Saturday, July 28, 2012

Age 90 and Going Strong!

A good friend of mine recently threw a party for her father’s birthday. And this particular birthday was a big one…Her dad turned 90 this year.  He is very fortunate in that he is still very active physically.  Actually that is a major understatement. Over the past ten years he has climbed to the top of Diamond Head in Hawaii; taken a gondola from peak to peak in Whistler and gone whitewater rafting, both in British Columbia, Canada; gone snorkeling through the cenotes of Xcaret in Mexico; walked miles of historical trails in Italy, Spain and France; done cannonballs off the pier in Green Lake; and ridden some of the best roller coasters in the United States.

How does a person live to be 90 and still maintain a spirit of adventure and a true zest for life?  I realize there are all kinds of health related limitations that impede people from doing the things they would like to do, but Sandy’s dad has made some life choices that I think we could all stand to emulate. Here they are:

He seized the opportunities given him: Growing up during The Great Depression he developed some important competencies. His father taught him how to grow vegetables, and his mother taught him the skills of making pasta, bread, and sauce. He employed those talents to own and operate a very successful and popular Italian restaurant in his hometown.  I am convinced that a lot of people spend their lives bemoaning the absence of talents they don’t possess. Some live their lives adopting a “if only” mentality.  Others become perpetual victims. Neither mindset leads to a long and fulfilling life.

He made lifelong friends. Sandy’s father looks back at service with the US Coast Guard during the World War II era with fond memories. He states that he made some of his “closest lifelong friendships” during that time period in his life.
That comment stands out to me, because I often run across people I have known through the years that are seriously scarred from a string of broken relationships. There are no lifelong friends…That phrase is never uttered from their mouth. They go through life always searching for deep and long lasting friendship, but it remains an ever elusive venture. Damaged people don’t become happy and fulfilled 90 year olds that do cannonballs off piers.

Family Remained a Priority This particular gentleman grew up in a very close knit traditional family.  His parents were immigrants from Sicily. They raised 8 children in their new found home.  The family values he gleaned from those formative years shape his priorities today.  I can’t help but contrast his family of origin with the all too common brokenness and outright neglect that is endemic
in families today. Lifelong family commitments foster good health and well being.
Sandy’s father is a living testimony to that fact.

I can’t promise that the above mentioned principles will lead to a great life at age 90. But I can promise that ignoring such ideals will lead to a lot of misery and stress that will not lead to a great life at any age. A good attitude about what we have been given coupled with a commitment to the important relationships in life is not such a bad plan! 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Abused Children Need Heroes: I Just Happened to Meet One Last Night

We have a “Dale” at camp this week, and the truth is every child that has been abused or neglected needs one. I saw Dale for the first time Monday night when I went out the camp with a group of men to relieve the male counselors for a couple of hours.  We show up in the evening, so they can get a break to shower and relax after a full day of serving a special group of children.  As the counselors were leaving the area, I saw this guy wearing shorts, boots, and a very large cowboy hat.  I wondered how we got an offensive lineman from the Dallas Cowboys to serve at camp. He made me look like a 9 year old boy when I stood next to him, and I am not exactly a little guy. I soon learned that every child that has experienced abuse needs a Dale.

Dale is functioning as a “Dean” or a “Head Men’s Counselor” along with Rodney, who is an equally remarkable advocate for children in trouble. We were short on relief workers last night, so he helped me in my assigned cabin.  Some people are just gifted in working with children who have suffered abuse and neglect. Feeling sorry for those kiddos is not helpful. And other the other hand, being heavy handed really does not work well either. It just takes someone who instinctively knows what to do. Dale is that guy. Every struggling child needs one.

I watched last night as he clearly articulated his expectations for bedtime in the cabin.  He possesses command presence. The boys are a handful, but they responded quite well. And then I watched this moose of a man gently tuck the boys in their bunks, and communicate warmth to them at such a crucial time of day. Bear in mind that bedtime for a child that has been abused is not a time of day filled with good memories. In a matter of moments the lights were out, and so was a cabin full of rambunctious boys. Dale and I were sitting on the porch of the cabin enjoying the nice summer evening.  As I checked on the slumbering cabin, I realized at that moment that every little boy who has been taken advantage of by a predator needs a “Dale.”

Every child needs adult mentors in their life. In the case of a little one who has been abused, that need is even more pronounced. Every little boy needs a man that he can look up to as a hero.  I suppose that is why boys dream of being a firefighter someday. They view firefighters as heroes that rescue people in trouble. They want a hero. 

I am grateful to Dale for being hero to a group of boys that have not had many breaks in life. I am thankful that he is using his gifts to serve those with the greatest need.  I am thankful they can have a hero for the week. Oh…and by the way.  Dale won’t play on the offensive line for the Cowboys this fall, but he is a firefighter professionally.  A consummate hero… I am reminded this morning that every little boy that has been abused needs a Dale. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

I Think I Created a Monster...

