Thursday, July 29, 2010

A Tribute to Papo

 My wife, Jan, is my guest blogger today. The funeral service for her granddad, Tom OBrian, was in Friona this past Tuesday. Her thoughts today serve as a tribute to his life.

Proverbs 17:22
A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

My granddad died this past weekend at the age of 95. As I listened to my family’s memories of him, I was reminded of this reading from Proverbs. Papo, as we fondly called him, was a big bear of a man, both in stature and in nature. He could be an imposing figure, bellowing his disapproval when crossed. But most of the time, he had the disposition of a big teddy bear. He loved to joke and tease, playing pranks on everyone around him, and then filling the air with his loud, booming laugh when he was successful in achieving the desired result. He never outgrew his mischievous streak.

Papo was uninhibited and generous in expressing his love, lumbering through life giving out frequent bear hugs and words of affection. His final words to me the last time I saw him were, “I love you.”

Sometimes we can have a tendency to take life too seriously and get bogged down in our problems and frustrations. This week of remembering Papo has been a good reminder to me that I need to loosen up and enjoy life more, to laugh and hug more, to do a better job of expressing my love to those around me. Life is too short to do otherwise.

Jan Knox

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Am Going to Shape you Into My Mold in 3 Easy Steps

 Why is that we expend so much energy trying shape people into the mold in which we think they should fit? In fact for that matter, why do we periodically put forth similar amounts of energy trying to become someone other than ourselves? We are not going to change another human being’s basic personality, so we might as well give up trying to shape him into our image! It is equally foolish for us to try to be someone we are not. Reinhold Niebuhr’s well-known quote is meaningful in this regard. He says: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” That principle holds true in the senseless ventures we undertake to change the basic personality makeup of ourselves or those whom we love.

When Jan conducts seminars on personality differences, she stresses such facts. She points out that a person’s basic personality makeup is not going to change. That is not an excuse for irresponsible behavior, but instead it is a reminder to value people for their uniqueness. When we get frustrated with our loved ones, because of their…uniqueness…here are some good thoughts to encourage us.

Different Drums and Different Drummers

If I do not want what you want, please try not to tell me that my want is wrong. Or if I think differently than you, at least pause before you correct my view. Or if my emotion is less than yours, or more, given the same circumstances, try not to ask me to feel more strongly or weakly. Or yet if I act, or fail to act, in the manner of your design for action, let me be.

I do not, for the moment at least, ask you to understand me. That will come only when you are willing to give up changing me into a copy of you.

I may be your spouse, your parent, your child, your co-worker, or your friend. If you will allow me any of my own wants, or emotions, or thoughts, or actions, then you open yourself, so that some day these ways of mine might not seem so wrong, and might finally appear to you as right — for me. To put up with me is the first step to understanding me, not that you embrace my ways as right for you, but that you are no longer irritated or disappointed with me for my seeming waywardness. And in understanding me, you might come to prize my differences from you, and, far from seeking to change me, preserve and even nurture those differences.

(Adapted from Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Lindsay Lohan? There are Other 20 Something's Worthy of Honor!

 I am not a Lindsay Lohan fan. Actually that is not entirely true. I am not a fan of glorifying bad behavior. The media has chosen to give Lohan’s poor behavior choices lots of attention. She is presently serving a 90 day sentence that will likely be reduced, due to overcrowding in the detention facility. I deal with people who are on their way to being incarcerated every single week for offenses similar to the ones Lohan has committed. It is not a glorified position.
Her attorney was recently quoted as saying: "It was hard for her not to see her family over the weekend.” I imagine that it is hard for someone her age to be isolated from family and close friends. Am I supposed to feel sorry for her? In my heart of hearts, I know I should feel some compassion for Ms. Lohan, but it is going to take some

A friend of mine pointed out on her facebook status this afternoon that there is an entire group of Lindsay Lohan’s peers, who are most definitely worthy of both media attention. More importantly they are worthy of our respect. They too have experienced separation from their family and friends. My astute friend even listed their names….I think the list is worth reposting.

Justin Allen 23, Brett Linley 29, Matt Weikert 29, Justus Bartett 27, Dave Santos 21, Chase Stanley 21, Jesse Reed 26, Matthew King 23, Christopher Goeke 23 & Sheldon Tate, 27.

The above listed 20 something’s gave their lives for us this week, as they served their country. The following information reveals their depth of sacrifice.

Staff Sgt. Sheldon Tate, died on July 13 during an attack on the Afghan National Civilian Police headquarters

Sgt. Justin Allen was shot and killed July 18 during a firefight in the Zhari district of southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, on the Pakistani border.

Staff Sgt. Bret Linley was killed while clearing improvised explosive devices.

Sgt. Matthew Weikert-Died in Paktika province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with a makeshift bomb.

Cpl. Dave M. Santos-Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Staff Sgt. Justus S. Bartelt-Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Spec. Chase Stanley-Died while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

1st Lt. Christopher S S. Goeke-Died in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked their unit with rifle, rocket propelled grenade, and small arms fire.

Pvt. Brandon M. King-Died at Combat Outpost Nolen, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire.

Spec. Jesse D. Reed-Died at Zabul Province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked their military vehicle with a makeshift bomb.

The media has chosen for whatever reason to give Lindsay Lohan’s indiscretions more attention than the sacrifice of these young men. I wonder what that says about our society. I am not sure that I want to hear the answer to that question! The answer may very well reveal the depth of societal idiocy that pervades far more than just the media.

Do I feel compassion for Lindsay Lohan? Not really. Oh I know I should, so I promise to work on my attitude. But today I am thinking about her peers. Young 20 something men who gave their lives for each of us… Two of those men were the exact age of my oldest son. I will get to Lindsay a little later, because somehow her attorney’s comment about her missing her family over the weekend seems a little trite. Today my compassion is directed to some families who have experienced real loss. I don’t think their weekend was very pleasant either. May God bless them during this awful time. May all of us give respect where respect is due.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

It was Just a Dream...Final Reunion Thoughts

 I had the strangest dream last night and again early this morning. In the dream, I ate a steak dinner at one of my favorite places in Lubbock with a group of friends, whom I have longed to see for decades. I knew all of these individuals in high school and some of them in junior high. The dream was very odd. There were friends from the east coast and others from the west coast. Former speech team comrades from various points in Texas were there as well. What a nice dream.  But I know that it would be virtually impossible to get friends from that many years back under one roof in Lubbock of all places.

Thankfully it was not a nightmare. The above mentioned individuals were among the best of the best in my graduating class. These are people who epitomize the very word “class.” In my dream, they were as classy as ever… Each of them is doing great things with their lives. Their career paths are varied and interesting. The dream reflected that reality.

In real life, people are full of themselves. Egos as big as Texas infiltrate conversations like poison gas. In dreamland, that was not the case. The conversations were not “me centered.” Interchanges took place that was characterized by good listening and mutual interest in one another.

I woke up from this fantastic dream feeling good. I could literally feel the positive emotional energy being exchanged among my friends. In that good feeling, I could sense the mutual respect and love these long lost peers felt for each other.  That is a very good feeling! But too bad it is not real life.

This evening I went on a walk at a park in the Melanie Park South development in Southwest Lubbock. The walking path was just a few yards from familiar streets like Knoxville and Lynnhaven… The dream I had last night was so odd that I felt the need to process it, as I walked. Images of good friends popped back in my mind. And I thought through the various conversations and interchanges depicted in it.

