Sunday, April 21, 2013

Pizza Should Never Be Eaten Alone: Thursdays with Ira Part III

Last Thursday I enjoyed my weekly breakfast tradition with Ira.  His youngest daughter is my age, so he could be my father. Our weekly discussions over The Firehouse Breakfast Special give me material to think about for weeks.  His depth of character and understanding of Scripture stretches me intellectually and spiritually.

Last week he told me that since his wife’s death he has become very attuned to people around him in a restaurant eating alone.  A couple of weeks ago he was eating lunch at a pizza establishment when he noticed a young woman also eating alone a few tables away. After the lady received her check, Ira noticed her digging through her purse trying to put enough money together to pay out. Ira chose to make her day a little better. He walked over and asked her if she would allow him to pay her bill.  She of course was hesitant and was quick to tell him that she had enough money to take care of it.  Ira said: just look at me as a grandfather type.  She smiled and conceded.

Perhaps the best part of this story is that the young woman took a few moments to visit with a lonely gentleman who had eaten his pizza alone. She shared a little of her story and he did the same with her.  She enjoyed an unexpected free lunch that day, but more importantly she touched the heart of a man who is eating way too much pizza alone these days.

Ira reminded me Thursday of the importance of being observant.  When I am in a restaurant I need to pay closer attention to those eating solo. And it never hurts to pay someone’s bill anonymously.  That is actually a lot of fun.  You make someone’s day and they have no clue who did that for them!  Pizza should never be eaten alone, but just in case it happens don’t hesitate to pick up the check and make a friend in the process. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Police Dispatcher Appreciation Week

I was not the chaplain on call that cool night in March of 1994.  But as chaplain commander that particular year, I was on call in the event of a major event that required more than one person to respond.  When my pager went off at 1:30 in the morning, I knew it was not good news. 

Back in the pre-cell phone days, we had to call our dispatcher in order to receive details about the needs of the moment. That morning my dispatcher told me a 10 year old girl had perished in a house fire. The on call chaplain was with the family, but they wanted someone to be with the firefighters and police officers that had responded to a fully involved fire shortly after midnight.

I went back to the fire station and drank coffee with the firefighters until the shift changed. It was an opportunity to do ministry of presence. When I finished there, I felt led to go check on my dispatchers. I knew all of them well.  They knew the names of my two little boys, who were ages 5 and 2 at the time. We had been through a lot together.  When I arrived at the communications center, I was reminded of some important facts.

The dispatchers that take our 911 calls and in turn make sure that all necessary first responders get to where they are supposed to go are the first ones to hear about a tragedy unfolding. In this case, frantic neighbors called 911 because a small wooden frame house was engulfed in flames.  Dispatch had firefighters on scene in less than 5 minutes that night. That was my first reminder. 

It is a job that requires multi-tasking. In the case of that fire, they had to dispatch fire units from two stations, an ambulance, and police officers to block off the street and provide security.  They have to calm to crisis stricken people, so they can secure basic information.  (No easy task)  During this particular call a medical examiner and a chaplain had to be paged…That was my second reminder. 

There is no time to become emotional. There is no time to process what is going on. And when the call is over, they have no clue what really happened. They were behind a computer screen for the duration of the event.  When I arrived at the communications center that morning, all of the dispatchers were yearning for information about the fire. How was the family doing? How were the first responders coping? I learned something very valuable that morning. Dispatchers are the first to hear the bad news and the last ones to find out what the final outcome of an incident.  A strange place to be in emergency services in my estimation…That was the third one...

Dispatchers really care about those they serve. I told them I was waiting for the office at an elementary school to open, so I could notify the victim’s teacher that she had died in the fire. One of the dispatchers that had worked all night volunteered to go with me to talk to the teacher. She thought I could use the help. When we arrived, we found a teacher that was 7 or 8 months pregnant. I was so thankful to have another person with me to help that morning.  I was grateful that the dispatcher was willing to expand on her role as a multi-tasking person. And I was equally thankful that for perhaps the first time in her career she was able to serve someone away from the computer screen. My fourth and final reminder..

This is Police Dispatcher Appreciation Week.  I am writing in memory of Judy Graf, who always took care of her “boys” on the streets. She was a veteran dispatcher. I really miss her and think of her often. And I am also writing in honor of those that I am privileged to serve with today.   You are a blessing to many. Thank you for caring about me.  That is a truth I don't need to be reminded of. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Turn off the Charm and Turn on the Authenticity!

I love the character of Eddie Haskell on the classic show, Leave it to Beaver. Eddie’s syrupy if not disgusting compliments directed to June Cleaver make me laugh. His obvious duplicity is equally amusing.  Eddie can tell Mrs. Cleaver how nice she looks in one moment and totally ridicule poor Beaver as soon as the opportunity presents itself.  But in real life, the Eddie Haskell’s among us are just not amusing.

People need authentic compliments. Our friends need genuine affirmation and words of truth. I have always thought it was a good idea to direct my compliments toward specific things my family or friends have done. That is a good report card! I really like that dress that picked out. I am proud of your accomplishments at work. That was a great golf shot.  The possibilities are limitless. But I have changed my mind recently about such compliments.

People need to hear compliments that affirm their inherent value as a human being. Here are a few examples:

  • I think you are so bright. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me.
  • You are inspiring to me. Your attitude helps me immensely.
  • You are gifted. What would I do without you?
  • You are insightful.  I learn something from you every time I am around you.
  • You are valuable. I think you are a priceless gift.
  • You are worthy.  I respect you for the person you are.

