Here’s Johnny

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Last night Andrea and Kevin wanted to orchestrate a belated birthday dinner for the General. Of course, as part of the entourage, I was also invited. In all truthfulness, I can say it proved to be an exceptional evening.

 

For starters, Andrea and Kevin chose a restaurant where the General and I have never been. Truthfully speaking, I am mostly a stranger to the kind of fine dining that includes something more than a white tablecloth and dinnerware. I am not accustomed to having a myriad of choices for the first course, second course, main course and the grand finale (aka – desert).

 

It was a touching moment when Andrea looked at the menu and said to her mom, “Why don’t we take this and this and this for starters?” She offered several suggestions to include for the second course and pretty much left the third course for our own choosing.

 

Seriously, for the most part, I had looked at the menu and had no idea what was being served. When it comes to culinary choices that include something outside my regular fare or frame of reference, my first reaction is to look for something else on the menu that seems more familiar. I kind of discount the possibility that I will like it if I haven’t already tried it.

 

Andrea has a culinary charm about her where she can get by with promoting a menu selection for consideration. She does a good job of convincing you that you have a treat in store. I had a flashback to the General coaxing Andrea throughout her childhood to try different foods.

 

It was both interesting to observe and experience the role reversal-taking place before my eyes. Andrea was taking on the role of teacher and mentor. Though she’d never suggest that we were her inept students, we were on unfamiliar territory. She was pretty convincing that we would enjoy the taste. Never once did she use the line: “It is good for you”.

 

The waiter was a young man named Johnny. Actually, when he first came to our table, I missed his providing us his name. At least, I didn’t recall his name when he came back around. Consequently, when he came back around I said: “Help me with my memory. I don’t remember your name.” He smiled and said: “It is Johnny. Just like Johnny Cash, except that I don’t have any cash. Okay, so now I had a frame of reference. I would remember his name.

 

As our two-hour-plus dinner took place, I watched Johnny interacting with a host of other folks dining in the restaurant. He was attentive, personable, and had a genuine gregarious nature about him that added to the ambience of the evening.

 

He mentioned early in waiting on our table that he had just returned to work. He had been on vacation. I asked about his vacation and he provided a thumb-nailed sketch. He had gone to Arizona. While he was there, he attended his brother’s wedding. He added: “I also had a great time visiting with my mom. I sprung her from the hospital for a while. She has just finished chemo and radiation treatments”. He mentioned that in four months she has aged about fifteen years.

 

Immediately, I had the thought associated to the complexity of his family’s circumstances. His mother’s health status had to weigh heavily on the family as they rallied around and celebrated a family wedding. I’m sure there were lots of emotions surrounding the celebration.

 

I mentioned that I was sorry he was dealing with that kind of stress. He said, “It comes with life”. Who could argue with that? He went on to say: “It is interesting, but my mother has developed the most magnificent sense of humor. She had never been so funny. I guess she figures, ‘What do I have to lose’?”   He added: “I really enjoyed the time with her. In addition, my brother’s wedding provided an opportunity for me to visit with a lot of old friends I’ve not seen in awhile. It was really nice. I enjoyed my time at home, but it is also good to be back at work.”

 

Through the course of the evening, bits and pieces about his life surfaced in conversation. He mentioned George Straight’s song: “Ocean Front Property In Arizona”. He said he had recorded the song and given it to several friends. His friends had responded with positive reviews.

 

I asked: “So did you come to Austin to get in the music business?” He said he had graduated from high school at the age of seventeen and was ready to advance his career. He had started skateboarding at the age of four and thought he could make it as a professional skateboarder. California was calling his name. He had to go and give that career track a chance”.

 

I doubt that is just the kind of thing every parent wants to hear from his or her seventeen-year-old son? Actually, he told his dad he was going to request court emancipation. The dad countered that he would allow him to go, but that he wasn’t going to be emancipated. The dad wanted to keep him on as an income tax deduction. Did I mention that his dad is a CPA and his mother is an art professor?

 

He had support from his family as he pursued his dreams. In the course of the two hours we shared, he shared several more tidbits about his life. He got a degree in nursing and things began to fall apart with his girlfriend at exactly the same time that he was beginning to see a line of white picket fences.

 

I had the thought: “What a clever way to express where he was in his human pilgrimage.” Romance didn’t work out in California and he made his way to Austin. His story associated to getting into the restaurant business really caught me by surprise. He said, “It was all about the Balloon Animals”. “The what”, I asked?” He said when he was still in high school a friend had showed him a stash of cash in his wallet. He said: “He had twenties and hundred dollar bills.” His friend explained: “I’ve been working at a restaurant making animals out of balloons for children.” He said, “The parents love it and they pay me. Some pay me very well”.

