Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sentramentral Value....

I have to admit it…I love the character that Carroll O’Conner played on All in the Family whom we all know as none other than: Archie Bunker. He called his sweet wife Edith a “dingbat” but Edith was anything but a “dingbat.” Archie was forever mispronouncing words. He referred to Edith’s doctor as a “gronacologist.” Rich people drove “Lincoln Contrinentals.” And things of special value have “sentrimentral value.” Even men like Archie own things that they consider to have “sentrimentral" value.” I was reminded of this fact when I heard a classicsong by Randy Travis last week entitled: “The Box.”

The lyrics are as follows:

On the top shelf in the closet,
In the workshop where he spent his extra time
Was a dust wooden box that I had never noticed till that time
And we set on the table and carefully, we opened up the top
And stared into the memory
Daddy kept inside the box
There was a letter from mamma, when she went out to Reno
To help her sister out in 62
And a flower from Hawaii, when they went on vacation
It was the first time that my Daddy ever flew.
And the pocket knife I gave to him on Fathers day
Years ago, I thought it had been lost
We all thought his heart was made from solid rock
But that was long before we found the box
I guess we always knew it but "I love you" was hard for him to say
Some men show it easy and some just never seem to find the way
But that night I began to see the softer side of some I had lost
I saw the love he kept inside the first time we opened up the box

I think most men have a box stashed out somewhere. I know I do. In my “box” I have a golf ball with the Air Force Academy logo on it. Randall bought a sleeve of them for me when he visited Colorado Springs on a school trip years ago. I have one of them in my golf bag and one in my “box.” I also have all of the letters that Jan sent me the summer we were dating. She was gone to New Mexico serving as a camp counselor most of that summer of 1983. It felt like an eternity. I suppose my box is indicative of the love I have kept inside…

I am more like Archie Bunker than I want to admit. Archie was stubborn and foolish. I can be too. Archie did not express his love very well. And I could do much better too!  But Archie did keep things of “sentrimentral" value.” Like the man in the song they represented the love he had for his family. I am grateful tonight for my  family. And I am thankful for the box full of “sentramentral"  things that remind me of my love for them. I too have a box.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Sign of Life!

Both of my neighbors on either side of our home could have their lawns featured in some gardening magazine or website. They have carefully manicured yards with flowers and shrubs placed strategically throughout the landscape. I am sandwiched between them with weeds growing on the dirt that has collected on back deck for the past three years. The grass under the largest tree in our backyard met an untimely death during a freeze in 2007 or what is it 2008?

Both of my next door neighbors continue to be extremely nice to me. They are fully aware that I work odd hours. And I am sure they suspicion that ministers are not necessarily known for their green thumb. (I have chosen not to point out to them that Catholic Monks are some of the finest gardeners around.) But all of that is about to change.

I have turned over a new leaf. (No pun intended.) I carefully scalped the yard last week. I planted grass under the big tree. I bagged enough leaves to fill the landfill up completely. Today I went on a double headed mission to Walmart and Lowe’s. I tilled up a nice spot and planted a small garden. I planted flowers in the pots on our deck. And I saw my neighbors huddled up this morning. No doubt they were discussing my present mental state. They must have been saying: what has gotten into him?

By the time the sun began to set this evening I was feeling just a tad sore. I sat on the deck and looked over my handiwork as the sprinkler soaked the parched soil that has not had much attention beyond what the Texas rains bring annually. I could actually see the newly planted grass begin to have a stand throughout the area I planted. It was such a good feeling to see a sign of life and rejuvenation. I think I have decided this yard work may not be so bad after all.

I also need to be reminded that my primary role in life is to put the same kind of energy into the lives of people. I frequently encounter individuals whose lives resemble my neglected yard. It is not a pretty sight. There is a need for renewal and reclamation on multiple levels. I must also be reminded that after weeks or months of hard work I might just see a sign of life and rejuvenation. That is an important reminder: don’t give up just because things look really bad on the outside!

I wonder if the magazine my mother used to read called “Better Homes and Garden” still exists”? (Yes, my mother was a wonderful gardener.) I had better get things in order. No doubt they will want to a cover story on my newly created masterpiece!

Friday, March 25, 2011

No Longer Strangers...

March is nearly over and I have written very few blog entries. There has been no shortage of interesting topics to write about. But the vast majority of the encounters I have had recently with people are intensely personal. It would not be appropriate me to divulge details about the private crises of those that I am privileged to serve. Confidential pastoral communication is actually a great thing.

