Friday, April 29, 2011

And Why Do YOU Get Up in the Morning?

What is the real story?  I have a colleague that poses this question to me at least three or four times a week. What is the real story driving a person’s actions?  That is the query he poses so regularly.

A friend becomes enraged at something that appears trivial to those closest to him.  And everyone wonders privately: what set him off?  Others seem to have a complete inability to engage in meaningful interpersonal relationships. Friendships begin with a bang, but soon end with a whimper. They are not close to anyone.  What kind of personal story is driving such behavior?

I also think of people that are bitter.  I mean they are bitter about life itself.  The glass of life is not just half-empty in their estimation.  The glass is sapped dry.  The word “joy” has been erased from their conscious memory. There is a personal narrative depleting that person’s passion for life itself.  What is the story?

Civil Rights activist and noted author Maya Angelou makes this statement:  "I may be affected by the things that happen to me but I will not be diminished by them"… She is a thoughtful lady.  (If you look at her credentials that is quite an understatement.)  It is naïve to think that we are not going to be affected by the things that happen to us.  But I don’t like the idea of being the chronic victim either.  Maya Angelou’s sentiment is right on target.   I would actually take her thoughts one step further…

I am very fortunate to work with people in the community that I serve who are extremely passionate about making a difference in the world we live in.  I have retired friends that donate hours of their time every week to projects like Habitat for Humanity. Several of those individuals grew up in sub-standard housing.   Another friend spends an inordinate amount of time volunteering for the food pantry located in our newly constructed Christian Service Center. He shared with me recently that his family was poor when he grew up, but they never went without food…  I have friends serving in law enforcement who were victims of horrible crimes when they were young.  I would love to share their stories, but those experiences are intensely private.  

In each of these cases, a personal story is driving their passion to serve others.
At some point in their life, they decided that they would not be “diminished” by the things that happened to them.  Bitterness toward our past is not helpful. Maintaining hateful feelings toward those that created chaos in our lives is equally destructive. 

What is the story driving someone’s behavior?  It could very well be a sordid tale of abuse, hurt, and abandonment.   Let’s hope for our friends that they won’t be diminished by the things that have happened to them.  In fact, let’s maintain that same goal for ourselves… Let's get up in the morning determined to allow our past experiences to drive us to greatness. 

I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him. 
--Booker T. Washington

Lléveme a México ...

He comprado una cama de hoy para ser colocado en la sala de recién formado invitado. Compramos nuestra primera casa en 1992, y vivió en varias propiedades de alquiler durante los últimos 8 años. No recuerdo haber tenido nunca un área en la casa designada como una sala de visita! Como ya he arrastrado el colchón y base de resortes a casa de una venta de garaje de hoy, mi mente vagaba de nuevo a esta época del año en 1989. Jan Randall estaba esperando todo el primero de julio. Yo estaba tan entusiasmado con el nacimiento de nuestro primogénito que compré una cama para bebé en algún momento de mayo y continuó y montados de manera inmediata. Yo era una bola de 6 '150 libras flaco de los nervios. Pero la vida en las marchas.

Sé que esto va a sonar extraño, pero me gustaría ahora que me había viajado a México para una visita prolongada en los meses previos al nacimiento de Randall.He aprendido mucho de mis amigos indígenas mexicanos sobre los valores familiares. Inmediata y otros miembros de la familia en México pasan mucho tiempo juntos. Pasar tiempo con la familia es valorado y apreciado de una manera que es difícil que el estadounidense promedio de entender.
Por desgracia yo crecí en un hogar donde se le asignó ninguna prioridad a pasar tiempo con familia extensa. Incluso en nuestra familia inmediata de cada persona hizo lo suyo en su mayor parte. Estábamos delante de la curva en la cultura estadounidense en una especie de triste manera. Me gustaría que mi viaje a México a los esfuerzos de la misión médica se han comenzado unos 10 años antes. Podría haber observado una forma diferente de "hacer familia" antes de que mis hijos nacieron.

