Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It's too Dark to Go Out there Without a Father...

Jim McGuiggan is one of my longtime heroes in ministry.  I heard him speak last January.  He still has that uncanny ability to speak to the heart as well as the head.  Here is a small portion of an article he composed in 1977 that was recently reprinted. 

In Ireland where milk is sold in glass bottles, a seven year old was asked by his father to the put the bottles at the end of the path so the milkman could get them the next morning.  It was pitch black outside. Scared but faithful, the boy did his job.  Racing back, he grabbed the father and panted: “It’s too dark to go out there without a father!”

I could not agree more.  The world is too dark to go out there without a father… My father died suddenly when I was 15 years old.  I did my best to make my way in the darkness, but I stumbled and faltered as I muddled through the teen years.  It was just too dark to be going out there without a father.  But that soon changed…

But the truth is, I have never been without a father.  All through the years men have stepped up and fulfilled that role.  My employer during my years as an undergraduate university student did not allow me to venture very far in the darkness alone.  I am so grateful for his strong presence during that time period.   And as the years have flown by, there have been others that have walked with me in dark hours.

Sometimes I wonder what my role is as a father to three adult sons.  I do NOT want to a helicopter parent that hovers over them or a snow-plow parent that runs ahead trying clear the way for them.  I just want to be a father.  McGuiggan has helped.  My role is to walk with them through all of the ups and downs of life.  After all, it’s too dark to go out there without a father. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Join Me at the Local Hole in the Wall....Where Lifelong Friendship is Affirmed

I have always had a fondness for mom and pop hole in the wall eating establishments.   When I travel, I am not drawn to the chain restaurants.   The local cafĂ© with an old fashioned soda fountain might be nice instead.   Or I am even inclined to patronize a unique place that draws the hipster crowd.  I love the places that draw a diverse group.

Harold’s Barbeque in Abilene is closed now.  (Harold retired.)  Its building was not exactly pristine.  And you never knew who you might “join” for lunch as you shared a picnic table together.  The walls were filled with pictures of celebrities that had eaten at Harold’s over the course of three generations.  Some of my best memories of my oldest son’s college years in Abilene were the lunches we enjoyed over a “Q-basket” at Harold’s.

When we lived in Oklahoma, I would pick the boys up from school and take them to lunch.  Their choice of cuisine was a mom and pop place called Chicken Roscoe’s.  There was very limited seating in the tiny building, so it was a community experience to eat there at noon.  You found an empty seat at a table. And most of the time that table was occupied by people that you probably would not ordinarily dine with.  My boys were exposed to some memorable social situations at Chicken Roscoe’s.

In Wichita Falls, there is the Pioneer Restaurant.  The only place I have eaten that has individual juke boxes at each table.  And it also has the distinction of serving French fries with Mexican food.  When our older boys were small, we spent many memorable Sunday evening’s enjoying a meal with friends from church.

I spent my formative years in Racine, Wisconsin.  When I go back to see lifelong friends, I find myself drawn to the mom and pop places that feel like a symbol of our shared childhood.  When we gather together to break bread together as 50 something’s now, such places feel sacred.   Having our feet under a table with each other is one of the real blessings of life.

I spent last weekend with two of my boys in Oklahoma City.  I felt the absence of my firstborn profoundly.  But spending time with two of them was great.  And where did they take me to dinner on Friday night?  We drove 42 miles to Okarche, OK so we could dine at Eischen’s to eat their “famous chicken.”  When you order chicken there, you are served an entire chicken.   The menu is very limited, but the chicken and accompanying fried okra was great!

As we drove back to Oklahoma City, it occurred to me that my boys are drawn to the mom and pop hole in the wall sort of places.   A stark reminder that the apple does fall far from the tree… I hope they too can build lifelong friendships with the people that they put their feet under the table with in such places.  I read a blog recently that made the point that people come and go in and out of our lives. I suppose that is true.   But it occurred to me that the blogger is probably too young to have reunited with friends he grew up with.  As he ages, he may re-write that blog.   Yes…people come and go.  But sometimes they come and go and return again.  We reunite and place our feet under a table in places that have existed for generations like Harold’s or the Pioneer or Eischen’s.    And we are overwhelmed with gratitude for the friendships that make life rich.  

Saturday, February 14, 2015

My Life as a Business Tycoon

Accounting Principles changed the direction of my life.  Seriously, it really did!  I was enrolled in my second year as an undergraduate student as a marketing major.  My goal in life was to be a business tycoon.  But then accounting principles rolled around in the degree plan. The professor had just earned his PHD at a prominent university in the Midwest.  He told us on the first day of class that accounting principles would be a weed-out course. In his estimation, 50% of us would not pass that semester. I struggled and struggled… And it did not help that I had a love interest that was definitely distracting me!  Ultimately, I dropped the course.  In fact, I dropped out of school mid-term that semester. There were multiple issues going on in my life. My future as a business tycoon started seeming very unlikely.

I transferred to another university the spring semester of that academic year. I finished an undergraduate degree and went on to graduate school as well.  I was later privileged to do some adjunct teaching for two universities. As an instructor, I started a tradition on the first day of class. I told the students about my professor of accounting principles. The looks on their faces were priceless. But I was quick to point out that my accounting professor was clueless as an educator.  And I stressed that I wanted to do everything within my power to help them to succeed that particular semester. The professor of accounting taught me very little in that field, but he unknowingly taught me a lot about how to be an educator.

At age 52, I am back in school.  I know…how can crazy can you get?  I am working on a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling.  I love the program. My cohort is exceptional.  I am ready to be equipped to serve in new and exciting ways.  But this semester I am taking statistics.  My brain is not wired for statistics any more than it is for accounting.  The same insecurities and fears I had as a 19 year old undergraduate student have returned with a vengeance this semester.

Our professor has not said a word about “weeding us out of the program.”  In fact, she has repeatedly encouraged us to email her with questions.  She has also stated repeatedly that she simply wants us to learn the material.  I believe she has the heart of an educator.  And I am grateful that I may actually survive statistics. 

How do we treat people?  Do we set them up for failure?  Or do we do everything within our power to help them to succeed?  I am thankful for the true educators I have been blessed with over the years.   And I am even thankful for a clueless professor of accounting. I would have never made it as a business tycoon, if I could not account for the millions that would have poured in!  Let’s commit to setting others up for success.