Saturday, October 30, 2010

Parenting: It is All About Example

My mother always encouraged me to befriend all kinds of people from all walks of life. She urged me not to let age or other barriers hinder meaningful friendship. She modeled that in her own life. She had friends of all ages and from differing backgrounds. I have always tried to do the same.

One of my really good friends is a semi-retired university professor. He fits the professor mold ideally. He is over the edge intelligent, reads voraciously, and can have analytical discussions that quickly go above my head. I am fortunate enough to be in a Friday morning breakfast group with this gentleman, and several other men of similar intellectual caliber. There are times that I just quietly eat my eggs and listen to them wrestle with topics at a level that exceeds my scholarly capabilities.

As I said, my professor friend fits the mold. It is not uncommon for him to share tales regarding unsuccessful attempts to complete household repairs or other menial tasks that someone as bright as he is struggles to complete. This past Friday at breakfast we all heard about the time he locked himself out of his car at the grocery store. He could not call his sweet wife to bring him a key, because she was with him! As I drove home, I laughed to myself as I thought about such a smart guy locking his keys in the car! But later the same day I stopped laughing. His story fired off somber thoughts in my mind.

Years ago I drove a 1986 Chevy Suburban. Randall was about 7, Daniel was 4, and Mitchell was an infant. I had taken the two older boys on some kind of summer excursion. I don’t recall the details, but somehow Randall locked my keys in that Suburban. Jan was several hundred miles away back at home with the extra set of keys. Money of course was tight, so I had to use some of our trip money to pay a locksmith.

I am ashamed to admit how I reacted. I did not think it was funny at all. I berated poor Randall for locking my keys in the car. I reminded him several times, while we were waiting for the locksmith, that he was cheating all three of us out of some fun activity, because of his stupidity. It was not one of my better parenting moments. Last Friday I quickly stopped laughing to myself about my professor friend’s mishap and felt overcome with guilt and sadness.

But fortunately I soon realized that the statute of limitations has not run out on this parenting blunder of the past. I can still apologize to my 21 year old son, who as it turns out is over the edge intelligent. And he too reads voraciously. And yes he can engage in discussions that are above my head as well.

My mother urged me not to let artificial barriers hinder the development of meaningful friendships. I appreciate that now. And she also never berated me when I made mistakes. (I don’t think I ever locked her keys in the car, but she would not have laid on the guilt if had.) I am grateful for the parenting examples she impressed on me. I am thinking today it would be wise for me to follow her cues in more ways than one.

She passed from this life on October 30th, 1991. 19 years ago today… Tomorrow on October 31st she would have celebrated her 83rd birthday. I am missing my mother today, but I am also feeling grateful the parental modeling she provided. I do believe a berating dad will make a phone call to his firstborn this week and apologize for the locked Suburban fiasco! A fitting tribute to a wonderful mother, who taught me how to be a good parent by example.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Random Acts of Kindness: Who REALLY Benefits?

Yesterday I learned that a friend ordered a meal at the drive through at a Dallas area Chick Fil A restaurant and received quite a surprise. The person ahead of her in the line paid for her food before she reached the window. The individual picking up the tab was a total stranger at that! Can you imagine what it would feel like to be in her shoes? How does such a random act of kindness impact your entire day?

As I have pondered her unexpected experience at this fast food establishment, I do have one question. Who received more benefit from that experience? Obviously my friend enjoyed a quick windfall. Her chicken sandwich and waffle fries no doubt tasted even better than usual. (Chick Fil A is my favorite fast food restaurant by the way.) I am actually of a mind that the person who initiated such generosity benefited even more.

If he has a vivid imagination like I do, then he must have had a great time running over in his mind what her reaction was like when she was told that her meal was already paid for. But more importantly it no doubt brought him great joy to know without a doubt that he made someone else’s day. When I lived in a small town, it was not at all uncommon for friends or kind neighbors to grab my check at the local restaurant. That was a perk of rural West Texas life. But for someone to do that for a total stranger in Dallas is indeed unusual.

This report of random kindness at Chick Fil A has prompted the wheels in my brain to start turning. What can I do on behalf of a total stranger that would qualify as a random act of kindness? Paying for someone’s meal in the fast food line may not qualify, because in Granbury I often know the person behind me in line! What can be done with complete anonymity?

Here are a few ideas. I would challenge my readers to add your own initiatives and not postpone putting them into action. What fun will we have in the process!

• Pay the fees on a toll road for the person behind you. (I have a friend who does this when he travels on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike leading into Oklahoma City.)
• Mow a neighbor’s grass.
• Send someone an anonymous letter or card with a kind message.
• Send an elderly person living on a fixed income a gift card.
• Visit someone in a nursing home who has no family.
• Give another driver your parking spot.
• Give flowers to be delivered with meals on wheels.
• Have pizza delivered to a nurses station at the hospital, the police dept. or a nearby fire station.
• Send a gift card for fuel to someone who is traveling regularly to care for a loved one who is seriously ill.

