Saturday, December 27, 2014

Policing in a Post-Ferguson World: The Viewpoint of the Chaplain

Mr. Groux was my employer when I was a struggling undergraduate student lacking life direction and basic maturity.  And to top it off, I had leanings toward being arrogant.  What a wonderful combination!  But Mr. Groux put up with me every single day. As I would express my poorly conceived opinions, occasionally he would say: “Are you well qualified to discuss that?”  And of course…I was not!  

But today I am indeed well qualified to discuss the topic I am about to explore. Next week I will reach my 25 year marker as a volunteer law enforcement chaplain. For 25 years I have served with police officers in the most intense situations imaginable.  The calls have ranged from suicides and homicides to fatal crashes to helping people that are in desperate need of a meal.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

I am well aware that there are dirty cops.  I have worked with one or two over the years. And I have worked with ministers that have no business serving a church.  And I have known some accountants and lawyers that were not ethically sound too. 

Over 25 years, I have seen countless acts of selfless service from those that have committed their lives to protecting and serving. I regret not keeping a detailed account of each those experiences.  But here is a brief listing.

·       I remember the officer that escorted a woman and her child to the bus station after her husband attempted to poison them.  He did not leave her side until she was safely on the bus. And then he joined his colleagues in searching for a man who would ultimately be charged with attempted murder.

·       I still remember being called out on a cold January day because an officer encountered a man that had obviously not eaten in quite some time. The officer had calls holding, so he was unable to take the man to a restaurant. I was given that privilege. And it was a privilege indeed.

·       I recall the morning I ran into an apartment with an officer as we both prepared to do CPR on a baby that was not breathing according to the dispatcher.  The officer burned his arm as he touched the scalding water in the bathtub the woman drowned her 13 month old baby in. I found the deceased baby, who had been discarded by his mother, in an adjacent bedroom.

·       I have been on numerous death notifications over the years and watched officers hug and otherwise care for people in shock over the sudden loss of a loved one.  And I will add that the individuals served have come from every race, culture and life background imaginable. 

·       Several years ago I attended the funeral service for a beautiful 16 year old girl killed in a car crash that was truly accidental.  The two officers that worked the crash attended her funeral in uniform on their day off. One of them continued to reach out to her family.

·       Last year a deputy answered a suicide threats call.  The person appeared be safe, but he had a feeling all was not well. He called me out and we spent a couple of hours talking to the troubled person.  About a month ago someone told me that we were responsible for saving her life.  I give the perceptive deputy all the credit.

·       I have observed officers repeatedly go the extra mile to compassionately care for those that have been victims of heinous crimes.  I will never forget some of the encounters I have had in that realm of service.

·       Some years ago I accompanied two troopers to notify the parents of a trooper that was killed in an on-duty car crash out of our county.  The service they provided to that family is permanently etched on my heart.

·       In 2013, a deputy I served with gave the ultimate sacrifice. A man accused of sexually assaulting his under-age niece shot the deputy in the head. The deputy left a young wife and two small children behind.

I am not sharing these stories for shock value.  In a way, these events do not accurately depict the day to day service police officers provide people in need of protection and service.  I am simply trying to say that I am well-qualified to discuss the contribution that law enforcement officers make to our society.  It deeply grieves me to hear ignorant, hateful, and downright evil rhetoric regarding police officers in general since events unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri. 

There is a tremendous amount of negativity being dispelled about today’s law enforcement officers.  There are others that are making ignorant comments regarding officer involved shootings.  They have no clue what they are talking about. Such individuals are not well-qualified to discuss such matters. The media is spinning events to their advantage. And the truth gets lost in the process.

Again, I realize there are ethically deficient police officers. I think improvements are needed to eradicate such individuals from the profession. They are dangerous.  Accountability is indeed crucial. The vast majority of officers would concur on that point.

I would urge us to pose the question to ourselves that Mr. Groux often posed to me: “Are you well qualified to discuss that?”  If you are not familiar with police work, then join a citizen’s police academy; do your own research; or befriend an officer in your community.  But by all means refrain from speaking in an ignorant manner regarding those that protect and serve. Such foolish talk hurts those that are real servants. In New York today, an officer that was gunned down in cold blood was buried by his colleagues.  He started his duty on his final day with the intent to protect and serve.  I know the pain his fellow officers are feeling. I have been there. I am well-qualified to discuss that….

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dining with the President: A Tribute to Dr. Louis J. Rodriguez.

In 1987, I was a young, inexperienced minister who was in way above his head.  I assumed my first real professional role at age 25.  To say I was “green” is understatement.  In addition to serving university students at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, TX, I also served as an adjunct instructor of Biblical History and Literature in the English Dept.  I was in survival mode. I taught three days a week, so lecture preparation was a daily challenge for a newbie. But periodically the phone would ring and it was none other than the president of the university on the other end of the line.  Did I have time to have lunch with him?  My immediate thought was: “Why does he want to have lunch with a peon like me?”   In all likelihood, he had dined with a state senator or the mayor of Wichita Falls the day before.  

I was privileged to dine with Dr. Lou Rodriguez at Olive Garden on several occasions.  Two things stand out to me 27 years later.  I was thinking about how to keep my head above water. Lou was thinking about dreams and plans a decade away.  I learned something about visionary leadership from him.  Dr. Rodriguez treated me like I was a tenured professor with years of experience. I never felt he was talking down to me or treating me in a patronizing manner.  He spoke to me as If I was his equal.

He was one of the most effective leaders I have ever known.  As the president of a state university, he had a vision for where that college could and should be in the distant future, then put into place the necessary steps to reach that goal.  Today the university is reaping the benefits of his visionary leadership.

Dr. Rodriguez was not a pretentious man, but in his role as president, he had the responsibility and skill to hobnob with the most elite, powerful and influential people in society.  Something that set him apart from other leaders, however, is that one would be just as likely to find him stopping to chat with a freshman student on campus, visiting with one of the janitors in the hallway, or taking a young campus minister out to lunch…  These were not perfunctory visits; he truly valued and cared about people.

Earlier this week I received the news that this fine man passed away last month at age 81.  I have not seen him for years, but the impression he made in my life is permanent.   And I am reminded that the most effective leaders are not arrogant egotists.   Competent leadership is demonstrated by a humble spirit.  Today I am grateful for Dr. Rodriguez.  (At age 52, I am still not ready to call him Lou!) 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Confessions of an Aging Father Part III: Do You Remember the Fleetwood Mac Concert?

My boys have repeatedly accused me of allowing my music tastes to get stuck somewhere in the ’80’s.  Of course I am not about to admit my state of guilt to them, but they are indeed correct.  I like classic rock music that is now thirty or even forty years old.  I was helping one of our 20 something’s at church move to a new apartment a few weeks ago.   When her ringtone blared out some unfamiliar, but no doubt contemporary tune I suggested that perhaps a song from Boston might be better.  Her response stopped me in my tracks.  I was shocked. I was stunned. She said…”Who is Boston?” I grabbed the side of the U-Haul truck to steady my balance. I turned pale. My hands suddenly felt clammy.  I couldn’t repeat her question. I was speechless.