Mi ánimo a las familias jóvenes sería la siguiente: Usted va a comprar una cama de bebé hoy y luego parpadeará, al girar alrededor de una vez, y que va a guardar una habitación juntos. Su bebé será su último año en la universidad. El tesoro del tiempo.Disfrute de cada etapa de crecimiento. No se apresure el proceso.

Esta vez en la vida es diversión también. Los niños vienen a casa. Podemos jugar al golf y cocinar al aire libre en la parrilla. Podemos hablar de música y un sinfín de otros temas. Y voy a intentar mi mejor esfuerzo para imitar a mis amigos que viven en la ciudad de Chihuahua y Torreón. Ellos son mis maestros cuando se trata de asuntos de familia. Y todavía tengo mucho que aprender.

Take Me to Mexico...

I purchased a bed today to be placed in our newly formed guest room.  We bought our first home in 1992, and lived in several rental properties during the preceding 8 years.  I don’t recall ever having an area in the house designated as a guest room!  As I hauled the mattress and box springs home from a garage sale today, my mind wandered back to about this time of year in 1989.  Jan was expecting Randall around the first of July.  I was so excited about the birth of our firstborn that I bought a baby bed sometime in May and went on and assembled it immediately.  I was a 6’ 150 pound skinny ball of nerves.  But life marches on.

I know this is going to sound odd, but I wish now that I had traveled to Mexico for an extended visit in the months leading up to Randall’s birth.  I have learned so much from my native Mexican friends about family values.  Immediate and extended family members in Mexico spend a lot of time together. Spending time with family is valued and treasured in a way that is difficult for the average American to grasp. 

Unfortunately I grew up in a home where no priority was assigned to spending time with extended family.  Even in our immediate family each person did his own thing for the most part.  We were ahead of the curve in American culture in a sad sort of way.  I wish my travels to Mexico for medical mission efforts would have started about 10 years earlier.  I could have observed a different way of “doing family” before my children were born.

My encouragement to young families would be as follows:  You will buy a baby bed today and then blink, turn around once, and you will be putting a guest room together.  Your baby will be a senior in college.  Treasure the time.  Enjoy each stage of growth.  Don’t rush the process.

This time in life is fun too.  Kids come home. We can play golf and cook outside on the grill.  We can talk about music and a host of other topics.  And I will try my best to imitate my friends who live in Chihuahua City and Torreon.  They are my teachers when it comes to family matters.  And I still have a lot to learn. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Helping the Addicted in Brazil

Mark and Ali Kaiser are my friends in Brazil.  They are doing ministry in ways that I still dream of doing ministry.  Their sleeves are rolled up and they are serving those that are homeless and people struggling with drug addiction. In recent months they formed a vision of purchasing two buildings in the city of Itu to use as half-way houses for those struggling with addictions.  That dream became a reality this past week.  Here is their most recent blog post:

What we wanted the most was a God Story. 

We knew God could operate a miracle for the houses to become ours, and that is what we asked for.  We anxiously awaited to see how and when God would act, and here’s how it happened… 

As Mark already shared, there were over 40 people at the church building on Sunday evening for Mark’s vision launching of the halfway houses. Among the group was Mark’s Portuguese teacher, Ze. He has helped Mark tremendously by proofreading all the documentation for the non-profit we are establishing. After the Q&A about the halfway house project, several friends ended up at the houses with us to dream about initiating the next step = purchase. 

The next day Ze taught English class to Jose, a prosperous business man in town. He mentioned the meeting he had attended on Sunday and how much benefit the halfway houses would bring to the city. Jose showed some interest and said, “Bring Mark here to talk to me. I might help along the process.”

Mark and Jose met yesterday. Mark took papers with lots of numbers, lots of words, but most of all lots of dreams. Jose had good questions about the project, and shared with Mark he wanted to help promote recovery in this city “for personal reasons.”

So he gave us 2 houses… HE gave us two houses.

What?! Yep. Seriously?! Yep. Just like that?! Yep. 
Trust me, we are just as perplexed as you are. 

GOD has granted us his favor and confirmation, now we plunge forward with HIS blessing and YOUR involvement! 
Come and see.

What a privilege to partner with Mark and Ali! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Do More and Talk Less...

