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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good news

In the past couple or three weeks, I’ve neglected reading some of the resources I’ve come to rely on to help keep me focused on things I need to know. We are all bombarded with news of all kinds from many sources. Perhaps behind every published report there is an element of truth. How do you decipher the real from the fake?  

Even on FACEBOOK, I regularly get a message through messenger from someone I’ve not spent 30 minutes with in the past 50 years asking me if I’ve heard the good news?  Seriously, the first- time the question was posed via Facebook, I naïvely thought it was a new ploy to promote the Gospel. After all, does the news get any better than the message of God’s love and the gift of eternal life?

I don’t always get it right. As it turned out, the good news the person was talking about was their receipt of a large amount of money that had come their way through a government grant.  When their check was hand-delivered, they noticed my name on the list. They wanted to know if I had received my check as well?

Okay, so I’m fairly gullible. After all, this was the first time I had received any kind of electronic communication from the person.  For all I know, the information could be true. I simply responded that if the government was giving money away, there were folks with a greater need. I wasn’t interested. 

Perhaps my response caught the person off guard. They asked “Why not?”  My response wasn’t all that interesting. Long story short, unless I wanted what the person reportedly had received, their ploy wasn’t working.  Okay, so I’m gullible, but I’m not that gullible. My dad always said: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t”. I simply opted to stop the communication.

Since that time, at least twice monthly I get a message from someone I know that I’ve had no contact with in forever.  The first message is simply the question: “How are you?” I always provide some response closely akin to: “If I was any better, I’d be twins.” To date, no one has responded that I am a twin and that my response was clever.  The response is always the same: “Have you heard the good news?”

This morning, I attempted to play catch-up by looking at two sources of information that I regularly read. One is from the Institute of Globe Engagement entitled “Daily Briefings”. It is written by Dr. Nick Pitts.  The Daily Briefing is a newsletter sent straight to your inbox every morning that provides biblical insight on today’s news. It is always a good read.

Like I said, I’ve been too busy for the past couple of weeks to have the luxury of reading much.  Tucked away in one of the Daily Briefings was the report of what parents give their children for an allowance.  Reportedly, two-thirds of parents give their child an allowance.  According to a survey published by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the average weekly allowance is $30.

My first thought was: “That’s not fair!”  That is not a lot more than the General dishes out in my direction for incidentals. Back when I was working, I received $60 a week. She called the stipend my lunch money. When I retired, she cut me back to $40.  Frankly, I thought it was a little too skimpy, but I’m assuming she made the same reduction to her stash that she refers to as: “my money”.   

Did I mention that the General always has money? Of course, she also has the checkbook. So, the average weekly allowance that parents are now giving their children for an allowance is $30 a week.  Three years ago, the average was $17 a week. I’m not good at math, but the increase over a three-year period is substantial. Of course, most parents expect something in return for the allowance. Most kids were doing chores and assigned tasks for about five hours a week.

I’m trying to decide if I should share this information with my grandchildren?  The oldest is sixteen and the youngest is ten.  They might use this information to their advantage. Of the group, William is the most frugal. I figure he spends about 5% of whatever he receives and enjoys counting the rest.  

I’m not suggesting that William is an old soul in a young body, but he thinks the way my dad did. Perhaps, the DNA coupled with his sharing the same name has some relationship to the economy of his thinking.  

In looking back on my childhood, I liked the concept of making my own money. My first job was having a paper route. Did I mention the thing I most disliked about throwing papers was collecting money? If memory serves me correctly, I think it was a weekly collection.  It was agony.  I’m not suggesting there were folks who wanted to “cheat” the paperboy out of anything, but there were folks who routinely did not come to the door when I was collecting for the newspaper.

I advanced to the big league at the age of 14 and became a soda jerk working after school and on weekends.  I wouldn’t call it big money, but fifty-cents an hour was a more reliable source of income than throwing newspapers. In addition, I had ready access to ice cream. It was a sweet deal. 

I was shocked to read in the Daily Briefing that 60% of college graduates still rely on parents for an allowance. The average amount is $7,500 a year. Pardon the pun, but I like the summation Nick Pitts made in the article: “In the biblical narrative, we read how the worker deserves their wage (1Tim.5:18). But an allowance isn’t simply a wage for services rendered. An allowance serves as an opportunity to teach your child how to steward their money into the future. It costs you a small amount in the present but it can cost them a significant amount in the future if they fail to learn well (Pro. 11:28, 15:27)”.

