Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dealing with Difficult People: The Porcupines Among Us

  There are porcupines among us. There are difficult people among us who will shoot their quills for any and all reasons. Several years ago Marshall Shelly wrote a book for ministers about dealing with difficult church members entitled: Well Intentioned Dragons. It is a pretty insightful work. More recently Paul Meier published: Don’t Let Jerks Get the Best of You. It too is a great resource. Why do such books do well? There are porcupines among us…

Both above mentioned authors place such individuals in categories. There are certain kinds of well intentioned dragons. And there are degrees of jerks according to Meier. As I anticipate preaching in a couple of weeks about such difficult people, I think I will create my own categories of porcupines. Here goes…

Manipulative Porcupines: Manipulators come in all shapes and sizes, but they have one thing in common: They are working the people around them to accomplish their selfish objectives. They are so good at what they do that you sometimes don’t realize that they are the ones shooting quills at you. In a family system or in the workplace, they keep things perpetually stirred up. The group is always unsettled. There is constant drama and you can’t immediately put your finger on the root cause. Keep digging. There is a manipulative porcupine lurking in the shadows. The only way to deal with such creatures is to shine the light on their activities. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t encourage secrets. Communicate open and honestly about what is going on. Such porcupines operate best under the cover of relational darkness.

Injured Porcupines: I have known several chronic victims. Life has dealt them a bad deck of cards. I don’t doubt that to be true. In the process, they have assumed the role of the victim. It is a permanent role. They will always be the victim. When they are not receiving the level of sympathy they feel they deserve, they too can become porcupines full of quills. I am convinced that injured porcupines must be challenged to do the hard work of healing at some point.

Arrogant Porcupines: If you have done it once, then the arrogant porcupine has done it twice. He has seen it all and done it all. He is the resident authority on a host of topics. He is knowledgeable about a variety of subjects. This poor creature really needs someone to put him in his place. I have actually seen it done on a few select occasions. It is pretty effective.

Rescuer Porcupines: Otherwise known as bleeding heart porcupines, they creatures are on a mission to save the animal kingdom. They are the perpetual rescuers. They bring home the lost puppies and take up the cause of the underdog. I actually find these beings to be very likeable, but occasionally reason must carry the day. The rescue mission must be called. The underdog they are striving to rescue is going to drown them in the process. Rescuer porcupines will shoot their quills when one of their missions is being circumvented. My counsel in dealing with one of these types is to be extra gentle, or permanent damage will occur!

Dark Porcupines: Life is not pleasant for such individuals. They are functioning in a dark world. That darkness could very well be caused by depression. Their negative outlook is contagious. They just don’t have the energy to be any different. In many cases, such individuals need professional help.

That is not an exhaustive listing. There are many other species of porcupines wondering about. In a way, we secretly wish that we would not have to deal with difficult people. But that is not real life. We are called to love porcupines too. We are even called to love our enemies. I am not encouraging us to tolerate bad behavior or to allow porcupines to destroy a family system. But I don’t believe that we can ignore them or fail to reach out to them.

I heard a success story today about a man who has dealt with a lady for quite some time who is known for her sharp quills. She is the perpetual victim for sure. She probably has leanings toward being a dark porcupine as well. A friend of mine continued to keep the lines of communication open with her. He did not allow her to run over him or shoot quills at will. He was respectful of her. Additionally he made her feel valued and loved. Well….so far it is working.

What are your suggestions for helping a porcupine feel respected, valued and loved?  Post a comment on this page or on facebook.  More to come on dealing with difficult people.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Called to a Moment of Spontaneity

I love do things on a whim. In fact, I thrive on spontaneity. Such inclinations keep Jan sitting on the edge of her seat. She of course is more inclined to live an orderly life that is carefully planned. Poor girl… She has not had a normal day in almost in 26 years.

Last Sunday afternoon I was on my way to the conference I was scheduled to attend in Libertyville, IL just north of Chicago. As I made my way to Libertyville, a whim hit with full force. I figured out that I was only about 20 minutes from Arlington Heights, IL. My family moved to Arlington Heights in January of 1966. I was not quite 4 years old at the time. My dad worked for International Harvester at the time, so he traveled to downtown Chicago everyday via commuter train. I decided it was about time that I drive by the house we lived in from 1966 until 1969. After all I had not seen it since we moved in June of 1969.

I of course was depending on the memory of a 7 year old to find our former place of residence. The estimated 20 minute trek took more like 45 minutes… I remembered that the elementary school that I attended was on “Miner Street.” I secretly wondered if my old house was boarded up and plastered with condemned signs. I had images of my old school with graffiti sprayed all over the exterior walls. I do have a vivid imagination…

I stopped at the first convenience store I could find and asked the young clerk if he knew where Miner Street was. He was very cordial and told me that it was only about 4 more blocks up the street. I was excited at this point. I drove down Miner Street searching for Windsor Elementary School, where I attended Kindergarten and first grade. I found the municipal swimming pool first. Memories flooded my head quickly! One of my older sisters did her Red Cross lifeguard training at that pool! (She of course is much, much older than I am.) And then I found the school. No graffiti… The school had obviously been remodeled fairly recently. It looked great.

And then I traced the walk I used to take everyday after school to Carlyle Circle, where we lived back in the day. I wondered if parents today still let their kids walk several blocks to school. In 1967, my mother had no reservations about sending her 5 year old off to walk a few blocks to school. In Kindergarten I would get home about the time that my mother was getting ready to watch As the World Turns each day!

The old house looked great too. All of the homes on the block were well kept and attractive. Most of those homes were built around 1950 during the post World War II economic boom. Returning veterans earned their degrees and moved to the suburbs of Chicago.

As I drove down the block, it was 1968 again… I was riding my bike down our little street. The big kids were playing hockey in the street. My sister was doing gymnast routines with her friends in the front yard. It was really fun.

