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

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Fatherhood Is A Gift

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Today is Father’s Day and my life has been abundantly enriched by the experiences of being a dad. I have been blessed a thousand times beyond my deserving. Although their ages are almost a decade apart and their personalities differ significantly, both of my children live beyond themselves in similar kinds of ways. I have God and their mother to thank for that. Thoughtfulness and compassion are characteristics that consistently surface in their everyday lives.  It always touches my heartstrings when I am privileged to witness or have first-hand knowledge of their kindness.

 

Twenty-two years ago, I received a hand written letter from my son that left me with a lump in my throat. I was utterly speechless. The letter was dated 27 February 1996.  I can promise you, it is a letter I’ll never throw away. In addition, I will always treasure the contents in my heart.

 

The letter fell in the category of one of those: “Thanks Dad for all you’ve done” communications.  In the correspondence, Craig compared himself to my twin brother by saying: “Looking back I recall all the times someone said that I reminded them of Ronny. Whether it was the way I was dressed or the way I talked or the way I carried myself, it was always Ronny. He somehow seemed larger than life to me.  I found myself wanting to be like him. In a way, after playing football and going to A&M and wearing his boots and becoming an officer in the United States Marine Corps, I felt closer to him.

 

“As I’m getting older, I’ve come to realize that being tough on the outside is easy. It’s being tough on the inside that’s the real challenge. Dad, you truly are a man who stands up for what he believes.  I want you to know from the bottom of my heart, that when it comes to heroes, you’re at the top of my list”.

 

I was stumped. It is not often that I’m speechless. Not knowing how to best handle the emotional impact of his letter, I automatically defaulted to my use of humor. With tongue-in-cheek, I responded: “Thank you for your very kind letter reflecting on your childhood and your gratitude for the wonderful supportive role model I provided. Actually, I couldn’t help but wonder who spiked the punch this time or maybe you’ve gotten me confused with someone else…

 

I’m a little confused that you describe yourself as something less than the perfect son.  What did you do that I don’t know about?  All right, all right – I haven’t forgotten about the three cats you ran over on separate occasions causing significant damage to the spoiler on the front of my car and of course ‘curfew’ was an alien term to your vocabulary.”

 

I then added seriously: “My only regret as a father is that if you knew me better, you wouldn’t like me as well. Consequently, I’m not going to identify a litany of my faults. Ignorance is bliss.

 

My daughter and her husband just celebrated their 12thwedding anniversary.  Shortly after they married in 2006, they made plans to spend their first “Father’s Day” as a couple visiting Kevin’s dad.  I was absolutely pleased with their decision.  The General and I both were.

 

One of the resolves the General and I made early in our marriage was that if we ever had children, we’d celebrate whatever our children chose to do regarding holidays once they were adults.  In the early years of our marriage, both of our mothers figuratively had stopwatches to calculate the amount of time we split between families.  Consequently, the stress of “going home” was always a source of friction.  We resolved never to put our kids through that.  “So far – so good,” is all I can say. We have flawlessly kept that resolution. I didn’t do as well about my resolve never to manipulate my kids through guilt, but that’s another story.

 
Shortly before Father’s Day – 2006, I ran across a really neat e-card that expressed gratitude and thanks and had the thought, I’m going to send this card to my daughter.  With ease, I added a personal note:

 

Dear Andrea,

 

There is something I’ve been meaning to say, ‘I am so very proud of  you’.  You have developed into a truly thoughtful, sensitive and kind person.  I often marvel at the insight and thoughtfulness you display in your relationships with others.  You are an incredibly supportive and loving aunt to Jenna, Lilian and William. You are so thoughtful in attending to the needs of your parents.  Your life is extremely busy, but you take the time and initiative to communicate the value others add to your life”.

 

In addition, you display pride and high energy in your work environment.  I can tell from our conversations that your employment is not just a job.  It is an opportunity for you to use your talents and skill to enhance and make your company better.

 

I am very proud of you.

  Love,

Dad

 

What I wasn’t prepared for was Andrea’s response.  Later that day I received an email that left me with a lump in my throat. Once again, I was speechless.  Apparently, that must be contagious because Andrea responded:

 

“Wow, Dad, I am speechless. This is one of the most precious cards I have ever received. I will treasure it always.  Children learn what they live. And you are truly an amazing example. 

 

I would say more, but I’m sitting here crying at work so I better end this for now.

 

I love you and will miss being with you on Sunday. 

 Love,

 Your very proud daughter”.

My life is continually enriched by my two children. The same is true for their spouses.  Throw in grandchildren and I don’t have the words to express the level of gratitude I feel.  My life is good and I have my kids to thank.

