Sunday, January 31, 2010

I HATE Playing by the Rules!

Good intentions are not sufficient. We can have the best of intentions, but if we choose not to play by the rules, it will get us in trouble. I have been following the story of the church group who attempted to transport a number of young earthquake refugees from Haiti across the border into the Dominican Republic.
News reports indicate that the group could be charged with human trafficking. I am not there, so I don’t have all of the facts. The church group appears to be comprised of well-intentioned individuals who were attempting to do what they felt was the right thing under the circumstances.

Good intentions can get us into trouble. I am writing from the perspective of having served in ministry in a law enforcement context for over 20 years. My conclusions about this matter are also shaped by having a relationship with a children’s home in Mexico for several years. I am not inclined to sit in judgment on the folks trying to reach out to the Haitian refugees, but my experiences in the above-mentioned areas have taught me some difficult lessons over the years.
Here are three:
1. As Americans, we do not have the right to enter other countries and disregard their laws.
I would love to bring several kids from the children’s home we serve in Northern Mexico home with me. I know several families that would gladly take one of those children as their own. I think they could provide a wonderful home for a child. If I brought a child home, I think Mrs. Knox would forgive me. Who would not want a precious addition to the family? But the Mexican and U.S. governments would not be so forgiving. Adopting a native Mexican child is a tedious and often expensive process. There are laws. There are rules. Church groups are not above those laws. I don’t care how good our intentions happen to be…

2. We create problems for all humanitarian groups when we show disregard for the rules.
I want to be perceived as being credible by the Mexican government when I travel to the children’s home to conduct medical and dental clinics. The only way to maintain credibility is to play by their rules. Some of their rules are silly. It is unwise and hurtful to all people-helping groups when I show blatant disregard for the laws and regulations.

3. Even during a time of crisis, advance planning is still a good idea.
Law enforcement chaplains are trained to eliminate as many unknown or unpredictable factors as possible during a crisis. The crisis itself has already created enough unpredictable issues that cannot be controlled! Good planning, thoughtful actions, and a general non-anxious presence are important elements to consider when serving in an environment that is in an uproar.

I am reminded today that good intentions will get us in trouble if we fail to take other things into consideration. Again, my intent is not to judge the church group in Haiti. I appreciate their desire to serve those in desperate need. And I know that I have a lot to learn when it comes to working outside of the country. Their recent arrest reminded me of the importance of good planning, knowledge of local laws, and cautious leadership. I hope the whole situation has a positive outcome. There is a lot of work to be done in Haiti. But church groups must serve in a credible manner. I hate playing by the rules, but it is a necessity if our intention is to accomplish good things over the long haul.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Quick to Listen...

 I had the distinct opportunity of attending a seminar this weekend that focused on listening skills. It was very helpful. It was very interactive, so all of us were forced to practice the skills that we were being taught. The most significant things I learned over these past two days are not only related to the goal of critical listening.
First of all, I was reminded that good people will do foolish things when they are under enough stress. The phrase used this weekend was: clusters of anxiety.

A cluster of anxiety occurs when someone faces several major stressful events in a fairly short period of time. In other words, one person could lose a job, face a serious illness, and deal with the death of a loved one in a period of months. That person is more inclined to drop out of church and withdraw from other significant relationships during such a time period. The reason given to friends for dropping out or withdrawing is not usually the real story. There is a lot of pain going on in his/her life and no one knows.

As we talked about exercising good listening skills, I wondered how many people go it alone during such times. I wondered how many of my friends are facing a cluster of anxiety-producing events right now. All of us have the tendency to be very private about such matters. It troubles me to think that I have left someone I love and care about hanging out to dry because my ears are not tuned to the right channel.  As I continue to reflect about good listening skills, I hope I can be proactive.  My desire is to listen so well on an everyday basis, that those closest to me feel free to communicate about their clusters naturally and openly long before things start unraveling.

The second thing I gleaned this weekend is that we learn a lot about ourselves when we take time to listen to the stories of others. When they express their pain, our own stuff has a way of coming to the surface. Of course, our first inclination is to share that commonality with the other person! "You are not the only one" is what we want to say…

I have been there, too! The good listener refrains from counter story and continues to focus on the concerns of the other person. But…so much can be learned by processing how the others’ stories shape the perception of our own situation. 

I am eager to be a better listener, but more importantly, I desire to be better friend…

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Endless Connections...

  I never cease to be amazed at the endless connections that exist between people from diverse backgrounds and life circumstances. What could a CEO of a major company possibly have in common with a teenager coming from a broken home? A teenager who is living in a household teetering on poverty…We see that child and dozens of others like him on a weekly basis.

Every Wednesday we open the doors of the church and welcome well over 50 high school and middle school students. Thankfully, the church is situated right across the street from both campuses. A retired firefighter, along with a group of dedicated ladies, volunteers every week to have a meal ready for the kids when they hit the door every Wednesday around 4:30 p.m. They play basketball, do homework, and just chill until the structured part of the program starts at 6:45. This sounds like a great effort , does it not? It is a great thing to do. We get to know our guests better than you might think.
We hear stories of broken families. We know when mom is in jail. We find out when some of our kids are in jail. Gut-wrenching accounts of sexual abuse periodically come to the surface. We are made aware of some of the kids living in mobile homes without heat or sufficient food. We try to do our best to meet those needs. The list of troubles these students are facing is endless and overwhelming. Hosting them is never dull.
Their behavior is frequently inappropriate. You never know what they are going to say or what they are going to do next. Most of them are lacking in even the most basic social graces. My police officer friends tell me on a regular basis: I cannot believe that kid would say or do_______ at church. But they do.
Occasionally we get discouraged. There are weeks that I am ready to close the doors and call it quits. All of us on the church staff hit the wall at least once every semester. But thankfully all of us don’t have meltdowns on the same week!
Last week one of my co-workers hit the wall. He was fed up. He had experienced enough. He was not having warm feelings toward our lost puppies out in the gym, that we are privileged to host every week. He was ready to put permanent deadbolt locks on the doors of the church. It took the intervention of a CEO to turn things around.
Our CEO friend holds a graduate level degree from an Ivy League school. He is one of the most brilliant leaders I have worked with in a church setting in my entire career. His grasp of group process is beyond my imagination. He is one of those rare leaders who possess an ideal blend of technical knowledge, experience, and exceptional people skills. He is a man of unquestioned character and dignity as well. When he heard about our level of discouragement, he shared his own story…
Our CEO friend grew up in an environment somewhat similar to the kids we host on Wednesdays. He told us that he found the Boys/Girls Club in the community where he grew up to be a safe place. A place where no one is going to curse at you, abuse you, or otherwise disrupt the security of your childhood. He proceeded to tell us: the church on Wednesday may very well be that place for the kids we are serving. The only place they can find security, acceptance, and adults who will love them… Our CEO has quite a bit in common with those kids actually. I am thankful for him today. I am grateful that he was willing to candidly share his story. The doors to the church will never have deadbolts to the keep the kids out. We exist to embrace and love those kids. Occasionally, we just need reminders from the right people. The endless connections between people could expand even more because one of our kids could end up at an Ivy League school before it is all over with. I certainly hope that will be the case.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Thrilled with One Gift...

