Friday, November 30, 2012

Serving those Without Socks and Shoes...For Some It Happens Daily

NYPD officer Lawrence Deprimo is quite the celebrity right now.  A lady visiting New York from Phoenix caught him on camera putting a pair of socks and new water proof boots on a homeless man, who had no shoes in this late November weather.  As it turns out, the photographer grew up in a law enforcement family.  Her dad was a 32 year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department.  There are several things that stand out to me about this event that has gone viral thanks to facebook and other social media outlets.

First of all Deprimo is 25 years old.  Enough said.  I am impressed. Secondly I am impressed that he would dish out $75.00 of his own money to buy the man in need a pair of really nice boots.  But most importantly this event has triggered my memory.  I have been a law enforcement chaplain almost 23 years.  I have forgotten so many things that have happened, but events like this jar the memory bank.  Expressing compassion to people in need is an everyday event for the officers I have served for over 2 decades.  Deprimo’s actions are causing my mind to wonder back to the past…

I am thinking about the state trooper that called me to the scene of a fatality crash where a man had driven up on the scene.  His wife was killed in the crash. The trooper called me specifically, so I could take the man home safely and in turn assist in notifying his son of his mother’s death.  The trooper truly cared about that man’s well being in such an awful situation.

And I think about the officer that was called to investigate a suspicious individual.  As it turns out, the person in question was a homeless man coming through Granbury on a freezing cold day.  After going through the protocol of checking the man to make sure he was not wanted criminally, the officer asked him when he had eaten last. It had been over 24 hours… Once again I was called to assist, because an officer cared. (And the owner of my favorite café to dine for breakfast would not let me pay for that man’s meal that cold morning.)

And then there was the man who had his tent slashed by a group of intoxicated men at a campground on Thanksgiving night 4 years ago. That tent was his only source of shelter from the elements as he traveled cross country on a bike.  He too was called in by a member of the public as a “suspicious subject.” After interviewing him, the officers called me out to see if we could purchase a tent for the guy.  They did it because they cared.

I suppose my favorite call out in recent years involved an encounter with two elderly brothers that were panhandling in the Walmart parking lot.  Some good citizen called the police, so a young female officer was dispatched to investigate. She found two older men who were very limited physically.  It was very hot that day and they were desperate need.  I used church funds to fill their car with gas and buy lunch at Wendy’s.  But the officer I was working with felt that was not sufficient. I joined her at Walmart in buying food supplies for them that they could take on the road. We got some odd stares from other customers. I figured another good citizen would call the chief to complain that an officer was doing her personal grocery shopping with a man old enough to be her father in Walmart while on duty!  She too used personal funds to make sure those men were fed well past the day that we helped them.

So….thanks Officer Deprimo. You have jogged my memory.  And my memory needed to be exercised today.  I needed to be reminded that I serve with a group of officers that truly are compassionate.  And I for that I am grateful.  I serve with those that reach out to people without shoes and socks everyday...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Sitting at the Feet of an 81 Year Old Man...

Last week I was asked out to breakfast by a friend of mine who is in deep grief.  His wife of over 62 years passed away in September.  Naturally I accepted his invitation.  He is lost right now.  Just lost… I was on a mission last week. I went to breakfast that morning with the intent of listening carefully and expressing compassion.  Something very odd happened that morning.

I left the little café where a lot of us enjoy breakfast in the morning feeling like I got a whole lot more out of the encounter than he did. I was the one on a mission that morning.  Our roles were seemingly shuffled before the eggs and bacon was consumed.  What happened that morning?

He shared his heart and I listened.  He talked about his deceased wife like she was the most honored woman that ever walked on the face of the earth. I found those reflections especially meaningful, because I know how he treated her before her death.  I learned some things about marriage that I needed to learn that morning. He gave me enough to think about on that subject about for weeks. I started asking myself: what will happen to me if I get to hang out with this man more often?

I was with him at a meeting Tuesday night.  I asked him if he might be available for breakfast Thursday morning. I will readily admit that I was not on a mission this time. My motives were mixed.  I wanted to reach out and encourage him. But I also yearned for conversation with a man that has substance and depth along with lots of life experience.  We got together this morning.  His deceased wife still held a prominent place in the conversation.  But we also discussed ancient church history and various theological models. Intellectually he can keep up with the big boys and girls.