I like to write, so it is has been a tad frustrating to refrain. But it finally occurred to me this afternoon that I have the privilege of entering people’s lives when the sudden torment of crisis strikes. I can go to bed at 11:00 and be called out at 2:30 in the morning to reach out to a family that has been affected by the unexpected death of a loved one. When I went to bed, I did not know them at all. By the time the sun comes up the next morning, I know that family better than some of their friends.

It is a challenge to enter a traumatic event and have to establish a rapport almost instantly. There have been times that I have failed miserably. I have been cursed and shunned. I have never taken it personally. In most cases, I am able to form a very positive bond with those in need.

There has been several of those situations develop in the past couple of months actually. I have met some really good people from all walks of life. Song writer Wayne Watson is correct when he says: “You know that pain has little mercy and suffering is no respecter of age or race or position.”

I can’t write about these people. I would like to though! I have learned from each of them. And they are fascinating individuals with unique stories. It is ethical to respect their privacy.

What I feel compelled to say is this: Don’t be afraid to reach out to a stranger. Someone within your sphere of influence could benefit from your kindness. You don’t have to wait until a crisis occurs. I don’t how many times I have been in someone’s home in the immediate aftermath of a horrible event when they told me they did not know their neighbors. Is there an elderly neighbor who could benefit from your friendship? Is there a troubled kid who needs to know that someone cares? Moving out of comfort zones and into new relational territory is a good thing. It is a part of celebrating the journey.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Stand By My Woman Man...

As a general rule, men don’t like the idea of going on marriage enrichment conferences or retreats. I think I have solved that issue. I have a handful of favorite classic country songs that I really like. The lyrics from those songs could be used as the basis of a male friendly marriage enrichment event. The sessions at the retreat would look like this:

Session #1
Daydreams about Night Things, by Ronnie Milsap

I'm having day dreams bout night things
In the middle of the after-noon
And while my hands make a living my mind's home loving you
I'm having day dreams about night thing
In the middle of the after-noon
And every night you make my daydreams come true

Session #2
Kiss an Angel Good Morning, by Charley Pride

Whenever I chance to meet
some old friends on the street
They wonder how does a man get to be this way
I've always got a smiling face
Anytime and any place
And everytime they ask me why
I just smile and say
You've got to
Kiss an angel good morning
and let you know you think about her when you're gone
Kiss an angel good morning
and love her like the devil when you get back home

Session #3
I am a Stand by My Woman Man

At five o’ clock she knows I’ll soon be home.
She don't worry ‘bout me runnin' 'round,
'cause all of my good times are wating right there for me
and she knows where I'll be when the sun goes down.
I'm a stand by my woman man.
Our world turns around a little gold band,
and love leads us through life, hand in hand.
I'm a stand by my woman man.
We fall asleep at night thinking , ain't love grand.
That's why I'm a stand by my woman man
When she's down, she knows I'll be beside her.
'Cause I'm not just her lover, I'm her friend.
Our love keeps getting better and I'll gladly spend forever
standing by the woman who stands by her man.

Session #4
She’s Everything, by Brad Paisley

She's a yellow pair of running shoes
A holey pair of jeans
She looks great in cheap sunglasses
She looks great in anything
She's I want a piece of chocolate
Take me to a movie
She's I can't find a thing to wear
Now and then she's mood
And she's everything I ever wanted
And everything I need
I talk about her, I go on and on and on
'Cause she's everything to me

I think my marriage retreat will be a raging success. A lot of men like classic country music. Not all of the songs are about guys that get drunk and lose their wife and their truck. A lot of the songs have a great message. I don’t know how I am going to market my great idea yet, but I think about my marriage enrichment weekend for the future every time I listen to the classic country station! In the meantime men, choose to be a stand by your woman man!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

One of These Days You are Going to Love Me...

We carry our stories with us. They go with us everywhere night and day. Our life story shapes us much more than what we would like to admit. Even events that took place as young children in elementary school continue to impact us as mature adults. During the course of the past year two friends of mine from elementary school apologized to me for things that were done when we were kids. They had carried the guilt from those encounters for over 35 years. Interestingly enough I always perceived those episodes to have been my fault, and I too carried a load of guilt.

I was reminded of the above mentioned occurrences and the fallout that ensues when I heard an old country song this afternoon. The lyrics are as follows:

We used to chase that boy home from school
We called him freckle faced, red-headed fool
He was different, he wasn't cool like me
Sticks and stones didn't break any bones
But we never left well enough alone
Then one day he ran away from home you see
And I passed him as he walked away
And in his eyes I heard him say
One of these days you're gonna love me
You'll sit down by yourself and think
About the times you pushed and shoved me
And what good friends we might have been
And then you're gonna sigh a littl
And maybe even cry a little
But one of these days you're gonna love me

The song is right. When we are young, it is so easy to blow up relational bridges. It is easy to be the bully or to ignore someone who is not quite like us. And then life happens. And one day we sit down and realize what good friends we could have been…

As I listened to that song today, I was grateful for formal and informal reunions. And I realize that my story affects me today. Some of my peers blew up bridges with me and I did the same with others. Today I am eager to go back and rebuild what was broken. “One of those days” has already arrived. And I do love that person whose eyes communicated hurt and brokenness years ago. 