Have fun! And enjoy the joy that comes from initiating random acts of kindness.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Day the Man Came in the Jeep...

I am reading a book entitled After the Flag Has Been Folded: : A Daughter Remembers the Father She Lost to War--and the Mother Who Held Her Family Together, by Karen Zacharias. Ms. Zacharias is an outstanding writer. As a reader, you feel like you are there with her when she receives the news at age 9 that her father was killed in Vietnam. His untimely death of course is the defining moment in her life. In the book, she describes life after “the man in the jeep came.”

A man from a military installation showed up at their rural Tennessee home in a jeep one day to notify the family of her father’s death.  He died as a soldier in Vietnam.  …. I read her account of the death notification through two different viewpoints. I could relate to losing a father at a young age. And I have also been the “man in the jeep.” No doubt I have been referred to as the man who was in the front seat of a patrol car with the police officer. I have done a number of death notifications over the years where small children were involved. What I have always tried to do is to treat those devastated children the way I would want my kids treated in similar circumstances.

As I have read this particular story, what one thought stands out. I have a sneaking suspicion that every adult can point to a pivotal moment or event that has defined or shaped their life to a large degree. The day the man came in the jeep turned Karen Zacharias life upside down and inside out. Life as she knew was over. The loss of her father at age 9 continues to shape her adult life today.

It occurs to me that most people can point to such a moment or time period in their life. I recently visited with some colleagues over lunch who described in detail how the divorce of their parents when they were young rocked their world.   That event became life defining for them. I have heard horrific accounts of childhood sexual abuse from grown men and women. Such violations can also define a person’s life. Potentially positive events like a move to a new community for a child can also be the pivotal event they look back on as adults.

I am thinking that we can understand a person much better if we ever unearth what it is in their life that they consider the defining moment. I have an 80 year old friend who is a dedicated and capable volunteer for Habitat for Humanity. Just recently I discovered that his father left his mother for another woman when he was 5 years in old in 1935…He left my friend’s mother with 8 children to raise alone during The Great Depression. I wonder if that defining moment drives him now to extend compassion to people who struggle to have a decent home.

Today I am going to choose to listen more carefully, because I might just discover what events are shaping the lives of my friends today.  I think I can understand my friends much better if  I know a little more about their story.  It is not necessary to say: OH that is what causes you to act the way you do.  Instead we should choose to just quietly reach out to those we love once possess a more complete knowledge of their story.

I recommend the book by Karen Zacharias. It is insightful and inspiring!  Take the time to read it this year.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Send Your Children ONLY to the Finest Restaurants!

 Yesterday I was buying Gerber’s peaches at the United Grocery Store in Wichita Falls to feed Daniel. This weekend he is home from college, so today I paid for him to eat out with his friends. I do believe the Gerber days were cheaper. It really seems like yesterday that he was sitting in his high chair providing commentary on the family life of the Knox household, as he ate the Gerber peaches and hideous pureed green beans.

Jan and I decided we would treat ourselves as well today since the boys were eating out with their friends. We went to the Cotton Patch Restaurant with our own friends. While I was enjoying my meal I noticed a lady sitting in the booth across from our table cutting her elderly mother’s meat for her. The older lady was obviously feeble and could not feed herself.

I was quickly reminded that life comes full circle. The elderly lady no doubt fed her daughter pureed green beans years ago. And now her daughter is extending a similar courtesy back to her mother. A plethora of thoughts immediately flooded my mind. It occurred to me that I should really be nicer to my boys. I want them to take me out to Sunday lunch, when I can no longer feed myself. And then I realized that was not the correct response. I need to pray that each of them meet and marry really nice young ladies. One of their wives will most likely be the one who gets stuck with “feed John duty” in a few years. If it were left up to them, Randall would hire someone to do it. Daniel would just leave me at home. Mitchell would actually take me to the restaurant, but he would remind me the entire time that I was mean to him in restaurants when he was a little boy. I am making a mental note right now…pray for compassionate wives.

The lady cutting up the chicken for her mother in the restaurant today was inspiration to me. I have become increasingly aware of the fact that the elderly in our society are often put out to pasture. Visiting nursing homes is not my favorite area of pastoral care, but it is desperately needed. Every time I go to one of the nursing homes I made aware of residents who have few, if any visitors. And then there are people who still live in their homes, but it is difficult for them to get out. Many of them no longer have a driver’s license.

I needed to be reminded today that life comes full circle. I needed to observe such a basic act of service on behalf of another human being. We have a responsibility to reach out the most vulnerable among us. And it we would be wise on my part to be extra nice to the boys…. Maybe I SHOULD send them only to the best restaurants, because  I really don’t want to be left at home when I can no longer drive!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Cat's In the Cradle

 I had no idea how much fun it was going to be watching my kids and the children of my friends grow up. Perhaps I should clarify that statement. It was a blast observing my own children and their peers experiencing the milestones of maturity before they reached adulthood. Today I am referring to observing those same kids choosing life paths as adults.