  I know it seems really late in the game to be reflecting on the events surrounding Christmas of 2009, but I just received Gil Sanchez’s December Report from Casa De La Esperanza yesterday. Casa is a children’s home in Northern Mexico. Casa serves infants all the way to young adults who are 18 years old. It is a great place!
I have been fortunate enough to coordinate several medical mission trips to Casa over the past several years. The following is a excerpt from Gil’s report.
I hope you find it to be as moving as I did. –John

A Christmas to Remember, by Gil Sanchez
They stepped forward, one-by-one, as their names were being called out. As they made their way toward the Christmas tree to receive their gift, applause slowly erupted from the rest of the children watching…causing most to drop their head in shyness. You could feel the excitement growing and when the list of names was finally exhausted and the last name was called out; chaos followed, as the children tore through the wrapping to reveal the treasure that lied beneath. I walked around, careful not to step on any of the gifts and children sprawled out  on the floor, all the while commenting on how cool or pretty their gifts were.
As I carefully made my way through the crowd of children I could feel little hands reaching deep into my pockets depositing Christmas candy, as if it might go by unnoticed. In the moments that followed, the children were intently sharing their gifts with each other and I was once again struck by how loving and generous our children are. I was also struck by how quick they were to share what little they had with each other, which reminded me of Christmas past at Casa. It was also a moment of profound humility for me as I felt my eyes fill with tears of joy and my heart swell with thankfulness to God for allowing us to share these moments with our precious children.

Oscar is a sweet four year old Tarahumara Indian who was found on the banks of a wash after his village was swept away by torrential rains six months ago, killing everyone in his family. Although Oscar cannot speak much Spanish yet, I could see that it did not stop him from making the rounds, being sure not to miss anyone showing off his new pair of cowboy boots. If you could have seen his big brown eyes and the expressions on his face, you would see what Christmas is all about and that is to say that “it is by giving that we receive”. We had sixty-two other stories like this one taking place at that exact moment
For many of our children, Christmas is a bittersweet experience since it can be a particularly hard reminder of the void created by the absence of family. While this is true, your loving kindness expressed by making this holiday season so very special for so many reminded our children that they are not without love.
Thank you! -Gil Sanchez, Director
Gil’s insights speak for themselves. Since I have been to Casa on several occasions, names and faces came to mind, as I read. Caring for orphans and widows in all of their distress… sounds like pure religion to me…

Monday, January 25, 2010

Barbara's Guardian Angel

  It turns out that one of my co-workers is quite the detective. Barbara has been the treasurer at church for a number of years. She is very good at dealing with figures and understands the complexities of non-profit organizational finances. I didn’t know about her sleuthing abilities until recently.

Barbara was injured in a car accident that took place in a neighboring city a few weeks ago. She was transported to the hospital and missed a few days of work. Thankfully she is in the process of making a full recovery. The entire event is now a blur in her mind, with one notable exception

She remembers the man who stayed by her side as rescue crews worked feverishly to get mangled metal out of the way so they could remove her from the car safely. She thought he was a police officer. I encouraged her to contact that particular department and inquire about the officer who completed the accident report. He was kind enough to return her call, so she discovered that it was likely a firefighter on scene who provided comfort and care during this traumatic experience. Additional phone calls were made. She had several conversations with the fire chief. He examined his department’s reports, and the mystery was finally solved. Barbara found her Guardian Angel. Arrangements were made for her to meet her young and handsome firefighter.

She arrived at the station armed with all kinds of goodies and a heart full of gratitude. She simply wanted to say thank you. These guys are just not used to such behavior from the citizens they serve. I have worked with police officers and firefighters for over 20 years in all kinds of crisis events. I am very aware of the frivolous complaints they have to face on a very regular basis. Every day they are reaching out to people in crisis. Citizens feel very free to complain and frequently don’t let the truth get in the way of a good complaint. Gratitude appears to be a rarity.

How hard is it to say thank you? When someone has really gone the extra mile to provide assistance, how difficult is it to express a little gratitude? I have given myself an assignment for the week. I am going to express my appreciation to someone who has served my family in a very specific way. My boys have great teachers. There are youth leaders who have impacted their lives. The list is pretty lengthy now that I think about it. Where should I start?

Barbara calls the firefighter she went to see her Guardian Angel. I know from experience that his wings are flapping a little harder tonight. He won’t tell his co-workers, but I know that he is deeply touched. When he has a particularly bad shift, he can think of Barbara. Her gratitude will remind him that what he does is important. He shows up for his shift at the fire station so he can save a life. I think that is a pretty good plan. Isn’t it about time all of us said thank you?

Who are you going to thank this week? I don’t think Barbara is the only one who has a Guardian Angel...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dad, I Met this Really Nice Girl...

