Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Bully Masquerading as a Nice Guy

Does the name Scut Farkus ring a bell? Scut was the resident bully on the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story. He played the part quite well. He was the stereotypical bully that has been a part of school since the inception of public education. I saw a quote today about the concept of school bullying that was personally convicting. It reminded me that bullying goes well beyond the realm of mean kids like Scut Farkus that threaten to beat up anyone that crosses into their marked out territory.

When I was in school, I shunned the guy on our high school debate team who was not inclined to be well groomed, or wear clothes like the rest of us wore at that time. I poked fun of another friend that I worked with because he was extremely anal retentive. The poking moved beyond what would be considered playful jabbing. It was hurtful. It affected the way he perceived me in later years.

My own debate partner one year was a very serious minded and religious individual. He was younger and much smaller than me, so I made him sleep on the floor on debate trips. I took the hotel room bed for myself. He was excluded from extracurricular social activities that some of us put together after debate tournaments, because we did not perceive him to be cool.

Perhaps what concerns me more is what I failed to do during those formative high school years. I failed to be alert to those that were struggling. I paid no attention whatsoever to students that had physical disabilities. The concept of trying to include someone that was on the outside socially was not at the top of my priority list. All I was concerned about was my own place on the Monterey High School social food chain. I was a bully masquerading as a nice guy.

I think my kids’ generation will do better. They are more tuned into the diversity of our world. They have a greater awareness of those that have disabilities. They certainly are not inclined toward racism.

Regardless of our age or background we can all do better about reaching out those that are in need of a little encouragement. Here is my list. It is not exhaustive. There are many things that need to be added.

Think inclusive. You have some social plans. Who needs to be included? Who would benefit from an invitation? There is nothing quite like being invited. I remember some cool seniors taking me to lunch the Monday after my partner and me won at a debate tournament. I still remember where we ate that day! I felt included. I felt accepted. Think inclusive.

• Be Friendly How hard is it to speak to someone in the hallway? It could make a huge difference to someone that feels excluded. You never know who that person might be!

• Be complimentary When I was a junior in high school, a big group of us went to the mall. I bought some new clothes with money I had earned at my first job! Kim, who I thought was gorgeous, complimented me on my new threads. That has been 33 years ago now. I still remember what store we were in and what was said after all of these years. Words are powerful.

• Be Intolerant Don’t tolerate bullying. Don’t put up with it. Step up and speak up for those that can’t defend themselves. There is nothing like positive peer pressure. I recall my friend Doug doing this in the 6th grade. I have never forgotten it. He prompted me to do better.

• Stop the Naval Staring Get your mind off of yourself long enough to consider the needs and concerns of others around you. There are things more important than our position on the social food chain.

I hope this is a great school year. But I know it can be a better one if we choose to be inclusive instead of being a bully masquerading as a nice guy. Who knows what difference you could make in someone’ life? 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

I Know the "Dirt" on My Friends!

I have known people over the years who really wanted to know the dirt on everyone in town. And I do mean they really wanted to be in the know about such things! I have even known individuals that were inclined to pump their friends for information in order to be on the receiving end of the latest gossip. Human beings will always be flawed, so there will never be a shortage of said dirt.

I must confess. I have a method of dealing with such dirt hunters. When I am being pumped for information, I make up wild, but harmless tales about people. I am actually pretty proud of my fictitious yarns. My dirt hunting acquaintances listen intently. They savor every detail until it finally occurs to them that I am totally and completely full of nonsense. It is great fun.

Purposely seeking an awareness of another person’s shortcomings is not always a negative thing. Someone recently pointed out to me that dirt hunting can also be one of the greatest overtures of friendship. At first I was taken aback by such a seemingly unusual declaration. But I found myself agreeing quickly.