 

“You’ve got to show me how to do that,” was his response to his friend. In short order, he received permission to do the same thing in another restaurant. He said, “I guess it was my gregarious nature, but folks really liked me. When the restaurant decided to stop allowing me to do that, they said I was too valuable to loose. They employed me as a part-time server while I was in high school”.

 

When asked about his passion going forward he said: “I am a writer. I was made to write. I can’t stop writing. I haven’t gotten anything published yet, but I will. I write. I can’t stop writing”.

 

Something tells me, he’s got the stuff to reach his dreams. I liked his line: “I was beginning to envision a line of white picket fences”. What an incredible way to say much in a very different way of expressing it!

 

Johnny gave me permission to share his story and reluctantly provided the same regarding his picture. It would serve you well to find him. He is an exceptionally knowledgeable server who works for an incredible restaurant. You’ll enjoy a fantastic meal and an exceptional waiter.

 

All My Best!

Don

Photography – A Moment In Time

Tamara Gunter was not a stranger to faraway places. She traveled the world over. She fell in the category of the gifted and talented and she courageously chose to live life to the fullest despite the lack of treatment options that could effectively extend her life. She left this life for the next on May 19, 2019 at the age of forty-eight.

Her last jaunt across the globe was to Morocco where she opted to take photographs by day and by night. As a tourist, she figuratively saw it all and the book that bears her name and chronicles her travels in Morocco includes ancient cities and multiple regions – over the Atlas Mountains, through the southern oases and across the sweeping Sahara to the Atlantic coast.

She even opted to experience the country without being surrounded by the frills of comfort. As a lone American traveling in the Sahara Desert, she had no fear associated to making her bed inside a Bedouin tent. In fact, it was an experience she wanted to make her own.

Tamara knew her days were numbered and that she was running out of time.  Whether other members of her family knew of her travel plans to Morocco prior to her trip, I do not know. I know that her mother did not know of the trip until her daughter’s return. 

The one thing on her bucket list that Tamara didn’t accomplish was to have an exhibition of her photography. Her family resolved to complete that last request yesterday on what would have been her 49th birthday at Image Art in Austin.  

I did not have the privilege of personally knowing Tamara, but I wanted to attend the posthumous birthday celebration and photography exhibition because I’ve come to highly value and love her mother. Anne Boykin, Tamara’s mother was a college friend of my twin brother.  Today, she is my friend.

I never met Tamara in person, but she was on my prayer list for many months prior to her death. Anne and I became friends on Facebook two or three years ago. She was a Facebook friend of Karoni, my brother’s daughter. For that matter, I had never met Anne in person until a day or two following her daughter’s death.

I was extended the honor of speaking at Tamara’s memorial service held in College Station by her mother. The program included my name and reference to the fact that I was pastor of Henly Baptist Church. That and $2.25 generally gets you a cup of coffee where I buy mine.

Six degrees of separation is the theory that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries.

Take for example, Fred Worley [the man pictured in the brown sports coat]. Until last night, I had never met Fred before.  Fred grew up in College Station. In fact, his sister Evelyn was a childhood friend of Anne’s.  I learned that story from Anne last night. 

Anne’s family had moved to a new home in College Station. She was age six at the time.  Wanting neighborhood friends, her mother mentioned to her that there was a girl about her age that lived a block away. She suggested that Anne ride her bicycle over to the girl’s house and meet her.    

Anne says that she used to be shy. Frankly, I have a difficult time believing that is actually the case. If the story is true, Anne has certainly overcompensated with the passing of time. At any rate, when Anne got to the neighbor’s home, she didn’t have the courage to go to the door. She did an about-face, and rode her bicycle back home.

When she returned home, her mother commented that she had not been gone long and asked how the visit went. Anne confessed that she didn’t have the courage to knock on the door.  Her mother redirected her and said the girl’s mother was a school teacher. In fact, she was a second-grade teacher. That would be Anne’s grade the following year. With that redirection, Anne retraced her steps. She and Evelyn, the girl in the neighborhood, have been lifelong friends since that time.

Fred Worley, the man in the picture is Evelyn’s older brother.  He is the architect that Anne used when she built her home in the Rob Roy neighborhood near the lake in Austin.  Anne no longer lives in that home, but I’ve seen pictures. The home and landscaping were second to none.  The construction phase of the home took two years to complete. Following the home’s completion, the first people invited to a welcoming party were the construction workers and their families. That speaks volumes about the things that Anne find’s important. 