All My Best!

Don

Ridge View

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The number of friends who reached out to us yesterday to wish us a Happy 50th Anniversary amazed me. It still seems a little surreal that we could have been married that long. Our time together has gone by quickly and our lives have been enriched by friendships. The only thing we have in life that is eternal is the people who share the journey.

 

Thursday evening the General and I attended a Vacation Bible School program at First Baptist Church in Sealy.  Jake is the only one of our grandchildren that is still young enough to participate in that activity. Of course, the other two are involved because they can mentor and be supportive.

 

It was easy to ascertain that the kids had experienced a fun week.  The songs they sang including a storyline shared by a number of speakers was well done.  Jake had been selected to have one of the verbal parts.  We had been at my son’s home the week before.  Knowing that Jake had been asked to have a part, I wanted a preview. So Jake, can you sing me one of the songs on the program?

 

He responded: “Granddad, that poses a bit of a problem. I haven’t even heard the songs yet.”  All of the kids obviously learned a lot during the week because the number of songs shared were many and they all had body-motions that went with the songs.  It was fun to watch.

 

Actually, from my VBS experience I don’t remember any of that. I certainly don’t remember group participation of a program where all the kids stood at the front of the church and served as a choir accompanied by acting parts. I would have been uncomfortable in that process.  I have never been able to sing and standing before an audience in my early childhood years would have been the cause of much stress.

 

Let me preface my comments by saying I always enjoyed VBS. Throughout early childhood we always participated in two VBS programs each summer. We attended the one our church sponsored and we attended the one my maternal grandparent’s church held. Both were fun and the time shared with other kids was always the source of enjoyment.

 

In all honesty, I wasn’t always immediately onboard with the concept of attending. For starters, school had just let out and the thought of sleeping in was always appealing. Sleeping in wasn’t an option. Mother always insisted that we attend. Consequently, we attended. Once inside, it was always fun.

 

I am trying to remember in my head the chords the pianist played that signaled the need to stand during the opening group time together. Year after year, those simply chords played on a piano were always a signal to begin.  Strange isn’t it the things you remember from childhood?

 

Truth be told, one of my favorite parts of VBS were the craft projects that we had the privilege of making. You always made something that you gave your parents.  How about a handprint made with plaster of Paris or a woven hot pad to set cookware on?  We still have a paperweight that the General made with her picture on it.  It serves as a reminder of long ago and early childhood years.

 

Yesterday proved to be a really special day for us. We began the day at our son’s home and got hugs from grandkids before we left to return home.  Last night, Andrea and Kevin came for dinner. I opted to grill wild-caught salmon and asparagus. Add to that a special potato dish and it was a meal fit for a king.  It also was reportedly healthy.

 

Following dinner, we sat on the back patio and enjoyed visiting together until late in the evening. The pergola on the back of our home is well illuminated, so we were never in the dark.  The breeze was steady and welcomed. If even felt a little cool at times.

 

The view from the back of our home never fails to fill me with wonder and joy that we have the privilege of living where we do. We named the place Ridgeview when we moved in because the view is amazing.

 

It was a little after 9:00 p.m. before I noticed the unusual color of the sky. It was far from dark. In fact, the color of blue was a shade I’d never noticed in the sky before. It seemed like a perfect backdrop for a perfect day.  I took a picture of it and the picture captured the look.

 

We sat outside and talked until the timer on the outside lights turned them off at 11:00 p.m. That was the signal to call it a day. It was a most enjoyable evening. Actually, the entire day had been enjoyable.  The General didn’t even offer gentle redirection related to my driving. Call it a miracle of miracles.

 

Today is one with a number of chores on my list, so I’m getting an early start.  I need to run into Austin to get the oil changed in my truck. I am also picking up a Music of the Spheres wind chime that the General and I selected to commemorate our Golden anniversary. I look forward to the perpetual sound. There is always a breeze on the ridge with a view.

 

All My Best!

Don

Till Death Do Us Part

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I had the privilege of officiating at the weddings of both our son and daughter. Born almost ten years apart, they carved out their own niche in the world while managing to remain extremely close.  When Andrea headed to UT for school, her Aggie brother saw it as a sign of delayed adolescent adjustment reaction.   Both, subsequently married alumni of their respective schools.  Some might see that as the birthplace of family division, but the tie that binds is a lot stronger than alumni loyalty.

 

Craig and Becky got married at the Chapel at Texas A&M. There are many things about their wedding that remains in my forever bank of memories.  For starters, the bride and groom both looked stunning.  Add to that the ambience associated to a military wedding with an Arch of Swords as the newly married couple exited from the chapel. It was  memorable indeed. Perhaps the most memorable moment for me was when the couple shared their wedding vowels.