My 45 minute one way trip to the old home place was about to place me late going to the conference, so I quickly got back on the main highway and headed north. The trip to Arlington Heights concluded a journey that I began back in 2003. At that point I had not seen members of my extended family since 1978. I started researching my extended family. I sent letters and emails. I made phone calls. I took trips to Charlotte, NC; Jacksonville, FL; Blackey, KY; Racine WI, and now most recently a quick run to Arlington Heights, IL. During the course of my journeys I have reconnected with an aging aunt, cousins, and several very special friends.

I had to rush to the conference last Sunday afternoon, so I would not be late. But a tremendous sense of peace came over me. I knew last Sunday that the journey back in the past had been completed. Old relationships have been rekindled and new ones have been forged. I uncovered mysteries about my family that had haunted me for decades. I offered forgiveness to those who were long deceased, and gained a new respect for members of family who preceded me in this world by many years. It was nice to see the old neighborhood in such good shape, because its appearance reflected the new found beauty and peace that now exists in my heart. I love do things on a whim….Such whims have carried me to places I needed to go. Where do you need to go today?  I hope you too will answer the call of spontaneity.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Cure for Pettiness...

 It has been a heavy week. My week started with a conference focusing on spiritual discernment in Chicago last Sunday. I spent three days with ministers and other church leaders from all over the nation. I just happened to the only Texan there! It was interesting to listen to a man who serves a church in inner city Pittsburgh. He is facing an entirely different set of challenges that what I am accustomed to in Granbury. Spiritual discernment is a heavy topic. I found that my colleagues attending the conference were facing all kinds of complex issues both personally and professionally. I flew back into Dallas late Tuesday night with a lot of information twirling around in that brain of mine.

My work day on Wednesday began by being called by one of the law enforcement agencies that I serve. They were facing their own heavy tasks. I did my best to assist in a time of serious crisis. I am so fortunate to serve with highly trained professionals who really care about people.

The week progressed with more news of serious illnesses, issues in families, and hurdles to be overcome at church. I tried to listen empathetically, offer good counsel when it was fitting, and most of all pray diligently for those in need. I communicated with several people facing very heavy matters in the life.

As the week began to wind down, I spoke at an awards banquet for law enforcement agency near Dallas. It was fun to meet new friends. The Chief of Police for that agency is very engaging and visionary. But I again heard stories of heaviness. They too had experienced a particularly challenging week in their agency as a result of certain events unfolding.

Do I go home feeling depressed or cynical about life in general after an especially heavy week? I really don’t. I feel real compassion for those impacted by tragedy. If I did not, I would not be normal. Actually these heavy events serve as a cure for an awful disease.

The disease is called pettiness. It is a syndrome that sometimes strikes unexpectedly. Few of us are immune to the poison it gives off. We whine and complain about the most ridiculous things. A heavy week cures pettiness pretty quickly. After working with several families impacted by unexpected death and tragedy this week, my inclinations toward pettiness quite literally vanished. I feel heavy tonight, but I am also very grateful for the blessings of good health, family, and the most wonderful friends in the world.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Do I Really Want to Come Home?

 I may not come back to church. At least in Granbury… I worshiped with a small African American church just North of Chicago Sunday morning. I was the only Anglo among the group that day. I enjoyed the entire experience immensely. The traditions unique to their fellowship were refreshing.

Several things stood out to me as I left services Sunday. Every single person introduced themselves to me. I mean everyone! They did not just offer a polite greeting. They introduced themselves and wanted to learn my name as well. Their obvious warmth reminded me that there is a difference between friendliness and hospitality. I experienced authentic hospitality.

They did not waste anytime providing me an opportunity to be of service. I was asked to lead the benediction at the conclusion of the services. I am quite confident that if I returned to worship again next Sunday that an invitation to preach would be extended! We can all benefit from their actions. Don’t be afraid to ask people to serve! I was honored to be asked.

At the conclusion of the service, the minister more or less chastised the little group for their lack of commitment to some of the outreach efforts of the little congregation. I was pretty amused; because I am not sure I could get away with talking to the church I serve in the same manner! He was very direct! I am sure they will no doubt to better this week.

The members of that small church live in an entirely different world from mine in Granbury, but ironically we found a lot in common. One man retired from the same corporation my dad served for his entire career. Another lady had lived in the Dallas area at one time. Another lady recalled being stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, TX with her husband years ago. The list could go on… Our conversations were fun and warm.

The preacher’s sermon was a particular highlight for me. He had no shortage of verbal response from his congregation. I mean animated response! Lotsof “amens.” People said: “YES!” when they agreed with a particular point. That is why I say I may not go back to church in Granbury. I want to preach for a church comprised of African American believers! No…I will come home. And I will tell the good people in Granbury all about my experience last Sunday.

On a more serious note, I am so thankful that I do not live in a segregated world. My mother grew up in the Deep South, when segregation was the norm. It makes me sick to think about it. I cannot imagine missing out on the kind of experience I had Sunday.  Worshiping with people of a different race gave me a tiny glimpse of heaven. I will be ready to preach Sunday and I had better hear some “amens” and “yes’s” out there!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

May We Never Forget Real Heroes...

 I do believe last night’s after dinner speech was the most inspiring presentation of that nature that I have ever heard. Retired Lt .Col. Brian Birdwell was the guest speaker at a Granbury Police Dept. banquet. I was privileged to sit next to him at the head table last since part of my role was to lead the invocation. Col. Birdwell survived the terrorist attack on the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

During the course of his speech last night he shared with us the events of that fateful morning as they unfolded in his section of the Pentagon. One moment he was interacting in a light hearted way with two co-workers. A few moments later he left the office where they were talking and started making his way to the men’s room. The rest is now history.

