Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Going on the Granny Diet!

I enjoyed a quick phone call today with a colleague and good friend. She is a wonderful resource for me in the law enforcement dimension of my ministry as well. I called her at noon today, because I need to consult with her on a pending crisis situation. My mother taught me good manners, so quite naturally I said: Am I interrupting your lunch? She told me she was eating in her car, as she made her way to the next event that needed immediate attention. The preacher in me came out in full force. You should not be eating in your car! You should take the time to sit down and enjoy a meal. On and on I went with my lecture…

As soon as we got off the phone, I hopped in my truck, and took notice of the McDonald’s sack sitting in the floor on the passenger side. Hmm…I ate an egg mcmuffin as a brunch meal of sorts about 9:30 this morning, because I knew that I would not have time to stop for lunch. I have such good habits! I am so qualified to lecture to my friends about their on the go eating practice. It is actually pretty sad. I contrast our lifestyle with that of Jan’s parents, who live on a farm 18 miles from any known civilization.

Jan’s folks have eaten their midday meal known as “dinner” at 12:30 sharp for the past 50 years. I suspect you could count on one hand the number of times in that 50 year period that they ventured off that routine, if they were in town. They sit down to eat. They enjoy veggies from their garden. When the kids were at home, they ate beef that was raised on their farm. Granny and Granddad do not get in a hurry. They usually eat a small bowl of frozen yogurt to top off the meal. If I told my in-law’s that I have friends who on the go in their car, they would flip! That is so foreign to them. If I told them that I ate my egg mcmuffin this morning, while I drove, I would get a stern lecture!

Truthfully they understand that our lifestyle is very different from the one they enjoy in rural America. But I think we could learn a few things from them. I do need to slow down. And my friends should as well! It would be good for me to invite my friends to have a leisurely lunch with me at one of our locally owned restaurants. And when we do it, we should take our time! The food will be great and the company will be even better. The conversation will be rich.

I think I am going to go on the “Granny Diet.” Eat three healthy meals a day. Take my time. Enjoy the company. And top it off with a little frozen yogurt!  But there is a major problem with the “Grannie Diet.” I can’t eat egg mcmuffins going down the road….It may get interesting, but I think it would be good for me to give it a shot, when I get back from camp on Friday. I had better, because after all it is important to practice what you preach!

Feeding the 5,000 at Camp!

Camp this week has been a little different.  Two sessions are running concurrently during the same period.  Camp Impact is targeted at younger children.  Camp Cornerstone is for students in middle school.  Two groups of compers and two staffs totaled in excess of 850 people.  That is where it gets interesting...

We are not accustomed to working with each other.  Cornerstone and Impact have never taken place during the same week.  My assignment was to Cornerstone, but I tried diligently this week to bring those the two staff groups together to the extent I could in my role.  How is the best way to accomplise that feat?  There is nothing like a shared task.  Dorm dads and moms from both groups worked all afternoon to cook 640 hotdogs and nearly that many hamburgers.  It was a chore, but it brought us a little closer.  Enjoy a few shots from moment in the heat today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

That Thorny Thing Called Loyalty

 The complexities of loyalty… There are many! Loyalty in a relationship is a priceless attribute. I have known that for a long time. But such an important relational pillar can become very involved and thorny.

When it comes to loyalty, my mouth can get me in trouble in a New York minute.
I am very intolerant of people that insult or demean those closest to me. Such intolerance is generally verbalized in a rather direct manner. I am quick to stand up for my friends. Tact is often replaced with brutally blunt forms of verbal expression. So loyalty can become a little tricky.

A number of years ago I found myself in one of those delicate situations. When I was a college student, I was interested in a girl that I knew from school. She was cute. She was nice. And she was unattached… But there was a problem. Her former boyfriend was a friend of mine. I think there is a good chance that she broke that poor boy’s heart. I had to make a choice: Pursue her or let it go based on loyalty to my friend. It is one of those times when loyalty becomes tricky.

Forgive me. Don’t hold it against me. I was 20 years old. I chunked the loyalty I felt toward my friend and began a romantic relationship with the above mentioned girl. That is never a good idea. My friendship with him was never quite the same, and the romance came to an end after a period of time.

A few years earlier as a high school student, I threw a longtime friend under the bus, because he did not fit into the new group I started running with when we were about 16. That would mark another time when loyalty became complex.

Actually that is not true. There was nothing tricky or complex about it. I threw him under the bus plain and simple. I was young and immature. A few years later I came to deeply regret those actions, but the damage was done. It was not until last year that I was able to finally able to ask for his forgiveness and seek reconciliation. Thirty years after the event in question…

Today I was faced with another one of those thorny loyalty issues. I cannot divulge the details, but I can say that I handled this one better. I caught myself going down a familiar path. I was about to make some choices that would put several longtime friendships in imminent jeopardy. But I caught myself. I am not 20 years old today nor am I 16.

I am old enough to know that people are important. Relationships truly are priceless. I don’t want anyone close to me having the tire marks of a bus imprinted on their chest. I want my friends and family alike to know that I am going to stand behind them no matter what. In fact, the only thing I want them to have to worry about is running for cover when another individual insults them. They will need to find that cover, because I will get excited and be blunt. Tact will go out the door. Loyalty is just involved and thorny…

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hearing My Wife's Voice....When She is not There

I have been hearing voices…again. Now that can be the sign of serious psychological problems, but in my case is it not. And reality really is my friend…I suppose I should tell the whole story.

