Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Menacing Growl

I am not normally a list maker, but I made one out last night.  It never actually made it to a piece of paper, but it was very detailed in my mind.  I conjured up a list of six really stressful, unpleasant, sad, or irritating things that happened to me in the past week.  I liked my completed list.  It justified my grouchy mood.

I woke up this morning and ran through the list in my mind again and again and then again.  The menacing growl that ensued from my grouchiness became increasingly pronounced.  I went to the grocery store and secretly hoped I would not run into any friends.  I really hate to growl at people.  It is never pleasant.  But I ran into several friends.  And I found that they lifted my spirits temporarily…

I came back home to mow the grass.  Mowing is a great time to stew in negative thoughts.  The list popped back in my head.  I churned over the same things that were making me sad and stressed.  I growled at the grass, as I completed the mowing.

When I stopped to move the mower to the backyard I checked my email on my phone.  There was a Caring Bridge Update from my friend, Charles Siburt.  Charles has had quite the battle with cancer that has led him to places that none of us wanted to imagine.  I started not to read it. I was at my limit.  I could not take anymore sad news this week.  Ultimately I chose to read it.

The report was good.  He is gaining strength after an all out battle with chemotherapy, infections, and other related problems.  He is planning on teaching a short course in May that I usually serve as a guest lecturer for each year. At the end of the report, his wife said:  Each day is a gift…

Each day is a gift.  Even days that are chalked full of bad news are a gift.  It is on those days that I remember why I am put on this earth.  I am here to serve all of my friends facing serious illnesses.  I am here to be a mentor and encourager of struggling colleagues.  I am here to support my kids, as they face unpleasant and unexpected life events.  I am here to listen to people in my community that are struggling.

The grouchiness is slowly subsiding.  My growl is less menacing. I am finding that my twisted sense of humor is slowly returning. Life is good.  Each day is a gift. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Do You Really Want to be Above the Law?

Several years ago I was picking one of my boys up at the high school after an out of town school event very late on a Saturday night.  On the way home that night I had to take extreme evasive action to avoid a collision with a vehicle that was involved in some kind of road rage incident with another car at a high rate of speed.  About the time that I got my wits about me enough to dial 911 on my cell phone I heard the roar of an engine behind me.

 I know the sound of the engines installed in Ford Crown Victoria’s with a police package very well.  In a flash one of my troopers with the Texas Highway Patrol here in Hood County passed me and lit up the enraged driver that nearly struck my truck.  As he exited his vehicle, I of course recognized him as one of my troopers that I am privileged to serve every single day.  The out of control driver got a one way ride to the Hood County Jail.

When I got home, I was pretty shaken.  Daniel would have taken the brunt of the collision on his side of my truck.  He could have been killed. We both could have been injured.  One of my troopers was simply doing his job. I doubt he thought much about it.  It was all in a day’s work in his mind. There is no doubt in my mind that he kept someone from being seriously injured or killed late that night.

Early this morning THP Trooper Javier Arana was killed in a line of duty car crash in El Paso. He was responding to a pursuit call around 1:30 a.m. He was endeavoring to do the same thing that my Hood County trooper was doing several years ago. He was attempting to get someone off the road that was an immediate threat to innocent citizens. Apparently this individual felt he was above the law and could run from law enforcement.

I am sad today.  And I am angry.  When we lose a trooper anywhere in the state, I feel the pain in a very personal way. It also brings back memories of previous line of duty deaths that I have been involved with as a chaplain. Images of family members and long funeral processions race through my mind.  But I think most of all today I am reminded of the gravity of the trooper’s role.

They face life and death situations everyday. They are protecting good people from harm everyday.  And then the moment arrives, when they give the ultimate sacrifice.  Trooper Arana left a wife and three children…I have been there to share that kind of news with a trooper’s family.  I hope I never have to do it again.

The truth is that I am feeling the gravity of my own role. I must serve these men and women well. I am called to serve those that protect and serve. I am called to shield the badge by bringing a divine presence to their world.  I am feeling sad today for sure. But I must admit I am reminded that my calling is a sober one. And I will do what I am called to do as I strive to serve them and their families. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

They are Just Self-Righteous Snobs!