A real friend wants to know the dirt on those whom they love the most. Their purpose in possessing such knowledge however is very different! Our friends want to know our stories. They desire to know the whole story. They even want to have an awareness of the sordid details of our lives that we secretly wish to keep buried at sea. The struggles we have experienced, the poor choices we have made, and the tragedies we have endured are a part of who we are. Our loyal friends know that they can better serve us if they are clued in on the darker side of our lives.

I am not inclined to tell my close friends wild tales about myself or anyone else for that matter. I actually count it a privilege to have people that I can entrust details about my life that are fundamentally private. It is an extraordinary blessing to be able to divulge information that is not for public consumption to someone who is trustworthy. Friends actively seek out such stories for all of the right reasons.

So…here is the challenge of the day. Why do YOU want to know the dirt on another person? Why would you seek out such information? Are you are a chronic dirt hunter, who relishes in the missteps of others? Or are you a true friend that wants to know the true story, so you can serve that person from a pure heart? It is a very important question that requires some serious self-examination.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

When the Worst Happens...

As I get older, I am becoming increasingly aware of my limitations as I strive to serve others in need. You would think that age and experience would bring a greater degree of confidence and ability to get the job done. At one level, that is true. But I also believe that substantial field experience causes you to realize how much you depend on competent team workers.

I have been involved in doing critical incident debriefings with police officers, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, and other first responders for many years now. Structured debriefings that are done according to the standard rules of training in the field of Critical Incident Stress Management are the equivalent of emotional first aid. Emergency responders that have worked an especially difficult call benefit in immeasurable ways through the group or individual debriefing process.

I am thrilled to be a part of one of three Critical Incident Response Teams that have been formed here in Hood County. Our Fire Marshal is responsible for putting together these three teams. Kudos to Brian Fine! All team members have gone through the basic CISM training course, and we are up and running!

My team consists of a Hood County Sheriff’s Deputy, a paramedic from Texas EMS, a paramedic from Pecan Plantation EMS, a Pecan Plantation Volunteer Firefighter, and an employee from The Hood County Fire Marshal’s Office. They are all very competent professionals in their respective fields. Other teams also include  two school counselors from Granbury Independent School District. Their professional expertise in counseling will be priceless.

Needles to say this is a dream come true for me. I have longed for the day when we would have a multi-discipline CISM Team in place to serve both the city and the county. The school system will  be positively impacted too in the case of a major incident involving a student or a staff member.  Every fire department and law enforcement agency along with the emergency medical services personnel  our county will reap untold benefits.

A few years ago I was ready to blaze in and be the crisis guy. Just call me. I will handle it. I have learned a lot since then. I am learning everyday to abandon “The Messiah Complex” as it is sometimes called. I have learned the value of inter-agency collaboration along with the importance of working with people from different disciplines. I have a feeling our team will become a close knit group of professionals that really learn to depend on each other as we serve the citizens of Hood County along with our own colleagues.  When the worst happens, we will be there.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Can I PLEASE Be 27 Years Old Again??

I was young, green, and broke. I was 26 or 27 years old, and had been out of graduate school for less than two years. I was serving as a campus minister for a group of college students, and teaching as an adjunct instructor for the university.  But there were other complexities involved in the ministry to which I had been assigned. I had to do public relations work with a fairly large pool of churches and individuals that supported the ministry financially. I had no training or experience in fund raising or public relations for non-profit organizations.  It was a stretch to say the least.

Naturally I was very appreciative for church leaders and others that were very patient me as I learned the ropes. One man in particular stands out to me. Dr. Davis was a successful and highly esteemed pediatric dentist. He was among the church leaders that I had to “sell” on the idea of funding the ministry we provided to university students. I recall meeting him and two or three others for lunch in downtown Wichita Falls on a couple of occasions. Dr. Davis talked to me as if I was really competent. He even asked my opinion on important issues!

He was kind, but not condescending.  He asked good questions and listened intently. This soft spoken gentleman unknowingly instilled confidence in me. When I finished having lunch with him (that he always paid for by the way), I walked out of the restaurant standing just a little taller.  Maybe I can do this after all is what I was thinking!