It all started one Monday morning at Academy Sports over on Bryant Irvin in Ft. Worth. (Monday is my day off.) I was over there “browsing” in the golf section when I heard Jan’s voice calling me sweetly and tenderly. I immediately thought it was rather odd. I looked around me. She was nowhere in the area. As far as I knew, she was safely at work doing what responsible people do on a Monday. But I kept hearing her voice. It got louder and louder… I tried to continue with my casual browsing, but how could I? I felt distracted and even a little unsettled. I suppose I should tell I heard that morning…

I kept hearing: “Father’s Day is coming. Buy those new golf clubs.” And then I heard: “It is time to retire your old hand me down clubs.” Her voice became increasingly tender as I heard over and over again…”Father’s Day, Father’s Day…” I tried to resist it. I left the golf section and went to look at athletic clothing that even the fittest 48 year old man should never consider wearing. But the voice returned. I suppose I should tell what I did that morning….

I went over to the clubs I was interested in looking at. They just happened be on sale that morning. (No doubt it was a marketing ploy targeting unsuspecting preachers taking their Monday off.) As I picked up the pitching wedge, Jan’s voice was overwhelmingly tender and persuasive…How could I disappoint my sweet bride of almost 26 years? I opened the cabinet and slid the box with the clubs on sale right into my waiting arms. I suppose I should tell you how I explained this mystical experience to Jan.

I called her. I did not want to tell her about the voices. She has suspected for years that I am a few French fries short of a Happy Meal, so why upset her unnecessarily? I just opened the conversation with my standard line: “Is it easier to get forgiveness or permission?” After a short period of silence, I “xplaned”, as Beaver Cleaver would say, my new purchase. I should suppose I should tell you about her reaction.

She was actually excited about my upgrade. But later that day, after I came in off the golf course, she had the audacity to ask me something to very personal. She said: “Did those new clubs help your score any?” I was hurt and shocked. I told her it might be awhile before I hear HER voice again. I won’t tell you what she said…

Look At All of the Lonely People

 Look at all of the lonely people. Do you recall that song from 1966 that the Beatles recorded? The title is actually Eleanor Rigby. It was written by Paul McCartney. Here is a portion of the lyrics:
Eleanor Rigby

Ah, look at all the lonely people
Eleanor Rigby picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been
Lives in a dream,
Waits at the window wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door
Who is it for?
All the lonely people, where do they all come from
All the lonely people, where do they all belong?
Father Mackenzie, writing the words to a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near
Look at him working, darning his socks in the night when there's nobody there
What does he care?
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Nobody came
Father Mackenzie, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved

It is a sad song. McCartney wrote it as a reflection of his growing up years, when he would visit elderly people living all alone. He concluded that they would die and no one would notice.

Of course we are surrounded by lonely people. At church, we have a number of elderly people who are unable to get out of their homes on a regular basis. A good number of others are confined to nursing homes. And then there are those among us who are just forgotten. I am reminded of a widower I knew a number of years ago who died in his home. It took the neighbors several days to notice that he had not been out. As I assisted the police in identifying him, I was embarrassed to have to tell the officers that I did not know anything about his next of kin.

This week, however, I am sort of taken back by the walking lonely among us. There are people that we interact with everyday who are lonely. They go about their business, work at their jobs, and perhaps are even perceived as being very social. But internally there is painful loneliness. Several conversations this past week at camp have prompted my awareness of this fact.

I have talked to people this week that I see fairly regularly. I have also interacted with friends I only see at camp every summer. I am taken back by the amount of “stuff” they are carrying around. I am of course referring to “emotional stuff.” At home there is not a forum to share such personal concerns. Or we don’t take time to communicate with each other at that level. These recent conversations have prompted me to be more alert and take more time to communicate with friends. There is a cure for walking loneliness. It is called encouragement and everyone needs it.

Are you among the walking lonely at the present time? Do you suppose a kind word might be helpful? Are you willing to concentrate on the needs and concerns of another person long enough to build them in up in ways that would be helpful? As the second week at camp gets started, that is my primary mission for the next 5 days.  Ah...look at all of the lonely people...

Enjoying a Break!

I hope to  share a few images of both camp sessions during the course of this week.  Maybe even a few parents can see their kids in action!  Camp Impact and Camp Cornerstone are both going on during the same week on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University.  We will have over 850 campers, counselors, and support staff during these sessions.  The two sessions will operate on different schedules in order to optimimize the facilities.  Once again I will be the Head Men's Counselor for all of the male campers, but I have a good crew of dorm dads helping me along with dozens of counselors. I seriously doubt that there will be a dull moment.

We enjoyed a very short break today before registering counselors for next week's dual session.   There is just something about men and fire...

Thankfully for our youth ministers camp has become a family affair the past few years.

Austin Holt is interning with the Sevens Ministry in Boulder, CO that reaches out to homeless children and teens. Benny Nowell is looking a little scary here...

I hope they enjoyed that burger. Camp food starts tomorrow.  We will have a huge pool of counselors for Camp Impact and Camp Cornerstone.

We roped a couple of Granbury girls into joining us this week.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

While I was at Camp...Lives Were Being Risked To Save Others...

While at was at camp…the police officers I am privileged to team up with were back home doing their thing. Sgt. Michael Holly and members of his shift began their week on Monday by being summoned to a drowning. A 15 year old who would have been in Mitchell’s graduating class got in trouble in the swimming area of Lake Granbury adjacent to the city beach. I am certain that Sgt. Holly’s crew and rangers with the Brazos River Authority were very compassionate toward the young boy’s father. His funeral is today in Granbury.