As I mentioned, I was honored with the privilege of speaking at Tamara’s memorial service in College Station. Fred Worley, reportedly saw the program and the reference to Henly Baptist Church. He shared with Anne that he had designed the architectural plans for the fellowship hall for that church.

He didn’t mention to Anne that he had provided the building plans for the church without cost. The building was constructed by Texas Baptist Men, a volunteer group in associated to the Texas Baptist Convention. Last night, I overheard Anne introducing Fred to someone and she referenced that he was the architect for her home in Austin.  I subsequently introduced myself to Fred and we had a really nice visit.  

Last night’s photography exhibition honoring Tamara was well attended and the 27 pictures selected for display were outstanding.  I was very glad that we carved out the time to attend.

All My Best!

Don  

A Busy Week

I’m not sure how long I slept after boarding the nonstop flight from Washington to Austin at the end of the workday yesterday. Upon awakening, I noticed the lady in the middle seat had a package of crackers. They were the bite-size kind provided by Southwest Airlines. Obviously, I had slept through the passing out of snacks. Did I mention, I hate it when that happens? To add insult to injury, the crackers were the good kind? 

Instead of peanuts, you now mostly get a very small package of pretzels on Southwest Airline flights. Gone are the “good old days” when peanuts were the snack of choice. Now pretzels are mostly the only snack offered. I almost said they were the snack of choice, but I really don’t believe that. I’d much prefer the peanuts. I am not a fan of the pretzels.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I once had the experience of being one-of-three passengers that flew out of Austin to Dallas on a Boeing 737 Aircraft that had a capacity of hauling 120 or more passengers. Because of very heavy fog in the Austin area, nothing was getting off of the ground.  

Folks with “enough sense to stay in out of the rain” also had enough sense not to drive to the Austin airport when you couldn’t see twenty-feet in front of a car. Okay, so now you know into which category yours truly falls.

That was back in the day when Southwest Airlines flew out of Robert Mueller Municipal Airport near downtown Austin.  Austin and the surrounding areas were totally encased in a very heavy blanket of fog. You literally could not see more than a few feet in front of you. 

I’m still not sure how I made it to the airport in time to catch a Sunday afternoon flight.  Needing to return the rental car was my primary motivation. Okay, so I also needed to be at work in Dallas the next morning.  Apparently, the SWA flight crew out of Love Field desperately wanted to get back home before nightfall.  After we boarded the flight, the plane set on the tarmac for well over two hours before permission was granted from the tower for the flight to takeoff.

Once the plane was in the air, each of us (the three passengers on board) were given a very large plastic bag filled with individually wrapped small packages of peanuts. The peanuts became my source of afternoon snacks for the next several weeks. Obviously, there are advantages of flying high on SWA.

Those days are gone. Too many people now have allergies related to peanuts. Now during routine flights, instead of peanuts, you get a small package of pretzels. However, as an alternative to pretzels, during flights that normally cover a meal-time-hour, you get something a little more substantive. The small cracker bites are a real treat. At least that’s the way I interpret it.

Despite the fact that I was starving when I woke up (I use that term loosely), I knew I wouldn’t ask for a package of crackers unless a flight attendant asked me if I needed anything. Since they didn’t ask, I didn’t get the crackers.

My flight arrived in Austin on schedule at 8:30 p.m. last night. By the time I got my luggage, boarded a shuttle to the parking lot and located my truck, it was 10:00 p.m. before I got home.  

The General had asked me earlier if I’d have dinner in Washington before I got home. I assured her that I would, but I did not. So, how did I quince my appetite?  This may sound strange, but I simply chose to reflect how many ways my life is enriched by meaningful connections with people.

My daughter says my youngest grandson is an old soul in a young body.  He often makes the statement: “It is better to have it and not need it, than to not have it and need it.” His dad has taught him well. 

Late last week, it had been freezing cold in Washington, D.C. Consequently I packed my heavy wool coat when I headed to the airport on Monday morning.  You could have knocked me over with a feather on Monday afternoon, when I walked out of the airport terminal into very favorable weather conditions.  What was true for Monday was also true for the following two days.  You didn’t need a heavy coat in Washington. A suit coat sufficed. I had the heavy wool coat, but didn’t need it.

However, you did need an umbrella on Tuesday. I had one in my backpack.  The legislative visits on Capitol Hill on Tuesday and Wednesday couldn’t have gone better.  A lobbyist for one of our member agencies voluntarily helped the organization where I served while helping her client.  I was amazed at her resourcefulness in opening doors and making contacts with people who support the Committee on Ways and Means.  It was a good week!