All My Best!

Don  

Things To Remember

When I was a kid growing up, my mom orchestrated our family on a couple of principles. One of them related closely to the “golden rule” of “doing unto others as you’d like for them to do unto you”. Mother often redirected my brothers and I by saying: “If you can’t say something good about someone, say nothing at all.” Truth-be-told, Ronnie and I were mostly the recipients of her wise counsel. My younger brother, Larry didn’t talk much. It wasn’t that he couldn’t talk, but he didn’t.  He was simply a shy, quiet kid living under the shadow of the twins.  

On second thought, Ronnie didn’t talk all that much either.  Okay, so maybe it is more factual to suggest that my mother often told me: “If you can’t say something nice about someone, say nothing at all.”  

The other message that the three of us clearly understood was the need to always put our best foot forward and be guarded about what we told anyone about our family. It wasn’t that our family had secrets, but God help you if you shared anything about the family – outside the family – that would cast a negative light.  I once laughingly shared an ugly word without realizing it was an ugly word in the presence of my mother and one of her friends. My mother’s reprimand was harsh and embarrassing.  Seriously, I didn’t know, I was just repeating something I’d heard someone else say.

Mom raised us by quoting a lot of Scripture. By the way, that doesn’t fall in the category that most child development specialist would say is ideal. Some of you may think the shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept”.  The verse my mother taught us was: “Be neat”. Mother conveniently, didn’t provide a Scripture reference.

Mom made it clear that she would, “kill us before she allowed us to be untruthful”. That is probably the part the child development specialist would say is “overkill” (pardon the pun).  We were well aware that no “liar would enter the kingdom of heaven”. I won’t say it was Mother’s most often quoted Bible verse, but we did hear it more than once. There were simply some things you didn’t do without the risk of “getting your head knocked off”.  There were some things for which mother promised to “knock our head off” first.  We weren’t all that smart, but we opted never to do them.

At least, the General has never used an expression like that with me. She did tell me once: “I would have been better served to take my brain out and play with it”, but even then she didn’t threaten to knock my head off.

My mom was one of six children in a large and connected family. Some of my favorite times during childhood were at my grandparent’s home with cousins, uncles and aunts present.  I’m certain that I always took it for granted, but the kids always ate first.

Little did I know that the preferential treatment we were rendered as kids, was a stark contrast to the way my mother was brought up when she and her siblings visited in her paternal grandparent’s home.  Whether if fell in the category of “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all” or “keeping family secrets”, but mother’s paternal grandmother didn’t have the reputation for being all that “grandkid friendly”.  Of course, I didn’t learn that from my mother during my childhood.  In fact, I have an aunt to thank for most of the information.

In my mother’s paternal grandparent’s home, the men ate first. The women and children waited. Of course, there was always one exception. My mother’s grandmother ate with the men. She also didn’t assume any of the responsibility for preparing the meal.  Somehow, that seems awkwardly strange to me. It is at least very foreign to the way I was brought up.

When you stop to think about it, sharing a meal is more of a relational experience than anything else.  It is an opportunity to visit and really get to know people.  One of my favorite things to do is share a meal with others.  That is not to say that I always get it right.

Recently, we invited people over for dinner and I over-grilled perfectly good steaks. Of course, our dinner guests were gracious and kind, but the meal fell way short of the potential. The steaks could have been really good.  

I haven’t thought about it often, but when you’re sharing a meal with someone, you generally share a meal with people whose company you enjoy.  Imagine setting across the table from someone you’d prefer not to see.  It would be awkward!

For that reason, enemies don’t often attempt to sort out their differences over a meal. Truth-be-told, enemies seldom sort out their differences.  I guess it falls into the love/hate category, but when love has turned to hate, people generally don’t share a meal together.

On occasion, by happenstance, I’ve witnessed the “kid-exchange” in parking lots where children are dropped off by one parent for a weekend end visit or longer with the other parent.  Each parent stays inside their car while their kids negotiate the landmines from one vehicle to the other.  Seriously, does it have to be that difficult?

My mother’s rules for life would work well in those situations: “If you can’t say something good, say nothing at all”.

All My Best!

Don

Sunshine and Rain

The one thing we all share in common is life. Consequently, we all have a story. Sometimes our stories are brimming full of joy and laughter. At other times our stories are the catalyst for tears and disappointment. One of the challenges we face is developing the skillset to manage both.