  Pride comes before a fall…That is a well known biblical principle! If it is really true, then I better brace myself for a skinned knee or worse. I have been gloating lately. Several of my male friends have given the bride away recently. I must confess. I grinned to myself as I observed all of the expense and trouble of a nice wedding. I have sons. I will flip a few burgers for the rehearsal dinner and consider my financial investment to be complete. It would serve me well to stop gloating, because pride comes before a fall.
As I start calculating the magnitude of financial investment at a recent wedding, I had a sinking feeling. An image flashed through my head. One or possibly more of my boys will come home one weekend… Dad, I want you to meet _______. We are engaged to be married. That is great, I say. I am thrilled that a girl will actually put up with them! And she is pretty and sweet!
But the rest of the conversation goes like this: Dad, ________’ family is unable to pay for a wedding. There is a plethora of reasons for such financial hardship. She is a sweet and precious orphan. Or she was raised in a single parent home with limited resources. My son and his bride to be look at me hopefully, as the blood drains out of my head. I have visions of taking on a paper route or mowing lawns on my day off. But how I will respond to them?

I will not hesitate. I will not blink. I won’t even ask for a proposed wedding budget. I will simply say…yes. Yes I will gladly pay for the wedding. My boys’ brides will become an immediate part of our family. I will view them as daughters. The word in-law will be banished from our family vocabulary. If they really are orphans, that status will be changed instantaneously.

In the midst of my gloating at recent weddings, I thought about Jan’s family. They are a large clan. Her dad has six brothers and sisters. Her mother’s family is equally large and close knit. After we married, both sides of the family took me in immediately. Relating to a large extended family took some time for to adjust to for several years. I was not raised in a close knit extended family. In fact, I went 25 years without seeing any of my father’s family, after his death in 1978.

I was very wary at first. I was playing out of my league. Today I would not trade anything for the relationships I enjoy with her parents, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a few outlaws too… I trust them and love them. When I think of how fortunate I am to have a relationship with all of them, I feel pretty humble. Such humility should override the gloating I did at the recent wedding. Pride comes before a fall for sure, so I think I will just be humbly grateful for those who took me in almost 26 years ago. And I will start saving my pennies for a wedding, because I know the conversation that begins with…Dad, I met this really nice girl… is coming. It is coming times three. I think I will go sharpen my lawnmower blade this afternoon…

Friday, January 22, 2010

I Got To Hold a Baby Today...

I have several essays that I have saved that were done before I started blogging in earnest. I thought that I should include some of them in this blog before they get lost in the shuffle.  Here is the first one: It was composed in 2005.

I Got To Hold a Baby Today: A Reflection of 12 Hours of Ministry
October, 2005

(Note: This series of ministry events began unfolding on a Friday morning, around 11:30, and were completed around 11:30 the evening of the same day.)

I got to hold a baby today…you know it is one of those things that preachers get to do… We go to the hospital to pray for the newborn. We go and pray with the parents at such a joyful time. And sometimes, we enjoy the fringe benefit of holding God’s new and precious gift.
I got to hold a baby today…
While I was rocking a little boy who was only hours old in my arms, another mother of a newborn from my church was sobbing quietly down the hall. Her baby was about to be transported to the nearby children’s hospital. We are not sure what is wrong, says the pediatrician….I prayed with that family too.
I got to hold a baby today…

And only hours after enjoying that ultimate fringe benefit of ministry, I was at the bedside, or should I say cribside of the little guy who was taken to the children’s hospital. I was only one there since his mother had not been dismissed from the hospital where he was born. Hold his pacifier in his mouth, the nurse says. He won’t be able to eat for a few days, only iv fluids for now… Can he feel hunger, I ask? Oh yes, he feels hunger! But only iv fluids for now.

We are not sure what is wrong, says the neonatologist…
I got to hold a baby today…
While I held the pacifier with great diligence, another couple’s hearts were breaking in a nearby NICU cubicle. I am sorry, she didn’t make it, says the neonatologist… They called the hospital chaplain. He gently led them through the next mind boggling, emotionally wrenching minutes of their life. I walked around the corner of the waiting room to give them so privacy, so he could gather their family for a group prayer. And later I happened to follow them to the parking garage. They were empty handed, except for a video camera, that captured the last few minutes of joy that they will experience for some time. They got in their car, and drove off…. I drove off in mine. We went our separate ways forever, but for a few moments, unbeknownst to each other, we shared some tears together.
I got to hold a baby today…
My little friend in the hospital has been dismissed. They know what was wrong now! He can feel hunger, and he can sense satisfaction from eating now…He stared me down with the most beautiful eyes.
I got hold a baby today….

Only hours before I held that pacifier in his mouth, I had to intrude on the privacy of a perfect stranger. She is 79 years old…I was given the grim duty by the Sheriff’s department of telling her that her 47 year old son had taken his own life. She was doing everything she could to help him get on his feet, she said. I wondered what was wrong, as she reflected on his 47 years…I wondered how it must feel to lose one whom you took home from the hospital so many years ago. I wonder if the preacher held him, and prayed for him, before he went home.
I got to hold a baby today.
You know it is one those things that preachers get to do

Thursday, January 21, 2010

There is One More to be Rescued...Are You Prepared?

 When I took Algebra in the 9th grade, I had Miss Jackson. She was an excellent first-year teacher. She was also the most beautiful math teacher that the Lubbock Independent School District had ever employed. Naturally, I did quite well in math that year. Mark Rose and I competed with each other to see who could get a higher “A” average. By the time I got around to taking Algebra II in high school, the landscape had changed. My male teacher was not Miss Jackson by any stretch of the imagination. I nearly flunked math that year because all motivation had vanished. I just did what I absolutely had to in order to get by with a passing grade. I had a conversation this morning with a friend of mine who is a police officer. His comments reminded me that we should train and study when it feels good. And we should train and study when it is not so fun.