When I tell people that my firstborn turned 23 this past week, they tell me that kids often come home after leaving the nest.  I always listen and smile politely, but they obviously don’t know my Randall.  He was my child that gave us the “who are you look” when we would come to pick him after staying with his favorite caregiver as a baby. And he was the same child that never looked back when I dropped him off on the first day of school.  Most children are intimidated by being sent to the principal’s office. But when Randall threw a rock at a fellow Kindergarten pupil he informed me he was only protecting himself just a like a police officer does when discharges his weapon on duty. I knew then I was in trouble.  Some children express their heartfelt homesickness on the day you pick them up from camp.  Nine year Randall just bragged to us that he had gone an entire week without a shower. He has always been pretty independent to say the least.

As parents, we start preparing our children for independence at a very early age. We recognize the importance of equipping a child to function effectively in the world. We know they will one day have to cook their own meals, wash their own clothes, and even pay their own bills. As each year goes by, we take incremental steps to prepare them for the day that they will no longer live under our roof.

We sent Randall off to college almost 5 years ago.  He finished his degree in a timely fashion.  He even maintained a full ride academic scholarship that was awarded to him by the university that he chose to attend. (I can honestly say that no university was courting me for an academic scholarship when I finished high school.) 

Now he is living in Los Angles of all places. He has a good job. And he is paying his own way. It has not been easy.  Securing a decent job in this economy is no trouble free task. But in addition to being independent, Randall is tenacious. He has always been doggedly determined.  He came from the hospital that way as an infant in my estimation!

Needless to say I am proud of him.  How could I not be really proud of a young man that is making his way across the country from his home? He works hard and he has no shortage of goals and dreams.

But I must confess.  When parents encourage their kids to be independent, they create actually create a mess. Those kids leave home and go away. They go far away. Opportunities to play golf together or eat at the local taco joint are out the window. I can’t even take his car in for repair anymore.  Independence is way overrated. People will continue to tell me that they come home, but I know better…Happy birthday Randall!  We know you are going somewhere in life. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Removing the Shield of Pride: What the Process of Grief Is Teaching Me

I am a pretty guarded person.  I am especially guarded in what I share regarding my personal life. Part of that is a professional hazard.  I stand up and speak to 600 people nearly every Sunday.  I might as well paint a target across my chest.  People feel free to tell me what they think at will.   To be perfectly honest I speak to a group of extremely gracious people. Their comments are often very kind and supportive. But nevertheless I know I am a walking target most of the time.

Being guarded is wise. When such guardedness is taken to the extreme, it swells up into foolish pride.  Pride impedes meaningful self disclosure.  Opportunities arise to allow another person to help carry our burdens, and we look at them as if they just arrived from the planet Mars. We continue to bear our personal loads in solitude while trusted friends walk beside us more than willing to share the burden.

Three of my special friends have passed away since April of this year. Two were childhood buddies, and one was a longtime professor, mentor, and friend. I have felt the pain of grief. It sure was tempting to carry that load all by myself. The voice of pride after all is forceful and convincing.

But I have been fortunate. I have been blessed with loyal and trustworthy family and friends alike. They have blessed me and served me. They have listened and shown interest. They have plowed into my life, and peeled back the layers of pride. Allowing others to serve me has been a strange experience, but it has been overwhelmingly good.

Here is what the grief process has taught me this year:

  • It is imperative to allow others to serve us.  Placing a shield of pride around our hearts is foolish and unhelpful.
  • I have been reminded that serving others when they are grieving is one of the most important tasks I can undertake.  I have been given ample opportunity to do just that, but I think in recent years I have forgotten just how essential it really is. Being on the receiving end of other’s love has been a valid reminder.

The process of grief is teaching me a lot this year.  But mainly it is teaching me to remove the shield of pride.    I pray for the continued presence of trustworthy family and friends. They make all of the difference. They are truly shield removers. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Get out the Glue: Some Assembly is Required!

Some assembly required.  I really don’t like that phrase at all.  For starters I don’t follow directions very well.  And the truth is I am just not that handy to start with. As far as I am concerned things that require some assembly just need to remain on the shelf.

I have been reminded over the past several years that relationships often require some assembly too.  And I am all about successful relationships.  I can’t stand the thought of anyone be left on the shelf.  In order for people to form connections or have the ability to reconnect with each other, some glue is required for the assemblies to be complete.

People grow up together and form life lasting memories. They play in the sandbox with each other when they are little.  They ice skate and go the movies with each other as time moves on. And when the teenage years roll around, they play sports and participate in the arts with one another. And they think nothing will separate them. But life happens.

