer’s Glue holds up so well….)

It has been 26 years since our first Christmas at the duplex over on 36th street in Lubbock. We lived in several homes since then. Last year we bought a new tree at Walmart during a January clearance sale. I think it is the second one that we have purchased since the Charlie Brown special. The new tree is beautiful. It came with preinstalled lights and everything.

I am looking forward to gathering around that symbol of love and tradition to exchange gifts with that same sweet girl that I bought the $7.00 with in 1984. Little did we know that first year that we would eventually have three boys to join us in waiting for Santa Clause to put those gifts under a tree?

I feel very fortunate today to be home with my family, but I am feeling a little homesick too for TG&Y and a dumpy duplex on 36th street…

Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Little Beef Jerky and a Real Live Daddy for Christmas

Last week at a Christmas party some friends of mine told me that their grandchildren did not have anything on their Christmas list that was under $100.00. My first inclination was to ask them if they could legally adopt me as one of their grandchildren. But my mind quickly raced back to a story I heard about another Christmas party that was held for our campers that attended Royal Family Kids Camp last summer.

Royal Family Camps were formed to reach out to children who have been abused and neglected. Some of them have been removed from their homes and placed with agencies providing residential care for children. A number of the campers are living in court ordered foster care. Our RFKC directors for this area recently branched out to form a non-profit organization called Kids Armor of Hope. This latest effort will allow camp volunteers and others to mentor and otherwise reach out to children in court ordered foster care. The most recent effort that took place here in Granbury was a Christmas party that was conducted on behalf of the RFKC campers.

A group of kids who live at a church supported residential home for children about 140 miles from Granbury attended the party a couple of weeks ago. Based on the reports I received, the party was a resounding success. Children who have experienced awful things in their few years on this earth were lavished with gifts and love. After the party was over, it was time to make the 2.5 hour trek back to facility, where they live. Things got interesting at that point.

Several volunteers transported the group in a 15 passenger church van. Somewhere along the way they had to stop at a convenience store for fuel. One of the men noticed the kids were quietly eyeing the candy in the store, while everyone was waiting their turn for the restroom. Mark told the kids they were free to get a snack. I think they were taken back. You would have thought that they had been taken to a 5 star restaurant and invited to order the finest steak on the menu. Mark did urge them to steer clear of the sugar laced treats since they had been at a party a few hours earlier.

The consensus of the group was to get beef jerky. Mark then proceeded to tell them that they had better get something to drink to wash down the beef jerky. Once again the kids were shocked that they were actually allowed to get a drink. Mark and his comrades were not ready for what came next.

In between bites of beef jerky they asked Mark if he could be their daddy. I don’t know how he responded to those impressionable kids that night. (I suspect he about choked on his beef jerky) That group of 8-11 year old kiddos had never had the experience of going into a convenience store with a father to buy snacks while the car is being filled with gas. (Something my kids have done with me countless times on road trips).

He and the adults accompanying him dropped them off at the group home where they reside. And they drove back to Granbury with the realization that there are kids out there who are pretty easily pleased. They have probably never composed a Christmas list in their life. They are content to enjoy a simple pleasure of life like shared beef jerky. And their desires in life are pretty basic: they just want a real live daddy...
My friends at the adult Christmas party probably wondered why I got a faraway look on my face when they started describing the Christmas lists that their grandchildren composed. I just chose to keep my thoughts to myself regarding the kids who would like a real live daddy for Christmas. It is too bad that good dads are all too scarce.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Being Exposed to Real Poverty: How Does it Change You?

 A person goes on a mission trip for the first time, and upon their return they are insufferable. Is it a life changing experience to serve people in a different culture who are living in desperate poverty? There is no doubt it. Such trips are truly transformational. When that first time participant returns home, they find it hard to comprehend that everyone else is not as fired up about going to Haiti or Mexico as they are after a two week experience. And in many cases the returning “missionaries” assume a mindset of self righteousness that is indeed insufferable. I have seen it so many times that I almost find it difficult to write about.
I am not convinced that such positive experiences are intended to unfold that way. I don’t think God intends for short term mission trips to be the springboard for unbearable behavior. There must be a way that a person can have a heart renovating experience during a mission trip of some kind without becoming a crusader that friends avoid like a bad habit. Actually there is a way. My friend Trey Morgan has helped me to experience that reality during the course of 2010.

Trey is my favorite blogger. ( But more importantly Trey continues to travel to Honduras several times a year to reach out to people distressed by atrocious poverty. He is the man for the job. He has recruited untold numbers of people to accompany him on trips down there. He has raised funds for legitimate relief efforts. And he has even inspired members of his community to reach out to those in need at home in significant ways. Going to Honduras has changed Trey. I sense from the content of his blogs that he is not the same person.

He has never brow beaten people, because going to Honduras is not their particular niche of service. I have never caught even a hint of self-righteousness in the content of his blogs stemming from his experience in Honduras. He is a promoter for sure! His pictures from such trips are compelling and his stories are moving. I think there is a definite reason for the difference in Trey’s attitude.

People that come back from mission trips displaying a lack of patience with their friends who have not shared in that experience are still full of themselves. They need to take a page out of Trey’s life notebook. Trey comes back from every trip to Honduras all excited and ready to go again for sure. But he is not full of himself. Browbeating and other displays of self-righteous behavior are noticeably absent.

Trey is a fun guy who loves to help people. His enthusiasm about helping the poorest among us is contagious. I have plans to organize a medical mission trip for a children’s home in Mexico sometime in 2011. But before I go I plan to look back over Trey’s blogs. I think they might just give me some helpful pre-trip perspective.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It is Time to Begin a New Chapter

 I miss teaching. I taught as an adjunct instructor for ten years at two different universities. I loved the students. Using my creative energies for weekly lesson preparation was nearly as much fun as being in the classroom. One of the perks of teaching is the closure that it brings.

A semester begins in September and ends in December. Another semester gets underway in January and wraps up in May. Closure is a good thing. I always enjoyed getting a fresh start twice a year. Each term I recognized ways that I could improve the learning experience for the students.

I have not as an adjunct since 2004. I still do some occasional guest lecturing for ministry students and in the law enforcement academy, but it is not quite the same. I miss having the distinct chapters in life that the academic calendar creates. Beginning a new chapter in life is good. And closing that same chapter is not so bad either.

Today I am grateful that the year is about to end. It has been a wonderful year characterized by reuniting with old friends. It has also been a rough ride in other ways. I have officiated at some funerals that were hard on me personally. I watched friends cope with serious illnesses. Church life has had its share of challenges. I have assisted directly with three law enforcement line of duty deaths this year. There is no semester to close out. I don’t have a deadline to turn in grades. But the year is about to end. The chapter entitled 2010 will end soon.