Not long ago I called a child of a friend for legal advice. She is an attorney now. Last summer I visited with another friend’s child about the challenges facing family practitioners in the medical field. The high school girl I remember is now a busy physician with small children of her own. Another young lady, who should still be in high school, is teaching children in a public school at the elementary level. I have two friends with sons serving as police officers. Those boys are a little like me. It is just a good thing they are not in the backseat of the patrol car.

And then there are friends of mine who passed away before their children reached the point in adulthood where they were ready to begin a career. It is a special privilege to observe those “kids” complete their education and look forward to a rewarding professional life. I feel some level of responsibility to tell them to study hard for an exam. And I feel called to encourage them in their educational endeavors. The older I get the more convinced I am that loyalty to our friends extends to the next generation.

Over the past two weekends I have been made acutely aware that my boys are quickly moving toward being fully educated adults that are ready to take on their own professional goals. Two weeks ago Randall took the entrance examination for law school. Law school is one option he could take after graduation. He has a few others in mind too. This weekend Daniel made his first trip home after leaving for college in August. It is amazing what a few months away can do for a kid. He too will be facing the same kinds of decisions that his older brother is facing before we can blink. It is just a lot of fun watching them at this stage in life. And when they are making their own living, I think it is going to be even better!

Watching kids is a lot of fun, but to be perfectly honest Harry Chapin’s song from 1974 is on my mind this morning.

Well, he came home from college just the other dad.
So much like a man I just had to say
"Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?"
He shook his head and said with a smile
"What I'd really like, Dad, is to borrow the car key
See you later, can I have them please?"
And the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man on the moon
When you comin' home son
I don't know when, but we'll get together then son
You know we'll have a good time then

A word of encouragement to young parents today…. Enjoy your kids. And enjoy the children of your friends too. And someday you too will have the privilege of watching your children and their peers become adult professionals. And…don’t forget that loyalty extends to the next generation.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ignite the Flame of Hope

 When it hurts to look back, and you're scared to look ahead, you can look beside you, and your best friend will be there.---Unknown

Viktor Frankl in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, appropriately points out that no one has the capacity to take away our hope. He reached that conclusion after surviving a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. He experienced firsthand the loss of everything anyone would consider precious. As he looked back at that horrific time, he realized that hope sustained him.

Every week I interact with people that are feeling hopeless. Every week I visit with people struggling with the raw realities of life. Traumatic experiences, the loss of a loved one, serious illnesses, and troubled children top the list of those in distress. Relational breakdowns of course are another factor that fuels a sense of hopelessness.

Hopeless people look at the past and it hurts. In some cases, they remember better days. It was a time when their loved one was still with them. There are wonderful memories, but it still hurts to look back at the past. It was a time when their kids were cute and innocent… Still others look at the past and it is nothing more than a constant reminder of some trauma that occurred early on in life.

Those same individuals consider the future and it does not look so bright. The imagination activates the fear mechanism in our brains. We make up all sorts of awful scenarios in our mind as to what could happen in the not so distant future. In other cases, the future is just bleak. There does not seem to be any foreseeable end to the present pain.
But Viktor Frankl says no one can take away our hope! I do think he is right…But I also think all of us need someone to stand beside us and periodically reignite the flame of hope that exists in our hearts. I don’t mean that we need someone to lecture us or give us their definite opinions about our bleak situation. We simply need someone to walk with us during the dark moments of life as well as the times of joy.

If we reach a moment in life when it is too painful to look at the past, and too scary to consider the future, then it might be a good idea to look right beside us. Our best friend is so close that we might actually trip over them. As that person walks beside us, they are ever so subtly lighting the flame of hope. Perhaps they are even doing it unintentionally.

Let me encourage flame lighters among us today. Make that phone call. Send that email. Fire off an encouraging text message. Do the old fashioned thing and send a hand written note. Show up when you want to and show up when you don’t want to as well. It could be that your friend on the receiving end is feeling hopeless today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Buy a Ticket to Someone's Heart...

 Winning markets really well. When I walked into Academy Sports yesterday, I was immediately greeted by special displays of shirts and caps with the Texas Rangers’ logo. I am just like most Texans. I am thrilled that the Rangers are going places they have never been before in their history as a professional baseball franchise. I also found it very interesting that apparel adorned with the Dallas Cowboys logo was noticeably missing from the front of the same store.  And this is football season!

Losing does not market well…

I must admit that I am not a die hard Cowboys fan for several reasons. As a young boy, I grew up watching Vince Lombardi coach the Green Bay Packers. I must confess I am still drawn to the Packers. But my lack of interest in the Cowboys is mainly indicative of the preference I have for college football. Big 12 Conference College football is enough to keep my interest! But I must admit that I appreciate the Dallas fans that are loyal no matter what.

Losing does not market well, but that has no impact on their commitment to the team. They are going to watch the Cowboys play every chance they get. And they are going to walk deep into the sports store to seek out shirts and caps with the Cowboys logo. And they will also defend their team its critics when that becomes necessary!  They do all of that despite the fact that other fans are quickly abandoning the ship.

