Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Final Blog for 2015

As I look back on 2015, I am making the conscious choice to focus on the choices that have caused no regret.  It’s a commitment for me, because my mind automatically gravitates to the poor choices.  I never have any problem reminding myself of the dumb things I said and did. 

Here is my list:
·       I was invited to speak at the church where I delivered my first sermon in 1984.  Those kind people asked me to come and deliver a series of lectures I have delivered in several places regarding generational differences.  My mind automatically went back to 1984. They are as kind today as they were then. I am so thankful they invited me. 

·       I returned to Lubbock to attend my 35 year high school reunion.  What a blessing. There are friendships that can be traced back to Evans Junior High School in 1975. The conversations were rich. The time with longtime friends was priceless.

·       I traveled to Racine, Wisconsin, where I attended school through the 7th grade. Those classmates were holding their 35 year high school reunion.  They were gracious enough to include me in the festivities.  Friendships that go back to 1969 were rejuvenated.  New friendships were forged as well.  It was an unforgettable experience.

·       I made my annual trek to a retreat center outside of Chicago for a long weekend of solitude and spiritual renewal.  It was necessary and refreshing.  What a blessing.

·       I was able to continue my graduate level work in mental health counseling this past year.  That process included a weeklong residency on campus in Lubbock. We spent afternoons at the Texas Boys’ Ranch.  What an experience! I learned a lot about myself, as I worked with an 8 year old boy that week.  And I learned that he had been abused in unspeakable ways.  

·       I was able to watch all of three of my boys continue to embrace increased independence, academic success, and growth in their careers.  And I found that the parental observation tower seems to get farther and farther away. Key word is “independence.”

·       I witnessed a lot of change professionally.  Our ministry staff team changed substantially.  I bade goodbye to longtime co-workers and welcomed two new ones. It’s been a really good experience.  In the midst of all that transition, I tried to instigate new professional commitments that would make a difference.

·       There was no shortage of chaplain related call-outs. I continued to learn new things. And I found that my compassion for those in crisis was as pronounced as ever.

·       I officiated at a few weddings.  Those are memorable and of utmost importance.

·       And of course I officiated at a lot of funerals in 2015. That will never be routine.  Every family is unique and worthy of significant attention.

·       I spoke at several special events this past year. That was enjoyable and inspiring.

As I look back over the blessings of 2015, the ones that stand out are relationally oriented. I made new friends this year.  Longtime friendships were deepened. I spent a lot of time with people I love and care about deeply.  I choose to end the year with a thankful spirit.  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Day of Judgment for Clay Matthews

The media is wasting no time in criticizing Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews for the classless stunt he pulled in the game against the Arizona Cardinals today.   After sacking Cardinal’s quarterback Carson Palmer, Matthews extended his hand to help him up.  When Palmer reached out for his hand, Matthews quickly withdrew it.   It was clearly an act of  unsportsmanlike conduct  I don’t condone his behavior.  And if I were Coach Mike McCarthy, I would have a discussion with him that he would not soon forget.

But before we race to judge Matthews and start calling him every dirty name imaginable, let’s allow the rational part of our brains to function.  Here a few things to think about.

Don’t judge a person by one foolish stunt.  I have pulled some dumb stunts in my life.  I have said things I deeply regret.  I have “gestured” at people that cut me off in traffic.  I have ridiculed people.  The list could go on.  I just hope that I am not judged by isolated foolish actions. I really hope that people will consider the true substance of my character before drawing conclusions.  Can we do the same for Clay? Is he a jerk?  He may very well be a classless bimbo. But I refuse to allow the media to make that decision for me.  I will consider him innocent until proven guilty.

Choose to be consistent.  I was very unimpressed with the conduct of the Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians following a call by the officials he did not appreciate.  I expect better behavior from a seasoned coach with his level of experience.  But I don’t know the coach.  I refuse to form a final opinion regarding his character based on one incident I observed in today’s game.  It’s just not fair.  If you are going to call Clay Matthews every name in the book, are you going to do the same with Coach Arians?  Both were clearly acts of unsportsmanlike conduct.

Accountability:  I do think accountability is important.  Coach McCarthy has shown that he capable of holding his players accountable. He needs to do that in this case.  A public apology would speak volumes.  A suspension could be in order.   In fact, good could come from this incident if it was handled well. 

Emotions run high in professional football.  The players and coaches alike are under tremendous pressure.  That’s especially the case in this time of year. And they are all human… Those of us that are without sin can feel free to throw the first stone at Clay Matthews.  Today was a football game.  It was not the Day of Judgment. 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Declaring a Social Media Fast During Christmas....Sort Of....

Our Facebook news-feeds are about to be flooded with group pictures of seemingly happy families.  In the accompanying comments, proud parents will extol the virtues of their children.  They are national honor society students, all-district athletes, and the list goes on and on….  And of course your family is experiencing the greatest Christmas known to humankind. I am familiar with such pictures, because I have posted them. I am proud of my kids too.

As another Christmas descends on us, I realize there are parents scrolling through their news-feeds that have special needs children.  Their child may never make the honor roll.  And their son will never suit up for a football game.  Their daughter will not be leading the team on the basketball court.  How do they feel, as we post pictures of our children basking in their latest success?  And what about the single mom, who is not experiencing the greatest Christmas known to humankind?

And then there are parents that have lost children…  Several years ago I officiated at a funeral service for a young man who was murdered at age 19.  His parents were devastated.  I delivered a death notification a few years ago to a family that lost their 16- year-old daughter in an awful crash that also killed two other people.   I think of children who will never know their parent due to a premature death. I think about these families during Christmas time.  And I hurt for them.  It’s not an easy time of year.

I am extremely proud of all three of my sons, but I am not going to post pictures of them this year.  I plan to fast from the posting pictures.  I am going to concentrate instead on reaching out to those that are grieving this year instead.  When I have a conversation with someone, I really try not to make it all about me.  I attempt to make a concerted effort to ask the person I am conversing with about the people and things important to them.  Why can’t we do the same thing, as we utilize social media?  Why can’t we put more energy into asking others about their Christmas, their family, and their pictures?

My fast will be over soon.  I hope to post pics of my family and close friends soon. And I may be a little over the top in expressing my pride regarding their accomplishments.  But for Christmas, I am choosing to fast…How about you?  What will you do to reach out to those that are hurting?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Imperfect Families Celebrating Christmas

There is a lot of pressure at the holidays to somehow replicate what is portrayed in a Norman Rockwell painting.   Or better yet, we feel the need to experience Christmas like the Depression era Walton family portrayed on television 40 years ago.  I am going to call of that what it truly is…It’s nonsense.  It’s not real life.

