Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Prepare for the Unexpected!

 I was riding out with one of the troopers with the Texas Highway Patrol when he asked me how I typically spend my work week. As I responded to him, I removed one of the words in the question. I took out the word typical. I don’t have typical weeks. Sermon preparation is a weekly reality for me, but outside of that routine many of my duties are very unpredictable. I can make a do list for a given day, but one phone call will place that list on indefinite hold.

I actually enjoy the unpredictable aspect of my job. I am of a mind that the best opportunities to serve people are delivered in an unexpected form. After taking a group on the tour of The Granbury Christian Service Center recently, I received an inspiring piece of correspondence from a friend that reminded me of that very fact. Here it is:

-Just after our move to Granbury my husband at the time left us on Christmas Eve. I was out of town at my Mother’s funeral – I stopped for gas on my way home – the card was declined. After numerous attempts to find my husband, I called a neighbor who said “didn’t you know? – He moved out yesterday”. Imagine my shock and with twin girls in the backseat wondering why Mommie could not put gas in the car. And – to top things off both girls had not had lunch yet & honestly – I can’t remember having a single dime on me that day. A stranger saw me crying and saw the girls in the backseat. He paid for my gas to get home & bought the girls some snacks. I still say there was an angel at that station, but God only knows that part or how we even survived the rest of the trip home.

That man just thought his task for the moment was to fill his car up with gas. Little did he know that an opportunity to help a stranger in a terrible predicament was about to present itself. He obviously acted quickly and decisively. Of course I know that he helped out a wonderful person and two precious children. But he didn’t know anything about the stranded stranger. She could have been a con artist for all he knew.

A routine trip to fill his car up with gas became an opportunity to be of service in a profound way. They were abandoned in the true sense of that term. A young mother is helpless and vulnerable. Who do you call in a strange city under such circumstances? Obviously an angel was “on call” that day.

I am thankful she shared this story with me for a number of reasons. But I am particularly taken in by what this narrative reminds me of. It prompts me to focus on what a privilege it is serve people in unexpected ways. Next time one of my troopers asks me what I do during the week this is what I am going to say: I get up every morning and prepare for the unexpected. And furthermore I choose to love every minute of it!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

We Don't Talk About Such Things...

 Cast politics aside. I have always liked Laura Bush. She is a classy lady in every respect. I am in the process of reading her autobiography entitled: Spoken from the Heart. It indeed is a book spoken from the depths of her heart. I am of course learning things about her life that I never knew before. I discovered for instance that her mother gave birth to three children who only survived a short time after birth. Mrs. Bush makes this observation regarding those experiences in her family’s life in the book:
I don’t know if my mother cried for those babies when was out playing in the yard or, rapping on the door of our back-door neighbors over the fence, or darting with the other kids between the gangly, dark limbs and feathery, green leaves of the mesquite bushes that grew over the vacant lot down the street. I don’t know if the tears came when she smoothed the sheets in the linen closet or hung was on the clothesline to grow stiff and dry in the hot Midland wind. Or if she trained her eyes to look away whenever she caught the sight of a baby carriage or glimpsed a big, boisterous family being herded into a wood-paneled station wagon. In those times, in West Texas, in the 1950’s, we did not talk about such things.

I firmly believe that her observation is correct. The friendly and forever hospitable people who comprise the population of West Texas did not talk about such things in the 1950’s and I am not sure that we are much more open about such matters today. But I am of a mind that we should talk openly about losses that we have each experienced. I reminded a lady at church today that her father, who has been deceased for quite some time now, was a fine man. His influence in the Granbury community was significant. And then another event occurred today that caused me to think about our inability to “talk about such things.”

Every year we distribute children’s Bibles that are written on the level of 6-10 years olds to our first graders. It is a neat tradition that we have carried on for 20 years. I am also aware of a mom and dad grieving today. Their child would have been a part of that group of first graders this morning. Their precious son passed away in 2004.

I think it is wrong to overlook that reality. In fact, I think it is offensive to members of that young boy’s family to not “talk about such things.” I ordered a Bible from Amazon that is just like the one that we distributed to 12 first graders this morning. On the inside cover, I am going to inscribe “In Memory of the Children Who Have Gone Before Us…” That Bible will be placed on my credenza in my office, so I can see it every single day. It will become a symbol to me that I should not forget the precious children whom my friends have lost. It will also serve as a daily reminder that we must have the courage to “talk about such things.” I would urge all of us today to allow grieving moms and dads in particular to talk freely and without interruption about their precious children, whom they long to be reunited with someday.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Do you Still Like People?

I am not so sure that I will ever have the opportunity to retire. And I am not so sure that retirement would be a good thing for me! I get bored pretty quickly. But in the case that I do get to retire someday, I hope that I still like people when that event occurs. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say, but it is very important to me.
Those of us who chose to be in people helping professions did so because we wanted to make a difference. People go into nursing, because they want to be heal and serve. Police officers are drawn to the excitement of the profession, but deep down they genuinely want to protect and sere. Ministers of course are drawn to their calling on the basis of serving people.

As the years tick by during the course of those careers, nurses discover that they are faced with mounds of paperwork, hateful family members, and arrogant doctors. Teachers are expected to jump through state mandated educational hoops that are impossible for Superman to negotiate. Police officers are worn down by a flawed judicial system and endless victims. Ministers get caught in the crossfire of church conflicts. Their careers and families are affected at a level that other church members will never experience or even comprehend.

These individuals who began their careers with such noble intentions frequently retire with feelings of burnout, discouragement, and disillusionment. In some cases, they are no longer interested in helping people. It is time for golf and fishing, and that is it…

I do not want to be like that. When (if) I ever retire, I want to have a nice reception with the people I served. And I want to figure out ways to compliment my golf and fishing with niches of service. It is my desire to still like people.

I often tell my colleagues about Pete. Pete and his wife Sharon directed a large and very busy homeless shelter for decades. They served all kinds of people with all kinds of needs year after year! They dealt with con artists, addicts, families in desperate need, and people just down on their luck. Every time I had an opportunity to interact with them it occurred to me that they still liked people!

They had been burned countless times by people trying to take advantage of their kind nature. They struggled to keep that nonprofit organization in the black financially. It was very difficult job. But I never sensed that either of them became hardened or cynical. It can be done. And I want to be one of those who accomplishes such a feat! How about you? Do you still like people?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Be Sure to Talk to Strangers Today

 I came to the stunning realization last night that I am indeed clueless. I have suspected as much for quite some time, but finally received real confirmation.  At the conclusion of a meeting at church last night, one of the attendees mentioned that his daughter in law will soon be traveling from Texas to Minnesota to meet with a young widow up there. A little background information might be helpful.