I must say I am ready to close that chapter. And I am quite enthused about beginning a new one entitled 2011. Who knows what a new year will bring? I am eager to grow and improve in areas that need attention in my life. I see things I could do better. I am well aware of my failures. There are mistakes I hope that I do not repeat.

I don’t know that New Year’s Resolutions are all that helpful. But I do think it is important to have some general direction where we think we should head. When I was teaching, I recall that every semester was different. The chemistry of the student group was always unique and intriguing. The same is true of chapters in life. 2011 will be characterized by interactions with all kinds of people. The chemistry will be equally exceptional. I am just ready to begin that new chapter!

Friday, December 17, 2010

To Protect and Serve the Most Vulnerable Among Us

 When I was a high school student, the closest I thought I would ever have to get to a state trooper with Texas Dept. of Public Safety was on the side of the highway when my speed could exceed the limit on rare occasions. Little did I know there were other plans for me on the horizon? I became a volunteer chaplain for the Wichita Falls Police Department almost exactly 21 years ago. In that role, I rubbed shoulders with the troopers stationed in Wichita and Archer counties when there were fatal crashes outside the city limits. And then in 2005, I was recruited by some chaplaincy colleagues to serve the DPS here as a chaplain for this area. I have never regretted it. I am privileged to serve with some of the finest men and women committed to protecting and serving the state of Texas. This week I was reminded of that fact.

A friend of mine shared a story about one of longest tenured troopers in this area. A number of years ago a man was tried and convicted in Hood County of sexually assaulting a group of mentally retarded citizens. It was a series of crimes that took place over a period of time. One of the victims was an adult male who is Downs Syndrome. I happen to know this particular gentleman fairly well. I am thankful to count him among my friends. The above mentioned DPS trooper knew him when he was one of the victims of these heinous crimes.

When the criminal trial for the accused perpetrator rolled around, the trooper came to the trial everyday to observe. And he sat next to our mutual friend in the courtroom in uniform. His intent was to help our terrified friend to feel safe and secure. I did not live in Granbury at that time, but I am told that the dedicated state trooper protected and served during that trial in a way that he probably will never be called on to do again in his career. He accomplished the mission at hand during that dark period for the victims.

In the ensuing years, the trooper has taken time every week to stop by the care center where our friend resides. He brings him junior badge stickers and other memorabilia that is meaningful. His very presence in uniform each week is reassuring to a man whose has been violated in unspeakable ways.

This week I had to call on the same trooper to ask for a favor. Our mutual friend, who lives in the care center, lost his father last Tuesday. I asked this man who swore in 1989 in Austin, Texas, when he graduated from DPS recruit school, to protect and serve the citizens of Texas to sit by our friend during his father’s funeral service. We knew it would help him feel secure and at ease during such sad moment in his life. When I looked out at the audience yesterday, there was a DPS trooper in uniform on the front row with his arm around a 48 year old man who needed protection and service in a special way. And I wondered how I got to be so fortunate to serve these men and women who comprise The Texas Dept. of Public Safety.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Taking the Poison of Resentment...

 My imagination has to be kept in constant check, or it can travel to places that are not emotionally safe. When I am feeling strong resentment toward another person, my imagination slips into high gear and starts traveling through the rugged terrain of bitter images. I start creating vivid images in my mind of what I would like to do to the person whom I feel resentment toward. This of course is never a good course of action.

A friend shared the following quote yesterday. It serves as a great emotional travel warning, when our minds are tempted to travel down the slippery slope of resentment. “Harboring resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” When I allow my imagination to entertain bitter thoughts toward another person that is precisely what I am doing.

I want to react strongly to that quote! I want to say: But you just don’t know what I can do to that other person in the recesses of my mind. My brain travels very rapidly. It can take create enough punishment for the offender to last them a lifetime. Those thoughts have nothing to do with taking poison!

During my rational moments I realize that I might as well drink battery acid. Resentment and the accompanying bitterness are indeed corrosive. Our hearts become so saturated with poison that we can no longer think creatively or altruistically.

I am going to choose to abandon the resentment trips. There are too many other mind trips I would rather take. Yesterday my imagination fired up an image of me serenading Jan with the Alan Jackson song entitled: “I Only Want You for Christmas.” Perhaps it would be best just for me to park my imagination and close the door…

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Love Letters...

What do you expect from a man who is caring for his wife at home with the help of Hospice? His wife of many years has struggled with cancer for some time. The last round of treatments were not helping her, so they sent her home to be as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. What does a man tell his friends during such a time as this?

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be in this fine gentleman’s circle of friends have received consistent updates on her condition via email ever since her diagnosis. The reports have always been articulated gracefully with utmost regard for her dignity. But in recent weeks they have taken on a different tone.

He continues to provide meaningful updates on her condition. But the content and tone of his notes sound more like a love letter than anything else. I am not referring to a love letter in the sense of something that is mushy or sappy. And they certainly don’t have a Harlequin Romance novel tone to them. In his emails reporting on her health status, he is communicating his commitment to his wife in the most loving way I have ever heard from a man.

He continues to describe the way he is nurturing her during this scary time. He speaks of touching things they have said to each other. What he continues to share sounds like it could have come right out of a script of a sad movie, but it is no script. His accounts of their interaction with each other are all too real. And her illness unfortunately is all too real.

I have seen men over the years who are devoted to their wives, but I have never observed one willing to express that devotion to others quite like this one. I think even my most hardened among my male friends would have tears in their eyes after reading one of this man’s emails about his wife.

I have learned a lot from this fine couple over the past several months. The man I am describing is normally pretty reserved. I have discovered along with several others that he meant it when he said “in sickness and in health” the day they were married. He is crazy about his wife and he is not afraid to express it. In fact, his emails have been the quite the topic of conversation. How can we not be inspired by his unending devotion and tender spirit?

Today I will have the privilege of visiting with both of them in their home. And know I will be in the presence of greatness. But I do plan to stash some Kleenexes in my truck before I go. I will get to spend time with the author of some of the most moving love letters I have ever read.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Going Postal Has Been Redefined!

I assigned a new meaning to “Going Postal” today. While I was waiting in line at the post office to send off my passport renewal the people lined up with me were grouchy, edgy, and just downright rude to the people trying to take care of their precious packages. The man who waited on me is normally very friendly, but I could tell his patience was being pushed to the limit. By the time I got out of that hotbed of postal frenzy, I was feeling a little cranky myself. But that all changed when I got home.

I logged on to my facebook page as still another means of putting off dealing with the laundry in the adjacent room. My friend Bill Suter has been one of several people in my graduating class at Monterey High School that has chosen to be the glue that holds us together. Suter posted this comment on his status this afternoon: Funeral for one friend this morning and sitting with one of my best friends as he gets his chemo is way too short...don't waste it!