My assignment for this week is simple.  I am to reach out to someone whose background is very different from my own. It is a timely assignment. Here is why: When we refuse to throw a relational life ring buoy, someone is going to drown. Such life buoys are on my mind right now.

I received a phone call from a longtime friend earlier this week. She was quite disturbed the day she called.  She told me about attending the same church for nearly 3 years, but for some reason she does not feel welcomed and accepted there.  I probably should share a few facts about my dear friend.

Sarah (not her real name, but a good Bible name!)  has a history of drug abuse.  She has actually been clean for a long time now, but nevertheless the reality is that she was immersed in that culture for a good part of her young life.  It is not a pretty story.  The truth is…it is never a pretty story.  She is educated, articulate, and witty.  But she does not fit the typical mode for a young mother living in the suburbs.  She does not look or act the part.  The other ladies her age at church sense that difference. Their way of dealing with it is to just avoid Sarah.  Little do they know that by their actions they are failing to throw a desperately needed relational life buoy?  In a sense, this is a life and death situation.  Recovering addicts face the danger of relapse every single day of their lives.

During our conversation Sarah asked me a question that still has me reeling. She said: How can I act like more like them, so they will accept me? I wanted to say: Do you really want to be a self-righteous snob like them?  (That was harsh even for the King of Bluntness, so I refrained.)  But nevertheless her question troubled me deeply.   After pondering her dilemma for a few days, I came up with at least one thought.

The ladies that are seemingly shunning Sarah are probably not self-righteous snobs.  But they are people that have failed to develop spiritually on an internal level.  We can go to church, contribute our time, be generous financially, and still be clueless about those around us that hunger for meaningful relationships.  Everyone is searching for a personal connection that is real and authentic.

I am convinced that such awareness will not come to the surface in our daily actions until we cultivate the internal spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, and solitude.  The furnace of spiritual transformation is fired internally as the motives of our hearts are exposed in the presence of God. 

Internal spiritual development gives us needed perspective.  That perspective will prompt us to recognize people that are hungering for community, so we can throw them a life saving relational buoy.  People’s lives are at stake.  There is no reason to remain secluded among people that we feel most comfortable with. I will begin a new week with that thought impressed on my mind. I am eager to fulfill my assignment. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Feeling Loved and Being Heard...

  

I am currently reading Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy’s book entitled:  Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do. It is an exceptional resource.  This evening I ran across this quote from the book:  ‎"Feeling loved and being heard are so similar, it's difficult to distinguish between the two."  My mind immediately went to my long time professor, mentor, and friend Charles Siburt…

OK, I hear you…How many times have I heard Dr. Siburt say that?  And how many times have I heard him say that to fellow students and colleagues in ministry?  The phrase resonates deeply in the recesses of my mind.  OK, I hear you…

In the case of Dr. Siburt, you had better put on your big boy britches.  You never knew what might follow after he “heard you.”   One of his students nicknamed him “Chainsaw Charlie.”  It stuck.  And all of us have a healthy respect for that chainsaw.  Dr. Siburt is not one to mince words or avoid conflict.  He has always told me and others precisely what we needed to hear.  But Dr. Siburt gets away with that for one simple reason.  He loves us and we know it.

I have always felt loved by Charles, because I know he hears me… He deals with dozens of church leaders every single day, and somehow he has managed to remember the names of my children, and what is going on in their lives. He even recalls details of conversations that we had over 10 years ago.

I have always been a doer. I concluded somewhere in my adult life that loving someone should be equated to doing things for them.  I realize that there is value to such thinking.  But as I get older I am beginning to think that Clinton and Sibcy are on to something.  It really is hard to distinguish between being heard and feeling loved.

I want those close to me to feel loved.  There is no doubt it.  My objective is to be able to honestly say:  OK, I hear you…. I have had the best trainer, so there is no excuse.  It is amazing what you can accomplish when you feel that have been heard and thus loved… Next time I say:  OK, I hear you... I will smile to myself as I think about Charles. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Are You Willing to Do it When No One is Looking?