I think I want to surround myself with fans that are loyal to their team, because I can’t help but think that loyal fans also make loyal friends. When we are riding high in life, we market well to people around us. Who does not want to be around a winner? But when we are struggling, there are those who will abandon us in a heartbeat.  I appreciate my loyal friends who are around when I winning. But I value even more those that still show up when I am having a losing season in life.

I am thrilled for the Texas Rangers. I really hope that their debut at the World Series will be this year. But I will still show up to watch them in future seasons that may not be as illustrious as this one. I am committing myself right now to thinking about friends who are having a losing season. I am convinced that I need to frequent their bleachers and demonstrate my loyalty in tangible ways.

Who do you know today that is having a losing season? Just remember people don’t market well to others when it is perceived that they are losers. You could be the personal link they need today. Buy a ticket to their heart and sit on the bleachers cheering them until the losing season is over…

Monday, October 18, 2010

Anyone Care for Some Leap Frog in the End Zone?

 "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." -- George Santayana

I saw this quote this morning applied to the Dallas Cowboys. In their game against the Vikings yesterday, two of their veteran players blatantly ignored a penalty that contributed to their recent loss to the Titans. I can see where players could get penalized for holding. Blocking effectively is not as easy as it looks on television. But these guys purposely orchestrated some kind of leap frog celebration in the end zone following a touchdown. Such celebratory end zone antics are presently forbidden by the NFL. I can’t help but wonder if teens playing for the Granbury Pirates don’t have better sense. But perhaps I should take the plank out of my own eye before I start removing specks from the eyes of the Dallas Cowboys.

I often find myself repeating the mistakes of the past. To be very truthful I just don’t like to dwell on bygones. I remember a quote from The Lion King that says: You gotta put your behind in your past. That sounds good to me. Forget the past and press on to the future. The truth is that we need to put our past behind us. And the only way to accomplish such a feat is to be willing to remember it.

Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that the Cowboys are going to see the video of what took place in the end zone yesterday in places other than ESPN coverage on television? Why do I have a hunch that their coaches are going to have a very pleasant heart to heart discussion with all of their offensive players regarding the rules of the game? The not so distant past is no doubt going to be a formidable part of upcoming practices and team meetings.

It would serve me well not go to get too smug. It would actually behoove me to think in terms of my own team meeting. I would prefer to forget my mistakes and blatant antics that have been done despite a good knowledge of the rules. If I choose to block such things out of my mind, the same infractions will be incurred again and again and still again.

Today I choose to adopt a healthy view of the past. I am not going to berate myself. That is not helpful. But I also opt to not bury my head in the sand by acting as if the blunders of the past did not occur. I think I will actually dig up some of that old, smelly and repulsive stuff from the past and consider it as objectively as possible. My assumption is that I might just learn something. I know that I must remember the past, because if I don’t I am condemned to repeat it…

Friday, October 15, 2010

Do You Feel Like a Square Peg in a Round Hole?

Today I experienced one of life’s not so subtle reminders that life marches on whether I am ready or not. When Randall was 5 years old and Daniel was 2 years old, we had a very responsible 16 year old baby-sit for us. The boys loved having a male babysitter. And then life marched on. That 16 year old babysitter recently turned 30. The pace picked up some momentum when Daniel left for college and Randall took the entrance examination for law school. And then today reality hit once again.

My former babysitter and his sweet wife experienced the birth of their firstborn this morning. Griffin entered this world before lunchtime today. Griffin’s father survived the antics of my boys 14 years ago, so surely he is well prepared to take on his paternal duties. I could not be more thrilled for him.

This time of joy for a young family is a serving as a stark reminder to me. Life is moving on. I was 32 years old when Chris babysat my older boys. But I am not 32 today. And my boys are not 5 and 2. Time seems to move faster than it did when the boys were small. What is the proper reaction to that reality?

Those of us who are rapidly approaching 50 had better embrace some key concepts at this juncture in our lives. I have never formed a bucket list of things I want to do or accomplish in life, but I do have given some thought to the general direction that I hope my life can take. Here are my ideas for those of us who comprise the tale end of the Baby Boomer Generation:

• I want to spend as much time as possible developing and using the gifts and talents that God has given me. At this point in life, I am not interested in trying to be a square peg in a round hole.

• It is imperative to give proper attention to matters of health and fitness. I have failed in this department to a large degree. That must change.

• I am interested in cultivating lifelong friendships. I am like many of my peers. I have been privileged to be reunited with childhood friends in the past couple of years. I intend to make the most of such opportunities by deepening those friendships during an important time in each of our lives.

• Those closest to me have helped me to realize that there are things that I am distinctively suited to do. I am going to stop beating myself up for all of the areas of life where I fall short and focus more on the ways that I can be uniquely of service to others.

• I am excited about approaching the time of the empty nest at home. Raising our boys has been a great source of joy. But I can tell that the empty nest time is going to much like being boyfriend and girlfriend all over again with my sweet bride.