After reading his post, I shook the crankiness like a bad habit. After all he is right. Why get wound up about waiting in line at the post office? It could be that the person in front of you or behind you could need a kind word. As Bill aptly points out, such trivial matters don’t amount to anything.

I was also reminded of a conversation I had last night with one the supervisors I serve with at the Granbury Police Dept. He told me to be prepared. This is the season for increased suicides and other depression driven behaviors. I know he is right. It happens every year.

My prayer is that people who are struggling this year in various ways are surrounded by caring friends like Bill Suter. It makes all of the difference. But we are not going to take the time to sit with friends taking a chemo treatment, or attend a funeral until we figure out that life is too short to waste.

I am actually grateful for watching my neighbors go postal this afternoon. It was a reminder to me not to sweat the small stuff. In fact, I think I will finish the 6th load of laundry and then go see a friend who is being cared for by Hospice.

Life IS too short to waste. Thanks for the reminder Bill.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

When I am Old Enough to Play High School Basketball, Will You Still be Alive?

 “If you don’t feel like preaching this morning, I will!” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that from one particular member of my church. If she didn’t offer her preaching services nearly every Sunday, I would terribly disappointed. There are of course some Sundays when I would gladly defer to someone that eager to get the job done! But in this case, I am somewhat fearful to abdicate my duty. I am not sure the church would want me back after hearing Coach Leta Andrews preach on a Sunday morning.

Actually Leta is a more seasoned motivator than I am! Last week she put Granbury, Texas in the national spotlight by becoming the most winning high school basketball coach in the history of the United States. Her winning record has now surpassed both girls and boys basketball coaches.

What has been the secret of Leta’s success on the court? I cannot possibly be exhaustive in my analysis, but here are few things I know to be true regarding this wonderful lady.

• Leta leads by example.   At age 73, she still runs with the girls, as they workout. She personally launders the team’s uniforms after the game are over. Leta has very high expectations of each player, but she models the behavior before demanding it. She is the epitome of a servant leader.

• She demands respect.   If you play for Leta, you will say “yes mam” and no “no sir.” Other players will be treated with respect. Her expectations in this way mirror old school coaches like Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.

• She loves to win!   Leta is competitive. I realize that is a terrible understatement, but it needs to be stated simply. She loves to win! She knows what kind of discipline it takes to win.

• Leta can preach.   I have watched on the court. I have heard her speak publicly in several venues. She is a motivator par excellence.

In Granbury, we are proud of Leta. She has put us on the map for such a positive reason! On the days, I don’t feel like preparing to preach, I need to think about Leta. She started coaching the year I was born, 1962. She has stayed with it all of the years.

My favorite story about this legendary coach involves a little girl here in Granbury. The young lady posed this question to Leta several years ago. She said: “Coach Andrews: Will you still be alive when I am old enough to play basketball at Granbury High School?” My advice to that little girl is this: Get in shape and get ready! Come to think of it…..when it comes to preaching it would serve me well to get in shape and get ready too! Leta will be ready for both of us.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Why Does it Take a Death for us to Reunite?

 Why does it take a death? Why does it take a take a death for lifelong friends to finally get together and reunite? When I went to bed Sunday night, I had no idea that I would awake Monday morning to read the obituary of a longtime friend in the online edition of the Lubbock Avalanche Journal. The news of his death traveled among mutual friends quickly. Phone calls ensued. Little did I know when the day ended Sunday that I would be on the road to Post, Texas at 5:00 in the morning Tuesday? The memorial service for Danny was scheduled to start 10:00 a.m. It is a long and somewhat lonely trek to Post. After I turned off IH-20 at Roscoe and started down US 84 toward Snyder memories from 1978 start flooding through my head.

You see Danny was my first “boss.” He managed the full service car wash where I worked with several close friends during my high school years. It was hard work indeed. But we loved it. I learned a lot about meeting people and dealing with the public. It helped me to overcome a shy side of my personality. Danny took us on fishing trips. He hosted barbeques for us at his home. When I was a senior in high school, I was kicked off the debate team for disciplinary reasons. I ended up graduating a quarter early, so the car wash job became fulltime overnight. There are a lot of memories during that impressionable time of my life.

When I started to college at Texas Tech in 1980, I decided I needed a better job. I moved on to something else that gave more opportunity to learn and grow as a person. I continued to stay in contact with most of my friends from the car wash during the college years. But we all moved on. Several of them stayed in Lubbock. The rest of us decided to leave after finishing undergraduate studies. The years flew by and we lost contact with one another.

Last summer Danny called me out of the blue when I was on my way home from a meeting at DPS Region I Headquarters in Garland. We had not talked in over 26 years. That conversation did not end until I pulled in the driveway in Granbury an hour and a half after the call started! I promised to come see him in Lubbock soon. It proved to be the last conversation I would ever have with my friend, Danny.

Three of us reunited at Danny’s memorial service Tuesday morning. We are a little older and a little grayer! And I think we are a little wiser too. One of the guys pointed out that his parents were in the process of divorcing during our car wash years. Another friend and car wash employee was struck by a car and incurred some permanent disabilities. He too was at the memorial service. Still another fellow employee, who is our age, watched his father go to prison during that time period. And I was dealing with the sudden death of my father in 1978…

As chatted during our lunch with Danny’s family in the basement of the Methodist church, the crisis events each of us were experiencing during 1978 and 1979 become a focal point of the conversation. We decided that we were fortunate to have each other during those crucial and difficult years.

As we looked at Danny’s wife interacting with family members, we realized it is our turn to serve her now. She knows she has three adopted sons named Pat, Randy, and John. We will take good care of her. But I think she must wonder in the back of her mind if we have really grown up or not!

I am glad I went to the service Tuesday morning. It was great to see Danny‘s wife and all of his family. Their daughter was 5 years old in 1978. It does not seem real to me that she is an adult with children of her own! As I headed back South on US 84 Tuesday afternoon, I could not help but wonder why it takes a death for us to reunite.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Open Mouth...Insert Foot: The Need for Verbal Commas!

 Failing to pause can get you in all kinds of trouble. In a recent email correspondence that involved six other people, I failed to place a comma in a sentence. It was one of those times when it totally changed the meaning of the sentence! It was actually quite amusing, but I should have paused with a comma. My failure to do so was picked up on immediately by my witty friends. Thankfully world peace was not at stake, or my overlooked pause could have caused all kinds of grief and havoc.

It occurs to me that failing to pause in verbal interactions with people can also get you into all kinds of trouble. Thoughtful pauses end up functioning like a comma in a sentence. The same train of thought continues, but there is a well placed break. When the mouth keeps running, communication fails.

Such verbal commas force us to stop long enough to think before we continue to say more. I had a very pleasant visit today with the assistant, who works for my dentist. We were discussing mutual acquaintances in the community, and I caught myself nearly saying too much about a particular person both of us know. It would not have been a breach of confidentiality, but it would have fallen under the category of gossip. It was one of the rare occasions that I actually employed a verbal comma, and thus paused just long enough for me to keep my foot out of my mouth.