Are you willing to do it when no one is looking? I think I do things for good reasons. I think I have really pure motives.  But I was reminded today once again that reality is my friend.  My motives are not nearly as pure as I would like to think.  I discovered that my ego is indeed as big as Texas itself.

Last month at church we underwent a period of 40 days of fasting and prayer.  Our Family Minister compiled a calendar with suggested activities for each day.  It was great.  Sometime during that experience I decided that I would start doing one random act of kindness everyday that would be as anonymous a possible.

My random acts have turned out to be a lot of fun.  And there is no shortage of opportunities.  Everyday the door of opportunity swings open. In fact, today was no exception.  The occasion to do something for someone else arose right in front of me.  I jumped on it and it, and was able to keep it reasonably secret.  The person on the receiving end had no idea who was responsible for the kind act.  That made it even more fun!! 

It gets muddy from this point on.  I wanted to share this experience with someone else. I am a talker and I like to share my adventures.  But that ruins the intent of the gesture.  I had to zip my mouth shut and go on about my business.

In terms of the bigger picture, I was reminded that we all like someone to acknowledge what we have done.  It feeds our ego.  My giving and random acts must remain anonymous.  If I keep the process up, I will benefit as much or more than the person on the receiving end.  I might actually learn a few lessons about humility. I might learn that serving out of the limelight shapes character.

I want to share my adventures, but I won’t.  I won’t because I have a lot to learn about giving in secret.  I have a lot to learn about shrinking an ego instead of letting it grow unchecked.  I really want to do things for good reasons, but that will only happen if I serve in secret.  Are you willing to do it when no one is looking?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Are You a Coach or a Critic?

I have decided there are two kinds of people in the world.  Just two mind you.  There are coaches and there are critics.  Given a choice I prefer the former and not the latter. Coaches encourage and critics dishearten.  I feel very enlightened on this subject since I just returned from serving as a judge at the Texas UIL State Cross Examination Debate Tournament.

As a debate judge, I feel a huge weight of responsibility to evaluate the round as fairly and objectively as possible.  I recognize that I am dealing with high school students that are in the process of growing both intellectually and emotionally.  I try to see myself as a coach and not a critic.  Coaches certainly do offer helpful critique. But the key word is helpful! 

And then there are critics.  The students I accompanied this year encountered at least two critics.  One judge made reference to a line of argumentation used by one of my debaters as: “absurd.”  Now that is an interesting choice of words for an educator to employ in communicating with a student.  Perhaps she needs my critic versus coach lecture regarding human nature?  And then there was the younger judge that made reference to our female debater’s skirt.  My first inkling was to ask why is she looking at the girl’s skirt and not focusing on the arguments in the debate.  Thankfully that was not my role.  I could and would have crossed over from coach to critic if I had said anything to the young and over zealous debate judge.  Our young ladies skirt was not at all inappropriate.

I must be honest.  As I observe our impressionable first year debaters dealing with critics and not coaches, my own story comes to the surface.  I was a decent cx debater in high school.  We had a good teacher preparing us to compete.  But I was lacking coaches in my life in general.  My father died during my sophomore year in high school, so I especially yearned for male coaches that would encourage me to fulfill my goals.  But during those crucial high school years, such individuals just were not present.  Discipline problems led to my dismissal from the team during my senior year. Consequently I never made it to the state tournament.  If there had been a mentor working with some of us, I am convinced that story would have had a different outcome.  A teacher can only do some much.

I have been coaching and judging debate off and on as opportunities have arisen since 1981.  I was also privileged to teach freshman speech at the university level for 5 years on a part time basis several years ago. That was fun too!  I am passionate about it, because I know that kids need more coaches and not more critics in their lives.

I am so proud of the debaters from Tolar High School.  They are champions in my mind.  I feel really selfish, because the time I got to spend with them in preparing for competitions benefited me more than it benefited them.  The  time at the tournament judging students from all over Texas was the same.  In fact, interestingly enough my father passed away 34 years ago today.  As I reflected on that life changing event, I was grateful to be with students that were exactly the same age I was that loss occurred.  It reminded me of my role. 