By the time I made my final lap, I came to the stunning realization that the experience was not a dream. It was very real. I actually spent my weekend with lifelong friends. I have not seen some of these wonderful people in over 30 years. The beauty of it all was so surreal that I concluded that it must have been a dream… After my walk I drove down a few streets in Melanie Park South and quietly smiled to myself. I was in 1979 again…

I am thankful today for those rare surreal experiences that God brings to our lives. I am appreciative for classy people. I am sure glad that there is a strategically placed walking path, where good thoughts can come together. And most of all I am grateful for every person who made the dream come true.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Memorial Service for the Monterey High School Class of 1980-Reunion Thoughts Part III

 To our friends from the Class of 1980, who have gone before us:

It is July 24th in Lubbock, Texas. We have been wondering the halls of Monterey High School this afternoon. You know it is our 30 year reunion. You are not going to believe this, but the hallways here at MHS….Well, they just don’t look right. They are carpeted and the classrooms are air conditioned. Kids these days…

But don’t worry… we are looking beyond the veneer of 30 years of remodeling. Our minds have quickly shifted to the 1977-1978 school year.

And we see all of you in these hallways.

You are sitting next to us in algebra class. We are making plans together for the weekend just outside the band hall. You are hollering out at us, as we run down the stairs to get on a bus that is taking us to an out of town game. We see you making faces at us, as we wait to hear of our fate outside of Mr. Zorn’s office. Quit silently mouthing the letters. Z-I-P-P-Y. If we laugh, we will be in more trouble. You tell us that you will meet us at Taco Villa in just a few minutes…. That sounds great.

If only we had known….

A few of us are peering into the Trophy Case near the front office. That vantage point has taken our minds back to the 1978-1979 school year.

And we see all of you in these hallways.

There is a pep rally going in the gym. Friday night is the big game against Coronado. Thankfully you are in the stands with us at the pep rally and you will be at Lowry Field too. You are in your place in those stands too or…assuming your position on the field. We also see you at Shakey’s Pizza after the game. There is such much laughter. Homecoming is only a few weeks away. What? You are not going to tell us who are you are going to Homecoming with? Well OK, I should be home by 6:00, and you can call me then.

If only we had known...

You would not recognize the cafeteria. It does not look like a…well…like a school cafeteria is supposed to look. Several of us have good memories, so we are traveling quickly back to the 1979-1980 school year.

The lunch ladies have cleared out and we are decorating for the annual Cow-town Dance. I know you are not going to dance with the same person you went to Homecoming with last year. But I can see you out there dancing. We can hear the Begees softly singing, How Deep is Your Love? as the slow dance starts.

If only we had known…

Our tour of this newly remodeled Monterey High School is about to end.
And we see all of you in the hallways.

As we make our way to exit the school, we see you sitting in your place at the commencement ceremony in the Lubbock Coliseum. The United Arena has more or less replaced the old coliseum. But nothing can replace the void that your absence has left in our hearts.

If only we had known...

If only we had known then…during those formative years…

If only we had known then that you would go before us.
If only we had known, that we would never see some of you again after that stormy commencement night in May of 1980….If only we had known, we would have hugged more, laughed harder, and worked more diligently at staying in touch.

Our tour of the school is almost over, and we see all of you in the hallways. As we walk out into the hot sun, we are anticipating another reunion. You will be glad to know that Suter is not planning this one. It is a divinely appointed reunion. It will be a time when the image of you walking down those hallways will become a reality. We will meet the Lord in the Air and be with Him forever.

There could not be a more important reunion than that one.

If only we had known…

Friday, July 23, 2010

Taco Villa Was Around in the Caveman Days!! Reunion Thoughts Part II

 Sir…Sir…Here is your cup for your drink… Oh, I am sorry. I was off in another world, I told the young high school girl working at Taco Villa at noon today. I went on to tell her that I ate there everyday with my friends, when we were in high school. I suspect she thought I needed to be committed somewhere. I was just a little too enthusiastic about eating at Taco Villa of all places. And I think she secretly wondered if Taco Villa actually existed that far back.

I went over to the booth near the window, where we I sat so many years ago with Marty and Ruben. Most days Elizabeth and Paula and Sheryl were with us too. And when were seniors Lisa became a part of that group. We piled into Marty’s 1973 Gran Prix or into my little Chevy. You could purchase a bean burrito and a medium drink for less than a dollar in those days. So that was my daily lunch diet for three consecutive years. McDonalds was across the street, but Taco Villa was our fast food establishment of choice for some reason. On the days we had money we went to Weigh a Lunch at Shakey’s Pizza on the other side of 50th street, but that was a rarity.

I ate my bean burrito alone today. I was actually grateful for the solitude. Tomorrow I am responsible for memorializing 23 classmates from Monterey’s Class of 1980. 90% of my thoughts are completed. It is not going to be long and drawn out, but it needs to meaningful. I could not seem to get the final few ideas together. For some odd reason the atmosphere in Taco Villa at noon today helped me get off high center. Inspiration finally hit home. I hurried back to the hotel before said inspiration vanished into thin air.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I received a call from one of the police officers I serve in Granbury. What has happened now, I wondered? The officer explained to me that a friend from high school and his young son had died very unexpectedly a few weeks ago. The circumstances surrounding the death were particularly tragic. My officer friend wondered about reaching out to his wife, who was a high school classmate. Will he even remember me, was the concern expressed. What is the fitting thing to do? Would it be good to send a message on facebook? The officer caught me at the just the right time…

Here is what I said: Reach out to your friend. Send her a message this week and send her another one a few weeks down the road. Show some interest in her. At some point, this young widow, who has also lost a child, is going to feel extremely lonely and abandoned. As her classmate, you may very well be the person who can serve her most effectively.

We ended up having about a 30 minute phone conversation. I think my friend is more inspired than ever to touch a grieving person with a heart of compassion. God’s timing is always a good thing! And as I hung up the phone, I felt more inspired than ever to prepare for a memorial service tomorrow afternoon, because I realized part of my job is to encourage all of us to do precisely what I nudged my officer friend to do. What would I have done without Taco Villa today?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Reunite? Reflections on the 30 Year High School Reunion Part I

 The summer of 1979 is particularly memorable for me for some reason. That may be attributed to the fact that it was the first summer break that I had my own car to drive! I went worked hard that summer at the SPD Car Wash situated on a corner of South University in Lubbock near the South Loop. When 6:00 p.m. rolled around each evening, I always had plans with my friends.
There were short overnight camping trips, golf games, and barbeques. But mainly there was a lot of mischief. I really should not repeat where we went and what we did while we were there! There are some things that need to remain in the annals of the past. I am fairly certain the Statute of Limitations has run out on all of our infractions.

Paula was an important part of our group in those days. Her dad was a professor at Texas Tech at the time and her mother sold real estate. Paula was a blast to things with! We fed off each other’s inclination to find trouble, and so consequently Paula would find herself periodically “grounded” from her gold, 1977 Toyota Corolla. But for some odd reason her mother would always let her go out and about with me. What possessed her to temporarily abandon basic parental responsibility by doing that remains a mystery to this day?

