Monday, December 31, 2012

I Spend My Money on Custom Made Golf Clubs...

One of the young police officers that I am privileged to serve made the comment last night that he used some extra money he had made to purchase a new washer and dryer. He and his wife are expecting a baby, so that is a wise move on his part.  But I popped off my mouth and said:  “I am not buying a washer and dryer. My extra funds are going toward custom made golf clubs.”  Of course that is pure nonsense. But then it hit me today, I made a similar purchase almost exactly 23 years ago…

Our firstborn was 6 months old.  We needed a decent washer and dryer to keep up with the non ending piles of laundry.  I jumped off and bought our first brand new washer and dryer. I was so proud of that purchase. I could not afford to purchase them at the same time, but was able to secure the pair within a few months of each other.

As I pondered my flippant comment about his purchase, a couple of more things occurred to me. The officer is the same age as my oldest son.  They graduated from high school together. And I was reminded that the washer machine I purchased 23 years ago finally gave it up last summer. I sent it away for a decent burial and secured a new one that probably won’t last as long as the 1989 model.

How soon we forget. Life marches on and we forget what it was like to be in an earlier stage in the journey. I have to admit today that I am not a young pup with babies in my house.  I am not buying my first washer and dryer this year. Nor am I buying custom made golf clubs, because those babies are driving, getting a higher education, and moving toward independence. Anything extra that I make is going in that direction.

I realize as a new year begins one of my primary roles is to support young men that ARE buying washer and dryers as they anticipate the arrival of a new baby.That time of life has it own set of challenges. Hopefully my gray hair and life experience will bring something positive and encouraging to their journey. I really should be more cautious about the custom made golf club comments too. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of what parenthood holds for them! 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Monterey High School Class of 1980: Most Inspiring Person

I graduated one quarter early from high school. That meant in February of 1980 I was a free man.  That sounds like I was brighter than the average student that waited until the final class was completed at the end of the school year. That was not the case at all. If the truth be known, I made that choice because I had been kicked off the debate team due to disciplinary reasons.  Needless to say as the school year winded down for the Monterey Class of 1980 I was not voted most likely to succeed.  I don’t even recall who received that honor.  And quite frankly I am not overly concerned about researching that information.  But what I do know is far more important.

The MHS class of 1980 will soon mark the 33 year marker since our graduation. Who is the most successful among us?  I have no clue.  But what I do know is that Kerri  _______ has rightfully earned the right to be referred to as “Most Inspiring Classmate.”  In 1980, we made frivolous predictions about our classmates. In 2013, we can now make firm assertions that are based in reality.  Kerri has inspired all of her classmates.

Several years ago Kerri was diagnosed with cancer. She was young. She still had children at home. She was in the middle of a successful career.  But cancer is no respecter of persons.  She embraced her new reality and pressed on in faith.  There were other significant changes in her family that led to her being single again. And that also led to a career change.  A lot of change for Kerri…A lot of stress too…

When I showed up at our 30 class reunion in the summer of 2010, Kerri was not present.  Her health situation would not allow it.  We all signed a huge get well card. And I suspect a lot of us embraced her in prayer from that day forward. 

Soon after that I “friended” Kerri on facebook.  Over and over again on facebook I have seen her display an attitude characterized by gratitude and joy. She has made her faith real to her friends. She appreciates her family and her friends alike.  She is appreciative for life. If she has whined, I just missed reading those posts. I suspect such posts don’t exist!  My opinion is:  Kerri should be voted as “Most Inspiring.”  She has inspired me and countless others from our class. As a new year looms, I pray that we can learn from her example and strive to be an encouragement to others. And as for those of us that had discipline issues…If we have not grown up by now, we are probably not going to!  

An Inventory of Blessings

The year should not end without a thorough inventory. New Year’s Resolutions should not be entertained until such a process can be completed.  I am referring to an inventory of blessing.  How have you been blessed this year? How has your life been enriched and fortified? Have you taken careful inventory?

This year has not been easy by any stretch of the imagination for me. I watched two of my friends from childhood suffer from cancer and ultimately pass from this life in April and June.  They were both 49 years old.  But I was blessed to spend time with both of them prior to their deaths even though they live almost 1,000 miles from my home. Those brief moments were rich and unforgettable.