The living of life is often reminiscent of a seesaw or teeter-totter we played on in the park as children. It wasn’t a complicated device. It was mostly comprised of a long narrow board secured in the middle. With a person sitting on each end, we had the wherewithal to go up and down.

Truth be told, we have the capacity to benefit from both. Frankly, until I looked up the lyrics to the song, I didn’t know that it was first recorded by The Ink Spots in 1944. Their hit single that year was “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall”. We’ve probably all heard the lyrics: “Into each life some rain must fall     But too much is fallin’ in mine     Into each heart some tears must fall     But someday the sun will shine”.   

The Ink Spots were a popular African-American vocal group who gained international fame in the 1930s and 1940s. They were frequent chart toppers totaling over 50 hits in their 17-year recording career. Their best selling record “If I Didn’t Care” sold over 19 million copies. The group disbanded in 1954.

Several weeks ago, I visited briefly with a group of four people I met in a hotel restaurant. The two couples were from Portland, OR.  Though I’ve never been to Portland, I assumed the weather was similar to Seattle.  Frankly, I’ve got to have more sunshine in my life.  One of the wife’s said: “I agree with you.  I need more sunshine than Portland provides, but life in Portland is good. I wouldn’t go back to California.”

Without the back and forth pivot between sunshine and rain or for that matter, joy and disappointment, would we be cognitively aware of all we’ve been given.  The cycle of ups and downs are reflective of all of our lives.  How we manage both speaks volumes about the things that we value most.

I have a friend who lived in a Russian orphanage. He was subsequently adopted and moved to this country. Today, he works with others whose background include foster care or adoption to help them learn to frame and communicate their story. 

What about you? Have you given thought to crafting your story and inviting others to have the opportunity to know the real you? For that matter, have you given yourself permission to know the real you? Regardless, on which side of the spectrum you most often find yourself, there is great value in writing it down. 

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 reports that “regular journaling strengthens immune cells”. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Writing about stressful events serves as a stress management tool.

J.M.Barri’s expression 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”.

With over five and a half years of chronicling something related to my daily life, I pretty much have routinely covered the spectrum of sunshine and rain. The thing I routinely discover from the feedback I receive from my daily postings 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” the General just handed me, some of my friends think they must be married to her 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. 

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

  1. 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 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?”

I don’t want you to miss this. I’m serious about the importance of writing it down only because I’ve personally discovered the benefit that comes from the process.  To quote Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

All My Best!

Don

Sgt. Joe Friday

They say you are getting old when a routine random thought can facilitate the sound of Sgt. Joe Friday inside your head.  Do you remember the Dragnet series from television? I don’t remember which years the series aired, but it was a very long time ago. The opening line was always the same: “Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. This is the city: Los Angeles, California. I work here. I’m a cop.”

By the way, there is a downside to being a cop or at least, according to Joe Friday, the role poses difficulties: 

It’s awkward having a policeman around the house. Friends drop in, a man with a badge answers the door, the temperature drops 20 degrees. You throw a party and that badge gets in the way. All of a sudden, there isn’t a straight man in the crowd. Everybody’s a comedian. ‘Dont drink too much,’ somebody says, ‘or the man in the badge will run you in.’ Or, ‘How’s it goin’ Dick Tracy? How many jaywalkers did you pinch today?’ And then there’s always the one who wants to know how many apples you stole. All at once, you lost your first name. You’re a cop, a flatfoot, a bull, a dick, John Law, you’re the Fuzz, the heat, you’re poison, you’re trouble, you’re bad news. They call you everything, but never a policeman. Maybe she’s right. It’s not much of a life unless you don’t mind missing a Dodger game because the “Hotshot phone” rings. Not unless you like working Saturdays…”

Having a background in child welfare services always garners a similar routine response. My plane was late arriving back in Austin yesterday afternoon. Although the flight on both legs of the trip was at capacity, the shuttle bus at the airport was not. I breathed a sigh of relief. Last Monday with the ACL [Austin City Limits] crowd leaving town for far away places, every shuttle bus was crammed full of people. In addition, luggage was piled on top of luggage. I’m pretty people needy, but a sardine can arrangement with people way too close for comfort leaves me gasping for air.  I can’t breath. 