This gentleman’s son died just over a year ago from a very unusual form of cancer. He left a wife and two young children. Their son began first grade yesterday and their daughter is enrolled in Pre-Kindergarten. The surviving daughter in law is an amazing lady. (That is actually the understatement of the year.)

She has been corresponding with a lady in Minnesota who also lost her husband to the same rare disease. Last night I was told that she is traveling up there to see this lady. In other words, she is going on a mission of mercy and mutual comfort. What a blessing these two ladies will be to each other. It will be a life changing experience for both of them.

When I heard this compelling news last night at the conclusion of our meeting, only one thought raced through my mind. I am clueless. No…I am totally clueless. I am supposed to be trained to provide pastoral care to those in crisis. I am supposed to get up every morning prepared to serve people facing serious illnesses. I go to bed at night knowing that I can be called out at anytime during the night to serve a family that has experienced an unexpected and tragic death of a loved one. But last night I realized I don’t have a clue what that is all about.

I have an uncanny ability to get bogged down in details. I lose sight of the big picture. I whine and complain. I quickly forget what is truly important. I go about my routines, but frequently don’t have a clue what should be the rightful focus of my attention. There are hurting people among me who don’t get the attention they need in the process.

I am grateful this morning for my friend’s daughter in law. She is a brave lady. She has chosen to look beyond her own trying situation and provide some credible encouragement to another person facing the journey of grief. She is my hero today. She has given me some important clues as to how to reengage the journey of service to others. Here are those clues:
• We frequently serve others most effectively during times of personal sorrow.
• It is important to go the extra mile. (Like trips to Minnesota)
• Common experiences (tragedies) draw us to people who were once strangers. (Sometimes it is good to talk to strangers!)
• Don’t let anything (like geographical distance) hinder us from reaching out to a person in need.

Last night I was clueless. But this morning I am feeling like I have found the path again.  We all need to be jarred back into reality occasionally! Who is helping you to get get/stay on track? Who are your heroes today?

I was a stranger and you invited me in...Matthew 25:36

Monday, August 23, 2010

It is the First Day of School and I Know I am Not Going to Be Voted Dad of the Year

 I realized this afternoon after the first day of school was completed that I am not going to be voted dad of the year. As a parent, you never quite know what that fateful date on the annual calendar will bring to your children. This year I have one son beginning his final year as undergraduate student. And then I have another son who is starting his freshman year in college. My youngest is beginning his freshman year in high school. I heard from him first today.
Mitchell seemed pleased with the outcome of his first day at Crossland 9th Grade Center. Apparently there are new freedoms over there that are not afforded to the students on the middle school campuses. But there was one minor hitch today.

He informed me that his Spanish teacher told him that his pronounced Texas drawl was impeding his pronunciation of the Spanish words they were learning today. How could that be, I thought? I asked him to say a few words for me in Spanish. I listened carefully to his pronunciation of such words as “gustar” and “como.” Mitchell, I said gently: Your Texas drawl is holding you back, my friend.

He did not find that amusing in the least. But what can we expect? The kid was born in Lubbock and learned to talk when we were living in Muleshoe. I know for a fact that he has an excellent teacher, so he will learn a lot in that class this year. Spanish class turned out to revelatory for him in another way as well today.

Apparently his older brothers have been referring to him as: “la niña loca” for quite some time. Of course he discovered today that they have been calling him a crazy little girl. I am sure such a revelation just made his day.  Once again I was not such a good dad... I could no help but laugh.   Mitchell is pretty quick. I think his Spanish teacher will find that he will work around the Texas accent and learn to communicate quite well in a new language. He will be calling his brothers names that they will be forced to look up in a Spanish dictionary in no time at all.

I am reminded on this first day of school of the importance of taking students where they are and moving them to the next level. That is a basic principle of education, but it can sure get lost in the myriad of expectations that professional educators are loaded down with in increasing measure every year. I can’t imagine trying to teach Spanish to a group of 9th graders who have never said “hola” to another soul in their life. But that task will be accomplished this year.

Let’s encourage our teachers this year. They take students where they are developmentally and move them on to new and exciting levels. I am proud of Mitchell’s attitude toward school this year. I think he really want to excel.

And I am thinking that it would be good for me to tell him that I had a Spanish teacher in a continuing education course one summer tell me that my Spanish pronunciation was being held back by my Texas drawl. I just could not tell him today. I was having too much fun with him. I am such a great dad…OK, I will encourage the teachers this year, but first I will start by working in a kind word on behalf of my Spanish student. It would probably be a good idea for all of us to build our kids up in their academic endeavors this year. And I had better straighten up, or I will never be voted dad of the year.

Be Yourself!

I just finished reading Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia by David L. Cook. It is an excellent book for anyone with even a remote interest in the game of golf. If you are an avid golfer, it is a must read! I am anxious to take the principles gleaned from this book and put them into action out on the golf course. But I found this interesting piece of work to possess wisdom that can be applied well beyond the confines of the golf links.
Here is one of the gems from the book:
“Every champion has convictions. But perennial champions have convictions based on foundations. These foundations become his first line of defense when facing adversity.”

Of course the author applies the above mentioned ideal to the game of golf. He cites the PGA heroes of my childhood in that regard. Lee Trevino, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player were all very successful pros on the tour. The ongoing successes they enjoyed were based on their convictions. Each possessed their own unique signature swing. And the execution of those swings led to a string of victories for each of them.

I could not help but apply these golf principles to life in general. My mind started running all over the place. I was reminded of the importance of possessing my own unique swing in my profession. Those of us who do public speaking on a regular basis find that we are constantly being compared to others. But I don’t “swing the club” the same way that another speaker does. Each of us possesses our own unique styles born out of conviction.

Mondays can be difficult days for those of us who preach every week. The adrenalin from the previous day comes crashing down and our energy levels are just not up to par. A book focusing on golf that has far reaching implications was helpful to me today. I was reminded of the importance of operating from my personal convictions. And furthermore I was prompted to examine the foundation of said convictions.

I would pose these questions for the benefit of all of my friends. Are your convictions driving your life both personally and professionally? And what kind of foundation is prompting those convictions? Or…are you letting people around you tell you how you should be swinging the club? In reference to the golf swings of Jack Nicklaus and his contemporaries, David Cook says:

“While their swings were very different, they each had a deep belief in their own method.”

Do you trust your convictions? Tomorrow is Tuesday. It is time to let the adrenalin start building. It is time for me to refine my own unique swing in all matters of life. I hope you can do the same.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mercy in a School Cafeteria

Last Sunday I preached a sermon based on the beatitude in Scripture: Blessed are the Merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  In response to the thoughts I shared, one of my dear ladies at church, who works on one of the campuses in the school system here, shared this story.  I found it inspiring and felt it needed to be passed on!