The two co-workers he was visiting with were killed instantly, when the plane struck the Pentagon. Down the hall from the office where had been standing minutes before the attack he suffered third degree burns over 60% of his body. Four valiant colleagues from another section of the Pentagon constructed a makeshift human stretcher to carry him to a makeshift triage area that was hastily put together in the Pentagon itself. During his speech Col. Birdwell described in detail what those early moments after the attack were like for him.

I am not very familiar with procedures for treating people who have suffered severe burns. After last night’s experience, I am now aware of more than I care to know. Col Birdwell experienced excruciating pain for months after his initial injuries were incurred. The treatment strategy for such extensive and damaging burns is very complicated and drawn out. He described being encased in a mummy type bandaging set up and trying to communicate with his family while in the ICU unit at the burn center. There were times he wanted to give up, and his loyal wife reminded him that he had hang in there for the benefit of their son. It was quite a story. Needless to say he had our undivided attention.

I was impressed with heroism. His story of perseverance was inspiring. Memories of that dark day flooded through my head. There was one particular element of his lecture that I will never forget. He expressed forgiveness toward those who instigated the attacks that day. He called on all of us to have forgiving spirits. You could almost hear the wheels turning in people’s heads, as he shared the emotional and spiritual aspects of his journey toward healing.

Col. Birdwell commended members of our military as well as those serving in police and fire services. He readily acknowledged that each of these groups face the reality of death, as they execute their duties. He mentioned the fact that the military, police, and fire services all have chaplains on call, because of the inherent dangers of the job. As he addressed us, I never felt more affirmed in the area of service to which I have been called. I recommend Col. Birdwell’s book entitled: Refined by Fire: A Family’s Triumph of Love and faith. We all left last night inspired to serve more diligently.

Thank you, Col. Birdwell! We are thankful you are a part of the Granbury community.

May we never forget the real heroes among us.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Severe Case of I Don't-Wanna-Do-Anything

Our longtime friend Sonya is an amazing 8th grade English teacher at a middle school in Northwest Oklahoma. She is clever, witty, and highly qualified to teach English. Most importantly she loves kids. But…I don’t envy the student who chooses to be a discipline problem in her class. I suspect Alcatraz would be appealing to such a pupil before it was all over. Sonya will be a teacher they will never forget. I have told Jan for years that Sonya actually missed her true calling in life.

Do you remember columnist Erma Bombeck? Erma wrote a syndicated column several times a week that many major newspapers carried. Her column was akin to blogging before that term was a part of our everyday vocabulary. One source states: From 1965 to 1996, Erma Bombeck wrote over 4,000 newspaper columns chronicling the ordinary life of a midwestern suburban housewife with broad, and sometimes eloquent, humor. She also published 15 books over the course of her career. Erma Bombeck was funny, because she took real life situations and put a humorous spin on each of them. In my opinion, Sonya’s wit outdoes even Erma Bombeck. She also has the writing skills to accompany that quick thinking.
Here is Sonya’s latest quip that I read on facebook earlier this week:
I have a SEVERE case of I-Don't-Wanna-Do-Anything. Symptoms include, but are not limited to: lethargy, laziness, fatigue, boredom (it's not like I have NOTHING to do!), melancholy, minor drooling, glazed-over eyes, & other unmotivated-like issues. I feel guilty because I planned to accomplish so much over the break. Think I’ll just lie down on the couch for a bit and contemplate my next move…or at least I’ll lie down…

You can learn a lot through humorous quips. I laughed at her status update, because I know that Sonya is normally focused, organized, and on top of everything that needs to be accomplished. After I laughed, I realized that most of us need lessons in learning to chill out. We need to learn how to truly rest. The principle of Sabbath that is stressed in Scripture evades us. We are always on the go. Our vacations look more like Chevy Chase’s trek to Wally World than an experience in rest and relaxation.
As spring break comes to a conclusion, I actually hope most of us experience lethargy, laziness, and even some minor drooling. It certainly won’t hurt us. I hope all us will take some time to lie down on the couch and contemplate whatever our little heart desires. I mentioned a stack of books that need to be read in my blog yesterday, but I think I will just lie down and contemplate instead…And when Sonya pauses to do likewise today, I hope she will realize that she needs to become the 21st century version of a syndicated columnist like Erma Bombeck. I am not sure that looks like, but surely someone can figure that out!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Purifying the Heart!

 I have been cleaning house today. I mean real cleaning. I mean the kind that will make me some major brownie points with my sweet bride. The boys joined me in this true feat of spring cleaning. We held few hostages. A lot went straight to the trash. Spring cleaning reveals far more than I care to admit about the present condition of my life. In fact, I actually formulated a pretty good little list.

• I was reminded that there are more books lying beside the couch where I read than I could possibly read in the next two years. I love to read. I enjoy a variety of genres. Two notes to self: Carve out more reading time and don’t buy any more books until I can put a dent in the present stack!

• Dust accumulates in places that the naked eye can’t possibly see during a routine cleaning. How could I possibly miss that much dust on my weekly June Cleaver days? Surely it is has nothing to do with me being male?
• I unearthed a few treasures that I have not seen in quite some time! That made our cleaning feat worthwhile! It was sort of disturbing to think that they were missing in action all of this time.

Where is the learning curve? I think there are some pretty legitimate applications to life from my little cleaning venture. I would like to think that I spend more time reading than I do on the computer. I would like to think that I am eating more broccoli than pop tarts. I would like to think that I am spending more time with my boys that I am doing selfish things for myself. The list could go on…But the stack of books calling out my name tells the true story.

Dust collects on our hearts too. And it collects in crevices of our heart that we did not know existed. We become aware of the dust when we are faced with a challenge that we struggle to handle. Those spiritual muscles have not been stretched and dust has collected. A good spring cleaning at least makes the presence of the dust known!