Welcome to the world Griffin Robey. You are blessed with a wonderful mom and dad. And you have two sets of amazing grandparents. Your dad was no doubt warped by the babysitting the Knox boys back in the day. And he has been further affected by all three of them during the time he has been their youth minister. Life will march on and you will be in the teen youth group soon. I hope you will come and visit me in the old folk’s home. But before I reach that point I have a few things I want to accomplish!

What about you? If you are reading this post, have you given thought to things you want to accomplish in life? What is your perspective on your own gifts and talents? I hope today that you do not feel like a square peg in a round hole.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Most Inspiring Thing I've Ever Seen....

  As the world watched, the last trapped miner was rescued in Chile today. I have friends who watched some of it, as it happened. I have at least one friend that watched the entire dramatic rescue! I was swamped at work today, but I did see miner #24 come out of the rescue capsule and be united with his wife. To say that it was moving is the understatement of the year.
An insightful 21 year old shared this thought on facebook early this evening:

Watching the rescue of these Chilean miners is probably the most inspiring thing I've ever seen...just a reminder to never give up hope : )

I agree. Watching the final moments of this long and drawn out rescue process is indeed a reminder that we should never give up hope. I am just like everyone else around the globe tonight. I am thrilled and ecstatic that the ordeal is over. I am proud of everyone that has contributed to the success of the mission. And watching the miners reunite with their families is emotionally overwhelming. But I have a different spin on the entire process too.

The rescue in Chile has given me renewed hope in a much different way. Watching the reaction of my friends from all ages and walks of life to the events of recent days in Chile has given me a renewed sense of hope in the goodness and decency of people. Maybe I should not be so surprised. Perhaps I am exposed to the darker side of human nature far too much. But I am so touched that people are thrilled about the rescue of people that live in a different country and speak a different language. It has been a reminder to me to never give up hope on the capacity of human beings to feel genuine love and concern, even for total strangers.

I am also reminded during this process how inspiring it is to see other people overcome seemingly impossible odds. In Chile, they overcame a lot. But most importantly it took a tremendous team effort to override all of the difficulties. We need to witness such events. It is good for us. We need to see that other people care. We need to see that real rescues take place. It is serves as a reminder to never give up hope.

My final reaction to the events of the past several days in Chile will sound odd to some. Every year the police dept. calls me to assist with suicides. Those are tough calls. Working with a family facing the aftermath of a suicide is difficult. People commit suicide when they are totally and completely hopeless. Life is so painful that they see no alternative. I wonder tonight if there is a depressed and hopeless person out there somewhere who watched these events take place. I wonder if it served as a reminder to never give up hope...

Thanks for the thought Kate.  I am glad you have witnessed something so inspiring today!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Drooling Jane is Among Us Today

 Jim Martin, who is a professional colleague of mine from Waco, included this story in his blog today. (Be sure to check out his blog at Jim uses the personal story as a basis for an important challenge. However I am going to take the story in a little different direction…Here is his story:

I was in the fourth grade. “Jane” sat in the chair behind me. She often drooled on her desk. She was blond, lanky, and was physically challenged. She had difficulty with coordination and often fell down on the playground during recess. On those occasions, she sometimes returned to class with skinned and bloody knees.

One day, the class was returning from recess. Several boys were walked into the classroom and began making fun of Jane. I was already in my chair. They laughed and then I laughed. A few seconds latter I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and Jane was looking at me with such a sad look.

“You are my friend and you laughed!”

I felt sick. No excuse. No justification. No good reason. All I knew to do was to say “I’m sorry.” That sounded pretty small and lame given what I had done. I had betrayed her.

How in the world could I have done something like this? How could I have laughed at someone who had so many obstacles to overcome and only wanted a friend?

I would like to declare my immediate innocence when it comes to such actions, but I cannot. I am quite sure I acted in a similar fashion at Wind Point Elementary School more than once. When we are in the 4th grade, such behavior is part of the growing up process.  Empathy and compassion are learned behaviors.

When we are adults, we are old enough to know better. We are old enough to know that the “Jane’s” within our sphere of influence are need to some extra tender loving care. They are not to be ridiculed or shunned. They are especially not to be ignored.  As Jim pointed out, Jane just wanted a friend.

I am convinced that a person’s true character is revealed based on how he behaves toward:

• People who don’t appear to possess any ability to reciprocate. (They are unlikely do anything for us down the road.
• People who are mentally or physically challenged.
• Elderly people who are feeble.
• Socially awkward people of all ages and walks of life.
• Homeless people
• Individuals who are severely disadvantaged economically

When I see someone ignoring or otherwise behaving rudely toward a human being that falls in one the above categories, it makes me wonder about their character. ANYBODY can be nice to someone who can do something for them in return. In all kinds of social settings, I see people scatter and avoid those who seemingly have little to give.

As an adult, I feel Jane’s pain. She was lonely and shut out from her fellow 4th graders. Do I think my friend Jim has poor character? Not at all! He was in the 4th grade! But I would wonder about the adults who are encountering Jane today. How are they responding to a grown woman who very likely still struggles in some ways?  Does she have friends today?