My patience level with people that are constantly chattering about good things they intend to do seems to be decreasing more every single day.  My dad used to reference individuals that are: “all talk and no do.”  I call it “blowing smoke.” And I my patience with smoke blowers is nearly exhausted.

Today at the funeral service for Deputy Clifton Taylor, who was killed in the line of duty last Saturday, the sheriff of Johnson County made some observations about a group of servants that are most definitely not smoke blowers. He said when he got up this morning to prepare for the funeral service he heard law enforcement units on the police radio from other counties letting their dispatchers know that they were “10-41 in Johnson County.”  Officers from all over the area converged on Johnson County this morning to cover the call load, so none of the deputies would have to stay behind and miss the funeral.   Communications personnel from other areas also provided their services to answer 911 and dispatch officers to calls for service.

The sheriff’s comments were very moving to me this morning.  He reminded all of  us that while are home enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon with our families there men and women of law enforcement out there protecting us from those that have the potential to pose an imminent threat to our families.  Deputy Taylor was shot by a man who had threatened to kill his family Saturday.

I don’t think my patience with people that are all talk is going to increase anytime soon.  But I do know that I appreciate people who have the ability to step up to the plate and serve when a need arises.  They are an inspiration to me to do more and talk less. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Human Decency Bug is Contagious

Human decency is still alive and well. In fact, the human decency bug is downright contagious.  We frequently hear news stories of heinous events where humans do things to each other that are beyond comprehension.  And we wonder:  Does human decency still exist?  I was reminded this past Monday that there are still caring, courteous, and respectful people everywhere.

I drove over to The Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport Monday morning to pick up a notebook computer for a friend who accidently left it on her flight to Dallas from New York City.  When I arrived, I found out from American Airlines that the baggage lost and found area was behind security.  They were very helpful and gave me a pass, so I could proceed.  The security line at Terminal C was really long that morning.  I noticed several soldiers in uniform at various places in the line. I wondered where they were headed. None of them could have been much over 19 or 20.  I wanted to load them in my truck and take them home for a hamburger.  And then I heard a man behind me initiate a conversation with two of them….

The man extended his hand and said: “Thank you for your service.” I was impressed.  I had good thoughts.  He acted on his good intentions.  The man’s gesture prompted another person in line to invite the male and female soldier to cut in front of her in the line reserved for first class passengers and American Advantage members. “Take my place in the line please….”  I did not hear one complaint among the Monday business travelers anxious to reach their gates.

I made it through the security area and proceeded to find the American Airlines baggage lost and found.  The lady that waited on me acted like we were in Mayberry.  You would have thought I was doing business at Floyd’s Barber Shop.  She called by my name and visited with me like I was a long lost relative.

As I left the lost and found, my mind was swirling. People in one of the world’s busiest airports are kind, respectful, and just downright friendly.  Almost immediately saw a lady sitting by herself in an airport transport cart with her crutches beside her.  I had to stop.  I felt compelled to pass on some of the decency I had witnessed and experienced.  I said: “Being on crutches is no fun.”  She said “Yes, I am very sore.”  I went on to tell her that I spent 4 months navigating around on a pair of crutches several years ago.  We had a very pleasant interchange.  I wished her the best and told her I hoped her day went well.  I would not have stopped except for the fact that human decency is contagious, and I had caught the bug earlier that morning. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lead by Example

I was privileged this afternoon to watch Jeff Jeffries receive special recognition from the Hood County Child Welfare Board for his work with abused and neglected children.   Jeffries has been a driving force behind the Granbury Royal Family Kids Camp.  RFKC camps around the world exist exclusively for the purpose of providing a Christian camping experience for abused children that have been removed from their homes by state agencies such as Child Protective Services in Texas.  This year we are anticipating 150 campers that will come from counties all around this area.

Jeff and Mark Hackney along with several others recently formed a non-profit organization called “Kids Armor of Hope.”  The efforts of this organization will take in Royal Family Kids Camp and First Tee as well.  First Tee teaches life skills and character development through the game of golf.  First Tee is touching a lot of kids that are coming from challenging home situations.