I wonder how many misunderstandings could be averted, if we would simply use some verbal commas on occasion. In other words, choose to pause just long enough to let the mind process fully before speaking. As it is, we tend to speak 120 words per minute with gusts up to 150. Commas tend to be noticeably absent.

I am going to proof my emails and comments on facebook much more carefully now. I am always glad to be a source of humor to my friends, but one of these days a missing comma is going to get me in lots trouble! I believe that to be the case in writing and in verbal communication as well!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

You Can't Do That! She is Only 17!

During the course of the past several weeks I have done three funerals for three ladies ranging in age from 69 to 89. Interestingly enough they had one thing in common. Each of those ladies “ran off” to get married when they were 17 years old. It was difficult to secure a wedding license in some states at that age. At least two of my above mentioned friends took off for Oklahoma, so they could get married.

What was the outcome? Two of the marriages lasted over 50 years. One of the marriages lasted well beyond 60 years. Apparently each of them took the “till death do you part” vow very seriously.

I have been trying to figure out for the past several days what to do with this information. Even in death, they are still an example to the rest of us. Their commitment to marriage can still impact our lives today. As I get images in my mind of these older ladies taking off to get married at 17, several things come to mind.

• I am sure they had their detractors. There is not much doubt that someone in their immediate or extended family told them that it will never last.

• Each of the three couples had major obstacles to overcome early on in their married life. In the case of two of them, World War II was going on as they shared wedding vows. All three of the couples were impacted by military service in the early years of their married life.

• None of them enjoyed immediate financial prosperity!

• In each of the three marriages, children arrived fairly soon.

All three of these ladies lived as widows for varying periods of time. And all three of their husbands struggled with failing health before their deaths. At 17, my friends probably had no clue what the vow “in sickness and in heath” would ultimately mean down the road. But they cared for their husbands with great diligence.

Are you ready for your 17 year old daughter to run off and get married? I would think not. The latest research in human development is saying that adolescence for teens in our culture today is extending into the mid-twenties. I do think that my three impetuous friends, who ran off to get married, can still be a tremendous example for us today. They said their vows and they obviously meant it. I do wonder though…As they made plans to run off and get married, did anyone tell them: “You can’t do that! She is only 17!”

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Walk Away from the Computer and Pick Up a Book!

 I am going to sound like an English teacher today. And if you are like me, all of my memories of English teachers are not fond. I hope you will tolerate my brief soapbox that I feel compelled to stand on today. In the end, we might all benefit!

I think everyone should have a reading list at the beginning of a new year. I resisted such structured way of reading for a long time, because for years I received very long reading lists the third or fourth page of a syllabus for a graduate course I was taking. When I finished up my terminal degree in 2003, all I wanted to do was vegetate in front of a television for a about a year.

I want to read all kinds of cool books. I formulated a list. I already know it is too ambitious. It contains too many books. But I am going to work hard at it and get as much accomplished as possible.

My reading for 2011 includes three biographies. One of those is a biography about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. I have heard him quoted. I am aware of some of his life story, but I am anxious to learn more about his life. Biographies inspire me.

I also believe it is important to read the classics. I have included an old favorite on the list this year. I plan to reread A Separate Peace by John Knowles. That should bring back some great memories!

Another genre of books I enjoy includes stories about people who have done heroic or inspiring things. This past year I head a book about a lady who left her life as an exotic dancer and began a ministry reaching out to people employed in that industry. She provided very straightforward information regarding those working in adult clubs and prostitution. This year I plan to read The Scarlet and the Black. It chronicles the story of a priest who helped an untold number of Jews escape from the Nazis before being sent to concentration camps. I also plan to read Three Cups of Tea. It is the story of a man who has built schools in Afghanistan in very recent years.

There are of course areas I am just interested in that I must read more about! I continue to intrigued by generational differences. I am going to reread Edwin Friedman’s book: From Generation to Generation. I know that sounds really dry! But it is a fascinating read.

I have at two novels included in the list as well. I have to remind myself that reading just for fun is one of the joys of life. I am excited about my reading list! I hope my mind is enriched! What will your reading list include this year?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Hiding Behind a Cover of Shame and Brokenness

 When I was a small child, we played some great hide and go seek games in the basements of our Wisconsin homes. Partially finished basements coupled with stacked boxes made for ideal hiding places during winter time playing. Years later a group of teens taught me to play an advanced version of hide and go seek called “sardines.” Hiding is fun for little kids and even teenagers, but it can lethal for adults.

Adults are notorious for hiding behind the cover of shame and brokenness. Even the hearts of close friends often remain secluded. They are afraid to come out in the open and reveal the things in their lives that continue cause them to feel shameful. In contrasting shame with guilt, Rubel Shelly in a recent article made this observation: Shame is a very different thing. It is a self-judgment that no longer sees a lie, a marital infidelity, or a criminal act as a sinful behavior but wears it now as an identity. It can’t be dealt with in terms of what you did; you drag it around with you to let it be who you are. That particular fact is what troubles me. I am afraid there a lot of people dragging a shameful identity around with them as a constant companion. I am not the only one concerned.

Anne Jackson recently published a book entitled: Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace. It is a good book. I like Ms. Jackson’s writing style. She has composed a book that is probably targeted at members of the Millennial Generation, but I sure appreciated its message.  And based on what  I have observed on facebook, I think she is just a really cool lady.

Here are some thoughts she conveys in the book that I plan to share with the church Sunday in my sermon:

Shame tells us to keep those ugly, messy parts hidden. Without our secrets showing, maybe then we can be accepted.

1. If a fracture in part of our lives threatens our reputations, our character, or our dignity, we    hide…

2. If something in our spiritual life is broken or confusing to us, we hide.

3. If a relationship is broken, we hide.

4. If there’s unhealthy habit we fall back on, we hide.

Is she right? I know she right. I see it as a minister every week. A person faces serious struggles and they drop off the face of the earth. They don’t want to come to church or talk to their friends. I appreciate the obvious need for privacy during a personal crisis, but when we hide it is not healthy.

What is the answer? Should we disallow emotional hide and go seek? That is not going to work. I don’t have any definitive answers, but I do have a few ideas. Read Anne Jackson’s book as a starting point… And tomorrow I will follow up with a few more ideas on this needed subject.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sincerity is Irresistible

 In a few months, Jeff Jeffries will start recruiting camp counselors and support staff for Royal Family Kids Camp. RFKC is a camp for abused and neglected children ages 8-11. Most of the kids that we host each year are in foster care that has been ordered by Child Protective Services of Texas. All of the children have been severely abused in some shape or form.