In addition, my friend Moe who retired from his full-time job a month ago, was back on track as a board member for the organization for which I work.  He accompanied the lobbyist and me on Capitol Hill as well. The visits were all good.

In addition to work, while I was away, I also had a chance to finish reading a book I recently started reading. I have a friend named Bob who is older than I am. I’m guessing probably a decade older.  Would you believe, he is an avid reader and he consistently reads three books a week? I figure if Bob can do it, I can as well.  Okay, so maybe that’s too lofty of a goal, but my world is better when I fill my head with books rather than the 6:00 news.

I have much for which to be thankful. When I get too busy to be in touch with a spirit of gratitude, I do myself a tremendous disservice. In addition, ceaseless activity without an awareness of how it all enriches my life and utilizes the gifts I’ve been given is a catalyst for burnout and dissatisfaction.  Why not focus on the things that work, rather than the things that cause friction?

Consequently, if your still reading today’s posting, let me say “thank you”. Thank you for the connection and friendship we share. You all support my greatest good and make my life better. Seriously, I couldn’t do it without you.

Last night on my flight back from Washington to Austin, I simply contemplated how other people enrich my life. In addition, to family and friends, I also continue to find fulfillment in the roles in which I am privileged to participate. The church where I serve as pastor continues not to give-up on me. They no doubt have stars in their crown for being long-suffering, patient and loving.  

The privilege of working with a professional organization of children’s homes and boarding schools, keeps my interest in child welfare related matters current.  My world is full and my life is enriched.

I didn’t go to bed hungry last night. I went to bed with the sense that my life is blessed well beyond my deserving.

All My Best!

Don

Rainy Day Fund

One of the parental instructions I grew up with related to the importance of saving something back for a rainy day. Perhaps you did as well?  Do you remember the early childhood fun associated with putting coins in a piggy bank? Back in the 1950s, a nickel, a dime, and a quarter that filled a ceramic pig, all collectively had the potential to add up to buying power in the world of a six-year-old.

Even forty-years-ago, as a much younger adult, a hundred dollar bill represented something more than a meal in a moderately priced restaurant.  I recently asked a young man about his dinner date on the night of his Junior/Senior prom. He said he had a great time, but he almost choked over the price of the meal for he and his date. With the tip, the total came to $101 and pocket change.  

The year was 1981.  For whatever reason, I put a $100 bill in my secret rainy day fund.  I set it aside to so something special. I can’t remember now, what I subsequently decided to use the money for, but it wasn’t there when I needed it.  I guess you could say I learned a valuable lesson at my own expense. 

The lesson I learned is this: “Never use the pocket of a suit coat to hide a hundred dollar bill”.  As it turned out, the week before, I had taken three or four suits that I seldom wore and donated them to the Senior Citizen Thrift Store in Dripping Springs.  Upon the discovery, I immediately retraced my steps, hoping to find the suit still hanging on a rack.  The lady in the store remembered my suits and me. She said, “The suits were really nice. They sold immediately.”  Alas, my secret rainy day fund was forever gone. Perhaps it was to a good cause.

With close to a dozen banks in Dripping Springs, no one needs to rely on hiding money under their mattress to ensure their future economic safety.  I don’t remember where my paternal grandparents hid their rainy day fund, but I do remember that when they purchased their last new car, they stopped at a roadside park just outside the town where they were purchasing the vehicle and counted the money out of paper bag to pay cash for the car. That, too, was probably not the best plan, but it seemingly worked for them.

The Federal Government recently took credit for passing sweeping legislative changes related to retirement plans.  I shuddered when I saw the headlines.  Did they really? The legislation Congress passed was tacked on to a “must pass” budget bill. As it turns out, the law probably works best in everyone’s best interest. It provides tax credit advantages for businesses for initiating a retirement plan. It also delays the age that you have to start receiving a minimum level of distribution. Of course, to benefit, you must have something set back in retirement savings or a 401(k) plan.

The road to retirement can seem long, but for many it may not be long enough. Reportedly, almost half of Americans have nothing saved for retirement.

I recently talked with a friend who pro-actively has ensured his golden years will be comfortable. For years, he has invested in his employer’s retirement plan and additionally, in other 401(k) plans. Of course, he subsequently made a discovery that caused him to second guess the security associated with any of it.

Last year, he looked online at the amount reflected in his 401(k) account associated to his employment and immediately saw that something wasn’t right.  Would you believe, the net amount reflected in the account was down by $350,000?  

With some degree of urgency, he telephoned to inquire.  Wanting to appear calm, he simply asked for an explanation of how the online total seemed different than his personal records reflected. Their response caused him to drop the calm demeanor. They reminded him that he had just taken a significant early withdrawal from his account.