What would drive a man to use his retirement years to serve in such a way?  Was Jeff abused as a child?  That is not the case at all.  His source of motivation comes from a much different place.

Jeff grew up in Los Angeles with a mother who was doing social work most likely before it was called social work.  Based on the stories I have heard she took kids in her home, and helped troubled people in all kinds of ways.  It was not a profession, but it was a lifestyle.  Obviously Jeff took good mental notes and learned well. 

I was reminded today that there is no substitute for leading by example.  Modeling unselfish service to our own children could impact the lives of others decades later.  Jeff’s mom is well into 80’s now.  She is quite a lady.  I could not help but think about her at the presentation this afternoon.  There are some abused children who will be profoundly touched by Jeff’s work.  And little do they know that it all started with an elderly lady who lives in a state most of them have never visited.  Let’s lead by example today and see where it goes! 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An Unusual Necklace...

One day last week I had a morning chalked full of hospital visits in Ft. Worth.  By the time I started heading back to Granbury, it was already 2:00 in the afternoon.  I decided to stop at the Sonic Drive-In Cresson to get a low calorie chick wrap.  I could not help but tease the girl waiting on me about the roller blades she was wearing to work in as a car hop.  After a few moments she emerged from the building and start skating toward my truck with a double hamburger and a large order of onion rings.  I told her the onion rings looked great, but I had better stick with my low-fat chicken wrap.  It was at that point that I noticed that she was wearing a rather unusual necklace…

The necklace had a lone bullet threaded through a gold chain.  I thought: why would she have a bullet on her necklace?  Of course my first thought was: it was a symbol of some kind of gang involvement.  I made up mind while I waited for her to correct the order that I was going to inquire about this extraordinary piece of jewelry.

What is the significance of the lone bullet, I asked?  I anticipated that she would  tell me that it was the symbol of some Ft. Worth street gang, but I was wrong.  In fact I was very wrong…  The young girl, who could not have been more than 20 years old, proceeded to tell me that her boyfriend shot himself a year or so ago. He died from the self-inflicted injury.  She took me off guard, so I just told  her I was very sorry.  I paid for my meal and headed toward Granbury.

By the time I took a second bite out the chicken wrap, I had already turned the truck around to head back to The Sonic.   I have had too much training and too much experience in crisis intervention to leave that girl dangling.  You should have seen the look on her face when I drove up and got out of the truck. I think she thought I was going to complain to her manager about the onion ring mix up!

I told her what I did professionally and gave her my card.  I don’t believe that my late lunch stop was an accident.  Nor I believe that the onion ring mix up was accidental either.   I think I was supposed to be at the Sonic.  Who knows what may develop from our brief encounter.  Who will you encounter today?  Hopefully you won't have to turn around before you realize that an opportunity to serve someone in need is right before you! 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Searching for Real Love

I have always liked the Doobie Brothers.  I am a child of the ‘70’s what can I say?  Their hit Real Love hit the charts when I was a freshman at Texas Tech in 1980.   I recall liking the tune when the song was released, but I never really paid close attention to the lyrics.  I was a little surprised today when I listened closely to them probably for the first time.

The singer is addressing a woman in his life who has had multiple lovers. Darlin I know I am just another head on your pillow.  If only just tonight, girl…Let me hear you just lie a little. Tell me I’m the only man you’ve ever really loved.”  The lyrics continue with that theme a little later in the song: Here, Darlin', stands another bandit wantin' you. In and out your life, they come and they go, your days and nights like a wheel that turns. Grindin' down a secret part of you, deep inside your heart, that nobody knows.

I find the song to be brutally true.  How many of my friends and acquaintances find themselves at such a place in life?  Somehow that cycle characterized by a lack of commitment and the brokenness that follows never ends.  The song goes on to say:  When you say comfort me, to anyone who approaches. Chalkin' up the hurt, we live and we learn. Well we've both lived long enough to know, that we'd trade it all right now for just one minute of real love, darling…

I honestly believe that is where some of my friends find themselves.  They too would trade it all right now for a just one minute of real love.  Why is real love elusive to so many people then?  I have a few theories, but I am going to think on it for a few days before I write on this subject further.  And I would invite your input as well.  We are surrounded by people searching for real love.  How can we impact their lives in a positive manner?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Tribute to All Those Who Answer 911 Everyday...