And then last night I received word that Granbury police officer Jon Ubinger was unexpectedly thrust into action on his day off. As Jon’s wife was working in the yard, she noticed smoke coming from their neighbor’s home. She ran in the house to find Jon. At first he wondered if it was smoke from a barbeque grill, but he soon determined that was not the case at all. The back door was too hot to get near, so he proceeded to the front door. I know a lot of us have seen cops kick doors in dating back all the way to Starsky and Hutch days, but in real life it is not nearly as easy as it looks on television!

Officer Ubinger is a former marine. (Although I have been told that there is no such thing as a “former” marine.) He is no sissy. It took him 7 or 8 tries, but he finally kicked that door in. I am glad he was there instead of me, because I am just not convinced that I am that stout. He proceeded to crawl through a home that was completely smoke filled, and dragged his 52 year old neighbor to safety. Years of training and experience as a law enforcement officer paid off yesterday afternoon. The female victim was immediately airlifted to Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

I had to do some serious thinking last night. Sgt. Holly and Officer Ubinger are great friends. We find our way to the golf course together as often as we are able. We share meals together. I often ride on their shifts. They do their jobs well and I try to fulfill my role as chaplain as well as possible. Both us are called to serve at crisis events that have a good ending and we also are thrown into those that do not have a happy conclusion.

When I speak to groups about my chaplaincy ministry, I always say: It is a privilege to serve the servant. Sometimes I say: It is a privilege to serve those who protect and serve. Last night I internally renewed my commitment to these fine men and women. How could I be more proud of the group I am called to serve?
I will be ready to get home next Friday. All of the Granbury PD officers will be out to assist with the July 4th parade and related festivities on Saturday. It is an all hands on deck weekend with over 50,000 visitors coming to Granbury. I will fix up some of my famous chaplain burgers for all of them right after the parade. There will be teasing and joking. It will be a great time. But this year I will do it with a greater appreciation for members of the team I am so privileged to serve.

While I was at camp, lives were being risked to save others….

The Police Officer’s Prayer

Lord I ask for courage

Courage to face and

Conquer my own fears...
Courage to take me

Where others will not go...

I ask for strength

Strength of body to protect others

And strength of spirit to lead others...
I ask for dedication
Dedication to my job, to do it well

Dedication to my community
To keep it safe...
Give me Lord, concern

For others who trust me

And compassion for those who need me...
And please Lord
Through it all

Be at my side...

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Zenith Chronicles-Part IV

Camp Zenith is about to come to an end.  Tomorrow morning well over 400 campers will pack up and say goodbye to dozens of new friends. Dozens?  Some of the campers have actually met and started friendships with that many people.  "Z" Groups of course encourage that process.  Each camper has been in the same group of about  20 people for the entire week.

It is pretty interesting to see groups begin to come together over the course of the week.  Some of the groups gel almost immediately. Others come together slowly. And some just fail to have the chemistry that is necessary to form a memorable time at camp.

Several times this week I have run across a student who is sitting alone during group time.  That raises a red flag for me.  I immediately wonder what is wrong.  I stopped to talk to each of those campers.  I found no discipline problems.  I did not find them to be disillusioned with their group.  I just uncovered introverts who needed some private time. 

I am a self confessed Meyers Briggs Type Indicator junkie.  The Myers Briggs measures healthy personality differences in people.  One of the scales on the test is introversion/extroversion.  Introverts can get a bad wrap. At times, they are perceived as being aloof, rude, and generally inferior to their extroverted counterparts. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone.  They gain energy through solitude. Extravert's are energized by being with people.  My campers who left their groups for a few moments were most likely introverts who were on people overload.  Introverts enjoy one on one conversations more than group interaction, so my dialogue with these campers was productive and interesting.

Where is the learning curve then?  Introverts are not socially awkward people.  As a group, they are not rude or aloof.  They have a lot to offer those of us who have leanings toward extroversion.  Isabel Meyers said:
Introverted feeling types have a wealth of warmth and enthusiasm, but they may not show it until they know someone well. They wear their warm side inside, like a fur-lined coat.  Watching campers this week reminded me that it takes all kinds to make the world go round.  And it sure does make life interesting!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The True Heroes of the Class of 1980

 My sister’s children are adults now, but they still affectionately refer to me as “Uncle Buck.” There was always great excitement in the air when it was announced at Kim and Rocky’s home in Lubbock that Uncle Buck was coming to see them. I was of course always impersonating some unsuspecting member of our extended family, or just generally harassing my niece and nephew. In the back of my mind however, there were more serious thoughts to be entertained. Kim and I lost our parents at a relatively young age. Periodically I would remind myself internally that I could have custody of Kerri and Cody, if anything ever happened to their parents.

Ironically it was during a trip back from Lubbock last week when I received news that an entire family from Granbury was killed in a plane crash in Ruidoso, NM. The parents of two teenage boys were killed as well. That good family is also from Granbury. Their mother was a teacher at the campus where my youngest son attended intermediate school several years ago. I felt so helpless being out of town that afternoon.

Bill Suter, who is one of the coordinators of our 30 year high school reunion, called me a day after the crash. He informed me that the sister of one of the victims graduated from Monterey High School with us in 1980. I got a sick feeling. I immediately felt compelled to reach out to her. Because… she is a classmate… We grew up in the same town. There is just an automatic connection.

The surviving boys I mentioned are: Alex and Kristopher Richey. Their parents were: Keri and Lowell Richey. Their aunt is: Renee (Parramore) Adams. The boys are continuing to recuperate from their injuries in the hospital. There is of course tremendous concern for them. Granbury is FANTASTIC about reaching out to families during times of crisis. What a blessing to be a part of such a caring community. My thoughts are with the boys too, but again I am also thinking about their aunt.