 The years go by in a flash. And those same kids that played in the sandbox look up and they realize they will soon turn 50. But they have not seen their childhood friends for decades.  And then they find themselves attending funerals of classmates. Life happens and life is short. It is too short not to reconnect, but some assembly is required. And that assembly requires glue.

My classmates are fortunate.  We have reconnected. Old friendships have been glued back together, and new ones have been assembled. It has been life changing for me.  I have been reminded of how much I care about my old friends, and I have been overwhelming blessed with new relationships as well.

I am fully aware that the assembly process was completed largely because someone chose to be the glue.  I can’t imagine not being connected to those I have grown to love and appreciate. I am more grateful than ever for a very select few people from my elementary school life, and from my high school life that have chosen to be the glue for our entire classes.  Saying thank you seems appropriate. My life would not be the same without each of you. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Complete Inability to Tell the Truth

Some people just have a complete inability to tell the truth.  In working with police officers over the years, I have consistently observed people telling bold faced lies that are easily disputed. In a lot of cases, it would have been much easier just to tell the truth in the first place.  Recently I observed that a lack of truth telling can take on more than one form.

There are human beings who simply cannot express the truth about other people.  I am thinking in very specific terms.  There are people who cannot pay another person a compliment.  The compliment is well deserved, and most importantly it reflects the truth!  But there are individuals that have no capacity whatsoever to verbalize such truths.

A person can serve someone else over and over again with great diligence, and in the kindest of spirits.  But the person on the receiving end for whatever reason has no capacity to express appreciation. Communicating gratitude in such a setting is another form of truth telling.  How sad that the truth is not spoken!

The same individual who lacks the ability to speak the truth in regard to compliments or basic gratitude will more than eagerly point out another person’s flaws.  As that person points out an obvious flaw, they are often quick to say: I am just telling the truth!  I say…nonsense!  (Actually in Texas we might be inclined to say something other than nonsense.)  Is it the truth?  I suppose it probably is an accurate observation in most cases, but it is tarnished by the lack of truth telling in other areas of life.

The moral of this story is: tell the truth!  If someone is deserving of a compliment, then verbalize it.  Don’t hold back, because if you do you are sitting on the truth.  If someone has served you well, let them know. Express appreciation, because it is the truth.  I for one do not want to be known as someone who as a complete inability to tell the truth. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

Ministering to People on the Streets for 22 Years...Have I Learned Anything?

As a volunteer law enforcement chaplain, I have walked a delicate line for over 22 years. I am a Christian minister, and I so I have a solemn duty to act in a way that represents Christianity properly.  But I am also called to serve in an environment that is often dark.  More specifically I am called to serve the officers that share my Christian values, and I am also called to serve those that do not. I am expected to serve the officers who are not favorable about Christianity with the same enthusiasm as the officer who endures my sermons every Sunday. I actually work at that responsibility eagerly.

 They expect me to go with them to all of the places they are asked to go. I go with them to homes that are appraised for in the millions on a tax roll somewhere, and I also go to smelly, ramshackle houses infested with roaches.  And they expect me to communicate well with all of the people they are asked to deal with. I can’t be offended when people curse at me or otherwise demonstrate disrespect. And believe me it happens. I have to endure people that hate the police and preachers alike. 

As a chaplain, I have to assume the people I am called to minister to will harm me, and the officer accompanying me at the time. I occasionally ask questions that normal ministers don’t ask people during a pastoral visit. I have to be wary as I am expressing compassion.  In most cases, I have to assume the worst in terms of motives.  I even have to assume that people are lying to me as I talk to them, because if I don’t I could be jeopardizing my safety and an officer’s safety as well.

I walk a delicate line. I must express genuine Christian compassion on behalf of all kinds of people experiencing severe trauma in their lives. I am called to serve with some pretty salty characters.  I try to do all of this with an attitude of joy.  But I have also learned something of tremendous consequence over the years.

All of my officers expect me to be Christian in every aspect of my conduct. I repeat ALL of my officers regardless of their religious background expect me to be Christian… They would be disappointed in me if my language or demeanor was rude, crude, or offensive. They are not going to respect a chaplain who is coarse, vulgar or uncouth. And I would add that they the people I serve on the streets desperately need someone who is kind, loving, and genuine. I firmly believe they too would be repulsed by someone that is impolite or offensive in language or conduct. I am especially required to be kind to those that are not.