Dr. Davis has been deceased for several years now, but I still think about him. Young ministers, who lack encouragers like him, have a greater propensity to crash and burn in those early years. It is just easy to be overwhelmed with the complexity of the vocation. There is never any shortage of people that take advantage of a young person’s lack of experience.  And I had the added duty of public relations! 

Today I had the privilege of being on the other side of the table. I had lunch with a young professional, who about 27 years old....  She is in the same boat I was in over 22 years ago. She is attempting to get established in her profession and assemble a good network in the process. My background in law enforcement afforded me the opportunity to connect to her to other competent people that can help her in the process of becoming established. Today we met with one of those professionals in Dallas. I seriously doubt I will ever play in the same league of kindness and competency that Dr. Davis played in, but it was very gratifying to do what he did for me for another person.

In fact, it was actually more than gratifying. I discovered during our meal today that the young lady I was able to reach out to is none other than Dr. Davis’ granddaughter. It really is a small world. And today it really is a good world. It has been over 22 years since I had those lunches with Dr. Davis, but as I left the restaurant parking lot I made it a point to thank God for him today. It seemed like the right thing to do.  I was very thankful to reverse roles after all of these years.  It was pretty neat to see a refllection of such a fine man in his granddaughter.  I do believe she has his genes!  Do I want to be 27 years old again?  No...I don't think so.  I have a new mission in life now!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The First I-Pod With Legs

I have a son that wants to be a writer. I have no one else to blame buy myself. When he was a small child, his mother told him bedtime stories that had a good moral point. I made up wild tales that weaved colorful characters through moments of adventure and intrigue. My stories lacked a good moral point, but they were fun. His mother was not allowed in the bedroom as I shared such original yarns with him. They were not exactly “mom friendly.” I had no idea at the time what kind of ambition that I was fostering !  

He has a particular interest in music. Once again I have no one else to blame but myself. When he was a toddler, I sang him songs to him while I rocked him to sleep at night. He was rather picky about his music even then. I would start a song, and he would whisper: “not that song.” I would start another one. Same thing…. It would take four or five attempts before I hit on the right one. Of course at that point I was told: “that song.” Perhaps he can now write “that song” himself now, because after all he wants to be a writer.

In the third grade, his teacher bemoaned the fact that he did not want to write. She was a wonderful educator, but she did not quite have that situation pegged. He wanted to write all right. There were all kinds of ideas swirling around in his head that could have made it to his paper. He just did not want to be bothered with writing someone else’s sentences in a neat and tidy way. School was confining at that point. Little did she know that her reluctant student wanted to be a writer.

He joined the debate team in high school. His coach chastised him more than once for not “flowing the debate.” It is a very basic debate skill that I too learned as a high school debater many years ago. You write down the essence of your opponent’s arguments in a logical sequence on a sheet of paper and then you flow across with your rebuttals to each of those points. It works. But my son chose instead to flow in his head. His coach told him that nobody does that. She of course was right. But once again he was not going to be confined by the standard rules of procedure. He was busy writing his arguments in his head instead of flowing. It is actually brilliant, but we did not know then that he wanted to be a writer.

Tonight that toddler that thought I was the first i-pod with legs is going through orientation at the LA Film Institute in Los Angeles. He plans to be a screen writing intern this semester. He wants to be writer. In fact, he wants to be a screen writer. There is a moral to this experience.

If you are a parent of a small child, invest wisely. Their genetic makeup certainly impacts their life, but environment plays a role too. Think very carefully about what you do with them. Give a lot of thought about what you to say to them. (Be especially cautious about the content of bedtime stories.) Instill confidence in your children. Foster independence. And when they grow up, they will get in the car one day and drive to another world as they attempt to shape their own identity. I have a son that wants to be a writer. But all I want to do is to be a father of a toddler again.  Being the first i-pod with legs really was not such a bad thing at all.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

People are not Toys

Last week I spent some time with a trusted colleague. It was nice to catch up on what is taking place in his world. Since we are in the same field we have a lot in common. .This particular individual is the most connected professional I have ever seen. He has a terrific network that he moves around in. I can always call on this friend if I need anything from a plumber to a brain surgeon. Chances are he will know two of each. I was teasing him about being taken out by prominent people in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for power lunches. But I was not prepared for his response.