Their Aunt Reneé has stepped up to the plate. She has been right by the side of those boys throughout this traumatic experience. She is in the process of modeling to all of us what being family is all about. Taking care of my niece and nephew crossed my mind periodically, when they were younger. But it never went any further.  Renee's loyatly to her nephews is being played out right now.  I am for Reneé. I think she is an amazing lady, who loves her family.

I am quite sure that her life has been put on hold in order to see to their needs. At this point, It it is too early to tell what the Granbury community can do on her behalf, but I hope whatever we do that we do it well. We must show her what being community is all about in the same way that she is showing the boys what being family is all about. May God bless her during these upcoming weeks.

We are going to honor classmates who have passed away during our upcoming 30 year reunion next month. I am thankful that choice was made. It will be meaningful. In my mind, I wish we could honor the true heroes in our graduating class. Reneé has my vote.

Uncle Buck is looking forward to another trip to Lubbock for the reunion. I hope to see both Kerri and Cody. I have a feeling that the time with them in July will be cherished in a way that tt has never been before. Family is just important…

Life is NOT One Big To Do List: The Zenith Chronicles Part III

One of my fellow staffers at Camp Zenith shared this wonderful quote from the wrapper of a Dove Chocolate bar. It reads as follows: Life is not one big to do list. I LOVE that quote. I force myself to do lists weekly in my job, because structure does not come naturally to me at all! I completely prefer spontaneity, if it all possible.

Ironically to do lists have become such an engrained part of my weekly existence, I am finding here at camp that I am way too task oriented. That sounds really odd for someone not inclined toward structure. And yet I find myself always thinking about what I need to do next, and even making lists in my head. That is just wrong. It is camp. It is time to have fun. It is time to enjoy the campers. It is time to be myself. The lists have gone out the window.

I am going to do what I can to capture each moment. Today the campers will spread out all over Oklahoma City to do service projects. They will go in their “Z” groups to various places in need of assistance. The food bank told us that they can host up to 100 volunteers to work! Other groups will visit nursing homes, and assist at a shelter for the homeless. While the campers are off campus, the dorm dads are going to fire up the charcoal grills. We will have hamburgers and hot dogs ready for 450 campers and all of their counselors when they return. I am especially looking forward to hearing the stories of the afternoon during the evening meal today.

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that the composition of camp is changing. Gone is the day when most of our campers came from “churched” homes. That is fine with me! I am all about reaching out to kids from every imaginable background. This morning at our staff meeting the ladies mentioned a girl camping here this week who has had repeated run in’s with the law. In fact, she has been incarcerated for her offenses. The young lady had to receive permission last year from her probation officer to come to camp. Camp apparently is a very important annual event for this young lady. Volunteers from her hometown tell me that she has basically no responsible adults involved in her life.

So…make a list or skip the list? I think I will compromise. I will just make a short list with one entry. It will read as follows: Reach out to lost puppy campers today. That is the extent of my list. That is my assignment for the day. After all life is NOT one big to do list.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Camp and Exotic Dancers: The Zenith Chronicles Part II

Day #2 at Camp Zenith.... It has been a day of water slides, drama groups, and even a guest band tonight in addition to the rich spiritual food that the campers are receiving.  But for me it has been a little different.  Last night and today has been a time for interaction with campers and a former exotic dancer as well.  Yes I know...I have some explaining to do.

In 2009, a book entitled: Scars and Stilettos: The Transformation of an Exotic Dancer, was released.  The author is former exotic dancer, Harmony Dust.  It is a amazing autobiography.  I started reading it last night and finished it this afternoon. 

It is a story of brokenness, horrific sexual abuse, and emotional abandonment. The book also provides insight into the dark world of the adult "entertainment" industry, as it is called.  Harmony is a great writer.  Her descriptions of customers who frequented the club where she danced is a pretty good commentary on the depravity of human nature.  

I found her story to be compelling.  The events of her childhood and adolescent years are indeed heartbreaking.  An absent father and a mother who was less than responsible in some ways created an environment in her home where important boundaries become fluid.   As a young person, she was left unprotected.  The home became a context where there was a great propensity for sexual abuse to occur.  And it did...over and over again.  There were several perpetrator...

Harmony's story is one of hope.  She walked away from the dancing job, where she made up to $1,000.00 per night.  She found healing and restoration.  She is now married with a small child.   While she was still working at the club, she found a church that embraced her in a spirit of Christ like love.  The experience at that church led to the transformation that is described in the book.  Today she works with a non-profit organization that reaches out to women trapped in prostitution, exotic dancing and the pornography industry.

How does Harmony's story relate to camp this week?  Ironically in a staff meeting this morning someone pointed out that our campers are comprised more and more each year of "unchurched" kids who come from all kinds of home backgrounds.   I am pretty confident that there are young girls and boys too who are being raised in homes much like Harmony's.  I hope this week at camp that relationships are being formed that will help them to feel loved, accepted and valued like they never have before.  Perhaps camp can be a key event that circumvents the trek down the dark road that Harmony chose.  So....we proceed with Day #2 here at Camp Zenith.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Chronicles of Camp-Day 1

The first day of Camp Zenith is officially underway. This marks my fourth year as Head Men’s Counselor for this session. I have a whole crew of college students serving as counselors and volunteer parents filling the role of dorm dad’s. I have a great job as long as there is not a crisis or some unmanageable discipline problem. We have an awesome staff, so that makes it even better. Thus far I have inflated air mattresses, made runs to the airport to pick people up, and served as a general flunky. The best part of my job is watching the kids interact with the staff and with each other…

Last night we did have one minor event that I perceived to be symbolic in a way. Every year at Zenith we break 450 campers into groups of about 20. The “Z” Groups, as they are called, are an important part of the camp experience. The girls share a group of dorm rooms with other female members of their Z Group and the boys in turn share block of rooms with other male members of the same group. The groups do a vast majority of the camp activities together.