This particular officer is diligent about ongoing physical training and conditioning. He runs and does strength training on a regular basis. Here is how he described his philosophy of physical training to me this morning: “If I am called to rescue children trapped in a burning school bus, I don’t intend to be out of breath and exhausted as I run back to get the last child.”
It took me a few moments to process what he was saying. I soon realized that his observation was very insightful. It has applications for many facets of life. When we are diligent about learning, training, and preparing, we are equipping ourselves to help others in a variety of ways. Going to the trouble of being certified in CPR could save a person’s life. Being in good physical condition prepares us to do things at a moment’s notice that cannot be anticipated.
Sometimes learning is not fun. Ongoing training of all kinds can become a real chore. We have to make sacrifices. We have to give up time we could be using to do other things we enjoy. There are times that Miss Jackson is our teacher, and there are other opportunities where Attila the Hun’s cousin is entrusted with the training. I am reminded today that discipline is a good thing. I even think it would be good for me to have that image of a burning bus full of children imprinted on my mind for a few weeks. My friend is right. There is no excuse for being out of breath and exhausted when we run back to rescue that last child. I have a lot of training to do. I had better get started… There is one more to be rescued. Are we prepared?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sharing the Snack Pack

 It was my first day of school today. I asked Jan to pack my lunch in a metal lunch box like I used to take to Wind Point Elementary back in the day. That was when Snack Pack Pudding was in a can with a pop-top lid. Cheetos were in a blue bag. We had a matching thermos for our milk, or it could be purchased for a nickel. She was not very cooperative, though. She made no effort to find a lunch box and proceeded to tell me not to talk too much in class. And then she had the audacity to admonish me not to be sent to the principal’s office on the first day!
I am taking Conversational Spanish at Tarrant County College in Ft. Worth. My instructor is a native of Russia who holds a graduate degree in Spanish.

My fellow students are all Randall’s age. I am old enough to be their father. We introduced each other in class today (in Spanish, of course). The poor girl who was paired up with me was probably thinking: “How did I get stuck with Gramps?
I was actually pretty amused by the events of my first day back to school. Students on campus greeted me warmly. I wondered why. And then it occurred to me that today is the first day of class. They are thinking: “That guy may be my accounting professor! I had better speak to him…” Or maybe they are thinking: “That poor old man has still not finished a degree. I sure feel sorry for him.” I can only guess.
I am of a mind that we are never too old to learn. I need to be able to speak Spanish very well. I will use it in every facet of my job. The instructor is excellent. I can tell that I will learn a lot from her this semester.
I had better keep my latest educational endeavor under wraps with my #1 son, Randall. He will no doubt ask protruding questions about test grades, cumulative grand point averages, and other personal matters that fathers would prefer not to share with their college-aged kids.
Dr. Knox will make his way to the community college every week for Spanish until the middle of May. Perhaps I can share a fat free snack pack with one of my new 20-something friends at lunch. I know it will be important for me to be a listening ear for those kids. I am sure they all have stories that need to be shared. Hopefully, I can learn to communicate in Spanish and in love, too. I must go study my vocabulary now. Randall will want to know what I make on my first test, and I certainly don’t want to be embarrassed…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Respect Carries the Day

Today is January 19th, and I have already attended three funerals this year. Hopefully, that rate will slow down soon. Today’s service was for fallen Arlington, TX police officer Craig Story. He was killed in the line of duty last Wednesday.  Hundreds of officers traveled from all over Texas to support his family and department. I accompanied our Honor Guard from the Granbury Police Dept. to today’s service.
All of the traditions of a police funeral were carried out today in Arlington. Honor Guards played a prominent role in the service. The bagpipes were played, a twenty-one gun salute was carried out, and of course Taps was trumpeted at the end. There were, of course, hundreds of patrol cars in the procession, which snarled traffic for miles on Highway 360 between Interstates 20 and 30.  I sensed that people did not seem to mind.
Several events stand out from the service today that are worth mentioning. I took note of an older man with two small children who stood on the side of the highway holding American Flags as we proceeded by them. It occurred to me that he was making a strong impression on those chilren regarding the ideal of respect.  I also saw a lot of people taking pictures of the procession with their cell phones.  I am not sure how I feel about that... I suppose a line of  police cars from dozens of of federal, state, and local agencies is not an everyday sight.  On the other side of the respect spectrum, I took note of a man in his 50s enjoying his afternoon jog on the sidewalk, as the funeral procession made its way down that street . He was having to maneuver around others who had stopped what they were doing, made their way to the sidwalk, and were holding their hands over their hearts.  I know I am seriously biased, but it seems to me that the jog could have been postponed for just a few moments.  Are we so self-consumed that we can't take ten minutes out of our schedule to show respect for a man who gave his life while serving his fellow citizens?  I should not have been surprised.

Crisis events bring out the best and the worst in people.  We have, of course, seen that to be true in Haiti this past week.  There are so many noble medical professionals, military personnel, and others providing humanitarian aid.  They are giving it their all.  But there has also been looting, bickering, and other forms of meltdowns occurring.  When I took an ethics course in graduate school, one of the questions we wrestled with was:  Is man basically good or basically evil?  It is a legitimate question.  Based on my experiences today I could form good arguments for both sides. I think I will choose to dwell on the good.  I am grateful today for a lot of unselfish public servants who drove as long as 7 hours to come and support the family of a fallen officer.  May respect carry the day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Time for a Behavioral Transition

When a student commits a major infraction at school in Granbury these days, they are sent to the Behavioral Transition Center.  I have to say that the members of the faculty at that campus really are prompting behavioral transitions for the kids entrusted to their care.  The program is well-structured, and the teachers are exceptional.  When I was a hooligan in high school, the administration was not interested in transitioning behavior.  Such sophisticated phrases were not on their radar screen.

Corporal punishment, however, was still a viable option.  I received "licks" from our assistant principal, Mr. "Zippy" Zorns. His speed and finesse with a paddle earned him the "Zippy" nickname.  But I don't recall him saying:  "John... these licks are going to lead to a transition in your behavior."  In fact, I don't even recall him giving me the decency of saying: "This is going to hurt me more than you!"

 In-School Suspension was another means of punishing those of us who found it easier to ask forgiveness than permission. But that experience only succeeded in transitioning me in into a more hardened "rules are made to be broken" kind of offender. They would place us at a desk in a tiny room away from the mainstream of school life until the bell rang to leave campus for lunch.  And then, of course, they opened the door, so we could be tormented by our friends on their way to Taco Villa.  That is just wrong.

I am thankful today for school administrators and teachers who are really are interested seeing students experience positive behavioral transitions in their life.  I spend a fair amount of time at Granbury High School working with the debate team.  It is striking to me how many lost puppies there are roaming those hallways.
No program will ever take the place of faculty members who truly care about kids.

Yesterday I heard a middle school principal from a neighboring community share a story about two boys who were giving him fits at school last year. They were his two top discipline problems.  He was tired of seeing them in his office.  Was it time for the equivalent of the Behavioral Transition Center in his school district?   He actually had a better idea...