He told me: They only take me to lunch when they want something. He proceeded to cite several examples of such behavior. It made me thankful that the only people that take me to lunch are those that truly enjoy my company and my warped sense of humor. I thought about his observations during the entire trek back to Granbury from the Dallas area. I came up wiht two important principles:

You don’t use people. Ever. You never use people. People are not inanimate tools that can be pulled from a toolbox and then tossed in the corner when we are finished with a “job.” People are valuable and even priceless. It does not make any difference where they fit in the socioeconomic or popularity scale. People are not things to be used for selfish purposes. Human beings were created in God’s image, so they are therefore deserving of  utmost respect.

• People are not toys. This is a common perception. People use other human beings for their own selfish gratification. And when they are finished, they put them back in the toy box until they want to play again. Human Trafficking is a global concern .right now. Poor and vulnerable individuals are sold like used cars for the sexual gratification of evil people. Children are among the most susceptible in this group. It even happens in “legal” ways when an adult treats his spouse or child like a toy for purposes of instant gratification. Such actions are inexcusable.

I don’t who I will go to lunch with tomorrow. There is just no telling! I am thankful to say that I will go with my friends, because I care about them. I want to hear about their family as I am sure they will want to hear about mine as well. I am so grateful that people that call me for lunch do so because they truly enjoy my company as well. I need to mark on my calendar to call my colleague in Dallas for a lunch appointment. He needs to know that someone just wants to come and hang out with him. And this week I will remind myself that you don’t use people. And people most certainly are not toys!

Monday, August 15, 2011

I am Sorry, but You WERE Doing 90 MPH in a 70 MPH Zone....

I work with very professional law enforcement officers everyday. Contrary to popular belief issuing traffic tickets is not how they get their thrills. It is one dimension of their job, but certainly not the only one. Police officers have one objective in mind when initiating a traffic stop for an array of moving violations. They are simply trying to prompt compliance.

An officer has several options. He can issue a citation that will generally lead to a hefty fine. She can give a verbal warning. In some cases, the accused offender is given a written warning that has no impact on a driving record. The goal is compliance. The officer must determine what course of action will most likely lead to said compliance.

Computers of course have changed everyone’s life. As a rule, a police officer can quickly pull up an offender’s driving record on his in car computer. If the person has a lengthy list of speeding tickets, perhaps he has not learned to comply with the law. A warning will not likely make any impact on him. In other cases, the officer just has to use her gut instinct as to what course of action will most likely accomplish the goal of compliance.

I am sure at some point you have encountered an officer that was a real jerk. He was impolite. She chewed on you pretty good as she wrote the citation. As a rule, police officers abide by the “courtesy first” rule when making traffic stops. Law enforcement trainers point out that officer safety is actually less in jeopardy when courtesy is extended.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here. Last week I heard a story about an assistant principal in a high school berating a young man, because he had kept a textbook over the summer that should have been turned in last May. Apparently the principal went on and on and on. He apparently has never been trained in the courtesy first principle. He probably also is unaware that he is placing his personal safety in potential jeopardy by such conduct. Berate a kid that is somewhat unstable and you have a fight on your hands very quickly.

After I heard that story, it occurred to me that individuals in positions of authority do not elicit increased levels of compliance when they berate the offender and thus make that person feel like a fool. It is not helpful to the cause. In this case, the principal contributed absolutely nothing to this young man’s capacity to be a responsible student. If the goal is compliance, the assistant principal failed.

