Sunday, November 28, 2010

It Started at a Pawn Shop in New York City

 I am really not into delayed gratification, but I do see the value of plugging along on an effort consistently. I have wanted to be able to speak Spanish for quite some time now. But learning a new language requires a tremendous of discipline and hard work! Last spring I took a Conversational Spanish course at Tarrant County College. That was helpful. And then I attempted an online Spanish grammar course over the summer. I dropped that class! Summertime is just too busy at work. But then a pawn shop in New York City entered the picture…

I was able to order a new copy of the Rosetta Stone language software from a pawn shop via e-bay. Now Rosetta Stone requires a lot of discipline. It is a matter of being committed to the process. Obviously there is not a structured classroom with a set time to arrive every week. I have worked at it for several months now.
Today was particularly gratifying in regard to my journey to learn Spanish. I completed the first level of the Rosetta Stone process. That is a really big deal!  I am now ready to move on to the next level.

I am really not into delayed gratification, but learning a new language is teaching me the importance of that ideal. I am realizing that all I can do is make progress everyday. Nothing happens overnight.  Our friends from Mexico, Othoniel and Paloma could tell that I had made progress when they were in Granbury a few weeks ago. That was extremely exciting! Tomorrow I will begin the lessons in level 2. I will make additional flash cards for more practice. And I will attempt not to get impatient at the slow advancement.

Do you struggle with delayed gratification? I am convinced that taking on a project of the magnitude of learning a new language is a pretty decent cure for that human weakness. It sure is helping me! And I look forward to the day of being totally bi-lingual.  And just think...this part of the journey started at a pawn shop in New York City!

Friday, November 26, 2010

A Day at Kewpees

 I might as well go on and confess now… It IS a holiday weekend. Maybe that will serve as a sufficient excuse. Well…here goes: I watched a chick flick with Jan last night. Actually as far as that particular genre of movies goes, this one is a good one. We watched Fried Green Tomatoes, which was released in 1991.

I saw it in the movie theater that year and liked it then. Jessica Tandy is brilliant and Kathy Bates does a good job in a supporting role.  The movie is set in 1930’s rural Alabama. It captures the racism that was such a prevailing facet of that culture. And furthermore it just shows that life in the good old days may not have been as good as we would like to remember. Life in the rural south was harsh in many ways. But most importantly it is a story about friendship.

The mutual loyalty that exists among all of the main characters is the prevailing theme in the movie. That loyalty supersedes racism, domestic abuse, and profound personality differences. It is a compelling movie. When it was over last night, I was inspired to deepen the friendships I that I have enjoyed for years. Little did I know when the credits rolled at the end of Fried Green Tomatoes last night that I would soon witness a similar kind of loyalty in real life?

I have a childhood friend who is suffering from the effects of a brain tumor. He has undergone at least two surgeries, but his prognosis is grave. We were the boys that the teacher soon separated after the beginning of a school year. Silly teachers thought that we were inclined toward mischief. He was the friend I got in a fist fight with on the playground in the 5th grade. Good ole Mrs. Shepherd made us face each other outside the outside entrance to the school before we could go back in. I was told to say: I love you Steve. And in turn he was told to say: I love you John. We would have rather been shot. But we did it.

A mutual friend of ours is reaching out to Steve during this scary and uncertain time. Scott spent the day with Steve today. They laughed and ate at a favorite downtown hamburger place called Kewpees. He took Steve out to his home for another part of the day.  It was  relaxing and fun for both of them.

Last night I was inspired by a movie that captures the value of lifelong friendship. (Even if it was a chick flick) Today I feel a sense of peace and reassurance in knowing that a struggling friend, who is over 1,100 miles away, is being taken care of by someone else in our crew. I am not exactly sure how to process the reality of a childhood friend suffering from a life threatening disease, but I do know that I am thankful for friends who know how to care. And maybe that is sufficient for today.

I found out what the secret to life is: friends. Best friends…

-Ninny Threadgoode played by Jessica Tandy in Fried Green Tomatoes

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A GREAT Story of Thanksgiving...

Not what we say about our blessings, but how we use them, is the true measure of our thanksgiving.” -W. T. Purkiser

 27 year old Ryan Grant has been a running back for the Green Bay Packers since the 2007 season. Grant played college ball at Notre Dame, and began his professional career with the New York Giants in 2005. He has indeed been a standout for the Packers. In 2008, he broke two franchise records during their game against the Seattle Seahawks. But today Ryan Grant is a hero in eyes of many for a very different reason.