I am discovering more and more that people have a very low opinion of themselves. We all tend to dwell on our own faults.  It is crippling. I am not advocating arrogance.  I just think that people should hear that they are inherently valuable.  The term “workmanship” is used in Scripture to describe God's created beings.  The word actually means “masterpiece.”  We are God’s masterpiece. But most of us don’t recognize that reality. 

I don’t recall Eddie Haskell ever affirming June Cleaver’s inherent value!  His empty charm is enough to make even the toughest among us sick!  Let’s turn off the charm and turn on the authenticity. There are too many people out there who have a low view of themselves.  If the truth be known, authenticity can’t be turned of and on.  It is an expression of our character. It is the masterpiece part of us. So…dust off the masterpiece and let it shine!  Those closest to us need our authentic selves. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Thursdays with Ira: Part II

Thursdays with Ira have become an important tradition. I think I could write a book about the conversations that we have had over the past several months and it would be well worth the read.  Ira is 81 years old.  He has been a widower for less than a year.  His insights on life take me days to process after we depart from our Thursday morning breakfast meetings.  Today’s topic of discussion was rather unique.

Ira decided on a whim last week to drive over 200 miles to the small east Texas community where he lived until age 14.  He wanted to step back into time and seek out his roots. He stopped at a local cafĂ© and asked about the school where he attended. And he also inquired about the little country church where his family worshipped. And of course he wanted to go back to the home where he grew up.  The locals were friendly, and eagerly provided detailed directions to all three locations.

There was not much left of the old school, but he was still able to get out and take some pictures of the shell of a building that remains. The roof on the now abandoned church was caved in.  And when found the location of his old home, he discovered that it has been demolished. The gas refinery that students met in front of to catch the school bus is marked only by a cyclone fence that is barely intact.

Despite the obvious impact of time on such important markers in his life he was still able to tell me about events that took place at home and at school. He remembers his mother calling the kids from their play area in the pine trees behind the house.  And he recalls his baptism at the little country church that now stands empty every Sunday.  His trip down memory lane seemed to be satisfying to him.

As I listened to Ira’s story, I sat up in my chair. I felt humbled and grateful. I made the same trip back in time to my old home and elementary school.  I was 47 at the time. My old house is still standing.  And I was able to tour my elementary school with dear friends that I attended classes with back in the early ‘70’s. I am thankful that we toured the school when we did.  It is scheduled for closure at the conclusion of this school year.

My walk back in time led to all kinds of reunions and the formation of new friendships.  Today I have wondered why I am so fortunate. I am sure at this stage in life that a lot of Ira’s childhood friends are deceased. I have been able to reap all of the benefits of walking into the past and also bring that era into this stage of my life.

Did Ira wait to late?  I don’t believe that to be true. When he was 47 years old, there were no social media outlets to reconnect old friends. But I would say this: don’t put off reconnecting.  If you feel compelled to go back to your roots, go now. If there is a need to forgive people from your past in the process, don’t put that off either. Life is a mist. One day we are out on the playground and the next day we are returning to a shell that was once a school or a home. I am glad Ira made that road trip and I am equally thankful that he shared the outcome with me. I am more grateful than ever for those special people that I can’t imagine being without now.  I realize now that I could have waited too long and the outcome would have been much different. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

You Will ALWAYS be My Daughter....

I have edited key details and names in this story to protect the privacy of everyone involved. 

What place does a 15 year old girl have in a Dallas bar that attracts more than its share of unsavory characters?   But that is where 15 year old Morgan found herself on most weeknights.  In fact, she had to find a place to lay her head, and get some rest.  Her mother’s shift as a bartender did not end until 2:00 a.m. Morgan in turn would have to get up and be at basketball practice bright and early before the beginning of the normal school day.  Exhaustion and fluid boundaries were a way of life until a fellow team players family entered the picture.

Luke and Ruth had a 15 year old daughter playing on the same basketball team. When they discovered Morgan’s living circumstance, they asked her mother if she could move in with them.  She readily agreed. Stretching out to nap in a bar each night was over for Morgan.  She was given a warm bed to sleep in and three square meals to share with a great  people. She joined her adoptive family for vacations and extended family gatherings. There was no shortage of love and security for a young lady that had never known either. 

Her sophomore year in high school came and went.  After about a year, her mother picked her up.  Her time with Luke and Ruth’s family came to a screeching halt.  A couple of years passed.  Luke saw Morgan from a distance at an event, but she avoided him… They heard through the grapevine that Morgan had a baby.  The baby drowned in a swimming pool before his second birthday.

Morgan was a sophomore in high school 12 years ago.  Luke and Ruth have not heard a peep out of her all of this time. At least that was the case until yesterday…Morgan contacted Luke and told him that was she was engaged. She needed his advice regarding some important personal concerns. During the course of the conversation she apologized for being out of touch for such a long period of time.  Luke responded with this statement: “Morgan: when you lived with us, I told you everyday that you would always be my daughter.”  She broke down in tears… And she told him: “I have never forgotten that!”

What kind of message are we giving our own children?  Are we casting them off to sleep in a corner somewhere?  Are we telling them that they will always be our children?  What about our children’s friends that lack a stable family environment? What kind of message are they getting from us?? There is no shortage of opportunity to adopt older children that just need some attention, love, and structure in their lives.  Such adoptive practices can take on multiple forms.  I can promise you that the love they are given in such adoptive situations will never ever be forgotten.