Paula went on to get her degree in Elementary Education. She has taught in a public school system in the same community for 21 years now. In about 2 weeks, she will complete her coursework for a graduate level degree in her field.  She is an amazing educator. Paula is one of those rare teachers who are truly gifted in dealing with troubled, lost puppy students. For years she has taken in kids that cause other teachers to cringe. And she is good at it…

Paula called me a couple of days ago. The purpose of her call was not social in nature this time. Her mother is very ill. At the present time, her mother is in the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital in their community. Unfortunately her prognosis is not good. Paula and I had a conversation that all adult children dread. We reminisced this time, but it was particularly focused this go around. We talked about her mother. I told her how much I loved her mother and valued the contribution she made to the growth of all of us.

I began the trip to Lubbock for my 30 year high school reunion by stopping at the hospital to visit Paula and her mother. It was poignant. And it was an important aspect of a trip that is focused on reuniting. I would not trade that time for anything.

Why reunite? Why bother? Most of us have a significant array for great friendships that revolve around work, church, kids’ activities and extended family.  Why should my classmates turn the clock back to 1980? Reason #1 for today is: Several of our friends are caring for aging parents. Some of our friends are facing the reality of serious illness with their parents. In many case, those parents were surrogate moms and dads for us. Paula’s mom was good to me.  She loved a fatherless kid who needed adult role models in his life. I have not forgotten that. Today I am grateful for reuniting, because of “Reason #1. After leaving the hospital yesterday, my mind quickly traveled back to 1979. It was indeed particularly memorable for some reason.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Mama's Boys and Proud of It!

 A few weeks ago I attended an 80th birthday party with Jan honoring a gentleman at church. He recently moved into a very upscale independent living retirement facility. The same complex also includes assisted living services in another building. The company should rename it: “Retiring in Style.” It is a first rate place to be during that time in life.

I jokingly told Jan that our boys would eagerly place her in a facility just like that in her golden years, if I happen to precede her in death. What if she goes first and I am left to the care of the boys? They have already threatened to put me in a facility that the state actually shut down a few years ago, because of repeated code violations. What is wrong with that picture? Actually nothing is wrong.

If a man’s sons honor their mother, something is going right. I have made countless mistakes as a father, but my boys respectfully adore their mother. When they were small, I demanded such behavior. But now that they are older it comes naturally. I realize she is the kind of person worthy of such esteem, but it is still an attitude that has to be instilled in children.

It is interesting to watch the interaction between the boys and their mother now. When Randall calls home, he wants to talk to his mother. He has never been one to hide behind his mother or to be a mama’s boy. That child was born with an independent spirit. Their conversations are productive and engaging. I of course want talk to him as well, but it thrills me to see how his relationship with Jan is evolving. I imagine when Daniel goes to college next month that a similar pattern could develop.

If was in the position to dole out advice for young fathers of boys, I would have a few words of wisdom on this subject. I would urge them to demand respectful behavior from their boys. There should be zero tolerance in the home for boys talking back to their mother or otherwise disrespecting her. And of course dads have to model that kind of demeanor too! Domestic violence would become a rarity if such admonitions were followed.

Men should be men. And part of being a man is exhibiting respectful behavior toward the important women in our lives. What benefit will I receive from expecting such an attitude from my boys? It could help me land in some sub-standard nursing home someday. Perhaps before I pay college tuition and housing bills this fall I should have two of my three boys sign a “fatherly old age” contract. No that is an idea…

Monday, July 19, 2010

We All Deserve One "Mulligan"

 On the golf course, I have always been of the mind that if I could just try that shot one more time, that I would get it right during the second go around. Of course in a real match there are no “Mulligans” off the tee box and certainly not during play on the hole. An explanation is really in order. “Mulligans” or “Mullies” as they are sometimes called are “do over shots” in a golf game. In a friendly game of golf, partners often allow each other to have such a do over shot on the 1st and 10th tee boxes. In cases of charity tournaments, a set amount of mulligans are sold to each player as a way of raising more funds for a good cause. But the bottom line in golf is: you have one crack at each shot. If it does not go well, you have to play it anyway.
Last week I played a round at the par 3 course by myself. There was not another soul on the course during the noon hour, so I decided to play two balls on each hole. Finally my dream had come true! If I didn’t like the way I hit the first shot, I could correct my swing as I played the second ball. The result was not what I expected.

I ended up scoring significantly lower on the shots I made with the first ball. I found that to be very odd. I had every opportunity to make necessary corrections, as I played that second ball on each hole. The improvements remained elusive.

I could not help but laugh to myself when I finished the round. It occurred to me that perhaps all of us spend way too much energy dwelling on what we would have done in life, if given the chance to make different choices. In other words, we perceive that our lives would be better if there were “Mulligans” for all of the major decisions we are faced with everyday. I do believe that is a false assumption.

Things might not work out nearly as well as we think if we went back and changed things. In golf, you have to play the ball where it lands. If it lands in middle of the fairway, that is great! But if it lands behind a tree or in the sand trap, you have to just make the best of it. Learning to address such challenges makes the game fun and engaging. I think the same is true in life. I am determined today to make the most of the opportunities before me. There are a few swings I would like to do over, but that is not going to happen. I am just grateful to be in the game.

This Saturday we will play golf at Lakeridge Country Club during our Monterey High School 30 year reunion. I wonder what the rules will be concerning the use of “Mulligans?” I know that doing it over does not always work out well, but a few “Mullies” may be order during that tournament to keep things moving in a positive direction. Hmm…Now I am wondering if I learned my lesson at the par 3 course last week! Well I suppose everyone deserves at least one “Mulligan!”

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Still Haven't Found What I Am Looking For...

 Not long after the final round of the British Open, a golf commentator made this observation about Tiger Wood’s decision to change putters during the middle of the tournament.  His quote sounded somewhat like the lyrics from a U-2 song.  Here is what he said:

Tiger Woods has left more talent residue on his putter grip (whichever putter he is using) than most of us have in our entire bodies. But when things go wrong, he does what we all do. We search. And we don’t always find what we are looking for.

I like what he says about searching, because it is pretty accurate. When things go wrong in every possible arena of life, we start searching for answers. In the process of that journey, we try new things. We change habits. We purchase things we have never had before. We search for new friendships. In some cases, established relationships are abandoned. But we don’t’ always find what we are looking for…

What is the moral to that story? There has to be a hidden life lesson hidden somewhere in that quote about searching. In the case of Tiger’s putting frustrations at the British Open this past week, he ended up going back to his original putter that has won tournaments with for quite some time. Is that the hidden lesson? When things go haywire in our life, should we stay the course? Is the search for the bigger and better a foolish endeavor? THAT is a good question.

There is some degree of wisdom in such a conclusion. The missions to search for fix all solutions often lead to even greater levels of frustration. They are particularly fruitless when we are right in the middle of the issue at hand. In other words, is it really wise to change putters right in the middle of a major tournament? Wouldn’t it be better make such a decision on the practice green weeks before a major? (Tiger obviously failed to consult me on such an momentous decision.)

When we are frustrated with some aspect of our life, is it better to stay the course for a period of time? I think that is true. It might be good to start searching for solutions, but continue to “putt” with the same putter in the process. In the final analysis, we not find what we are looking for. That sounds like a U-2 song I have heard before….

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Hiway 77 Cafe Experience

It must be the week to make friends in random cafes. Tuesday morning I chatted with total strangers in Garland’s Waffle House on Interstate 30 just east of downtown Dallas. I spoke early this morning at a law enforcement conference in Brenham, not too far from Houston. On the way home, we stopped to eat at a little mom and pop eatery in the middle of nowhere. The name of the place is the Hiway 77 Café. It is a very simple medal building that is situated quite literally in the middle of a hay field just north of Rosebud and about 42 miles south of Waco. There were only a few cars there at 11:30 this morning, so we almost chose not to stop. What a mistake that would have been!