This week I am officiating at two funeral services.  One of my colleagues is officiating at another funeral service for a young man that took his own life.  Those families won’t be portrayed in any paintings.  They are hurting.  Their world is turned upside down.  The week of Christmas is a time to serve them in a spirit of compassion.

I have long time friends that are experiencing the pain of divorce this year. Christmas doesn’t sound so appealing to them. They are trying to assume some sense of normalcy for their children. Other friends will experience loneliness for a variety of reasons.  The week of Christmas is a time to reach out to them in a spirit of gentleness.

Christmas is supposed to be a time for families to gather.  But all of us are a part of imperfect families.  A father lives right around the corner, but never calls or sees his daughter.  When he invites her for Christmas, it feels  offensive.  Other families form internal alliances.  In the process, some family members become nothing more than a careless afterthought.  Only a select few that comprise the alliance make the holiday plans for everyone.  At the last minute, those outside the alliance are asked to join them.  No one wants to be an afterthought. It’s offensive.  Christmas is a time for close friends to step in and be “family” to those that don’t feel close to their so called blood relatives.

 And then some families are like mine.  Two of my sons live out of state and one my sisters does as well. And my cousins are all out of state too. We love being together, but Christmas is not the best time.  I feel sad when I think about my boys and my sisters this time of year.  And I would like nothing better than to see my cousins.  Christmas is a time to be extra sensitive to those that are adjusting to the realities of living in a mobile society.

I count it a privilege to serve the two families that lost loved one’s next week. And I will be alert to those that are missing their families due to geographical distance.  And how well do I know that we are all a part of imperfect families comprised of flawed human beings.  My prayer is that my shortcomings will not be hurtful to others.  May I always be inclusive, kind, and sensitive to everyone.   

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Shame is Lurking in the Shadows...

A very personal event that impacted me profoundly some months ago has caused me to realize what true friendship looks like.  You would think at my age I would have a pretty good grasp of what makes up a meaningful relationship.   But I am finding that I have a lot to learn. 

  I had an experience that was personally discouraging and unsettling. And it to top it off, it was scary too.  What did I learn about friendship?

·       I knew immediately that there were people with whom I would not share any aspect of this situation.  This is the case even with people I consider friends.  It’s not necessarily a reflection of their character.  There are just a few people I trust at that level.  If your friend is struggling, can you be trusted?

·       I learned that people can be so kind and supportive. It was nice to be on the receiving end of compassion and support.  Are you doing everything you can to support your friends?

·       None of the people I shared my challenge with criticized me. When you are under a lot of stress, shame is never too far away. Shame lurks in the shadows like a thief. He wants to steal your self-worth and run away with it.   Are you allowing shame to rob your friends while you stand there and watch?  You could be their only protection against shame.

·       I found that my real friends truly felt my pain. Their level of empathy is hard to describe.  But I felt real empathy.   There was no hint of a condescending attitude.  I hurt, so they hurt.  Are you willing to enter your friend’s world? Are you willing to truly mourn with those who mourn?  Are you willing to feel their pain? 

·       Real friends keep confidences.  You don’t have to wonder.  You don’t have to tell them: “Now this is confidential. Don’t repeat it.” I never tell my friends that, because they don’t need to be reminded.   Are you known for diligence in keeping confidences?

·       My friends didn’t  tell me they were praying for me. I already knew they were…

·       Most importantly…my friendship with these select individuals did not change as I shared very personal and sensitive information.  They still care about me. They still love me. I am so thankful. And I am inspired to love deeply and from the heart. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

When Your Family Fails to be Family

Let’s face it.  The holidays are stressful.  Last week I heard several stories of family disunity and dysfunction.  A father lives in the same town as his grown daughter and grandchildren, but doesn’t even as much as call them on Thanksgiving.  In other scenarios, step-children appear to get a greater degree of attention then blood relatives on a holiday.  Holiday plans are made. Family members are purposely left out.   The possibilities for conflict and hurt feelings seem endless.  The holidays are stressful. Family fails to be family. 

I think I have found a cure.  Well…maybe I am a little optimistic. Perhaps I have found one way to cope with the sadness.  This coping mechanism will require a piece of paper and a pen. Are you ready?
·       List the people in your life who love you.  I am thinking about those that care about you no matter what you do. (Or don’t do). My guess is that there will be members of your family that don’t make that list.  Don’t worry over that. Who loves you?

·       Who has blessed your life this year?  Write that person’s name down. How have they blessed your life this year?  Write that down too. Take your time and include the specifics.

·       Give those individuals a priceless gift.  Give the gift of encouragement.  Send those you love a card, a note, inbox them, text them. Tell them you love them. Convey to them how they have blessed your life in 2015.  Be detailed.  Spell it out.  Explain why they are a blessing to you.

You have family members that don’t give you the time of day during the holidays.  They fail to communicate with you. They are not inclusive. They make plans for holiday gatherings, but you are left out.  Or…they commit an offense that is far worse…They fail to reach out to your children during the holidays.

  Others have to deal with family members that are mean spirited or purposely divisive. And still other  families are characteristically passive aggressive. They exchange gifts with each other, but you are left out.  In this cases, it's more about what they don't do or say.  The possibilities are endless!  The ways that human beings can hurt each other seem unlimited.  

How do you cope with such blatant selfishness?  Get out a piece of paper and start listing those who love you…Who has blessed you?  

I love this quote:
Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones you accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile, and who love you no matter what.

I would write more, but my list is long this year.  I need to get started...

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friendships of the Sturdy Variety

Judy Siburt is one of my all-time favorite people.  In a recent post, she made the following observation.  “A gift of a long, sturdy friendship is one of God's greatest blessings.”  I understand the concept of long-time friendship really well.  But the word “sturdy” caused me to pause.  I have used that word in reference to a woodworking project, but not as a descriptor of friendship.  But who am I to question a career educator regarding word choice!

“Sturdy.”  It is a good word to describe meaningful friendship.  A sturdy friendship remains intact after the storms of life rage on year after year. And a friendship that is sturdy will endure even in the aftermath of interpersonal conflict.  In sickness and in health, the relationship endures.