I am not their teacher. They have an outstanding teacher. She is a top notch educator.  I have a different task. My role is to step in and fill the gap that was missing during my high school years. My job is to be a coach.  Part of that task is to help them face the critics.  Critics will always be present, because after all there are only two kinds of people in the world!  More on this subject tomorrow in “Part II.”

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Saying Bad Words at Church....You Must Be Kidding?

We look at people’s appearance or demeanor, and immediately start forming conclusions. But don’t let a rough exterior fool you for a second. There could be a heart of gold lurking underneath that crusty surface. Refuse to evaluate a person’s character based on one experience with their behavior.  Nobody’s conduct is up to par every single day. You will end up making a judgment call about someone that you will live to regret when you reach hasty conclusions about the essence of a person.  I am reminded of that principle today as I think about a man named Don.

I thought Don was a pretty salty guy.  He was a career naval officer, but I did not meet him until long after his retirement.  Don was also the kind of guy that could repair or put together most anything.  Quite naturally we asked him to replace a ceiling fan in the church library, when the need arose.  He arrived promptly to get the task done just like always.  But this particular installation did not go as planned.

The church office suite happened to be unusually quiet the day of the infamous ceiling fan installation.  There were no visitors to the office and the phone was not ringing much.  As Don was attempting to position all of the pieces of the new fixture on the ceiling, something gave way. In a split second all of the parts came crashing down.  Church staff members first heard a loud crash followed immediately by an equally loud expletive %&#@!  Don said oh s_____! 

What can one do in such a circumstance?  It happened in the church!  Staffers did not know whether to rush to his rescue or to allow him some privacy in his obvious embarrassment. In the final analysis, Don was allowed to put the fan and his wounded pride back together in a state of relative privacy.

I don’t think anyone formed a final opinion on Don’s character based on one slip of the tongue.  We continued to ask him to fix fans and plumbing fixtures and a plethora of things around the church building.  Don continued to be his relatively salty self.  But perhaps my analysis of his disposition was totally wrong.  I later discovered that salty was the wrong term to use in describing our volunteer handyman named Don.

When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 1991, I started making weekly trips to Lubbock from Wichita Falls to assist with her care.  About a month later I started making that same trek twice a week. It is 230 miles one way.  During that time period Don of all people started seeking me out on the Sundays that I could be present in church. He would quietly slip a $50.00 bill in my hand and tell me to buy gas for the trip to Lubbock with that money.  Don slipped those bills to me on a regular basis until my mother’s death.  And of course in 1991 $50.00 bought a couple of tanks of gas and a sandwich at the little store in Benjamin, Texas where I always stopped on the way.

Today I am thinking about my propensity to judge people based one thing they have said or done.  It is so unfair.  We assume someone is salty when the truth is they have a heart of gold.  We assume someone is stingy when the truth is that they have had a rough year financially.  The list is endless… When I am tempted to judge prematurely, I try to think of Don.  In fact, I am missing him today.

Don passed away about 15 years ago.  He was buried in his hometown in rural West Texas.  I am thankful to say that I was privileged to say a few words over his graveside on the afternoon he was buried.  I described a man that had a heart of gold.  And I must confess that I laughed to myself as I drove away from the cemetery thinking about the day of the infamous ceiling fan installation.  Saying bad words in the church building...you must be kidding?  No...I am really not. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

I Have Been Waiting for You...

I have spent my life waiting.  In my formative years, I was literally dragged through the mall by my mother, so my sisters could shop for clothes.  Waiting in stores that specialized in fashion for teen girls was equivalent to Chinese water torture.  And then I got married.  I soon figured out that it took my sweet little bride a lot longer to get ready than it took me to put on a pair of jeans and comb my hair. And then children came along.  Randall was born 8 days past the date that he was due. I have been waiting on that boy, and his two brothers ever since. Life is about waiting.

Tuesday night at the formal banquet for the law enforcement training conference that I hosted in Granbury we presented an award to a federal agent.  It is an Excellency in Chaplaincy award given every year by the South Central Region of The International Conference of Police Chaplains. This particular agent worked the bombing at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.  Among other duties he assisted in the recovery of bodies from what was left of the structure.