Wow! The food was great. They serve old fashioned, home-style cooking. Jan and I split a generous bowl of homemade peach cobbler after our meal. We had a very pleasant visit with owners, who also serve as wait staff. The Hiway 77 Café is particularly unique in its décor. There are over 200 8X10 photos of service men and women that date who served in a time period from the Civil War up to those who are stationed in Iraq. When you receive your menu, you are given an insert listing all of the names of the veterans and the corresponding number on the photo displayed on the wall.

I am interested in military history, so I was enthralled. We both wondered what motivated the owners to honor these men and women. I regret that we did not ask. I can’t help but wonder if someone very close to them was killed in the line of duty. I was reminded of an important principle, as we enjoyed our Texas style cooking today.   

People don’t want their loved ones forgotten. Can you imagine what it is like for someone to hear that a friend saw a picture of their relative in that café unexpectedly? I saw dozens of vintage World War II pictures. I of course thought of my own father’s picture in uniform during that time period.

We are going to have to find an excuse to go to Waco, so we can drive a little further south and visit the Hiway 77 Café again. I plan to ask more questions on the next go around. In the meantime, I am going make sure that I ask other questions too. I need to inquire about people’s loved ones. I particularly need to ask about their relatives who are deceased. People need to know that such individuals have not been forgotten. Hats off to the Hiway 77 Café for making that a reality!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Surrounded By Heroes

 When I was a little boy, I watched the show “Emergency” every single week. I carefully took in every rescue call that characters Roy DeSoto and John Gage took in “Squad 51.” The idea of paramedics serving as first responders at a fire department was a relatively new concept in 1972, when the show originated. My neighbors Colleen and Maureen Burke along with their younger brother John often stopped their playing with me long enough to take in an episode of “Emergency.” I wonder today if that show had some kind of impact on the careers each of us chose. Colleen is a juvenile probation officer. Maureen is a nurse. I chose ministry. One of my specialties over the years has been law enforcement chaplaincy. And John is a firefighter.
Some of the “Emergency” episodes were based on actual events, but it was still a typical television drama in the early 1970’s. Many of the harsh realities of the life of a firefighter or that of a nurse working in a trauma center were never addressed. And that is probably a good thing! I have indeed discovered such realities in my profession along with my lifelong friends, whom I watched Emergency with in 1972.

Firefighter John Burke was called to a scene this past week where a young man purposely drove his vehicle off a steep embankment into Lake Michigan. Good training paid its dividends. John and his partner were able to get in the water and rescue the man from the sinking vehicle. He was critically injured. The link to the news report is as follows:

As I watched footage from a Milwaukee news channel, I was very proud of John. He was always the little brother whom we were forced to play with everyday. I am sure we played firefighters on some of those lazy summer days in the late 60’s and early ‘70’s. Now he is a first responder of the finest caliber. His mother passed away recently. She would have been extremely proud of her son.

I don’t recall Roy or Johnny going on any attempted suicide calls. But unfortunately that is not an uncommon call for service that fire departments around the nation must fulfill in their role as first responders. While John and his partner were pulling the attempted suicide victim out of Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, a similar tragedy was taking place not far from my home. The mayor of Coppell, TX shot her daughter and then in turn killed herself with the same weapon this week.

Every year I assist law enforcement agencies here in Hood County with both attempted suicides and cases where individuals go on and take their own lives. It is a crisis that strikes both the poor and the wealthy. Suicidal people are often educated individuals who are pillars of our communities. And yet Suicide is an often misunderstood phenomenon The following list is just a few ideas that I have jotted down over the years to use in training sessions for new law enforcement chaplains. They are concepts I have borrowed from a variety of sources. In light of this week’s events, I thought it might be good to share it.

Recognize the Signs of Suicide

1. Putting things in order

2. Writing a will

3. A withdrawal from usual activities

4. Being preoccupied with death

5. Having experienced a recent loss

6. Feeling hopeless, helpless, and worthless

7. Increased drug or alcohol abuse

8. Giving hints…”I am of no use to anyone”

9. Showing agitated depression

10. Isolation

11. Suicidal Threats

Suicidal people have a real emergency going on in their life. In many cases, there is nothing we can do to prevent it from happening.  In such cases, there is little if any warning.  We may not be able to serve at the level that John Burke and his partner did this week, but perhaps our ability be alert will keep first responders from having to go out in the first place. Let’s be willing to serve those among us who are facing the emergency of depression or acute anxiety.   I am grateful today to be surrounded by heroes, who are willing to serve where they are needed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Favorite Randall Turns 21 Today: I am Declaring my Dependence...

My firstborn turns 21 today. That is a pretty big milestone in a person’s life! As recently as last week I referred to him as my #1 son. I was of course referring to birth order. Someone aptly pointed out to me that such use of a number has a ring of preferential treatment to it. In reality, I have three #1 sons. There is my favorite Randall, my favorite Daniel, and my favorite Mitchell.
There is no doubt that my favorite Randall is excited about turning 21 today. There is a new level of adulthood and independence that goes with that particular birthday. What he does not realize is that with old age comes more responsibility. He is edging closer and closer to truly having his independence declared. If all goes as planned, he will graduate with his bachelor’s degree next May. He can then enjoy all of the benefits of total freedom.

There is nothing quite like the excitement of anticipating the birth of a first child. Jan was actually due around the 4th of July in 1989, so I scheduled my vacation to begin on that day. I had in mind that she would go into labor at 8:00 the morning that her doctor told her was the so called due date. She tried to tell me that babies can be late, but obviously I was not listening. That day came and went. There was no hint of labor pains. They say women have nesting instinct. I had some kind of instinct going on. I started cleaning and scrubbing the house. I cleaned windows. I scoured floors. I had enough nervous energy to provide electricity to every home in Wichita Falls. Jan was thinking the due date had arrived all right….The date I was due to be committed to an institution!

The big day finally arrived. Shortly after midnight on July 15th, 1989 she told me that her water had broken. I told her to be more careful and not be spilling her water in my freshly cleaned home. She was very kind. As she prepared for labor, she gave me a basic lecture on obstetrics on the way to the hospital. Of course I was privileged to be with her during the entire process.

There is nothing like holding your child for the first time. I mean nothing. I knew he was my favorite Randall in less than a second. I also knew intuitively that my life would never be the same. It is just the opposite of what you feel when you turn 21. When you turn 21, you feel so very independent and free! When you hold your child for the first time, you feel overwhelmed with responsibility, because that infant is totally dependent on you.

What are my thoughts 21 years later? I am all too aware of the mistakes I have made as a parent. There is plenty of room for blunders over a period of time that spans two decades. I would go back and do many things differently.
I am also thankful for the uniqueness of each my children at this juncture as a parent. I often tell me people that Randall possesses his mother’s intellect and my mouth. That is a disturbing thought to those who know us well. But it has served Randall well. He is an extremely nice bulldog. He has unbelievable analytical abilities. He is not at all afraid to argue with anyone about a variety of significant subjects, but he is always pleasant. He just never quits. He is a bulldog. The arguments continue to come. Our other boys are not like him in that regard. They have their own unique strengths.

His 21st birthday is bringing on some good thoughts for me. I think I will start calling him my favorite Randall instead of my #1 son starting today. I am reminded today of the importance of appreciating the irreplaceable and distinctive qualities that each of my children possess. They are so different I often wonder if they came from the same gene pool.