Distance challenges even the best of friendships.  Someone accepts a job in a new city. Tearful goodbyes are said.  Promises to stay in contact are issued.  But life moves on. And the geographical distance fosters relational distance. But sturdy friendships are the exception.  Contact is maintained.  Plane tickets are purchased.  And the relationship remains solid.

And then there is the ultimate challenge.  A death occurs. People change their plans to attend their longtime friend’s funeral service.  Some travel long distances and take vacation days at their job in order to comfort a family they love.  Hugs are shared.  Funny stories are shared.  Lots of tears are shed.  But as sad as it is, sometimes friendships change after a death. But those of the sturdy variety remain standing.

Judy knows what she is talking about.  And her word choice is indicative of her background as an educator.  I must say that I agree with her.  Long and sturdy friendship IS one of one of God’s greatest blessings.

 I have friends I met the summer before my second grade year.  After all of these years, we still love each other. And I have friends I met in high school.  If we can survive the things we did together as teenagers, then there is not much question regarding the sturdiness of our friendships. I have served several churches over the course of my career 29 year career.  My friendships with the members of those churches remains.  And I have served law enforcement agencies in three communities over a span of 26 years in chaplaincy.  My relationships with those public servants remains sturdy.

I have also faced that ultimate challenge in friendship.  Five of my friends I grew up with have passed away.  But my loyalty to them now extends to their spouses, children, and even grandchildren.  I am grateful that sturdiness can be equated with extending loyalty to those people my friends loved and cared for most.

Thank you Judy.  You expanded my vocabulary and caused me to give thanks on this Thanksgiving holiday. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"Some Jive Talkin Fool is Going to Come Along..."

Dr. Jerry Taylor is one of my all-time favorite speakers.  I have invited him to speak every year since I have been in Granbury.  And he spoke for us at an old fashioned tent meeting when I was serving in Woodward, OK.  He is a fine man.

Last Sunday he hit a home-run. His sermon was convicting, inspiring, and moving. I laughed, cried, and had my toes stepped on during the course of one lesson! It was just good. During the course of his sermon he impressed on us the importance of passing values on to the next generation. He was not shy.  We are going to have to be purposed and thoughtful in such a commitment.  We are going to have to personally engage our children in meaningful dialogue.

He also stressed the importance of affirming our children.  Beating our children down is not going to help them grow.  Berating them has negative consequences.  Being sarcastic or caustic is not going to propel the process of passing values on to the next generation.

He told us that  he tells his daughter all of the time that she is attractive.  If she gets her hair fixed in a different way, he makes a point to notice. He is purposed in complimenting her and building her esteem.
And then he said: “When some jive-talkin fool comes along and starts telling her how attractive she is, she will respond by saying: “You are not telling me anything I have not already heard!  My daddy has been telling me that all of my life!”  Of course we all laughed. But he is right…our girls need to hear that from their daddy’s.  And our boys need to hear that they are smart, clever, and masculine. Let’s pass on values. But let’s do it in a context of consistent affirmation.

Thank you, Jerry.  I am a better man because of you.  And bless that jive-talkin fool that approaches your daughter. He may need a prayer...

Friday, November 6, 2015

You can't Hide Your Trash: A Commentary on Hypocrisy

The word “hypocrite” is often misapplied.  The term is commonly applied to those that display their flaws at the most inopportune times.  But that is a misapplication.  The term was originally used to refer to onstage actors in ancient Greece.  If you are a true hypocrite, you are simply playing a part really well. 

I have known a few hypocrites over the years.  You have too.  There really are people that are insincere.  They want others to think they are kind, altruistic, and generous. But the truth is: they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.  It’s all a very carefully choreographed act.  They have trashy mouths that speak from an equally trashy character, when they think no one is paying attention.  When their true character surfaces, those around them are often shocked and disappointed.  I am reminded today that there are certain people that you can’t hide your trashy character from, even if you really try!

A friend’s mother passed away very recently.  The gentleman that checked her out at the grocery store on a regular basis was visibly moved when he learned of her death. He liked her. He looked forward to seeing her. There is no doubt based on his reaction that she took time to engage him in conversation and treat him like a real human being.  And then there is the trash collector. The lady’s son shares the reaction of this man upon learning of his client’s death: “Early this morning, I walked outside and informed the trash collector that Mom had died last month. He stopped the truck. Trying to fight back tears unsuccessfully, he told me how much he loved seeing my mom every Friday.”

I think there a lot of people that you can successfully hide your true character from with relative ease.  But you can’t hide your character from the person that checks you out at the grocery store. (I can speak from experience on that one!) And you certainly can’t conceal your true self from the person that collects your trash every week.  Rude and hateful people are not known for being kind to the trash collector.
Do you want to learn about a person’s true character?  Go ask the person that checks them out at the grocery store.  Inquire at the dry cleaners.  Seek out the person that waits on them in a restaurant on a regular basis.  And….do not forget to ask the trash collector about that individual.

What will your trash collector say about you? When you depart this earth, will he shed a tear?  Or…will he look forward to someone else occupying the place you called home?  Don’t forget…you can’t hide your trash....And that is especially true with the trash collector!   Blessed are the sincere...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Go On and Park in that Handicapped Only Parking Space...

I am a part of a very entitled generation.  We feel eligible for every benefit that life has to offer. Go on and it give it to us, because we have it coming.  There is no doubt that we are qualified to be on the receiving end of all good things.  I would like to think that I live above the fray.  I would like to conclude that I am an oddity among Baby Boomers.  This whole entitlement thing never infected my attitude.  But that is not true…It would serve me well to pay attention to those that comprise the previous generation.  Entitlement is not a part of their generational makeup. In fact, that is understatement….

Last summer one of my professors made frequent treks from the Lubbock to the small Texas Panhandle town where she grew up to care for her father, as his health continued to deteriorate. How I could relate. I made trips from Wichita Falls to Lubbock for the same reason in 1991, as my mother was cared for by hospice.  By the end of the summer, her father was also entrusted to the able care of hospice. My heart went out to her. The pain still feels very familiar.

I never knew her father, but she shared something about him that made an impression.  Dr. Robinson told us that her father had some significant physical disabilities.  There was no shortage of hardware in his knees.  It was difficult for him to get around.  Consequently, he had a handicap sign he could place on his rear-view mirror and enjoy parking privileges that would make his life a little easier.  He was truly “entitled” to such a privilege.  But he refused to park in one of those spots.  It wasn’t a pride issue…He told his daughter: “Someone else probably needs that space far more than I do.”  Wow…

Dr. Robinson’s father passed away at the end of the summer. I think all of us could have learned some life lessons from him that cannot be discovered in the classroom.  I hope we are paying attention to men and women  like him, because they have a lot to offer. They are common sense, no nonsense people, who know how to put the needs of others above their own.