He entrusted those two boys with an important job at school.  There was another student confined to a wheelchair.  My principal friend told his two top offenders that it was their job to take care of the boy in the wheelchair through the course of the day. There were just some basic things he needed assistance with in order to navigate his way through a school day.  The middle school"s "most wanted" found a new mission.  They took the task seriously.  They befriended the boy entrusted to their care.  They eagerly ate lunch with him and assisted him in every way possible.

I needed to hear that story yesterday.  I was reminded that sometimes troubled kids just don't feel significant or needed.   They feel rejected and worthless.  They need someone to prompt a behavioral transition in their life.  Licks may be the answer.  Some kind of alternative school experience may be what the doctor ordered.
But could it be possible that entrusting such individuals with an important responsibility could prove to be life-changing?  Time will tell.  I am thankful today for administrators and teachers who still care.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Fourth "H"

Pat Robertson has created quite a stir this week following his comments regarding Haitian history within hours of the horribly devastating earthquake this poor country has experienced.  I read his comments.  I read what people had to say about his comments.  And then I visited his website to read the reaction to the media stir he has created.  I am not a Haitian history scholar, and it appears that Pat Robertson is not either.  It is a good rule of thumb not to speak publicly about matters that you are really not qualified to discuss.  Robertson knows just enough Haitian history to be dangerous.  But there is a more important principle here that I think we can all benefit from in the wake of Robertson's poorly timed and ill-informed commentary.

When our neighbors are in trouble, it is a good idea to practice the most basic principles of crisis intervention.
These ideals are true if our next door neighbor is in trouble, and they are helpful during a national crisis.
I call them The Four H's.  They are as follows:

Hurry:  Rescue workers from all over the world are facing logistical nightmares in Haiti.  Getting aid into the country has proven to be a daunting task.   But.....they are trying their best.  I am so thankful for our American military personnel, police and fire rescue crews, The Red Cross, and humanitarian workers from all over the world.  They are hurrying.  They are deploying as fast as they know how.  In times of crisis, it is time to hurry.  Don't delay.  Don't stand around talking.  Hurry.

Hug:  The emotional devastation is hard to report on cable news. We cannot possibly grasp what our neighbors in Haiti are facing emotionally.  I am grateful for those who will continue to provide needed emotional support for a long time to come.

Hush:  Theological commentary is not helpful in the wake of a crisis.  It is distracting, inappropriate, and frequently not rooted in truth.  Why is it that people feel compelled to speak for God in times of crisis?  I find it troubling and hurtful to those in pain.  God calls us to serve those in trouble.  That is clear.  Why don't we hush and serve? 

Pat Robertson spoke out of turn.  He is not a qualified historian.  And quite frankly, I wonder about his abilities as a theologian as well.  I am so glad I never put my foot in my mouth or speak about matters that I know little, if anything, about... Well...that is not true.   I continue to desire to be quick to listen and slow to speak. 

Let's think about the Three H's this week in regard to Haiti.    But wait a minute...there are: Four H's.  Hurry, hug, hush, and Haiti...let us love those people who are suffering tremendously.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Only at Walmart

One of the latest trends in the church planting movement is the development of satellite congregations.  Large churches find a meeting place in a neighboring area and plant a satellite location.  Here is where it gets interesting:  The new locale receives the Sunday service via streaming video from the Mother Church. In other words, there is not a real live preacher or worship leader present.  I do understand that the video quality is exceptional.   Time will tell if such a strategy is going to prove to be viable over the long haul.

I have a much different idea about church planting.  It comes closer to mirroring the conclusions of a friend of mine who believes that new churches find their beginnings at Denny's.  I am serious.  He spends his time studying and preparing at Denny's, where he has befriended the wait staff and customers alike.  He thinks building bridges to the hearts of people is the way to get a church started.  What a novel idea...

I am going to plant a satellite church at Walmart.  The store managers won't even feel the intrusion. I have no need for office space.  I will continue to hold Sunday services at our present location.  I will simply camp out on aisle 14 and wait patiently, because.....

Only at Walmart...
  • Can you have a conversation with total strangers about their family situation.  Late one evening I was in the checkout line when a lady saw my jacket that has "Granbury Police Dept. Chaplain" imprinted on it.  That was enough of a conversation starter.  I knew much of her life story before the associate scanned her last item.
  • Can you see a sweet little girl and her father carrying out her newly purchased birthday cake for her 4th birthday.  Her mom and dad are separated right now.  I needed to see her today and be reminded of the people I should never neglect to pray for daily.
  • Can you bump into a friend and her two young children who just lost their husband and father. Even a  brief interchange with a friend is of utmost importance during that stage in the grieving process.
  • Can I run into people that I see in the crowd on Sunday, but rarely have the opportunity to visit one on one.
  • Can I see a former student that I was assigned to in a mentoring program, who is preparing to leave for Army Basic Training.
Only at Walmart..... My satellite church is officially formed.  Sometimes it will meet on Saturday mornings. And then there will be gatherings on Monday mornings.   There will be occasional times to get together in the midlde of the night. I will be there to provide a ministry of presence and see what happens. I, too, believe that building bridges to the hearts of people is still important.  Oh, by the way, no video equipment will be necessary.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Super Hero to the Rescue!

I still think like a child.  That will come as no surprise to those who know me well.  And those closest to me would point out that I still act like one as well.  No one is perfect.  Since I think like a child, I assume that my personal heroes are invincible.  My mentors are supposed to be like one of the Power Rangers or Superman.  They are not supposed to be affected by the aging process.  They should always have adequate financial resources. They should be immune from the common ills known to man, like cancer...

One of my heroes was diagnosed not long ago with a rare form of blood cancer.  He has been hospitalized, poked, prodded, tested, and evaluated by specialists that I did not know existed. I went to see him last fall during one of his hospital stays.  I was tempted to grab one of the nurses tending to his needs and remind her in no uncertain terms that she was caring for none other than the Rock of Gibralter.  He is to be handled with special care!   Images of a hospital security guard shoving me out the door immediatley popped in my head, so I resisted.

The Rock has been good about keeping his friends updated about his health situation via email.  That has been helpful.   In his most recent correspondence, he said this:  We were able to take a tour of the floor where I will receive the bone marrow transplant  in Dallas yesterday. We met the Floor Nurse and received a general orientation of the facilities, team, and procedures involved. We were highly impressed and came away reassured that we are in good hands and on the right track.  After reading this most recent update, I was naturally encouraged.  Another thought struck me as I pondered his impending medical procedure.