Yesterday afternoon was different. There probably were only about a dozen people on the shuttle bus back to the parking lots. As luck would have it, the F section was the last on the list. I was the lone occupant on the bus by that time. By the way, the “F” section stands for “Frank”, but I pretended it was personalized for Forrester. In the “C” section, the “C” stands for Charlie.  My truck was parked at Frank -12.

I’ve noticed recently that the shuttle bus drivers are stepping up their game.  They go out of their way to be personable. They welcome people back into town and ask about their trip. The shuttle bus driver attempted to engage others in conversation.  That represents some difficulties when he needs to keep his eyes on the road.

In addition, a near miss by a black colored car that came out of nowhere had the potential not to go well. The shuttle bus driver hit the horn repeatedly in an attempt to get the driver’s attention. She was headed into a turn and she was going the wrong way on a one-way street. The signage was pretty clear on the barricade the driver went around. It clearly stated: “Do Not Enter – One Way”. The bus driver reported that he could see that the lady in the car was texting while she played the part of a NASCAR driver.

By this time, the bus was half full.  The driver’s narrative included: “In real life, I’m an engineer. Does anyone want to know what I’d build if I win the lottery and had the money? I was seated in the back seat of the bus, but I answered loudly, “Sure, we’d like to know.” Instead of digging water wells in the ground, he’d create a device to capture water out of the air. He didn’t elaborate on the plan, but access to water is high on the list of things that are important.

I wondered if the driver had insight in how important his role is as a shuttle bus driver? He is providing transportation to help people get on their way homeward.  That is a high priority for most people.  In addition, he was going out of his way to be personable and engaging. Sometimes, that is a stretch for engineers.  Too much left-brain focus can make for strange conversation or mostly no conversation.

By the time I was the only passenger on the bus before we arrived at Frank – 12, he asked: “What do you do?” I hate it when people ask me that question. I generally respond: “I do the best that I can. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”  This time I responded: “I work in a professional organization representing children’s homes and boarding schools”.

I could have predicted his response. “That really has to be tough work…”.   Having a background in child welfare related services is not tough work.  In fact, I’ve never worked a day in my life in that career track.  I get rejuvenated from engaging with children and families from hard places. Sometimes you can make a difference. Isn’t that what we all want to contribute?

Even though I’m not directly engaged in providing direct services to children from hard places, I got credited for being a wonderful person because of my work.  People look at folks in child welfare services in the same category they regard Mother Theresa. Of course, they distance themselves from you by saying: “I couldn’t do what you are doing”.  Who’s to say?

My random thought related to Joe Friday was facilitated by a computer glitch in my Apple account this morning. I entered the wrong password and got locked out. How many times a month does that happen? I have now entered the name of every relative I have followed by 1,2,3,4 as my password.  I actually didn’t want to access my Apple account.  It was forced upon me to enter the password by my computer. It is a game – an Apple game associated to see how many passwords can this guy can come up with? 

My name is Don. I write a daily blog. I live in the country.  I don’t have high speed Internet and I don’t remember passwords. If I’m lucky, you’ll read my blog or maybe you won’t. The one thing I know is true, too many passwords can mess up one’s mind. I bet you struggle as well.

All My Best!

Don

Fatigue Is A Downer

A sense of fatigue can come out of nowhere and threaten to minimize the joy of the adventure.  As the 2019 CORE National Conference came to an end yesterday, I was elated with the level of energy in the room.  The crowd for the last couple of sessions had dwindled somewhat from the packed house earlier in the week, but it was still a good representation of folks. Seriously, do you ever get enough when the nuggets of information shared are things that could equip one to do a better job?

Then again, some of the things discussed showed the potential for a disconnect from how things are presented from an advertiser’s perspective and reality. Not everything associated to parenting is easy. The example provided was outside my frame of reference. My kids didn’t grow up in a Chuck E. Cheese Pizza extravaganza environment  where $9 a person bought each child all the pizza they could eat as well as an endless opportunity to play games. 

The presenter suggested that ads showing smiling children skipping and holding hands as the family left Chuck E. Cheese was something other than his reality. He suggested that kids having a meltdown when told it was time to leave were a tad bit more realistic.

Seriously, sometimes we measure success by our ability to simply convince our children to wear their coat to school rather than arrive at school in freezing weather wearing a pair of shorts and their favorite A&M short sleeve shirt.  Childhood can hold a few frustrations for parents under the best of circumstances. 