Last night the groups spread all over the campus for an initial get acquainted time. Three girls for some unknown reason became separated from their group and could not find it. We looked all over the campus for Group #9, but they were nowhere to be found. The three lost sheep spent group time riding around in a golf cart with the head women’s counselor searching for their camp family.

The girls took it all in stride, but I still felt badly for them. The first night of camp is a time to forge new relationships. They were missing out! I saw one of those girls this afternoon. She and the others had already assimilated into the group during today’s activities and all was good.

Last night I thought about kids who have been separated from their biological families for a variety of reasons. I especially thought of the children who will attend Royal Family Kids Camp later in the summer. That camp is specifically geared for children in court ordered foster care. Just watching a handful of campers unable to find their “Z”Group caused me think. Separation is a scary thing for a child at any level. Such a minor event really turned out be symbolic for me.

As we head into the second night of camp, new adventures await us. My boys seem to be having a good time. It is Daniel’s last year as a camper and Mitchell’s first year at the high school session. Randall is not here counseling this year, but the kids are asking about him! It is going to be a fun week. I hope it is a week to forge new relationships and solidify existing ones.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Called to be Fathers...

The book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates tells the story of two men with the same name. Both were born in Maryland. Both grew up with single mothers. Both had run-ins with the police by the time they were 11-years-old. But at this point their stories part.

One Wes Moore graduated from of John Hopkins. He eventually became a Rhodes Scholar. He went on to serve as a White House Fellow under former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and is an Afghanistan combat veteran. He also went on to write the book The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, reflects on his life and the life of the man with whom he shares a name.

As for the other Wes Moore? He currently resides in Jessup Correctional Institute's maximum security unit. He is serving a life sentence without parole for his part in the shooting death of a Baltimore police officer.

The author Wes Moore wrote the book to reflect on what it is like to grow up without a father in the house. (His father died when he was three years old.) In an interview with USA Today, he made this observation: "My mother could teach me to be a good person, but she couldn't teach me to be a good man." In the book, he credits teachers and family members for intervening in his life.

As I think about both “Wes Moore’s”, two thoughts come to mind. I am eternally grateful for the handful of amazing men who reached out to me after my father died in 1978. My neighbor next door neighbor, Ken Cook, took me to play golf. And my dad’s former employee, Tom Donathan did the same. My employer during all of four of my years as an undergraduate student, Bill Groux, quite literally adopted me and kept me out of jail. My banker, T.J. Wallace treated me like I was really a credible man. Isn’t it funny how we end up becoming what people perceive us to be?

Moore’s book also reminds me that being a father is a calling. I am a biological father to three fine young men. They are the best boys a father could ever want. But I am also called to be a father figure to every young person that I am privileged to know. I can’t help it. My paternal instincts just kick in and I feel compelled to reach out to them. Several of my longtime friends have passed on now. Some of them left children behind…As I have said in previous posts; loyalty quite naturally extends to the next generation. It scares me to think of the consequences of not reaching out to the fatherless among us.

The “other” Wes Moore saw his father only three times in his life. It was during the third and final visit that Wes Moore's father looked up from a drunken stupor and asked, "Who are you?"

Tomorrow I leave for church camp to serve as the “Head Men’s Counselor.” In essence, I will be a dorm dad for 300 boys. My primary role is to supervise the thirty plus college students who are serving as counselors, but there will also be ample opportunities to interact with the campers. In a group of 300, there must be a few “Wes Moore’s” out there. I don’t’ want to just have a role in the life of the “Other Wes Moore.” I want to meet and get to know both of them. The Wes Moore’s are out there, men. Let’s step up to the plate and fulfill our calling.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hanging Out with the Senator...

You never know what a day is going to bring… Tonight I sat at the same table during a banquet with Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. Senator Davis, a Harvard Law School graduate, served on the Ft. Worth city council for many years before being elected to the Texas Senate in 2008. She is a very personable lady.

She was the guest speaker this evening for a law enforcement related conference being held in Granbury this weekend. My background as a speech educator always comes to the surface during such occasions. I can’t just listen to a speech like a normal person. I am always doing an internal critique. Ms. Davis gets an A+ for her presentation. She was very well prepared with relevant statistics and stories. She cited an incident in Ft. Worth that led to an officer in their department receiving a valor award. Her details were correct and her pronunciation names were flawless. But the fact based data was not the best part of her speech.

At one point, Senator Davis veered off her notes and spoke from the heart. Former Ft. Worth Police Chief Robert Windam is now deceased. (He served as chief from 1985 until his death in 2000)  She worked with him for several years in her role as a councilwoman. The senator's description of his leadership abilities and her perceptions of his character were very inspiring. Again let me stress…she did not use notes during that part of the speech. She just spoke from the heart.

I needed to hear her speech tonight. It was good for me. As a speaker, I can have leanings toward being overly factual. (That probably stems from my background as a debater in high school.) I am a  tickler for being well prepared with sufficient information that is well documented. I know that is a good core value, if it is not carried to the extreme.

The best part of Senator Davis’ speech was when she veered off the notes and spoke from the heart. It is the part of her presentation that I will remember for months to come. I was paying attention tonight. I think it would serve me well to emulate that quality when I speak to groups in the various roles I serve. My sweet bride told me not long ago that I needed to speak more like I write. Most of my writing is done from the heart.