What would we do without competent and benevolent nurses?  People entering a hospital for a major procedure are feeling one primary emotion: fear.  They are scared and intimidated.  In many cases, they do not know what to expect.  They are placing their care in the hands of a group of medical professionals.  Nurses are on the front line.  Floor Nurses take anxious patients on tours and work closely with families of those same individuals.

  I have visited hundreds of people in all kinds of hospitals over the years. I have accompanied nurses to deliver death notifications in the emergency room. I have worked with nurses as they served victims of sexual assault, those who have attempted suicide, and people injured in serious car crashes.  And then there are the kind nurses who are willing to take a few monents to listen to an elderly patient tell a story. What about those special nurses who work in a children's hospital?  I have watched those special servants deal with children and parents with great skill and compassion.  I have a special place in my heart for Hospice nurses.  I can't possibly recount all of the instances where I have seen a Hospice nurse reach out to a family and make a difference that they will never forget.

I have experienced two hospital stays as an adult.  I have a few personal biases about nurses. I prefer a nurse who will feel sorry for me. I want to be called "honey" and be doted over. Mr. Knox, are you sure you don't want another pillow?  Can I get you anything.... honey?   But most importantly, I just want a competent professional who has not lost sight of the fact that a patient is scared. Nursing is like all people-helping professions. It is easy to become hardened and cynical.  It is all too easy to lose sight of the goal. One of the goals is to serve people who are overwhelmed with fear and uncertainty.

 It sounds like my longtime mentor and Rock met that person in Dallas this week.  I am so thankful.  He or she is officially elevated to sainthood in my eyes. Obviously, that person was not emulating the attitude of the hardened Nurse Ratched portrayed in the classic movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.  May  God bless these competent professionals.  During the rare occasions that I think like an adult, I realize that even superheroes are susceptible to the diseases common to man . So.... I am grateful for nurses today. They are superheroes who come to the rescue when we need them most.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Don't Get Bitten by the Anxiety Bug!

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!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Beautiful Service for a Beautiful Lady

It was a beautiful service for a beautiful lady.  I attended the funeral service for Christy Schulte today in Wichita Falls.  I have known Christy and her family for almost 23 years.  She was 49 years old . I put on my dark suit and made the trek to Wichita Falls today for one reason.  I wanted to support members of Christy's family, who are all dear friends.  I love each of them.  They are quite a crew to say the least!  As I approached the church parking lot thirty minutes prior to the beginning of the service, I was not at all surprised to discover that it was quite full already.  But I had no clue at that point what an impact a funeral  for one of my contemporaries was about have on me.

My longtime friend and mentor, Larry Suttle, did an amazing job handling the service.  I was so moved by his insightful commentary. I told someone at the cemetery that I want to do funerals as well as he does when I grow up.  He pointed out that she was the first one in her family to graduate from college. He lauded her for using her education to serve in a people-helping profession. His observations about her dedication to her family were very fitting and accurate.  And then he made an interesting comment that was directed especially to her two precious girls, Briana and Brynn.

He said something to the effect that they have a new ministry now. They have a new calling to comfort others as they have been comforted during a time of tremendous loss.  Comforting others is the last thing on their minds right now, but Larry is correct.  They will soon understand precisely what he means.  When you have lost a loved one, you feel deep compassion for those who are facing a similar circumstance.  You are better qualified to serve those in grief.  I know this to be true from personal experience.

My original dream in becoming a minister was to train as a hospital chaplain so I could comfort people as I had been comforted.  The chaplaincy role in a hospital never happened.  But the opportunities to serve people in grief have abounded over the years.  I must admit there are times when I wonder if I should be doing something else.  I have days when I think I really should be selling used cars at Honest Joe's Car Lot.

As I listened to Larry today, I was reminded of the importance of staying with our sense of purpose.  Comforting others in times of trauma and loss is an important task.   Those of us who have experienced losses at a young age have a special responsiblitity to reach out in this way.  As we were filing out of the church this afternoon, I caught Briana's eye for just a second. The vulnerability expressed by her eyes moved me to tears. I was instantly grateful that the service for her mother was handled with such grace and dignity.

I feel for her tonight. I feel for her sister and their good father, as well.  But I am confident those girls will be comforting others at some point in the not-so-distant future.  They are good girls, and they have they have had a wonderful role model and mother to emulate.  I drove home tonight pondering all of these things.

Images of Christy sitting in her place at church on Sunday morning with two cute little preschool-aged girls  flashed though my mind. That is going back a few years... But mostly I thought about fulfilling a calling...
The service today inspired me to work harder than ever at serving those in need of comfort.  And I realized that those two preschool-aged girls are grown women now.  Their pain is profound today, but I am confident they will fulfill their minstry of comfort very well.  I wonder who will be blessed by their kindness.  I don't know...  But I do know their mother would be very proud.  She was a beautiful lady on the inside as well as the outside.  It was a beautiful day to have a service for a beautiful lady.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Charming Her Way into More Ration Stamps...

I have this crazy idea. It is not the first one I have had and it won't be the last either.  I want my 80-year-olds at church to have a forum to interact with my 30-somethings.  In a large church, that simply does not happen.  We gravitate relationally to our peers.  The merits of intergenerational friendships can be discussed all day long, but in the final analysis, it just does not happen.  As a rule, my 80-somethings are not familiar with such social networking tools as Twitter and Facebook.  Blogging is actually foreign to some of them.  They do not listen to music on ipods as a rule, and computers intimidate them.   I must admit there are notable exceptions to that rule.  In general, we have to live with the realities of a generational gulf. 

Here is my crazy idea:  I want do some Larry King style interviews with one or two of my senior adults with members of the younger crowd in the audience.  I have in mind to set it up in a coffee house sort of atmosphere.  The same kind of interviews need to be done with a couple of 20- or 30-somethings.  Everyone present can observe and listen.  I wonder what we would learn?

We have a handful of members at church who were in their teens during World War II.  Daniel interviewed them for a school project last year.  It was fascinating and humorous, too.  One of our elderly ladies talked about using her good looks and charm to get additional ration stamps for gas.  Yes...this crazy idea could be a lot of fun.