I awakened yesterday morning with the thought that I’d make the most of my time yesterday if I added a quick site visit to a facility a hundred plus miles away from Little Rock following a board meeting at lunch and during the early afternoon.  It made good sense. After all, I was already in Arkansas.

Leaving the airport in a rental car, I set my sights on the destination and drove north with a myriad of thoughts related to the conference in my head. What I discovered in short order was that I was getting nowhere fast.  Signage showed that I was in North Little Rock.  It may have been the luck of the draw, but my first impression of NLR was something other than favorable.  Could it have been that I was in more of a hurry than the narrow two-lane road with frequent traffic lights offered?

Seriously, I am normally a fan of two-lane roads, but two-lane crowded roads with frequent stops threatened to steal the joy associated with the drive.  Besides that, the estimated time of arrival reflected on my phone showed it to be an hour later than I anticipated.

My rental car didn’t have Apple Car Talk and I was at the mercy of my handheld phone.  Of course, I had been elated to find a rental for $17 a day. The last time I was in Little Rock, a two-day rental cost close to $200. Of course, the taxes and associated expenses from the airport were more than the $17 rental, but it was still a bargain. I didn’t really expect to have to wind the car up or pedal the wheels to get it to go, but at the speed I was making, I probably would have been better served. 

I figure if you don’t really know where you’re going, following the script provided by Map-Quest always works in one’s best interest.  It may be delusional thinking associated to memory, but I think the first 60 miles took a couple of hours.

My instructions had been to telephone the person meeting me for the tour to let her know my estimated time of arrival. I dialed the number and nothing happened. The phone rang once and then there was no other sound.  I tried again and again and my experience was always the same.  I found it both frustrating and puzzling. My phone indicated connectivity and showed the presence of a strong signal. Yet, it was not working as a phone.

During the interim of my attempting to figure it out, my phone rang a couple of different times and I was unable to communicate with anyone on the other end. I answered the calls, but never heard a voice. 

 I subsequently went through the whole scenario of getting my phone replaced in my head. When I picked up my new phone, they told me to keep the shipping box for a couple of weeks. I could return the phone and get a full refund anytime during the first two weeks.  So how long had I had the phone?  I think maybe three-weeks. 

Returning a phone is a lot easier said than done. What are you supposed to do for a phone in the interim? Call it happenstance or Divine providence, but the person I was meeting at the facility arrived at the same time that I did.  Of course, this was about her fifteenth trip to see if I had arrived since it was now after regular office hours.

The site visit went really well. The setting and the things I found in place for children actually energized me.  The program was sound. It was a good place for children. It was also a long way back to Little Rock.  Normally, I don’t mind driving.  Yesterday was an exception.

The ride back to Little Rock was mostly at speeds of 60-to-70 mph.  The return was a lot faster than I feared based on my arrival time. I used a different map app for my return.  In addition, would you believe the sound was turned off on my phone? No wonder it didn’t work earlier.

I was asleep by the time my head hit the pillow. Today is a new day and I’ll soon be off and running. I’m ready to be home.

All My Best!

Don

The Difference That Love And Compassion Makes In The Life Of A Child From A Hard Place

Sean Milner on the Right – 2019 Administrator of the Year

This morning I have both good news and bad news to share.  I’ll start with the bad news primary because it is water under the bridge and I need to simply choose to let it go.  The bad news is that not every participant in the three-day conference chose to attend the awards banquet last night.  

In retrospect, I should have seen that coming.  Our group has been in Little Rock since Monday and as a conference committee, we didn’t include any free time in our agenda. Folks coming to Arkansas from across the country wanted to see the city. 

Since the conference concluded yesterday afternoon at 4:00 o’clock in order to build-in time for us to get ready for the awards banquet scheduled at 6:00, some folks saw it as a “get out of jail” card in a game of Monopoly and opted to hit the streets rather than don a coat and tie or Sunday dress to attend a banquet.

What most folks fail to realize about conference food in a hotel is the actual cost of the meal.  In the real world, a person could have a two-hour meal with all the “fixins” at Ruth’s Chris Steak House for about the same price. Last night when I realized that about 30% of the 102 people that were expected were a “no show”, the calculator in my head couldn’t help but count the unnecessary cost associated to paying for food that was not served.

Yet, at the same time, I was mostly heartsick because I knew the after-dinner-speaker following the recognition of those receiving awards would figuratively hit a home run.  I knew the speaker would be good because I have come to value him as a friend over the past couple of years and I know bits and pieces of his story. What I didn’t know is how amazingly thought provoking and impactful his words would be to those in attendance.