I posted this blog in February of 2010.  I am sharing it again as a tribute to my dispatchers here in Hood County.  This week is: National Public Safety Telecommunications Week. 

I recently heard an audio recording of a little 5 year old girl who called 911, because her father was experiencing shortness of breath and other tell-tale signs of a heart attack. The conversation the dispatcher had with the little girl is priceless. She was very responsible and did everything the dispatcher asked her to do. She was also a prim and proper little girl who was quite concerned that she would still be in her pajamas when the firefighters showed up at her home to help her dad!

I have been working with police and fire communications personnel for over 21 years now. As one of them put it some years back:  "We enjoy telling our officers where to go…"  Most days they are not dealing with cute and responsible 5 year olds.

I was with an officer one night when a man ripped the phone out of the wall, as his wife was on the line with a dispatcher; screaming for help. Another dispatcher fought back tears, as she sent me to a home where a 4 year old boy had reportedly drowned in a pool. When people come home and discover that a loved one is deceased, the communications operator is often the first person to hear the news. I could tell countless stories. It is a stressful job.

In my role as a law enforcement chaplain, I see how events begin and come to an end as well. There is some form of immediate closure, because I am in the field dealing with the situation at hand. Communications personnel hang up the phone or dispatch units to provide assistance, and they are often left hanging emotionally. The units eventually clear the scene, but what happened? How are the people doing? There are a so many questions….

Several years ago I worked with a dispatcher who sent two officers on a call that led to their death. She felt personally responsible for their untimely deaths.  Of course that conclusion is not at all based in reality, but that is how she felt!  The stress was unbelievable.

I communicated this week with a dispatcher I served with in the 1990’s. She has since moved on to another line of work. She is a very special person. A number of years ago the show Rescue 911 did a segment on a critical situation that involved her 4 year old son. Thankfully it had a happy ending! Talking to her this week reminded me that I am fortunate to have excellent dispatchers to serve with. They are special people that have a unique calling. Ok…so they do enjoy telling me where to go…I am on call and ready to respond to wherever they want to send me. I am also here to serve them as well in a spirit of mutual respect.

A Dispatcher's Prayer

Dear Lord, help me keep safe those who depend on me.

Give me healthy ears, for they are my link with those who need me.
Keep my mind sharp and alert, my fingers quick and nimble.
Grant that I never forget how to do ten things at once,
and do them all equally well.
Bless me with patience Lord.
Patience to deal with the public, with the officers, with the boss,
and with everyone else who makes me want to grip my teeth and yell.
Give me nerves of steel, that I may listen to a mother screaming
for her child to live, the man with a gun,
or an officer yelling for backup, and not give way to panic.
Grant me empathy, that I may help the battered wife, the rape victim,
the abused child, and not cause them more pain then they already have.
God, give me the ability to learn what I need, to remember it quickly,
and give me the wisdom to use the knowledge properly.
Bless my family Lord, for they will have to make sacrifices to shift work,
overtime, canceled plans and times when I just can't take on one more thing.
Help them understand the missed ball games, school programs and dinners for two.
Lord, give me courage, courage to persevere when I feel undervalued,
unappreciated, overworked and unrecognized.
Courage to keep trying when I feel in my heart it's hopeless.
Last of all Lord, help me to never forget,
why I chose this job in the first place,
to never lose sight of what is important in the midst of the stress.
Help me to remember that I make a difference,
however small it may seem some days, and that I matter.
I am a dispatcher, Lord, grant me peace.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Biggest Loser Separates from the Oreos...

As I navigated my way through the typical Saturday afternoon Walmart mayhem, I went straight to the cooler with the low-fat milk.  I passed by the oreos as if they did not even exist.  I could hear them faintly calling my name as I made way to the next aisle, but I was determined not to respond.  I don’t like to hurt feelings, and I know the oreos were feeling the rejection.