As it turns out, my youngest son has embarked on a historical experience that will avert such questions coming out of his mouth.  He recently purchased a turntable. Yes, I mean the kind that plays vinyl albums.  He and his friends have started collecting albums. They are listening to James Taylor and Pink Floyd.  They are regular customers for Half-Price books now.  They are broadening their musical horizons. But it gets even better.

They invited me. Yes, they invited the old man. They invited the first person that held them they day they were born before being handed off to their mother.  They invited me to go with them to see Fleetwood Mac in concert in Oklahoma City in March.  And to top it off, this is going to be a Dutch-treat outing.  I was a freshman in high school when their Rumors album was released in February of 1977.  It is considered to be one of the best albums of all time.

Concert tickets are not selling at 1977 rates, so I hesitated at first.  How can I justify spending that kind of money traveling to Oklahoma City for a concert?  I quickly changed my mind.  It occurred me that there are some things you just do.  When your children invite you to attend a concert with music from your era, you don’t hesitate. You go. It is as simple as that.  It is their way of building a generational bridge. 
I suspect our concert outing will be one of those memories that will be talked about for years to come. “Do you remember when we went with dad to see Fleetwood Mac?”

Finding common areas of interest with your children in their late teens or early 20’s can be a challenge. I have been so fortunate to play in a fantasy football league organized by my sons for several years now.  When they are in town, we have to go eat one meal at The Firehouse Restaurant.  It was our dad/son eating establishment when they were in high school.  We usually make the trek to Ft. Worth to shop for deals at Half-Price Books, Academy Sports, and Ross Dress for Less. We play vicious, cut-throat games of Monopoly when the weather is cold. And of course we watch football together.  If you are a parent of young adult children, I urge you to not hesitate when you are invited.  Build those bridges. And allow them the opportunity to reciprocate. It is good for them and it is good for you too!

  I realize time is precious and relationships are priceless.  I am so very sensitive to my friends who would give anything to still have their children on this earth to so such things with. I take nothing for granted and feel grateful for every opportunity God gives me to be with my children. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Grief is a Tricky Character

It was one of “those” mornings as my day got started today. Perhaps it is the change of seasons.  Or maybe it is because Thanksgiving is right around the corner. It could be partially triggered by still another friend losing a parent this week. I will attend that funeral tomorrow. Another friend lost his son in a tragic accident earlier this fall.  There are probably a complex mix of reasons.  But the truth is I felt the pangs of grief as I reflected on the loss of several longtime friends over the past several years. 

Grief is a tricky character. He lurks in the shadows and jumps out at you when least expect it.  He sneaks up and takes your emotions captive when he intuitively knows you are vulnerable. 
Grief fools you.  You think he is gone. And maybe you are even naïve enough to think he has left for good this time.  But he is never far. He takes shorts trips, but he is never far.

Grief is persistent.  My father died in 1978.  During my teen years, he tackled me and tried really hard to keep me down. And then at age 29, when my mother died he was equally persistent. He is not one to give up easily.

Grief is unrelenting.  During 2012 and 2013 I lost four friends and experienced my first line of duty death as a law enforcement chaplain.  It felt like a hurricane of serious illness and death blew in during those years.  The deaths of peers and mentors alike came within months of each other.  Grief refused to stop.

The day ended better today I saw a quote a friend posted that caused me to see things in a different light.  The quote is as follows: Grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love. That fires off a change in perspective.
Grief has fooled me into thinking he is control.  But he is not.  I am in control of how he functions in my life.  I choose to let grief be the last act of love that I give to those I loved, because I firmly believe that where there is a deep grief there was great love. And I am grateful that God is ultimately in control and empowering me to love deeply even in grief. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Indirect Communication: The Devil's Playground

I read an article recently about facebook statuses that need to come to a screeching halt.  I have to confess that I chuckled at a few of them.  The author made the case that leaving people hanging with vague status updates does not promote deeper friendship. Shocking statuses are equally destructive in the realm of interpersonal communication. And then the author calls for an end to what he called “the private message.”  He is describing the practice of “telling one person off” in the context of a facebook status that everyone reads.  It might read something like this :"I am glad you are out of my life. I hope I never see you again".  And of course all of your friends are left wondering who was lucky enough to be on the receiving end of a private message that is communicated very publicly.

 What happened to direct communication? What happened to going and talking to someone when there is a point of disagreement?  It seems like the onset of social media has propelled the disappearance of face to face communication. Instead of working out our differences with each other we resort to the indirect mode of communication that social media allows.  And in the process, every single day friendships are destroyed.

Indirect communication is the devil’s playground.  And social media is not the only piece of equipment of on that playground.  Text messaging maintains a prominent place.  It is a lot easier to put our thumbs to work and fire off a hateful text message than it is to take the initiative to have a real conversation with another human being. And it is even easier to send a text about someone else than it is to actually talk to them. Now that is indirect communication at its finest!

In recent years, I have grieved the loss of several friends.  Childhood friends, longtime mentors, professional colleagues, and former employers have been among those that I have said goodbye to at funerals that are terribly painful. And it seems like I come home from such services to find my remaining friends playing on the devil’s playground of indirect communication. In a top 40 hit from the previous generation, Karen Carpenter sang: We go on hurting each other, making each other cry, tearing each other apart. Can’t we stop hurting each other? Gotta stop hurting each other…

Life is too short.  Friendship is too precious to allow the ready availability of social media or text messaging to destroy in a matter of seconds what may have taken a lifetime to construct.  I hope we can learn to value our relationships enough to speak directly to those with whom we have differences. Even at age 52 I am eager to join my friends on the playground, but not the devil’s playground. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Surround Yourself with Impulsive Friends

When I was about 30 years old, an extended family member asked me when I was going to grow up.  I replied “never.” That was not the answer she was searching for.  I failed the test.   But the truth is I have grown up.  I am not as impulsive as I was at one time.  I am far more cautious than I was in my younger years. Perhaps the word “tame” is fitting.  I am not convinced that is entirely good.

Earlier this fall a friend lost his son as the result of a vehicle/pedestrian accident.  It was truly an accident, but the outcome was devastating.  The young victim was an up and coming engineer for a large corporation.  At age 24, Ryan had finished his degree at a prestigious university and was quickly making his way in the world.  He had no shortage of friends. His generous heart and well developed interpersonal skills drew people to him in all sorts of social settings.

As we discussed the pain of acute grief only weeks after his son’s death, his dad told me about a friend that chose to honor his son in a unique way.  The man felt that a tangible memorial strategically placed was the right thing to do.  He purchased a Crimson King Red Maple tree. And he decided that the tree should be planted in front of the engineering building, where Ryan spent a good deal of time during his undergraduate experience.  Bear in mind there are over 57,000 students at this well-known university.  