And then in July, my longtime mentor, professor, and friend also passed from this life after dealing with cancer.  I recall sitting in his office exactly one year ago. It was then that he told me that he was “not going to get better.”  It was hard. But I got to lecture to the students enrolled in the final class he taught in a short course format in May.  What a blessing. It was an unforgettable week.

Despite all of the sadness this year I have been incredibly fortunate.  Opportunities to spend time with longtime friends abounded this year.  Over and over I was given the privilege of deepening relationships with people that I have known most of my life. But I was also fortunate enough to get to know friends that I have known for a relatively short period of time much better.  In terms of friendship it has been an unforgettable year.

My boys have grown and matured this year. Randall is an independent adult making his way in the world in such an exemplary manner. Daniel continues to pursue his undergraduate degree.  And Mitchell got his learner’s permit to drive this year. They are all growing.  Watching my boys experience such significant life milestones is truly unforgettable.

This summer Jan traveled with me to the city where I went to elementary school and one year of junior high.  It was where I called home as a child. It was where I met and formed friendships with the above mentioned childhood friends.  She was able to see the old stomping grounds for the first time. She saw Ray’s house and Steve’s house. There was something profoundly sacred about that experience.  It was an unforgettable vacation.

Has it been a painful year?  Oh yes…no doubt.  But have I been blessed on the journey with incredibly great people? No doubt.  I have been so fortunate that it is taking several days to complete an inventory of gratitude.  I am willing to invest in that inventory, because I don’t want to forget the people and the moments that made life rich and rewarding this year.  They should be unforgettable.  

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Being Mentally Challenged Does Not Mean that You Cannot Challenge...

I miss Kenny. He was one of my biggest supporters at church. Kenny was 68 years old.  Kenny provided weekly commentary on my sermons.  If he thought the sermon was on target, he shared that sentiment.  And if he thought it was not quite up to par, he shared that too.  At first I was tempted not to take him seriously. You see Kenny was mentally challenged.

As time went on, I learned that being mentally challenged does not mean that you cannot provide some mental challenge to others. Kenny was a sharp guy in many ways.  He was perceptive about people.  He was in tune with what we were trying to accomplish at church at a much greater level than the average member, because he paid careful attention to what was going on around him.  I received regular commentary on ministry programs or on other efforts we were trying to promote. Kenny made me think.

It is unfortunate that we think mentally challenged adults have little to offer the organizations of society that we are all a part of.  We make tasteless jokes about “riding the short bus” to school. We call each other “retards” when we want to be derogatory. But the very people that we are inclined to ridicule could teach us a lot, if we are willing to pay attention.

Kenny was a kind man.  I never ever heard him make a disparaging comment about another person. Not ever.  I can’t say about myself. Kenny modeled good behavior to me.

Every week at church there is a fresh flower arrangement positioned in front of the podium that I use to put my sermon notes on. I don’t know a tulip from a rose. But Kenny did.  He made a point to take in the beauty of the arrangement every week and in turn make comments about the kind of flowers that were included.  Kenny taught me something about appreciating the finer things in life.

His funeral service is Friday.  There will be no shortage of good things to say about his life.  Yes he was mentally challenged.  But he also never ceased to challenge me on a mental level. Don’t make premature assumptions about people based on your perceptions about their mental capacity.  You might be wrong. And you might fail to learn some valuable life lessons.

I hope the flowers at Kenny’s funeral are beautiful.  And I plan to take special note of the arrangements.  I think he would be pleased…I miss Kenny. He was one of my biggest supporters at church.

Friday, December 14, 2012

There is No Time to Feel Helpless

When I saw the faces of those traumatized following the shooting in Connecticut today I felt helpless.  I felt a deep-seated longing to serve those who were hurting.  But I quickly concluded that praying for victims and first- responders alike was my exclusive responsibility. And then I realized that I had reached a premature conclusion.

I can show respect for the traumatized in Connecticut by serving those who are hurting in my own community.  The circumstances are obviously much different. But nevertheless there are victims of heinous crimes in our own communities. And there are people in deep grief in our own sphere of influence.  They are in need of ongoing compassion and care.  How can I express such concern in specific ways?  

I am determined to stop every time I think about those precious children and educators who lost their lives today. I am going to stop and think about my teacher friends who are committed to loving the children entrusted to them every single day. And I am going to think about all of the sweet kids that I know. How can I better love on both groups?