 

Sometimes emotions can come out of nowhere and almost throw one off track. As Craig was sharing his vows, his voice momentarily broke and his eyes filled with tears of joy. After the wedding, John, the best man said something to me closely akin to: “Mr. Forrester you didn’t appear to be even fazed by that. You must be as tough as nails”.  At least, that’s the way I’m remembering it. On the other-hand, maybe he said: “You’re really cold. You weren’t fazed by that at all.”

 

In terms of setting, I was thrilled for the venue that Andrea and Kevin chose for their wedding. They married at Henly Baptist Church. The ambience of the church is timeless. Everything from the wooden beaded ceiling and walls, the hardwood flooring and the stained glass windows add an element of unique charm.  In addition, our family’s connection to that family of faith engulf the life time of both of our children.

 

Andrea and Kevin both looked elegant as they stood before me during their wedding ceremony.  I was so proud for both of them.  Of course, they had approved the script for the ceremony and probably were a little surprised when I made some last minute modifications to the wedding vows and content of the ceremony.  It was a last minute change, but it seemed so letter perfect. I was certain they’d concur. Why bother to ask them permission?

 

Looking at the couple standing before me, both were perfectly suited for the other. I was elated for both of them. I had experienced that same level of delight for my son and daughter-in-law at their wedding. Out of nowhere, an illustration from John Ortberg’s book: “Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them” came to mind. Why not throw the illustration in as a life lesson for everyone in attendance.

 

Ortberg made note of the fact that “half price” sale tags at sidewalk sales aren’t necessarily as good a deal as one might think. It is the “No Returns” sign that should serve as a warning. Despite the appearance of perfection, most of the time you find some kind of flaw in the merchandise after you get it home. It may be a scratch, a table leg a little shorter than the other three or some other subtle imperfection.

 

I made note of the fact that a wedding is a lot like a half-price sidewalk sale.  Despite appearance, each of the parties would eventually notice that the other had a flaw they had not seen before. It might not surface for an extended period, but it was bound to eventually become painfully obvious.

 

We are all broken people and we live in a broken world.  I made reference to the fact that the marriage commitment my daughter and son-in-law were expressing before God and each other came with a “No Returns” policy.

 

When the General and I got married fifty-years-ago today, we were both pretty naïve regarding expectations. For starters, we didn’t actually think it was possible to disagree over anything.  We were so perfect for one another.  So do you squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom or from the top?  She had one answer and I had another. A phrase from one of Neil Diamond’s songs comes to mind: “She was morning and I was night.” It really is true, opposites attract.

 

If you can disagree over a tube of toothpaste, you can disagree over anything.  Learning to live with a helpmate is tough.  I suppose that has always been true.  Fortunately, through trial and error, we worked it out. We ruled out divorce before we got started. That could really mess up your life.  The same is true of murder. Who could afford the price of a really good criminal attorney. Consequently, we were in it for the long haul and with God’s help, we made it work.

 

If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing. By the way, that’s not because we always did it my way. We learned the skill of open and honest communication and we took seriously the vow of “for better or for worse”. Of course, the General may have decided to hang on to see how much worse, if any, it could get. Bless her heart!

 

Despite an occasional bump in the road, when push came to shove, she’s always had my back.  She has consistently been a source of encouragement when I’m down.  Hopefully, she finds the same to be true of me.

 

It’s true, after fifty years of marriage, either of us can finish the other’s sentence or order the other’s food.  We are consistently predictable.  We will never think alike. I know what you’re thinking and you’re right: “Of course we don’t think alike. I’m not that smart”.

 

I had no idea fifty years ago that I was marrying way outside my peer group, but that has proven to be the case.  The woman is amazingly kind and loving.  She is also the world’s most committed mother and more importantly grandmother. That comes as no surprise. My life is good and I have the General to thank.

 

All My Best!

Don

Chronicle And Share Your Story

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About a year ago, I shared my book with a friend that I’ve never met in person. He read More Than Enough and was extremely complimentary. He communicated through email: “I can tell from reading your book that you have a really good life.” He went on to add: “There is something about your story that leaves me envious. I didn’t have the kind of family connections you talk about in your book. For that matter, I don’t have them now. Living without that makes me a little sad.”

 

He’s not the first person who has made a similar comment to me. Even before the book was published, an acquaintance (a friend of a friend) that subsequently became a friend read the draft of the book and said the same thing. She said: “I didn’t have the kind of family you shared in your story. Reading about your grandparents and the closeness you had with them even into the midst of your adulthood left me sad. I didn’t experience any of that. I never knew my grandparents. I’m not close to any of my family now. My friends have become my family”.