I really need to apply that principle to all of my important relationships. Appreciate each person, because they are a unique person created in the image of God. That is a good lesson for me, because I tend to dwell on a person’s liabilities instead of the wonderful qualities that make them exceptional.

How can I not be a little sad today? I miss that little infant who was wrapped up in a Wichita General Hospital blanket. But there is a bright side. He is an adult today in every respect, so that means that he is one step closer to supporting me in the fashion to which I have been accustomed. Maybe I am not so sad… I am thinking that it is time for me to regress into the irresponsible person I was before he was born and be dependent on him. Yes…life is good. My favorite Randall turns 21 today and I am declaring my dependence .

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

One of the Waffle House Regulars

 I have never been a big fan of Waffle House Restaurants. Comedian Jim Gaffigan says in one of his stand up routines that if you can imagine a gas station bathroom that sells waffles, then you have been to a Waffle House. Unfortunately that image has remained imprinted on my mind for some odd reason. Waffle House has never been my first choice for a breakfast stop on the road. But yesterday was a notable exception.

I had to be at the Texas Department of Public Safety office in Garland for a 9:00 meeting. I had no idea what rush hour traffic would bring in trying to make it all the way across both Fort Worth and Dallas at that time of day. I ended up getting to the DPS office early. I did not have time to go exploring in Garland in search of some quaint mom and pop cafe, which of course is my preference for a cup of coffee and maybe even a couple of eggs over medium. But guess what infamous establishment is situated about 100 yards west of the DPS office? The Waffle House of course…

Images of Jim Gaffigan’s audience laughing at his cracks about the Waffle House raced through my head, but I tried my best to tune them out. I took my place at the old fashioned counter that reminded me of the little grill at the Woolworth’s store in the Shorecrest Shopping area that was not far from my childhood home. The lady who waited on me has probably spent some time in jail. I could just sense it. She is probably someone who has had a history of drug abuse. But on the surface she certainly appeared to be clean and sober. The manager was a very outgoing African American lady, who knew the rest of the customers by name. I found her to be more entertaining then Jim Gaffigan.

The “regulars” in this Garland Waffle House on Interstate 30 soon drew me into their conversation. The 50 something year old lady sitting next to me started telling me about the Spanish class she is taking in summer school. We talked Spanish grammar and vocabulary. She told me she has been in college for 5 years and will soon graduate. The waitress it turns out has indeed been in jail.  She asked me about my role as a DPS chaplain. She wondered if I ministered in the Dallas Count Jail. I proceeded to tell her that my primary area of service was that of crisis intervention. In the most sincere way possible she said: “You have a hard job…”

I ate a pretty decent waffle. The coffee was quite good and the company was even better. I imagine every person in that restaurant has had a pretty hard life. It would not take a scientist of social observation to figure that out. They have not had the breaks I have had. They probably did not grow up in neighborhoods as nice as the one I grew up in. My parents were very educated people. They in turn gave me such a privilege. With the exception of the lady sitting next to me, I doubt any of those folks have been to college.

I learned a few things early yesterday morning. I learned that people in large cities create their own Mayberry’s. They form their own small communities. When I go into to the Firehouse Café in Granbury, I am generally greeted as “Honey” or “Sweetheart” by the seasoned wait staff. It is small town America and we know each other. I thought residents of large cities gave up the perks of Mayberry, but that is not entirely true.

I was prompted not to stereotype yesterday. And furthermore I was reminded that socioeconomic, race, language, and cultural barriers can be erased quickly, if we are simply open to people. I found that to be true yesterday. I paid my ticket and the friendly manager looked at my DPS photo id and said: "Thank you John. I hope you have a great day."  I had been officially accepted as one of the regulars. Jim Gaffigan was the last person on my mind as I left the parking lot and made my way to the impending meeting. After all, he is obviously not one of the regulars…

Monday, July 12, 2010

Stop Now! I Need to Impose My Story on You!

 My traditional Southern mother had a few key vocabulary words that she used on a very regular basis. They were terms that Scarlett O’hara herself no doubt employed. The consistent use of such terminology was a reflection of Southern culture and values.

One of those frequently used terms was: impose. Sometimes the noun form imposition was utilized. My mother did not want to impose on anyone. She did want our family to be an imposition. She never asked friends to do something for her or one of her children at the last minute. She was not inclined to drop in a friend without advance notice. That would an imposition without a doubt!

I actually thought that her Southern manners cramped my spontaneous style. I was of a mind even as a young boy that nobody is going to care if you drop in on them. I honestly think my mother would have broken out in hives if she had been forced to do something spontaneously that might potentially impose on another person. I just continued to roll my eyes, and she in turn would point her finger at me and tell me not be talking uh-gli. (that is Southern for ugly)

As an adult, I now see things differently. My mother was actually on to something. In my profession, I see people imposing themselves on others on a very regular basis. It has nothing to do with dropping in on friends unannounced or being spontaneous for that matter.

I see people imposing their own story on friends who are struggling. Several examples come to mind. Well intentioned individuals show up to comfort a grieving family member, friend, or work colleague. They could a real source of encouragement to that person who has faced a recent loss. But they commonly end up telling their own story of grief. I should say they end imposing their own story, because it is simply not helpful. It is almost like they are saying: Stop now!  Stop sharing!  I need to impose my story on you...

The same scenario unfolds with a person who is struggling with some aspect of raising children. “Now let me tell you what I did back in 1994 with my little Kellie Ann…” Let the process of imposing commence! I know all of us desire to find common ground when we are reaching out to friends in need, but there is a better way.

I find that listening very closely to the unique story of the other person is very important. All of our energies should be consumed in listening to every single detail of their story. We are going to be really tempted to jump in when there is a pause in the conversation and impose our story on our friend in need. Resist that temptation! Ignore those voices! Our friends don’t need to hear what has gone on with us unless they ask. They need us to express interest in their particular situation. We need to ask about their children and their family members. I find this to be so rare! I guess it is just too much of an imposition for us to tuck away our own stories long enough to really listen to someone else’s.

Next time you reach out to someone in grief, someone facing serious illness, or someone in another kind of crisis, leave your own story at the house. You will honor your friendship by giving the other person’s situation your undivided attention. I am thankful for today for a Southern mother who at least put me on the right track…

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Exclusive Cliques? Give it Up!

Some dear friends of mine recently met with their high school classmates for a 30 year reunion. I can’t imagine being that old, so it was fun to hear a few stories about their time of reconnecting. As they made final preparations for the big event, I started wondering what it would be like to be with old friends and acquaintances that you have not seen for decades, in some instances. All kinds of images started running through my head.

Here is an assessment from one person who attended:

It was so much fun! It was so great to see people in person and there was lots of hugging. People were really happy to see each other, and if we weren't sure, we just said, now who are you?? :-)

Why was it such a positive experience? I think there are several reasons. For starters the reunion organizers are fine people, who have the gift of bringing diverse people together. But I can’t help but think that the passage of time is another contributing factor. When my 10 year high school reunion rolled around, I gave no thought whatsoever to attending. I was still in contact with my closest friends from high school at that point and I didn’t really care what anyone else was doing. I was busy taking caring of an infant son and getting established in a career. In the case of this recent event, 30 years has flown by!

A lot can happen during the span of three decades. Children are born. Children grow up and leave home. Classmates are affected by serious illness. Marriages take place and divorces occur as well. There are deceased classmates. Life happens.

