Monday, December 23, 2013

Guess Who is Working on Christmas?

911 dispatchers have been putting up with me for 24 years now.  They call me at 4:00 in the afternoon and they call at 4:00 in the morning too.  I am currently serving as chaplain with and for an exceptionally good group of dispatchers that are employed by the Hood County Sheriff's Office. They are great.  "My" dispatchers recently received the "Agency of the Year" Award  from the North Central Council of Governments regional 911 program.  They could not have awarded a finer group.  One of the deputies they serve with everyday composed a tribute to them.  I will not divulge this person's identity, but I will say that it sure is nice to have a guest blogger that expresses my sentiments better than I can.  

A Tribute to 911 Dispatchers

It takes a special someone to do the job you do.
To answer hundreds of calls a year with "911, where is your emergency?"
To ask all the right questions in order to get the needed help to someone in distress
to patiently extract information from the kindergartner who calls and tearfully whispers, "My mommy won't wake up"
To carry on three different conversations, on the phone, on the radio, and in person and keep them all straight.
To deal with the drunk at the drive-thru who call 911 because they put too much ketchup on his hamburger.
To take control, give directions and calm down the hysterical woman who accidentally shot her loving husband.
To take control, give directions and calm down the hysterical woman who intentionally shot her abusive husband.
To run DL #, LP #, warrant check, all systems check, without pulling out all of your hair in the process.
To work under enough pressure and stress that a CEO in the private sector under the same would earn a million dollar bonus.
To comfort, support and encourage each other when one of your own is killed in the line of duty. 
You are that special someone! 
You are my dispatchers and I thank God for you!
If it should happen that I leave this life before you, I will stand face to face with God and thank Him for making people like you. 
I will then go stand by the golden gates and I will wait for you!
THANK YOU ALL! signed (A Deputy)

Friday, December 20, 2013

A Bookmark for 2013 is Really Needed Thank You

I love to read.  My reading interests are wide and varied. But even when I am engrossed in a particularly good book, I still find the need to stop after a series of chapters and take a few moments to absorb the material.  Bookmarks are a good thing.

2013 is nearly over.  Quite frankly I am ready for the year to come to an end. I would like to close the chapter entitled "2013" and after a very brief bookmarking open a new chapter. This year has been a challenge. There has been a lot of sadness.

Early this year I watched friends face life threatening illnesses.  In March, one of my mentors died. And then May rolled around. I had no idea how much a tornado could change life in a community. The tornado shaped our very understanding of community.  During the immediate aftermath of the storm some friends from a nearby city lost their infant son. Officiating at a funeral for a baby is an indescribable responsibility.

We hoped for a better month when June arrived. But at the end of that month, Sgt. Lance McLean with The Hood County Sheriffs Office was shot and killed as he answered a call for help. Officer Chad Davis with The Granbury Police Department continues to recuperate from  injuries he sustained in a related incident with the same perpetrator.  After almost 24 years of service as a law enforcement chaplain, I officiated at my first line of duty death funeral. I am not sure how to describe the weight of responsibility I felt.

2013 is nearly over. I am fully aware a new year will bring a different set of challenges. I am just ready for a new chapter. But I need to take a few moments to absorb the events of the chapter that is about to close. But before I place the bookmark, I need to reflect on what else has occurred.

I made new friends this year.  This has been a year of new friendship actually.  Casual acquaintances are becoming really good friends.  I have gotten to spend time with some great people that I have grown to value. Shared tragedies have brought us together.  After a brief bookmarking, I hope the new chapter is characterized by depth. I am looking forward to new friendships growing as we embark on new challenges together. But all of us need to recognize for now that bookmarks are a good thing. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tools of the Trade: A Tribute to a Childhood Friend

On April 25th, 2012 my childhood friend Ray Christenson passed from this life after a battle with cancer that was fought courage, faith, and tenacity.  Growing up Ray was not a conforming child that sat at the front of the classroom with a shiny halo above his head.  When we reconnected in January of 2012, I was reminded that the Lord has a good sense of humor.  He found a calling in ministry just like me. When we were kids, we had no clue where we would both someday day spend our Sundays!  The truth is my halo was also noticeably missing too during our formative years.

