Friday, June 17, 2016

You Called Me One of your Athletes!

Language matters. It really does. What we say and how we say it can be life changing. A female police officer confided in me that more than one citizen in the community she served asked if she could send for a “real police officer” to handle their concern. She took their comments in stride and proceeded to do her job, but such comments can’t help but be hurtful.

At a wedding rehearsal several years ago, I was told by a member of the wedding party that “it didn’t look like I was missing any meals.”  It was a not so subtle way to communicate that I had put a few pounds on.  Such language does little to help someone make better choices in in their life. I know that I was uninspired.
And I fully realize in the name of “being honest”, that I have said terribly hurtful things to others over the years.  Being overly blunt and direct is frequently not the best direction to choose. Language matters.

Today I heard one of the best stories regarding language choice that I have ever heard. A friend and ministry colleague owned a gym in another life. It was a place to work out and get fit. I am quite sure she had quite the array of clients. No doubt there were men and women that could bench press their weight and then some! There were likely clients that were preparing to run marathons or triathalons. And… then there were other clients that were trying to make significant and needed lifestyle changes.

Heather was on the phone one day in her office at the gym when a client came in searching for a Band-Aid. This particular client in all likelihood had not bench pressing her weight.  And I don’t think she had been preparing for a marathon either. This woman was about 75 pounds overweight. She was in the gym simply trying to shed the excess pounds that had accumulated. That is really not a great position to be in when you are surrounded by those who are in a serious athletic training mode. In fact, it takes a lot of courage.  

In response to her bleeding client, my friend said to the person on the other end of the phone conversation: “I have to go. One of my athletes needs a bandage.” The lady seeking a bandage did not miss that comment. She heard it and her response was immediate. She said: “You called me one of your athletes.” A simple gesture made a difference in her life. She was not the overweight lady over there in the corner lifting weights. She was not an embarrassment to the gym.  She was one of Heather’s athletes. The spontaneity of Heather’s reference to her being “one of the athletes” no doubt added to the meaningfulness of the dialogue.

Watch what you say today. Someone needs a good word. A word of encouragement could make a difference. People often see themselves in the most negative way possible. Find an athlete to speak to today. Language matters. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Fathers Preparing their Sons for a Life of Action....NOT 20 Minutes of Action

When my oldest son was a toddler, I was called out by the police department in Wichita Falls to provide victim’s assistance and some spiritual presence to a woman that had been brutally raped by a group of men in an abandoned house. It was one of those call-outs that is still imprinted on my mind 25 years later. I couldn’t fathom that someone could a harm a woman in such a way. It remains beyond my comprehension. I am thankful to say that my boys think in a similar manner.

I raised three sons. They are all adults now. In fact, I can now say with confidence that they are now responsible adults. They have jobs and go to school.  The youngest will turn 20 in a matter of weeks. My youngest is about the same age as the 20 year old former Stanford student that was recently convicted of raping a young woman.  Key word is convicted. He was determined to be guilty beyond reasonable doubt of not one, but three felonies.

As a father of three sons, this case caused me to sit up and think…Would any of my boys be capable of committing such particularly heinous offenses? My sons are not angels by any stretch of the imagination. They are imperfect. And they were raised by an even more imperfect father. But in reference to the question I posed to myself, it did not take long to formulate an answer. None of my sons would ever purposely assault a woman. I am thankful I can say that with confidence.

I hate to state that publicly, because it sounds boastful. There is a little ring of self-righteousness. That is not my intent.  I am well aware that my sons are fully capable of doing foolish things, but the criminal offenses of the 20 year old college student taught me something very important.

Fathers of boys must get a few things right. Boys must be taught to respect women. Apparently the perpetrator’s father has no concept of respect. He has confused forcible rape with “20 minutes of action.” We shouldn’t be surprised by the actions of his son. The father is guilty too. He appears he is guilty of failing to teach his son about respect.

Fathers of boys must instill a desire in their sons to protect the vulnerable. The two graduate students that came to the rescue of the rape victim in this case learned somewhere along the way that protecting the vulnerable is a high priority. I thought about my own sons in this regard. Would they come to a woman’s rescue in similar circumstances? It didn’t take long to answer that question.

Fathers of boys must encourage their sons to take responsibility for their actions.  My oldest son threw a rock at a fellow student in Kindergarten and hit him in the head. He was reluctant to take responsibility. He cited David using a rock to deal with Goliath. And he referenced police officers protecting themselves from aggressors. But he will tell you today that he was still held responsible for his actions.

Fathers must prepare their sons for a lifetime of action.  They may need to step into action at anytime to help someone who is in desperate need. Brock Turner's father failed to prepare his son for the kind of action that real men engage in.  As Father's Day approaches, may this case serve as a solemn reminder of getting the basics right. 

There are still nights I lay awake brooding over the mistakes I made as a father. There were plenty.  But I am grateful to say today that I raised three respectful young men, who would protect a helpless woman from an aggressor in a heartbeat. I need to remember that on the sleepless nights when my fatherly imperfections feel especially overwhelming. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Saying "I am Sorry"" is not Sufficient: Speaking to a Grieving Heart

I am not a trained medic.  But I have had enough training in basic first aid to be able to instigate a few life saving techniques.  I know what to do if someone has a gaping injury that is causing profuse bleeding. All of us should possess such basic skills.  It might save someone’s life. Are we skilled in a similar manner when it comes to emotional first aid? I am thinking about someone whose heart is bleeding profusely.

I have several friends that are grieving this weekend. All of them have lost loved ones in recent years. In at least two cases, the loss occurred in the past week or two.  Their hearts are bleeding. Perhaps I should say: “I am sorry for your loss.”  That’s a kind thing to say.  And it’s better than some of the insensitive things that people are capable of communicating. Would I say that to a person bleeding on the side of the road in the immediate moments following an accident?  “Man, I am sorry you are losing so much blood. The professionals are on their way though.” 

I have a suggestion. It involves life-saving emotional first aid for the grieving person. If you knew the deceased person, tell your favorite story about them.  Bring up meaningful memories. Tell about an amusing experience with that individual. And most of all, tell their family WHY you loved them so much. Don’t hold back.  Be expressive even if you are not the touchy-feely type!

You won’t cure the wound.  But you will stop the emotional bleeding. The person you are speaking to will treasure your words forever. You may share something about their loved one that they were not previously aware of.

The greatest insult to a grieving person is to forget the person they lost. Speak freely. Don’t be afraid. Use the deceased person’s name!  And by all means, don’t just leave your friend on the side of the road to grieve alone. It’s a lonely journey.