Friday, September 28, 2012

Aren't You a Little Old to be Adopted?

Age 26 seems to be an unlikely time in life to be adopted.  And age 50 is an even more improbable life stage to experience adoption. But it happens. I have observed such an adoptive experience twice this year.

The first one occurred in July.  A dear friend boldly fought cancer for several years, but the final 9 or 10 months of his life were especially difficult. His administrative assistant stepped in and did his job for all practical purposes for a number of months in a highly challenging academic setting. She also acted as stand in consultant for dozens of leaders that leaned on him for counsel. But most importantly she served with a heart of compassion and love.

When the man she was privileged to serve passed from this life, his family adopted her. She was asked to eat at the family meal prior to his funeral and sit with them during the service. She has been given permanent honorary status in that family.

The second such adoption occurred this week. A friend of mine who postponed her successful nursing career for two decades to raise her three boys recently re-entered the health care arena as a volunteer for a hospice in her community. After completing the training that hospice provides, she patiently waited to be assigned a patient.  It did not take long.  She soon found herself caring for an elderly gentleman dying of cancer in a nursing home.  He had family in that community, but they chose not to spend time with him during his final weeks on this earth. 

Hospice calls it “volunteering.”  Kelly took her care for that man somewhere beyond just “volunteering.” I am not sure that there is an adequate word to describe what she provided for a man that would have likely died all alone. For several consecutive days she held that man’s hand and watched re-runs of Bonanza and The Andy Griffith show. She showered him with love and gifts on his birthday last week. He quietly passed away in his sleep earlier this week.

His out of state family asked her to join them at the meal before his funeral, and to sit with them during the service…. It occurred to me that I heard that before. And not too many months ago...And then it occurred to me that compassion precedes adoption. Or maybe that is incorrect. Perhaps the adoption takes place on the day that the person serving chooses to commit their lives to taking care of someone in desperate need. And then at a later date the adoptive ceremony occurs…Perhaps it is not at all unusual for a 26 year old and a 50 year old to experience adoption. It is an event they chose to instigate in a spirit of unconditional love.

 I know I have said it before. I get so tired of hearing people talk about “community.” But I find people that know how to love others in a spirit of true compassion to be a source of inspiration. I am thankful for their late life adoptive experience, but more importantly I am grateful to call them my friends. They prompt me to be a better person. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

John: YOU Talk to the Police!

Fall is in the air.  Yesterday I saw fallen yellow leaves gathered in the bed of truck for the first time this year. As I watched my youngest son leave for school with one of his friends early this morning, my mind traveled back to the fall of 1978. I was his age in September of that year.  And I picked up a neighborhood friend for school on most weekdays. She put her makeup on in the car as we made our way to the donut shop in Monterey Center.

For some strange reason today my mind gravitated to another fall day in 1978. We were competing in a two day debate tournament at Odessa High School out in West Texas. Our coach left us in our motel rooms on that Friday night operating under the false assumption that we were in for the night. I will never reveal whose idea it was… One of us decided to play “toga football” out in the parking lot of the motel late that evening. We stripped the sheets off the beds, wrapped ourselves in togas and proceeded to call the plays. It was great fun until someone called the police…

Several officers converged on the parking lot prepared to deal with a riot. To this day I don’t know why this happened, but for some odd reason I was tapped out to be the spokesman for our group to the Odessa Police. “John, you talk to the police!”  Why me? Apparently they had received a call that there was a fight in progress. I very politely explained that we were simply playing “toga football.”  I made sure that I said “yes sir” and “no sir.” As I look back on it, I am sure those officers were doing everything they could to keep from cracking up.

It has been 34 years since that eventful night in Odessa. Little did I know in 1978 that I would spend many weekends assisting debate coaches to supervise little darlings that would be inclined to have toga parties on overnight debate trips? Bless their hearts they had no clue that their sponsor known to them as “Dr. Knox” was the most mischievous debater Monterey High School’s team has ever known. They would not possibly think of something that I had not done. 

And little did I know in 1978 that I would spend a big part of my career talking to the police…. Fortunately I have been privileged to talk to the police in the front seat of a patrol car and not the back seat. I will soon celebrate 23 years of service a law enforcement chaplain. Nearly every week I receive a call from an officer or a police supervisor asking me: “Will you talk to one of my officers?” And my response is always: Of course I will. After all I have been doing it since 1978.