I know there are treasures hidden in my heart too. Memories of interactions with people that I have not brought to my conscious state for years… Those are treasures! Ideas that I have not pondered for quite some time… They too are treasures. Spring cleaning comes at unexpected moments in such cases.

I am glad I got the cleaning done today. It feels good. I still have gutters to clean out and a painting project that is calling my name. But Michelangelo is not feeling like painting the ceiling of the chapel or the ceiling of my bathroom either this week. So…it may wait until another day of inspiration strikes. And in the meantime, I know that my heart needs to be purified. It needs a good spring cleaning, where few hostages are held.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Homeless Kids- Part II

I have written several tributes to my former teachers during the course of the past year. I feel a special indebtedness to those who went the extra mile to enhance my educational experience. They did not just teach reading in the second grade or algebra in the 9th grade. They instilled confidence. They really cared about their students. I took a little bit of each of my favorite teachers to the classroom with me when I was teaching as an adjunct university instructor. Thankfully there is a new generation of outstanding educators stepping up to the plate. In response to my first blog about homeless kids, a wonderful teacher wrote:

Through the years, many of my students have come to school each morning not just without breakfast or clean clothes, but without a sense of identity, worth or belonging.

Of course she is correct. I used to refer to my students who fell in that general category as my “lost puppies.” There were generally several each semester. As I have reflected on her comment through the course of the day, it strikes me that there are a lot of kids out there who have homeless hearts.
The girls allegedly prostituting themselves whom I encountered recently while I was with a police officer have homeless hearts. In their estimation, no one cares where they are or what they are doing. There are a lot of kids out there who have a roof over their heads at night, but their hearts remain homeless. In fact, some of them even come from very affluent homes.

I am grateful for teachers who show up at school every morning with two lesson plans. Their administrators require them to have a pretty structured curriculum actually mapped out on paper in their respective disciplines. That is a good thing.

Today, however, I am grateful for the lesson plans that are impressed on their hearts. They are ready when those kids show up without a sense of identity, worth, or belonging. Those lesson plans include kind words and expressions of reassurance. I imagine the lesson plans of the heart include a strategy for critical listening.
Caring teachers build a temporary shelter over the homeless hearts of their students. The kids they are serving are given enough strength to find a sense of identity and worth while their hearts are given a home by adults who care. It could just be that those kids ultimately find a home for their hearts. The temporary shelter allows them a safe place to grow up and learn how about real life in a secure place.

I am almost inclined to think that the kids who are in the worst trouble somehow missed the teachers who had lesson plans impressed on their hearts. Teachers can’t solve all the heart homelessness that exists among kids, but I am grateful for the difference they are making. I pray that their spring break this week is especially restful. It will be time to use both varieties of lesson plans next Monday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Homeless Kids

 I don’t know if are ready to acknowledge it not, but it is a plague. An ever increasing number of kids are being turned out into the streets to fend for themselves. My friends Benny and Niki Nowell lead a ministry that serves teens and young adults who are homeless in Boulder, CO. That part of Colorado seems to be a magnet for troubled and homeless young people. Everyday they serve kids who are living and sleeping on the streets as well as those who bounce from couch to couch, but really have no place to call home. Drug abuse is a significant factor in these kids’ lives. They are of course easy targets for human traffickers and others who prey on the most vulnerable among us. I hope to travel to Boulder soon to spend some time with the Nowell’s. The kind of ministry they do appeals to me. I have found in recent weeks however that I am getting my share of experience right here in our own little bedroom community to Ft. Worth.

A school administrator shared with a meeting of ministers from Granbury that there a handful of kids right here in our own community who have no place to call home. They too move from house to house looking for a warm place to sleep and take a shower. That same administrator called me a couple of weeks ago regarding a young man who only had one pair of badly worn jeans to wear to school.

In my work with law enforcement agencies here, I have seen several teen runaway cases recently. And then not too long ago I worked with some officers on a situation involving some underage girls who were seemingly involved in prostitution. They were homeless girls from another state who had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help. When I asked them about their parents, they indicated that there was no parental relationship intact. Our church recently reached out to a young man who was sleeping outside in various locations around town. I don’t have any easy solutions to this ongoing plague. I can’t share many details about any of these situations, because of the need for confidentiality. But I can say that the kinds of scenarios I am describing are becoming far more commonplace. They are by no means confined to large cities either. What is the answer?

I don’t have any simple solutions. Really to be honest I don’t have any solutions at all. I am frustrated with parents who are not responsible. That is a common theme. Most of these kids have been abused, neglected, and ultimately abandoned by the adults in their lives. Accountability has to enter the picture somewhere. But what about the status of these young people in the meantime? My hunch is that responsible adults are going to have to reach out to these kids one person at a time. We may have to quite literally take a child in and treat him as one of our own. It works. All of us are going to have to pool our resources, our ideas, and a huge dose of streetwise compassion to formulate creative ways of addressing this growing plague. Maybe I need to go see Benny and Niki sooner than later! By the way, their web address is: www.sevensonline.org

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Cinderella Man of Golf

 I often think about Dale when I am playing golf. But I don’t like to think about Dale on the golf course. He is an excellent golfer and a lot of fun to play with. But I don’t like to think about him out there. There are other thoughts that capture my attention, as I enjoy a round of golf.

I often use the what if phrase while I am playing. What if I had a really nice and expensive set of irons? What if I had one of those awesome drivers? What if I could play with the high dollar golf balls instead of an array of used balls that I have picked up somewhere? The what if list in golf is endless…

I have convinced myself that if I had great equipment and a nice pair to Nike shoes to play in, my handicap would be reduced substantially. In fact, my score would come down overnight. The man who holds the course record where I play would feel immediately threatened. The upper echelon of golfers in Hood County would be calling me constantly. I would be the Cinderella Man of golf overnight. Isn’t it fun to have an active imagination?