The running back is in the process of recuperating from ankle surgery. When he was checking his email one day, he became aware of an 11 year old boy in Wisconsin who is in the final stages in a fight with leukemia. Of course the young man is a hard core Packers fan. Grant decided to go to the extra mile for a boy suffering from a horrible disease.

He assembled all kinds of signed Packer memorabilia to share with young Ryan Luxem. And then he proceeded to spend 90 minutes of his time with the boy and his family. In reading the account of this event, I am not so sure which Ryan benefited more! But I am grateful for a professional football player who is willing to go the extra mile to brighten the life of a family facing an indescribable crisis.

Several thoughts came to mind as I read the account of this event in the online edition of the Milwaukee newspaper. I was reminded of the importance of using whatever we have been fortunate enough to receive to serve the most vulnerable among us. Ryan Grant is a talented professional football player! He has chosen to use those gifts to be kind to an 11 year old in a way that the young man’s family will never, ever forget. Grant has forced me to ask myself how I can use my own gifts and talents in a more compassionate manner.

It also occurred to me that credibility and a positive image are not things that can manufactured by a public relations firm. Tiger Woods was in the news again this week. His PR firm is trying to do improve his image, but the general public is not buying it. People sense a lack of sincerity on the part of Woods. Responding to a terminally ill 11 year old boy in a way that is obviously heartfelt captures builds credibility. I would think that there are some Green Bay Packer fans that are beaming with pride today. And they should… In fact, I count myself among them.

Ryan Grant is my hero for this Thanksgiving Day. I am grateful for his generosity and compassion. He has inspired me to do better. Let us take his take his cue and reach out to someone who could benefit from the talents we have been given.  Thank you Ryan Grant for a great story of Thanksgiving!

The entire article is a must read! Here is the link:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Best Coach I Ever Had...

 I read a great tribute to a coach from a former player this week on a friend’s facebook page. She made the following comment regarding her experience with this gentleman:

He's the best coach I ever had. For every one thing that he told me to work on, he told me three things I was doing well.

What a great observation! Come to think about it I wish I had read that about 22 years ago, when we found out that we were expecting our firstborn. Those words of wisdom apply aptly to parenting. Kids need lots of “coaching” on lots of issues from their parents. But it should be couched in the same form that my friend’s baseball coach used. When we point out the areas that need improvement, we should encourage them by pointing out three other ways that they are excelling.

I actually think adults would benefit from a similar approach. If we want to maximize employee productivity and morale, then let’s choose such a sandwich approach to motivation. The good is blended with the bad. The areas that need improvement are sandwiched between some positive strokes.

Children and adults alike will remember people in their lives that possess such positive motivational skills. It builds confidence. And everyone is need of periodic confidence boosts. In fact, I would go as far to say that it can be life changing. In some cases, coaches are dealing with kids that are being raised in a very negative environment. One of the three positive things said to that child could end up making a difference that will not soon be forgotten.

I vote for the sandwich approach to motivation today. It works. Ball players improve their skills, kids shine in academics, and adults find a renewed sense of worth. My kids will be home for the holidays. I need to start formulating my daily list of three things they are doing well, and squeeze in a few areas that need some work as well….

Oh and by the way...Who is the best coach you ever had?

Monday, November 22, 2010

But I Don't FEEL Like Being Thankful!

 This week is a not a bad time to take inventory. I am not thinking in terms of the kind of inventory that a retailer conducts annually. Retailers count the number of items on a shelf. This week would be a good time for us to count our blessings.

There are obvious things for which we should express gratitude. And then there are not so obvious. Yesterday I preached a sermon entitled: “I Don’t Feel Like Being Thankful.” In that presentation, I included this quote from Henri Nouwen:

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy, but to be grateful for all of our lives—the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejections—that requires hard spiritual work.

We are only truly grateful people when we can say "thank you" to all that has brought us to the present moment. As long as we keep dividing our lives between events and people we would like to remember and those we would rather forget, we cannot claim the fullness of our beings as a gift of God to be grateful for. Let's not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now and trust that we will soon see in it the guiding hand of a loving God.

There are times I really don’t feel thankful. I have my moments when I prefer whining over gratitude. There are situations that I have a hard time seeing any value in. There are people that I simply don’t perceive as a blessing.

I told my church family yesterday that I was plowing new ground. I used the term “exercise” and “Thanksgiving Day” in the same sentence. I seriously doubt that has been done since the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving. Here is the exercise I shared in my sermon yesterday:

• What has caused you sorrow this year? Can you find something that has occurred during that period of sorrow for which you can be grateful? Are their friends that touched you during such a time?

• Where or how have you failed this year? Is there something good that has come out of those failures for which you can be thankful?