I had a long discussion with Ray in a snow covered parking lot after hearing him preach what would end up being one of his final sermons in January of 2012.  We talked extensively about our families.  And we talked “shop” about ministry.  He listened humbly and graciously. I learned that Ray actually earned his living working in a body shop restoring cars that had been damaged and mangled in crashes.  I was actually a little envious, because my hands on skills are lacking to say to the least.  Ray didn’t sit in a plush office preparing weekly sermons.  He had little time to pursue continuing education or attend conferences.  There was not time for long lunches to talk church business. He didn’t serve a church that was constructed in a part of the city where stylish homes are cropping up everywhere.  The church he served meets in a converted warehouse in an inner city area.  Most of the people that comprise that church are not highly educated or affluent.  And the church is refreshingly diverse racially.

This week I noticed that Ray’s son, Ray Jr, is selling the tools he used in his job at the body shop.  The picture of those tools broke my heart.  It was a reality check that Ray Sr. never use them again. My first inclination was to tell his son to set them in a prominent place as a symbol of his father’s restorative work.  But I Ray Jr. knows that his father would want someone to get some good use out of them. And then I realized that Ray Sr. used another set of tools for restorative purposes. Those particular tools can never be sold or taken away….

Ray Sr. used the tools that I could not possibly name to restore bent up and mangled cars to their original beauty. They will be sold.  But he also used the tools of compassion, kindness, and humility as a means of restoring bent up and mangled lives. I have met the people whose hearts he touched. I know such divine tools were used well.  Those tools will never be removed. He has passed them on to those of us who knew and loved him.  Now it is our turn to make good use of them.

To my knowledge Ray Sr. was never honored at a seminary or Christian University. He was not a prominent church leader that everyone scrambled to listen his sermons on i-tunes every week.  He did not preach for a prominent church that everyone looked to for the latest and greatest ministry initiative. Ray spent his life using all kind of tools to restore things and people, so I count him among those I consider to be great.  And I am grateful that he allowed me to inherit some of his tools simply by investing in my life.  My message to Ray Jr. this week is this: no one will ever take the important tools from you. Be of good courage. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Falling Down the Slippery Slope: Opening a New Chapter in Life

I have officially jumped off the deep end. My close friends would be of a mind that I did that a long time ago. For the past several years I have wanted to enhance my pastoral care skills. I have had an interest in crisis ministry and related disciplines for over 20 years now. But I am seeing more everyday that my skill set needs to be expanded in that area.  How would I go about securing  in depth training? I was repulsed by the idea of going back to school. Nobody goes back to school at age 51!  Little did I know that hanging out with the wrong people was about was about to alleviate that repulsion.

Last fall I started having some casual dialogue with longtime friends and educators at Lubbock Christian University regarding online graduate level degree programs.  Having those kinds of conversations is never a good idea. Hanging out with educators period is never a good idea. I quickly fell down the proverbial slippery slope and applied for admission for the Master's Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.  Even at that point I still had a footing. The slope was slippery, but I was hanging on for dear life.

Of course LCU assigned a program director to me who pulled me even further down the slope. Annie is both competent and encouraging. She persuaded me to continue in my downward spiral without ever coming across like a used car sales representative.  Her professional competency took me even further down the slope.

I received my official acceptance notification just prior to Thanksgiving.  As I ordered textbooks for the first course, I realized I had reached reached the bottom of the slippery slope. I will be reading and composing research papers for the first time since 2003. I am really going back to school.

In all seriousness, I am reminded that my own unique story is driving me toward educational pursuits at age 51. There is a need for qualified professionals to provide counseling services for ministers and their families. I have seen too many colleagues struggle personally over the years with no one to turn to that actually grasps the challenges of their calling.  Furthermore the events of this year in my role as a law enforcement chaplain taught me one thing. The needs of police officers, firefighters, and medics are very unique. I have a heart to serve them well, but my skill set must be broadened in a substantive way.

I will continue in my present ministry. All of my schoolwork will be done in early morning hours before the work day begins. I have done that before and  I can do it again! The leaders at church have been overwhelmingly supportive.  My close friends that I consulted with prior to jumping off the deep end have been more than encouraging. I do believe that these educational pursuits will enhance every aspect of my ministry. It is an exciting time. The first course begins January 6th. No doubt I will be the old guy in the class, but perhaps my life experience will be of some value to my classmates. Maybe I can warn them about slippery slopes...