I am forced to quote my professor and mentor, Charles Siburt. Dr. Siburt often says: Reality is your friend. Reality is: good golf equipment is a great thing. It really would shave a few strokes off my game. But the change would not be all that drastic. Reducing a golf handicap comes from old fashioned practice and lots of it. I played for the first time this season on Friday. I actually plan on playing as much as possible throughout the spring and summer months. The fall around here is a great time to get out as well. It will be fun as well as challenging. Every year I have seen a little hint of improvement in my game.

I will consciously choose to think about Dale when I hit the links this year. I don’t like it at all. But I need to think about him. Dale continues to play with the old set of clubs he purchased back in 1964. They are not stylish. They don’t feature the latest design. But he plays the game incredibly well. It just makes me sick. It blows my whole theory that if I would just buy the latest and greatest my game would improve overnight. Reality maybe my friend, but I don’t have to like it! I think I will head to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls. It will make feel better as long as the guy next to me is not swinging the latest and greatest…

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Making Bad Calls

 A couple of days ago I sent my oldest son a text message that simply said: Call me when you can. He responded quickly with: Is this a good call or a bad call? That is a fair question coming from a college age son, is it not? I wish that all of my communication with my children could fall into the category of so called good calls in their minds, but that is not likely to happen. I am their father and not their best buddy.

Occasionally I have to make calls about their judgment or the lack of it. There are times they act more like their father than their mother, and that generally necessitates a call that does not fall into the good category. There are discussions about money, grades, and the like that simply have to take place. And of course as a father I enjoy getting good calls too.

Dad, I made a 4.0 this semester. That is a good call. Dad, the car is running great. That is good call for sure. I met a really nice girl. That is a good call too.  On second thought, that is a great call.  I have money left over from last month, so I just called to visit and catch up. Now I am living in fantasyland…

As it turns out, last week’s call was a good one. I am sure Randall was relieved. He was probably racking his brain wondering what he could have possibly done. I am sure there will be no shortage of good calls in the future. He is excelling in his studies and preparing for life. But that does not mean that the bad calls cease by any means.

At some point the bad calls will go through a shift. He will make them and I will receive them. As time marches on, he will call with news of a sick child in his house. There will likely be calls about missed promotions and other disappointments in life. I will eagerly listen and offer empathetic support. When it is appropriate, I will tell him that I have been there and done that. It will be said with an understanding spirit.

There have been many times that I have wanted to make a bad call to my father. I have had discouraging moments in my career over the years. There have been times I wished I had chosen another profession. When we experienced a miscarriage 15 years ago, I longed to call my father. It would have been comforting.

My father passed away 32 years ago today. I was a couple months shy of my 16th birthday. I missed being on the receiving end of the bad calls and he did as well. I cannot complain. I have been overwhelming blessed with surrogate fathers who have made a profound impact in my life. Several of them have received both good and bad calls from me over the years. I am especially grateful for them today.

I am thankful today to be able to call each of my sons. Each of them is in the independence seeking stage of life. That is good. They need to learn be independent and responsible. I expect one or all of them to pay my phone bill someday. Why shouldn’t I expect that? After all I will be on the receiving end of most of the calls, good and bad, by that point. But in the meantime I am just thankful to be a father.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Broken Relationships Abound-Part II

  Several years ago I met an older gentleman who was completely estranged from his adult children. To my knowledge there was no communication between father and sons. Their relationship had been in that state for quite some time. When he died, the sons did not attend the funeral service. Brokenness is heart breaking, but unfortunately it is not uncommon. What can be done to prevent relational breakdowns from going on for decades, and ultimately being carried to the grave?  Here are a few ideas:

1. We must acknowledge that we tend to be masters at the blame game. My little creative mind can generate all kinds of reasons as to why a meltdown with someone else is most certainly not my fault! I can make another person out to be the bad guy with relative ease. I might even be convincing, but don’t listen to me! I am playing the blame game!

2. We need to focus on the process of reconciliation and not blame. In cases of interpersonal conflict, there is generally sufficient blame to be shared. If things are going to improve, we should put all of our energies into the actual process of reconciliation.

3. We must communicate humility both verbally and nonverbally. Here are the things I try to remember to say when I have offended another person.
 I am sorry I offended you.

 I value you as a person.

 I value our relationship.

 I think it is important for __________ that we be at peace. (Important for our children, important for the church, important for our coworkers…etc.)

 What can I do to make this situation better?

4. We need to quit making excuses. I can think of a thousand reasons not to initiate reconciliation. Here are a few: The other person is not stable emotionally, just plain mean, impossible to have a rational discussion with, or they just don’t like me! That is a just a starter list…In recent years, I have gone back and initiated reconciliation with every single person whom I felt I had seriously offended when I was much younger. Most of the offenses took place before I graduated from high school. It has been an interesting experience. Most of those initiatives had a great outcome. I had to quit making excuses.

This Sunday I am to preach on reconciliation. I am confident that I will be addressing a lot of people impacted by brokenness. I have been there. I plan to share some of my own story with the church. I would really rather not have to share my shortcomings. I would prefer to paint myself as a true Saint, but that is not too accurate. Honesty is always a good policy. No excuses allowed… It is Thursday and Sunday is coming!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Broken Relationships Abound

  Everyday I encounter brokenness. Very few days pass that I do not hear at least one story of a relationship that is torn apart by conflict. Sometimes it is about a spouse that has left a person they once loved. Occasionally I hear about longtime friendships unraveling. And then there are situations where someone is conflicted with the church collectively. Stories of brokenness are sad. There is generally significant collateral damage done when two people cannot resolve their differences.

As I prepare to preach this Sunday on the topic of reconciliation, I am aware of two important facts going into that engagement. I can be assured that I am speaking to broken people. I will be addressing those who are estranged from those they once loved. I will also be speaking to people who are may not be all that eager to initiate any kind of reconciliation with the person whom they are conflicted with. Those are just a couple of reality checks I need to consider between now and Sunday! I have been asking myself an important question, as I deal with those two realties.