I am sure that most high school coaches would totally disagree with this conclusion. A lot of principals would as well! But I think there is something valid about being courteous and respectful.

I don’t want to be misunderstood. I am all about having rules and enforcing them too! Some offenders just need a ride to jail. No doubt about it. I am pretty hard core when it comes to being a rule enforcer, but I also believe that it can be done with respect and courtesy.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

What has Stacked Up in Your Emotional Closet?

I have had two college age sons quite literally camping out at the house this summer. They never full unpacked. We have plastic storage tubs, golf clubs, and assorted dorm supplies stacked in various locations around the house. As we anticipate their departure to Los Angeles and Oklahoma City next week, it is cleaning time. Thankfully we have not had much company this summer. I would be embarrassed for guests to see our house right now. But should I be embarrassed? It is good question.

Our real friends really don’t care if there golf clubs are sitting in the living room. And those most loyal to us are not concerned with the fact that our sons’ bedrooms should be a point of concern for the health department. Our closets are packed to their maximum suggested capacity. But true friends overlook such externals.

The same principle holds true in terms of the emotional state of our homes. Every person’s heart has stuff that has accumulated over the years. During times of transition or stress the junk stacks up even faster. We look up one day and realize that the closets in our hearts are jam packed with past hurts, traumatic experiences, and assorted life disappointments. When we host our friends, we make sure that such emotional closets remain locked up and sealed tight. After all if they knew what was stored in our heart it would be embarrassing to us.

Emotional closets need to be purged of accumulated junk. But there is a hitch. There are two things that need to happen if our heart closets are to be clean again.

• We need to forgive those that have harmed us. This is tough. Forgiveness is a journey that we don’t always want to embark on. But if the closet of our heart is to be clean again, forgiveness is a part of that process. It is a dimension of letting the past go.

• We need to open the closet to a trusted friend. I will say it again. True friends don’t care what is stacked in our living room. And they are not concerned about what is stacked to the ceiling in our closets. In fact, our real friends will gladly come over during a time of need and help us clean. They can guide us through the process of knowing what to keep and what to throw away. This is true in regard to our home and our hearts too…

What is stacked to the ceiling in your emotional closet? Can you allow someone you trust in your life to help you clean it out? Cleaning with the help of others is a good thing. Embarrassment or shame is not concerns. View your heart as a place where no accumulations are allowed.

I will continue to clean house today. If anyone wants to assist, I suggest latex gloves, gas mask, protective armor, and a strong stomach. It all goes this week one way or another. No accumulations allowed!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Syndrome You DON'T Want to be Diagnosed With...

Earlier this summer I read a book entitled: Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, by Kevin M. Gilmartin, Ph.D. It is excellent. It contains good principles for anybody engaged in a people helping profession. The author coins a term that I have given a lot of thought to since reading the book. He uses the phrase “Usta Syndrome” to refer to police officers that have given up on important facets of their lives outside of their chosen profession.

Gilmartin says that over time the officer’s identity becomes tied only to the police role. Consequently they start saying: I “usta” play golf. I “usta” have strong social ties. I “usta” to go to church services regularly. The stress and hyper-viligence associated with the job ends up edging all of those healthy activities out.

I have seen that process unfold with police officers over the years. I just did not what to call it. What is striking to me is that all of us can allow the stress of life to edge out the very things that keep us healthy. Today I was reminded of that very fact.

I took off a day from work today (that I didn’t think I had time to take off) to play in a charity golf tournament. At one point during our round, I was standing on the tee box on a hole that overlooks the city. It is actually a great view! It just hit me as I observed the beauty of this part of Texas that I don’t take enough time to enjoy the outdoors like I did at one point in my life. When was the last time I went camping? How much golf have I played this summer? When was last time we went on a simple picnic? It hurt my feelings, because I knew right then that I I am suffering from  "Usta Syndrome.”

