Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Anger Just Keeps on Coming!

When you hear a West Texas farmer tell you that his irrigation well is pumping sand, it is never good news. The well is no longer deep enough to pump life giving water that keep crops alive and vibrant. And unfortunately wells can go out at the most inopportune times. A crop can burn up in the August sun without sufficient water. Consequently a wise farmer acts decisively by having the pumped pulled and the well drilled even deeper.

Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence makes reference to pockets of anger about past pains and present injustices that cover deep wells of sadness. The presence of anger is just like an irrigation well pumping sand. Relationships are destroyed as the poisonous anger sand is sprayed everywhere. It takes a lot of courage to uncover that same well and dig through the muck. But it must be done.

We must be willing to uncover our own wells of sadness and keep drilling until we are able to deal with past pains and present injustices. What drilling company shall we call? Can we call the same guy that pulls irrigation pumps on farm wells? That would be nice, but it won’t work.

Drilling down a well of sadness is not for the faint hearted, but it looks something like this: We must choose to push the cover back, and dig the well deeper by entering into a place of solitude. In the context of solitude, we can allow God invade the areas of our lives where the pain is particularly excruciating. It is not much fun. It is going to hurt, but in the long run it helps.

Solitude forces us to quit hiding from the pain. The noise of life can no longer drown it out. We experience a greater degree of spiritual depth by entering into times of solitude for the expressed purpose of allowing God enter the most painful corners our existence. And once the well is dug deeper, we can emerge with a new capacity to work through pain and injustices constructively. We look up one day and realize that we are no longer pumping up anger sand.  And of course we tend to pump up anger sand at the most inopportune times.  After all, when a well consistently pumps anger sand, it is never good news.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My Friend is Grieving: WHAT can I Say?

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore is affiliated with the Center for Loss and Trauma. She directs the MISS Foundation, which is a, volunteer based organization committed to providing crisis support and long term aid to families after the death of a child from any cause. I find her reflections on grief to be insightful. Dr. Cacciatore’s most recent quote is as follows: No answer could ever be good enough for a parent's grieving heart. Well said Dr. Cacciatore!

I recently spoke at a training event for hospital chaplain volunteers. I of course emphasized the importance of being quick to listen and slow to speak. I tried to explain the concept of “ministry of presence.” And I also said that attempting to answer the questions that grieving individuals are posing is generally not a useful pursuit. But I did not go far enough. I should have said precisely what Dr. Cacciatore shares with a slight edit. I would go as far to say that no answer is ever good enough for a grieving person’s heart period.

Tomorrow I am officiating at a funeral for a 53 year old man, who leaves a wife and two young teenage boys. Later this week I will attend the funeral for a man whose daughter was murdered in 2008. I was involved in serving her family in my role as a law enforcement chaplain. He wanted to live long enough to see her killer convicted, which he did. Every individual that was close to these people have questions. But even the best answers I could conjure up in my mind would never be good enough.

Here is the good news: the pressure is off. We can serve those who are grieving deeply without feeling compelled to provide answers. We don’t have to wonder what to say. We can zip our lips with confidence and give all of energies to listening.

When I train new law enforcement chaplains, I always encourage them to practice the three H’s. They are as follows:

Hurry-Get over your jitters about serving someone in crisis and hustle to their side.

Hug-Be generous with your affection as it is fitting and appropriate.

Hush-You might as well hush, because no answer you can provide will good enough for that grieving person’s heart…

Thanks Dr. Cacciatore! When it comes to serving people in crisis, there is something new to learn everyday. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Dark Shade of Self Pity: Is it Covering Your Heart?

I am very good at feeling sorry for myself. In fact I think I could consider myself an expert. I can work myself up into a tizzy of self pity with very little effort. In a matter of minutes, I can pull a dark shade down over my heart that blocks out the light of rational thoughts. But the divine light of reality somehow pierces through that shade and illuminates my heart.

This month marks the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death. (October 30th to be precise.) For some crazy reason the 20 year milestone has been a difficult one.  Perhaps it is because my children are all reaching important milestones in their lives. I have one that will graduate from college in December! My mother would have been extremely proud of him. He was the only child of mine she ever knew. I was pressing on with the normal responsibilities of life on the inner side of that dark shade until an important event took place this week.

One of my good friends, who reside in Mexico, shared with me her concerns about a family friend who is dealing with colon cancer. This is a gentleman that has been very loyal to her family over the years. She went on to tell me that the man is unable to purchase some medical supplies he needs. (Colostomy bags to be specific.) In this country, that is a common item that insurance or Medicare covers. The man is extremely poor. In a millisecond, the dark shade that had been covering my heart was yanked away.

I got busy and started figuring out ways to provide some short term financial assistance for this man; so that he could purchase needed medical supplies. Getting funds into Mexico securely takes a little effort, so I solicited the assistance of capable people that know how to do all of that. The initial part of the mission has already been accomplished. The dark shade has been cast aside. I don’t have time for self-pity.

My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in August of 1991. It was in a well advanced stage by the time physicians determined what was going on. She was a very dignified lady, but she had to live with the reality of dealing with a colostomy bag during the final months of her life. Insurance of course covered the cost of those supplies. When I heard the story of the man in Mexico suffering from the same disease, I felt compelled to do something. My mother would have been ashamed of me if I let such an opportunity to assist go by. In an odd sort of way, I feel that I have honored her memory this week. I think it would be wise not to attempt to pull a dark shade of self pity over my heart again. There is no telling what kind of events may develop to forcefully pull it right off the window of my heart. 