Parents let this little narrative be a source of encouragement.  Mischievous kids grow up.  Every experience shapes what they become. The future is unpredictable in one sense, but perhaps very predictable in another way! If I get a call from a police supervisor today, my mind will travel back to 1978. “John, you talk to the police!”

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Love Story Worth Reading

I am not into chick flicks.  I think they are overdramatic and characteristically predictable. I would much prefer to go to a movie where something explodes. But I do appreciate a real love story.  I want to read a love story worth reading. Tomorrow I am going to tell one to an audience that I predict will be fairly large. It goes like this…

Ira Lee met Joanne in 1945 in Dennison, Texas. I do believe it was love at first sight for the 14 year old boy. But they did not start officially “dating” until the summer of 1946, after both of them had turned 15. Ira worked at the local theater, so the lovebirds managed to have the balcony all alone during the featured movie. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that!  1948 soon rolled around which brought high school graduation for the couple in love.

Joanne started to college at what is now The University of North Texas in Denton.  Ira went out of state to a private school in Tennessee. But he soon got wind that there were other suitors calling on Joanne in Denton.  He made a quick trip back to Denton to check on that situation during his freshman year. And likewise Joanne found out about certain Southern girls from Tennessee that were showing interest in Ira Lee, so she made a cross country trip to the college where he was attending.  By the time their sophomore year in college had been completed, they decided to end such nonsense. They married in June of 1950.

An adventure in marriage began that June day that was destined to last over 62 years. They had children together. They were later blessed with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They experienced all of the ups and downs of life. and I can testify from firsthand experience that they were still very much in love the day that Joanne left this world two weeks ago. 

Tomorrow I will speak at the memorial service honoring her 81 years on this earth. As I visited with Ira this morning, I could tell in his eyes that his body was sitting in my office, but his heart had traveled back to the summer of 1946. The manner in which he spoke of his beloved wife would have touched even the most hard hearted among us. His devotion to her was unquestioned. Joanne was his first love. 

How does a man function without someone whom he has loved since he was 15 years old?  I don’t have an answer. If you are interested in a real love story, you might be looking in the wrong place. What I do know is if you want to hear a true love story it might be a good idea to speak with an 81 year old man. You might learn something. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Man and Woman in Bed at Church?

I am a busy guy on Sundays. I preach for two services in the morning to a combined group of about 600 people.  Being fresh and having something to meaningful to say 45 Sundays in a year is quite a challenge.  I frequently hear people say they want to be “moved” when they come to a Sunday morning service. That is legitimate.  I want to be “moved” too. But perhaps it would be good for all of us to “get moving.”

Most of Jan’s extended family live on farms either in West Texas just southeast of Lubbock or in the Panhandle west of Amarillo. Her second cousin, Butch Fairchild and his wife, Paula have farmed in Adrian, Texas since 1974. Adrian is about 50 miles west of Amarillo on Interstate 40 not too far from the New Mexico state line. The Fairchild family worship at a small church in rural Adrian comprised of about 30 members.

On Sunday, September 9th, Butch was unable to be at church. He was living out his final days at the hospice facility with his family at his side. The good folks at his church in Adrian decided that they would get moving on that Sunday morning.  There were no services at their church building on the 9th, because the entire congregation made the 50 mile trek to Amarillo to have church with Butch and his family at the hospice facility.  All but two of their members were able to make it that morning.

The hospice employees wheeled his bed outside to the patio adjacent to his room. His son, Jeff, shares this report about the experience:

"He led the closing prayer with everyone around the bed," Jeff said. "My mother sat beside him. I told a few people that this is the first time I know that it was OK for a man and woman to be in bed in church."

When I heard the story about the church service at the Hospice unit, it occurred to me that if we want to be “moved” that perhaps we need to “get moving.”  If we would spend less time thinking about our own needs and consider instead what others are facing it would actually enhance our worship experience on Sunday. And…I think we would find that our actions would be “moving” to someone else.
Butch and Paula were no doubt “moved” on Sunday, September 9th. Their lives were touched profoundly, because their entire church chose to be “on the move.”

A few days after that service Butch passed from this life. His funeral was held at the Adrian School Gymnasium last Saturday. I heard the gym was packed. I hope the little church in Adrian stays on the move.  They have certainly “moved” me. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Why was I Not Born with Down's Syndrome?