Mercy in a School Cafeteria

A young lady came into my office at the high school, as she did on many occasions, just to say Hi. I had known her from earlier years when I worked at an intermediate school. She was sweet, needed some extra help with schoolwork, and sometimes had a hard time making friends. We were chatting for a moment when she noticed a family picture I had on my desk. She asked brightly, “Is that your daughter?” I turned and looked where her eyes had landed and said yes. She went on to tell me about how kind my daughter had been to her. It was only then that I put the pieces together.

I remembered a year earlier, my daughter had shared what had happened at lunch that first day of school. She and her friends had commandeered their table, which, for everybody who knows the rules of high school cafeterias, knows it would be theirs for the remainder of the year. They noticed a lone girl, holding her tray, looking desperately for somewhere to sit, someone to say, “Over here – Come sit with us!” They didn’t know her very well but none the less offered her a place to sit. When my daughter shared this story with me we didn’t linger on the subject very long and she was really pretty “matter of fact” about the whole thing. I simply told her how nice she had been and we moved on to other topics of the day. Little did we know the difference she had made in this young lady’s life.

The young lady went on to tell me how grateful she was that day. She was a part of that lunch group for the remainder of the school year and it meant the world to her. She fit in with some of the “cool” kids – at least for 30 minutes of the day.

We’ve all been there…..even as grownups….waiting for someone to say, “Over here – come sit with us.” I learned a lesson on mercy that day. I was reminded that I should offer it more often. Like my daughter had. And I couldn’t be prouder.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Secret Garden

 God works in mysterious ways that are well beyond human comprehension. Eight years ago I auditioned for a role in a stage production of The Secret Garden. Daniel was 10 years old at the time. Somehow I talked him into reading for a part as well. That was in June of 2002.
Not along after both of us read for roles there were events that took place in our extended family that were unpleasant and disruptive. I would love to say that I was an innocent victim standing in the sidelines. I would not even mind saying that I was a victim, but neither are true. My own pride and unwillingness to let go of years of hurt that had been stuffed caused the entire mess. Ironically the whole mess that occurred that summer was unrelated to the events of the past. The past had to be addressed head on, but I was not ready.

Right before school started we were chosen for parts in that classic play. Daniel, who was ten years at the time, was cast in a lead role. He would play Collin. I was selected to be the old cranky gardener. As you can imagine, I got ribbed about type casting!

Daniel learned his lines quickly and he learned my lines not along after that. I struggled to work, learn lines, and continue to teach at the university part time as well. In the midst of all the busyness, I was feeling a profound sense of personal hopelessness and depression. The play was actually a lifesaver. It gave me something fun to do during a tough time. But more importantly the message of the Secret Garden starting penetrating my heart

The play is about reconciliation. It communicates a message of hope. The characters change for the better. Events of the past are repaired. People are drawn together in a renewed sort of way. I got to experience it onstage. And furthermore it was a shared experience with my ten year old son.

I was reading a blog earlier this evening and I noticed on the writer’s profile that her favorite book was The Secret Garden. I did not read it as a boy. It is a girl’s book! But I had the privilege of entertaining our community with that great story as an adult.

Daniel is not ten years old anymore. He is eighteen. He starts his freshman year in college in a few days. Our family situation is much better today. We have experienced reconciliation and a renewal in our extended family. I can’t help but think tonight that the seeds of hope planted during that dark time via the experience in doing The Secret Garden played a key role in the above mentioned reconciliation.

My journey of repairing family related damage done in the past has taken me to several states the past few years. Numerous phone calls, emails, and personal visits have taken place. I have gotten reacquainted with people I had not seen since I was a small child. I have gone to visit the home where I grew up as a small boy. The list is pretty long! And it has been a great adventure.

It all started with The Secret Garden. I laugh now when I picture Daniel being in the role of young Collin. But I don’t laugh about the mysterious providential events that took place in the summer of 2002. My advice to those who are facing family brokenness today is not to give up hope. I would urge you to do everything within your power to repair relationships and seek reconciliation. And most of all be open to God’s mysterious and extraordinary ways of working in your life.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Honest John's Used Car Lot: You Park Them; I Sell Them

 I should have been a used car salesman. I could have been very successful. I am persuasive, friendly and of course honest. And for five years I have had a constant array of vehicles to show prospective buyers. There is only one minor detail that is going to impede my car selling plans. The vehicles don’t belong to me.

My older boys have always had so many friends at the house that our yard looked like a used car lot. I have had neighbors and friends make that very observation on more than one occasion. Oh…your house is the one with all of the cars parked in front of it all of the time. One summer day before Randall left for college he called me with a very routine request. Dad, I have some friends over. Could you fix dinner for us? Sure…how many are we talking about? Just fifteen friends…Not a problem at all…

When Randall departed for college in 2007, my used car lot prospects diminished somewhat. Daniel followed suit by having friends over, but his friends came in pairs instead of by the dozen. Saturday Daniel leaves for college…All hope for my second career of selling reliable transportation is about to be dashed.

The absence of vehicles in my driveway has become an important symbol since 2007. Everyone told us that we would be overcome with emotion when we dropped Randall off at the dorm for the first time just prior to the beginning of his freshman year. That event went by with relative ease. But about two weeks later I came home one night and the yard was not filled with teen school cars. In fact, Randall’s car was not parked in its usual place. I cannot describe the wave of emotion that came over me that night.

After Friday night, I will come home to a driveway that is void of all teen school cars. Daniel’s vehicle will be situated in a dorm parking lot over 200 miles from home. (At least that is where it had better be situated!) The used car lot will be closed for business. There is nothing to sell.

Everyone told us to enjoy our kids as they were growing up. And we have indeed cherished every stage of their development. But you are never quite ready to let them go. Their independence triggers nostalgic sadness for mom and dad. I will miss all of their friends being here. I will miss cooking burgers and baking cookies. Mainly I will miss harassing all of them. It is going to be way too quiet, but not for long…

Mitchell is beginning his freshman year in high school next Monday. His friends are all too young to drive. But that won’t be the case for long. They will come in the double digit numbers. We may have to contract out with our neighbors to provide parking. But my used car salesman days are still over, because Mitchell will beat me to the punch. That kid was born to be a used car salesman. And what troubles me the most is that he might really sell his friends’ cars while they are visiting. He is such a good salesman that no one will question the absence of a title.

My advice today to young parents is simple: Enjoy your kids…They won’t live at home for long. They will soon fly your nest of love and seek their own lives.  And they will take their cars and their friends with them! I am sad today, because my hopes for a lucrative second career are over! And the name: Honest John’s Used Cars had such a nice ring to it…

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Reflections on a Robbery

 Last week a longtime and dear friend was robbed and assaulted at her place of business in Wichita Falls. She spent the night in the hospital stemming from her injuries. It is hard to describe, but I felt like a member of my own family had been hurt. The feelings I had toward the perpetrator were not….well I probably should not share them.
I knew intuitively that the fine men and women who serve in the Criminal Investigation Division of the Wichita Falls Police Dept. would do an exceptional job taking care of the criminal aspect of this case. I was a part of the original group of volunteer chaplains for the department who began serving in 1990. I am fully aware of their professionalism and commitment to citizens in that community.