Universities invented the phrase “red-tape.”  Large institutes of higher learning hire people to take care of their landscaping and grounds maintenance.  There is no such thing as random tree planting. Planting a memorial tree would likely necessitate the formation of three committees and the approval of several deans.  It would not be out of the question for them to initiate a research project on Crimson Red Maple trees by some PHD on campus.  In the final analysis, the gentleman made arrangements to have the tree planted in front of the fraternity house, where Ryan also spent a good deal of time.

I like this man.  He is my age, but life has not tamed him completely.  He is still impulsive.  He still thinks you can throw caution to the wind and plant trees where you think they should be planted.  He cares about his grieving friend and sees the value in a tangible memorial. He is thoughtful and tenacious. He is creative in the way he chooses to express compassion.  Thankfully he has not grown up yet and I hope he never does.

And… I learned something about fatherhood after hearing this “tree story.”  Becoming tame and mellow and all grown up is not necessarily the best way to serve our friends or our children.  My boys need to see that I can be impulsive and extravagant in the way I choose to love and serve them. I need to throw caution to the wind and do things with them that are just fun.  My generosity on their behalf should have a similar feel and look.

My friends need that quality as well.  Part of being an aging father is walking with other dads during the good times and the times of excruciating pain too. I can’t fathom what Ryan’s father feels right now, but I am a father.  A father of sons at that.  Aging fathers with gray hair and gray beards need to forget this whole business of growing up.  It is overrated.  Instead… we need to be impulsive and crazy in the way we choose to serve the men that are journeying with us on this trek called fatherhood.  No one can serve a father like another father.  I am indeed an aging father, but I still refuse to grow up.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Confessions of an Aging Father Part I: Fatherly Flashbacks

I have been experiencing flashbacks the last several days.   And believe it or not I really did not do any LSD back in the ‘70’s.   I actually did a little research.  Apparently having LSD flashbacks decades after ingestion is indeed urban legend.  As a matter of fact, my flashbacks have been very specific. They seem to be characteristic of an aging father...

The first one occurred Saturday evening.  We hosted some friends overnight that have three small pre-adolescent children.  It was so nice to have kids in the house again.  Their questions, their concerns, and their innocence….It did my soul good.

As I was making hamburger patties to put on the grill, two of the kids wanted to help me.  I said:  “Of course! Jump in there!”  And I patiently showed them how to make a good hamburger patty that is not apt to fall apart.  And then one of them wanted to place his handiwork on the grill. Not a problem. I patiently supervised that process too.  And that’s when the flashbacks started...

I don’t recall being as patient with my children.  I don’t even remember being as receptive to their assistance. I think I was more inclined to say: “I need to do it!”  “We are late for dinner.” “I don’t have time for you to help.”  And then there was the proverbial phrase…maybe next time. Maybe next time you can help me.  I would be more inclined to tell my own children that they would burn their hand on the grill, so I had better place the patties on there.  It was sort of like Ralphie in the movie  A Christmas Story being told that he would shoot his eye out with the Red Rider BB gun he so wanted for Christmas.

The second flashback came this afternoon. I was loading one tiny sack of groceries in the trunk as I observed a lady with a very small little boy perched in her shopping cart loading an abundance of groceries in her vehicle. The wind was blowing and she was having a hard time keeping the cart from escaping her grasp as she unloaded.  I wanted to help her, but I thought she would think I was a creepy old man.  My week-old beard is not doing much to enhance my appearance these days. It actually adds to the creepy factor.  When I looked at that little boy, I had a flashback.  I was loading a 1986 Suburban with another little boy in the cart.   There was a part of me that wanted to get up in that ladies face and say: “Enjoy that little guy!  You will blink and he will be 25 years old.”  But I resisted. I knew that would confirm in her mind that I was indeed creepy and perhaps a tad unstable too.

 I am learning that flashbacks come with territory of being an aging father.  And I am learning that I am more patient today than I was when my boys were small.  I am wondering why God allows us to have children when we are so young and immature.  Do I apologize to my children for being uptight and impatient as they grew up?  It would not be a bad idea… I think mainly I will just try to extend my new found patience to them where they are in life today.  I never experienced that.  My father died when I was 15.  Perhaps there are benefits to being an aging father.  They will be home for the holidays. I hope we can make some hamburger patties together.  And maybe we can go the store together.  In the meantime, I anticipate more flashbacks.  It is just part of being an aging father.  And I certainly desire such flashbacks to be redemptive as I yearn to be a better father. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Romance in the Barbershop

I am very particular about who cuts my hair, so I am grateful for my friend Anna.  She is a great barber and a better friend.  When I walked in the barber shop over the noon hour today, the first thing I noticed was a couple sitting very close to each other on the long bench that lines one of the walls.  They were totally engrossed in reading or watching something on her i-phone.  And…they were obviously engrossed in each other as well.  As I glanced their way, I noticed they were wearing matching white slacks and lavender shirts. I settled in for a short wait while he got his hair cut just ahead of me.

As soon as she opened her mouth as he got his hair cut, I knew she was from Florida.   That was the first accent I ever heard as an infant. And I still recognize it today.  I asked her what part of Florida she was from.  She could tell by the way I pronounced “Florida” that I was indeed bi-lingual.  (I can speak Southern was well as English.)   I soon learned the unnamed couple wearing matching white slacks and lavender shirts were Brad and Sarah.

Brad and Sarah just celebrated their 68th wedding anniversary.  She quickly pointed out to me that they have actually been together 69 years, because they “went together” for a year before marrying.  I asked how they met.   Apparently it was love at first sight when they saw each other for the first time in Sunday school.  He was 12 and she 8 years old.   They recently traveled back to Florida to visit the tree where he proposed to her one day many years ago…

I asked what brought them to Texas.  Apparently their daughter insisted they move out here, so she could care for them.  Sarah told me that same daughter passed away about a year ago at age 60.  Now a son-in-law has picked up the mantle of seeing after his deceased wife’s parents.  I think I like him. And I have never met him.

As Anna put the finishing touches on Brad’s haircut, I asked Sarah what was the secret to their long life together.  She told me they “experienced miracles all along the way.”  That is a good answer.  I think she is right.  

Anna asked Sarah if they were on facebook before they left the barber shop.  Sarah said:  “No, I don’t do facebook. You can just text me.”   The couple I observed engrossed in each other are Brad and Sarah. Brad is 93.  He flew a B-24 for the duration of World War II.   And sweet Sarah is only 89.  As they left today arm in arm, I knew that my day had blessed beyond words.  

Friday, August 29, 2014

Being Stepped on is an Integral Part of Fatherhood...

Yesterday I was privileged to attend the funeral service for a man that I deeply respected. I learned a lot about leadership from Dr. Phil Sims.  But my favorite “Phil story” has more to do with his role as a father…

I am a pretty big guy, but Phil towered me.  I felt like a little boy in first grade standing next to him.  He was also very intelligent, so to say that he could be intimidating is understatement.