Unfortunately high school students can tend to be social exclusivists. Not all teens fall into such a category, but high schools tend to be a breeding ground for exclusive behavior. There are the “in” cliques and then there are there other groups that are…well they are not “in.” Seventeen year old kids are not old enough to appreciate peers for their intrinsic value. Over the course of three decades all of that changes.

As life happens, those exclusive tendencies gradually started melting like snow in the Midwest during the month of March. Life has a way of fostering humility. There are disappointments and tragedies. Friends struggle. There are financial highs to enjoy and lows to endure.

By the time a group of people reach age 48, they realize that people are important. Friendships from all eras of life are priceless. Being inclusive becomes the greater priority. Old relationships are renewed and new ones are formed. And that process leads to reunion events, where it is great to see each other in person. Cherished hugs are exchanged.

I can’t imagine being that old. And I fantasize about things other than age too. The truth is: I am 48 years old. I know many of the individuals who attended the above mentioned reunion, because I went to elementary and junior high with a number of them. I have been privileged to reconnect with several of them during the course of the past 9 months.

They are indeed an inclusive group. They have adopted me, as if I went to school with them through high school graduation. I feel sort of like the kid who ran away from his family, but was he welcomed with open arms when he finally decided to come home. Life has happened to me too since I moved from that community. I think my behavior is thus more inclined to be inclusive as well at this stage in life.

I am sure there are those who will never grow out of their socially exclusive leanings. That is a real tragedy. I just know that I am grateful tonight for friends from all walks and periods of life. My life is better as a result of my friendships with each of them! My message to high school students today: “Exclusive cliques? Give it Up!”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Play the Sunset

 I recently listed of my all time favorite movies. I like so many movies that I had to formulate categories in order for the list to be more meaningful. Mr. Holland’s Opus is an all time favorite that falls in my classic category. When I was teaching as an adjunct university instructor, I used to watch that movie just before each semester began as a reminder of what I was really supposed be doing.

In an early scene in the movie, Mr. Holland, the orchestra teacher, has an interchange with a high student who is struggling to learn how to play her instrument. It not like she has been lazy. The poor girl has diligently practiced, but she cannot seem to get it down. The audience can feel her frustration. As Mr. Holland tries to encourage her, he asks this question: Is it any fun?

I am convinced that meaningful growth and change in many of our lives fails to occur, because the process it is not any fun. Perhaps I should define what I mean by fun. I do not necessarily mean that life should be all about running and playing. But on the other hand, we can be like the young lady trying to learn how to play the clarinet. We are so intense, so hard on ourselves, so tightly wound that we take all of the fun and joy out of the process. Such joyless intensity has the potential of destroying confidence and a healthy self-esteem. That was certainly the case with the girl striving to learn how to play the clarinet. Prior to Mr. Holland’s intervention, she had convinced herself that everyone in her family was talented in some way except her!

Mr. Holland accomplished two things during their brief conversation. He urged her to have fun. In other words, he told her to loosen up. Playing an instrument is supposed to be enjoyable! And secondly he helped his student to view herself differently. Here is a summary of the interchange that he has with his Ms. Lang:

Mr. Holland: Is it any fun? (Playing music)

Ms. Lang: I wanted it to be…

Mr. Holland: Music is supposed to be fun! It’s about heart, feelings, and moving people. It is not about notes on a page…

Mr. Holland: Let me ask you a question. When you look in the mirror, what do you like best about yourself?

Ms. Lang: My hair…

Mr. Holland: Why?

Ms. Lang: Well, my father always says that it reminds of the sunset.

Mr. Holland: Play the sunset…

Some would view this dialogue between teacher and student as being at tad bit on the cheesy side. But I don’t see it that way at all. I am convinced that all of us find ourselves stymied in deep ruts, because our pursuits are not fun. We are playing the notes on the page so to speak, but the process is void of feeling. There is no heart. Our goals are no longer moving to us or anyone else.

Have you looked in the mirror lately? I have…I don’t see a sunset. I see gray hair. There lies the problem. I had better take another look in that mirror and determine what I like best about myself. It could be that I determine that I like the gray hair best. I have heard that it supposed to make men look distinguished.

Any at rate, none of us will experience long lasting life change until the process is fun. Perhaps I should state that in another way. Change won’t occur unless the process is emotionally satisfying. After all we are not robots. We were created as emotional human beings. And we will never experience personal growth as long as we lack self confidence.

It is a cloudy Saturday morning in Granbury, America. I think I will go play the sunset… Or maybe I will play a little golf if the weather clears. Whatever I do today it will be fun.

Here is the link to the scene I just referenced:

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sharpening Those Paternal Instincts

 There is such a thing as paternal instinct. And it is very different from its maternal counterpart. Dads are just tuned into a different frequency than moms.  When I was at camp last month, being a dorm dad was part of my duties as the Head Men’s Counselor. The director strategically places me in a dorm room at the corner of the building on the first floor. At night I had a bird’s eye view of three boys’ dorms. I can also hear what is going on above me on the second floor.
The last night of camp during the second week I heard a commotion going on in one of the rooms above me that caused me to stop everything I was doing. Now bear in mind that I had been listening to the boys wrestle, holler, and otherwise stretch their budding masculinity for almost two weeks by this point. It had not been a cause for concern. But that last night something was different. I could sense that the noise I was hearing was not the same. Paternal alarms starting sounding in my head.

I quickly bounded up the stairs to investigate and simply followed the noise until I found the right room. When I opened that door, a group of six boys looked at me with a deer in the headlights gape. “What’s going on men?” I asked. The shocked gaze immediately turned into a shoe staring contest. None of them were eager to enter the dorm dad’s portable confessional. So I asked the same question again…And of course it finally came out that I had interrupted a fist fight that was within seconds of commencing at the time I entered that dorm room.

The guilty parties were dispersed to their respective rooms with a strong paternal warning not to reassemble after I left. They are all great kids. I was not too worried. I went back to my room and resumed packing for the departure home the next day. I was even feeling sort of smug that my paternal radar was obviously fully functional. I could actually differentiate between good masculine noise and masculine clamor that is quickly going downhill. But my thoughts were soon interrupted.

I heard on the two way radio that the staff had been using during camp that one of the boys on that second floor was missing. Apparently he had quite literally run away. Why would anyone want to run away from my dorm, I thought? They have a dorm dad who loves them! (Actually I was scared to death and felt very responsible for the situation at hand.) After a brief chase, the counselors secured the boy in question. We called his youth minister to join us at the dorm.

The boy had struggled some during camp, but he is a good kid. I had not experienced any trouble from him in the dorm at night. When his youth minister told me why he ran, I felt a cold chill go down my spine. He said: “He ran because he does not want to go home tomorrow.” The boy lives with his father. I was under the impression that his contact with his mother was minimal or even non-existent. His meltdown the final night at camp was set off by fear and insecurity.

We settled the immediate problem and everyone went back to their rooms. My paternal smugness quickly vanished. I can sense it when a fight is about to break out, but somehow I had missed a cry for help from a struggling young man.  As I resumed my packing, I made a vow to come back to camp in 2011 armed with sharper paternal radar. I know my days as a dorm dad are numbered. It won’t be long until they promote me to being the dorm grandfather. I won’t be ready for that promotion until I learn how to be more alert to the needs of the kids. Today I am thinking about the words of the Apostle Paul: “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others…”

I do believe the cultivation of paternal instincts can be included in that pursuit.  I know that my paternal instincts are need in of sharpening...