Several key events have taken place over the past 9 days since this horrific event took place. My friend who was victimized decided to re-open her shop Monday of this week. In a way I am not surprised. She is a tenacious lady. And she is a person of tremendous faith.

Sunday evening members of the Tenth and Broad Church of Christ planned a rather unusual worship service. A group of church members gathered on the parking lot of the store where the robbery took place for praise and worship. They spent some meaningful time seeking God’s intervention for everyone impacted by the felonious event the previous week. I wish I could have been there, but based on comments that I saw on facebook it appeared as if it was a moving experience for every individual present. Again I am not surprised. I was fortunate enough to serve as a minister on the staff at Tenth and Broad from 1987-1995. They are an extraordinary group of people. In times of personal tragedy, I have been on the receiving end of their collective love and compassion.

Monday WFPD investigators arrested the man who allegedly committed the robbery. He has been booked into the Wichita County Jail on two counts of robbery. I am sure additional news regarding the investigation and his subsequent arrest will be released at the appropriate time.

I am thankful this morning for a host of reasons. I am grateful that my friends in Wichita Falls can go back to work with less anxiety. I am thankful for a church family who possesses a spirit of compassion that seems to know no end. And I am grateful for the exceptionally committed officers who comprise the team at the Wichita Falls Police Dept.

As I begin my day, all of the individuals involved in taking care of my friends in Wichita Falls have inspired me to worker a little harder. There are people in my church family in Granbury who need compassionate care. I have a group of dedicated police officers and troopers working in patrol and in criminal investigations who need solid encouragement as they provide tremendous service to citizens in crisis. And I think it would be good to think in terms of worshiping out of the box…whatever that may mean. It occurs to me today that you can rob money from a person, but you cannot rob them of the love and kindness that a great church fmaily will provide.  Serving the servant sounds like a good plan to me today.

Monday, August 16, 2010

An Afternoon at the Trauma Center

 My big mouth has always gotten me in trouble. Sunday was no exception. I preached on the subject of “mercy” yesterday. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy was my assigned passage. I defined “mercy” during the course of the sermon. Mercy is compassion or sympathy in action. It is taking positive action when someone is in trouble. It is not mere idle sentiment or vain words. That is good stuff. And so far so good on keeping my foot out of my mouth…
But then I had to go off and describe the bubbles all of us live in every single day. Normal people call it a comfort zone, but I called it a bubble. We carry our bubbles wherever we go. We place bubbles around us, because it indeed is comfortable. In our little bubbles, we can interact with people who look and talk like us. There are no unfamiliar languages or cultures to engage. The people confined to our bubbles live in houses that look like the homes where we place our heads at night. It is all so nice and tidy.

Now this is where I got in trouble yesterday. I challenged all of us to break out of our bubbles. I encouraged all of us to do something this week that was way out of our comfort zones. I said it because am convinced that is where real acts of mercy take place. And I still believe that is true.

My big mouth always gets me in trouble. And I am convinced that God has a sense of humor too. I found myself thrust out of the confines of my bubble before noon today. I didn’t have a choice. Nobody asked me if I felt at ease in going…I just ended up thrown to the curb just outside my comfort zone. That is what I get for challenging everyone to break free of their little bubbles!

A lady at church was air lifted to John Peter Smith Hospital in downtown Ft. Worth Thursday after a serious car crash just South of Granbury. Her elderly mother died as a result of her injuries over the weekend. JPS Hospital is provides top notch trauma care and that is why she taken there by Care-Flite. I was impressed with the hospital staff. It is a good place to be under such circumstances.

But JPS also provides indigent care for the entire city of Fort Worth and a lot of the surrounding communities as well. It is different than any hospital I have ever visited. I am not certain that I can adequately describe what it is like to visit there. Suffice to say it is literally overrun with needy people suffering from every imaginable health issue you can imagine.

I saw a nurse taking the time to carry on a cordial conversation outside the entrance with a man who appeared to be homeless. He was being dismissed from the hospital. I saw all kinds of people who looked very impoverished waiting in various locations of the facility. There were sick elderly people being cared for in the ICU cubicles, but I did not see any sign of family members in that particular waiting room. I could go on. A student majoring in social work could learn more at JPS in one afternoon than they would in a classroom during the entire semester.

I visit people in the hospital nearly every week, but I felt very uncomfortable this afternoon. As a minister and particularly in my law enforcement chaplain role, I deal with all kinds of people in crisis. But I still felt uncomfortable. The amount of suffering in one location just felt overwhelming.

I think my big mouth got me in trouble yesterday. The message focusing on mercy was working on my heart today. I really felt for the people today lining the hallways and sidewalks at John Peter Smith Hospital. There was a voice speaking to me saying: This is where you are supposed to be…. I shivered at the sound of that voice! Take me back to my bubble!

I stopped the parking permit office before I left today to get my “clergy parking permit.” I am all about that clergy parking you know! It cost $3.00 to park today. On the back of the parking permit form, there is a listing of areas where they need ministers and/or members of their churches to volunteer at the hospital. Every single thing listed on that form could be categorized as acts of mercy. I drove away realizing that my little bubble had been torn away. And I could not help but think that my big mouth got me in a lot of trouble.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grace is Truly Amazing: A Tribute to Ellen Berlin

 I am not writing from a prison cell tonight, but it is not like that would be beyond the scope of possibility. I graduated from high school with very average grades, made below average grades my first two years of college, and miraculously got with the program and graduated with a B.A. degree in 1984. I went on to earn both masters and doctoral level degrees. That is sure proof that miracles do not cease. How did that happen? Why am I not composing essays behind bars? I believe it has something to do with the fact that grace is truly amazing.
I was fortunate. Even though I was a wild child and somewhat of a lost puppy during my teen years, I was blessed with wonderful people in my life. When I ride out with police officers in my chaplaincy role I often see lost puppy teenagers who are totally void of any positive adult role models in their lives. It is pitiful and it is dangerous.

Last Wednesday I traveled to Sweetwater to officiate at Ellen Berlin’s funeral. Ellen’s daughter, Paula, and I were friends in high school. We traveled all over the state together on Lubbock’s Monterey High School’s Speech Team. We were a part of a group of friends who learned about life together in high school. Fortunately most of us have either stayed in touch, or we have reestablished contact in recent years.