Kyle (not his real name) is 50 years old.  We were born within a few days of each other. But Kyle did not have the same experiences I did in elementary school.  He didn’t attend any junior high dances.  And he never graduated from high school.  Nor has Kyle married or had children. In 1962, Kyle was born with Down’s syndrome.

Several years ago Kyle was the victim of a predator. He was forced to endure heinous sexual assaults. The perpetrator committing the crimes threatened Kyle and other individuals in similar life situations. As a law enforcement chaplain, I work with crime victims on a regular basis. A mentally challenged adult becoming a victim in such a manner is particularly atrocious.

Last week I attended a meeting where Kyle’s family and others who care about him were striving to speak as advocates on his behalf regarding issues pertinent to his medical care and overall well being.  The longer I listened the more unsettled I became.  Kyle is very social.  He makes friends easily.  He is well liked. But he can’t bathe himself without constant supervision.  His ability to communicate verbally is limited. He has his fair share of healthy problems. I kept asking myself: why? 

Why did Kyle end up being an easy target for a sexual predator? Why was he born with Down’s syndrome?  Why was I able to go to college, get married, have children, and enjoy my career? I got pretty worked up over the whole thing until a conclusion finally came…

I have given the opportunities that I have because my responsibility is to serve Kyle and others like him.  If we have been given much, it is so that we can take care of the most vulnerable among us. And in the process I have discovered that he teaches me more than I teach him….His influence in my life is far more drastic than mine is in his life. Sometimes individuals like Kyle are referred to as being “special.”  They are special indeed.  They make a difference in our lives that is desperately needed. Why me?  Why have I been given the opportunities I have been given? To serve others in love…

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Rocked by a Sudden Tragedy

I must admit that I am very fortunate. I have friends of all ages and from a variety of backgrounds.  Some of my dearest friends consider themselves to be liberal politically and others are quite conservative. I have friends who are deeply religious and others that are not.  Last night I visited a very special friend in an ICU unit at a Fort Worth hospital who is nearing age ____ (Well I should not tell her age.)  Today I interacted with several friends who could be her grandchildren.

In recent years, I have learned to appreciate the value of being in community with people of all ages and from varying walks of life. “Being in community” is common vernacular to my Generation X and Millennial Generation friends. They will refer to their circle of friends as “their community.”  My younger friends will also say that they are going to “engage in community.”  And I suppose that too is a legitimate way of expressing their desire to socialize and meet new people. I sometimes sense that my younger friends don’t realize that the old fogies among them also engage in community, even if they don’t use that phraseology. 

Several weeks ago I went with a law enforcement officer to deliver a death notification to an individual who would definitely be characterized as being elderly. Her son was killed in an unexpected tragedy. As soon as we broke the news to her, we immediately start searching for neighbors that could provide some initial support for her until family could arrive.  The officer I was with walked across the street and next door while I stayed to comfort the devastated lady.  Within minutes members of her “community” were in her living room. They cried with her and called relatives for her. They took down important information that we needed to leave with them regarding details surrounding her son’s death. And later that evening they started bringing in enough food to feed an army.

All of the people we interacted with on that call out were retired. I did not hear any of them say anything about “engaging in community.” When I thanked them before we left that evening, they simply said: this is what neighbors do…. I think they are right.  And I think we can learn some good things from retired people who love their neighbors.

I am thankful for my younger friends, but I feel compelled to say a few things to them regarding this whole matter of “engaging in community”

  • Broaden your horizons.  Your community should include people of all ages and from varying backgrounds.  If you only hang out with your peers, you will fall into a pit of group think. It is simply not healthy.

  • Serve your own. My first obligation is to the Granbury community. I love doing medical mission trips in Mexico, but my primary service should be to members of my own city.  There are dozens of ways to serve your local community. Get involved.

  • Don’t ignore those in close proximity.  I have made an effort to meet my neighbors where I live and I have also tried to be a good neighbor to those with businesses near the church where I serve.  It is called being neighborly and it is an important dimension of engaging in community.

  • You need friends that don’t think like you. My life is enriched by friends that don’t think like me.  I am friends with ministers whose theological views are far more conservative than mine.  A temptation exists not to extend a hand of friendship to those who are to the “right” or to the “left” of us theologically or politically. We live in such a polarized culture. Once again this is not healthy.

I have more to say to say on this topic, but the church is full of middle school and high school students right now.  It might be good for me to go and “engage them in community.” I might learn something…