As I stocked my cart with a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, a very nice lady shared with how to cook artichokes in fresh butter. I concluded that even the produce section was not a safe place.  I quickly finished up and starting looking for the shortest check out line.  I maneuvered my cart in behind an older gentleman, and nearly laughed out loud when I saw what spoils he was about to purchase.

His shopping cart had several food items marketed by Weight Watchers.  But amongst the traditional diet food he had a half gallon of Blue Bell Ice Cream.  I am not talking about Diet Blue Bell.  He had the real stuff!   There is nothing on the face of the earth better than Blue Bell.  Blue Bell ice cream and Texas summers are synonymous.

My first thought was: The content of this guy’s shopping cart represents the very nature of the human condition.  There is a part of us that makes good, solid choices. And then there is another dimension of our being that is pulled toward what may not be so good for us….Blue Bell can help you add a few pounds for sure. That was my first thought…  I can’t help it. I have spent too many years studying theology.

Subsequent thoughts took a slightly different direction.  You see I am right in the middle of a “Biggest Loser” contest with the employees of the Granbury Police Department.  They were kind of enough to include their chaplain in this concerted effort to keep everyone in excellent physical condition.  That is why I have experienced what could become a permanent separation from the oreos.   As the man in front of me paid out and headed home to dig into his Blue Bell, I was proud for him.

The officers I work with everyday have inspired me to make some serious lifestyle changes. I have been exercising and eating a great diet. It is already paying off.  I have dropped some pounds.  But I must realize that there are times to enjoy a little Blue Bell occasionally.

Now on the other hand I am extremely competitive.  I really want to be the biggest loser.  Never mind that I am the oldest guy in the competition.  I am not letting that deter me. And I am also quite sure that I have more to lose than those flat belly, young whipper-snapper officers.  I will just have to try harder.  And a little sabotage never hurts either.  (I brought homemade cookies to the office last week.) 

In all seriousness, all of us must be both physically and mentally fit to serve in our respective roles.  The competition is a good thing.  And when it is over, I may have to slip into Walmart and buy just one carton of homemade vanilla Blue Bell ice cream

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Goodbye Mom...

In approximately 6 weeks, another school year will be behind us.  My youngest will have completed his first year of high school.  Three more academic years and then we will proceed to become empty nesters.  (At least in theory)  I had an experience at the high school last week that reminded me that the empty nest will never become a complete reality for us.

I was visiting with one of the teachers after school when one of her students popped by her room for an unexpected visit.  The girl was very friendly. She told me during the course of the conversation that she was a sophomore this year.
My teacher friend just asked one question, if remember correctly.  She asked the young lady: How are you doing?  That is all that it took.

The 16 year old began by venting her frustrations about her grandparents, whom she lives with.  (Of course I immediately wondered to myself why she was living with them.)  It did not take long to find out. 

In the ensuing conversation, she told us that her mother left the state without telling her goodbye. Apparently the departure to a distant state will be a permanent move for the mom.  And then she informed us that her father all but came out and said that he wanted nothing to do with her.

The girl went on to attend an extracurricular activity that evening and I was left to process everything that she unloaded on us about five or six minutes.  I must add that the teacher I was visiting that evening is nobody’s fool.  If the student was stretching the facts, she would spot it quickly.   She confirmed after the girl left that the story was indeed legitimate.

What did I learn after that exchange?  My initial reaction to the whole thing was to be overwhelmed.  In a very short period of time, I have encountered three or four students just like her.  I had some of those: “We are all depraved and in serious trouble thoughts.”  That is not accurate or helpful.  I finally concluded that the best way to help people is to serve them one at a time.  Take each person and each situation as it comes. 

It also occurred to me that I must take the years of experience I have as a parent and do something constructive with it. I have made countless mistakes.  Lots of good things have taken place as well.  The nest will never be completely empty.  Not as long as there are kids like the one I encountered Tuesday evening. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Romace or Love: Take Your Choice...

Romance and real love…. Take your choice. What do you prefer? I think I will take some of both. Now I really don’t like sappy chick flicks. They are all too predictable on one level and totally unrealistic on another level. I prefer classic movies like The Dirty Dozen, where something gets blown up. But that does not mean that I am not a romantic at heart. Today I witnessed a little bit of both in a place that you would not naturally associate with romance.