 

How easy it is to take for granted the good fortune of being surrounded by people that treated me with love and kindness. That is not the story for many. What’s true for me isn’t true for everyone and that makes me a little sad. Actually, it hurts my heart.

 

I chronicled my story hoping it would be a feel good book. Having two different people tell me that the contrast between their experiences and mine left them sad was a little unsettling. In fact, I asked the lady who reviewed the draft if she thought I should have left the references to my grandparents out of the book? She said: “You grandparents were a wonderful part of your story. You shouldn’t have left them out, but I don’t have those same kind of memories”.

 

A couple of days ago, I had telephone contact with Oleg Lougheed, a new connection on LinkedIn. I almost described him as a friend, but in reality he isn’t yet. Certainly the potential exists and I hope it comes to fruition. I plan to visit with him in person soon. Our backgrounds are very different, but our interest in supporting individuals who come from hard places is similar. Since I’ve not met him in person, I don’t yet really have a good grasp of his age. I am assuming he is very young, but I talked long enough with him on the phone to know that his wisdom exceeds his years.

 

Sometimes one has to grow up fast if they are to survive. That certainly was true of Oleg. He shared his background with me and it both garnered my attention and tugged at my heartstrings. I liked his expressed resolve of turning adversity into an advantage.

 

Oleg has the wisdom to know that getting in touch with one’s story and putting it into words can promote healing and strength in one’s life. Across the years I’ve found it true that most child victims of abuse or neglect somehow blame themselves for their circumstances. “If only…”. In addition, many live with an on-going sense of embarrassment that they didn’t come from a perfect family.

 

Across the years in working with that population of children, there were many times in the midst of my workday that I purposefully carved out the time to think about how I would respond if everything familiar in my life was taken from me? What would I do if I was separated from my parents, my siblings, my friends, my home, my school and everything that mattered in my life? How would I respond? It would be tough now even from the advantage point of adulthood. How are you supposed to deal with that in the midst of childhood? Many of the kids I worked with lived that experience on a daily basis.

 

Oleg Lougheed, the man on the phone, explained to me that he entered an orphanage in Russia at the age of nine. Immediately, I associated his age with that of my grandson Jake who is also nine-years-of-age. Jake is in the midst of discovering the joys associated with all the activities available to a nine-year-old. Jake truthfully is at the top of his game. He is looking for adventure and he is looking for fun and seemingly having the time of his life.

 

At the age of nine, Oleg’s experience was very different from my grandson’s. Though Oleg shared a snapshot of his life with me over the telephone, I pulled the following off of his website. His story is thoughtfully crafted and leaves little to the imagination. He says this of himself:

 

My start in life was inauspicious.

 

I was nine years old when I entered the orphanage.

 

But, before I entered the orphanage, I lived in a small, cold, and empty apartment in Russia with my older sister. We were born into poverty.

 

Living without a father and with an alcoholic mother forced me to make difficult decisions at an early age in order to survive.

 

I stole food.

 

I slept on the street.

 

For me, developing an entrepreneurial mindset was not an option, but rather a necessity.

 

In 2005, I walked into a new family, in a new country, to start a new life.

 

At that time I knew that adoption was a step closer to a better life, but I didn’t know the things I would have to give up in order to have that better life.

 

Children, who are adopted, have no option, but to change. They have no option, but to give up pieces of themselves, such as birth name, family, friends, native language, culture, memories.

 

With the love and support of my family, I was fortunate to overcome these changes. In fact, I was fortunate to experience two spectrums of life: from poverty to wealth.

 

I entered Kent State with a passion to study Russian, as a way to keep in touch with my birth family in Russia. Though soon into my college career, I also gravitated toward entrepreneurship, with the realization that I was already an entrepreneur.

 

On a broader scale, I realized that I consider my life to be a venture, one that required me to learn from my own mistakes and contribute to a greater cause. A venture that has helped me to discover my purpose in life.

 

Today, I’m on a mission to help adoptees and foster youth live a life they’ve always dreamed of, despite their hardships and misfortunes. If my mission speaks to you, please join me in helping adoptees and foster youth around the world Stand Up & Speak Up”.

 

Oleg contacted me to ask if I’d be willing to help Overcoming Odds, the organization he heads with their mission. On June 23rd, Overcoming Odds is hosting a seminar for individuals with a background of adoption or foster care.  The focus of the seminar is the  development of self narrative, getting connected to a larger community, turning adversity into an advantage, finding courage to share one’s story, etc. Information concerning the event can be found at (https://bit.ly/2LnjJXq)

For More Information https://www.overcomingodds.today

 

All My Best!