So what really happened? It is speculated that someone had looked at his company’s website, picked out his name as an officer of the corporation, did research related to the name of the firm managing the companies retirement accounts and set in place a plan to solicit an early distribution.

A person identifying himself as my friend telephoned to request an application for an early withdrawal. My friend uses a nickname, rather than the official name reflected on his retirement account.  Reportedly, the person calling identified himself by the nickname and answered the security questions that included his mother’s maiden name and the name of the street where he grew up.  Consequently, the firm faxed the application for an early distribution to a number in Mississippi.

The application for early withdrawal was subsequently returned to the third party administrator with an address in Chicago indicating where the check was to be mailed.  Hence, the taxes for the early distribution were deducted from the total amount and the check was mailed.  

Fortunately, the timing was such that the check was canceled before it was chased, but to say it was a close call in an understatement.  An investigator offered suggestions that would serve us all well to note.  

When it comes to answering security questions, the investigator advised to never provide accurate information. Folks wanting to harm you can find your accurate information. They can research your mother’s maiden name, the street where you grew up, the mascot for your school, etc.  They may even know your favorite color.

Be safe. Be cautious. Save for a rainy day!  

All My Best!

Don

True Sadness

I drove to the airport in Austin yesterday morning long before daylight. From almost the very start, I opted to drive in silence.  It was fortuitous for me that I had extra time, because sometimes the rush of needing to be somewhere can be daunting. That is often true when I have and early morning flight. 

Yesterday morning, I figuratively had all the time in the world. Consequently, I planned my arrival with ample time to write my morning blog while I consumed overpriced coffee and waited for the schedule at Southwest Airlines to catch up with mine.

When I plugged the charger into my phone, after getting into the truck, the sound of the Avett Brothers filled the interior of the cab. Maybe it was the words of the song that prompted the line of my thinking.  The song was entitled, “True Sadness”.

If you’ve not heard the song, it chronicles a story worth hearing. “You were a friend to me when my wheels were off the tracks / And though you say there is no need / I intend to pay you back / When my mind was tuning loose and all my thoughts were turning black / You shined a light on me / And I intend to pay you back”.

It is the chorus to the song that spoke volumes to me: “But I still wake up, shaken by dreams / And I hate to say it, but the way it seems / That no one is fine / Take the time, to peel a few layers / And you will find / True sadness”.

As the song concluded, I turned off the sound and thought about the people I know who, despite outward appearances, live with a sense of true sadness.  Truth be told, life doesn’t turn out for everyone the way we anticipate.  

I thought about a friend in his late eighties that finds himself in the midst of transition. On the brink of homelessness, he fortunately had a friend to call. He’d be the first to say that “everything is okay”, but I caught the look in his eyes that reflects the words of the song: “true sadness”.

As I drove to the airport yesterday morning, I thought about several folks who are “making the best of it”, but they’ve all been thrown a curveball by life. As a result, it has altered their tomorrows. 

Never say never in regard to the possibility of turning back, but perhaps nothing is as good as the unseen road ahead.  At the end of the day, it may have some relationship to the traveling companions one surrounds themselves with for the next leg of their journey.

One of the verses in true sadness states: “When I was a child I depended on a bottle / Full grown I’ve been know to lean on a bottle / But you’re the real deal in a world of imposters / And I’ve seen the program make men out of monsters”.

I guess it all gets back to where and to whom you turn when you’re up against the wall.  Life becomes a lot more complex when all you can see is the wall or the traces of a dream not yet realized.

There is more truth than fiction to the notion that once you really get to know a person, when you take the time to peel back a few layers, you find true sadness somewhere in their past.  In his book, Unshakeable Hope, Max Lucado mentions a story that seems to fall into that category.  “The sixty-year-old body of Timothy Henry Gray was found under a Wyoming overpass two days after Christmas in 2012”.  Lucado doesn’t mention that the body was found by thirteen-year-old-boy and his ten-year-old sister. They had sledding at the time.

Interestingly, according to a story written by Ali Kate Cherkins: “At the end of 2012, NYC-based photographer Elijah Solomon Hurwitz read a news story that left him with a slew of questions. A few weeks later, he set off for a hard-up cowboy town in Wyoming to answer them, leading to his series The Winter of Timothy Gray. He says, ‘I was looking for clues into the life of Timothy Henry Gray, a homeless man whose body was discovered under a railroad overpass by a brother and sister trudging up their favorite sledding hill.’ Gray had died of hypothermia at the age of 60. Inside his tattered wallet, police found an ID, a California phone number written on a crumpled piece of paper, and a cashier’s check for $54,000. “Headlines the next day read, ‘Potential heir to $300 million Clark copper fortune found dead, homeless.’ He was the legal great-grandson of reclusive NYC heiress Huguette Clark.”