I didn’t anticipate the comedy routine that the attorney-turned-child care administrator would rely on as he shared his story. His true-to-life experiences from a child’s perspective of what it is like to be a kid growing up in a children’s home were well received. I laughed until I cried and I cried or was at least teary eyed when parts of his story tugged at my heartstrings. 

Sean Milner, last night’s speaker was placed in the Baptist Children’s Village in Mississippi at the age of five and to date, has the record of being the longest tenured resident in the history of the children’s home. 

In reflecting on the length of his stay, he said when you do the math it appears that he was in care at least two years longer than possible.  A person doesn’t generally know from meeting him that he failed the third and the seventh grades. Consequently, he repeated those grades in school.  He suggested that failure never defines a person. It could simply be an opportunity to hit the reset button and do it differently going forward. By the way, that is a good life lesson to note.

At the time Sean was a child in care, the Baptist Children’s Village in Mississippi was on a very large campus with housing for children in a circular pattern across the campus. A couple of years ago when I was in Mississippi, Sean drove me through that campus and recounted for me personal stories and memories associated with almost every home we drove past.  

Last night, Sean had an audience filled with administrative staff from children’s homes and house parents. What better chance to share his story from a child’s perspective with things that those serving children most need to know?  

He wove his way into our hearts by sharing some of the kind of dumb things kids on a children’s home campus choose to do.  What nine-year-old boy hasn’t wanted to climb out the window at night and go to the girl’s cottage just to talk?  He suggested that the statue of limitations may not have expired, so he changed the names of some of his friends.  

The boys never made it inside the girl’s cottage, but the girls were making so much fuss over the fact that boys were at the window that they awakened the houseparent. From the outside, they heard the booming voice of the house mother as she was sorting out what was going on. Of course, Sean ran as fast as he could to get away.

What he didn’t count on was the metal clothesline that was exactly the same height as the opening of his mouth. His body kept moving forward while his head was stuck in place.  He could taste blood in the corners of both sides of his mouth.  

Freeing himself from the albatross of entanglement, he rolled down the hill and into places you’d never walk in the daytime.  The next morning, he looked like death warmed over. In addition to the injury to both sides of his mouth, his body was totally covered with poison ivy.  His house-mother wanted to know what happened? Despite his miserable condition, his response was: “I don’t know”. 

Sean’s stories and antics were plentiful. How about jumping on a moving train with a small group of peers to run away from home?  What the boys didn’t know is that the train was slowing down to stop rather than take them far away. 

He shared the story of one houseparent couple that regularly locked all of the kids outside their cottage on Sunday afternoons while they took a nap. It didn’t matter how cold or how hot it was outside.  The routine was carved in stone. They locked the kids outside.  A couple of kids in cottage revolted and said they weren’t going. They hid in the toy closet.  

It wasn’t long before the kids locked outside saw the door open and heard screaming and cussing. The two kids who’d been left inside lost their cover of protection.  So what happened?  The two kids asked: “Did you know there was another door to the toy closet?  They gone through the door and found stairs leading to the attic.  “So, did you hide in the attic?”  “Well, not really. We stepped off of the wooden beams and fell through the ceiling. It just so happened, that they fell through the ceiling onto the bed where the cottage parents were taking a nap. Let me simply say, “It proved to be a rude awakening.”

The speaker then went back in time and shared his personal story of being three-years-of-age when his father took the family, including all five kids, to a park in California to play. While his mother sat on a park bench holding his youngest brother who was five-days-old, the father opted to “go to pick up lunch” for the family. The father left and never returned. 

His father didn’t tell his mother that he had checked her out of the hotel or that she didn’t have a car or that she didn’t have any money.  She was a mother alone with five children and not two thin dimes to rub together.  She turned to churches and charity for the resources to take the family by train back to her family’s home in Mississippi. 

By his own admission, Sean doesn’t actually remember the experience other than through the mother’s recounting of it. He was only three year’s old at the time.  He does remember the experience of being five-years-of-age when his mother, living with the guilt and shame of her alcoholism, cried out for help in the only way she knew possible. He remembers the sound of the gunshot as his mother attempted to end her life.  He remembered propping her up next to the kitchen cabinet and holding her while his older brother ran two miles to the nearest neighbor’s home to call for help. 