As legend has it, Phil’s son sneaked out of out of the house through the bedroom window during his rebellious teenage years.  Aaron thought he had pulled off the perfect crime until he returned home late that night.  Apparently Aaron’s bed was situated right next to the window.  When he crawled back through the window he put his foot down on what he thought would be the awaiting mattress…How wrong he was….His came through the window and his foot rested on the body of his imposing father.  Medics should have been on standby that evening, because there is no doubt in my mind that his heart jumped into his throat.

As I reflect on Phil’s life, it occurs to me that being stepped on is an integral part of fatherhood.  Phil stretched out on his son’s bed and waited for his arrival because he loved him.  I find myself today more than willing to be stepped on if it will help my sons. They may step on my heart at times, but that is not a problem.  Fathers have to be big boys, if they are going to raise well-adjusted children.  My boys may step all over my billfold too.  That is not a problem.  My sons are all gone from home now, so buying them a steak dinner sounds really appealing.  And they step on my thought processes too. What father doesn’t think of the well-being of his children constantly?  I know I will continue to be stepped on for years to come, but I am just grateful to be a father.

Phil was a good role model to me as a dad.  He was a man of genuine conviction. He took fatherhood very seriously. He loved his daughter-in-law and son-in-law as if they were his own.   And no one beamed like Phil when the subject of grandchildren came up. I will miss him a lot, but I am reminded today that being stepped on is indeed an integral part of fatherhood. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Disrupted by an 18 Month Old!

We took an interesting man out to breakfast this morning. The conversation with him was engaging to say the very least. Topics over eggs and coffee ranged from the needs of aging Vietnam veterans to matters of theological signficance. The interchange additionally veered off into such topics as classic films and the real estate market. I love a challenging conversation, so today was a treat.

I should also mention that our dining experience was disrupted by a restless little boy sitting right next to us. He could not have been more than 18 months old. His parents were getting quite creative as they tried to keep him occupied in a busy restaurant where the service was a tad slow. I assured them that we were not offended in the least.  In fact, I shared that we had been in a similar position with three little boys once upon a time.  It has just been a few years....

Our conversation with our honored guest continued as they wrestled with a little boy that was not fond or high chairs or pronlonged waits for food arrival.  They ate their meal rather hurriedly.  And before I knew it, they had paid their ticket and left.

Thankfully our guest did not seem phased by the restless little boy playing peek-a-poo with his father. He seemed obvlious to the circus going on within inches of our table as he discussed the latest measures congressional leaders have taken to meet the needs of veterans returning today after overseas tours.  He quoted exact numbers in regard to funds recently allotted by the government for such endeavors.  And he reflected on an experience he had at DFW airport a few years ago when he was with a group of kids welcoming veterans returning from tours in Iraq.  The little blonde boy sitting next to us was the farthest thing from his mind. But I could not help but be distracted...

I saw my youngest son sitting next to us. That little boy climbed out his high chair using the same maneuvers Mitchell did a few years ago. His dad took him outside for a few minutes while they waited for their food. I did that a few dozen times with all three of my boys. As that dad paid his check, he probabably wondered if their Saturday morning family breakfast outing was really worth it. I wanted to grab him and introduce him to my special guest...

I would say: "Sir, meet my guest.  He can discuss history, current events, and theology in an intelligent manner. He is very articulate indeed. But a few years ago, I was wrestling with him in restaurants and countless other public venues.  Yes...I am talking about my guest today, sir. Those days are gone.  They went by in a flash. And they will for you too. After I pay my check, I am taking this intelligent and compassionate young man to his college dorm for the first time. I am going to leave him there. His independence begins today.  So..enjoy that restless little boy. You will blink and find yourself leaving without your son in tow. On that dayI hope you are as blessed as I was this morning.  Sitting next to you put things in proper perspective for me. I am grateful for you.  Blesings on your journey."

Once upon a time I wrestled with a little blonde boy in a high chair...But today I was with an interesting man sitting across from me. He is my son and I am proud of him.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Preacher that Won't Speak to the Members...

In 1985, we moved to Abilene so I could attend graduate school.   Jan did not have a job and I did not either.  The only certainty we had as we packed our few belongings into a rental truck was that I had an 80% scholarship for the master’s degree program that I had been accepted into at Abilene Christian University. We had enough money saved for a month’s rent and groceries.

 On a Monday morning in April of 1985, we drove into Anthony’s Fina and Wrecker Service to return the rental truck.  Wade Anthony was man that handled the contract. He was friendly and immediately engaged me in conversation.  His wife, Bea, normally handled the rental truck aspect of their business, and he ran the full service Fina station that catered to oil field customers.  His brother, Robert, ran a wrecker service out of the same location.  Wade and Bea’s son, Dub, was also an important part of the business.  As it turned out, Bea was at the dentist that day and they were busy.  During the course of our dialogue he discovered I had spent 4 years during my undergraduate studies working in an old fashioned full-service Texaco station in Lubbock.  He asked me:  “Do you think you could learn to rent these trucks?”  And then he asked: “Would you be willing to help my brother with the wrecker service as needed?”  I eagerly said yes.   I became a part of the Anthony family on a handshake that morning.  

I spent the majority of my time in a small building inside the fenced in yard where wrecked cars were stored.  I sent Penske Rental Trucks all over the nation from Abilene, Texas. Dyess Air Force Base moving personnel around kept us busy.  I was also the “night man” in the service station staying by myself for the last hour or two to clean up and wait on the final customers of the day.  And I occasionally helped Robert make wrecker calls. 

Every day at Anthony’s Fina and Wrecker Service we sat down to a family style meal at lunch.  Everyone brought their own brown bag, but there was always lots of sharing. Bea loved to discuss the abstract concepts I was learning in class over lunch.  But Robert and Wade kept my feet on the ground. Their minds were drawn to the concrete and not the abstract. They were more inclined to discuss the people aspects of church life that I seldom if ever heard in the classroom.

A conversation I had with Robert over one of those lunches has stayed with me for nearly 30 years. It seems that Robert’s preacher was not as friendly as Robert thought a preacher should be.  (The truth is that Robert’s preacher was an introvert.)   Robert told me: “He won’t speak to me in the hallway at church.”   There was really no excuse for this behavior, because Robert was usually there hours before anyone else preparing communion trays.   Robert proceeded to tell me: “When you get your own church you be sure to speak to the members.”  (By the way, that is a direct quote.)  I laughed so hard at the time.  Robert was a very plain spoken working kind of man.  

Robert was right.  Being friendly and cordial with everyone that comes to worship on a Sunday really is of utmost importance.  On the days I just don’t feel like “speaking to the members”, Robert’s words ring in my mind.  I do try really hard to be friendly, engaging, and open.  And I didn’t learn that in school. I learned that from a man who earned his living towing cars.  He was an honest man of integrity.

