Monday, November 28, 2011

Honoring Tradition is a Thing of the Past

Thanksgiving at Grandma’s… There is nothing quite like it.  In our early married life, we made the trek to Grannie Obrian’s house situated on a half section of land 10 miles north of Lazbuddie and 20 miles east of Bovina.  Grannie was a hard working lady.   She knew how to put together a Thanksgiving feast.

 It never occurred to Grannie Obrian that you could buy pre-made pie shells in the frozen food section at the grocery store. At Grannie’s house, gravy did not originate from a package. And Grannie Obrian was equally oblvious to the existence of Cool Whip. She whipped her own cream to put on top of one of her wonderful pies.  As the men passed around the bowl of the freshly whipped delicacy, they joked that it would just ruin that pie.

You know we always went to Grannies knowing exactly what to expect. There were no variations.  Time held holiday traditions remained fundamentally unchanged for decades at the farmhouse they called home.

I firmly believe that there is something inherently good about going to safe places with safe people, where we know exactly what to expect. It gives us a remarkable feeling of security. In a world that is changing at a rapid fire pace everyday, we find ourselves drawn to safe places.  I can’t help but be sad as well as nostalgic when I think about Grannie O’Brian now.  She died very unexpectedly when we had only been married about 3 years.  My children never got to experience Thanksgiving at her home.  Her husband lived well into his 90’s.  But Papo is gone now too.

Now it is my turn to create a safe place for my children.  A home where traditions will be honored and family members affirmed.  I am probably going to buy some Cool Whip occasionally, but we still expect Jan to make homemade pie crusts and stir up some cream gravy from scratch.  The boys expect her to make pumpkin dump cake and a few other specialties.  But we don’t mind.  We want home to be a place for our sons where they know what to expect.

Some would say that kids these days don’t value tradition. Some would say that honoring tradition is a thing of the past.  Some of my peers would argue that I am wasting my time trying to uphold family traditions.  But that is not true.  Not at all… I found that to be the case this past weekend when two of our three boys were home.  Something very interesting took place.  I will share  that incident in Part II tomorrow. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

There is Nothing Quite Like a Good Memory...

My short term memory is well beyond repair. Searching for my keys is a daily ritual. Coffee mugs have been found all over our office suite. My coffee mugs that is… I have been called an airhead and worse… But I can tell you that my first grade teacher drove a baby blue 1966 Mustang.

I learned a number of years ago that poor memories are actually not beyond repair. When people approach me and share stories about one of my parents, it is fortifies my soul. My father has been deceased since 1978 and mother since 1991. A number of their peers are gone as well. But on rare occasions, I encounter someone who remembers them! And they tell stories that I so appreciate hearing. It makes me grateful for good memories… I am so thankful that there are people that store personal encounters back in the recesses of their brain and bring those narratives up at an opportune moment.

One year ago tomorrow a young trooper with the Texas Department of Public Safety was killed in an on-duty car crash near Post, Texas on a stretch of US 84 that I have traveled an untold number of times. His name was Jonathan McDonald. In my role as a volunteer chaplain for the DPS, I assisted in serving his family in the immediate hours following the tragedy. My heart was broken for his parents and his young wife and baby girl.

The next day the tragedy became even more personal. My sister told me that Trooper McDonald had hired my nephew at a grocery store in Lubbock. (The young trooper was a manager at United Grocery Store prior to entering DPS recruit school.) Kim was so impressed with the kindness that Jonathan McDonald showed to her son. She too was heartbroken for his family.

Tomorrow is going to a tough day for Jonathan’s wife, Laura. His parents and the rest of his family are in for a long day too. But people with good memories will make it bearable. Stories need to be told. Significant events must be relived. That is my prayer for all of Jonathan’s family. I pray that they will be surrounded by people with good memories. His family needs to be embraced by those that are willing to recount his qualities and tell the tall tales in unedited fashion. Stories must be told tomorrow and 30 years from now too.

There is nothing quite like a good memory. I am going to try to make sure that my capacity to remember encounters with people remains in good repair. I hope you will do likewise. Someone will need a good word on a significant day…

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Giving People a Second Chance Takes on Many Forms

She is a pretty girl. And she is young. I would guess that she is in early 20s’. She came to the free eye clinic we offered in one of the small communities near Mission, Texas last week. The poverty in several Texas counties bordering Mexico is overwhelming. I know there are politicians that have all of the answers regarding immigration and the issues that surround it. But the reality is that there are very poor people struggling to subsist on both sides of the International Bridges that connect us to Mexico.

This particular young lady came to the eye clinic already wearing a pair of glasses. That is actually pretty unusual. We normally see people that can’t read or should not be driving! They have no access to proper optical care. This young lady was wearing a pair of large glasses with thick black rims. They looked like the eyeglasses my dad wore in the 1960’s when we lived outside of Chicago.

She told our optometrist at the free clinic that her glasses were government-issue. At first he did not know what she meant. But he figured it out. She received her glasses in prison. There were several tell tale signs that she had been incarcerated. The girl showed up so she could get some glasses that looked like something a 20 something would wear.

We took some before and after pictures. I will not publish them for privacy purposes. But I will say that the change was dramatic. I hope that this young lady is able to view herself in a different light. I hope that her life script from this point on will be different. Will a pair of glasses make a difference? If you saw her that day, you might actually think so! I think a pair of glasses given by loving people that really care is a good thing.

I think we sometimes think that people have to reach a certain standard before we can help them. Or they have to be “trying” in ways that we perceive to be important. It is almost as if we are checking “spiritual id’s” at the door before we allow admission.  I am sure there are individuals that would think we were wasting time fitting that girl in donated eyeglasses that look approriate.

I learn something new every time I go on a medical mission trip. (And I have been on a bunch of them!) This year I relearned the importance of accepting people where they are. I was reminded once again that we are called to serve people period. And that includes very young adults that have been convicted of felonies.

Are people going to take advantage of our good nature? Yes. Are we going to get burned? Yes. Is that a good excuse to stay home and do nothing? No…  Giving people a second chance takes on many forms.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Have Never Called Anyone Mom

I have never called anyone mom before.  Those are the words of a 13 year old boy who was a resident at Casa De La Esperanza in Northern Mexico prior to being reunited with his biological mother.  Casa is a children's home that provides residential care for about 50 children.  There are infants and there are teenagers in that group. The median age is 7.  31% of the children have no clue as to the identity of either one of their parents.  78% have no regular visitors.

The 13 year boy that have never called anyone mom is rare.  As a resutlt of several extraordinary events, his mother was able be to reunited with him.  But that is a rare story.  Last summer the Home took in two very small children that were found abandoned in a city park.  The kids could not even provide their names or their birthdates.

Last Sunday was hosted Gil Sanchez as a guest speaker at church.   Gil and his wife Becky have directed Casa De La Esperanza since 1998.   The improvements made to the facilities are beyond description.   The love and nurture the Sanchez family and numerous others have provided is to be commended.

As I listened to Gil, I was truly convicted.  In recent years, I have struggled with the array of mistakes I have made as a father.  I have agonized over  poor choices and misplaced priorities.   Gil's comments about the chilren they serve reminded me of two important principles that apply to a lot of us that have been fathers for a few years.

As long as I am breathing, I can improve as a father.   Two of my children are grown and out of the house.  But I am still their father.  I can still employ my paternal skills
I am surrounded byildren who have never called anyone dad.  I feel called to reach out to those kids.  Over 22 years of being a father should count for something!

Who do you know that has never had anyone to call "mom" or "dad?"