As I made the three hour trip to Sweetwater, memories flooded my mind. Paula’s mom was good to me during my teen years. When I drooped by their house to pick up Paula, she would always call me in the kitchen for a “talk.” As I look back on it now, those talks could be likened to an interrogation. But Paula’s mom always had a twinkle in her eye. And I knew behind that twinkle the wheels in her head were turning. We were not getting anything past her. I still shiver today as I think about it! How could she possibly know what we were up to??

We were anything but angelic and Paula’s mom knew it! But she loved us anyhow. And that is what I remember today. I never felt rejected or shunned by her. Even when we made horrible mistakes she still accepted us and loved us.  I will never forget that. I do believe grace is truly amazing.

It has only been in recent years that I have grown to appreciate and value the contribution that Ellen Berlin and others made to my life during those years. I did not realize that they were keeping a lost puppy from being run over by forces of life that so dramatically impact teenagers. I didn’t realize that regular interrogations created just enough fear to make us think twice about doing foolish things that could have shaped the rest of our lives.

As I stood in the hotel room in Sweetwater pondering the thoughts I had prepared for her service, the significance of her death hit me like a freight train. I remembered what it felt like when my own mother died in 1991. I felt that same emptiness again. The odd feeling of being an orphan came over me. I “lost it” for a few minutes. But the sadness was soon replaced with joy. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for having a “second mom” who loved me. I smiled to myself, because I knew with certainty that grace is truly amazing.

I went on and packed my suitcase. I straightened my tie and double checked the grammar in the eulogy I had prepared. (Ellen was a tickler for proper manners and good grammar.) When the last item was packed, I start thinking about all of the new kids who will join the speech team at Granbury High School next week. They will no doubt run around with my youngest son. I have had the privilege of knowing the speech team students who have traveled with Randall and Daniel. Now I will know an entire new group who will travel to tournaments with Mitchell. It will be great fun. I will be searching for the lost puppies among them. And when they come out to the house, I will smile inside when I call them in the kitchen for a “talk.” And yes those talks will be likened to an interrogation!

I am thankful I can write tonight from a wonderful home, because grace is truly amazing.

Ridiculing Children With Special Needs...

School starts a week from Monday around here. It is a monumental year for the Knox family. Randall begins his senior year in college. Where did that go? Daniel begins his freshman year in college. Another child leaves home…And then Mitchell will begin his freshman year in high school. Crossland 9th Grade Center is not ready for him. I know that for a fact.
Academic pursuits have been emphasized around the Knox household long before Randall started Kindergarten. Jan started reading to that boy when he was only a few months old. None of the boys had a chance. Their mother is an educator at heart. And their father spent half his life working on advanced degrees. We are a family of bookworms. But all of us have learned over the years that academia should not be allowed to have an unlimited and even unnecessary reign in our lives.

This week I had the opportunity to catch up with a longtime friend from high school. She mentioned that her daughter planned to transfer from one high school in the city where they live to another one across town. The school she attended last year is highly rated in academics. Parents are drawn to buy homes in that particular school’s area, so their kids can benefit from all it has to offer.

Sheryl’s daughter has a divergent view of the above mentioned school. Audrey would tell you that the students attending there, who come from very affluent backgrounds, are intolerant. They ridicule students with special needs at a level that goes beyond what is typical in a high school setting. There is a lack of empathy. Those students have known nothing but affluence. They most likely have never been around other kids who did not have as much as them. Delayed gratification is not a common experience.  Other students with emotional difficulities or physical limitations are a constant target.

Quite naturally Sheryl is second guessing her choice to allow her sweet daughter to transfer to a school that most likely will not offer all of the bells and whistles that the previous school did. She wonders if she is shortchanging Audrey’s academic opportunities. I reacted rather strongly to her concerns this week.

I told her that she has obviously raised a daughter who possesses empathy. Audrey is both perceptive and compassionate. She is wise beyond her years. She sees the damage that is done by insensitive kids who live in a small world.  It was actually difficult for her to thrive academically in such an environment. Audrey will finish her high school years at a campus that is diverse racially and socially. There will be a good number of students coming from impoverished homes.  And there will be a number of special needs kids too. I have a hunch that she will thrive in that environment. And I think she will receive an education in life that she would have missed in the affluent school.

My message to parents as school begins this year is simple. Let us think in terms of character development in as much as we emphasize academic growth. Qualities such as compassion and empathy are of utmost importance. Our children need to learn in a school environment to embrace kids from all kinds of backgrounds. They need to learn that children with special needs don’t have an illness. They simply want to be accepted like everyone else. If we have raised children who are intolerant and mean toward others who are not like them, then we have failed miserably as parents. Cultivating compassion and an accepting spirit is part of a rich and diverse educational experience.

Audrey’s mother and I also benefited from a rich and diverse educational experience. We were charter members of the In School Suspension Program initiated in the late ’70’s. We found ourselves well acquainted with school administrators. It must have done some good. Both of us are blessed with wonderful children. Children who do not need to hear any more details regarding our rich and diverse educational experience….

Children with special needs don't have an illness, so there is no cure and it's not contagious. They want what we all want - to be accepted.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Engaging the Taste Buds in a Sermon!

 Last night I delivered a lecture on ethics in law enforcement to the Granbury Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association. During the course of the presentation I cautioned the group about accepting discounts at restaurants, because of their association with the police department. Little did I know at the time what was going to take place this morning?
I joined my usual Friday morning breakfast group at the Firehouse Café bright and early today. Robert has been waiting on our table for several years now. He knows fully well that my breakfast cuisine preferences are not predictable like some of my comrades. This morning he kept telling me to order anything I wanted! (I always do. Why would today be any different?)

He finally told me that my breakfast was on the house today. Why, I asked? He informed me that the comments I made in my sermon about the Firehouse Café last Sunday morning triggered an unusually large lunch crowd for them that day. At first I had no clue what he was talking about and then it hit me…

Last Sunday I shared a story with the church about the police department calling me to assist them with two elderly men who were homeless during the summer of 2009. It was a pitiful situation. The two brothers were living in their car. One of them was an amputee suffering from diabetes. They were “panhandling” in the Walmart parking lot, which is not allowed. The police were called. The officer working the call felt compassionate toward the elderly brothers, so she called me to assist. We bought them lunch at Wendy’s, a few simple groceries at Walmart, and a tank of gas. I stressed to them that Granbury simply did not have the resources they needed for temporary housing and food.

In my sermon, I made the point that I had considered stopping that same summer morning at the Firehouse Café for the best breakfast taco known to man. I described in detail how scrumptious their tacos are for breakfast. My point was simple. I had choices that morning. I could enjoy a breakfast taco or I could stay home and eat a granola bar. Why I was debating my options there were two homeless guys down at Walmart wondering if they were going to eat at all!