• Who has hurt you this year?  Has something good surfaced from that hurt? Are you more humble and gentle with others as a result of the hurt?

I don’t always feel like being thankful, but I know the capacity to be thankful for the difficult things in life are a sign of true maturity. I also find this to be important exercise if I am going to prevent resentment and bitterness from executing a complete takeover of my heart. I hope we can all gather around a table of thanksgiving in more ways than one this week.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Call Me If There Is Anything I Can Do...I Don't Think So! (Part II)

Some months ago I wrote about the cliché that we often hear in the aftermath of a sudden tragedy: “If there is anything I can do…” I do not like that phrase. I believe it is better to say nothing. There are a host of reasons for avoiding such a vague and open ended offer of service. Suffice to say that people in crisis simply do not have the emotional energy to ask for help. If we are going to serve those facing a serious illness or a death in the family, then we need to be creative and focused.

Yesterday I attended the funeral service for Trooper Jonathan McDonald in Lubbock. He was killed in a line of duty car crash outside of Post, TX late Monday evening. Hundreds of DPS troopers and officers from other law enforcement agencies attended the service. Trooper McDonald’s 26 year old wife eulogized her fallen husband. I was amazed and touched to say the least. The comments of Sgt. Ruben Garcia, who served as Jonathan’s supervisor, particularly caught my attention.

He gave Jonathan’s extended family and friends a very specific assignment. He told them to go home and type out their memories of Jonathan. He urged them to describe his character in detail. And then he gave those same individuals a deadline. Sgt. Garcia instructed them to email their thoughts to him by the first week in December. He is going to compile all of those memories into one document. That completed piece will be saved for Jonathan McDonald’s 6 month old daughter. Sgt. Garcia gets it.

Sgt. Garcia chose not to ask the family of the man he supervised what he could do. He chose instead to be creative and focused. And I might add that he factored some accountability into to the effort as well. Ruben is a hero in my eyes. I know firsthand just how priceless that compilation of letters will be to Jonathan’s daughter someday.

Supervisors that care about their people are rare gems. During the video capturing Trooper McDonald’s life there was a picture of Sgt. Garcia holding a newborn girl, who will one day be the recipient of the above mentioned letters. Enough said. I hope his actions will serve as example to all of us to be decisive in our efforts to serve those in crisis.   Call me if there is anything I can do...I don't think so!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Credibilty is Everything.

When it comes to speaking to an audience of any kind, there is no substitute for credibility. Tonight Benny Nowell spoke to a group of teens at church regarding his ministry to homeless children and teens in the Boulder, CO area. We have quite a gamut of both middle school and high school age students in our church building on Wednesday evenings. Well over half of the teens we host every week come from very economically disadvantaged homes. I am fully aware of their home situations. Many of them are far less than ideal. Every week we hear compelling stories from these kids regarding their situation.

I would like to say that we have all of the answers in serving their needs, but that is not true. I have more questions than answers. Every week it is a battle just to deal with security for the entire group. We hire an off duty sheriff’s deputy to assist, but even at that it is still difficult. We continue to tweak our plans and try new strategies. But it is still a discouraging venture at times. Volunteers reach their limit and burnout. But Benny had the interest of our teen guests tonight.

As he showed them slides via power-point of some of his friends on the streets that he is striving to serve, it got their attention. I don’t think it was a shock value type experience. I am convinced that the kids sensed that Benny loves the people he is serving in Boulder. THAT had their attention. You could have heard a pin drop in a room with over 50 teenagers tonight, because they knew he was genuine.

Of course I would like to think I am genuine too. But I don’t have cool tattoos, an even cooler beard, and ear piercings that cause the teens to envy. And I don’t work with homeless teens everyday. So Benny gets a hearing. And that is good news. He impressed on those kids that they are worthy human beings.  I appreciated his contribution to their lives tonight. As an instructor, I need to be reminded, credibility is everything.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Caught in a Web of Pettiness

Yesterday I carried out a political tangent of sorts… Today I am on another soap box. It is not a new one with me. But it is one that I need to stand on periodically. Life is too short to get caught up in pettiness. Relationships are too precious to devalue, because of unresolved interpersonal conflict. I am on this soap box for a reason…

Last night I got home from work mulling over the events of the day. I was a little snippy, because I had to work during part of my day off. Several matters of no real consequence were taking up unnecessary room in that head of mine. But for some reason I was allowing myself to be consumed by these concerns that supposedly have no real consequence! I went to bed at 11:30 and slept for two hours.

At 1:30 a.m. the victims’ services counselor with The Texas Department of Public Safety in my region called me. She informed me that we had lost a trooper in a fatal car crash near Post, Texas. A young trooper…. The trooper’s parents live here in Granbury. I was charged to accompany my DPS captain and sergeant to notify the young man’s parents of his death.