The kind of entitlement my generation has become accustomed to cannot be reconciled with the mindset my professor’s father exemplified.  We need to do some serious self-examination.  We need to become increasingly aware of the privilege we have come to expect.  Are we willing to yield our “rights” to others for their benefit?  After reading this story about her father, I have reached a conclusion.  Students need to get out of the classroom (online or face-to-face) and spend some time hanging out with elderly gentlemen and women. And I am including older students like myself in that suggestion.  It would do all of us good to have a “Tuesday’s with Mori” sort of experience.  I never knew Dr. Robinson’s father, but I intuitively know he was a good man.  And I am grateful for the legacy of unselfishness he leaves. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Receiving a Beating with Any old Stick!

Why am I being criticized for THAT?  It doesn’t seem to be an issue of any consequence at all…Why is someone SO angry over THAT?  It seems to be a matter of such little consequence. We have all been there.  We have been on the other end of another’s person anger or irrational behavior.  When they tell us what set it off, we are stunned.

I serve with a volunteer leader at church who has figured such seemingly irrational behavior out.  He says: when a person is upset he will “beat you with any old stick.” What he means is: the presenting problem is not the primary issue.  When a person decides they are angry with you, they will beat you with any old stick.  It becomes a matter of which beating stick is handy at the moment.

What is the moral of this story?  I am convinced we should ignore the weapon of choice and focus instead on the person wielding it.  They are angry. They are frustrated.  The question to ask is: why?   Anger is a secondary emotion. Something is driving it.

I find when I take the time to listen things go better. When I choose to overlook the beating I took with the stick of choice, reconciliation is more likely. The stick wielding person is hurting for some unknown reason.  If I am able to determine the source of the pain, the stick is dropped. 

Has someone picked up any old stick and beaten you lately?  Get your blood pressure down.  Calm down. Lick your wounds.  Don’t take revenge. Choose not to judge.  Embrace that person and hear their pain. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

My Mentors are Getting Younger: A Tribute to Lt. Cliff Andrews

I had an old school world history teacher in the 9th grade that frequently told her students to “wake up and smell the coffee.”  It irritated me at the time, but now I find myself embracing the very idea she was trying to get across.  I have been more fortunate than most.  I’ve been surrounded my entire adult life by really good mentors. I have been able to observe, interact, and become personally acquainted with exceptional leaders.  Many of those individuals are deceased now. That has been quite an adjustment.  But in recent years, new advisers have entered the scene.  And as it is turning out, they are younger than me.  A lot younger in some cases…. It’s hard to wrap my mind around. But it’s happening more all of the time.  Maybe I just need to “wake up and smell the coffee.”

Thursday evening I attended the retirement reception at the Granbury Police Dept. for Lt. Cliff Andrews.  Cliff is almost ten years younger than me, but he has enough combined military and police service to go on and retire from his present position as patrol lieutenant for GPD.  Cliff has been one of those mentors for me. 

Cliff is one of those rare and exceptional leaders that you encounter in your lifetime.  I have watched him model strong, fair-minded, well-thought out leadership. He is the consummate non-anxious presence during tense situations.  In a crisis, he knows how to deploy the troops and get things done in a way that is beneficial to all.  I can’t count how many times I have marveled at his ability to navigate all of us through difficult and fluid situations.

As I have served with Cliff for nearly ten years, his love for his family has continue to inspire me.  He is honest about his faults as a husband and a father, but I can’t help but see commitment and dedication. He expects those under his command to honor their family commitments as well.

A man 10 years younger than me is retiring? “Wake up and smell the coffee.”  Thankfully he is staying in this area, because I have not exhausted what his mentorship has to offer.  Most importantly, I am grateful for his friendship.  We have been through a lot together.  And I do mean a lot…Thank you Cliff.  You are amazing.  I am looking forward to the future.  And…I think I will go pour myself a cup of coffee.  I have been smelling it for nearly ten years now…

Monday, October 12, 2015

Feeling Lost and Helpless

It’s been 34 years now…I dropped out of school 34 years ago this month.  I was right in the middle of my sophomore year at Texas Tech.  One day in October of 1981 I just stopped going to class.  I suspect you are already forming assumptions. Most likely your assumptions are correct.  Yes….a girl was involved.  I was seeing an “older woman.”  I was 19 and she was approaching 21.  She had a job in a bank.   And she dressed up to go to work every day. I was impressed.  I was so wrapped up in my relationship with the older woman that I lost interest in accounting principles and business calculus.  And if the truth be known, I hated being a marketing major anyhow.

Not long after I stopped making regular appearances in my classes the relationship with the older woman came to a screeching halt. She continued to work at the bank and I found myself feeling lost.  I concluded that I was not “college material.”  I took on a second job at an auto parts wholesale distributorship.  I loved tinkering with cars, so it was a good fit.  Every single day without exception my co-workers urged me to figure out a way to get back in school.  They were old guys in their 40’s…What did they know?

The weeks went by quickly.  As the leaves fell from the trees that fall, I wondered what my future held.  And then one brisk day my mother inquired about my future.  Now mothers have to step lightly with their 19 year old sons, when it comes to such matters.  She proceeded to gently inquire about my plans.  I told her I hated marketing!  Her response: “that’s ok.”  Now that threw me off balance.  My former 2nd grade teacher mother was all about academics.  And then she asked me a key question: “what do you think you are good at?”  I started to say: “meeting girls that work in banks.”  But I quickly thought better of it. My mother was also a descendant of Attila the Hun.  I told her I was pretty good at public speaking. I was an accomplished debater in high school.  (I was hoping she was not bring up the fact that I had been kicked off the debate team my senior year for disciplinary reasons.)  She actually chose to overlook that fact!   She told me to return to school and major in one of the communications degrees.  I replied: “what can you do with such a degree?” And she then said: “who cares?”  My MOTHER said “who cares!”   She went on to say…“Do something you like!”

That conversation changed the direction my life took.  It’s that simple.  Do I think that there was divine intervention in that dialogue?  I really do believe that to be the case. I was back in school when the spring semester began in January of 1982. I went to class like clockwork and avoided banks.
As the leaves fall off the trees and the weather starts to turn cooler, my mind wonders back to October of 1981. 