 I enjoyed working for a family that treated their customers with respect and dignity.   Earning a master’s degree in biblical studies prepared me well for ministry, but my time with the Anthony’s also prepared me to serve people.  And most of all I have really tried hard to “speak to the members.”

Robert passed away last Monday.  My mind has drifted back to our daily family style lunches the past few days.  I miss those conversations.   You never had to wonder what was on Wade or Robert’s mind. They taught me a lot about life and they treated me like a son.  I miss Robert.  I love all of the Anthony’s. They will always be family to me. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Principal's Office: Home Sweet Home...

A new school year will begin in a few weeks.  Teachers will soon return to the classrooms to prepare.  There will be in service days, convocations, and lots of meetings.  A new crew of kids will begin the K-12 portion of their educational journey.

But this year there will be no calls from the principal telling me that my son threw a rock at another child on the playground.  Randall confessed to that infraction as a 5 year old in 1994, but felt no remorse.  He compared himself to David facing Goliath. And when I didn’t buy that story, he reminded me that police officers only use force to defend themselves, and not to purposely harm someone. And of course he quoted me as he referenced that principle.   That was my first visit to see the principal on behalf of one of my children, but not the last one by any means.

In 1998, a first grade teacher told me in a conference that in essence that Daniel operated to the beat of a different drummer.  It was not intended as a compliment. I scheduled a meeting with the teacher and the principal.  In looking back on it, I can see now why Randall was not shy in dealing with Goliath on the playground.  My approach to the teacher was direct and to the point.  I was not shy.  And that was my second visit to the principal’ office, but not the last one by any means.

By the time 2002 rolled around, Mitchell was in the first grade. How could I miss a visit to the principal’s office?  Apparently he got in a fight with another student, and it was one of those times that I actually thought poor Mitchell might just be right.  I put on my white dress shirt with a red tie.  And I wore a dark suit with that red tie.  I was going to approach the principal with an authoritative look.  She proceeded to invite me in her office and placed me in a tiny chair made for first graders situated in front of her desk.  I should point out that this particular principal was about 4’10” with high heels on. I looked a little silly in my dark suit and red power tie looking up at the principal from my first grader’s chair.  I was of no help whatsoever to Mitchell that day. It was my third visit to the principal’s office, but not the last one by any means.

And then there was a final visit to the principal’s office about that same time period.  Randall and on
 of his friends in middle school got in a fist fight.  There was really no hard feelings between them, but the principal called me to the school.  “Mr. Knox, are you familiar with ISS? “  (Short for In School Suspension)  I sat up straight and told him I was a charter member of ISS. I spoke with pride.  Sheryl Wallace and I were prison buddies at Monterey High School in 1979 during our stint in ISS.  He was not sure what to do with that comment… But it was my final visit to the principal’s office.

2014 rolled around way too fast. Randall is a college graduate.  He is writing scripts for potential movies and television shows.   Some of those scripts may include rock throwing.  Daniel is a college graduate too.  He too is the creative type.  He hopes to do some film directing. And Mitchell starts to college this fall.   I may get a call from the Dean of Students regarding Mitchell, but there will be no more calls from the principal. I am going to miss going to the principal’s office.  I started my visits there as early as early as 1967.  I wonder if those early visits prompted the later ones….. I still own a dark suit and a red tie just in case there is a student out there in need of an advocate…And I will gladly return as needed to the familiarity of the principal’s office.

Today I am grateful for the small army of public educators that helped shape my boys academically, socially, and ethically.  They were a blessing to our home for 20 years.  I am indeed thankful.  Blessings on the teachers and yes…the principals too. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

You are Asking the Wrong Guy!

Sometimes you ask the wrong guy an important question…Or maybe I have it backwards.  Perhaps in this case he asked the right guy.

It was Friday afternoon.  I took vacation days for the entire week to work on schoolwork and chores around the house.   But as it turned out, I was the only minister on our church staff in town that day.  So I got the call… A man called the church office requesting a minister to come and visit his dying mother.  We take such requests seriously.  I went to the hospital promptly and met this man and family.  I prayed over his aging mother.  The family members are nice people and it was a good visit.

When we stepped out of the hospital room, he asked me a question that has probably been posed to me three or four time in 27 years.  The question:  “How much do you charge to do a funeral service?”  I promptly told him that I would gladly serve his family in that role and that I don’t charge for such a service.   He was clearly taken aback.  After all, nothing is free.   We exchanged phone numbers. And I am certain that I will get back up to the hospital to check on his mother and pray with her again.

As I walked off, I realized that I failed to tell him something that was pertinent to our conversation.  My father passed away unexpectedly in 1978.  I was 15 years old.  We had no church home.  The closest thing to a minister we knew was Father Mulchay on MASH.  But a friend of my brother-in-law’s came to our home and agreed to the do the service.  I don’t remember this for a fact, but knowing my proper Southern mother I know she asked the same question. What do you charge do a funeral service?  That fine gentleman refused to take anything, and he treated us like he had known us for decades.  

Friday afternoon at the hospital that man had no idea that he was asking the wrong guy about being paid for officiating at a funeral.   As he asked, my mind quickly traveled back to 1978. I may have been standing in the hallway at the hospital, but in my mind I was 15 years old again sitting at the dining room table with a kind man that refused to take any money for officiating at a stranger’s funeral.   He just asked the wrong guy about money.  Or maybe he asked the right one. 

Next time I see him I will share a story from 1978...

  Cline Paden is deceased now, but he was one fine man. In 1978, he was directing a training school for ministers.  But he took the time out of a very busy schedule to serve a family that were complete strangers to him with complete dignity.   My life mission will continue to be to serve such strangers with an equal amount of compassion and dignity.   

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Did NOT Listen to Peaches and Herb in the 70's....But About this Matter of Reuniting...

I most certainly did not listen to the popular group Peaches and Herb in the ‘70’s.  But the girls I ran around with did.  My friend Elizabeth frequently rode to school with me in the mornings.  As she put her makeup on the car while I drove, she would say:  “Turn it up!  I love that song!”  The song “Reunited” from Peaches and Herb was one of those turn it up songs.  It was sweet and syrupy. The chorus rang out: “reunited and it feels so good.”  It no doubt appealed to the hearts of 16 year old girls. 

When I was 16 or 17, I had no clue that reuniting would become such a prominent experience in my adult life.  I suspect there were two reasons for such for being so naïve in that regard.  At that age, I didn’t understand that relationships are priceless.   And at the time I did not comprehend the sheer amount of interpersonal brokenness that exists in people’s lives.

This past weekend I was reminded that reuniting feels so good… A friend and fellow student with me in the master’s program in Mental Health Counseling met up with her brother for the first time in her adult life.  She has been on a journey for the past several months searching for her family.  That journey culminated Sunday with a meeting with her brother that she did not know existed until recently.  The picture of the two of them on facebook brought tears to my eyes.  The look on their faces was priceless.  The power of reuniting was evident.  