I have done numerous death notifications over the years. I have undergone extensive training, so it is not done incorrectly. They are never routine. My philosophy is to treat those families as I would want my family treated. I was thankful in this case to be in the presence of highly competent and compassionate law enforcement supervisors. I have always held those men in high esteem, but early this morning my opinion of them soared even higher.

We soon  learned that the deceased man left a young wife and a 6 month old infant.  By noon today, I learned that one of my young troopers was close to the man who was killed last night. They endured the DPS Academy together. And then I found out that the deceased trooper had given my nephew his first job at a grocery store. (He had been in the grocery business prior to be accepted to the DPS Academy.) It truly is a small world.

Today I am grateful for life. I am thankful for those I love. I view my young troops differently than I did a few years ago. I don’t want to admit it, but I am indeed old enough to be their father. I treat them like my own grown sons.  I care about them more deeply than I am able to verbalize. 

Tonight there are all kinds of thoughts rumbling around in my head, but none of them are petty. All of tonight’s feelings really do have substance. I am thinking about how to best serve those I love. Now that is not petty… I needed to get on that soapbox, because for some uncanny reason I get caught up in a web of pettiness periodically.  Sometimes it takes a tragedy to break out of such webs of pettiness!

May God bless the family of Trooper Jonathan McDonald tonight.

Monday, November 15, 2010

A Political Tirade...

                               I have purposely stayed away from delving into political ideologies in this format for personal reasons, but I could not help but be amused this morning by something I saw on facebook. The social networking site duly noted today that 18 of my friends are fans or in facebook terms “like” Barack Obama. Right under that announcement it is also noted that 27 of my friends “like” Glenn Beck. My left brained associates would be quick to say that I obviously have more facebook friends who have a conservative bent politically. But I see it differently.

I could not help but laugh for a moment regarding the extremes in my friendship base. But my thoughts soon traveled in a more serious direction. I value the people I consider close friends. And they are sure enough diverse politically. They are equally varied religiously. Some of them are enough to be my mom or dad. Others could be my children. I have friends that are cotton farmers in West Texas and others who call Wisconsin home. Some of my dearest friends live in Mexico.

In describing this reality, I realize I am not a typical minister. I have a hunch that a number of my colleagues associate primarily with their church members. I don’t think it is healthy spiritually or emotionally to associate exclusively with people who just like us. What a travesty it would be if all of my friends were of the same race, same age, and even of the same nationality. I would miss out on so much.

The facebook political “likes” of my friends was an important wake up call to me this morning. I have learned so much from my wide array of personal connections. My Mexican friends have forced me to learn Spanish. What a blessing! My young friends are teaching me to communicate more effectively in post-modern vernacular. (They also keep me up to speed on the latest and greatest in technology.) My older friends keep me rooted. And my peers are sharing such a similar journey. They provide needed empathy.

My message to all us today is simple: don’t be afraid to branch out. Make friends with people from all walks of  life. Befriend the younger ones. And don’t neglect to reach out to the older crowd. They are a lot of fun too. Jump over the foolish relational barriers that we construct in our narrow minds. And above all don’t let political leanings impede potentially great relationships.  That is my political tirade for the day!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Best Years of Our Lives...

 Entitlement is a word that seems to be floating around quite a bit these days. Last year I had a lengthy discussion with a gentleman who serves as vice president for student services at a private university. As we reflected on college students that are a part of “Generation Y”, it did not take him long to bring up the subject of entitlement. In working with this group of young people over the past decade, he has noticed that they have very high expectations of the university.

These students often prefer private dorm rooms. The dorm setting in general is most likely a tad nicer than a generation ago. They also anticipate their dining experience in the school cafeteria to feel more like Chili’s than the high school cafeteria. It is a given in their world that the university will provide the latest and the greatest in all matters of technology. Staffers coordinating student services of all kinds feel the pressure, because there is no shortage of competition among universities. It is a challenge to serve an entitled generation.

Last night I was reminded that members of Generation Y (also known as The Millennial Generation) do not have a corner on the entitlement market. In our quest to see as many of the Oscar Best Picture shows this year, we watched “The Best Years of Our Lives” last night. It received the Best Picture Oscar in 1946. This three hour movie is an excellent representation of what life was like for returning veterans after World War II.
The movie followed the victories and struggles of three men as they adjusted to life back in their home town after the war was over. One of the characters was a captain who served as a bombardier on a B-17. He could not wait to get home to reunite with his gorgeous wife. But upon his arrival, he found her to be impatient, intolerant, and entitled… During one of their dialogues she said to him in a selfish rage: “But these are supposed to be the best days of our lives!”