There was a good group of trained law enforcement chaplains that served all of the emergency workers during the difficult days that followed that horrible act of terrorism.  An FBI chaplain from the Deep South by the name of Richard was among that group.  Richard was working the night deep night shift on one of those days. Little did he know that there was a federal agent longing to talk to a chaplain?  He had even requested the services of a chaplain.  That agent was struggling terribly with what he had seen and experienced in that building as bodies were recovered. Each of those victims had families.  Each of them had a story. Such a task impossible to describe.  There are layers of stress associated for emergency workers in such a setting.

About 3:00 a.m. one morning Richard was riding around the perimeter of the scene in a golf cart wearing a shirt and a cap that had “chaplain” imprinted on them.  He ran across a worker who was sitting outside the building with his head in his hands. The man was at his breaking point.  When the gentleman looked up, he saw a man with “chaplain” imprinted on his shirt.   This is what he told Richard:  “I have been waiting for you…”

I don’t know precisely what took place that in the wee hours of the morning on the property of what was then the Murrah Federal Building.  But I do know that the agent suffered seriously on an emotional level after that event. And I do know that the chaplain that stopped to talk to him that night has been one of his good friends since 1995.  I should point out that Richard's appearance was not planned. No one assigned him to the agent that was seeking a chaplain.  It was not a meeting orchestrated by man. 

I left the banquet that night so moved.  One thought kept running through my mind. Who is waiting for me?  As I drove home, I thought about all of the providential encounters I have had with people in need over the years. I assisted a suicidal girl in a 7-11 store late one night simply because I had I had stopped for a coke. There have countless other times that  I just happened to be where I should when someone was in need.  I realized there are more such encounters ahead of me. 

Someone is need. Someone is waiting for me.  May my daily morning prayer be: lead me to the person who is waiting for me…. I realize now that I am not spending my life waiting.  I am spending it serving those that wait for me to help…Life is about waiting.  And life is about serving those that wait as well. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

I Hate Details!

I want to go on record. I hate details. I am hosting over 100 police chaplains, instructors, and spouses for a four day training conference in Granbury.  We are running three tracks concurrently for those seeking basic certification along with veteran chaplains in need of advanced training or just some helpful enrichment.  It is a huge job. I am thankful to have several partners that have worked as hard, as or harder than I have to get ready for this event.  But I hate details... 

Right now my main concern is making sure there is enough food for each meal over the next four days, and that everyone gets to Granbury from the both airports in Dallas tomorrow. I am so fearful I will forget something.   But in the midst of the dreaded details it occurred to me that we are doing is of utmost importance.  The chaplains that are training here this week will return to seven different states in this region to serve the people of their communities.

We are equipping them to serve the officers of their departments during the most challenging crisis events.  Some of them will be called on to assist in the aftermath of a line of duty shooting.  That is not a task to be undertaken without sufficient training.  Most of us will be called on to do death notifications, or to respond in cases of unexpected deaths that do not occur in a clinical setting.  Once again training is imperative. There will be families facing the trauma of suicide.  We must serve them with compassion.  

The chaplains will hopefully return to their departments eager to spend time with their officers out in the field. Hopefully the conference will inspire them to work harder and be even more dedicated.  I suspect more than one chaplain will show up feeling the pain of compassion fatigue or just a hint of discouragement. I hope that our time together will reignite their passion.

Today I needed to remind myself to quit worrying about breakfast burritos and seafood versus chicken at Tuesday’s banquet.  Those are details that do need attention....  But more importantly I need to be thinking about what the substance of this conference. What will it provide for those that are willing to serve on the front lines in the world of law enforcement?  Make no doubt it.  I hate details.  I am not a detail person.  That is why I worry and fret over getting people from the airport and making sure no one goes hungry.  The details will somehow come together. I am just grateful to be able to help train those that are about to serve people facing all kinds of sudden trauma or crisis events. I am even willing do face the dreaded details!  Have I said that I hate details?