The assignment for this week: Consciously observe how we treat the weakest and most vulnerable among us. It is not a bad test of personal character... And it could be that an unexepected and rich friendship develops in the process.  But just keep in mind that "Drooling Jane" is among us today.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

He Felt An Unexplained Pop...

Jeff Hart was living a relatively obscure life a few weeks ago. The 40 year old contractor from Denver was drilling water wells for U.S. Army bases in Afghanistan 35 days ago. But then he received a call from the country of Chile.

Since that fateful call, he has spent 33 days on his feet drilling a hole that will ultimately provide a way out for 33 trapped miners. He told the media this weekend that he thought his heart was stopping when he felt “an unexplained pop” just before the drill broke though into an underground chamber. News reports indicate that miners’ relatives crowded around Hart on Saturday, hugging and posing for pictures with him. I am not surprised.

When I read on Friday that a breakthrough was imminent, I soon realized that my excitement was premature. Leaders supervising the rescue operation would have to make another crucial decision. Do they go on and attempt to pull the miners out through an unlined shaft, or do they spend a few more days dropping a medal casing into the hole that Hart drilled. There are significant risks associated with both procedures. It was not an easy decision, but apparently it has been decided to line at least a portion of the shaft. Chile’s mining minister is saying now that they hope to start bringing the trapped miners to the surface by Wednesday of this week.

Two things stand out to me as this hair raising rescue process reaches a climatic point. First of all:  Rescue missions are seldom clear cut. There are tricky choices to make. There are considerable risks associated with each of those choices. Lives are at stake. The drillers in Chile were quoted as saying: “If you’re drilling for oil and you lose the hole, it’s different. This time there’s people down below.”

I find that principle to be true in dealing with all kinds of people related issues. If I am trying to help someone who is struggling with addictions or another person whose family life is coming apart there is a lot at stake. There are generally lots options for those rescue missions. There are also risks associated with each of those choices.

The second thing that stands out to me is: We never know when our talents are going to be used in a great way. Mr. Hart is being referred to as the best in his business. I have no reason to think that is not true! When he woke up one morning a little over a month ago, he had no idea he would soon be flying to Chile to help save 33 lives. His talents were needed and he arose to the occasion.

What would we do without unassuming, decent people who arise to the occasion when needed? I am going to pause for a few moments today and think about the people in my sphere of influence that are making a difference as they employ their God given talents. And I plan to express a prayer of thanksgiving for a certain water well driller from Denver, Colorado.

Friday, October 8, 2010

A Time to Heal...

Tonight several friends from Monterey High School are meeting in Dallas to celebrate the conclusion of treatments for cancer on behalf of one of our classmates. We are a part of the class of 1980. (We were the first class in MHS history to graduate a group of child prodigies, who were only 5 years year old as seniors.) That makes us about 35 years old? Yes, that sounds great.

That could be stretching the truth just a bit, but in my mind we are still too young to be diagnosed with awful diseases like cancer. But that is not reality either. Small children can be diagnosed with certain forms of cancer. Over 23 years in ministry I have walked with a lot of families facing dire illnesses. It is a humbling experience to say the least.

After all of these years, I am more convinced than ever that one of the best gifts we can provide those dealing with cancer is a quiet and consistent presence. No words are needed. During certain times in the journey I would even say no words allowed! I would place kind and carefully thought out words of encouragement as a close second. Simple acts of service that are completed with no need for fanfare also rank very high in the scheme of things. I have been privileged to watch all three of these played out on behalf of those facing serious illnesses by loving people who possess great people skills. Consequently I have learned a lot in 23 years from some real pros.

Sometimes well intentioned friends miss the mark as they strive to help a friend in such circumstances. There  is just a lack of perspective. My friend and colleague Virgil Fry has been a chaplain at M.D. Anderson in Houston for over 25 years. His thoughts are worth sharing in this sharing. He captures some of the things a person facing illness experiences.

Lessons Gleaned While Standing Beside the Sick

Hope is stronger than despair, though both are powerful and normal.

Being avoided or shunned in worse than being subjected to uncomfortable conversation.

The message "life goes on" takes on deeper meanings as we confront crisis.

Loss of independence is a loss of identity, for we perceive ourselves as doers and actors.

Losses painfully remind us of how dependent we truly are upon God and others.

A broken spirit can be more difficult to heal than a broken body.

When we have to, we can endure much more than we think we can. The human spirit is incredibly resilient.

Claiming one day at a time is one secret to faithful living.

The most important things in life cannot be bought or earned, but they can be received in love.

Sharing joys and sorrows yields a return of healing and intimacy.

Living is a process, not a series of rational decisions we make. Spiritual growth springs fro continually learning to “let go and let God.”

-Virgil M. Fry in Disrupted: Finding God in Illness and Loss.