Her character stood in stark contrast to the demeanor and attitude of others in the movie who patiently dealt with the important men in their lives, as they adjusted from the traumas of war. As the movie came to an end, I thought about the contrast in mindsets. One woman felt entitled to a good and prosperous life. The other characters allowed genuine love and loyalty to carry the day.

Today I am thinking about entitlement, but it is not in reference to the generation of my three children. I am reminded that we all have the propensity to feel entitled. We all have unrealistic and fundamentally selfish expectations of what those closest to us are going to provide. In fact, we all have improbable expectations of life itself. But there is a cure…

I am convinced that unwavering loyalty alleviates a spirit of entitlement. I am actually thinking that I should enter every important relationship with a mindset of giving with no expectation of anything in return. I am not entitled to some kind of idyllic life. In the process, I think I will actually experience the best years of my life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

There is NO Need for Guilt!

 Some people learn to travel light, but everyone carries at leas some baggage. I do mean everyone. I think we would be stunned if we knew what kind of “stuff” from the past that those around us are carrying around. I wish it was not true, but the experiences we have as children and teens have an uncanny way of staying with us. Encounters that caused hurt feelings and or even incidences of abuse have a way taking up permanent residence in our hearts.

We all made poor choices when we were young. We said and did things to our peers that we deeply regret now. We were generally irresponsible. Some of us even committed offenses that hurt our credibility in the eyes of those around us at the time.

It used to be very difficult, if not impossible, to go back and make amends for our bad behavior toward others. How do you find someone who perhaps lives in a different state? When a woman marries and assumes another name that makes it even more difficult to find her.  Online social networking has changed everything.

I know most of us have heard horror stories about sites such as and My experience with facebook in particular has been overwhelmingly positive. I have reconnected with old friends from every era in my life. And I have made new friends as well! But this week I discovered that facebook has redeeming value in more ways than one.

A friend of mine shared a story about an occurrence that happened when she was a teenager that involved an acquaintance from school. Bear in mind that this event happened well over 30 years ago. I want to protect the privacy of all parties involved, so I won’t disclose many details. Suffice to say that the young teenage boy conducted himself in a way that was dishonest and deceitful. Her parents were fully aware of his indiscretions as well.  It was just a bad deal.  He proceeded to carry the baggage of his poor choices with him for over three decades.

But enter facebook. I really should say: enter facebook and intersect that social networking site with a tender and penitent heart. The teenage boy is nearly 50 years old today. He found my friend on facebook, and used that forum to apologize for his lack of honesty years ago. She in turn shared his story with her parents. Her mother wrote him an amazing note expressing forgiveness and reassurance.

I can’t help but wonder how many relationships have been reconciled on facebook. People that hurt each other decades ago now have a means of finding one another and issuing an apology. The baggage that we carry around with us can finally be released, because we might actually find the person whom we offended way back in the past.

I am asking myself tonight: Is there anyone that I have overlooked to apologize to from way back in the day? What about you? Is there someone you can find on facebook? Don’t hesitate to search for that person and friend them. The baggage of guilt and unconfessed indiscretions gets awful heavy… There really  is NO need for guilt!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Extending the Rope: Helping Friends that are Discouraged

 In recent weeks, I have interacted with several people who are at the end of their rope. They are frustrated beyond words. They are in situations that seem to have no solutions. They have tried everything and nothing seems to be working.

They don’t feel like they are being hard. And they certainly don’t feel appreciated and valued. How can we help our friends when they are at the end of their rope? Here a few ideas.

Extending the Rope

When a person reaches the end of their rope, they will act totally out of character. Stress does funny things to us. It causes us to say and do things we would not ordinarily say and do! Calm and rational people start a verbal sparring match. Non-confrontational individuals totally go off on someone. People under stress will act opposite of their personality type. If we can recognize the cause of such behavior, it becomes easier to extend the rope of someone who is struggling.

• When a person is at the end of their rope, there is a tendency to withdraw. It is often a very subtle change in behavior, and so it goes unnoticed for a long time. It is important to acknowledge that such an individual does not have the energy to reach out to people that just might be a source of encouragement. It is our responsibility to go to that person and ask them to spend time with us. Ask them to lunch. Buy an extra ticket to a ballgame and extend the invitation. Include them in a hunting trip you are planning, etc. I realize such actions may not be the cure-all, but it makes a huge difference to someone who could even be facing some level of depression.