  I still remember what it felt like to be unsettled and without direction.  And I feel the weight of responsibility as a parent.  How can I possibly imitate my amazing mother?  She died almost exactly ten years after that interchange in 1981.  On this October day, I am wondering how I can emulate what she did for me nearly 34 years ago…Someone is feeling discouraged, lost, and without direction today.  Someone broke up with a girl that works at a bank.  What will you contribute to their life, as the leaves continues to fall?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Death by Pouting: The Poison of Passive Aggressive Behavior

I have a confession to make.  I love old thriller movies where the villain slowly poisons some unsuspecting victim.  And of course in movies of yesteryear, the villain always gets discovered.  The victim is saved from certain death right at the last minute by the movie’s hero.  Such heroes were often played by actors like Cary Grant or Gregory Peck.

A slow and deliberate process of poisoning someone in real life is anything but entertaining. And it can actually take on multiple forms…It occurs to me that a person that acts in a passive aggressive manner in actuality is poisoning their most important relationships slowly but surely.

Passive aggressive behavior is just that…it’s passive.  It takes on such forms as pouting, ignoring, refusing to speak when spoken to, procrastinating on a task, subtle verbal jabs, and disguising criticism with praise. When you ask a person drawn to passive aggressive behavior what is wrong, the standard answer is…”nothing.”  And of course the response is commonly expressed in a calm, but self-righteous tone.

If your aggressive behavior surfaces in the form of a physical assault, you can be charged with a criminal offense.  If your aggressive behavior takes on one of many passive forms, it’s unlikely that a crime has occurred.  However, you passive choice is the equivalent of pouring arsenic poison on the relationship. 
Marriages are negatively affected. Friendships are destroyed. Relationships in an extended family context are harmed beyond repair.  Such damage is a result of the corrosive impact of being passive aggressive.

I am guessing there is some morbid satisfaction that’s gleaned from ignoring someone’s overture at communication.  “I won’t respond to his email”.  “I will delete her text message without replying.”  “I will show him!”  “That will get her!”  “I won’t invite her to the family gathering.”  “I will  fail to call him about the hunting trip.”  Such gestures are supposed to make you feel better about yourself, but they end up being poisonous for you and the person you are targeting.

I recall a man in church that used to get his jabs in on the leaders by making comments in a public prayer that could be taken several ways, but everyone knew what he likely meant. It was terribly destructive in particular for his own life of faith. He slowly poisoned his heart.

I learned from the old movies that poisoning someone often takes time.  It’s a slow and tedious process. But if you are consistent, you will get the job done eventually. The results will  ultimately be fatal.  If you are choosing to be passively aggressive today, you will eventually get the job done. You will destroy that relationship.  Oh and by the way…you will most certainly poison your own heart in the process.  Think twice before you pout and ignore and jab…It’s may not be a crime, but  nevertheless it is terribly hurtful. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Pretending to Care...

Earlier this week I delivered two lectures at Abilene Christian University regarding the role of a law enforcement chaplain in times of crisis.  During the course of conversation a dear friend shared one of those quotes that has a way of staying with you. She said: “You can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.”  Two days later I was reminded that this statement is indeed true…

A friend is caring for his mother in Arizona. She is dealing with serious health issues right now, so he simply needs to be there.  He is employed by a major airline, so his job takes him all over the world. And his schedule is erratic at best.  But when the work calls, it is time to go.  This week he sought out colleagues to cover an assignment, so he could stay with his mother.  He even offered to pay someone over and beyond their normal salary as incentive to substitute for him on a particular series of flights.

Enter Kristen.  Kristen eagerly volunteered to cover his duties during such a time as this…And no…she will not take the extra funds he offered to pay out of his pocket. She simply wants to help.  I have never met Kristen, but I like her.  You can’t help but like people who take care of your friends. 

Kristen’s actions serve as a reminder that…you can pretend to care, but you can’t pretend to show up.  She is going to show up in uniform for a flight going somewhere…The passengers on that flight will have no inkling that she is covering for a man who needs to be with his mother right now.  Kristen can’t hide the fact that she cares. She showed up when she was desperately needed…And I have a sneaking feeling that her choice is going to inspire at least one man in Texas who needed a reminder that showing up is really important.  Thank you Kristen. Your actions have inspired me to do better. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Back the Blue

To our Granbury and Hood County First Responders:

We know….all too well….that many of you feel like a target right now. You sense that there are people with evil intent targeting you.  And at the same time, you also feel invisible, because so few appear to notice the good you are doing.

Today, we are here to say: You are visible indeed.  Your actions have not gone unnoticed.
And today, we want you to know you are a target for sure.  You have been targeted by us…for love, respect, and value.

To our GPD officers, you are visible on 377.  We see you working accidents during 5:00 traffic when it’s pouring down rain and when its 20 degrees outside.

To our HCSO deputies, don’t think we have failed to notice that you are sometimes first on scene to do CPR as you await the arrival of medics.

Which reminds us that we are blessed by Texas EMS and Pecan EMS. We count on your medical expertise and on your compassion.  And we know all too well that you often leave Garcia’s well before the chile relleno was finished.

And when you work a priority one call, you can be confident that Air Evac or Care Flight are on stand-by, ready to fly a patient to Ft. Worth in a moment’s notice. They land on highways, pastures, and middle school parking lots. Whatever it takes to get a patient flown as quickly and safely as possible.

Don’t think we have forgotten our volunteer fire fighters serving at stations here in the city and all over the county.  Key word is volunteer….these men and women get up in the middle of the night or leave their child’s soccer practice to serve their neighbors. You too are visible to us.

The fire Marshal’s office is working with them.  We don’t think about the Fire Marshal or his deputies until there is a disaster and we are looking for leadership during times of major community disaster or when it’s our home that has been affected by a fire.

Sometimes we think all that our DPS troopers do is run traffic. But that is far from the truth.  When all of the deputies and city officers are tied up, they too make disturbance calls.  We call on them and our Texas Rangers when the worst of the worst has occurred.  And we know they are spending time serving at the Texas border on a weekly basis right now.

And what about BRA Lake Rangers.  They patrol the lake and serve in the parks.  But they also have grievous task of serving drowning victims and their families.

And then in the background, our constables are quietly serving.  Their work is not always visible to us.  But they are doing their part. They are by no means invisible.

There are investigators working for the district attorney or for the county attorney.  We don’t see them as much, but they are not invisible to us. They are serving crime victims of all ages.