Congratulations today to Kerri! She has completed the journey of treatment procedures for cancer. I hope tonight marks a great time of celebration and joy with lifelong friends. May this day be marked as a time of recommitment for all of us to serve our friends and family more faithfully as they too face serious illnesses. And may tonight mark a time to heal...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Parents with Perfect Kids...What Do They REALLY Need?

In a 24 hour period, I have had 4 different encounters with people concerned about their children. One parent has a child fighting a serious disease in an Intensive Care Unit at a major university hospital. Another parent is concerned about her 16 year old, who is facing the sudden loss of a lifelong family friend. Two other parents are dealing with serious issues that could follow their children for the rest of their lives. Their kids have made some very poor choices.

During that same 24 hour time frame I was also forced to listen someone describe his perfect children, who have obviously never done anything wrong.  (Does that sound a little sarcastic? If it does not, then I need to phrase it more effectively.) I wanted to come out of my seat and slap him upside the head, but I resisted. I was reminded that self-righteousness can exhibit itself in many forms.

Do you have great kids? That is a blessing. Are your kids fortunate enough to be healthy? That is wonderful too. Allow me to dole out some sound advice. There are parents not too far from you who are struggling with their children. There are parents in your community who are sitting in an Intensive Care Unit anxiously waiting for the next visitation time that only comes around every 6 hours. There are also moms and dads who have children incarcerated in county jails and state penitentiaries as well.

If you choose to extol the wonderful qualities of your children, do so with great sensitivity toward those around you are trying to keep their head above water. Self righteousness in such cases can do untold damage. Parents with imperfect kids... What do they really need?  Struggling parents need a word of encouragement and concrete forms of support.

I consider myself very fortunate. I have great kids. They are not perfect. They make poor choices just like their father. But when I am around people like I have been in the past 24 hours, I try to listen with a compassionate ear. And when I am around those inclined toward self righteous behavior…well let’s just say I try my best to restrain myself.   (But I do know what they really need!!)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Swinging a Sledge Hammer to Promote Unity

About a year ago I participated in a work day at our church building. Our assigned task that Saturday morning was to knock down some interior walls in order to make preparations for a complete remodel of our teen center. What I found is that church walls are solid. They were not constructed with the intent of ever being torn out. I found slinging the sledge hammer to be almost as exhilarating as shooting weapons out at the firing range with the police officers I serve with. (Jan finds it disturbing to see how much of a rush that is to me.) That bulky sledge hammer got pretty heavy after a period of time. But it was a good feeling to see the walls finally come crashing down.

Joe Bagby was the beloved preacher for the 4th and Elm Church of Christ in Sweetwater, Texas for nearly 14 years. I never knew him, but I have very dear friends in that West Texas town. He was a huge blessing to their community. I think the members of his church and others would be amazed to know that he spent most, if not all of his tenure there swinging a sledge hammer. Believe me that is hard work.

He spent 14 years tearing down church walls that everybody else thought could not be penetrated. But he kept swinging. I know it must have been a tiresome job at times. It was difficult and tiresome, because churches have been good at building solid walls of sectarianism for a long time. As the years go by, those sectarian walls have a way of becoming increasingly solid.  I have friends and colleagues in ministry who talk a lot about unity, but I have never seen them swing a hammer before...

Based on what I have heard from a variety of sources I don’t think Mr. Baby was one inclined to waffle on his convictions. But his love for people and willingness to reach across all kinds of religious aisles opened opportunities for him to swing the hammer and chip away at some pretty imposing walls. There is no telling how much good was done over a period of years.

Joe passed away Saturday afternoon. The church he served faithfully is grieving this week. I think it would be more accurate to say that the entire community is grieving, because he helped eradicate a lot of walls. People from churches in the entire town feel a closer affinity and appreciation for one another. The unchurched no doubt have a better perception of Christians period. In the process, I am convinced that no one has violated their convictions.

They will celebrate his life tomorrow afternoon. I wish I could be present to pay my respects as well. But I am traveling to Bowie tomorrow to lead critical incident debriefings for the troopers and family members with The Texas Highway Patrol impacted by the loss of a trooper in a line of duty car crash. I will have the privilege of serving all kinds of people coming from all walks of life in that setting. I think Joe would want me to be in Bowie. And I think he would tell me to throw a sledge hammer in the back of the truck before I leave. There will be no shortage of walls to tear down. As I said in a previous post, when I grow up, I want to be like Joe Bagby. May God bless his family tomorrow.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

My Weed Eater Has Feelings Too....

 I took my lawnmower and the gas weed eater to the repair shop on the same day. I decided to carry the sick weed eater in first and then bring in the disabled lawn mower. Before I could even set it down near the service counter the man at the shop told me in no uncertain terms that they don’t work on “that brand” of weed eater. And why is that, I inquired? I was told that they were built so cheaply that they are not worth fixing. I felt like a leper that had ventured into the community and was told I was unclean. How could I have known at the time that I was buying such an inferior product? Other people in the store were giving me funny looks. I knew what they were thinking. Look at that guy over wearing the tie…He doesn’t have the sense to know what kind of weed eater to buy. But the story gets better.