Of course I had no idea that my dramatic description of a breakfast taco was causing people in the audience to crave the home-style cooking unique to the Firehouse. Think again. They left church and headed straight to the Firehouse Café without passing Go or collecting $200.00. Quite naturally Angela, a long time friend, who manages the restaurant, was exuberant.

I have been thinking about the whole thing today. I wondered if they got the point of the sermon, of if derailed my purposes by engaging their taste buds. I will use caution before I foster cravings in my audience again! I was also reminded that words are powerful. It would behoove all of to be very cautious in what was say. You never know what kind of situation you are creating!

I enjoyed my free breakfast this morning. And it was a legitimate free breakfast. There were no ethical breaches. Oh and by the way…I ordered the taco. It was great! Thanks for treating me Angela and Robert!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Criminal Has Been Paroled: His Name is Burnout Part 2

 A criminal has been paroled. His name is burnout. Last week I referenced Anne Jackson’s excellent work entitled: Mad Church Disease in contrasting the difference between exhaustion and burnout. She does a good job citing the true causes of burnout. (See my August 3rd blog entry in the archives.) Let’s say that you are burned out…How is such an emotional state reversed? I like the idea of going on a cruise. An extended golf trip sounds even better. I know I can cure that burnout with a little help from Expedia or Travelocity. Anne Jackson has a much different starting point. I like my ideas, but unfortunately hers are superior.
Jackson lists 5 principles of recovery for burnout in the book. The first one leaves out golf trips and cruises. The first principle of recovery is: Accept Responsibility for Your Decisions. In case the reader misunderstands, she states it slightly differently: The first step in overcoming burnout is to own up to the decisions that have led you here.

I think I will head to the golf course and blame my 5th grade teacher. She damaged me for life. My parents are easy targets. My mother’s strict rules have caused whatever burnout I have experienced in life. I can almost see Anne Jackson shaking her young 30 something head at me. My excuses are not going to cut it.

Disengagement is one of the signs of burnout that Jackson lists. If I have disengaged from people, I can likely trace that back to some poor decisions on my part along the way. She also mentions hopelessness as another tell tale sign of burnout. If I am feeling hopeless and helpless, that may very well caused by an array of choices made over a long period of time that have not been wise or emotionally healthy. In fact, it could be caused by some really foolish decisions made over and over again.

I know that burnout is a complicated subject. There are no simplistic answers, but we are living in a society where few people want to own up to the decisions that have led them to the situation they find themselves in. I declare myself guilty. I am the master of excuse making. There is actually something very cathartic and refreshing about accepting responsibility for our choices. It is a way to close one chapter in life and open a new one. In essence, accepting responsibility ends up being a redeeming process. Anne Jackson is on to something for sure, but I still like the idea of an extended golf outing better as a cure for burnout. But we will never get the criminal known as burnout back behind bars until we are willing to own up!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Call Me If There is Anything I Can Do...I Don't think So!

 When I lecture to groups regarding serving people in times of crisis, there is always one theme that will not go unmentioned. I attempt to gently remind all of us that the phrase: call me if there is anything I can do is not helpful to people in the middle of a personal traumatic event such as serious illness or the loss of a family member. Individuals in crisis do not have the energy to call for help.

Their thought processes are not rational. In many cases, they are in a state of shock. Their whole world has been rocked. Those of us privileged enough to serve our friends and neighbors in such situations must quickly evaluate the situation and take some kind of decisive action.

Early in the evening yesterday I assisted the Granbury Police Department with a fatality car crash that took place in the city limits. Notifying family and doing necessary follow up in such instances never becomes routine or something that any of us take casually. We make every attempt to treat families in that situation with dignity and respect.

I saw some excellent examples yesterday of good neighbors stepping up to the plate and taking appropriate actions during a time of crisis. The proprietors of a local business near the crash site repeatedly brought cold bottles of water out to our officers and other emergency workers on a terribly hot day. They were of course forced to battle the heat for several hours. I seriously doubt that our good neighbors asked any of the crew out there to call them, if there is anything they could do. They just saw a need and quickly fulfilled it. The good folks who operate Bennett’s Camping Center of Granbury are to be commended today! I am thankful to call them my friends and neighbors.

After making the initial notification yesterday, I immediately observed co-workers and neighbors’ providing support in specific ways to a devastated family. But there is not much doubt in my mind less than 24 hours after this tragedy that family and friends of the deceased person will hear the cliché that makes me cringe…Call me if there is anything I can do.

Let’s pretend. Let’s pretend that phones do not exist. Traumatized families won’t be able call us on non-existent phones. Let’s just step up to bat and serve. Here are a few ideas. It is not an exhaustive list. I would eagerly solicit additional ideas that I would never think of in a million years. (Remember I am male. We do have our limitations.)

Serving Those in Crisis

• Sit quietly with a friend who has faced a loss. Don’t worry about what to say. There is no need for words. (Job’s friends did this for 2 weeks.)
• Mow the grass.
• Bring in food and paper goods.
• Offer to provide child care at a specific tim
• Offer to pick up loved ones at the airport
• Be alert to the need to run routine errands and offer to do those things
• Greet visitors at the home and offer to run interference as needed.
• House sit during a funeral service.

That is not a very complete list, but it is my intent to stimulate action oriented thinking. In serving as a law enforcement chaplain over 20 years, I have been in a few situations where a person facing the trauma of loss had no support system.

I do mean none! There were no neighbors, co-workers, or church family… Nobody…Thankfully that is not a common event, but I am thankful today to have friends that I can call on to assist at a moment’s notice when it does occur. I am thankful to have friends who understand what it means to step up to bat in a time of crisis. May God bless their commitment to their neighbor…

Call me if there is anything I can do...I don't think so!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Comparison Game Has No End

The day they had all been waiting for had finally arrived. Anticipation filled the air. The Cub Scouts gathered at the front of the room, clutching the little wooden sailboats they had so carefully painted and decorated in preparation for the big event – the annual Rain Gutter Regatta.

The races began, with the boys earnestly puffing wind into the sails of their vessels as they floated down two water-filled rain gutters running parallel with each other across the room. As the contest proceeded, a curious phenomenon began to emerge. Almost without exception, each boy would get about halfway through the course, then momentarily stop blowing his boat and turn his head to see how far his opponent had advanced. The closer the competition became, the more they would stop to compare positions. Despite their parents’ exhortations to stay focused on the task at hand, they seemed to have an irresistible urge to repeatedly evaluate their progress according to that of their rivals.

Kids aren’t the only ones guilty of comparing themselves to others. We adults can also fall into that trap. It’s there in that bit of pride we feel when our child scores more points in the game than anyone else. It’s lurking in the twinge of envy that comes when we see our neighbor, who seems to have it all, drive down the street in her brand new car. We often don’t even realize what we’re doing.