What did you “usta” do? What are healthy pursuits that you really enjoy that have been relegated to the back burner of your life? In my case, outdoor activities top the list. But it could be that you “usta” have meaningful friendships.

Or you “usta” be involved in spiritual activities in your life that were enriching. Don’t waste time. Reorient your schedule to such good things. “Usta Syndrome” is not something you ever want to be diagnosed with!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Grieving Classmates

I am in an interesting place today. I have friends 1,000 miles away that are serving a classmate that is facing the most difficult kind of grief journey imaginable. All that I can do on their behalf is to cry out to God. My heart is in deep pain. I feel a natural affinity for a classmate.

And then I found out that my son’s close friend lost his mother. She had been fighting cancer for some time. She was my age. My heart hurts, but how could a father be more proud as he watches his son step up to the plate and serve his classmate skillfully and naturally? As I watch both of these situations unfold, what counsel can I offer those that are inclined to get in the trenches of grief with those whom they love?

I have learned a lot about grief over the years based on personal experience and years of serving people in such situations as a minister and law enforcement chaplain. I would say two things to those that are brave enough to truly embrace their grieving friends.

Keep the Commentary to a Minimum
People in grief do not need unnecessary commentary. In particular, they do not need comments of a theological nature. Telling a grieving father that God just needed another angel is pure nonsense. If I hear someone tell a parent that has lost a child that again, they are going to grieve over their lost ability to speak after I sew their mouth shut. Imposing your own journey of grief in such a setting in many cases falls under the heading of unnecessary commentary. The loss of your 90 year old grandmother is a source of real pain to you, but comparing that experience to what a parent facing the loss of a child is feeling is simply not helpful. The rule of thumb is to keep the talking to a minimum. Listen. Allow the grieving person to determine the direction and extent of conversation. If they want to talk, then listen. If they want to be quiet, don’t feel uncomfortable with the silence.

Consider What Will Be Remembered Years from Now
I lost my father over 33 years ago. What do I still remember about the initial dark days following his death? My mother died almost 20 years ago. What do I remember about that event? Here is my short list. The lists of others might look different.

I remember those who showed up. Friends drove 200 miles in horrible weather to comfort me at my mother’s funeral. They braved the elements just to embrace us at the cemetery. I will never forget who was there. I recall colleagues of my father’s flying down from Racine, Wisconsin to Lubbock just to attend his funeral. They just showed up.

• I remember those that served. My mother’s friend Donna became chief operations manager of our house during those initial dark days. She did a lot more in the year that followed. She will always be a saint in my eyes. When my mother died, my sister’s friends came in and took over. They organized the food people brought, washed dishes, and did the laundry. It was just comforting having them right there. I don’t recall anything that these individuals said during that time period. I mean nothing! But I will never forget what they did.

• I remember those that chose not to forget. Years later after my mother was gone her friend Donna said specific things about her that I appreciated so much. Others remembered what it was like to work for my father. Such comments years after the loss of a loved one are amazing. I have some friends that plan to compile a book of memories for the children of a classmate who has been deceased for several years now. I don’t know if my friends realize that such a gift will become the most prized possession of those children.

Today I am forced to watch and not act. I prefer to be in the trenches. But today I am watching others reach out. And that is not a bad place to be actually. I get to observe people whom I love and value show up and serve. I wonder if they know that their friends will never forget….

Sunday, August 7, 2011

He Stayed with Me All Night...

When my friends are in trouble, I tell them that I will walk beside them. And I really mean it. I have always had an image of being a shield to those that are close me, when life is getting the best of them. Telling them that I would walk beside them seemed like the right thing to say and do. I read an article in a journal today that caused me to rethink that image. The article describes a man experiencing the grief of losing his wife. It reads as follows:

I was in total despair. I went through the funeral preparations and the service like I was in a trance. After the service I went to the path along the river and walked all night. But I didn't walk alone. My neighbor—afraid for me, I guess—stayed with me all night. He didn't speak; he didn't even walk beside me. He just followed me. When the sun finally came up over the river, he came over and said, "Let's go get some breakfast."