Why is the process of reconciliation so difficult? I don’t have the final answer for that question. When I formulate an all encompassing response, I will write a book and share my wealth with all of my friends. In the meantime, I will venture a few guesses. Here they are:

1. Reconciliation is especially difficult when we feel that our character has been unduly damaged during a conflict. A person can criticize any facet of my professional conduct and I will take it stride. They can tell me they don’t like my speaking style or they don’t care for my approach on a particular subject. That is no big deal. But if a person questions my honesty or some other aspect of personal integrity, the conflict just notched up to another level. It makes reconciliation much harder.

2. Reconciliation is especially difficult when our children are unfairly criticized. You can call me all kinds of names and I will overlook the insult. I am really pretty easy going, but if you attack my children in a way that is inappropriate I get very hostile in a matter of seconds. I think most of us are like this when it comes to our kids. God created us with protective instincts.

3. Reconciliation is especially difficult when trust has been breached. I am very slow to trust people. I am cautious to say the least. I find reconciliation to be hard when trust is breached.

4. Reconciliation is especially difficult when feelings have been hurt. What hurts my feelings is probably not would hurt your feelings. We are all different in this regard, but when we get damaged in this way it is easy to become irrational. It is hard to experience reconciliation when rational thinking is not carrying the day.

Is it hopeless? Will brokenness dominate our lives? I don’t think that has to be the case. But I do think that if we are aware of factors that make reconciliation more difficult, it is helpful. These factors should be viewed as mountains to climb and not deal killers. I actually think just blindly accepting broken relationships is very foolish. More on that tomorrow…

Monday, March 8, 2010

Throw-Away People

There are throw-away people in our society. We don’t admit it. We conveniently ignore this reality, but, nevertheless, it is true. I have been aware for many years that the very elderly among us can potentially fall into that category. About 18 years ago, an older gentleman at a nursing home requested a visit from a minister. The church I was serving at the time was only a few blocks away, so somehow that request landed on my desk. I went to see him late one afternoon.

The facility that man lived in still holds the award in my mind for the worst nursing home I ever stepped foot in during my adult life. It was despicable. It had moved beyond what a few cases of Lysol and a decent housekeeping staff could accomplish. It needed to be evacuated and then imploded. The State of Texas actually shut down that geriatric house of horrors sometime later. Thankfully, what is left of that building is now buried somewhere. But no one cared that the old man I went to see was living in deplorable conditions. He had no family or friends to see to his needs. Somehow he was placed in an institution and forgotten. He was a throw-away person in our society.

I have also known that those among us who are struggling with mental and emotional disorders are more prone to become throw-away people. People who are paranoid schizophrenic or severely bipolar can end up on the streets, if they do not have a strong family system to provide ongoing support. Over the years as a law enforcement chaplain, I have encountered many homeless people who have all kinds of mental issues, but they often go without needed medications and other forms of assistance. They end joining the ranks of throw-away people because they don’t have families that are capable of taking care of their needs.

Recently I added a new group to those whom society places in the throw-away person category. In the economy we are facing today, people in their 50s and 60s are finding it difficult to find work. I recently assisted a family whose loved one committed suicide. He was a man in his 60s who felt useless and depressed. He could not find work, and age was a major factor that contributed to that. Yesterday I encountered a homeless man living in his car. He, too, is in his early 60s. The kinds of manual labor that he has done over the years have either been replaced by more sophisticated machinery, or he, too, finds that prospective employers would rather hire a younger person. These individuals find themselves among the throw-away people before they are even eligible for Social Security benefits.

I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. All of these individuals I have described were created in God’s image. They are as worthy of respect as anyone else. Perhaps we are called to reclaim those that society has thrown away. It might be that the discarded among us could be some of our richest human treasures. I don’t know exactly how to solve such a problem, but recent experiences have me pondering. I am thinking about the throw-away people among us today.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

I Expect to Pass Through This World but Once...

  “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” -Stephan Grellet
Daniel interviewed for a full ride academic scholarship this past Monday. I never had to worry about such interviews back in the day. Thankfully Daniel and Randall both have taken after their mother in terms of their capacity to excel in higher education. The interview day brought back memories of Randall having a similar experience in 2007. I could not help but think back to my own college days.

I started at Texas Tech in 1980. I had little direction in my academic pursuits at that point. I was mainly concerned with shooting pool in the university center between classes, and developing my social life the remainder of the time. Many of my classes had over 100 students. I was not a very self motivated student, so that environment was probably not the best for me.

The fall semester of 1981 proved to be a time of transition. There were personal things going on in my life that caused me to stop going to classes before mid-term. I did not have the good sense to drop all of my courses, so I ended up with a semester of failed grades. At that point, I decided to go to work fulltime and not return to college.

I drifted for several months. Thankfully a group of men I worked with in an auto parts warehouse urged me to get back in school. Tech had placed me on academic probation, so I could not return until the fall of 1982. I ended up enrolling in Lubbock Christian University that spring of 1982. They were kind of enough to allow me to take classes on a probationary basis, because of the failed semester. I signed up for a full load and tried to figure out how I was going to pay tuition at a private university. I also needed a decent part time job that would allow me the time I needed to study, and thus stay off of academic probation!

My dad died suddenly when I was 15 years old. As a young man, I was determined to be independent. I did not want to have to lean on his good reputation to help me get started in life. In looking back on it now, I realize that was foolish. When we are young, we need all kinds of people to help us get established. Family friends are honored to reach out to young people trying to get an education and learn how to work.