Serving on the staff for a camp of this nature is no easy feat. You might even think that someone would start ducking for cover when they know Jeffries is in recruiting mode. But few people are going to tell the 60 year old retired telephone man “no” when he comes around. When it comes to serving kids in need, he is a man of unquestioned credibility. Tonight I was reminded of that fact.

I heard a short, but moving presentation this evening  by a 16 year old regarding my friend Jeff Jeffries. Wade moved to Granbury with his mother just over 6 years ago following a divorce. Getting accustomed to living in a new community when your father is over 5 hours away is not what a 10 year old boy relishes. Wade’s mother knew that boy needed some positive male role models for her son.

Enter Jeff Jeffries. He was on the case before Wade could hardly unpack his bags. He took Wade to play golf. He took him to sporting events. Jeffries and his sweet wife Pinkie even showed up at Wade’s ballgames.

Wade is a typical boy. He has made some poor choices along the way. In each of those cases, the former Ma Bell installer was there to encourage and sometimes communicate some very strong words! Wade appreciates Jeff today, but in a few years that spirit of gratitude will be far deeper.

I needed to hear Wade’s reflections tonight regarding our mutual golf partner, Jeff Jeffries. I become very weary of hearing people who have no idea what it means to serve others tell me how I can do a better job. It is not helpful. But men like Jeff possess immense credibility, because they are actually doing something. They are living it! And that is why no one will turn him down for Royal Family Kids Camp duty. Sincerity is irresistible

Sunday, November 28, 2010

It Started at a Pawn Shop in New York City

 I am really not into delayed gratification, but I do see the value of plugging along on an effort consistently. I have wanted to be able to speak Spanish for quite some time now. But learning a new language requires a tremendous of discipline and hard work! Last spring I took a Conversational Spanish course at Tarrant County College. That was helpful. And then I attempted an online Spanish grammar course over the summer. I dropped that class! Summertime is just too busy at work. But then a pawn shop in New York City entered the picture…

I was able to order a new copy of the Rosetta Stone language software from a pawn shop via e-bay. Now Rosetta Stone requires a lot of discipline. It is a matter of being committed to the process. Obviously there is not a structured classroom with a set time to arrive every week. I have worked at it for several months now.
Today was particularly gratifying in regard to my journey to learn Spanish. I completed the first level of the Rosetta Stone process. That is a really big deal!  I am now ready to move on to the next level.

I am really not into delayed gratification, but learning a new language is teaching me the importance of that ideal. I am realizing that all I can do is make progress everyday. Nothing happens overnight.  Our friends from Mexico, Othoniel and Paloma could tell that I had made progress when they were in Granbury a few weeks ago. That was extremely exciting! Tomorrow I will begin the lessons in level 2. I will make additional flash cards for more practice. And I will attempt not to get impatient at the slow advancement.

Do you struggle with delayed gratification? I am convinced that taking on a project of the magnitude of learning a new language is a pretty decent cure for that human weakness. It sure is helping me! And I look forward to the day of being totally bi-lingual.  And just think...this part of the journey started at a pawn shop in New York City!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Day at Kewpees

 I might as well go on and confess now… It IS a holiday weekend. Maybe that will serve as a sufficient excuse. Well…here goes: I watched a chick flick with Jan last night. Actually as far as that particular genre of movies goes, this one is a good one. We watched Fried Green Tomatoes, which was released in 1991.

I saw it in the movie theater that year and liked it then. Jessica Tandy is brilliant and Kathy Bates does a good job in a supporting role.  The movie is set in 1930’s rural Alabama. It captures the racism that was such a prevailing facet of that culture. And furthermore it just shows that life in the good old days may not have been as good as we would like to remember. Life in the rural south was harsh in many ways. But most importantly it is a story about friendship.

The mutual loyalty that exists among all of the main characters is the prevailing theme in the movie. That loyalty supersedes racism, domestic abuse, and profound personality differences. It is a compelling movie. When it was over last night, I was inspired to deepen the friendships I that I have enjoyed for years. Little did I know when the credits rolled at the end of Fried Green Tomatoes last night that I would soon witness a similar kind of loyalty in real life?

I have a childhood friend who is suffering from the effects of a brain tumor. He has undergone at least two surgeries, but his prognosis is grave. We were the boys that the teacher soon separated after the beginning of a school year. Silly teachers thought that we were inclined toward mischief. He was the friend I got in a fist fight with on the playground in the 5th grade. Good ole Mrs. Shepherd made us face each other outside the outside entrance to the school before we could go back in. I was told to say: I love you Steve. And in turn he was told to say: I love you John. We would have rather been shot. But we did it.

A mutual friend of ours is reaching out to Steve during this scary and uncertain time. Scott spent the day with Steve today. They laughed and ate at a favorite downtown hamburger place called Kewpees. He took Steve out to his home for another part of the day.  It was  relaxing and fun for both of them.

Last night I was inspired by a movie that captures the value of lifelong friendship. (Even if it was a chick flick) Today I feel a sense of peace and reassurance in knowing that a struggling friend, who is over 1,100 miles away, is being taken care of by someone else in our crew. I am not exactly sure how to process the reality of a childhood friend suffering from a life threatening disease, but I do know that I am thankful for friends who know how to care. And maybe that is sufficient for today.

I found out what the secret to life is: friends. Best friends…

-Ninny Threadgoode played by Jessica Tandy in Fried Green Tomatoes

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A GREAT Story of Thanksgiving...

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” -W. T. Purkiser

 27 year old Ryan Grant has been a running back for the Green Bay Packers since the 2007 season. Grant played college ball at Notre Dame, and began his professional career with the New York Giants in 2005. He has indeed been a standout for the Packers. In 2008, he broke two franchise records during their game against the Seattle Seahawks. But today Ryan Grant is a hero in eyes of many for a very different reason.

The running back is in the process of recuperating from ankle surgery. When he was checking his email one day, he became aware of an 11 year old boy in Wisconsin who is in the final stages in a fight with leukemia. Of course the young man is a hard core Packers fan. Grant decided to go to the extra mile for a boy suffering from a horrible disease.

He assembled all kinds of signed Packer memorabilia to share with young Ryan Luxem. And then he proceeded to spend 90 minutes of his time with the boy and his family. In reading the account of this event, I am not so sure which Ryan benefited more! But I am grateful for a professional football player who is willing to go the extra mile to brighten the life of a family facing an indescribable crisis.

Several thoughts came to mind as I read the account of this event in the online edition of the Milwaukee newspaper. I was reminded of the importance of using whatever we have been fortunate enough to receive to serve the most vulnerable among us. Ryan Grant is a talented professional football player! He has chosen to use those gifts to be kind to an 11 year old in a way that the young man’s family will never, ever forget. Grant has forced me to ask myself how I can use my own gifts and talents in a more compassionate manner.