We are fortunate to have outstanding dispatchers. They are often the first to hear news of a crisis event and the last ones to know the outcome.  They keep us all going where we need to go.

I have had the opportunity to hang out with our medics more the past two years.  I am learning new vocabulary words from them.  (When I first started as a law enforcement chaplain, I learned some new vocabulary from them too, but I won’t repeat any of those words today.)
One of the phrases I learned is: level 0.  Level 0 means they are depleted.  Every truck is tied up. Every medic is occupied.

I think in recent days our first responders have been at level 0. Depleted emotionally.  Morale depleted. A feeling that there is little, if anything left to give.

I hope today you have been filled as we remind you that you are visible to us. 
And please know…we have targeted you for love, respect, and value. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Do You House the Bums in our Community?

Serving the community has been the theme of my sermons for this quarter.  I am using “community” in a geographical manner.  I am urging the church to serve the people that comprise our town.  We are what one writer calls a “rurban” town.  We are not rural but we are not urban either.  But we are fairly eclectic group of people.  In that line of thought, a comment from a friend reminded me that I overlooked a key lesson that needs to be conveyed during this series of sermons.

My friend directs a shelter for the homeless in her community.  Under her capable direction, the shelter is doing some innovative things for the homeless population they serve. It’s not an easy job. There are no simple answers to homelessness.  There are layers upon layers of concerns to address.
Earlier this week she received a call from a man that lives in their community.  During the course of the interchange he repeatedly made reference to the “bums in their community.”  His comment was striking to me on two levels. 

First of all, it’s easy to refer to various groups of people in a derogatory way if you have never interacted with them. If you choose to live your life in a small world, one of the consequences is that you will have a skewed and inaccurate view of all kinds of people.  I have spent a fair amount of time with homeless people over the years in a number of different contexts.  Each of their stories are unique.  I always walk away from those encounters reminded that every single one of those people were created in God’s image.  The consequence of that is fact is: they are deserving of the same respect I would demonstrate to any other person.

Secondly, I failed to share with the church during this sermon series that they will encounter people that don’t want serve the most vulnerable in our community. There are people that don’t care if some of the children attending our public schools go hungry over the weekends. (That is an area that our church has committed to help with.)  And there are people living in the community we are trying to serve that don’t care if an elderly lady gets her electricity turned off. Sometimes we are able to help such individuals on an emergency basis. There are people who see the effort to provide an annual summer camp for abused and neglected children as a total waste of time and resources. And there are people that view those that are homeless as “bums.”
The man’s comment was a reality check.  There are people out there that just don’t care. There are individuals that don’t respond well to reason. And there are the ignorant among us that paint entire groups of people with the same brush.  

How did my friend deal with the guy that inquired about the “bums” that the shelter she directs serve?  She finally had to end their conversation.  He was beyond reason.  I suspect the conversation went longer than I would have allowed it to go. And I know for a fact she was nicer than I would have been. A warning for those that choose to serve their community: there are unreasonable, selfish, and bigoted people out there.  You will encounter them. There is no doubt about that.   Be reminded: you are serving people that have been created in God’s image.  That’s their primary designation.  It really doesn’t matter what anyone else calls them. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Unusual Kindness

In the reading schedule we are doing at church this year, we read the section today that describes the inhabitants on the island of Malta showing the Apostle Paul and his companions “unusual kindness.”  (Acts 28:2).  My immediate reaction?  I want do that…I want to show people “unusual kindness.” But what does that look like? I tried to remember times that others have showed me such unusual kindness. It didn’t take long to remember…

In 1998, my family attended a church reunion in Wichita Falls.  It was one of the rare Sunday’s that I took off from my normal preaching duties at the church I served in Woodward, OK at that time.  We were on our way home in our 1992 Chevy Suburban, when that high mileage SUV threw an engine rod.  We were in the middle of nowhere. I mean the sticks. The boondocks…There was no cell service on that stretch of rural Oklahoma road.  There we were with three little boys. Our youngest was two years old at the time.
A lady happened along fairly soon and offered to take us to her home in Clinton, OK.  She could have been ax-murderer for all I knew, but from all appearances she looked and sounded very normal.  We went to her home….And we soon discovered that she was caring for her dying mother with the assistance of hospice. I was stunned. This lady’s life was in an uproar. She taking care of her mother right there in her home! And she still chose to stop and help us late on a Sunday afternoon as darkness was about to fall.

I think what she did can be classified as “unusual kindness.”  When someone chooses to serve total strangers even when things in their life are far from perfect that automatically qualifies the kindness to be unusual.  It’s good to remember events from nearly 17 years ago. I wonder how many other lives that compassionate woman has touched since then.  My old Suburban has probably is probably fair game for spare parts in an auto salvage yard somewhere by now.  But we have not forgotten here kindness. 
When have you experienced “unusual kindness?”  How did it shape the way you treat others today?

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Do YOU Feel Valued?

Every day on my way to work I am being tortured.  There are no breaks.  It happens every single day.  Some sadistic individual has placed a 1972 Chevy El Camino with a for sale sign right in my line of vision.  I can’t not look at it.  It is a beauty.  The body is perfect and I suspect the interior is equally flawless. I try not to think what is under the hood.  And I remind myself that it could be worse.  There could be a 1970 Pontiac GTO in similar condition parked in the same spot. 

I don’t dare get out of the car to inspect further, because I have a pretty good inkling what the asking price would be for such a beauty.  And naturally people would think I was terribly odd if I went up to the El Camino and told her how beautiful she is.  After examining her price-tag on the for-sale sign, I might even express to her that she is indeed priceless in my classic car loving mind. 

When I snap out of my self-induced classic car trance, I realize that people are more valuable than El-Caminos or GTO’s or even older model Camaro’s.  The people that we are blessed to associate with each day are truly priceless.  Even my dream car could not come close to comparing with the inherent value of the people that I love and care about.

I am consistently reminded that people often don’t feel valued.  And they certainly don’t view themselves as being priceless.  People feel devalued, demeaned, and cast aside.  A ministry colleague of mine in a distant city was recently terminated.  Church leaders gave him ample time to find a new place to minister. The bottom line is that they wanted someone else. He had not failed morally.  He was doing his job to the best of his ability.  The church simply wanted someone else.  They succeeded. He has moved on to a similar role in another state, but I suspect he feels devalued. Good ministers put their heart into their efforts. They make themselves vulnerable. And then they suffer the consequences.