One of my dad’s friends urged me to go see Norm Rishel. Mr. Rishel assumed my dad’s position managing a group of farm and industrial equipment dealerships, after his death in 1978. My dad had been friends with Norm, but I did not know him. I felt very strange about asking him if he could put me to work part-time. I did not want to take advantage of a friendship or put him in an awkward spot. And…I was just intimidated by the idea of going to talk to a total stranger. It took me weeks to get up enough nerve to go talk to him.

Finally one afternoon I drove out to the dealership to see Norm. I put on nice clothes and made sure I was clean shaven! I was so nervous. I had seen him from a distance. He just looked intimidating. I had also heard through the grapevine that Norm was a little rough around the edges. He was a Canadian citizen who had been transplanted to Texas of all places by the Case Corporation. I had my speech rehearsed before I arrived. Mr. Rishel…you don’t know me, but my dad was Art Knox… I was shaking in my boots!

I experienced quite a surprise upon my arrival that winter day early in 1982. Norm welcomed instantly. We chatted in his office for quite awhile. I even began to relax. My rehearsed speech went out the window. Was he a little rough around the edges? Well…I suppose you could say that! I also found him to have a really good sense of humor. And underneath that rough exterior, I found a man with a very genuine heart.

He offered me a part time job. And he also offered to contact corporate headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin about a scholarship for children of deceased employees. The wheels in corporations sometimes move very slowly, and of course this was a time period well before electronic mail. Norm had a way of getting those wheels to move a little faster!  He made phone calls and wrote letters on my behalf. I returned to school that very semester with a generous scholarship that covered most of my tuition costs.

I went to work for Norm at the Lubbock dealership. It was fun to work side by side with men and women who had worked for my dad. It was actually very healing too… Norm had his gruff side for sure, but I knew what was underneath that exterior. I grew to appreciate his humor. I was thankful for his efforts on my behalf. I grew to love Norm in a special way. He good not have been any kinder to me at an impressionable and critical crossroads in my life.

I graduated from LCU in May of 1984. I had to go to summer school and take very full course loads, but thankfully I finished in a four year time frame. One day Norm mentioned that I should enroll in an MBA program and consider going into a management training program that the Case Corporation offered. At that point, I told him that I was going to pursue a graduate degree in theology and pursue a career in ministry. He could not have been more supportive. He certainly inserted some vintage Norm humor in the process, but ultimately he was totally behind my decision.

I went on to enroll in graduate school at Abilene Christian University after getting married in the summer of 1984. Norm passed away very suddenly, while I was still working on my master’s degree. I felt the loss profoundly at the time. Even though I had sent him a lengthy letter of thanks for his kind assistance, I felt as if I had not thanked him sufficiently for what he had done for me. I will never forget Norm.

I will soon have two sons in college. There are so many things I cannot do for them .They too long for independence, just like I did back in the day. But I so hope that they will meet people like Norm Rishel along the way. People who are willing to reach out to a young college kid who is desperately seeking some direction in life. I hope Daniel’s scholarship opportunities work out well for him. I know this for sure…his interview last week made me think about my own scholarship “interview” back in January of 1982.

“I expect to pass through this world but once…

Friday, March 5, 2010

Be Careful What You Laugh At!

Be careful what you laugh at...

Better be careful what who and what you poke fun of…. I have a pretty good list of the things I haven taken shots at and what the consequences have been for me. Here is a starter:

• When I was on the debate team at Monterey High School, I used to stand behind the podium in the classroom and poke fun of preachers. I will choose not to share the content in this forum of my mock sermons. Suffice to say that they were not at all reverent! It appears that God has a sense of humor…

• When I sacked groceries at Safeway in high school, we made fun of men who purchased diapers, female products, and other things that destroyed their masculinity in our 16 year old eyes. We laughed and promised we would never do such things. Yeah right…

• When I was senior in high school, my debate partner and myself missed a tournament, because we overslept one Saturday morning. We laughed at that tournament, because it was being held in the small town of Muleshoe. I later spent three years of my career in Muleshoe.  That was my first preaching ministry.  They were most patient...

• I made fun of my sister choosing to go to Lubbock Christian University, instead of Texas Tech in 1976. Thankfully LCU was willing to give me a second chance after I was placed on scholastic probation at Tech in 1982. I was not laughing 6 years later. I was fortunate to graduate with honors in 1984.

• When we moved to Wichita Falls in 1987, we were only 10 miles from the Oklahoma border. I remember on several occasions commenting: I would NEVER live in Oklahoma. We lived in Woodward, OK from 1998 until 2004 and loved it!

• For years I would make fun of the “old men” I would travel with on a long trip. They needed to make more frequent restroom stops, because of their worn out “prostrate.” As I approach age 50 in a couple of years, that is just not funny.

I am more cautious in my humor these days. I still think nearly everything is funny, but I am less inclined to say the word “never.” I am less apt to make fun of groups of people in certain geographical areas. I am fully aware that my humor could be the cause of me having a humbling experience. But that is not so bad either. Humility is a good thing. I need a huge does of it every single day. Flashes of that podium in the classroom at Monterey High School may flash through my head Sunday morning…

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Don't Lose Your Footing!

 When I was a Boy Scout many years ago, we went on a repelling trip not from Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo. Repelling down cliffs can be a lot of fun. As I prepared to repel down one of the cliffs we had chosen, the equipment became tangled in some brush. When I reached down to retrieve the stranded gear, I lost my footing and fell about thirty feet. It knocked me out cold. My sisters would tell you that the fall added to my already existing lack of mental well being, but what do they know? As it turned out, nothing was broken. The only thing wounded that day was my 13 year old pride. I am reminded today of the importance of solid footing.

A few weeks ago my long time mentor and friend Willard Tate passed away after a long battle with cancer. When I was a graduate student, I was his ministry intern. And then the ultimate encourager of ministers passed away suddenly last Saturday night. She was 92 years old. Over the course of her life she had lost two children and her husband, but her faith was steadfast. I never saw a hint that she felt sorry for herself. Her daily purpose in life was to encourage those around her, and she did it well.