Who do you need to reconcile with today? Has "one of those days" arrived for you yet?  I hope so...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Spring Break at the Mayo Clinic

I have enjoyed reading my friends’ status updates on Facebook this week, as they have enjoyed spring break. Friends from Wisconsin vacationed in San Antonio. Grandparents spoiled their grandbabies. Teachers took a short break from their responsibilities. Students stayed up later and slept in longer. But I have one friend in particular who did not spend his spring break at Fiesta Texas or Six Flags.

19 year old Valiente (not his real name) spent his spring break at the world renowned Mayo Clinic for neurological testing. When he was a little boy, he started experiencing seizures. I joined his parents at the university hospital during that scary time. In fact, I count that incident as one of the more humbling pastoral care experiences of my 24 year career. Unfortunately he has continued to suffer from what doctors have considered somewhat of a neurological mystery.

Valiente is an intelligent young man. And he is also an accomplished athlete. The seizures have occurred at the most inopportune times particularly as he has competed in track and field events. Some of the stories I have heard in that regard has been truly heart wrenching. Consequently he spent this past week at the Mayo Clinic instead of running and working out.

I have few opportunities to interact with Valiente at this stage in his life. We now live about 5 hours away from each other. But last summer I was privileged to spend some one evening with him and his family. His maturity was striking. He eagerly engaged the adults in conversation and also paid attention to the little kids. That is just impressive.

I hate it that Valiente spent his spring break being poked, prodded, and interrogated by total strangers. But I have a hunch that the spring break of 2011 will shape the character of this fine young man. This humbling experience of dealing with seizures blended with his exceptional social skills will qualify him to serve other people in powerful ways. I know Fiesta Texas is a lot of fun, but it simply does not have the character shaping qualities of a week long visit to The Mayo Clinic. I pray that the neurological issues will be resolved successfully, but I also pray for God to put people in Valiente’s sphere of influence. He will make a difference in their lives. He is a brave young man. That is why I have given him the name “Valiente.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What Fills Your Bucket?

I am not a good list maker. I lose the grocery list that Jan’s gives me somewhere between the driveway at our house and the milk vault at Walmart. If asked, she would imply I aid and abet its mysterious disappearance. When I take a day off, I hate making a list of things that need to be done. It cramps my inclination toward the spontaneous. But I have found that there are a certain kinds of lists that even a guy like me needs to compose.

I have heard people reference their “bucket lists” quite a bit in the past several years. The phrase was popularized by the movie with the same name featuring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The plot revolves around two terminally ill men that have a list of things that are trying to accomplish before they kick the bucket. It sounds like a pretty good idea, but I think I have another one that is equally compelling.

During the course of the past year I have composed joy lists. (Not to be confused with a joy ride. I have taken a few of those as well.) The process of creating such an account looks like this: I pause to take inventory of all the things in my life at the present time that brings me joy. I stress the term present. Nothing from the past or the future can be included. I write those things down with some detail in my personal journal.

I strive to make a conscious choice to accentuate those things in my life. In other words, if spending time with longtime friends is a source of joy, then I choose to carve out time for such activities. I have found that if I don’t put together a listing of this kind every few months that I have a tendency to start dwelling on the negative. There is of course plenty of negative out there to absorb our energies. Today I am working on the March, 2011 version of my bucket that I am striving to fill with joy. What fills your bucket?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What Should I Expect? She is a Girl...

Kids growing up and leaving home is way overrated. Playing Monopoly during school breaks at Christmas and Spring Break has been a family tradition for a number of years now. This afternoon I showed the boys that the old man can still monopolize them. But we were missing a player during this game. Randall is spending his Spring Break with friends. He will soon be 22 years old. What should I expect?

I expect him to roll the clock back and be 15 years old again. I expect him to park his car and act like he is too young to have a driver’s license. I want him to ask me to take him to the video store to rent a game or a movie. I just want to live in the past! But that is not going to happen.

If I had the opportunity to share a few words of wisdom with young parents, this is what I would say:

I spent too much time pursuing an advanced degree when my boys were young. They are only young once. Degrees and other pursuits can wait. Enough said.