Don

Stress Management

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When I was a kid growing up, my mother was a stay-at-home mom until we were in high school. Throughout our younger years, her priority was clearly her children. She was active in the parent teacher association (PTA) and was always available to lend a helping hand regarding any kind of enrichment activity associated to school. You could count on her participation for extra-curricular activities. She volunteered as a homeroom mother, cub-scout leader, and any number of other things.

 

One of the things my mother often told us during our childhood: “A man may work from sun-to-sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Seriously, there is some truth in that assertion. Not having a death wish, I’ll not suggest even “tongue-in-cheek” that is the way God intended. Frankly, let me hasten to say that is not the way he intended. There is clear counsel provided through Scripture that a husband is to love his wife the way Christ loved the church. That denotes a sacrificial kind of love that refuses to be hurt or turned away. It is an attitude of acceptance and understanding regardless of circumstances. All through the Gospels, Christ’s is pictured as a servant leader. In terms of role clarification, I don’t think that means the guy gets a free pass.

 

My kids did not have the luxury of having a stay-at-home mother the way my brothers and I did. Don’t get me wrong, the General covered all of the bases and at the same time managed to work full time as well as be 100% involved in the lives of our kids. If there was a slacker, it was probably the guy who looked back at me in the mirror. That wasn’t due to lack of interest, but work sometimes took me away from home. The General absorbed the lion’s share of responsibility.

 

Of course, we think our kids turned out to be exceptional adults. Though the General hasn’t expressed it, she gets most of the credit. Trust me, she provided the structure and check-and-balance system to ensure they had little choice to do otherwise. It probably comes as no surprise, but if we adapted to the roles of “good cop” – “bad cop”, I had the best part.

 

Seriously, even though I was out of town a portion of at least two weeks a month, the General and I seldom missed out on anything. Actually, the General never missed out. She was present for every extra-curricular activity if it happened after the end of the workday.

 

In looking back on our children’s childhood years, we had a pretty relaxed lifestyle. Somehow there was always time to get it all done and still have some leisure time left over. That causes me a little concern because now there is just the General and I and we are in a non-stop routine. I know! I know! “Busy people are happy people.”

 

Maybe it is the sign of the times. Who’s to say? Frankly, I think times have changed. It is either that or we are more inept than ever before. We don’t get it all done and still have free time left over. The General carries her “To Do List” and her “Calendar” with her when she travels. She is tied to both like a ball and chain. She frequently, inventories both to plan for the next whatever.

 

A single parent asked me today if I had any suggestions on ways to reduce the stress? I purposefully didn’t suggest she insist on joint custody with the children’s father. First of all, like I said earlier, “I don’t have a death wish”. Secondly, from what I’ve surmised, I’m not sure he is that responsible.

 

I can’t count on one hand the number of techniques that folks ascribe as stress reducers. Sure, I could come up with a list without a lot of thought. How about taking deep breaths? Even today, I find myself telling people not to forget to breathe.

 

I am a fan of listening to music that resonates with your heart. In addition nothing is more calming to me than face-to-face interaction with a friend or friends. Meditation and prayer can also be a great source of stress reduction. Exercise and yoga reportedly do wonders. I wish I had more first-hand knowledge. Getting more sleep can be a magic formula. I know from experience that nothing is as helpful as a good night’s sleep.

 

There is evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being. Dr. James Pennebaker, psychologist and researcher at the University of Texas at Austin contends that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Pennebaker believes that writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, acting as a stress management tool, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health.

 

In addition, we typically problem solve from a left-brained, analytical perspective. But sometimes the answer can only be found by engaging right-brained creativity and intuition. Writing unlocks these other capabilities, and affords the opportunity for unexpected solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems.

 

I am not a big fan of primal scream therapy. Consequently, that didn’t even register as a possibility of a stress reducer on my radar screen. Of course, I know that theory is a lot easier to embrace than implementation, but I don’t think screaming at children is a way to reinforce that they are loved, cared for and nurtured.

 

I’m seventy-one years old. Truthfully, when anyone screams at me, even though I’m a seasoned veteran, I don’t find it at all calming. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up and my brain dumps an inordinate amount of cortisol into my blood stream. The fight or flight syndrome kicks in and I am figuratively on red-alert. Can you imagine what might happen if I wasn’t hearing impaired?