With some hesitancy in my voice, I nearly whispered that I had a lawn mower that was in need of repair as well. What brand is it, I was asked? I started to say that it was a registered thoroughbred Toro mower, but I resisted. Apparently the Toro brand cut the muster though, because it was readily accepted into the lawnmower treatment center. I bade my mower goodbye and promised to come for a visit if they did not finish the repairs within a day or two. I tucked my tail and swallowed my pride as I walked back out to the truck with the rejected weed eater.

At first I was indeed a little irritated with the guy that works at the lawn mower shop. But I realized he was trying to save me money and some grief later. My parent’s generation fixed everything. Throwing something away was not an option. Jan’s parents have been in the farming business for nearly 50 years. Her dad has never called an appliance repairman to the house to fix a washer or dryer. He has always done it himself. He would not find himself in the lawn mower repair shop in the first place! Discarding a cheap weed eater is beyond their comprehension. And for that matter, discarding another human being is equally beyond their sphere of thought processes.

A friend recently posted this quote attributed to Audrey Hepburn:

 People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw anyone out. 

We live in a throw away society. Don’t fix the weed eater. Throw it away and purchase one of better quality. The washer quits working. Discard it and buy one of those cool front loading machines. The list could go on and on…

Our friends have issues. We are temped to sever those ties. Members of our extended family disappoint and hurt us. We are inclined to withdraw. Those closest to us make terrible mistakes. We are tempted to move on and form new relationships.

I agree with Ms. Hepburn. People need to experience restoration. We simply must give them such an option. In many situations, relationships could benefit from ongoing renewal. Renewal in relationships requires tremendous commitment. In other cases, the relationship has died. It is time to get the paddles out. It must be shocked back into life in order for there to be revival.

I would hate to think that someone would communicate to me that I am not worth fixing. He is an inferior person! Go out and find someone else of better stock! Throw him away. We don’t work on his kind. And furthermore, I would hate to be on the other side of the counter telling someone else they are not worth the repair bill.

As we start a new week, I would ask all of us this question: Who needs you to reach out to them in a spirit of restoration, renewal and revival? It could be that a struggling relationship could indeed be redeemed and reclaimed in the process. Never throw anyone out… A challenge indeed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Running Ahead: It is Just a Mother's Job!

Running Ahead:  A Tribute to Helen Kimbro

What it would it be like to be in the 5th grade again? There actually are events that occurred during my 5th grade year at Wind Point Elementary School that still stand out to me, but they are becoming fewer and fewer as the years go by. Earlier this week I had a conversation with a gentleman who is a few years my senior regarding events that took place when he was in the 5th grade.

He was playing on some kind of city league football team in Midland, Texas. The day of the big game arrived. He was given the ball by the quarterback. There were teammates no doubt blocking for him as he headed straight for the end zone. While he was carrying the football and running his heart out, another event was taking place on the sidelines that could not be ignored.

His mother was running alongside him. Well not exactly…. His mother actually beat him to the end zone and was awaiting his arrival with both hands in the air signifying a legitimate touchdown. It was one of those moments in her life as a mother that she could not help herself. Impulse just took over.

The young man’s mother felt some sense of remorse after the game was over, and her adrenaline had time to come back down to earth. She asked her son if she had embarrassed him by standing in the end zone communicating to every player and fan that the touchdown was indeed good. No…he told her. That did not embarrass him. What did embarrass him was the fact that his mother out ran him over the course of about 40 yards!

He has grown children of his own now, but that memory is still as clear as if it happened yesterday. He relayed that story to me the day after his mother died very unexpectedly. It strikes me that there were any number of stories he could have shared about his mother the day after her death. But he chose the one about his experience playing football in the 5th grade. I think I have some inking why that memory came to the surface very quickly.

Dedicated mothers are good runners. They even have the ability to run ahead of their children, when needed. It is starts when a child is an infant. His mother gets up ahead of him and heats a bottle or prepares for breastfeeding. If a mother thinks her child is threatened in some other way, she can run interference at a pace that any NFL player would envy. That same mother can run faster than an Olympian if their toddler is venturing too close to the street. And they run ahead to the end zone, so they can be there first to give their child recognition and encouragement. God just created moms to be good runners.

Tomorrow I will make an attempt to honor that gentleman’s mother at her funeral service. There is no shortage of good things to say about her. What I need to say to him personally is that a man never relinquishes the need for his mother to run ahead of him. Those of us who have lost our mothers know that to be true.  You still run the race of life, but you miss having the security of knowing your mother is running ahead of you eager to recognize your accomplishments.

My encouragement to young moms is this: Don’t hold back. Don’t hesitate to run the length of the football field. Look ahead and anticipate what is coming, so you can be prepared to dole out words of wisdom that will prepare your child for what awaits him ahead. And if you embarrass him in the process, it is really not a problem. Not only will he get over it, but he might just remember it over 40 years later.

Tomorrow several of us will honor the life of Helen Kimbro. What a privilege it will be to celebrate the life of a wonderful lady, who consistently made the choice to run ahead…