A number of years ago I watched the movie Antwone Fisher.  It is based on a true story. There really is a man named Antwone Fisher.  He is a poet and speaker among other things.  The movie chronicles his journey to find his family.   He was separated from them at a young age and subsequently raised in an abusive foster home.  The story of course is true, so consequently it is not all pretty.  But the final scene in that movie is one of the most powerful endings to a motion picture that I have ever seen.  I won’t ruin it for you, but I would encourage you to see the movie. 

But more importantly, I would urge you not postpone the process of reuniting.  Is there a family member you need to find?  Or have you lost contact with a dear friend?   I have reconnected with friends and family alike over the last several years.  The experience has been indescribable.  In a world full of brokenness, reuniting restores our hearts and brings us peace.  What a joy it has been to watch a friend find her brother.   There is just nothing quite like it.

I did not. I repeat I did NOT listen to Peaches and Herb in the 1970’s, but thanks to Elizabeth and others forcing me to turn up the radio I still recall the chorus that rings out…”.reunited  and it feels so good….”

Friday, June 27, 2014

One Year Later: A Tribute to Officer Chad Davis

I love the old film noir movies from the 1940’s.  The bad guys are particularly evil and the good guys are real heroes. And in the noir movies, the moral is always the same…Crime does not pay.  The good guys win.   I know that is not real world.  But they are still enjoyable to watch.

One year ago tomorrow Officer Chad Davis with the Granbury Police Department heard the words on his radio that will send chills down any normal person’s spine.  “Shots fired. Officer down.”  He started down Hwy #4 to leave the city limits and assist deputies out in the county, where Hood County Sheriff’s deputy Sgt. Lance McLean had been shot.

Before he could get too far he observed a vehicle that fit the description of the van the alleged perpetrator was driving.  He turned around on the vehicle and made plans to initiate a felony stop. The driver of the van initially refused to comply.  Then the individual pulled into the parking lot of city hall just adjacent to the city square filled with Friday morning shoppers and tourists. He exited the van with a weapon and began shooting….

Chad stared evil in the face that morning.  As he did everything within his power to fulfill a commitment he had made many years ago.  He was sworn to protect and serve.  During the course of events Chad was shot in the shoulder by the suspect. 

Ultimately other officers arrived.  Sheriff Roger Deeds, Lt. Johnny Rose, and Lt. Lyn McDonald with the Hood County Sheriff’s Office along with Officer Garrett Wiginton with the Granbury Police Dept. and Trooper Thomas Anderson with the Texas Dept. of Public Safety stopped the threat.

In the old movies, the good guys get shot and return to full duty before the credits are run at the end of the show.  But that is not the case in real life.  Chad is still recuperating.  He is still going to physical therapy like clockwork on most week days.  He is still dealing with shrapnel in his knee.  And he is still confined to light duty in the office at the police department.

Chad is not one to draw a lot of attention to himself. He quietly investigates cases in the office.  He slips out to do physical therapy every afternoon. And he continues to be a good family man without a lot of fanfare.
It would be easy for us to forget….It would be easy for us to forget that he was among those that raced to Lance’s aid that fateful morning.  And the crowd of un-named citizens browsing the shops on the square that day are going about their lives on year later oblivious to the fact that an officer they will likely never meet could have very well saved their lives.

Do the good guys always win?  Not in this life…But over the past year, Chad has won victories that he is not even aware of.   His perseverance and kind spirit has inspired untold numbers of people.  He has inspired me not to become cynical and discouraged. I am thankful for Chad one year later. And I am reminded that good guys who are real heroes are not confined to the old movies.  They are my friends.   Chad is among the good guys. And he is among the real heroes.  Thank you Chad.  One year later it is fitting to say thank you.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

June 28th, 2014: The Hood County Law Enforcement Community One Year Later

This week in my counseling techniques class we are studying the idea of meaning.   Our textbook mentions that meaning issues become more prominent after a person has experienced a serious illness, encountered a life changing experience, or gone through a serious trauma.  I have experienced two of the three in the last year.  I have journeyed with my friends in law enforcement since June of last year during a life changing experienced triggered by a serious trauma.

Saturday is the one year marker.  June 28th, 2013.  I had traveled to Lubbock the day before to accompany my friends to take their daughter on a tour of Lubbock Christian University.  Her father is a police officer in Granbury.  LCU is my alma mater.  I felt she would be shortchanged unless I provided color commentary during the tour that the university provides.  I showed them around Lubbock the night before.  We got blizzards at the same Dairy Queen where I purchased vanilla cokes when I was “riding around” with my teenage friends in the 1970’s.  Our names are probably still carved in the booths somewhere. 

During the campus tour the next morning I received the call.  One of the deputies from the Hood County Sheriff’s office informed me that Lance McLean had been critically injured in a shooting.   He also indicated that city officer Chad Davis was seriously injured.  My friends could tell that that something was terribly wrong immediately.   The tour was over. The fun was over.  We quickly made our way back to the hotel and hurriedly packed.  It was going to be a long 4 hour trip home. None of us would be the same.

After arriving home, we joined dozens of law enforcement officers standing vigil in the intensive care waiting room at John Peter Smith Hospital in Ft. Worth.   I will never forget the kindness and hospitality extended by members of the Fort Worth Police Dept.  There was a somber tone among those that normally loved constant joking.  

Lance passed away the next day. By the day after that, we were making plans for a funeral that would  include all of the traditions characteristic of a law enforcement funeral.  We made plans for a service that we knew would be attended by hundreds of law enforcement officers from around the state.

Saturday is the one year marker.   I have learned a few things about meaning over these past 12 months.

  • I have learned that a sudden loss brings people together.   People that were just acquaintances have become friends. And existing friendships have been deepened.  I am blessed by new relationships.  
  • I have learned that everyone reacts differently.  Some internalize their grief.  Others are very verbal.  But no one in our law enforcement community has gone unaffected.  It is a journey and it is by no means over.
  • I have learned that true servants are not extinct. I have seen unselfish service over the past year in ways I can’t possibly put in words. These people know who they are. They continue to inspire me.
  • I have learned that the evil actions of one person cause untold collateral damage.  One man made a choice to instigate evil the morning Lane answered that call.   That man’s actions has created more emotional damage to people that I could possibly describe.  I am probably more aware than anyone in our community the extent of such emotional damage.  As the one year anniversary approaches, the emotional damage feels overwhelming at times.
  • Members of Lance's family have modeled courage, class, and dignity. Enough said. 