I think there is something to the idea of walking behind someone. We remain in the shadows. But we also remain in a state of constant preparedness. We allow a hurting friend the privilege of needed space, but they are not left alone. And perhaps most importantly we walk behind that person in the darkness. Darkness in the above story takes on more than one form. The grieving man walked by the river in the darkness caused by a lack of sunlight. But he was also walking in the darkness of grief and loss. He was fortunate to have a friend walking right behind him that could catch him if he stumbled.

In the future, I am going to be careful about telling my friends that I will walk beside them. Perhaps that is not what they need. Walking quietly behind them in the shadow of their troubles might be just what is required. And when they are ready to talk, we will head to the Firehouse Café for the daily breakfast special. Who needs you to stay with them all night?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I Can Sleep Wherever I Want to Sleep!

Summer is coming into its final stretch. Two a day football workouts start Monday. Marching band members will soon be practicing as well. The state of Texas will offer a tax free weekend to stimulate shopping this month. School begins August 22nd.

A lot of teens have spent their summers going to camps of all kinds. There is basketball camp, band camp, and football camps of all kinds. Church camp is often figured into that mix. I suspect there is even an under water basket weaving camp for all age groups.

I am thankful that a lot of teens have also had the privilege of going on mission trips too. I have taken high school students to Mexico in the past. In more recent years, our own church kids have gone on trips that focused on outreach to the under age 21 homeless population.  There are significant needs in that realm of service.

When I was on a recent trip back to Wisconsin, I heard about a group of students from a church going on an annual mission effort to the Appalachia area. It sent chills down my spine. My grandmother was the principal for a mission boarding school that the Presbyterian Church operated in Letcher County Kentucky, near Blackey. I toured the area about three years ago for the very first time.  Many of the children Stuart Robinson School hosted would not have had a clean, warm place to sleep in the 1930's and 1940's when she was there.

During the course of the trip this particular group of teenagers decided to use some of their allotted funds to purchase a permanent type “stove” or heating mechanism for someone in that area that would otherwise not have heat this winter. There were consequences to their choice. They spent the funds that would have otherwise been used for a hotel on part of their trip. They had to stay in people’s homes while traveling to Appalachia instead of enjoying the comfort and privacy of a hotel stay.

I don’t know who guided them through that decision. Did adult sponsors provide them with that option? Did the student participants initiate the idea? It really does not make any difference. I am of a mind that a simple, but important act of compassion like that will stay with them for years to come. I also think it is important that they had to sacrifice something in order to help someone else. Sacrifice is a key element in this story, and will add to the power of the memory.

I suppose the kids on this trip could have bowed their backs and stated adamantly: “I have a right to sleep where I want to sleep!” “And I want to sleep in a hotel!” That is an accurate perception. It could have happened. But in the case of this particular group of young people from Wisconsin that was not the case. They are obviously mature and spiritually sensitive children. Choosing to sacrifice something for someone else could become habit forming for them. And why do I think there is a strong possibility that is just the case here?

This group will start school in a much different frame of mind than most. Mission trips provide an experience that sports and band camps simply cannot do. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this great group of students from Wisconsin!  I do know that they are eager to return next summer for still another life changing experience.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse and Neglect: The Story of Royal Family Kids Camp

I will never complain about my childhood again. This week I have been a relief counselor for a couple of hours each evening at Royal Family Kids Camp. RFKC is specially designed for children that have been abused, abandoned, or neglected. We had 66 children ranging in age from 8-11. My partner and I relieved the 4 counselors assigned to 8 boys in a cabin. I learned a lot this week.

The first night one of the boys told me he did not know anything about his biological family. A couple adopted him and then they proceeded to divorce. Following the divorce his adoptive father dropped him off at a children’s home to live. He will likely be at the home until he graduates from high school. He is a great kid, and I hope to see him again.