And then there are first responders.  Police officers, firefighters, and medics….I am partial to them, and I have been for years. I can only pray for those that responded to the tragedy today.  But I can do a lot more for those that serve agencies entrusted to my care.  But what does it mean to be entrusted with the spiritual care of such individuals?

I am not feeling quite as helpless. In fact I don’t have that luxury.  I don’t have time to be helpless. There is too much needed work to be done.  But what does it look like to serve those who are truly hurting?  I am willing to ask that question, because it is the only action outside of prayer that I can take on behalf of those whose lives were turned inside out today. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

You are Competent...BUT Do You Like the People?

My Texas Tech Red Raiders just hired Kliff Kingsbury as their head football coach.  Just last week Kingsbury was the offensive coordinator for The Texas A&M program, where freshman quarterback “Johnny Football” received the Heisman Trophy.  A few eyes were raised regarding Kingsbury’s age. Serving as Tech’s head coach at age 33 will indeed be a challenge.

A quote from Coach Kingsbury in today’s edition of Lubbock’s Avalanche Journal caught my attention: “I love the people of West Texas. I’ve lived in a bunch of different cities, and some of the finest people I’ve ever met in my life are out here, and some of the best relationships that I still have today were formed out here, so I’m thrilled to be back.”  I know precisely what he means about the people of West Texas. But there is an even deeper meaning lingering in his words…

A university can hire the most competent football coach that exists, but if he does not like the people that he is called to serve the relationship will not be successful for the long term. The likeability factor goes both ways.  A coach must endear himself to players, coaching staff, and fans. But I think of even greater importance the people he serves need to sense that he truly likes them. West Texas is a unique place. It has its own culture. It is not for everyone. But based on Kingsbury’s comments he has a deep appreciation for the good people that live on the South Plains.

I needed to read those comments today. It reminded me that it is important for me as a minister to like the people I serve. I need to like living in Granbury, because I am called to serve the  community.  If I am unwilling to embrace the entire community in a spirit of love and concern, I will ultimately be ineffective. People can sense it when a minister is using them for a stepping stone to something bigger and better. They can also sense it when that same minister would rather be living in Oregon than in Granbury. I too serve fine people.  I have created great memories right where I am planted.  I wish Kliff Kingsbury the very best in his new venture, but in particular I am grateful that he values the people where I spent a good part of my formative years. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Premature New Years' Resolutions

I wonder how many people will make New Year’s Resolutions to lose a few pounds this year.  And furthermore I wonder how many people will resolve to eat healthier after a holiday season of parties, goodies, and ongoing overeating.  Resolutions are a good thing.  I presume that good will ultimately develop from such commitments.  I realized this fall that I could not wait until January 1st of next year to get on a healthier track. 

A good friend here in Granbury recommended myfitnesspal as an online weight loss and fitness resource.  I must say that is an excellent tool.  And it is free!
My progress has been excruciatingly slow. But I have indeed lost weight.  And I am still losing.  Three important things have surfaced in this process.

I have learned a lot about myself.  For example I figured out that my eating habits were awful.  I mean bad!  I was eating out more than I thought I was. And I was eating a lot more junk than I wanted to admit. And of course I was pretty clueless about portion control too. 

Secondly I have learned that this is going to be a long journey.  I seriously doubt that I will meet my goal weight objective before the end of 2013.  I fully anticipate the loss process taking another year.  In previous attempts to lose weight, I had this idea that the weight would just fall off in a matter of months.  At age 50, that is not too realistic or healthy.

Finally I have been inspired by friends on a similar journey.  “Suzy” (not her real name) has lost 101 pounds.  Amazing right?  She went from being obese to running in 5K events.  This past week she started seeking employment at gyms in the city where she lives. She formulated a list of such facilities and began the adventure of applying.  She did something I thought was especially exciting.  She brought “before” and “after” pictures with her as she sought an application to go to work.  Long story short…the first gym where she applied hired her on the spot.

I am so glad “Suzy” chose not to wait until January 1, 2013 to begin her journey toward healthier living. She has encouraged me not to give up and throw in the towel prematurely.  New Years resolutions are great, but I am thankful today for people that are making commitments amidst the heaviest eating time of the year.