As the one year marker approaches this week, meaning issues remain prominent.  I continue to see a renewal in spiritual commitments, and a greater appreciation for each other.  And as  for me, I am grateful that I am called to minister.  I would not do anything else.  I find such a calling to be especially meaningful as the one year marker of Lance’s death approaches.  Serving people that have gone through a serious trauma is my real calling.  As crazy as it sounds, I find it meaningful.  So this week I will pray for continued healing and continue to love on my law enforcement friends. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

When Mother’s Day rolls around, those of us that preach on Sunday’s develop a sermon that honors the moms among us.  It is really not a day for preaching.  Some of my colleagues will even make use of syrupy poems or heartfelt stories.  And of course all Mother’s Day sermons are short.  We must get out moms out early, so they can be the first at the restaurant.  I have actually done all of the above.  I am all about honoring mothers.

But then Father’s Day follows in June.  The order of the day is much different.  Those of us that preach feel compelled to do just that on Father’s Day, but on steroids!  Father’s Day is a Sunday to preach about duty, responsibility, and the like.  Little thought is given to getting dad to his favorite restaurant ahead of the crowd.

This Sunday will be different.  As a beginning point, I am going to ask for a show of hands…How many people sitting out there were raised by GI Generation fathers?  And specifically, how many had dads that were veterans of WWII?   And how many were raised by members of the next generation?  Some of those men would be Korean War Veterans.  At the church I serve, there will be a fair number of men that raise their hands.

I will be among that group that raises their hand.  In 1944, my father was training to fly a bomber. He would be among those that would drop bombs in anticipation of an invasion of Japan to end the WWII.  Ultimately the decision to drop the atomic bomb ended the war.  My father and other members of his Army Air Corps squadron were allowed to go home before their training was completed.

Those men came home and started families. The baby boom was on!  They did not talk about their war experiences much.  They were not inclined to complain.  They just worked hard and tried to be responsible husbands and fathers.  In fact, their understanding of love was rooted in such activities. They viewed love as being equivalent to working hard and being responsible.  Consequently they were not the expressive types as a rule. They were not always overtly affectionate.  They were not always inclined to tell their children they loved them.  

At times, my generation has been hard on these fathers.  We resent the lack of affirmation and verbal expressions of love. And at times we have wondered if we were really valued and loved by these men that had such stoic leanings.  And some of us have even emulated their traits as we have raised our own children. 
I am going to honor fathers on this Father’s Day.  I am going to point out that the dads of the G.I. and Silent Generations really did love us.  We should be grateful for their dedication and responsibility.  We are still benefiting today from their commitments.  Now I do believe verbalizing love and approval is important. I could do much better in that department.  But this Sunday I will honor dads for their good traits.

 While my colleagues in town preach long sermons this Sunday calling their dads to duty, my dad’s will be taking their seats at their favorite restaurant. I think they deserve to get out early this Sunday. 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Graduations are Emotional Experiences...

Graduations are emotional experiences.  They are particularly moving when it is your youngest child….Last week I watched my third son receive his high school diploma. Both the valedictorian and salutatorian are friends of his, so I listened intently.  He has been friends with one of them since third grade.   As I listened to their well-prepared speeches that reflected on aspirations for the future, I thought about another event I would attend the next day.

The day after graduation I was scheduled to attend a memorial service for a high school classmate that sat a few chairs away from me on a stormy night in May of 1980 as we received our high school diplomas from Monterey High School.  I immediately thought:  “if they only knew…”  If the kids walking across that commencement stage only knew that life can be unpredictable and short… I wanted to jump up and scream:  “Tell your friends NOW how much they mean to you!”  I chose to refrain. I really did not want to be arrested for disorderly conduct at my son’s graduation.

Mitchell and his circle of friends will likely go their separate ways.  Already plans are in place for them to attend a host of different universities.  Some will marry. Others will remain single.  A handful will stay in Granbury and others will choose to live overseas.  Many of them will have children in the not so distant future.  As the ceremony ended and final pictures were being taken with grandparents, I felt overwhelmingly sad.  I would leave early the next day to mourn the loss of a classmate and these graduates are about to disburse. I didn’t like that image in the least.  Something felt wrong.

As we waited outside the Ft. Worth Convention Center for our graduates, the grandmother of one of Mitchell’s closest friends shared some put things in perspective for me.  She said that she graduated from high school, married, and had children.  She had little contact with classmates during the years of raising kids. And then her children grew up and left home. A new chapter in life opened. She reunited with her childhood friends. They now gather on a regular basis.

I realized as she spoke that I am in that chapter in life at this very moment.  How fortunate I have been to reunite with classmates over the past 5 or 6 years. And I also realize now that we are at a stage in life when we need each other.  Several of my friends are caring for aging parents. Others are grieving over the recent loss of their parents.  And yes…we have lost some of our own.  We need each other.

 I will allow my son and his friends to relish this moment of celebration.  Someday they too will be in the chapter I am presently experiencing. There is a time for everything.  And for Mitchell’s class, perhaps it is a time for them to separate and explore the world.  But I hope they too will either stay in touch or one day reunite. They will need each other someday in ways they cannot possibly comprehend or articulate in commencement speeches.  So perhaps I should say to them: “Tell your friends NOW how much they mean to you!” 

 I feel at peace now thanks to the wisdom from someone a generation ahead of me.  I am ready to fully engage this chapter in life.  I plan to be love deeper and forgive quicker.  And I plan to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  It is an important chapter in life.  
Graduations really are emotional experiences…

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Teacher is Always Right and YOU Are Guilty: A Tribute to My Mother

My mother was always on the teacher’s side. What is wrong with that picture?  I felt the compelling need to be innocent until proven guilty.  But the problem is…she knew me all too well.  The guilty look on my face seldom vanished.  There was no need for due process of the law in our house. 

My mother was relieved that I actually graduated from high school. And I went on to pursue undergraduate studies at Texas Tech. But I liked girls more than school.   I preferred adding up bottles of beer consumed to adding up debits and credits in accounting class.  It caught up with me.   Tech sent me a very nicely worded letter in December of 1981 informing me I would not be enrolling in classes on their campus in January of 1982.  I was officially placed on scholastic probation.  (It can be likened to double secret probation.)

My mother was no doubt thrilled that her son was not astute in business calculus and accounting.  I started weighing all kinds of options when the spring semester of 1982 started looming after Christmas.  Going back to Tech was not on the list.  And continuing as a business marketing major was not topping my life goals. What could I do?

My mother asked a key question:  What do you think you are good at?  What areas do you think you excel?  A student that has failed all of his classes the previous semester really does not think he is good at much of anything, but causing his mother grief.  She kept pressing for an answer.  Finally I said:  “I am good at speech and debate.  I like things that are related to communications.”  She proceeded to tell me that I should enroll in school somewhere and major in speech communications.  My immediate reply was: “There are no good paying jobs in that field.”   She proceeded to tell me to pursue a degree in something I liked. The rest would fall into place.  In fact, my mother urged me not to worry about what I would do with the degree.

My mother gave me life changing advice that day.  It was affirming.  It was helpful.   And it helped me realize I was not a total failure.  I sure felt like a failure during that time period.