I am grateful that I got to sit with Ms. Davis this evening. I wish time would have allowed us to have visited more at the table. I think could have learned all kinds of things from an intelligent lady like her. She was real with the crowd. She spoke from the heart. She gave me good reason to celebrate the journey of life this evening by being a source of inspiration.   I guess hanging out with a senator is a good thing...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Suitor Came Calling Part II

 There was no shortage of attendees at the 50th wedding anniversary party for Thomas and Barbara Mason last Saturday. Their reception was held at the church across the street from the preacher’s home, where they exchanged vows on June 10th, 1960. We all visited with family members whom we have not seen for several years. That was especially gratifying.

About midway into the reception I noticed my mother-in-law visiting with some Hispanic guests whom I did not know. She eagerly introduced me to her special friends. In recent months, Barbara has taken on the task of serving as a volunteer ESL (English as a second language) teacher. The church where she attends recently instigated such an effort in their community, which is now 75% Hispanic.

Working with someone who possesses limited English skills is totally out of Barbara’s comfort zone. She has been a farmer’s wife for 50 years! When she was not busy raising four girls, she was driving a grain truck or moving irrigation pipe. She speaks no Spanish whatsoever.

I am not sure that I can convey effectively what I witnessed at the reception between Barbara and her student. I could feel the love and admiration that Alejandra has for my mother-in-law instantly. It is difficult to describe what I saw, so I will share what Alejandra wrote to Barbara. Bear in mind that this young lady is in the process of learning English.

Thanks Barbara to teach me love, and love me, think in me, pray for me. I’m proud of your really lovely love for others.

God bless you more,


I have a strong suspicion you now have some inkling of what I observed Saturday. As that scene unfolded before me, I was immediately convicted.  Here I am taking Spanish classes, because I want to be fully bi-lingual.  And all I could think about Saturday during the reception was: “I am so full of it.” Barbara does not know how to say “hi” in Spanish, but she is highly effective. There is one reason for that: Love transcends all language and cultural barriers.

Alejandra’s English skills are actually pretty good. She just needs someone to help her to build on what she already knows. And most importantly she needs someone to help develop her confidence. As I talked with her Saturday, I could tell that she is not self-assured. She does not think her English skills are very good. She obviously has the right teacher! Barbara will encourage her and build her up in untold ways! Alejandra’s life will not be the same.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Suitor Came Calling: Part I

In January of 1960, Thomas Mason purchased a farm near Friona, in the Texas Panhandle. The old farmhouse most likely constructed in the 1920’s, and situated on the half section of land. He was almost like a young pioneer trying to get established in the farming business. How enjoyable could that be without a suitable partner? Living on the farm alone was about to change. He learned from his neighbors across the road that there was a single girl who lived with her parents up the road about a ½ mile at a neighboring farm.

On the evening of February 10th, 1960 Thomas showed up at the O’Brian farm to meet this young girl he had heard about. When she heard someone knocking on the door, she thought it was a neighbor coming to check on her dad. Mr. O’Brian had broken his leg that day. She was not too worried about having curlers in her hair. It was no doubt one of her dad’s friends at the door. But she was wrong… It was a young suitor who had come to call on her. Apparently the presence of curlers in her hair did not scare him off, because he came back for again…

There is little information about what happened over the ensuing months. One of their first dates was to a high school play put on by the drama students in the nearby town of Dimmitt. Rumor has it that Thomas was seen driving his 1957 Chevy with someone sitting very close to him in the seat during the spring of 1960. I suspect the rumor of a two headed driver is indeed true. On June 10th, 1960 Thomas married that girl he went to call on only a few months earlier. Barbara O’Brian became Barbara Mason on that summer day in a simple ceremony that was held in the living room of the preacher’s home in Friona.

They began their married life on that farm that Mr. Mason purchased with the help of his father in the winter of 1960. In the spring of 1961, a daughter was born. And then 14 months later another daughter came along. In 1967, still another girl was born. And then 14 years after the birth of the first girl, a fourth daughter was added to the family in 1975.

They raised those four girls in that same farmhouse out in the country. They sent all of them to college. Each of them finished their degrees. One by one the girls married and son-in-law’s entered the picture. Unfortunately none of the daughters married a farmer! But even son-in-law’s have at least one redeeming quality. Thomas and Barbara have enjoyed 10 grandchildren over the past 22 years.

Fifty years later they are still together. Fifty years later they are still living in the same house and farming the same land. For fifty years they have endured all of the ups and downs of life on the farm. There have been good crop years and there have years that have been thin. They have been a constant encouragement to their relatives, neighbors, and friends.

I realize that romances today are most likely more complicated than the four month courtship that Tom and Barbara experienced in 1960. But I can’t help but think that good things happen when two people totally commit themselves to one person in marriage. The stability and consistency they have offered to everyone around them will be a blessing for generations to come. In fact their influence will likely reach far beyond the span of their lifetimes.

I am a little partial to the young couple who met on February 10th, 1960. Their first daughter, who was born in 1961, became my wife almost 26 years ago. I am one of four non-farming son-in-law’s. It is not like I have gotten totally off the hook. I have done my share of plowing, working cattle, and going to farm sales over the years.

How could I be more grateful for two people who remain totally committed to each other after 50 years. They have been a blessing to me in ways I could not begin to list. If marriages are going to thrive, there is a crying need for mentors to look up to. More on this special couple tomorrow…

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Friends Don't Let Friends Eat Fast Food...

 Professional golfer Phil Micklelson is a fan of Five Guys Burgers. In fact Lefty was quoted as saying: “That place is so good. I can’t stop going there.” I am quite sure that Five Guys is a great place to eat a burger, but it is obvious that Phil has never eaten at Grumps in Granbury or Stephenville. Grumps features the best burger in the state of Texas, as far as I am concerned. One of the signs on the wall of this fine establishment says: “Friends don’t let friends eat fast food.”