It also occurred to me that credibility and a positive image are not things that can manufactured by a public relations firm. Tiger Woods was in the news again this week. His PR firm is trying to do improve his image, but the general public is not buying it. People sense a lack of sincerity on the part of Woods. Responding to a terminally ill 11 year old boy in a way that is obviously heartfelt captures builds credibility. I would think that there are some Green Bay Packer fans that are beaming with pride today. And they should… In fact, I count myself among them.

Ryan Grant is my hero for this Thanksgiving Day. I am grateful for his generosity and compassion. He has inspired me to do better. Let us take his take his cue and reach out to someone who could benefit from the talents we have been given.  Thank you Ryan Grant for a great story of Thanksgiving!

The entire article is a must read! Here is the link:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Best Coach I Ever Had...

 I read a great tribute to a coach from a former player this week on a friend’s facebook page. She made the following comment regarding her experience with this gentleman:

He's the best coach I ever had. For every one thing that he told me to work on, he told me three things I was doing well.

What a great observation! Come to think about it I wish I had read that about 22 years ago, when we found out that we were expecting our firstborn. Those words of wisdom apply aptly to parenting. Kids need lots of “coaching” on lots of issues from their parents. But it should be couched in the same form that my friend’s baseball coach used. When we point out the areas that need improvement, we should encourage them by pointing out three other ways that they are excelling.

I actually think adults would benefit from a similar approach. If we want to maximize employee productivity and morale, then let’s choose such a sandwich approach to motivation. The good is blended with the bad. The areas that need improvement are sandwiched between some positive strokes.

Children and adults alike will remember people in their lives that possess such positive motivational skills. It builds confidence. And everyone is need of periodic confidence boosts. In fact, I would go as far to say that it can be life changing. In some cases, coaches are dealing with kids that are being raised in a very negative environment. One of the three positive things said to that child could end up making a difference that will not soon be forgotten.

I vote for the sandwich approach to motivation today. It works. Ball players improve their skills, kids shine in academics, and adults find a renewed sense of worth. My kids will be home for the holidays. I need to start formulating my daily list of three things they are doing well, and squeeze in a few areas that need some work as well….

Oh and by the way...Who is the best coach you ever had?

Monday, November 22, 2010

But I Don't FEEL Like Being Thankful!

 This week is a not a bad time to take inventory. I am not thinking in terms of the kind of inventory that a retailer conducts annually. Retailers count the number of items on a shelf. This week would be a good time for us to count our blessings.

There are obvious things for which we should express gratitude. And then there are not so obvious. Yesterday I preached a sermon entitled: “I Don’t Feel Like Being Thankful.” In that presentation, I included this quote from Henri Nouwen:

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work.

We are only truly grateful people when we can say "thank you" to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let's not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

There are times I really don’t feel thankful. I have my moments when I prefer whining over gratitude. There are situations that I have a hard time seeing any value in. There are people that I simply don’t perceive as a blessing.

I told my church family yesterday that I was plowing new ground. I used the term “exercise” and “Thanksgiving Day” in the same sentence. I seriously doubt that has been done since the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving. Here is the exercise I shared in my sermon yesterday:

• What has caused you sorrow this year? Can you find something that has occurred during that period of sorrow for which you can be grateful? Are their friends that touched you during such a time?

• Where or how have you failed this year? Is there something good that has come out of those failures for which you can be thankful?

• Who has hurt you this year?  Has something good surfaced from that hurt? Are you more humble and gentle with others as a result of the hurt?

I don’t always feel like being thankful, but I know the capacity to be thankful for the difficult things in life are a sign of true maturity. I also find this to be important exercise if I am going to prevent resentment and bitterness from executing a complete takeover of my heart. I hope we can all gather around a table of thanksgiving in more ways than one this week.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Call Me If There Is Anything I Can Do...I Don't Think So! (Part II)

Some months ago I wrote about the cliché that we often hear in the aftermath of a sudden tragedy: “If there is anything I can do…” I do not like that phrase. I believe it is better to say nothing. There are a host of reasons for avoiding such a vague and open ended offer of service. Suffice to say that people in crisis simply do not have the emotional energy to ask for help. If we are going to serve those facing a serious illness or a death in the family, then we need to be creative and focused.

Yesterday I attended the funeral service for Trooper Jonathan McDonald in Lubbock. He was killed in a line of duty car crash outside of Post, TX late Monday evening. Hundreds of DPS troopers and officers from other law enforcement agencies attended the service. Trooper McDonald’s 26 year old wife eulogized her fallen husband. I was amazed and touched to say the least. The comments of Sgt. Ruben Garcia, who served as Jonathan’s supervisor, particularly caught my attention.

He gave Jonathan’s extended family and friends a very specific assignment. He told them to go home and type out their memories of Jonathan. He urged them to describe his character in detail. And then he gave those same individuals a deadline. Sgt. Garcia instructed them to email their thoughts to him by the first week in December. He is going to compile all of those memories into one document. That completed piece will be saved for Jonathan McDonald’s 6 month old daughter. Sgt. Garcia gets it.

Sgt. Garcia chose not to ask the family of the man he supervised what he could do. He chose instead to be creative and focused. And I might add that he factored some accountability into to the effort as well. Ruben is a hero in my eyes. I know firsthand just how priceless that compilation of letters will be to Jonathan’s daughter someday.

Supervisors that care about their people are rare gems. During the video capturing Trooper McDonald’s life there was a picture of Sgt. Garcia holding a newborn girl, who will one day be the recipient of the above mentioned letters. Enough said. I hope his actions will serve as example to all of us to be decisive in our efforts to serve those in crisis.   Call me if there is anything I can do...I don't think so!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Credibilty is Everything.

When it comes to speaking to an audience of any kind, there is no substitute for credibility. Tonight Benny Nowell spoke to a group of teens at church regarding his ministry to homeless children and teens in the Boulder, CO area. We have quite a gamut of both middle school and high school age students in our church building on Wednesday evenings. Well over half of the teens we host every week come from very economically disadvantaged homes. I am fully aware of their home situations. Many of them are far less than ideal. Every week we hear compelling stories from these kids regarding their situation.

I would like to say that we have all of the answers in serving their needs, but that is not true. I have more questions than answers. Every week it is a battle just to deal with security for the entire group. We hire an off duty sheriff’s deputy to assist, but even at that it is still difficult. We continue to tweak our plans and try new strategies. But it is still a discouraging venture at times. Volunteers reach their limit and burnout. But Benny had the interest of our teen guests tonight.

As he showed them slides via power-point of some of his friends on the streets that he is striving to serve, it got their attention. I don’t think it was a shock value type experience. I am convinced that the kids sensed that Benny loves the people he is serving in Boulder. THAT had their attention. You could have heard a pin drop in a room with over 50 teenagers tonight, because they knew he was genuine.