The dark shade of self-pity...Is it covering your heart today?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Statements Victims of Domestic Violence Would Rather Not Hear

Domestic violence is far more prevalent than what you would ever think. As a law enforcement chaplain, I can say that most of the homicides I have assisted with over a 22 year period have been the result of some form of domestic violence. Several years ago I was with an officer the night he raced to a woman’s home, because an offender pulled the phone out of the wall, as she frantically gave the 911 dispatcher needed information. It transcends race, religious affiliation, and socioeconomic factors. At some point you may find that you have someone close to you impacted by verbal, physical, or sexual abuse. Tomorrow I am conducting a training session for some great people that have committed to volunteering at a center that will reach out to victims of this heinous crime. (Yes it is a crime…) In assimilating some training notes, I put together a list that might prove helpful in serving a friend in need someday. Here it is…

Statements Victims of Domestic Violence Would Rather Not Hear
 Everything will be all right.

 What did you do to provoke him?

 He will never see daylight again. (The implication that the offender will remain incarcerated forever.)

 Nice girls don’t end up in relationships with guys like that. (abusers)

 He is an upstanding citizen. He would never do anything like that.

 It is God’s will for you to remain with him.

 He has never acted like this before.

 If you file criminal charges, he won’t be able to earn a living.

 Why didn’t you fight back?

 I know how you feel.

 Your children need their father.

 He can’t help it…(He has issues.)

I suppose the moral of this little listing is: think before you speak! The key in serving crime victims is to be quick to listen and slow to speak. Think carefully before you draw erroneous conclusions. And most of all don’t hesitate to extend compassion to those that have been victims.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some Gifts are Truly Priceless

Every Sunday I have the privilege of speaking to approximately 600 people. Having something meaningful to say over 40 times a year is a challenge. As a speaker, I have learned not to be distracted by what is taking place in the audience. But there are times you can tell people are bored. And other times you can sense that someone is very moved by what is being shared.

Last Sunday there was a participant sitting out there in the worship service drawing, as I was delivering my sermon. All that she had at her immediate disposal was a pencil and the back of a registration document. As I tried to motivate and encourage in the pulpit, she was using the time to develop her artistic abilities. You might think she was not showing proper respect or that she was not listening. But that was the not the case at all.

The benedictory prayer was said and services were dismissed. I am always bombarded with people to greet after the second service. This past Sunday was no exception. There were several out of town visitors I was attempting to make a concerted effort to welcome. But I could sense that someone was trying to get my attention… It was none other than sweet little Caitlyn. She handed me a folded piece of paper and told me it was a gift. I thanked her and hugged her. But that was not sufficient. Caitlyn wanted me to examine her gift at that very moment, so I did. As I was preaching my heart out, she was drawing something just for me. It even included a phrase I had used in my sermon. The phrase was “people of faith.” She was obviously listening!

I hugged her a second time and thanked her again too. I told her that I would place her drawing on my desk right beside my computer, so I could see it all of the time. That sweet child melted my heart. I am sure there were people that walked by that failed to get greeted, but that is perfectly ok. Caitlyn deserved my total and undivided attention.

The next time I have an especially discouraging Sunday I am going to march right back to my office and place my attention on the pencil drawing given to me by a special little girl. I am sure I will need to be reminded on such days that I have friends among that Sunday crowd who are listening as well as drawing. And I am not sure what I would do without them.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Party Was Planned... but NOBODY Showed Up

It is always nice to be invited… It feels good to be included. But sometimes we take invitations for granted. There is no telling how many 80th birthday parties and 50th wedding anniversary events I have attended over the years. On many of those occasions I dutifully changed out of my Saturday attire, shaved, and cleaned up so I could go and support that individual. I never really thought much about it. I just thought it was the right choice to make. I ended up officiating at funerals at a later date for a number of those individuals. Even though I was a little grouchy about cleaning up on a Saturday afternoon I was always glad I went.

What if everyone took an invitation lightly? What if all of the guests decided that it was too much trouble to attend the function to which they had been invited? What would the consequences be if every invitee chose to be elsewhere? Does that sound a little far fetched? Maybe not…

Last week I received an email that was sent to a group of people from a distraught mother. It seems that a party was planned to celebrate her daughter’s 10th birthday. This girl is precious. She is as sweet as they come. But on the day of the party the unthinkable occurred. Nobody showed up. No one that was invited made the party that day. The little girl was heartbroken to say the least. Her mother relayed that her daughter cried herself to sleep on the night of her birthday.

There are days that I would prefer to be hard hearted. Life would be much simpler. The day I read that email was one of them. I know this girl. I have watched her grow up. I can’t handle stories like that.  Events like that go with kids for a long time...

I have had a few days to process the circumstances surrounding her failed party. Several thoughts seem to stand out. An invitation is an honor. It is an honor to celebrate a milestone with a friend. The least we can do is let them know if we can’t show up. I am also reminded that people are important. It is never a good idea to let our selfish pursuits take precedence over relationships. And finally…we are living in a culture that does not seem to value good manners. Sometimes it is just good manners to show up when invited.  And of course there is that matter of "do onto others..."