 

Can you envision being four-years-old and having an adult over twice as tall screaming at you? At seventy-one-years-of-age, I’m not terribly fearful that I’ll succumb to the would-be town crier screaming in my face. For starters, it is not a good technique for problem solving. That is particularly true when parenting children. It is difficult to cognitively process important communication or any kind of information for that matter when it is being screamed at you.

 

Just because the U.S. Marine Corps takes the drill sergeant “get-in-you-face” approach in helping recruits intuitively know that they don’t have a voice, that isn’t an ideal way to raise children. Children need to know they are valued and loved. “Valued and loved” is not a message that is re-enforced when they are being screamed at by a parent. I’m a fan of gentle redirection when it comes to children. Of course, both of my kids probably will tell you I didn’t figure that out until I had grandchildren.

 

I jokingly tell folks that the first year the General and I were married, I screamed and she cried. The second year, she screamed and I cried. After that we figured out that respect and civility is a much better forum for problem solving and moving forward. Respect and civility is best demonstrated through a calm voice.

 

Okay, so under the auspices of transparency, there was more truth in the aforementioned paragraph than I’d like to admit. So I can assure you first-hand that the only time screaming at kids might be effective is if they are in the process of stepping in front of a fast moving car or reaching out to touch a hot stove.

 

All My Best!

Don

The Power Of Story

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It was a long shot, but I had the sense that it would work. Actually a friend recently reinforced my belief that I was barking up the right tree when he shared with me that he had passed my book More Than Enough on to his adult son to read. It was his intent to then pass it on to his sister in California once his son had read the book.  I assured him that I had plenty of copies.  If he wanted to share the book, I could facilitate that happening.

 

His appraisal of the book’s value was music to my ears. He said, “I read a chapter a day. I didn’t want to rush through the book. That gave me time to really think about what you’d written. Your stories made me feel good. They also reminded me of my stories.”

 

My allotted time to speak at a conference yesterday was an hour and a half.  My times slot was 2:30 – 4:00 in the afternoon. Can you imagine a more inopportune time to garner one’s attention?  Why not simply grab the audience’s attention by simply telling stories.

 

Actually, I have Cannon Theodore Milford to thank for providing me the idea. I actually never met him. I remembered his name simply because I remembered his story. Cannon Theodore Milford was a British Minister. For the period of an hour, Pastor Milford did everything within is power to verbally coax a young English secretary off of a 240’ ledge.  It was the young woman’s intent to take her life. Milford was both compassionate and persuasive, but at the end of the hour she jumped

 

The interesting thing is, I both heard the story and read it in a book over fifty years ago.  When I awakened in the early morning hours several weeks ago as I was beginning to chart my path for the conference presentation, the fact that I had hung on to the story for half a century gave me the idea to do nothing more at the conference than tell stories.

 

Would that be enough to hold an audience’s attention?  More importantly, would that be enough to provide meaningful content for later reflection?

John Steinberg is credited with this nugget of truth: “If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And here I make a rule—a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.  The strange and foreign is not interesting–only the deeply personal and familiar.

 

Perhaps truer words have never been spoken. Steinberg is credited with writing 27 books and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962.

 

Consequently, for yesterday’s presentation I chose to weave together the tapestry of a story associated to the importance of the ethics of self-care. I suspected the story would resonate as deeply personal and familiar with most of the people at the conference. I wanted them to see themselves in the story. Based on feedback, I think it worked.  One person in attendance has already asked if I’d be willing to present the same information at another conference later in the year.

 

The thing I routinely discover from the feedback I receive from the daily postings of my blog is that my stories remind other people of their stories. A tender moment for me, reminds someone else of a similar experience.  When I write about the “To Do List” my wife just handed me, some of my friends think they must be married to my wife’s sister because they are dealing with the same “To Do List”.

 

Regardless of the topic, the same is true for every story I share. People identify with my experiences and in response, reflect on their own.

 

People are hungry to get in touch with their lives. Writing it down is one way to do that.  By reflecting on a day and chronicling a memory, it captures the adventure and creates a forever memory.

 

Far too often we fail to recognize all we have been provided in the framework of a day.  When life is grasped and valued for the experience, the associated memories highlight lessons learned and the joys associated with taking none of it for granted. That simple process is a great tool for self-care.

 

So how do you fine-tune your approach to life and work to provide a higher level of self-care? For starters:

 

  • Slow Down! Don’t let life pass you by in a flurry of activity. If you can’t take the time to “smell the roses”, you’ve done yourself and those you serve a disservice.

 

  • Chronicle your journey, reflect on your experiences and carve out the time to get in touch with answers to the question: What am I supposed to learn from this?”