Both of those individuals were rocks for me. They were solid people, whom I looked up to with great admiration. When the rocks are yanked away, you tend to lose some of your footing in life. In the past couple of weeks, I have felt like I was grabbing for some scrub brush to hang on to while I search for a solid place to put my feet. It occurs to me that such an experience is characteristic of the time of life I am in right now.

Several of the important rocks in my life have passed away in recent years. Former teachers, professors, and church leaders are all gone now. My immediate reaction to such events is: It is time for me to step up and be a rock for the younger ones around me! That is actually true. I am going to have to be the responsible one. Pretty scary thought actually… I was reminded this week of another important principle.

We will always need rocks in our life. It does not matter what age we are or where we are in life. We will always need rocks. When we are 92 years old, we will likely be leaning on someone much younger. We are not little, independent islands. If we don’t have solid rocks to stand on occasionally, we are going to fall down the cliff. I must confess that this revelation has triggered a penitent spirit for me.

A few years ago I used to get so frustrated with the old folks at church. Their very presence impeded anything that even smelled like progress. I failed to see that there were multiple rocks around me. I had an inability to recognize that they came together as a group to create a rock formation that all of us in my generation were standing on. Now many of them are no longer with us. I feel the loss in a very real way today.

I have no choice. It is time to step up the plate and be that rock for the generations below me. I was reminded of that fact just last week. The name of one of the new troopers assigned to my area is “Chase.” Gone are the days of working with “Herman” or “Fred.” They are all retired. When I get up in the morning, I will say to myself: Today I will be a rock…. And in the meantime, maybe the Lord will smile on me and send a rock or two my way.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Carrying Around the Suitcase of Bitterness

   If you see me in a restaurant, I will sit at the far back table with my back to the wall. When I go to the mall, I am very aware of my surroundings. I know who is around me and what they are doing. I even observe what is going on at church very carefully. I suppose doing ministry in a law enforcement setting for 20 years just starts to rub off on your actions! I have learned to be cautious. I know intuitively not be believe everything I hear. I would even go as far to say that I am somewhat suspicious. I honestly believe that some degree of caution is actually wise. Being alert can even save lives. But on the other hand, being completely unable to trust people is crippling.

Trust is an essential element of any meaningful relationship. But I find that distrust and outright suspicion often carries the day. The day of sealing business deals on a handshake is over for the most part. We don’t trust teachers to educate our kids, so we end up second guessing their professional judgment calls. We don’t trust our doctors, so we seek second and third opinions. (I realize that can be a good thing.) We don’t even trust church leaders. It never occurs to us that they have our best interests in mind. How is this prevailing lack of trust affecting our most intimate relationships?

Here are a few things I have observed regarding mutual trust in relationships:

• When someone has been burned in the past, they carry their wounds with them like a heavy old suitcase. They drag it around constantly, and periodically it gets so heavy that they can’t stand it anymore. Their behavior becomes irrational. Their close friends can’t figure why they are so wary. Unfortunately that old suitcase is often invisible to the friends of the overly cautious person. Close associates have no clue how heavy that piece of luggage is. They just get frustrated with the strange behavior they see exhibited.

• The old suitcase is often loaded with bitterness. Carrying bitterness around with us is worse than dragging around a suitcase full of concrete. It is heavy and cumbersome. The pain it inflicts on our heart is beyond description. When we find ourselves unable to forgive another person for the infractions they have committed against us, the suitcase flies open. The bitterness then fills it completely. We may even think that the bitterness does not exist. But its presence becomes obvious through our sarcastic humor, or our inability to fully trust those closest to us…

• The chronic pain caused by dragging this unwieldy suitcase around everywhere ultimately presents itself in our relationships. It is the promiscuous woman, who cannot trust a man to the point of mutual commitment. She proceeds to act out in inappropriate ways. It is the man who constantly accuses his wife or children of betraying him. In reality, they are totally loyal to him. It is the person who changes jobs constantly or moves from one location to the next perpetually.

How can the cycle of distrust be broken? How can someone finally be freed from the baggage they are carrying around? There really are no simple answers. I have learned a few things over the years of dealing with people in various ministry contexts. I don’t have the final answer by any means, but here is what I have learned.

I firmly believe that most people have been burned by others in a significant way at some point in their life. Obviously age enters the picture here. That means that most of us possess the ability to feel and express empathy. Let’s choose to be empathetic instead of impatient.

• Bitterness will remain firmly embedded until we choose to forgive.  There is no sense in playing games with ourselves.  Geninue forgiveness must occur before bitterness can be totally eradicated.

• Forgiveness is a journey that we must choose to take every single day. Today I will choose to forgive. That must become our mantra. The forgiveness journey will be pleasant at times and treacherous on other days.

The journey of healing may take us back to places where offensive actions took place. We may have to encounter and communicate with people who would be characterized as offenders. Such trips can be profoundly healing.

We must choose to trust again. That is not easy. We are opening ourselves up for additional hurt. It is not out of the realm of possibility for us to become laden with a suitcase full of hard feelings again. It could happen. Being vulnerable is a reality of life.

When I sit in the back of the restaurant with my back to the wall, am I totally protected from harm? I seriously doubt it! When I watch people at the mall, will that keep me from being hurt from some crazed shopper? I doubt it. Every time I leave my home to interact with people I am opening myself up to be vulnerable.

I must apply that principle to my heart. If I am not willing to be vulnerable, distrust will carry the day. The weight of that old suitcase will destroy my most important relationships. When I choose to be vulnerable again, the suitcase of bitterness is left stowed away in the closet to collect dust. I find that I am free again. I am free to love and enjoy people. What a joy. I am going to sit at the back of the restaurant tomorrow, but I will smile as I assume my designated spot. Vulnerability is a good thing…