• A person at the end of their rope is vulnerable. The wrong person could come along at that time in their life. That is how extra-martial affairs are inappropriate relationships get started. A close friend’s ability to be perceptive enough to recognize that the rope is getting is getting shorter could make a huge difference.

I am very fortunate. I have a wonderful circle of friends. When my rope gets short, those closest to me extend it as needed. But I want to do the same for those I care about as well. During these past few weeks I have been reminded of the importance of being proactive. I must be alert to the concerns of those close to me and try to act when I can.

I am curious what you do to reach out to your friends when they are at the end of their rope. Email me at or shoot me a message on facebook. Share your ideas. What do you do when your friends are at the end of their rope? What works? What have you found helpful? I would like to write more on this subject. Thanks!  -John

Monday, November 8, 2010

I am Still a Green Bay Packers Fan!

 I have a confession to make. I am a die hard Green Bay Packers fan. I know several of my Texas born and bred friends are ready to throw eggs at me right, but it is really not my fault. Blame my loyalty toward the Pack on Bart Starr.

Starr was a 17th round draft choice for the Packers in 1956.  But legendary coach Vince Lombardi saw potential in the young quarterback. Starr led the Packers to five NFL titles and two Super Bowl Championships. He was honored three times as Most Valuable Player- once as a Green Bay Packer MVP in 1966 and MVP of Super Bowls I and II. After his playing career ended, Starr remained with the team he built and took on the role of head coach from 1975 to 1983.

My father assumed an executive marketing position with Case Farm Equipment in Racine, Wisconsin in the spring of 1969. I had just completed the first grade in the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights. I suppose if we had not made the move to Racine I would have become a Chicago Bears fan. We were living in Chicago during the time period that Gayle Sayers and Brian Piccolo played for the Bears. Many will remember the movie that focused on their relationship called Brian’s Song. As a second grader, I became instantly enamored with Bart Starr and his cohorts.

I wore my #15 Green Bay jersey until it was it was thread bare. My neighbor Colleen Burke and I played football in the backyard all of the time. Of course I wore my football pads to go with the Bart Starr jersey. Colleen was taller than me at the time and a formidable opponent on the football field.

By the time I was in the 4th grade, I actually enjoyed reading. I read everything I could get my hands on regarding the Green Bay Packers and Bart Starr in particular. Colleen had given up her football career by that point, but I could talk Packers trivia with my friends at Wind Point Elementary with expertise of an ESPN commentator. (Of course ESPN was not even in someone’s imagination at that point.)

In 1975, my family moved to Texas. I became a Texas Tech pretty quickly since we lived in Lubbock. And I soon became acclimated to West Texas high school football too. And I must admit that I learned to like the Dallas Cowboys. It was the Roger Staubach era for the Cowboys by that point and time. But my loyalties to the Packers never waned. My mother was the same way. She learned to love Tom Landry, but in her mind any coach other than Vince Lombardi was just a little suspect.

I feel particularly bad for expressing my loyalty to Green Bay since Wade Phillips lost his job today. I am not convinced that Wade is the problem in Dallas actually… But I am reminded that loyalty is a good thing today.  It is a virtue that is noticeably absent in our world today.

Formative relationships that are forged when we are young impact the rest of our lives. I made friends in Racine that am thankful to say are important people in my life today. And of course I count Bart Starr among that group! In a society, that is creating social gypsies that have no clue what loyalty means, I am grateful to cheer on the same team that I loved in the second grade. Yes….I am convinced that loyalty is a good thing. More on this subject tomorrow….

Saturday, November 6, 2010

When a Word of Affection Becomes a Feast

 To the loved, a word of affection is a morsel; but to the love-starved, a word of affection can be a feast. –Max Lucado

Last night I had some time to spend with the officers at the Granbury Police Department, who work the evening patrol shift. Riding with them on a Friday night is really the best refresher course I can get in ministry. It is an opportunity to encounter all kinds of people in a variety of situations. I always learn something new. Unfortunately I am unable to share the best stories of the street, because of privacy. However there was an incident that took place last night that simply must disclose. I will simply change some of the details to protect everyone’s privacy.

We had a call involving a very troubled young person. As the officers scrambled to determine the best alternatives for her well being and safety, I took advantage of the time. I just struck up a conversation with her regarding her life today and events surrounding her formative years. If there is such a thing as a break in life, she has not been on the receiving end of very many of them.

Her story is one that involves abandonment by family, horrific sexual abuse, and extensive drug abuse. That is just the tip of the iceberg. There is more. The police were called to intervene last night, because the wheels had come off. The person I am describing had reached a point of no longer being able to function in the temporary setting, where she was living.