My mother hooded me in May of 1984, when I received my degree in Speech Communications from Lubbock Christian University.  By some miracle, I graduated with honors.( Actually the miracle has a name. We call her Jan.)  Both my mother and bride to be were  there to see the return on their investment of encouragement. I am grateful beyond words.

My mother later traveled to Abilene to see me receive my master’s degree in 1987.  I think she was pretty proud that day.  I wish now I had told her that her advice on a cold December day in 1981 helped me reach that point in my academic pursuits, but I failed to do that.

My mother was not present in May of 2003 when I received a graduation robe that had doctoral bars on it.  She passed away in 1991. But once again I thought about her timely advice in 1981.  I taught freshman speech at Northwestern Oklahoma State University on a part-time basis to help pay for my expenses associated with what I thought would be my last degree.  I attempted to instill in my students the kind of confidence my mother instilled in me.

My mother would be glad to know I have gone back to school at the ripe old age of 52.  When I finish this degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, I will think of her advice still one more time.  In fact, I am thinking about it today.  

 Mother’s Day is Sunday.   And I realize as Mother’s Day approaches, I failed to thank my mother for standing behind me when I felt like a total failure.  And I am confident if I got frustrated with one of my professors today, she would take the teacher’s side.   The guilty look remains. Consequently there is no need for due process of the law.    Don’t fail to thank your mother.  Do it today. You may not have tomorrow. Happy Mother's Day to all of those moms out sharing words of encouragement every single day.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Tribute to Trey Lehman

Some time back I had lunch at Chuy’s in Arlington with my high school classmate, Trey Lehmnan.  Considerable interchange on facebook preceded that day of shared tortillas. I set aside a little extra time that day, because I thought lunch might go a little long….That turned out to be correct.  We finished over three hours later.

 It was not a time to exchange pleasantries and discuss football.  We discussed life.  We caught each other up on mutual friends.   There was extensive discussion about our children. We reflected on our regrets… We agreed that both of us had lived long enough to accumulate a closet full of them.  And then the conversation turned to our faith.

We discussed church.  And then we considered what a life of faith really looks like.  It was not a typical discussion about such matters.  Bear in mind…this is an interchange with Trey Lehman!  But it was rich.  And I walked away a better person three hours later.

Trey was an angel in his own unique way. I know…using the term “angel” and the name “Trey Lehman” in the same sentence appears quite amusing. Trey was an angel with a halo held up by horns.  (Longhorns to be exact.)  As we enjoyed lunch at Chuy’s that day, it became very apparent to me that my high school classmate could teach me a few things about generosity and kindness.  I remembered Trey from high school as a free spirited, fun-loving guy who knew everyone!  But I discovered over lunch that the free spirited teenager grew into a very generous man with a heart as big as Texas.

I am grateful that I have reconnected with a number of classmates over the past 4 or 5 years.  My life has been blessed beyond words. I firmly believe we are a priceless cohort. There are a few true “characters” among us.  Trey was certainly one of them. He will be deeply missed.  And our lives won’t be the same without him.

In my last interchange with Trey a few days before his surgery, we agreed to meet for lunch as soon as he recuperated.  As I reflect on this profound loss this morning, I am going to consider my schedule.  There are seemingly pressing issues crying out for my attention. But right now I really don’t care.  I am going to look at my schedule and try to determine who I really need to connect with most. Life is short.  Life is unpredictable. People are priceless. Friendship is paramount.  To my classmates from the class of Monterey High School in 1980: May we continue to embrace one another in a spirit of love and mutual respect. And may we rejoice those who rejoice and mourn with those that mourn…

Saturday, April 12, 2014

60 Years is a GREAT Thing!

Note: I wrote this blog over 5 years ago.  James passed away several years ago. His wife, Juanita, passed away this morning.  In honor of their life, I am republishing.

If you ever make it to Granbury, you need to stop in at the Firehouse Café for breakfast during your visit. The breakfast special during the week consists of eggs cooked to order, toast or biscuit, and bacon and hash browns as well. I generally make in there on Mondays to eat with the DPS troopers and on Friday to discuss theology with the Firehouse Theologians.

The clientele at the Firehouse is pretty diverse. There are men in there making gas well deals. Several small church groups meet weekly. There are couples of all ages enjoying an early morning date. Last fall I saw James and Juanita having breakfast in there. James and Juanita had been married almost 60 years that point, but they were enjoying themselves like a couple of newlyweds. James passed away not long after I saw them that morning. I think of them every time I pass that table.

Angela and her family own the place. She rarely calls me John. I am warmly referred to as “sweetie”. Melissa has been waiting on me in there for about four years. She always greets me with a hug. Robert has been for about three years. I know about their children, and hear about their life issues occasionally. I always get them a Starbucks card for Christmas.

The eggs have never been cold, but if they ever are, I won’t stop eating there. I will be back in there in a few days. Melissa knows that I drink coffee, and Robert asks me if I am going to have the usual. It would take several major infractions to cause me to take my business down the street. I feel pretty loyal to my friends at the Firehouse. You know loyalty is a good thing.

In Granbury, we have the option of driving to Ft. Worth to the IHOP or to the Cracker Barrel. Those are good places to eat breakfast too. Their menu selections are far more extensive than the Firehouse. But Melissa is not there to provide colorful commentary, as she refills the coffee. Robert is not there for me to practice my Spanish skills with. If an employee of the IHOP calls me “sweetie,” I am running for cover! If the waitress at the Cracker Barrel hugs me, I am making a fast exit. I feel pretty loyal to my friends at the Firehouse. You know loyalty is a good thing.

I suppose mom and pop restaurants may someday be swept away the large chains. That will indeed be a sad moment, in my estimation. I think it is important to develop meaningful relationships everywhere we interact with people. The family that owns the dry cleaning business where my suits are pressed are friends. I buy my gas from a family owned store that continually extends hospitality to our police officers. They too are friends. It is hard to take your business elsewhere when you learn to love and appreciate those individuals. I feel pretty loyal to all the friends that I meet where I do business. I am not just a consumer. I am a loyal friend, and loyalty is a good thing…

Loyalty is just an important trait. People are going to make mistakes and disappoint us. That is human nature.  It is easy to overlook the mistakes of those whom we hold in high esteem. At least, I think that is true… I could be wrong…

People sometimes abandon the most significant relationships in their life. People walk out on their spouses. Children are abandoned every single day. People leave churches that they have been a part of for years. It really is sad. I know there are very legitimate reasons to bail out of the ship, but it is still sad.
Perhaps I need to take the sentiments I have toward the Firehouse Restaurant and translate them to every important relationship in my life? No…I could be wrong again. I need to imitate the example of James and Juanita, because loyalty is a good thing. In fact, nearly 60 years of loyalty is a great thing. I will be back at the Firehouse after camp next week. I wonder who will be in there…There is really no telling. And there is no telling what I might learn from them. But for now, I know…loyalty is a good thing.