Of course I would like to think I am genuine too. But I don’t have cool tattoos, an even cooler beard, and ear piercings that cause the teens to envy. And I don’t work with homeless teens everyday. So Benny gets a hearing. And that is good news. He impressed on those kids that they are worthy human beings.  I appreciated his contribution to their lives tonight. As an instructor, I need to be reminded, credibility is everything.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Caught in a Web of Pettiness

Yesterday I carried out a political tangent of sorts… Today I am on another soap box. It is not a new one with me. But it is one that I need to stand on periodically. Life is too short to get caught up in pettiness. Relationships are too precious to devalue, because of unresolved interpersonal conflict. I am on this soap box for a reason…

Last night I got home from work mulling over the events of the day. I was a little snippy, because I had to work during part of my day off. Several matters of no real consequence were taking up unnecessary room in that head of mine. But for some reason I was allowing myself to be consumed by these concerns that supposedly have no real consequence! I went to bed at 11:30 and slept for two hours.

At 1:30 a.m. the victims’ services counselor with The Texas Department of Public Safety in my region called me. She informed me that we had lost a trooper in a fatal car crash near Post, Texas. A young trooper…. The trooper’s parents live here in Granbury. I was charged to accompany my DPS captain and sergeant to notify the young man’s parents of his death.

I have done numerous death notifications over the years. I have undergone extensive training, so it is not done incorrectly. They are never routine. My philosophy is to treat those families as I would want my family treated. I was thankful in this case to be in the presence of highly competent and compassionate law enforcement supervisors. I have always held those men in high esteem, but early this morning my opinion of them soared even higher.

We soon  learned that the deceased man left a young wife and a 6 month old infant.  By noon today, I learned that one of my young troopers was close to the man who was killed last night. They endured the DPS Academy together. And then I found out that the deceased trooper had given my nephew his first job at a grocery store. (He had been in the grocery business prior to be accepted to the DPS Academy.) It truly is a small world.

Today I am grateful for life. I am thankful for those I love. I view my young troops differently than I did a few years ago. I don’t want to admit it, but I am indeed old enough to be their father. I treat them like my own grown sons.  I care about them more deeply than I am able to verbalize. 

Tonight there are all kinds of thoughts rumbling around in my head, but none of them are petty. All of tonight’s feelings really do have substance. I am thinking about how to best serve those I love. Now that is not petty… I needed to get on that soapbox, because for some uncanny reason I get caught up in a web of pettiness periodically.  Sometimes it takes a tragedy to break out of such webs of pettiness!

May God bless the family of Trooper Jonathan McDonald tonight.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Political Tirade...

                               I have purposely stayed away from delving into political ideologies in this format for personal reasons, but I could not help but be amused this morning by something I saw on facebook. The social networking site duly noted today that 18 of my friends are fans or in facebook terms “like” Barack Obama. Right under that announcement it is also noted that 27 of my friends “like” Glenn Beck. My left brained associates would be quick to say that I obviously have more facebook friends who have a conservative bent politically. But I see it differently.

I could not help but laugh for a moment regarding the extremes in my friendship base. But my thoughts soon traveled in a more serious direction. I value the people I consider close friends. And they are sure enough diverse politically. They are equally varied religiously. Some of them are enough to be my mom or dad. Others could be my children. I have friends that are cotton farmers in West Texas and others who call Wisconsin home. Some of my dearest friends live in Mexico.

In describing this reality, I realize I am not a typical minister. I have a hunch that a number of my colleagues associate primarily with their church members. I don’t think it is healthy spiritually or emotionally to associate exclusively with people who just like us. What a travesty it would be if all of my friends were of the same race, same age, and even of the same nationality. I would miss out on so much.

The facebook political “likes” of my friends was an important wake up call to me this morning. I have learned so much from my wide array of personal connections. My Mexican friends have forced me to learn Spanish. What a blessing! My young friends are teaching me to communicate more effectively in post-modern vernacular. (They also keep me up to speed on the latest and greatest in technology.) My older friends keep me rooted. And my peers are sharing such a similar journey. They provide needed empathy.

My message to all us today is simple: don’t be afraid to branch out. Make friends with people from all walks of  life. Befriend the younger ones. And don’t neglect to reach out to the older crowd. They are a lot of fun too. Jump over the foolish relational barriers that we construct in our narrow minds. And above all don’t let political leanings impede potentially great relationships.  That is my political tirade for the day!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives...

 Entitlement is a word that seems to be floating around quite a bit these days. Last year I had a lengthy discussion with a gentleman who serves as vice president for student services at a private university. As we reflected on college students that are a part of “Generation Y”, it did not take him long to bring up the subject of entitlement. In working with this group of young people over the past decade, he has noticed that they have very high expectations of the university.

These students often prefer private dorm rooms. The dorm setting in general is most likely a tad nicer than a generation ago. They also anticipate their dining experience in the school cafeteria to feel more like Chili’s than the high school cafeteria. It is a given in their world that the university will provide the latest and the greatest in all matters of technology. Staffers coordinating student services of all kinds feel the pressure, because there is no shortage of competition among universities. It is a challenge to serve an entitled generation.

Last night I was reminded that members of Generation Y (also known as The Millennial Generation) do not have a corner on the entitlement market. In our quest to see as many of the Oscar Best Picture shows this year, we watched “The Best Years of Our Lives” last night. It received the Best Picture Oscar in 1946. This three hour movie is an excellent representation of what life was like for returning veterans after World War II.
The movie followed the victories and struggles of three men as they adjusted to life back in their home town after the war was over. One of the characters was a captain who served as a bombardier on a B-17. He could not wait to get home to reunite with his gorgeous wife. But upon his arrival, he found her to be impatient, intolerant, and entitled… During one of their dialogues she said to him in a selfish rage: “But these are supposed to be the best days of our lives!”

Her character stood in stark contrast to the demeanor and attitude of others in the movie who patiently dealt with the important men in their lives, as they adjusted from the traumas of war. As the movie came to an end, I thought about the contrast in mindsets. One woman felt entitled to a good and prosperous life. The other characters allowed genuine love and loyalty to carry the day.

Today I am thinking about entitlement, but it is not in reference to the generation of my three children. I am reminded that we all have the propensity to feel entitled. We all have unrealistic and fundamentally selfish expectations of what those closest to us are going to provide. In fact, we all have improbable expectations of life itself. But there is a cure…

I am convinced that unwavering loyalty alleviates a spirit of entitlement. I am actually thinking that I should enter every important relationship with a mindset of giving with no expectation of anything in return. I am not entitled to some kind of idyllic life. In the process, I think I will actually experience the best years of my life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

There is NO Need for Guilt!