Measuring our success by comparing ourselves to others can even spill over into church life. How tempting it is to pause in the midst of our activities and service to the Lord to turn our heads to see what the church down the street is doing. Are they gaining ground on us? What are they doing differently? Maybe we should consider changing our strategy so we won’t fall behind. In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul, in referring to some of the Christians at Corinth, writes, “they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves….” He admonishes that such behavior is unwise and refuses to respond in kind.

The problem is that using a flawed standard yields faulty results. To receive an accurate measure of success in life, we must use God’s yardstick of excellence rather than compare ourselves to the imperfect people around us. Jesus Christ is the sinless prototype by which we should pattern our lives.

So let’s stay in the race by keeping our eyes on Him and resisting the temptation to compare our progress with those around us. Only then will we reach the finish line to be crowned as a winner.'

Guest Blogger
Jan Knox

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Mom Is Not Supposed to Know Where I Am...

 I live at the _________Home for Children. They put me there, because my mom is not supposed to know where I am….

Friday afternoon I drove a van load of boys back from Royal Family Kids Camp here in Granbury. Most of the 78 volunteers who direct, counsel, coordinate crafts, and otherwise pull off RFKC here in this area worship at the church, where I serve as preaching minister.  Royal Family Kids Camps are the nation's leading network of camps for abused, neglected and abandoned children. The mission of the camps that take place worldwide every summer is to create positive memories for abused and neglected children ages 7-11, in a one-week camp experience. In 2009, nearly 7,000 kids were touched by the Royal Family Camp experience in 35 states. Internationally speaking camps were held in 8 different countries.

Counseling at Royal Family Kids Camp is not for the weak of spirit. My son Daniel served as a relief counselor this year. The relief counselors go out to the camp every evening, so the counselors can get a short break after a  full day of working with kids with significant emotional needs. One counselor is responsible for no more than two campers.  I could tell that every member of the staff was tired when I drove out there Friday afternoon, but it appeared to be a very satisfied form of exhaustion.

All of the children they served for the duration of the week have experienced horrific abuse. Child Protective Services in Texas removed those children from their biological families for a reason. As a law enforcement chaplain, I have been exposed to every imaginable form of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse out in the field for nearly 21 years. I have wondered on more than one occasion if there is any sanity left in the world.

It is encouraging seeing something like RFKC that is positive and enriching for the kids. Every child has a birthday party during the course of the camp week, regardless of when their actual birth date falls. There is fishing, swimming, and all forms of entertainment. The Bible is taught in creative and engaging ways for kids who most likely have never been in a Sunday School environment. But mainly they just get to have fun with wonderful adults, who really care about them.

I had been in the van with the kids for less than 5 minutes when the little boy said: I live at the _________Home for Children. They put me there; because my mom is not supposed to know where I am….I don’t process that kind of experience very well. It hurts my heart. I only know of one solution. I think it would be good for me to join Daniel next year. We will partner as relief counselors. Perhaps both of us can provide a little fun for some struggling kids, who have not had the breaks that both of us have experienced in life. And the children can see a father and son together who really love each other.

 Pray for abused and neglected children tonight.  There over 3.6 million cases of child abuse reported every year.  I can tell you from experience that there is lot more going unreported.  I dealt with such a situation at the police department this afternoon.  Too bad the young man, who is now an adult, never expereinced Royal Family Kids Camp...

There is Nothing Like 26 Years with a Small Town Girl

 In 1987, country singer Steve Wariner recorded a song entitled “Small Town Girl” Here is the portion of the lyrics that won’t embarrass my sweet little bride. (The rest of the lyrics are awesome too by the way.)

Hot coffee and the sound of her sweet voice callin
Country station on the kitchen radio
That's how I know there’s still a little magic in this crazy world.. There ain't nothin like the love of a small town girl

He is right. There ain’t nothin like the love of a small town girl… I know firsthand. I married a small town girl in August of 1984, who grew up on a farm near Friona, Texas. We met during the fall semester of 1982 in the university cafeteria. Later that same semester I told my friends in the dorm that I was going to run across the street to the student apartments, and have a nice little chat with that sweet little Jan Mason. They laughed. I mean they really laughed! And then they proceeded to inform me that they had seen her just a few minutes earlier at her apartment baking cookies with another male student, whose name was also John… I was none too happy. I hate it when a plan does not come together. It was time for 1st John to exit and 2nd John to enter her life. I wondered where I could stash 1st John’s body…(I quickly restrained myself.)

Time marched on. That semester ended. I ended up seeing a wonderful young lady from another state that was also attending the same university. I needed to grow up. We ended up going our separate ways. In 1983, I found myself in a class with Jan Mason of all people. I soon discovered that 1st John had exited her life without my assistance. I quickly manipulated the class seating arrangements, so I could “happen to sit by her” for the duration of the semester. I love it when a plan comes together.

It was the last class of the day, so we ended up talking at length right outside the building where the class was held for weeks. We went on our first date at Harry and Kate’s Restaurant in Lubbock in April of 1983. (For you Lubbockites it was located on 50th st. near Indiana Ave. where the Brittany Restaurant was in the 1970’s.) We had a blast.

But soon after that first date she dropped the bombshell. She told me that she would be leaving in a matter of weeks to counsel at a camp in New Mexico for children for the entire summer! I of course told her to cancel. Feign sickness, I told her. Tell them that you are madly in love and won’t be able to join them. Little did I know at the time that I was dealing with the most responsible and dependable individual on the face of the earth. And little did I know that I was speaking to the future mother of my own children. Soon after their birth they discovered that she was the most responsible and dependable mother on the face of the earth.

She packed her Chevy Vega and headed to Cloudcroft, NM. I enrolled in summer school and pouted. We wrote letters to each other every single day. I sent care packages to her at least once a week. I still have all of those letters today stored in a briefcase. One of these days, when I am in a nursing home, or long gone from this earth my boys will find those letters. It will be there choice whether or not they want to read them. When my mother died in 1991, I found letters that my father had written to her when they were dating. The envelopes had postmarks from 1950 on them. I chose not read all of them. I felt like I was intruding on something that was very private, but I secretly cherished the love they had for each other. I also discovered that my father was a pretty romantic guy back in the day.

That summer of 1983 finally ended. I did not know at the time that exactly one year later we would stand in a church in small town Friona, Texas and exchange wedding vows. So this week we celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary. Our friends call Jan a “saint”, when they hear that news. They call me “fortunate.” I wonder why? All I know is: there ain’t nothing like the love of a small town girl… In fact, there is nothing like spending 26 years with a small town girl.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

All of Their Belongings Packed in a Trash Bag....

When our boys were much smaller, Jan ordered monogrammed duffle bags for each of them. Each child had his own personalized luggage. They would load their bags in the car to go visit Grannie and Granddad for a few days. And of course they valued the individuality that goes with having your own bag. Randall had legos stashed in his duffle bag. Daniel carefully packed capes and swords for the trip. Mitchell was more inclined to include weaponry in his luggage. Those were fun days filled with great memories.