What caused me to generate such an idea?  I get to hear the stories of elderly people on a regular basis, because I officiate at a lot of funerals.  The family gathers, and the stories begin to flow.  Why can't those compelling narratives be shared long before it is time to compose a eulogy?   There is so much to learn.
Members of different generations might actually begin to view one another through a lens of empathy and appreciation.   Crazy? Yes!  But I think I am going to pursue this idea.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Tech Has a New Coach

I have been observing the saga that led to the termination of Texas Tech's Head Football coach, Mike Leach, since it all started right after Christmas.  I will always be a loyal Tech fan.  A lot of fans are outraged at the manner in which he has been treated, so it is with great caution that I weigh in on a subject that is close to the hearts of many.

There is not much doubt that the player Leach is accused of mistreating is nothing more than a spoiled brat.  There is sufficient testimony from a variety of credible people to draw such a conclusion.  Did Coach Leach make some poor judgment calls as a coach in the way he dealt with this kid?  I honestly do not have enough information to reach a well-informed conclusion.  Time will tell. The truth will come to the surface.  I have never been a college football coach, but I will say that I would have handled the same situation much differently.

Leach's termination reminds me of two important facts.  The first one is:  Competency as a leader does not replace the need for outstanding people skills. It does not make any difference how competent a person is in a chosen field.  If he cannot get along with people, his career will stagnate.  People are often terminated because they cannot function interpersonally.  You have to play well with others.  A lack of fundamental people skills appears to be Coach Leach's downfall.

The second fact I was reminded of by this saga is:  As a society, we have profound distrust of leadership in general.   I am not familiar with the current president at Texas Tech.  I am not acquainted with those who are now sitting on the Board of Regents.  I have been amazed to see how quickly people are to race to judgment, when so many of the facts are yet to be presented.  The university president, athletic director, and regents have all been lambasted by fans, students, and alumni.   A race to judgment is premature.  We don't trust our leaders.  We assume the worst.  We automatically impugn the worst of motives.  Maybe there is good reason for such extreme wariness, but it is sad.  How will any of the important institutions of our society function successfully if we are unable to trust leaders?

I am sad to see Coach Leach depart under a cloud of a raging conflict.  He is a talented coach .But  no one is irreplacable.  Football at Texas Tech will go on without him.  Coach Ruffin McNeill has my vote of confidence.  I was hoping he would be offered the position.  But apparently that is not going to happen.  Coach Tommy Tuberville has been named the next coach.   I think Ruff was the man for the job, but I suppose I should trust those in charge...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

This is Granbury and Not Green Bay!

If you live in Green Bay Wisconsin, early morning single digit temperatures during the winter months are just part of another day.  But we live in Granbury, Texas.  We are not accustomed to the arctic chill.  We are really just a bunch of  sissies, when it comes to cold weather.  Well...maybe I should speak for myself.  A friend posted the following status update very early this morning on facebook: Single digit temp... wind gusts at 30... morning run doesn't sound like it will be fun.  I vacillated for a few moments in regard to what I felt should be the proper response to such a compelling status update.

My immediate reaction:  Are you crazy?  Have lost your mind?  Has no one told you that we are supposed to be a bunch of cold weather sisssys, who band together at such a time as this?  And then I started feeling concern for his mental state. He must not be thinking straight.  A screw is loose in his head.   Despite my reservations about his mental well being my thought processes actually took a fairly dramatic turn.

I seriously doubt that many avid runners will make it out early this morning.  And that is not a problem.  But I admire someone who is so committed to the task at hand that they are going out no matter what. That mentality stands in stark contrast to the prevailing attitude in our culture.  

We are living in a non-committal society.  Lack of commitment is characteristic of all important relationships in the world we live in today.  When the sailing gets rough, it is all too easy to jump ship.  Marriages end.
Contracts are broken.  Friendships are thrown away.  Parental duties are traded in for freedom and fun.

It occurred to me recently that meaningful change in our lives will not take place until we are committed to changing our behavior no matter what...  I find that I am committed to eating more healthy until someone offers me some of Aunt Gertrude's homemade pecan pie.  I am resolved to watch my tongue more carefully until some grand opportunity arises to say something that is clever and biting... I am committed to studying my Spanish diligently until something more fun comes along.

Sticking with important relationships is not always fun.  It can be downright unpleasant and hurtful.  In the short term, the grass sure looks greener elsewhere.  Remaining resolute about commitments to lifestyle changes like eating well and exercising regularly can often be anything but fun.  It occurs to me this morning that life itself must be carried out in single digit temperatures, if you live in Green Bay or Granbury.   The morning run may not be fun, but it will be worth it in the long run. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Defining Community

I attended my first funeral service for 2010 this afternoon.  A young 42 year old man passed away rather suddenly after a brief illness.  He was a volunteer firefighter in Granbury, so that was my basis of association with him.  I have served with his wife on several community related projects.  You would think a veteran minister would become accustomed to attending and officiating at funerals.  But they are never routine.  I hope that never happens.  When I reach the point that it is all just in a day's work, I had better do something else professionally.   I did find myself being caught off guard this afternoon.   The man's wife wife calmly walked down the aisle of the church with her two little girls on either side of her.  My heart instantly ached for all three of them.  I found myself just frozen for a moment. 

As I looked across the large group that had gathered for the service, I saw quite an array of people.  There was a good contingency of volunteer firefighters from most, if not all of the departments in our county.  There were friends and co-workers.  The girls' teachers from school took off work to support the family.   When I got my wits about me once again, I only had one thought.

We live in a community that continues to grow, but at least we still have a small town feel in Granbury. I am grateful for the small town values that all of us enjoy. occurred to me that our responsbililty to this young man's widow and his two daughters extends way beyond just being supportive during this critical days.
We have a duty to continue to reach out to all three of them.  They are a part of our community.  Taking care of people when they are down is the very essence of community.

I scanned the crowd in the parking lot as we circled up to observe some of the traditions associated with a firefighter's funeral service.  I took note of the fact that I knew well over half  of the attendees. They are my friends.  I was immediately thankful for living in a caring community.  Granbury is a great place. There are a lot of fine people here.  The vast majority have moved here from other places.  Most Hood County residents do not have deep roots here that extend back for generations. But we are slowly forming a sense of community among ourselves.  I was reminded of the blessing of community today as I gathered with friends to comfort one of our own.