According to Lucado, “Gray’s great grandfather was a wealthy copper miner, railroad builder, and the founder of a small Nevada town you might have heard of: Las Vegas. His fortune was passed down to his daughter, Huguette. She died in 2011 at the age of 104.”

Someone described Timothy Henry Gray as being in a “Howard Hughes phase”. He was a loner. One of the pictures that Elijah Solomon included in his series The Winter Of Timothy Gray depicts a feral cat jumping from a van in a junkyard where Gray sold copper, gold and aluminum.  Cherkins added this notation: “Says George Riker, ‘If Tim saw someone coming towards him he’d turn around and walk the other direction. He was…spry. A snappy stepper. I admire a snappy stepper.’ Riker speculates Gray might have fed the cats living in this junkyard.”

Every single person that we meet has a story.  How can we be the kind of friend to others that assists when someone’s wheels are off the tracks? It could make a world of difference to both them and us.

All My Best!

Don

Kindness

At face value, the headline was accurate.  My initial interpretation of the headline could have been something other than the truth. The headline read: “Kirk Douglas’ $61M fortune given mostly to charity, none went to son Michael Douglas”.  So why would a 103-year-old father opt to exclude his son and namesake “Michael Kirk Douglas” out of his will? A passing glance at the headline might cause one to wonder if there had been a breach in the relationship between the father and his son? 

I don’t always get it right, but estrangement and “bad blood between them” wasn’t my initial impression.  A quick Google search reflected that Michael Douglas didn’t need a financial inheritance from his father.  His personal financial resources far exceed those of his father.

Obviously, the father-son relationship shared between Kirk Douglas and his son Michael was one filled with love and the closet of familial connections.  Following his father’s death on February 5th, Michael released the following statement: 

It is with tremendous sadness that my brothers and I announce that Kirk Douglas left us today at the age of 103. To the world he was a legend, an actor from the golden age of movies who lived well into his golden years, a humanitarian whose commitment to justice and the causes he believed in set a standard for all of us to aspire to.

But to me and my brothers Joel and Peter he was simply Dad, to Catherine, a wonderful father-in-law, to his grandchildren and great grandchild their loving grandfather, and to his wife Anne, a wonderful husband.

Kirk’s life was well lived, and he leaves a legacy in film that will endure for generations to come, and a history as a renowned philanthropist who worked to aid the public and bring peace to the planet.

Let me end with the words I told him on his last birthday and which will always remain true. Dad- I love you so much and I am so proud to be your son.”

Wouldn’t it be great if that kind of relationship between a father and son could withstand the test of time and extend from the cradle until either of them are on the other side of eternity?  

Over the past several days, I’ve thought about a number of people that I know in the midst of relational difficulty.  So often, the level of difficulty they experience is so intense that it is impossible to focus on anything other than circumstance. I won’t say they are self-absorbed, because generally, they are not.  But when you are up against the wall, sometimes the only thing you can see is the wall.

By happenstance, I thought this week about an email I once received from a man I didn’t know. He was a man of few words.  He didn’t include a lot of information. Yet, he shared enough information that I found his situation concerning.  

I wanted to offer a word of encouragement. Despite the fact that this man was mostly a mystery, his needs were real.  His circumstances tugged at my heartstrings. He was also a man of wisdom. I will explain that part later.

His email message was brief: “I’ve lost my wife. I’ve lost my job. I want to be a good father to my children. Could you share Scriptures with me that could help?  Those few words and his name are the only information he shared.

Honestly, I don’t actually remember the order in which he chronicled his losses. I’m not sure it really matters.  It doesn’t really matter if the loss of his job or the loss of his wife came first. Both represent overwhelming circumstances. It also doesn’t matter which was most disturbing to him. Either could be the source of great anguish.

He mentioned wanting to be a good father for his children.  That, too, tugged at my heartstrings. Children need both parents. I made the assumption that the man’s children were probably with their mother, maybe not?  Regardless of their location, they need his support, his encouragement, his love and his presence.

In responding to his email, I wanted to provide what he he’d requested. I pulled together some Scriptures I thought would be helpful.

I prefaced my email response by stating that I often look to the Psalmist when I’m in the midst of difficulty and hardship.  David is such a good role model. Often in his life, he faced overwhelming circumstances; life threatening circumstances. Yet in each of his hardships and difficulties he faced, he made his petitions before God. 