Before we left this morning he apologized for dominating the conversation. And he told me next week he wanted to hear about my struggles and concerns.  It sounds like if there are plans for a meeting next week that we are going to make this a regular gathering.  I could not be more thrilled. Now I am asking: what will happen to me over the long haul if I continue to hang out with him?  And the answer is: there is no telling!  But it is certain to be good. Isn’t interesting that our “missions” in life often get reversed?   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Before Black Friday Arrives: Stomp Out the Demons!

American materialism will be at its finest later this week on what is has been rightfully dubbed “Black Friday.” People will get up at 4:00 in the morning on an otherwise peaceful post Thanksgiving weekend day to take advantage of the latest and greatest deals on some electronic gadgetry.  My boys will sleep in that morning, because they overcame the materialistic demons known as the “I Wants” years ago.  A little history might be in order…

When the boys were small, we would pull up in front of Walmart or even Toys R Us and go through a ritual in the parking lot.  The said ritual involved physically stomping out the unseen demons known as the “I Wants.”  Once we got in the store we looked at everything, but I never heard: “I want ____” from any of them. I can honestly say that the boys were never a problem in any store.

They are grown now. It is no longer necessary to stomp out the dreaded “I Wants.”  We shop together in perfect harmony.  If we are looking for clothes, they are not hesitant to tell me what would look creepy on their 50 year old father. But I must confess the demonic forces have taken on a new role in my life.

I discovered this morning at the store that I was buying things that each boy likes in anticipation of the holiday weekend. They don’t like the cheaper HEB potato chips, so I bought Lay’s chips. I thought about all of their favorites as I negotiated through the store with half of the residents in Hood County this morning. I suppose I should have stomped out those pesky “I Wants” before I went in the store…But I didn’t.  And I feel no shame.  Buying my boys what I think they might want is one of the perks of having older kids.  They turned out to be really good young men.  Perhaps someday they will need to take me through the stomping out ritual on Black Friday.  Life after all comes full circle. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Everybody Needs a "Tony"

Serving as a physician in the emergency department of a busy hospital is hard work.  It is as simple as that. And the experience is nothing like what is portrayed on television.  There are intoxicated people that curse at you, and other patients that are angry because they had to wait to long in the waiting room. There are others that are admitted because they are hearing voices. “ER docs” as we call them here in Texas treat sick babies and elderly people that have broken hips. And they have the grim duty of sitting down with families to tell them that their loved one’s self-inflicted gunshot was fatal.

 As a law enforcement chaplain, I have spent some time with several ER docs. I have the utmost respect for their ability to treat complete strangers. They are truly lifesavers. But today I was reminded that doctors don’t cease to care when their shift is over in the emergency room.

I have a friend that traveled to her hometown from overseas this past week to care for her mother that is suffering from a very serious illness. Immediately she was bombarded with important decisions to make regarding her mother’s care.  What kind of home health care is the best option?  Should her mother be in a health care facility?  What to do? There are no simple solutions. I have been there. I vividly remember how painful it is to make those decisions.

During a particularly difficult time in caring for her mother at home, Tony showed up.  Now Tony is a strapping guy.  He was able to complete some physically challenging tasks as my friend cared for her mother at her home. In fact, he was able to assist in a very competent manner. You see Tony is an “ER Doc.”  He is charged with saving lives in his work at the emergency room. And like all docs in his field, he gets cursed at and rebuked for long waits and on and on…But that has not stopped him being a lifesaver.

Today he was a lifesaver for a mutual friend that has traveled overseas to care for her mother. She found herself in need of a friend as she carried out that important task.  And she especially needed a friend with some medical expertise. Tony stepped in and got the job done.

I helped care my own mother for three months prior to her death. That has been 21 years ago, but I have never forgotten the people that stepped in to serve when my sister and I felt especially desperate. As I read the account of Tony’s capable assistance, two thoughts came to mind. Doctors are lifesavers in more than one way.  Sometimes they are lifesavers for the caregiver. And the second thought keeps popping up in my head is this: everybody needs a “Tony.”

We all need people in our lives that are willing to use their training and experience to serve us. Tomorrow I will be more alert to those that are calling out for help...even if such calls are very subtle. I will be on alert, because I was reminded today that everybody needs “Tony.” And next time I am called to the ER to assist with a family I won’t fail to tell my ER doc thank you... It would not hurt any of us to tell the doctors that serve us thank you every once in a while. After all everybody needs a “Tony.”