 

J.M. Barri’s observation is thought provoking: “The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” 

 

All My Best!

Don

Through A Glass Darkly

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Friday morning of last week, a friend posted a short sentence on Facebook.  I thought his posting was a little strange. Actually, he probably thinks I am a little strange. I get that! Don’t birds of a feather flock together? Of course, I’m strange. He wrote simply: “Don’t tell me that mental health was not the problem…”

 

Leave it to me to open my mouth and put my foot in it.  I had no idea what he was talking about. I should have left well enough alone.  Instead I replied: “Is this a personal confession or an observation?” He responded: “A little of both”.

 

I subsequently noticed that all the other people that responded made comments related to mental health treatment or lack of resources. What had I missed?  It was then that I saw the CNN announcement chronicling the untimely and tragic death of Anthony Bourdain at 61.

 

Obviously, his death came as a complete shock to family, colleagues and friends. Expressions of sympathy have poured in from folks who are still attempting to process the information and make sense of it. It is the “making sense of it” that is perhaps the most unsettling.  How does one wrap their mind around it and come to any conclusion other than unexplainable overt sadness?  There are no answers in circumstances surrounding suicide and even if there were, it doesn’t make a difference. The loss is real and the loss is permanent.

 

I have a couple of friends who’ve lived with that same kind of tragedy in their lives. Both lost brothers to suicide. I also have two dear friends whose fathers committed suicide.  The very thought is like knocking the breath out of someone. It defies understanding.

 

You gasped for breath and the difficulty associated with taking the next breath seems insurmountable. The hurt and confusion defies explanation.  Until you’ve walked in another’s shoes, there is absolutely an impasse in understanding. Even if you had the capacity to understand, it doesn’t alter the void and sense of sadness surrounding the tragic circumstances.

 

On Friday, a friend from college who still lives in Abilene sent me a message that a friend of hers had taken is life on that same day.  The young man was gifted and talented and news of his death was like a sucker punch to the stomach to my friend.

 

Out of curiosity, I did a Google search looking for the young man’s story. I didn’t find his story, but I found a recent story that was beyond comprehension.  On May 23, 2018, a twenty-three year old man walked into the emergency room at Hendrick Hospital in Abilene. He walked up to the triage window at 8:55 p.m. and told the nurse his blood type and stated that he was an organ donor.  He then shot himself.  I am making the assumption that it was in front of the hospital staff and other’s present in the waiting room. Obviously, the emergency room staff did everything in their ability to treat the victim, but he was pronounced dead at 9:17 p.m. From the minute he walked in the door until he was pronounced dead was only 22 minutes.

 

Dr. Jim Denison made a “Special Report” concerning the death of Anthony Bourdain on the Denison Forum and included information that was alarming. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that suicide rates increased 25% nationally from 1999 to 2016. They rose in nearly every state. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides”.

 

“According to the CDC, more than half of the people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition. Factors contributing to suicide include relationship problems, a crisis in the past or upcoming two weeks, problematic substance abuse, physical health problems, job or financial problems, criminal or legal problems and loss of housing.”

 

Life threatening depression is no respecter of persons. It impacts folks from all walks of life.  It is not limited to gender, socio economic standing, education, age, or any variable that you might consider would be the baseline for exemption. It doesn’t exist.

 

Hands down the most heartfelt and helpful writing or information I’ve found anywhere that addresses the subject of suicide was written by Dr. Phil Lineberger.  Dr. Lineberger was  former Senior Pastor at Sugar Land Baptist Church near Houston. He was also a former President of the Texas Baptist Convention.

 

His words of comfort and understanding were expressed on behalf of his dear friend, Pastor John Petty.  Pastor Petty was only 42-years-old when he took his own life on February 9, 2011. He was married and had two small children along with a large church family and many friends. All were stunned and confused by his death.

 

The words that Dr. Lineberger shared as a means of comfort and support were without doubt provided him from the heart of God. Never have I known anyone that remotely could express the language that so eloquently and beautifully captures what words normally cannot express.

 

Let me simply highlight some of the things that Dr. Lineberger identified that resonated with my heart and appeared like a balm in Gilead to heal a wounded soul:

 

“…The family has asked me to talk a little bit about some of what John was going through. Patrick asked the question, ‘Why is John gone?’ All of us want to know, ‘Why is John gone?’ We can’t answer all of the whys. Paul wrote in I Corinthian’s 13:12 in the New International, ‘Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part and then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known’. The King James Version says, ‘For now we see through a glass darkly but then face to face. Now I know in part but then I should know, even as I am known’.