Grumps is not fast food. You order your burger and homemade potato chips. And then you shell a few peanuts that are placed on each table as you patiently await for the fine cuisine that owner Collier Albright provides for his customers. Come to think of it not only do I like eating at Grumps, but Collier is just one of my favorite business owners in Granbury. I first became acquainted with him when I went through the Leadership Granbury program in 2004.

This week he hosted the Granbury Police officers along with members of the department’s Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association for an annual event known as: Tip a Cop. The Alumni Association is a non profit organization, so funds they raise through various efforts are used to provide the police department with specialized equipment. In recent years the association has assisted with the purchase of a dog for our K-9 unit, bicycles for bike patrol, and equipment for our reestablished honor guard.

During the Tip-A-Cop event some of the proceeds from the purchase of each meal go to the alumni association. The officers serve the meals and refill drinks in uniform, as they interact with patrons. Customers are encouraged to tip the officers/wait staff generously for a good cause. The alumni members clean tables and otherwise assist. It really is a unifying event for the entire city.

Interestingly enough I read an article this week about another restaurant proprietor who also hosted the police in his establishment. Well sort of…About three weeks ago a Portland police officer went into a café in his good city to grab a quick cup off coffee while he was on duty. He of course was in uniform. A customer approached the officer in the restaurant to tell him how much she appreciated the hard work of the Portland police officers. How nice… While that pleasant conversation was taking place one of the owners asked the officer to leave…. He told him that he felt “uncomfortable having a uniformed officer in his café.” The owner stated said this following the incident: “I never expected to have a police officer come into the place. If it happened again, I wouldn’t serve him.” The 9 year police veteran is well aware of tensions that exist between his department and the community.

I appreciate what he said during an interview following this incident: In regard to the police, he said: “We have a unique relationship with the community. You’re there to protect them, but on the other hand they don’t know what that involves. Being gracious is part of it. He has a good point.

In light of recent events in Portland, I am especially grateful for Collier Albright. He is indeed gracious. The generous hospitality that he extends to members of the Granbury Police Dept. year round helps forge good relations between law enforcement and the community as a whole. Maybe I should share the Tip A Cop program with the restaurant owner in Portland…I don’t think I will do that…But I do think that Collier should extend a special invitation to Phil Mickelson to eat at Grumps during the Crowne Plaza Invitational at the Colonial Country Club in May of 2011. I think Phil will say: “That place is so good. I can’t stop going there.”

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Summer of Reunions-Part I

 I can’t believe it has been over 25 years. In the spring of 1985, we packed up our meager belongings and moved to Abilene, TX. Neither one of us had jobs.  We had been married less than a year. We unloaded our rental truck over the weekend and went to turn it in first thing Monday morning at Anthony’s Fina and Wrecker Service. Little did we know that an important chapter in our married life was about to opened.

The silly rental truck would not start, so I began to tinker with it. (I worked in an old fashioned full service station when I was an undergraduate student.) Wade Anthony, the owner of the business, picked up pretty quickly that I knew a little something about cars. He asked my why were moving to Abilene. That initial conversation led to a job offer by 1:00 in the afternoon that same day. Wade also invited us to visit the little country church, where he served as a deacon. That wonderful church hired me as an intern later that year.

I served in every facet of the Anthony’s business for the entire time I was in graduate school. I rented Hertz Penske trucks, worked in the service station, and drove a wrecker for Wade’s brother, Robert. My interest in being a law enforcement chaplain stemmed from dealing with people who came to our wrecker yard to retrieve valuables from their vehicles after fatal crashes. Wade and Bea and their children along with Robert and Ramona became family to us while I was in graduate school.

There are not as many “mom and pop” businesses around anymore. I regret that my boys are far less likely to work for a family business like I did both as an undergraduate and a graduate student as well. During the work days at Anthony’s we always stopped to have lunch together. If one of us was on a wrecker call, everyone else waited to eat until we returned. It was like sitting around the family table for a meal. It was a brown bag affair on most days. Ordering from the Dairy Queen across the street was a rarity.

We left Abilene in July of 1987 for me to pursue my first real fulltime job. But today we returned just for a few hours to celebrate Wade and Bea Anthony’s 50th wedding anniversary. It was a sweet walk back in time. As we drove home, I felt nostalgic for sure. But more importantly I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for my extended family in Abilene. We could not have been any more fortunate during those important years in our lives.

I can only hope that I can be as much encouragement to a younger person or a younger couple that the Anthony’s were for us. In fact, it is a good question to ask. Who am I reaching out to today? Who is in transition? Who is trying to further their education? As I take that mental inventory, Wade’s smiling face on that drive at his business back in 1985 will immediately flash through my mind!

And by the way, I have had several people laugh at me recently when I told them I drove a wrecker for a part time job!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Blessed Burden...

 My friend and colleague Dan Bouchelle will remain, in my estimation, a preacher’s preacher. I first became acquainted with Dan when both us began a doctoral program together ten years ago almost to the day. When I began the program, I was concerned that the cohort would be comprised of stuffy, humorless and whiny ministers. My fears were unjustified. Dan has a sense of humor that no one will ever replicate and our fellow students were as twisted as I am.

Dan made the choice recently to leave a traditional ministry setting serving one church to pursue new adventures that will have an impact on multiple churches.  I am excited for him, but sad too. In terms of the actual weekly preaching role, he is one of the most capable and talented people I have ever known. I have always marveled at his remarkable analytical ability coupled with a genuine concern for those he is serving. He can speak with the tone and content of a prophet without being totally offensive.