Each time the awareness of God’s presence altered his perception of the threat and the overwhelming nature of the circumstances he faced. It carries with it the ring of truth: “If God be with us, who can stand against us?” [Romans 8:31]

In addition to including Scriptures in my email response, I also offered to personally visit with the man if he was in the area or to have telephone contact with him, if he wanted to talk.

How would you have answered the man’s request?  What would you have shared? What information do you have based on experience to offer as a frame of reference to depend upon?

I can only imagine the disappointment and heartache associated with the dissolution of a marriage.  I do know what it is like to be out of work. I quit a job once because (1) it was making me crazy (2) Every other person who’d worked in the executive director position eventually separated from employment at the request of the board. Had I stayed, no doubt that would have been my story as well.  Consequently, I left under my terms, not theirs – Regardless unemployed is still unemployed.

Just a reminder – You can’t always tell by looking that folks are in emotional distress related to broken relationships. Ours is not a perfect world and we are not perfect people. Random acts of kindness can go a long way in adding a level of hope for others.

All MY Best!

Don

Frankly My Dear

Yesterday, the General and I were pleased to receive two telephone calls from Jake, our youngest grandson.  If ever there was a “the glass is half full” kind of person, Jake falls into that category. I’m not suggesting that he’s never had a bad day. Occasionally he does. However, for the most part, he manifests an “on-the-top-of-the-world” persona.

He called yesterday morning to report that he had competed in another 4-H Shooting Sports Club event in Lolita.  He and his dad left home in the early hours of the morning yesterday to commute the 90 miles for a match that started at 8:00 a.m. As luck would have it, Jake was scheduled for the first round.

Since the competition was scheduled to continue throughout the day, they headed homeward after his round was over.  He anticipated hearing if he placed from his coach later in the day.  

He excitedly called last night to report, he just received word that he placed 1stplace in his division for his age group. In addition, his rifle club team also placed 1stplace.  He laughingly said he quoted a line from the movie Major Payne to his dad upon hearing the news: “Then bring me my trophy”.

I don’t get it. Half of Craig’s conversations include a line or two from Lonesome Dove and Jake draws one-liners from any number of movie’s that he’s seen.  Of course, the movies that Jake has seen are directly tied to kinds of movies his father likes to see.

Apparently, quoting a line from a movie is often integrated in conversation by many people. Reportedly, the most often quoted lines include:

(1)  “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” Gone With The Wind (1940) 

(2)  “I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.” The God Father (1972) 

(3)  “You don’t understand! I coulda had class.”  On the Waterfront (1954)

(4)  “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” The Wizard of Oz (1939)

(5)  “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Casablanca (1942)

(6)  “Go ahead, make my day.” Sudden Impact (1983)

(7)  “All right, Mr.” Sunset Boulevard (1950)

I suspect Craig will dispute the list because there isn’t a line from Lonesome Dove. There also isn’t a line from Major Payne. 

The lines I remember from movies are mostly wrapped around the storyline. My kids will tell you that I watch movies they’d probably never choose to see.  Take for example, the movie, Remains of the Day

The movie is the story of an English butler looking back over his life and realizing that he had not always made decisions that were in his best interest. His work had become his life and he failed to take advantage of the opportunities to focus on making a real life for himself.  “In the summer of 1956, Stevens, a long-serving butler at Darlington Hall, decides to take a motoring trip through the West Country. The six-day excursion becomes a journey into the past of Stevens and England, a past that takes in fascism, two world wars, and an unrealized love between the butler and his housekeeper”.

One of the takeaway lines is this: “What can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?”

I also really liked the movie entitled “Tender Mercies”. As the storyline goes: Mac Sledge, a washed up, alcoholic country singer, awakens at a run-down Texas roadside motel and gas station after a night of heavy drinking. He meets the owner, a young widow named Rosa Lee and offers to work in exchange for a room. Rosa Lee, whose husband was killed in the Vietnam War is raising her young son, Sonny, on her own. She agrees to let Mac stay under the condition that he does not drink while working. The two begin to develop feelings for one another, mostly during quiet evenings sitting alone and sharing bits of their life stories.

Mac resolves to give up alcohol and start his life anew. After some time passes, he and Rosa Lee wed. They start attending a Baptist church on a regular basis. 

There are a couple of lines from the movie Tender Mercies that stuck with me.  The first is spoken by Mac: “I don’t trust happiness. I never did. I never will.”  

To put the line in context, Mac makes the statement: “I don’t know why I wandered out to this part of Texas drunk and you took me in and pitied me and helped me straighten out, marry me. Why? Why did that happen? Is there a reason hat happened?  And Sonny’s daddy died in the war, my daughter killed in an automobile accident. Why? See, I don’t trust happiness. I never did. I never will”. 

