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...