In one of Dan’s recent blog posts, he shared the following thoughts about serving a local church.

Even though I anticipate I'll still do some preaching and teaching in churches for the rest of my life, it won't be the same. What is really great about preaching is that it requires getting to know real people really well. What is great about preaching is knowing you are speaking to people's real hurts, needs, fears, and hopes because you know them and you know their stories. How do you replace being able to see faces as you read the Bible in preparation to preach and thinking, this will be helpful to so and so? Being able to shape your message around the specific history of a church and know you are being heard on a heart level because you and the church know each other is a feeling like few others in this world. Feeling like God's servant, his instrument, to shape and bless a church is a humbling and exhilarating feeling. Seeing tears in the eyes of people as you preach and knowing why they are there reminds you how blessed you have been to be given privileged access into the lives of people who have told you things they have never told anyone. What an amazing honor!

It is a burden, in a way, to carry the hurts and needs of people who have trusted you with their lives, but it is a blessed burden that gives life rich meaning. While I'm ready to lay that burden down for a while, I can't imagine what could take its place or add so much significance. How do you replace the experience of someone looking you in the eye and telling you "Thank you!" for being there for them at a crucial moment in their lives? When you have walked with people through the worst that life and death can dish out, you form a bond like no other.

I could not agree more with Dan’s reflections. The preaching role is intensely personal. The stressors that accompany it are unique. His observations have caused me to do some reflecting too. Perhaps I can post those reflections in the next few days.

Friday, June 4, 2010

El Camino de La Muerte (The Road of Death...)

 I really do prefer the path of least resistance. I never was the student naturally inclined to take advanced placement courses, or do any work that was not required. My 5th grade teacher forced me to take the so called optional challenge spelling test every week. I prefer to accomplish my feats the easiest way possible.

This week I was introduced to the North Yungas Road in Bolivia. It is also commonly referred to as: El Camino de la Muerte, or the Road of Death. This treacherous 43 mile stretch was referred to as “the world’s most dangerous road” in 1995. It was built in the 1930’s during the Chaco War by Paraguayan prisoners. It is one of the few connecting routes from Northern Bolivia to La Paz.  Travelers ascend over 15,000 feet as they make their way up the trek. Much of the road is not wider than ten feet. It drops off some 2,000 feet in places.

I am not into traveling on such thoroughfares. I really do prefer the path of least resistance. Making my way down Interstate 20 toward El Paso sounds far more appealing. The speed limit in IH 20 is 80 MPH in some on some of the rural stretches West of Midland. That whole experience is just more appealing.

I am reminded today that some of the best experiences in life happen on treacherous roads. I really do prefer the path of least resistance, but in looking back on my life, some of the most meaningful personal growth has taken place when I make the conscious choice to go down a path that appeared to be steep and difficult.

The Yungas Road apparently has had some renovations done to it in recent years, but it is still dangerous. A bus went over an embankment on that path in 1983, and killed 100 people. At one point on the thoroughfare’s history, it was estimated that up to 300 people were killed annually as they made their way through that maze of a highway.

Here is an interesting irony. I really do prefer the path of least resistance. Many of us do. In terms of traveling on the roads of life, it is the paths that appear to be particularly perilous that lead to exceptional personal growth and fulfillment. I think there are some spiritual ironies as well. I plan to develop those concepts in my sermon on Sunday.

In the meantime, I plan to take a look at my personal GPS system. I think I need to reset it to take me down some pathways that I have not ever been down before. It sounds kind of scary. But it sounds exciting too!  I actually think the most dangerous life road is the one with the least amount of resistance. After all the path of least resistance may very well lead to a dead end?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

There is a Redneck Among Us...

 My favorite Jeff Foxworthy redneck joke has always been the one about the man who is walking to school with his little boy because both of them are in the same grade. All three of my boys like Jeff Foxworthy, but none of them have ever seen the humor in that particular joke. I think deep down there was a deep seated fear that such a scenario might actually come true. Their concern may have been justified…

Randall is taking both semesters of first year college Spanish this summer. Today I began my online Spanish grammar course at Tarrant County College. What a shame. We can’t walk to class together. If Randall was taking his coursework here, we could have late night study sessions. It is a greater shame that he won’t be sitting next to me in class. He always knew there was a truth in jest. That is why he was so cautious in laughing at the Jeff Foxworthy jokes I thought were so funny.

I am fully aware of the fact that Randall will pick up Spanish more rapidly than I will. I have traveled in Mexico far more extensively that he has and I have used my Spanish on the streets with police officers. But he will still learn it faster.

We never walked to class together, because we were in the same grade, but I have known for a long time that Randall would surpass me intellectually very quickly. I really don’t know where he will land professionally. He is at least entertaining the idea of law school. I have never felt sorry for criminals before, but if Randall becomes a prosecutor I may start. Randall can argue like no one I ever seen.
His analytical abilities are beyond my comprehension. As a prosecutor, he would chew up the criminal and defense lawyer in record speed. And he would be extremely nice about it in the process.

It has been a lot of fun watching all three of the boys grow up. I so remember what it was like to be in college and wonder what I was going to be when I grew up. I feel for Randall right now. He is young and bright. He can do whatever he wants to do. He could excel at so many things. My prayer is that he will find a path that is personally fulfilling. But I also pray that God will use his talents in a way that makes a difference in a crazy world. I too had a decent number of career options, but I am so grateful that I was led to do what I am doing now. I don’t want my kids to follow in my footsteps. I just want them to make a difference. It seems to me that a kid who is taking the same coursework as his 48 year old dad can surely figure that one out.