Today I visited with a gentleman who celebrated his 64th wedding anniversary with his wife this past January. They had no clue what “in sickness and in health” was going to mean in January of 1947. In 1974, they were in a very serious car crash together. In fact, they shared a hospital room for a number of weeks as they recovered  from that event. At this moment she is in an ICU unit at a hospital recuperating from major surgery. It was in that ICU cubicle that I saw quite a blend of romance and love.

She is totally sedated right now, so she is unable to communicate verbally. As I watched her husband talk to her and love on her, I was not sure where I was. In one sense, I felt like I was watching an elderly gentleman tenderly express his loyalty to his bride of 64 years.  I was in a room where true love was being exhibited. In another sense, I felt like I was the little brother tagging along on a date of two young lovers. His demeanor toward his sick wife was like that of a teenager in love for the first time.

Romance and real love….Take your choice. I saw both today. I was laughing to myself as I left the ICU unit, because the younger generation thinks they have a corner on all of the romance going on in the world. That is simply not true. I saw a couple today that appear to be as much if not more in love than they were the day they married 64 years ago. I think there must be something to learn there…Perhaps romance takes on new meaning when you have learned to love each other through sickness and health for over 6 decades.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Cancer Changes People

Phil Mickelson’s final putt to win the Master’s last year in Augusta as his wife was looking on in the gallery moved even the most hardened golf fans to tears. Amy Mickelson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. Last year’s Master’s was the first tournament she had attended since her diagnosis and subsequent treatment. It was a great moment whether you are a golf fan or not. I will never forget the look on her face as the ball went in the hole to secure his victory.

The Master’s is a tournament chalked full of intriguing traditions. For example: the reigning winner is allowed to choose the menu for the Champions Dinner which will be held this evening in Augusta. Only those that have won the Master’s are invited to this exclusive event. Phil is choosing a Spanish cuisine of some kind as a way of honoring his golfing mentor, Seve Ballestros.

Ballestros won the Master’s in 1980, but he is unable to be present for the dinner tonight. He is fighting cancer himself, having been diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2008. Mickelson, who has always looked up to Ballestros said: I wanted to kind of honor him.”

In a world full of big egos, Mickelson’s kind gesture goes a long way. How often do we call out to have things done our way? We expect the sun to rise and set on our desires and expectations. It is my show. It is my deal. I earned the right to have it my way!

Mickelson really did earn the right to select tonight’s menu, but he chose to take the focus off of himself. I like Phil. I think he has a little class. I think we could all learn a few things from a man who has stood beside his wife and his mother as they have both fought breast cancer since 2009.  Cancer changes people in more ways than one...

In regard to Phi’s 2010 Master’s win, his wife Amy was quoted recently as saying: “"I still get emotional just talking about it.” And I just don’t blame you Amy. I like Phil. And I will be cheering him on this week as maneuvers his way through at Augusta National.  I  kind like the idea of Amy embracing her husband on Sunday after he wins again!

When Stress is Overwhelming

Stress is a part of life. There is no escaping it. Several months ago I told someone that my life would soon be back to normal, and they laughed. The laughter was followed by the question: what is normal? I stumbled over myself and ultimately failed to provide a plausible answer.

Yesterday a close friend and colleague in ministry called. As a result of events going on in the church he serves that are totally beyond his control, he is facing stress of the major league variety. I listened. I tried to ask good questions. And I think I provided some objectivity that is hard to maintain when you are right in the middle of the crisis. Before the conversation ended I told him two things.

Be the non-anxious presence in the system. His congregation of over 300 people will be facing mega-anxiety over the next several months. The entire group needs someone in a position of leadership that remains calm. Being calm in such a case entails being a patient listener, not making rash decisions, and refusing to take sides if the group becomes conflicted. I would even add the importance of maintaining a sense of humor as the storm rages. Don’t get excited. Be the calming presence in a family system that is stressed.