The second night as I waited for the boys to get their showers a camper from another cabin initiated a conversation with me that I would consider odd for a 9 year old boy. Based on what he said I quickly surmised that he had been the victim of sexual abuse in his young life. That is not my area of expertise, but I tried to direct the conversation in a positive manner. Unfortunately many of the campers have had that experience.

And then the third night rolled around. Two of my boys got in a fist fight. There is nothing unusual about that at all. But after I separated them, one the perpetrators broke down. He told me about his mother’s struggle with drugs. And he relayed to me that his mom and dad recently divorced. I asked him how he was doing with all of that and the floodgate opened. He really shared his heart. I just listened. I had to have a pretty straight talk with the other young man involved in the fight, and ten minutes later he was referring to me as his “dad.”

Tonight was the last night. We spent our time passing the football around, as the boys talked about the cute camp nurse. I told them girls had coo dies, but they were not the least bit interested in listening. One of the boys that had not given us any trouble all week became pretty uncooperative. I was really taken aback, but the dean of men explained to me that he did not want to go home tomorrow. Kids from normal homes are eager to see their families at the end of a camp week, but this little boy has nothing to look forward to. I guess that it was why we have Royal Family Kids Camp every year. It is a week of great memories for children that have had very difficult lives.  In some small way, we are breaking the cycle of abuse and neglect.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What is that Alcoholic Doing Here?

Max Lucado in one his first books tells the story of a woman fighting an uphill battle with alcoholism. During that journey she tried to return to a small church where she had spiritual roots. But unfortunately she hears the gossip in the parking lot that was not meant for her ears. “What is that alcoholic doing here?”  Lucado relays that the woman got back in her car and never returned. Well that is not exactly true. Her next visit to the same church was in a casket at her own funeral.
In stark contrast to that incident, I heard a story last night that was truly inspiring. We hosted a speaker that serves a church that is doing what I think churches are supposed to do. When the neighborhood around this particular congregation in a large city began to change, attendance declined. A part of the city that would have been characterized as upscale in the 1950’s began to decline. Businesses closed. Crime increased.

The church was faced with a decision. They could sell their building and move out to the more affluent outlying areas, or they could take a risk and stay. They chose to stay. Their choice to remain was prompted by a desire to reach out to the now low income neighborhood that surrounded the church’s property. They have successfully done that for about 10 years now.

At one point in this 10 year period, The Salvation Army put in a rehabilitation center for women struggling with alcoholism. A lady at the newly opened center ventured out on a Sunday morning and showed up for worship services at the above mentioned church. She was fortunate. There were no local gossipers aroound to greet her. The first person to spot her was Jan. (I happen to know Jan. Everyone should have the opportunity to meet her.) Jan is the real thing. She is as genuine as they come. Jan introduced herself to the brave lady from the rehab center and proceeded to introduce her to everyone else. Her approach went like this: “I want you to meet my friend, Lisa…” (Not her real name) She never mentioned the rehab center. She just said…”I want you to meet my friend Lisa.”  I wonder how that made that lady feel?

Jan’s single act of kindness prompted an entire ministry focused of reaching out to ladies going through the Salvation Army program across the street from the church. Dozens of lives at the rehab location were touched. An untold number of families affected by the ladies staying there were impacted by the efforts of a church that decided to stay.

I was inspired by the story of this very special church last night. I have in turn been asked to speak at a training event they are hosting in October. The church is now partnering with their city officials on a huge effort that is going to serve victims of domestic violence. My assigned topic is: “How to Effectively Minister to Crime Victims.” What can I possibly offer a church that decided a long time ago to stay put, so they could serve their neighbors? I am humbled to be in their presence. And I suspect I will learn more from them they will from me.

My question for all of us is: What single act of kindness can we initiate today that will turn into something huge? And by the way, there is no need to ask what that alcoholic is doing here. She is here for us to serve in the name of Christ.  No more questions needed...