My favorite line from the movie is one spoken to Mac by Rosa Lee: “I say my prayers for you and when I thank the Lord for his tender mercies, you’re at the head of the list.”

All My Best!

Don

Your Cheatin' Heart

Hank Williams

Earlier this month, Bernie Madoff was back in the news. His latest scheme isn’t a Ponzi scheme, but a ploy to ask the court for a modicum of compassion. Reportedly from an article in the New York Times, “Mr. Madoff, who was a prominent New York financier, has chronic kidney failure that has progressed to ‘end-stage renal disease,’ the filing said. He uses a wheelchair and a back brace, and was admitted to palliative care in July. He also suffers from cardiovascular disease, hypertension and a series of other ailments, including back pain and insomnia, according to the filing”.

As a side note, I’d think that insomnia probably is congruent with the memories that undoubtedly fill Mr. Madoff’s head.  In 1952, Hank Williams wrote and recorded what later was described as a song that “defines country music”.  Reportedly, Williams was inspired to write the song while driving with his fianceé from Nashville, Tennessee, to Shreveport, Louisiana.  After describing his first wife as a “cheatin’ heart”, he rolled off the lyrics to the song to Audrey Jean Jones, his fianceé. He ask that she write them down in a  notebook. They were traveling to Shreveport to announce their wedding plans to her parents.

The song includes these lines: “Your cheatin’ heart will make you weep – You’ll cry and cry and try to sleep – But slee-eep won’t come the whole night through – Your cheatin’ heart will tell on you…” Perhaps Williams insightfully captured the concept of the source of insomnia?

Getting back to Madoff and the article in the New York Times, in September 2019, “Doctors determined that Mr. Madoff had less than a year and a half to live, according to Bureau of Prisons medical records included in the filing. Under federal guidelines, prisoners who receive a diagnosis of an incurable illness that is expected to kill them in 18 months or less can be eligible for early release”.

While it may be true that Congress created “compassionate release” as a way to free certain inmates, such as the terminally ill, when it becomes “inequitable” to keep them in prison any longer, the practice is seldom used. 

Almost two years ago, the Marshall Project [Non-profit journalism about criminal justice] published an article entitled, “Old, Sick and Dying in Shackles” with a sub-title: “‘Compassionate release’ has bipartisan support as a way to reduce the federal prison population and save taxpayer money. New data shows that it’s rarely used”. 

According to the February 5th article in the New York Times, “Madoff does not dispute the severity of his crimes, nor does he seek to minimize the suffering of his victims,” his lawyer, Brandon Sample, wrote in the filing. “Madoff humbly asks this court for a modicum of compassion.”

Madoff is also quoted as saying: “I’m terminally ill. There’s no cure for my type of disease. So, you know, I’ve served. I’ve served 11 years already, and, quite frankly, I’ve suffered through it.”

Earlier this week, I noticed a chapter in one of Max Lucado’s books entitled: “Grace For The Humble”. He writes:

“When he wasn’t flying his private jet across the Atlantic or watching sunsets from the deck of one of his yachts, he was living a life of luxury inside his ten-thousand-square-foot Lexington Avenue penthouse in New York City. 

“His yacht Bull cost seven million dollars. His jet cost twenty-four million. He had a home in France, a beach home in Montauk, and a house in Palm Beach. He had boats and cars. His wife had furs and designer handbags. Wedgewood china, and Christofle silver. When it came to décor, she spared no expense. Gold sconces lined the wallpaper. Central Asian rugs covered the floors. Greek and Egyptian statues competed for approval of guests.

“Everyone wanted to know him. People stood in line to shake his hand. People like Steven Spielberg and Elie Wiesel. To stand in his Manhattan office was to stand in the epicenter of investment success.

“Or so it seemed until the morning of December 10, 2008. That’s when the charade ended. That’s when Bernie Madoff, this generation’s most infamous scam artist, sat down with his wife and two sons and confessed that it was a giant Ponzi scheme…just one big fat lie.

“Over the next days, weeks, and months, the staggering details become public knowledge. Madoff had masterminded a twenty-year-long shell game, the largest financial crime in US history. He had swindled people out of billions of dollars.

“His collapse was of biblical proportions. In short order he was stripped of everything. No money. No future. No family. One of his sons committed suicide. His wife went into seclusion. And seventy-one-year old Bernie Madoff was sentenced to spend the rest of his life as prisoner number 61727-054 in the Federal Correction Complex of Butner, North Carolina.”

I can only imagine that the sound of “Your Cheatin’ Heart” is difficult to set aside.

All My Best!

Don