She has been on my mind all day. I am trying to figure out what I learned from that encounter last night. My list is not complete yet, but here is a start:

• I was reminded that I have roots to go back to in times of trouble.
I have both immediate and extended family who love me. I have loyal friends who care about me. This girl has none of those resources. Her mother literally abandoned her when she was relatively young. There is no father in the picture. I was reminded to be thankful for my roots.

• She is turned off by any hint of organized religion. (But she was respectful and cordial to me last night.) Her attitude was a reminder to me that the church must spend generous amounts of time where people really live.

The officers I was with last night were kind and helpful. They went the extra mile to help her in ways that went well beyond what was required. I was reminded how great it is to serve with people that care. I think the young lady we were trying to help was touched and perhaps more than a little surprised that cops can have a heart.

It occurred to me after that call that social programs, anti-depressants, and even counseling are not the sum total of help that people need. Young people in desperate situations like the one last night need mentors. They need adults who will take interest in them, give them a chance, and show them what love looks like. There is no shortage of loved starved people in need of a real feast.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Clint Eastwood is Cool as Dirty Harry, But There is More to the Story....

This week I attended a one day training event hosted by The Texas Department of Public Safety focusing on officer involved shootings. As a law enforcement chaplain, I have been privileged to experience extensive training in this particular area. I have been called to assist with officer involved shootings on several occasions. The course I attended Tuesday was a great refresher.

I enjoy watching old classic movies like Dirty Harry as much as anyone. Gene Hackman is pretty good in the French Connection. The list of male bonding movies is extensive. Shooting incidences in real life is not likened to Dirty Harry. The officers I serve are every bit as cool as Clint Eastwood, but they are not actors. They live and serve in the real world with real bad guys.

During Tuesday’s training we were privileged to hear presentations from two officers regarding their own experiences of having to discharge their weapon and take another person’s life. The two stories were very different. One officer was serving on an undercover narcotics task force at the time he confronted an armed felon attempting to take his life. The second officer encountered an equally dangerous individual wanted for questioning in an out of state criminal case during a routine traffic stop. He too was forced to take the man’s life.

I attended this training to be refreshed on my role as a chaplain in serving officers during the immediate aftermath of such incidences. Our role is important and valid to the officers and their families. But as I listened to the stories of the two officers, I was processing the information from a different perspective.

What would it would be like if these officers were not out there doing their job? It is possible that a member of my family or your family could be threatened or otherwise placed in harm’s way, if dangerous felons were allowed to roam freely. When the media reports an officer involved shooting, the story is frequently misrepresented. Sensationalism sells. Officers that are fully justified in using deadly force are often demonized on the news. It is inexcusable, but it happens.

I realize that the average citizen is not aware of deadly force policies that are adopted by law enforcement agencies. I also know that normal people have no clue how many armed felons are out there walking around just waiting to prey on someone who is vulnerable. But I do know that we all have a responsibility to be supportive of those that are sworn to protect and serve.  Make a cop's day...Pick up his or her check in the restaurant this weekend.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Just Take Your Orders and Don't Ask Questions

 Here is a little bit of insight from a veteran preacher: When a church member beckons the minister to “come over here” with a stern look on their face, it is not usually a good sign. And that is exactly what happened to me in 2004, when I moved to Granbury. An elderly lady caught my eye and called me over to talk to her after the worship service. I just assumed that it had only taken me a matter of weeks to offend someone. She proceeded to tell me that she called the former minister her “red headed son.” In fact, she told me in a matter of fact tone that he indeed was her adopted son. That is just great, I immediately thought. How can I possibly measure up to her “red headed son?” I was ready to end that conversation and make a quick exit.  But the best was yet to come.

My new elderly friend at church informed in the same matter of fact tone that she was going to adopt me too. I do think she was a little disappointed that my hair was not red, but it appeared that such a shortcoming could possibly be overlooked. I could only hope.  Of course I did not know if she was serious or not about the whole adoption process. I was still wondering if she might become the first one to say: I sure wish Stan (the red headed son) was back!

To my knowledge she never instigated a call for Stan’s imminent return. And that was no reflection at all on her love for her red headed son.  Instead she would call the secretaries at the church and tell them that I was to report at her house at a certain time. The first time that happened I quizzed them about the “orders” I had received. They just smiled and urged me to be on time.  In fact, I think they said:  Just take your orders and don't ask questions.

I reported to my adopted mother’s home when I was told. And I was prompt too. She shared her life with me. And of course I was fascinated. I was even given her autobiography to read. Not too long after moving to Granbury her husband passed away. I was honored to be one of the officiators at his funeral service.