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Day My Sweet Wife Nearly Turned Violent...

 Today is my youngest son’s birthday. Mitchell turns 14 on this 8th day of July. I remember the story of his birth very clearly. The birth of each of our children represents something significant. In Mitchell’s case, he is the miracle child. Jan experienced a miscarriage in January of 1995. After all of these years, the pain of that loss is still real. Naturally we were cautiously optimistic when we found out she was expecting again later that same year. But serious pregnancy complications developed. Issues arose that could be life threatening to both her and our unborn child.

A caesarean section was scheduled for bright and early in the morning on July 8th, 1996. This was our first experience with a c-section. I went into it pretty confident that I would not have to accost a nurse in the hallway and tell her that Jan was going to get an epidural within the next 5 milliseconds. Such an event happened in the early morning hours of July 15th 1989. I did not care about centimeters of dilation at that point anymore than the prize of eggs in China. My wife was in pain, and if she did not get relief someone else was going to be in pain. (First time dads are totally irrational you know.)

A team of three wonderful doctors coordinated events in the surgical suite that morning. I am grateful for each of them to this day. They even let this third time dad join them during the process. One thing stood out to me that morning…It was quick. I mean really quick. There was no labor. There was not a move into a delivery room. It was not a long and drawn out process. Mitchell came into this world fast.

Jan was soon wheeled back to her room and the nurses started caring for their post operative patient in the best way you can imagine. They were wonderful.  And then things soon went downhill… Later that morning I told Jan: “Wow…this whole c-section thing was so easy! We should have done it all three times!” Now those of you who know my little 5’2” petite bride are aware of her quiet and gentle personality. It is a good thing no one else was in the room when I made that comment. And it was also a good thing for me that she was in a weakened state. If she had been physically able, she would have jumped out of that hospital bed, knocked me out cold, and then climbed back in that same bed feeling no remorse whatsoever. Instead I just got “the look.” If I remember correctly, I quickly excused myself and slipped down the hallway mumbling something about finding a coke machine.

At the end of that same week, I was able to take my recuperating wife and third son home. By that point, I had chosen to keep my post delivery comments to myself. That of course was good for everyone involved. We had to get home to celebrate Randall’s 7th birthday that year on July 15th. After several anxious months, our miracle child was ready to join his family. I felt fortunate in more ways than one…

On March 13th, 1978, I left St. Mary’s Hospital in Lubbock very early that morning following the sudden and unexpected death of my father. I was 15 years old. And then on July 11th, 1996, I left the same hospital with my wife and newborn son. It was a strange feeling. As I walked through the East entrance of the hospital, I could feel my grieving heart experiencing a level of healing. And I expressed a word of thanks, as I held my miracle child a little closer. I wish I was in Lubbock today. I would actually like to stand on that doorway one more time to fully express my appreciation. But instead I will celebrate with a 14 year old and prepare to celebrate again one week from today with a 21 year old! I wonder if I should remind Jan today about my c-section commentary 14 years ago today…No…I don’t think that is a good idea. It is not a good idea at all!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Does Anyone Care?

 Does anyone care? Everyday individuals in people helping professions of all kinds are going the extra mile to make a difference. Teachers put in all kinds of extra hours to help one struggling student. Nurses take the time to listen to a patient, who is lonely and scared. Firefighters and paramedics keep their skills sharp, so they can be prepared to take care of a person’s immediate medical concerns in the field.

And then there are police officers. No one wants to see them in their rear view mirror. And people get angry when an officer writes a citation, because a small child is not in a car seat. The other night when I was riding with an officer a lady was angry; because he told her it be five working days before an accident report would be ready. It was a fairly serious crash that involved 5 vehicles. She had no clue the amount of time that goes into a report of that nature.

On another occasion I was with an officer who was dealing with a man who had driven his truck off in a ditch. The man appeared to be intoxicated, but the officer told me he could not detect any smell of alcohol. The gentleman was totally incoherent. He could not even tell us his name. Instinct told me that he was having an insulin reaction. The officer directed me to check in the cab of his truck for diabetic supplies. Bingo… We were dealing with a diabetic in serious trouble. As the officer called for an ambulance, I started helping the man sip some Sprite. It was all we had with us that had sugar in it.

The man’s wife arrived at the scene not long after the paramedics loaded him in the ambulance. They told her what we did for him. She proceeded to tell us that she was a nurse and gave us an impromptu lecture on the care of diabetics. There was no expression of gratitude. If we the officer I was with had taken the man to jail without thinking first, the man could have died. There was no thank you that night. .. She got in the ambulance and we went about our merry way that night. That is just what you do…

Tonight was an exception to that rule. Officer Jon Ubinger of the Granbury Police Department was presented the Life Saving Award by Chief Mitch Galvan at a meeting of the Granbury City Council tonight. Officer Ubinger entered a burning home while he was off duty, and quite literally dragged his neighbor to safety almost two weeks ago. She remains hospitalized in serious condition, as she recuperates from burns and smoke inhalation. Jon humbly received the award with his wife and daughter at his side tonight to a standing ovation in packed council chambers. Fellow officers lined the back wall to show their support.

Does anyone care? I imagine all of us pose the question to ourselves periodically. We hear the negative feedback everyday. And people often forget to express their gratitude. But tonight was one of those rare exceptions. And I would think everyone left feeling just a little more inspired.

At any rate, we are all proud of Jon. I may have to buy him a sleeve of golf balls as a symbol of my appreciation for his dedication. And then hopefully I can catch him on a bad day on the course, and beat him for a change!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Receiving Licks or Being Licked? Which Shall it Be?

 One of our Sunday school teachers at church shared this event that took place in her classroom just a few days ago.

After meandering conversation, Boy 1: "Hey, did you know in some schools if you get in trouble you can get a spanking by the principal." Girl 1 replies, "Yes, my mom says when she was in school they called it licks." Boy 2, with utterly horrified expression asks, “You mean you went to the principal’s office and HE LICKED YOU?”

While she was enjoying that interchange between her 4th graders, I was teaching our oldest group of people at church. Yesterday was my first Sunday with them. They proudly informed me that they were members of the Greatest Generation. And it’s true. When I teach that group, nostalgia reigns. I hear stories of flying in the Army Air Corps during World War II. One lady told me that if her husband was still alive they would have celebrated 63 years of marriage on July 5th. They really are a fun group. And they are a group that is thoroughly familiar with licks at school…My generation is familiar with that form of punishment as well from the standpoint of being on the receiving end.

When I attended Monterey High School in Lubbock, our assistant principal was Mr. Zorns. Respectful students of course called him just that. They referred to him as Mr. Zorns. And then there were others among us who called either called him “Zippy Zorns” or just “Zippy” for short. Such guilty individuals of course must remain unnamed.

Monterey High School legend has it that he earned such a nickname, because he could administer licks in such an efficient and potentially painful manner. I am pleased to share the fact that his name was well earned. He was indeed very effective with the paddle.

I saw Mr. Zorn’s obituary in the Lubbock Avalanche Journal in 2007. When I read the details of his life, I realized probably for the first time that he was a real guy. And it also occurred to me that Mr. Zorns really cared about the students entrusted to his disciplinary care. When he administered his infamous “Zippy” licks, he was simply trying to maintain some sense of order and control in our high school. I see his role differently today, because I have noticed what a lack of such discipline and order in our high school has caused.