I have been ministering to people on the streets as they experienced all kinds of crises for 22 years. Have I learned anything? I have learned that I walk a delicate line.  And I have figured out I have a lot of growing to do. It is a daily challenge to serve in that environment and maintain the level of integrity that is required for the task. But I need to be reminded that I am not worth much to those I serve if I am not true to my own identity and calling. How about you? Are you true to your own identity?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A New Washer Machine Marks the End of an Era: Words for Young Parents

My mother cried the day my dad traded off our light blue 1969 Plymouth station wagon. I recall rolling my eyes and thinking that I had a mother who was just a tad kooky. 38 years later I think I understand how she felt.  The appliance man just loaded up the washer machine I purchased when our oldest son was an infant.  I am glad to report that the kind man from Sears did not have to offer me a handkerchief or comfort me in my grief. I actually held it together quite well, but I recognized that the replacement of the washer machine symbolized the end of an era in our family.

I still remember going to the appliance store in 1989 and purchasing our first brand new washer and dryer set.  They replaced a vintage avocado green pair that I had purchased from a friend for a whopping $75.00. The green appliances were probably new about the same time that my dad bought that Plymouth station wagon in 1969. We were new parents in July of 1989, and our baby needed a first rate washer and dryer to get his life off to good start.

Today he is a college graduate making his own way in this world. There is no doubt in my mind that any success he is enjoying can be traced directly back to the clothes laundered in the new Whirlpool washer machine that were carefully washed in baby friendly Dreft laundry detergent. Unfortunately he was not present this morning to say goodbye to a machine that set him up for a good life.

As the man drove off with a washer machine that I feel like I purchased two weeks ago, I realized that the pages in the various chapters of our lives turn faster than we can blink. My message to young parents is twofold: Buy a good washer machine when your kids are small.  Clean clothes for that precious baby are a good thing.  There is no doubt as to the correlation between a good washer and your child’s future.  But secondly I would urge young parents to invest time in your children.  Invest of yourself, because one day a man from Sears will come and haul that washer away.  And you might have to ask him for a handkerchief. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A Week with Charlie

In June of 1985, I took my first graduate level course in theology at Abilene Christian University.  Dr. Royce Money, who was later named president for ACU, taught that course on pastoral skills for ministry leaders. I learned principles in that class that I still use today. In 1988, Dr. Charles Siburt joined The Graduate School of Theology faculty at ACU. He soon assumed responsibility for teaching ministry courses in the curriculum for graduate level students. 

Dr. Siburt endured me as a student when I returned to ACU for the second time to pursue my Doctor of Ministry degree 12 years ago. He told Chris Benjamin and me that we were truly “demons” and not just “dmins”. We of course took a bow and thanked him. And we reminded him regularly that he would miss us when we graduated.  He never denied it…

Since I have lived in Granbury Dr. Siburt has invited me lecture to his students about the kinds of crisis ministry that I do as a law enforcement chaplain. I would spend a couple of hours going over how to serve people when an unexpected or traumatic death occurs.  Oh and by the way…the class I was invited to lecture to was the same pastoral skills course I took with Dr. Money in 1985…

This year Dr. Siburt prepared to teach that very course in May, but his health situation was tenuous at best.  He asked me once again to do the same lecture I do every year.  I agreed with one condition.  I asked him if could come and be his graduate assistant for the duration of the week.  I would be on hand if he just did not feel up to lecturing at any point during the one week short course.  He asked me if I wouldn’t rather spend a week off fishing or playing golf. I told him no…

I showed up for the week. And I got the better end of the deal. I wrote down several Siburtisms in my journal that were personally helpful. In fact I would characterize them as profound. I took Charles to the lab, so he could have blood drawn a couple of times. We had some of the best conversations we have ever had on the way there and back. (It was obvious that he had befriended all of the lab technicians at the hospital. No great surprise there.)  Even though he was in a weakened state he treated me like I was the most important person in the world. But my sweet wife has pointed out to me several times that Charles makes all of his friends feel that way.  It is one of his many gifts.

For some reason the best selling book Tuesday’s with Morrie came to my mind as I finished that special week with Charles. At the time I wanted to write a book entitled A Week with Charlie…But I haven’t had just a week with Charlie. I have had 24 years.  Little did I know in 1985 when I took a course in pastoral skills for ministry leaders that I would one day be lecturing and assisting Dr.Siburt with the same course every year 20 years later. I can’t possibly describe what those annual experiences of lecturing and enjoying lunch together did for me.

Little did I know this year that a week with Charlie would help shape some of the crucial decisions I need to make at this stage in my life.  That week was truly life changing for me. The book entitled A Week with Charlie will be written… It will be written one day at a time from this point on as I strive to minister in deeper and more significant ways than I have before. 

The news all of us who love Dr. Siburt received today was very difficult to process. His loyal wife Judy wrote this morning: The doctor told us that we are getting close to the end of this long and winding road. The recent long stays in the hospital have taken a toll on Charlie's hard earned physical strength. Tonight I am overwhelmed with sadness and preparing to write an important book all at the same time.