• Cherish every single stage in their growth and development. Each moment carries blessings.

• Structured activities are great, but over scheduling kids is a huge mistake. There should be time for camping trips, and other family outings.

• Adapt your priorities based on the age and life stage of your children. When my kids were little, I was a room dad at school. When they were older, I went on debate trips. I don’t regret those choices at all!

Traditions are great. I hope we continue to play Monopoly for many years to come. I just hope that in the future all of four of us can be at the game table. Jan quit playing with us years ago. She considers our game behavior to be inexcusable and perhaps even embarrassing! She can’t help herself. What should I expect? She is a girl!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Where are My Friends From Japan?

About 8 years ago we hosted a small group of students from another country in our home overnight. They were teenagers involved in a Rotary Club International exchange program. When the group arrived in our city, I ended up being the member of our local Rotary Club that hosted them. They were all teenage female, so I enlisted two of the girls in our youth group at church to assist me in this effort.

We showed them the sights of our town, and generally enjoyed the day. Before we went home that night I took them to Walmart, because they wanted to purchase supplies to prepare a meal for us. We were about to enjoy some cuisine that would be characteristic of what they would eat in their native country. I must admit I was a little uneasy… I was content to cook hamburgers on the grill for them…

As it turned out, they prepared quite a spread the following morning. Our house had never quite smelled that before….I was a unique odor for sure. But before we sat down to eat, our guests lavished each member of my family with several small gifts from their country. We had a great time that morning. And the food was great! None of us were ready to send our new friends off with Rotarians from a neighboring city later that day.

I have thought about those girls several times over the years. They would be in their mid to late 20’s now. But today I cannot get them off of my mind. Those girls are from city of Sendai in Japan. When I discovered that Sendai was one of the cities hit the hardest by the disaster, my mind immediately flashed back to the events of 8 years ago. The victims are no longer nameless people in a country thousands of miles across the ocean. They are friends whom we shared a meal with years ago… My prayer today is that the United States will continue to deploy as quickly and efficiently as possible to provide assistance.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Too Busy to Make a Difference?

In 2004, I was teaching a class at a ministry conference on the campus of Oklahoma Christian University in Edmond. During a break, I ran over the convenience store to buy gas and then had plans to grab some fast food. I immediately recognized the gentleman getting gas at the pump just in front of me.

Don Vinzant served in the same role that I am serving for the Granbury Church of Christ from 1982 until 1989. He moved to Edmond to teach at the university and to preach as well after leaving Granbury. He had never met me, so I decided to walk up and introduce myself. I was quite taken back by his response.

After a very brief introduction,  Don insisted on taking me to lunch at that very moment. You would have thought that I was his long lost cousin.  We met at a local steakhouse and enjoyed the time together immensely. He of course asked about the people in Granbury. But he also asked me all about my family. He was sincerely interested.  I felt very at ease in his presence. He told me what a great place I was in to serve in ministry. And he encouraged me in countless ways. I have never forgotten his kind hospitality and his encouraging spirit. For some reason the conversation over lunch that day has stayed with me.

Don passed away this week after a very brief battle with cancer. The funeral will be in Edmond tomorrow. I feel profoundly sad. It is refreshing to meet people that are kind and hospitable. People that invest in others in spontaneous ways such as the way that Don reached out to me are surprisingly rare. I hope that I can take a chapter out of his book and reach out to young colleagues in the same manner.

But most importantly, I won't let a busy schedule  hinder me from reaching out to old and new friends alike in a spontaneous way.  You just nver know what kind of impact you might make.   Don Vinzant modeled that principle and I plan to take it seriously.  I hope I am never too busy in the future to stop and make a differnce in another person's life.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Only Ten or Fifteen Good Years Left...

I officiated at Horace Hutton’s funeral yesterday. He was 96 years old. Most of us can only dream about being as cool as Horace was in his 80’s and then into his 90’s as well.

When he was 80 years old, he entered a business venture with one of his sons. He told him: “Son, I need to careful about what kind of deal I get into, because I probably only have 10 or 15 GOOD years left.” I love the outlook! Unfortunately it is not a common mindset for people at that stage in life. As I visited with all of four of his children in the days leading up to the funeral, there is something else about life that particularly inspired me.

Horace continued to serve as an advisor and a servant for his children all through the years. Those two roles complimented each other. When his daughter needed to make a 90 mile one way trip to receive chemotherapy for a period of time, he drove her to those appointments every week. (This took place when he was in late 70’s.) When her husband required daily care after heart surgery, Horace stepped in to serve. Those who serve earn the right to dispel advice.