Are licks effective? Is corporal punishment damaging to kids who are being abused at home? In my estimation, there are actually better and more effective means of punishing kids. In today’s schools, we have police officers working on the campuses. I think that it is a good thing for kids to receive disorderly conduct citations in some cases. Granbury has a separate Behavioral Transition School that has taken the concept of In School Suspension to the next level. It is very effective. I have been privileged to serve in a mentoring program over there that really seems to make a difference.

Zippy was a member of the Greatest Generation. He graduated from Meadow High School in 1948. Giving out corporal punishment was what principals of that generation did. Yes, I must confess. I called him “Zippy” and not Mr. Zorns. I can tell you firsthand what his “licks” felt like.

His colleagues today are probably making different choices, but they are facing a new set of challenges with kids. As times change, there will always be a need for lots of discipline and lots of love to go with it! Thankfully Zippy never licked any of us to my knowledge. Is it possible that licking may have been a better deterrent than licks…I suppose the class of 1980 will never know…

Careless Words Do Untold Damage...

 I must confess. I am careless. I leave my keys in a variety of nooks and crannies in our home previously unknown to mankind, so when it comes time to leave the house I am in deep trouble. Where did I put those keys? I leave things at the office that should go home. And I leave things at home that should be at the office. I lose grocery lists before arriving at Walmart. Our church treasurer tracks me down every month asking for receipts. I smile sheepishly and hope deep down in my heart that the receipts she is requesting are not wadded up in a pocket of a pair of pants that is undergoing the rinse cycle in the washer machine as we speak. I am hopelessly careless.

Carelessness is fairly harmless when it comes to car keys and receipts. It can be a useful attribute when it comes to grocery lists. (Conveniently replace Oreos with the broccoli that was on the list…) But carelessness is lethal when it comes to verbal communication. Careless mouths do untold damage.

As a minister, I occasionally will have critical things said to me. Those conversations almost always end up being pretty constructive. More often I hear negative comments that were said about me. If I am willing to go to the trouble to track the source down and confront the comment head on, then that too can turn out to be positive. And then on very rare occasions I will hear disapproving things said about Jan or the boys. I have a wonderful wife and the best kids on the face of the earth. (They have their mother’s genes thankfully.) But once in a great while someone will get a dig in on one of them. When that happens, I become completely irrational. I would suspect that most people become irrational under such circumstances, because careless mouths do untold damage.

Careless words directed at a person’s children or other members of their family do monumental damage. In some cases, the damage cannot be repaired. Yesterday a friend of mine told me about a comment his mother made about his two small children. She told a family a family friend: “See how horrible they are.” The comment was a reference to the perceived behavior of his children. I should point out that I know the children in question, and they are very well behaved. The comment was not made in his presence. He did not even hear about it until long after it was made. The damage is done. A careless mouth has done untold damage.

Making sweeping statements about a person’s child is not helpful to a parent. As my boys get older, I continue to become increasingly empathetic to parents raising young children. There are so many obstacles to overcome. Kids can struggle in so many different ways. I have been down many of those roads with my children. And I see kids struggling in ways that mine did not, but I still try to be very supportive.  As a veteran parent, I know that careless words do untold damage!

Believe me I am no saint. My mouth has always had transmission issues. It goes in gear while my brain remains in park. Careless comments made about another person’s child are inexcusable. I would strongly urge all of us to think very carefully before we launch any kind of commentary about a child. After all they are kids… I am going to head out to buy a few groceries in a few minutes armed with a list that may or may not make it onto the premises of the store. At least I plan to go to the store if I can find my keys… But I will leave the house thinking about the consequences of my words, because I know that careless mouths do untold damage…

Thursday, July 1, 2010

I AM....Not Invincible!

I have been thinking about the upcoming memorial service honoring the deceased members of Lubbock Monterey High School’s Class of 1980. It will be held on the campus of our alma mater during the 30 year reunion weekend this month. Lots of thoughts have rolled through my head regarding this event. Specific people come to mind. And I have been pondering the circumstances of some of the deaths that have occurred. And for some crazy reason, I keep thinking about Ms. Jeter…

Ms. Jeter was my health class teacher in the 10th grade. Health was not at the top of my list of classes where I expected to experience academic enrichment. In fact, I decided long before the first meeting that it was going to be a complete and total waste of my precious time. I was 15 years old. I had other high priority engagements to pursue. But Ms. Jeter surprised me.

She brought in guest speakers. One was a recovering alcoholic, who was very active in Alcoholics Anonymous. She used class time to share her testimony. I have never forgotten her presentation. Ms. Jeter spoke very directly to us about sexual matters. There were no predictable vintage 1954 movies about sexually transmitted diseases. Ms. Jeter probably broke every health class curriculum rule that existed in 1978, and spoke very forthrightly about all kinds of issues pertaining to sex. Naturally she had no problem keeping our attention during her colorful and descriptive lectures.

One Friday morning Ms. Jeter took us on a field trip. A field trip in health class…Can you imagine that? She took us to a dilapidated nursing home over on 34th street. The place was a dump. I am quite sure that she wanted us to interact with the forgotten elderly people, who resided in that awful place that was masquerading as a home for older people unable to take care of themselves. But I think she had other goals in mind as well.

A young man only two or three years older than us resided at that facility. He had been seriously injured in a car crash on Slide Road on a rainy night. His car hydroplaned on the wet road and that led to a life changing accident. The crash caused serious neurological damage. His ability to take care of himself and function in life was seriously diminished. I think Ms. Jeter purposely intended for us to visit with him that day.

Our time with him that morning made an impression on me. In a way that event foreshadowed where my career would take me years down the road. As a minister and law enforcement chaplain, I spend a lot of time with people affected by horrible car crashes. Thank you Ms. Jeter for giving me some initial preparation to serve during such times! But she accomplished another mission in my life that day.

I think for the first time ever I realized that I was not invincible. Bad things happen to decent people. 18 year old men end up living with 88 year old men in foul smelling nursing homes. Our out of the box health teacher accomplished quite a feat during that short field trip only a few blocks from our sheltered existence at Monterey High School. I have a hunch that most of had our invincible status removed at least temporarily that day.

Members of that health class are all 47 or 48 years old now. I am quite sure all of us have had several reminders since the day of that field trip that we are not invincible. Those closest to us are not either. My father passed away very suddenly only weeks after that that short bus ride over to 34th street. I lost my mother a few years later. My classmates have had similar experiences in their families too.

The truth is we are not invincible. We have lost a number of our classmates over the past 30 years. I am aware of the circumstances of some of their deaths and others I know little about. But now that we are older and wiser, we are going to honor their lives in a fitting way. A Memorial Service recognizing deceased members of Monterey’s Class of 1980 will be held during our upcoming reunion in Lubbock later this month.

I officiate at over a dozen funerals every year. I attend memorial services honoring fallen police officers annually. But I have never attended a service that is intended to pay tribute to a group of my own peers. I wonder what that will be like.

The upcoming memorial service will be held in the same facility where Ms. Jeter taught us about health and about life itself nearly 33 years ago. I appreciate her impressing on us in her own experiential way of teaching that life is fragile and precious. 33 years later we will be reminded of that fact once again during what I anticipate being a very moving service on July 24th at 2:00 p.m. I hope as many classmates as possible can be present. As you can tell, I have been thinking about the upcoming memorial service honoring the deceased members of Lubbock Monterey High School’s Class of 1980.