Monday, January 4, 2010

If I am Not Back in 30 Minutes, Call Someone to Rescue Me!

I should have never gone in alone.  I know better.  When  facing a potentially dangerous situation, it is never good to fly solo.  But I ignored the internal warnings going off in my head, and moved ahead by myself.  It was dark and scary, but too late to turn back. I really should have told the boys to call somone if I am not back in 30 minutes.  Ten minutes into the mission I started wishing I had brought a flashlight.  The discovery of missing treasures made it worth any risk I was about to face.

I found those treasures buried in my closet.  That was my mission this afternoon: Clean out a closet that had not seen any attention since I had put up my stacked heels from the disco era in 1977.  I began the task somewhat fearfully.  My closet light does not work.  I was entering a dark area that could well be inhabited by a family of hideous monsters, who have made their home under a stack of size 32 waist shorts that I have not worn in a few years.  I felt like I was an archeological mission of some kind.  It was scary to think about what lurked in the black crevices.

I have to admit that it was embarrassing to find stacks of clothes that I have not worn in years.  I have two and not one pair of golf shoes!  I have a t-shirt from every camp and special event I have attended since 1987.   My mother's admonition at the dinnner table about people starving in India ran through my head.  I wondered what a psychologist would say about a 47 year old man with a terribly messy closet.

I really don't want to know what the psychologist would say.  As I reached for still another pair of shoes that had been listed as missing in action, it occurred to me that the status of my closet maybe more revealing about the condition of my heart than I want to admit.  I am so busy running here and there that I don't take the time to shed things that need to go.  Stuff starts piling up.  I wondered if the obvious disarray of my closet reveals the scattered nature of my life. I wondered if I am far more over indulgent tnan I want to think?  Really..who should have so many clothes?  I am not pulling these conclusions out of the air.

I have noticed an interesting correlation over a period of time. When a person stops taking care of his home outwardly, it is not uncommon to see that there is a lack of internal upkeep as well.  I know that sounds crazy, but there is some truth to it.  When a person becomes so consumed in things away from home, the yard starts looking shaggy.  The paint on the trim starts to peel and numerous things need to be repaired. Clutter is stacked everyhwere.  But there is little motivation to get the house whipped into shape. Internal stuff is occupying the heart  is one cause of a home to be in a state of clutter or decline. I do think that the presence of so much stuff is indicativeof  a society gone wild with over indulgence on multiple fronts.

It is a New Year.  It is good to have at least one closet cleaned out. I have a few more projects on the horizon... Some of them are of an internal nature and others are external. I am determined not to allow things to stack up that don't need to accumulate in my closet or my heart this year.

I came back from my mission safely today.  I have a stack of clothes to give away and another stack has gone to the trash.  I even discovered a really nice dress shirt that I may wear this week. It had been held hostage by a pair of worn out shoes that had been hiding it.  In fact I did such a good job, that I may consider hiring out as a closet cleaner.  Of course I will need hazardous duty pay for some of the assignments... Hmm.. A business venture in the making.  But be sure to call somenone if I am not back in thiry minutes!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Heart Hotels

She had all of the tell tale signs and I missed them.  Her behavior indicatd that she was crying out for help, but none of us heard her.  She was a beautiful 16 year old girl with lots of potential, but there oddities about her behavior.  Don't misunderstand me.  She was a blast be around.  All of us enjoyed spending time with her.  We walked the same line at high school commencement services in 1980, but  I bascially lost track of her after our freshman year in college.  I saw her at the mall somewhere around 1982, and that is the last I heard of her.  I didn't think about her too much until one day in a law enforcement chaplaincy training class  a little over a year ago.

The class was dealing with the unpleasant subject of sexual assault.  The particular focus was on childhood victims.  The teacher started listing the signs of a child who has been molested.  Some of the signs are exhibited when the victim is small, and others surface years later.  I took good notes that day.  As I wrote away, it hit me like a punch right in the middle of the stomach.  I got a sick feeling... I had not thought about _________ in years.  An image of her face started flashing through my head. can't be true, I thought.
I am crazy!  I have to be crazy...  The list fit her like a glove.

Was __________ molested as a child?  Was she being abused while we were teenagers? I don't know.  I can't be certain, but I think my suspicions are probably legitimate.  The commons signs were present. There is no doubt about that . I was reminded that day  in the training event of one of her favorite songs.  After my sudden revelation, that song suddenly brought on new meaning.

Heart Hotels, by Dan Fogelberg

Well theres too many windows
In this old hotel
And rooms filled with reckless pride
And the walls have grown sturdy
And the halls have worn well
But there is nobody living inside
Nobody living inside...
Gonna pull in the shutters
On this heart of mine
Roll up the carpets and pull
In the blinds
And retreat to the chambers that
I left behind
In hopes there still may be
Love left to find
Still may be love left to find.
Seek inspiration in daily affairs
Now you soul is in trouble
And requires repair
And the voices you hear at the
top of the stairs
Are only echoes of unanswered prayers
Echoes of unanswered prayers.
Well theres too many windows
In this old hotel
And rooms filled with reckless pride
And the walls have grown sturdy
And the halls have worn well
But there is nobody living inside
Nobody living inside...

When people are damaged by life, they retreat to the heart hotel.  They pull in the shutters and put up sturdy walls.  It is hard to break into those rooms.  But let us not lose sight of the fact that there are souls in need of repair behind those doors.   As I begin a New Year, I am more determined than ever to listen more carefully. I need to hear the real story that is driving what a person does and says.  I am not a 16  year old kid anymore.  I have had enough training and experience to recognize all kinds of issues in a person's life.   But if I am going to be of any use at all in touching others, then I must let go of my own reckless pride.  I have to speak and act with my heart.  I must allow myself to be vulnerable.

It is January 3, 2010 today and I am thinking about a hurting 16 year old girl.  She is not 16 anymore. She is 47 years old now.   I wonder if she still thinks about the old Dan Fogelberg song, Heart Hotels? I pray for healing and peace in her life today.