The speaker said to those in attendance: “There are some things you need to know. You need to know that I did a lot of dumb things as a kid. I did a lot of things that were wrong. You need to know that I didn’t need to be reminded of the guilt. I lived with a sense of guilt. I lived with a sense of wrong-doing.  As an administrator or houseparent, never forget that kids don’t need to be reminded that they are wrong. They already are painfully aware of that reality.

The thing he couldn’t understand was the house parents and staff who simply quietly and supportively didn’t browbeat him for the wrong in his life, but opted inside to sit quietly with him and simply say with compassion that they were sorry for what he was going through.  

He didn’t understand their love when he experienced it. Yet the staff who were consistently compassionate are the staff he mostly remembers. They are the staff that made a meaningful difference in his life. They are the staff that provided him with a sense of hope.

As a side note, Sean Milner, the Executive Director of Baptist Children’s Village in Mississippi, was awarded the Administrator of the Year award earlier in the evening. He had no idea that his nomination had been made to the award’s committee. Sean left a lucrative law practice to return to Baptist Children’s Village to serve as administrator. He is now providing other children the level of compassion and love that he couldn’t understand as a child, but it comes naturally to him now as an adult wanting to make a difference in the life of a child from a hard place. 

All My Best!

Don

The Threat Of Loneliness

I’ve never stopped to think about it before, but Dr. David Cross made the statement: “If you are a lizard and want to feel safe, you crawl under a rock”.  What works for lizards doesn’t work for people.  People need people to feel safe.

From any number of sources, it is evident that loneliness in our country has become the biggest risk factors faced by Americans. For the record, loneliness isn’t confined to the elderly who’ve outlived the majority of their family members and friends.  A recent research study showed that loneliness peaked in three age periods: the late 20s, the mid-50s and the late 80s. That is not to say that if you fall outside those age groupings that you are not at risk. Failure to neglect social dimensions can negatively impact any of us.

Coincidentally, another extensive research survey by Cigna found widespread loneliness, with nearly half of Americans reporting they feel alone, isolated, or left out at least some of the time. “The nation’s 75 million millennials (ages 23-37) and Generation Z adults (18-22) are lonelier than any other U.S. demographic and report being in worse health than older generations.

In addition, 54% of respondents said they feel no one knows them well, and four in 10 reported they ‘lack companionship,’ their ‘relationships aren’t meaningful’ and ‘they are isolated from others’. 

Dr. Vivek Murthy, former U.S. Surgeon General, maintains that the effects of loneliness are as detrimental to the human body as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

I recently read that a “stop smoking effective campaign” is that included in some books that easily capture one’s attention and offer a good read, their is a notation toward the last 10% of the book: “If You Are A Smoker – Stop Reading. You’re life expectancy is cut by 10 %.  You have no more time.”

Research has shown that smoking reduces life expectancy by seven to eight years. On average each cigarette shortens your life about eleven minutes. Reportedly, the time it takes you to smoke a cigarette is the equivalent of the time erased from the other end of your life. By the way, that doesn’t sound like a WIN/WIN to me.

The same is true for loneliness and social isolation. Do I need to repeat that? In an age where we are maxed out on Facebook friends, we are devoid the physiological benefits of face-to-face interaction with other people.

Why does connection matter?  We were created in the image of God. In Genesis we are told that it was not good for man to be alone. We were created for a sense of community. People need people. 

In Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”, he doesn’t include connectional relationships as a primary basic need in his identification of things crucial for life such as food, clothing and shelter. Yet, from what we now know through scientific research is that longevity and quality of life is directly impacted by positive connections with other people.   

Today the biggest threat in our country is the epidemic of loneliness.  Some might say that it is a silent killer. A person’s failure to stay connected and engaged with others will shorten their days and place them at high risk for life threatening health issues. 

How many people subtlety fall into the trap of taking a time out only never to recover or regain their strength, stamina or excitement associated to living. An elderly friend at church once confided: “I don’t stop and sit down, because I might never get started again”.  Despite his advanced age, he lived all of his remaining days with a sense of fullness and purposeful connections with others. He was always on the go and actively involved.

It may feel good to take a time out and sit in an easy chair for a day or two, but a week or two could easily turn into weeks or months. Almost before you acknowledge it, you find yourself trapped in a lifestyle that figuratively will take the life from you.

Quality of life has to do with the people with whom you share life.  People need people. Don’t settle for anything less. It will shorten your days and rob joy from your life.

All My Best!

Don