After her husband’s death, I still received periodic orders to report for a visit.  As she anticipated a move to an assisting living facility in Ft. Worth, she started giving me books that she had already read. And she gave my boys a television for their use. Randall of course was convinced that the television was intended to go to college with him. I treasure those books in a different way now.

Laura Cruce passed away earlier this week. I will be the sole officiator at her funeral service Saturday afternoon. I am so thankful that she called me over to visit with her after worship services that day in 2004. And I am equally grateful that she told me when and where and what time to report.

I don’t think I ever told her that my biological mother has been deceased for many years. Maybe she just sensed that I needed some maternal guidance. As I prepare for her service Saturday, I am convinced that I had better seek out young men in need of some paternal guidance. I am not sure that I can get away with ordering them around like Laura did with me, but I hope that I can show them the same level of love and interest that she did with me. 

Now maybe...just maybe...when I turn 80...I can tell those I adopt to take their orders and don't ask questions. Time will tell.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Wanted: Leaders with Gravitas!

 Last week I was reintroduced to a word that I had not seen in quite some time. The term is: gravitas. It means to have a “high seriousness.” One dictionary used this sentence in defining the word: The new leader has an air of gravitas that commands respect. I was actually unable to find an entry in the thesaurus that used in reference to this term. It is a good word. On this Election Day, I am reminded that we need local, state, and national leaders that possess gravitas.

It is not an easy time to be a leader any capacity. Constituents expect instantaneous results. That expectation is placed not only on politicians, but also on coaches, principals, and even church leaders. Leaders have an ever diminishing window of opportunity to perform miracles for the institutions they serve. If they do not produce results quickly, they are demonized.

Couple an expectation of a quick fix with the attitude of entitlement that is also endemic to our society, and there is a perplexing environment for leaders of all kinds. It is going to take people with gravitas to get the job done. Only a person that can command respect from people in the various generations and backgrounds can accomplish such a daunting feat. Leading in today’s world is not for the weak willed.

We are also a deeply divided nation. Political pundits from the left and the right and somewhere in between are fueling that division with negative and in many cases inaccurate rhetoric. The same kinds of individuals have platforms in schools, churches, and legitimate non-profit organizations. They are highly effective at dividing the social and religious institutions of our society that have the potential to make a difference in the lives of many. Once again individuals that possess gravitas are needed!

Get out and vote. It is your constitutional right. Be supportive of your school, church, and non-profit organizations that are serving your community. And be supportive of leaders that possess gravitas! We desperately need them!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Running on Empty!

 My friend and mentor Willard Tate passed away recently, but I am still reminded periodically of stories he shared. On one occasion Willard told us about his dad’s practice of making sure the family car was always full of gas. In particular, his dad would not go to bed at night unless there was a full tank of gas in the car.  He told his family: Someone may need us during the night. I want to be prepared accordingly…

Keeping the car full of gas is not a bad practice. I am such an airhead that I often forget to top off the tank before retiring for the night. And that is not is not a good idea, because it is not uncommon for me to be called out at night by the Granbury Police Department. As I think of the practice of Willard’s dad, several thoughts come to mind.

I think we should all assume the mentality of being prepared to serve those in need in a moment’s notice. One of my law enforcement chaplaincy colleagues shared a list on one occasion of supplies that she keeps in her car. Now I keep blankets and extra coats in my car along with bottled water and a few other supplies. You never know when someone might need a jacket if you are out assisting someone. I think it would be good for everyone to keep such necessities stored in their vehicle. You just never know when someone might need you…

There is another way to apply Mr. Tate’s words of wisdom. It is important for us to keep our emotional and spiritual tanks full. If our tanks are always teetering near empty, we don’t have enough to give to people when they are in desperate need. That is a hard lesson to learn. Those of us who are inclined to be rescuers have to be reminded of this valid principle on a pretty regular basis.

Filling a car with gas is an easy task. Filling an emotional tank requires significant more effort. Human beings are quite complex… What one person perceives as filling is nothing more than another drain to someone else. All of us have to take the time and effort to determine what fills us to the brim.

I enjoy down time with friends and a good round of golf. Watching classic movies with Jan is a regular practice. (It is cheap fun.) I enjoy cooking for the family. Reading for pleasure is a treat .Special speaking engagements at seminars and retreats are fun for Jan and me. I even enjoy driving out to the universities where my boys are enrolled for lunch and good discussion. There are times that I just need to be alone in order for the tank to be filled completely.

What about you? What fills your tank? It is an important question to ask, because all of us are better equipped to serve and help when our tanks are not lingering near the empty mark. I would write more, but I need to find time on this day off to play golf, read, and cook dinner for the family!