Tonight Glenn Newberry, who serves as Executive Director for Foster's Home for Children in Stephenville, spoke to us very plainly about our upcoming role in leading The Christian Service Center of Granbury. Glenn is one of the most knowledgeable people in our area, when it comes to reaching to those in desperate need. Foster's Home is a residential group care foster facility. Everyday they are taking care of children who have been abused and neglected.

In his presentation tonight, Glenn told us that many of the children they serve arrive at the home with nothing more than a few clothes packed a plastic trash bag. There are no legos in those bags. The bags are void of swords or toy guns. There is nothing beyond the bare necessities.

He went on to tell us that employees at Foster's would typically pack up a child's belongings once again in a plastic trash bag, when the time came for them to leave their care. At a training seminar recently, the staff came to realize that such a choice on their part was demeaning toward the children, whom they had come to love. Packing a person's belonging in a trash bag does not communicate value and respect for that individual.

Glenn told us tonight that two little girls, who were abused prior to coming to Foster's, will be leaving their care soon. The staff has already purchased luggage for them to pack their personal belongings in. As they send them off to open a new chapter in their life, they will affirm their worth and dignity. I hope and pray the best for those two precious children.

Tomorrow I intend to write Part 2 of my thoughts on burnout based on Anne Jackson's excellent book entitled Mad Church Disease. But tonight I cannot get the image of children arriving at Foster's Home with their belongings stuffed in a trash bag out of my mind. I am reminded that all human beings are to be treated with dignity and respect. The simple act of packing a child's personal effects in a suitcase reflects that goal.

And I am grateful tonight that my boys had monogrammed bags, even though I thought it was silly at the time! And I can't help but wonder what kind of unintentional demeaning behavior I am displaying toward others, as I conclude another day.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Criminal Has Been Paroled: His Name is Burnout

Pronounce me guilty. I discovered this morning that I have used a word grossly out of context for quite some time. The word is: burnout. I would love to eradicate that term from my vocabulary completely, but that is probably not going to happen. I have expressed on more than one occasion: I am burned out! It is usually a reference to work related matters. Occasionally I might mention it in regard to some volunteer driven project. I realized this morning that I have been applying the word incorrectly.
I have repeatedly used the word burnout, when it would be more accurate to state that I am simply exhausted. I am tired. I need a break. A few days off might be the solution, but in such instances I am most likely not burned out. In her recent work, Mad Church Disease, Anne Jackson describes actual characteristics of burnout.

• Burnout is a defense characterized by disengagement.
• The exhaustion of burnout affects motivation and drive.
• Burnout produces demoralization.
• Burnout can be best understood as a loss of ideals and hope.
• The depression of burnout is caused by the grief engendered by the loss of ideals and hope.
• Burnout produces a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. (Jackson, p. 95)

Jackson’s analysis of burnout caused me to rethink my use of the term. Exhaustion has a fairly easy cure. A weekend away does wonders. Going to bed early does not hurt anything. A round of golf on my day off usually helps me feel better after a particularly challenging Sunday of preaching and working with people. But burnout is a different issue.

I am convinced burnout stealthily creeps up on us like a criminal lurking in a gloomy alley. Its sinister intent catches us off guard and we find ourselves fighting for our well being, as it hurls its darts of hopelessness. We start wondering if we will even survive the unexpected attack? Burnout comes prepared with the weapons of demoralization and depression. The alley is dark, the foe is formidable, and no one hears our desperate cries for help.

There is actually no reason to give up hope. The felon known as burnout that ambushes in the dark alleys of life can be cuffed and stuffed. Anne Jackson outlines some specific strategies in her excellent book. I plan to share her thoughts tomorrow in part II of this little essay. But for now I would simply encourage all of us distinguish between mere exhaustion and burnout. That is imperative if the proper solution is to be sought. Of course I fully realize that chronic fatigue paroles the criminal known as burnout, so he can be free to do his damage. If you are suffering from real burnout, be assured that help is on the way.

Monday, August 2, 2010

There is Room Enough for Two....

 I heard an old favorite song on the radio early this morning: Up on the Roof sung by James Taylor. It was a popular hit for Taylor during the summer of 1979. After doing some quick research, I discovered that the song was actually written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The Drifters were the first to release it in 1962. It reached #5 on the US. Singles chart that year.

Here is a portion of the lyrics:

When this old world starts a getting me down

And people are just too much for me to face

I'll climb way up to the top of the stairs

And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be

And there the world below don't bother me, no,
So when I come home feeling tired and beat

I'll go up where the air is fresh and sweet

I'll get far away from the hustling crowd

And all the rat-race noise down in the street
I found a paradise that's trouble proof

And if this old world starts a getting you down

There's room enough for two

Up on the roof...

There is no doubt that the song writers were thinking in terms of escaping from the urban rat race in some sprawling city. One writer says:
… This breezy summertime song evokes the high-rise apartments in American cities where urban dwellers could escape from the stresses of daily living by climbing onto the tar "beaches" on the roofs of their buildings.

It occurs to me that the message of the song impacts even those who live in the most rural corners of America. Everyone needs a “roof” to escape to periodically.  I would go as far to say that all of us need a “roof” where we can find refuge every single day. Several years ago a friend of mine purchased a small building that had once served as an old-fashioned beauty shop. He moved it out to his farm in far West Texas. Somehow he managed to get the beauty chemical aroma eradicated from the interior and transformed that structure into a great hideout, as he called it. He added some manly leather furniture, as well as a refrigerator and microwave. His rural hideout was made compete with a satellite to receive ESPN and other cable amenities. Now that is my idea of a “roof.” But unfortunately such a hideout will most likely remain in the recesses of my vivid imagination.

I still need a “roof.” We all do. I have my own hideouts. There are a couple of places where I go on a daily walk. I find those places when people are just too much for me to face… There is a couch situated in a very bright spot in our home. It too serves as a wonderful “roof” when the rest of the family is gone. The deck in the backyard serves a similar role.

My roofs are very sacred. The writers of the song indicate that there is room enough for two on the roof, but I am not sure that is true. I prefer total solitude when I am up on the roof. It serves as a time to think and reflect. In the privacy of such an escape, I can pray clearly.
On the roof, it's peaceful as can be

And there the world below don't bother me…

Peace can be found up on the roof. It is not just the peace that is characterized by a lack of noise. It is a peace of mind and spirit that is fostered by real solitude. I think I will go up on the roof today because up there the world below don’t bother me. Oh and by the way…I suppose I won’t be so selfish…

And if this old world starts a getting you down

There's room enough for two

Up on the roof...