I am determined to get my eyes off the El Camino and refocus on the people that I am blessed to associate with each day. I tend to be too pragmatic.  I thank people for something they have “done.”  That is going to cease for now. I am determined to express to others their inherent value as people.  I need to convey that I appreciate “them” and not just something they have done. 

There are a lot of good people serving behind the scenes.  I have friends that are taking 911 calls long after I fall asleep at night, and sending help to those in desperate need every single day of the year.  I wonder if they feel valued. I have friends placing their life on the line as they carry a badge and a sidearm. I know they are often devalued.  And I have friends working on an ambulance on the ground or in the air who are providing emergency medical services for those that are all too often unappreciative. Have I told them I value them?  And what about my colleagues in ministry?  The churches they serve may decide tomorrow that someone else could do their job better. As a seasoned veteran, I have a profound obligation to remind them of their value.

Now…as far as that sadist who put that El Camino in my line of vision….I have a few words for that person too!  Tell those that you love how priceless they are in your eyes. We never know when tomorrow could be too late. 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Law Enforcement and Racial Tensions: The Chaplain's Perspective

Law enforcement in America is under severe scrutiny. Simmering racial tensions between police and the citizens they are called to protect and serve have reached a boiling point in communities across America.  At the urging of a good friend and colleague, I am going to comment on such tensions.  My perspective is rather unique. I have been a law enforcement chaplain for over 25 years.  In that role, I am called to provide pastoral care both to officers and victims of crimes or other traumatic occurrences.  I have spent hundreds of hours riding with officers on patrol during their shift at all hours of the day and night since 1990.  What can I add to this dialogue? I am going to list a few things that I hope will prove to be helpful.

·       Are you well qualified?  When I was an undergraduate student, I worked for a gentleman that would ask me if I was “well qualified to discuss” a particular subject.  In the wake of events in Ferguson several months ago, I was literally stunned at the ill-informed comments being shared on social media. Ignorance appeared to be widespread. Individuals posted thoughts that on the surface sounded good, but in reality were not based on fact.  Such postings fuel the divide that exists between law enforcement and citizens.  Don’t post about a controversial event if you really don’t know what you are talking about. Your ignorance is destructive.

·       Will you admit your biases? I am biased. I readily admit it. I have worked with hundreds of well-trained, highly professional police officers for a long time. I have grown to love these men and women that have answered the call to protect and serve. But I also know my biases get me in trouble. I asked a veteran police officer what his thoughts were regarding events in Ferguson not long after the death of Michael Brown.  His response was not what I expected.  He said: “I really don’t know. I wasn’t there.”  I expected him to stand up quickly for a fellow officer.  But he told me that he didn’t have enough information regarding what actually occurred to form an intelligent opinion. This guy bleeds blue.  He is the consummate professional. He is loyal to his fellow officers in ways most people have an inability to comprehend.  He forced me to examine my own biases. He encouraged objectivity and fairness by his example.  I would urge everyone involved in this dialogue to do likewise.  Biases are destructive.

·       Are you an expert in police training?  I have a friend who is an engineer at NASA.  I have no clue what his role actually entails. But I thoroughly enjoy hearing about his job and absorbing what I am able. I don’t give my opinion on matters of which I know nothing about.  Be cautious about making rash statements about a police officer’s role until you have done good research.  Befriend an officer. Ask intelligent questions about his job.  Ask her about her role in the department. Inquire about training and standard order of procedure.  If your community allows citizens to do a ride-a-long, by all means take advantage of the opportunity. It will change your perspective dramatically. If you are not an expert in police training, refrain from armchair quarterbacking.

·       Can a video tell the entire Story?  Police officers work under a constant microscope. Dash-cams and now body-cams for some departments are constantly reviewed by police supervisors. They can be helpful in prosecuting certain crimes.  They can also reveal police misconduct.  But there are still some inherent pitfalls.  The NFL is figuring out that reviewing football plays via video is helpful, but not without issues.  Two things stand out regarding video.  The media often releases a couple of minutes from a police video that is commonly much longer. The entire story is seldom told by showing a fraction of the actual footage. The story is most often completed by eye-witness accounts and other forms of evidence that complement what is revealed by a video.  Don’t draw conclusions without sufficient evidence.

·       Are the police Infallible?  I have strong biases, but I as a minister I am also a reasonably good student of human nature.  Police officers make mistakes. Officers make grievous mistakes that often end up ending their career.  And when they do fail, it frequently affects a lot of lives. Another officer’s safety is compromised. Citizens are not served well.  People get hurt. Lives are even lost.  I have served departments over the years that do an exceptional job addressing internal issues. But I know that is not the case everywhere. I am a strong proponent of meaningful accountability that is enforced by individuals of integrity. Such a commitment is imperative during such a time as this.

·       Can racial bridges be built?  Racial bridges are going to have to be constructed.  Racial tensions are destroying any hint of trust that existed between minority citizens and the police. Negative and biased rhetoric is pouring gasoline on that fire.  The times call for non-anxious and objective voices from all sides of this issue.  All of us (including chaplains) are going to have to move beyond the realm of our relational comfort zone and contribute to the construction of relational bridges that will lead to the safety and well-being of officers and citizens alike. Police training has actually improved in this area substantially over the years.

I realize there are a lot of other things I could share here.  I just wish the average citizen could be exposed to the acts of kindness, heroism, and protection I have seen officers provide.  The words of a dear friend who lost his precious daughter in a car crash are ringing in my head.  He said: “Before my daughter was killed I understood the “protect part” of “protect and serve.”  After my daughter’s death, I now have an appreciation for the “serve” part.   I would write more, but I am thinking in terms of how we can build bridges that have been blown up by the bad behavior of a few. 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Consequences of Having Your Heart Ripped Out!

My heart has been ripped right of my body this week.  It has been taken out by force, placed on a hard surface and stomped on.  I suppose I really should explain. I am doing my second year residency this week for my master’s degree in mental health counseling.  (I know…what kind of nutcase goes back to school at age 51.)   But here I am taking a course this summer in counseling children and adolescents. The written coursework was great.  We learned how to apply the various theories of counseling in our work with younger clients. I wrote up a storm for this class. I can apply those theories in a word document like you can’t imagine.

But little did I know that the professor for this course is one of the most gifted counselors for children I have ever encountered?  She is highly competent.  And her passion for serving children inspires me in ways I cannot possibly express.  But there are dangers in taking a course like this from such a gifted professor!  She has chosen to drag us to into her world. And the consequences may never be reversed.