 Some people learn to travel light, but everyone carries at leas some baggage. I do mean everyone. I think we would be stunned if we knew what kind of “stuff” from the past that those around us are carrying around. I wish it was not true, but the experiences we have as children and teens have an uncanny way of staying with us. Encounters that caused hurt feelings and or even incidences of abuse have a way taking up permanent residence in our hearts.

We all made poor choices when we were young. We said and did things to our peers that we deeply regret now. We were generally irresponsible. Some of us even committed offenses that hurt our credibility in the eyes of those around us at the time.

It used to be very difficult, if not impossible, to go back and make amends for our bad behavior toward others. How do you find someone who perhaps lives in a different state? When a woman marries and assumes another name that makes it even more difficult to find her.  Online social networking has changed everything.

I know most of us have heard horror stories about sites such as and My experience with facebook in particular has been overwhelmingly positive. I have reconnected with old friends from every era in my life. And I have made new friends as well! But this week I discovered that facebook has redeeming value in more ways than one.

A friend of mine shared a story about an occurrence that happened when she was a teenager that involved an acquaintance from school. Bear in mind that this event happened well over 30 years ago. I want to protect the privacy of all parties involved, so I won’t disclose many details. Suffice to say that the young teenage boy conducted himself in a way that was dishonest and deceitful. Her parents were fully aware of his indiscretions as well.  It was just a bad deal.  He proceeded to carry the baggage of his poor choices with him for over three decades.

But enter facebook. I really should say: enter facebook and intersect that social networking site with a tender and penitent heart. The teenage boy is nearly 50 years old today. He found my friend on facebook, and used that forum to apologize for his lack of honesty years ago. She in turn shared his story with her parents. Her mother wrote him an amazing note expressing forgiveness and reassurance.

I can’t help but wonder how many relationships have been reconciled on facebook. People that hurt each other decades ago now have a means of finding one another and issuing an apology. The baggage that we carry around with us can finally be released, because we might actually find the person whom we offended way back in the past.

I am asking myself tonight: Is there anyone that I have overlooked to apologize to from way back in the day? What about you? Is there someone you can find on facebook? Don’t hesitate to search for that person and friend them. The baggage of guilt and unconfessed indiscretions gets awful heavy… There really  is NO need for guilt!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Extending the Rope: Helping Friends that are Discouraged

 In recent weeks, I have interacted with several people who are at the end of their rope. They are frustrated beyond words. They are in situations that seem to have no solutions. They have tried everything and nothing seems to be working.

They don’t feel like they are being hard. And they certainly don’t feel appreciated and valued. How can we help our friends when they are at the end of their rope? Here a few ideas.

Extending the Rope

When a person reaches the end of their rope, they will act totally out of character. Stress does funny things to us. It causes us to say and do things we would not ordinarily say and do! Calm and rational people start a verbal sparring match. Non-confrontational individuals totally go off on someone. People under stress will act opposite of their personality type. If we can recognize the cause of such behavior, it becomes easier to extend the rope of someone who is struggling.

• When a person is at the end of their rope, there is a tendency to withdraw. It is often a very subtle change in behavior, and so it goes unnoticed for a long time. It is important to acknowledge that such an individual does not have the energy to reach out to people that just might be a source of encouragement. It is our responsibility to go to that person and ask them to spend time with us. Ask them to lunch. Buy an extra ticket to a ballgame and extend the invitation. Include them in a hunting trip you are planning, etc. I realize such actions may not be the cure-all, but it makes a huge difference to someone who could even be facing some level of depression.

• A person at the end of their rope is vulnerable. The wrong person could come along at that time in their life. That is how extra-martial affairs are inappropriate relationships get started. A close friend’s ability to be perceptive enough to recognize that the rope is getting is getting shorter could make a huge difference.

I am very fortunate. I have a wonderful circle of friends. When my rope gets short, those closest to me extend it as needed. But I want to do the same for those I care about as well. During these past few weeks I have been reminded of the importance of being proactive. I must be alert to the concerns of those close to me and try to act when I can.

I am curious what you do to reach out to your friends when they are at the end of their rope. Email me at or shoot me a message on facebook. Share your ideas. What do you do when your friends are at the end of their rope? What works? What have you found helpful? I would like to write more on this subject. Thanks!  -John

Monday, November 8, 2010

I am Still a Green Bay Packers Fan!

 I have a confession to make. I am a die hard Green Bay Packers fan. I know several of my Texas born and bred friends are ready to throw eggs at me right, but it is really not my fault. Blame my loyalty toward the Pack on Bart Starr.

Starr was a 17th round draft choice for the Packers in 1956.  But legendary coach Vince Lombardi saw potential in the young quarterback. Starr led the Packers to five NFL titles and two Super Bowl Championships. He was honored three times as Most Valuable Player- once as a Green Bay Packer MVP in 1966 and MVP of Super Bowls I and II. After his playing career ended, Starr remained with the team he built and took on the role of head coach from 1975 to 1983.

My father assumed an executive marketing position with Case Farm Equipment in Racine, Wisconsin in the spring of 1969. I had just completed the first grade in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. I suppose if we had not made the move to Racine I would have become a Chicago Bears fan. We were living in Chicago during the time period that Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo played for the Bears. Many will remember the movie that focused on their relationship called Brian’s Song. As a second grader, I became instantly enamored with Bart Starr and his cohorts.

I wore my #15 Green Bay jersey until it was it was thread bare. My neighbor Colleen Burke and I played football in the backyard all of the time. Of course I wore my football pads to go with the Bart Starr jersey. Colleen was taller than me at the time and a formidable opponent on the football field.

By the time I was in the 4th grade, I actually enjoyed reading. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the Green Bay Packers and Bart Starr in particular. Colleen had given up her football career by that point, but I could talk Packers trivia with my friends at Wind Point Elementary with expertise of an ESPN commentator. (Of course ESPN was not even in someone’s imagination at that point.)

In 1975, my family moved to Texas. I became a Texas Tech pretty quickly since we lived in Lubbock. And I soon became acclimated to West Texas high school football too. And I must admit that I learned to like the Dallas Cowboys. It was the Roger Staubach era for the Cowboys by that point and time. But my loyalties to the Packers never waned. My mother was the same way. She learned to love Tom Landry, but in her mind any coach other than Vince Lombardi was just a little suspect.

I feel particularly bad for expressing my loyalty to Green Bay since Wade Phillips lost his job today. I am not convinced that Wade is the problem in Dallas actually… But I am reminded that loyalty is a good thing today.  It is a virtue that is noticeably absent in our world today.

Formative relationships that are forged when we are young impact the rest of our lives. I made friends in Racine that am thankful to say are important people in my life today. And of course I count Bart Starr among that group! In a society, that is creating social gypsies that have no clue what loyalty means, I am grateful to cheer on the same team that I loved in the second grade. Yes….I am convinced that loyalty is a good thing. More on this subject tomorrow….