 

“We can know in part. And this is the part we know. John suffered from a terrible illness that we label depression. It is called a time defying sadness. It’s unlike the sadness that you and I, in the normal sense, have when we are sad and then we are glad and then we get over it and then we go our way”.

 

“Depression is a time defying sadness. Depression speaks a language of its own known only to those who are depressed. Currently, some 19,000,000 Americans suffer from chronic depression. That’s 1 out of every 15 people in America. In fact, depression is the leading cause of disability in the United States and abroad for people over 5 years of age. Depression, we’re told, may be the biggest killer on earth. It claims more lives than war, cancer, and AIDS together. Twenty-eight million people in America, 1 out of 3 Americans, are on some kind of medication to try to handle this terrible, terrible darkness, time defying sadness, and confusion of mind and emotion”.

 

“Depression speaks a language of its own. A persistent and anxious emptiness. A feeling of hopelessness and pessimism. A sense of guilt and worthlessness and helplessness. A loss of pleasure or interest in things that were once extremely enjoyable. Restlessness, irritability, insomnia, early morning waking or oversleeping”.

 

“The scriptures refer to depression as ‘the plague that destroys at midday’ Psalm 91:6. Even in those days, in the days of the Old Testament, people would be observed at the height of their career or the greatest time in their life being extremely sad or confused or disengaged. And so the writers would say it is a plague or demon that destroys when the sun is highest at the midday.

 

“The question is often asked, ‘Is depression a reality for Christians and how does one know if depression is really a reality for him or for her?’ Depression is both ancient and universal. In fact, those who study it, doctors and psychiatrists, tell us that depression is the most common emotional problem in America. It has risen to immense proportions. No one is immune to it. It is not a willful fault nor is it a sin”.

 

“Why did John go this way? Why did he choose this? He didn’t. The choice was being forced upon him by an overriding and overwhelming darkness. It is not a willful fault nor is it a sin. It is a signal that something is wrong. It is a signal that we need help and we need hope. It is not a disgrace. Some of the world’s most sensitive people have been susceptible to depression. When you read history you read people like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill who suffered serious depression. J.B. Philips, the author of The New Testament in Modern English, suffered serious depression. Harry Emerson Fosdick, one of the greatest preachers of the last century, suffered depression. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great English preacher, struggled with depression to the point that he had to take two or three months off every year to deal with it. In 1866, he told his congregation of his struggle. He said ‘I am subject of depressions of spirit so fearful that I hope none of you ever get to such extremes of wretchedness as I go through’. He explained that during these depressions every mental and spiritual labor had to be carried on under protest of spirit. Depression knows no educational, cultural, or financial boundaries. Depression causes people to lose pleasure in daily life. From the scriptures, we find that leaders like Moses and Elijah, Job and Jeremiah suffered from depression to the point of wanting to end their lives. Elijah’s miraculous victory over the Prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 (NIV) is followed in the next chapter with Elijah despondent and trembling with fear. The Bible says, ‘Elijah was afraid and ran for his life and when he came to Beersheba in Judah he left his servant there and went on a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors!” The scriptures refer to that kind of depression as demonic. Job cried out in Job 3:24-26: “For sighing comes to me instead of food, my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me, what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness. I have no rest. I am only in turmoil’. It is very difficult for us to understand. We don’t know why, because depression has a language that only those who go through it understand”.

Andrew Solomon, some years ago, who suffered seriously from depression, wrote a book entitled The Noonday Demon taken from the scripture. He said, “Depression is the flaw in love”. When it comes in, it degrades oneself and ultimately eclipses the capacity to give or to receive affection. It is the aloneness within us made real. And destroys not only connection to others but also the ability to be peacefully alone with oneself. If good spirits, some love themselves and some love others and some love work and some love God. Any of these passions can furnish that vital sense of purpose that is the opposite of depression. In depression, the meaninglessness of every enterprise and every emotion, the meaningless of life itself becomes self-evident. The only feeling left in this loveless state is insignificance”.

https://lensgirl53.wordpress.com/inspirational-posts-by-guest-bloggers/through-a-glass-darkly-a-eulogy-for-pastor-john-by-phil-lineberger-senior-pastor/

All My Best!

Don

[Note: Dr. Phil Lineberger, pastor of Sugar Land Baptist Church near Houston and former president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, died May 31, 2015. He was 69.  Lineberger “lost a battle with depression and took his own life,” son-in-law and family spokesman Brian Seay said.  Lineberger became pastor of Sugar Land Baptist Church — formerly Williams Trace Baptist Church in Sugar Land, Texas — in November 1995. He had been on medical leave from the church since mid-March of 2015].