Be careful who you confide in. When a church, work, or family group is being taxed by group stress, people start huddling up. There is a lot of talking. Individuals vent to each other. In the process, facts get lost in the heat of emotion. I am of a mind that the leader in the system should function as a listener and advisor only. That person needs a sound board for sure, but it needs to be a trusted confidant that is not a part of the anxious system. When a leader vents his frustration to others in the troubled group, he fuels the anxiety.  There is a strong possiblitity that he will be miquoted as well.

I also think there is another twist to these two principles that should be considered. Are you willing to be a confidant for a leader? I find that I can be an ideal resource for others serving in ministry from different churches and communities. How can you contribute to the emotional and even spiritual well being of a leader?

Stress is a part of life.  There are seasons of life characterized by overwhelming stress.  And that is when we can be of great service to each other.   There is nothing quite like the blend of friendship and confidential conmmunication.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

I Didn't Go to Church Today.... (And I am the Preaching Minister!)

I didn’t go to church today, but I did see “church” today. Allow me to explain… Less than two weeks ago a sweet 92 year old lady, who is a longtime member of the church I serve, lost her 60 year old daughter very suddenly. She passed away in her sleep. It was an unexpected event for the entire family. The daughter lived with her mother, so that makes the sudden loss even more difficult.

This morning before worship I saw my 92 year old friend named Inez seated in her regular place. I expected her daughter’s place right next to her to be empty, but that was an incorrect assumption. A wonderful lady named Debbie was sitting next to the elderly grieving mother. I was so moved that someone would be perceptive and caring enough to reach out to an elderly and vulnerable lady. And I could not help but wonder if Inez knows Debbie’s story….

Debbie is probably is in her early 50’s. But she and Inez have something important in common. Both of them have lost daughters. Debbie knows firsthand what it is like to re-enter the normal events of life in a state of acute grief. This morning I witnessed what will probably become a very meaningful friendship.

Today I didn’t go to church. But I did see “church” today. I saw church in action this morning. And that is what church is supposed to be all about. Debbie “did” church today. It was not her intent for anyone to notice. She is a very unassuming lady. But such acts of kindness are just hard to hide.

I realize I am playing games with semantics, but I still hold to my conclusion. We don’t go to church. We see church in action. And by our actions we give others the privilege to do likewise.

I didn’t go to church today, and I am the preacher! I find that a little amusing. But sure I am thankful that I saw “church” today. It was far more inspiring than any sermon I will ever preach.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Do I Have to be Responsible?

My philosophy of parenting seems to be changing daily these days. Now that two of my boys are adults and one is not to far from that milestone I am starting to figure a few things out. I have been extremely fortunate over the years to watch some real parenting pros in action. That was particularly true when the boys were small. I watched parents of teenagers navigate that time in life in a way that I desired to imitate. But negative parenting examples can also be helpful. And I have seen more than a few of those lately.

After observing people that are struggling in the parenting role, I have reached an important conclusion. It is not profound. It is does not represent anything new. But it is significant. Here it is: One of the greatest gifts we can give our children is responsible parental behavior. I would take that thought one step further. One of the most important things we can do for our children is to simply act like responsible adults.

I am not talking about rocket science. Doing our best to work hard and provide for our families is a starting point. I fully realize that alone can be a daunting task at times. Establishing credibility in the eyes of our children by following through on my commitments would run a close second. Somewhere at the top of the list should be a commitment to decent and morally upright conduct.

I am convinced that such basics can be a determining factor in the emotional health and overall future of our children. I realize that I am not saying anything new here, but I think as a young parent I did not realize just how significant such matters really are. I was consumed in trying to “do” the right things with my children. I don’t regret those initiatives. They were good efforts. But I think if I was advising a young parent, my thoughts would go in a different direction.

Here is what I would say to young fathers in particular:  (I have never been a mother, so I won't take a stab at that list.)

• Treat the mother of your children with obvious respect. (verbally and by your actions)

• Be as stable as you can be in terms of your occupation. (Work hard and be honest, etc.)

• Model the important virtues of honesty, fairness, kindness, and compassion.

• Admit to your kids when you are wrong.

Families are going to experience all kinds of stressors. But children living in a secure home led by responsible parents are more likely to be resilient. I know that I need to do some important self-evaluation in this area.