We have spent our afternoons this week at a residential care facility for children who have been neglected and abused.  Each student has been assigned one child to work with for the week.  My child is a little 8 year boy, who came from a horrendous home situation, prior to being placed at the facility where we are serving.  
Each day I get to hear about the interactions my fellow students are having with the children that been assigned to them for the week.  And each day my heart breaks a little more.  The things these precious children have seen….The emotions they are carrying… The void of basic care that has gone in their young lives. Children that have been forced to stay in hot garages. Children that had no clue when they would get to eat again.  I heard some stories today that finally sent me completely over the edge.  My heart literally broke. I didn’t know whether I wanted to hit someone or weep.  And then the words of another wise professor rang through my head…

I recall this professor telling his students in a spiritual formation class a number of years ago that we are not effective as God’s servants until our hearts have been broken. He required his students to do a ride-a-along with a police officer on the night shift for that expressed purpose.  He wanted his students to be exposed to the human condition in raw form, so their hearts might be broken…He wanted them to be servants that might make a difference in a broken world.

Dr. Robinson has exposed us to her counseling world.  A world where children experience unspeakable trauma.  And she has shared her own heart with us along the way. It would be so much easier to stick to the theories and the books that explain such ideas. Life would be a lot simpler if we just functioned in our little neat and tidy theoretical world. My heart would still be intact.  But if the truth be known, I want to make a difference.  At age 53, it’s time for my heart be broken in ways it never has been before. I really do want an effective servant, so I am grateful to Dr. Robinson for dragging me into her world.  The consequences will indeed never be reversed. And for that I am thankful.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Playing Golf with a Marine: It's Dangerous Business

Reading the newspaper is dangerous business.  There is no telling how a particular article may impact your life.  Last week I played in a golf tournament with a marine. He is not an active duty marine, but years ago it was pointed out me that there is no such thing as a “former marine.”  During our golf round he shared a story that continues to impact me.

He got up one morning and read the newspaper.  That’s not an unusual routine for those of us that spent decades reading our news in printed version long before there were online sources for such material. The news that day included a story about a young marine that was killed in battle.  The story affected him deeply.
The death of this young man could not be erased from his heart, so he decided to do something. He sought out a place in the Marine Corps Marathon that is held annually in Washington D.C. Securing a spot in that race is apparently no simple task.  But he persevered and managed to navigate his way through a variety of obstacles. Ultimately, a place was secured in the marathon. 

The hard part then followed.  It was time to start training for a marathon!  Most people start training in an effort to get fit or to lose weight. In other cases, people start running for social reasons. They have running partners that they want to run 5K’s with.  Those are certainly legitimate reasons to work out.  But Van’s motivation for becoming more physically fit was far different.  Little did he know….He was about to make a difference in someone’s life.

He began communicating with the young marine’s father.  He explained the intent to run the marathon in memory of the man’s son. As you can well imagine, the marine’s father was deeply touched by this extraordinary act of compassion.  My friend would travel from his home state of Wisconsin all the way to Washington D.C. to honor the service of a fellow marine.

The big day finally rolled around.  My friend completed the race.  His objective was met. But the story is not over.  After the marathon, the marine’s father traveled from his home to meet this stranger that had been motivated to honor his son after reading a newspaper article.  During their interchange the father gave his new found friend something very special to commemorate the marathon that year.  It was the last gift the father had given his son.  There was no one else on the face of the earth that he wanted to have that gift more than the man that ran in memory of his son.

My golf round suffered substantially after hearing this story.  How could I think about staying in the fairway, when my mind was consumed with a young marine and his grieving father?  I couldn’t help but ask my friend this question: “Are you and the marine’s father still in contact with each other?”  He said:  Well of course, we are as close as brothers.”   I wept inside. How could I not be deeply moved?

I am having crazy thoughts these days.  I am thinking about the need to be fit.  But it’s not about weight loss or socializing… I want to get fit, because perhaps I could make a difference in someone's life too. .Reading the newspaper is dangerous business and so is playing golf with people that change your life.  I am grateful that I got to play golf with a marine. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reflections on a 35 Year High School Reunion

It was an annual tradition at Wind Point Elementary School.   A photographer would set up in the school hallway to take individual pictures of each student.   They even provided combs for Dennis the Menace types such as myself.  As part of their services, they assembled a class picture featuring every student in that particular teacher’s room.   

Last night at the 35 year Horlick High School Reunion some of those class pictures from at least two elementary campuses were floating around the room. As these group photos that dated back to prehistoric 1968 were being examined, I expected commentary about hairstyles or a change in a particular person’s appearance.  That was not the case.  At all.  I heard expressions of affection.  There was a genuine longing to reconnect with classmates that have dropped off the radar screen.  It felt like we had rediscovered a piece of priceless artwork that had been tucked away in a dark closet for decades.  Perhaps that was a pretty accurate perception….

I know that the first 5 years are technically deemed the formative years for a child.  In my mind, the formative years include our entire elementary school experience.  After all, it is during that time period that children learn to read, write, and do basic math.   It’s also a time of learning how to socialize.  Friendships are forged for the first time in a child’s life.  The playground becomes a place to learn conflict resolution skills.  Learning to deal with each other’s differences and shortcomings teaches 2nd and 3rd graders tolerance and compassion.  And a handful of memories are etched on our hearts forever.

As we went through the routine of having pictures made every year, we had no clue that a priceless portrait was being assembled.  One year at a time… Every year another part of the portrait was completed.  By the time 6th grade rolled around, that era in our lives ended.  The completed portrait comprised of annual pictures taken in 1st-6th grade was finished and promptly placed in a box in that dark closet.

Last night we quietly dusted off the completed masterpiece.  Perhaps there was a reason for the void of cracks about hairstyles or changing appearances.  As we looked at the pictures for each year, we intuitively recognized that our classmates contributed to our formative years.  Our classmates had a part in the process of us becoming real adults.  Those friends contributed to our sense of wholeness.

It has been a long time since prehistoric 1968.  The adults that gathered last night for a 35 year high school reunion have all experienced various types of brokenness generated from living a real life.  But as we looked at the priceless portrait that is comprised of annual class photos, I think we felt a  renewed sense of wholeness.   How could that not happen when you are with the very people that traveled with you through the formative years?

I know I was blessed.  I moved away after the 7th grade, but the formative experience remained. I will be forever grateful for those that walked with me during that time period.   In a broken world, may we contribute constructively to one another’s wholeness.   Thank you Horlick Class of 1980.  Each of you are a blessing.