Horace provided counsel about business matters and life in general for all of his children, even after they had become grandparents themselves. In reflecting on the influence of his life, I realized once again that the paternal role never ceases. And that is a good thing. But I was also reminded that fatherly advice is taken much better if it is being dispensed by someone that serves and cares by example.

That principle hit me between the eyes. I am good at conveying advice for my children. I have a long ways to go in the serving department. Horace inspired me in life and he did the same in death as well. I am grateful that I was privileged enough to know him. His example is impacting choices that I am making today. And that is a blessing.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

In Memory of Alyssa Dix

Today marks the four year anniversary of the death of Alyssa Dix.  I am reposting this piece that was originally published on May 30th, 2010 out of respect for her good family.   The Dix's are fine people.  I have great respect for each of them. 

My confidence in the basic decency of people was renewed at Granbury High School’s Commencement Friday night. I was of course the proud father of a son graduating. But my mind has been on another family for weeks now, as graduation and other senior year events have unfolded. My heart has been with the Dix family.

Alyssa Dix would have graduated with the rest of the class of 2010 from Granbury High School Friday night. She was killed in a car accident in March 2, 2008 only days after her 16th birthday. My officers with the Granbury Police Dept. were profoundly affected by that particular crash. One of my troopers with the Texas Highway Patrol also assisted that afternoon. His heart was touched as well. As I ministered to my officers in the days following that event, I had no idea how the Dix’s would impact my life.

As major events like prom, baccalaureate, and graduation started looming on the horizon in recent weeks, I found myself overwhelmed with sadness and empathy for the Dix’s. How could I send Daniel off to prom all decked out without thinking of them? How could I prepare to deliver a speech to the graduating class without wondering how these events are affecting Alyssa’s precious sisters? Why I am so privileged to watch my child graduate? My empathy bordered on anger. I asked the “why” question more than once.

Last week the Hood County News did a feature story on Alyssa and her family. It was an extremely well done story. It was a story of faith. It was a story of a young lady who genuinely loved God. And it was a story of a family who has chosen to embrace a life of faith and trust in God no matter what happens.

The article gave me some needed perspective. I never dreamed The Hood County News would be a source of spiritual enrichment, but then again you never know! Their faith in God and love for people inspires me. The narrative in the newspaper helped me see things in a different light. I was able to process “senior events” in a more faithful manner.

Friday night at the graduation ceremony the senior members of the Granbury High School Choir gathered on risers for one final time as high school students to sing a song in memory of Alyssa. On the printed program, a blank spot was left where Alyssa’s name would have been placed with an asterisk mark. A fitting comment in her memory was duly footnoted at the bottom of the page.

My officers are just that. They belong to me. God has entrusted me to be their chaplain. It is my responsibility to serve them, pray for them, and occasionally harass them. Sometime this week I have a commencement ceremony program to show a couple of those officers who have come to Love the Dix family just like I have. I probably better do that in the privacy of a patrol car. It will just be one of those moments you know….But when the conversation is over; their confidence in the decency of people will be renewed as well. I am thankful for the leaders at Granbury High School who chose to be respectful and kind to a wonderful family.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Love When Losing Hurts So Much?

Shadowlands is one of my all time favorite movies. The story is loosely based on the life of C.S. Lewis. Anthony Hopkins, who plays Lewis, is wonderful as always. Debra Winger plays the American poet, Joy Gresham, whom Lewis actually married relatively late in life. The dialog in the movie is excellent. The plot is downright moving. It is a movie about a romance. But of even greater significance in my mind, it is about people learning to relate to each other in the midst of overwhelming emotional pain. Lewis married Joy Gresham in 1956. She died in 1960. Thus the storyline for Shadowlands…
In reflecting on his wife’s cancer, Anthony Hopkins playing Lewis says this:

Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.

C.S. Lewis’ mother died when he was 10 years old. As you can imagine, that event shaped the rest of his life, and particularly the way he related to people. It also gives the above quote a proper context for understanding. As a boy he chose the safety of withdrawing is how I would interpret his comment. It was his sweet wife who helped him see that the pain was a part of the happiness, as she struggled with a life threatening illness.

How does his experience shape our understanding of loving and the associated pain of losing? The conclusion I have reached is that the love we have for those closest to us reaches an uncharted level when pain and the threat of loss enters the relationship. We learn to love in ways we have never loved before.

In recent years, I have watched my peers agonize over the loss of their closest friends. They have suffered in untold ways. Everyday they have to choose suffering over safety, because it is tempting to never love again. It hurts too much. As they suffer and grieve, they continue to face the challenge of loving once again. I think that is a challenge we will all face at some point. Watch Shadowlands. It is worth the time.