Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Pain of Loss

This week has taken many different turns but at the intersection has been the sting of death of some really great people that touched my life in very unique, timely ways.  Death is part of the journey of living and Christians understand this very well.  As I approach in a few weeks the threshold of sixty-five years old, I find myself in more reflective modes than normal.  With the news of those that have left this world, my world, this week, deep channels were made in my mind and in my heart on each of these great men.
Bob Glick, highly decorated soldier in Vietnam and a great part of my military life in commanding units was a most interesting, driven man that gave his all to anything he did.  Alta Cornutt was a gentle touch on my life in my basketball developmental years during my early teens.  As my mind has processed these two men and their role in my life at various points in my life, I was reminded all over again of how we, as people, need others to come along beside us for an array of reasons and times.  As I have written on these pages before, I shall never forget the day my son graduated from Kent State University. The commencement speaker was from India, his name took two paragraphs, his degrees took another page and I was jet lagged and did not want to be there, frankly.  But as the speaker came to the podium, his first words have remained with me when he said, "I am a part of every person I have ever met." BANG!
That simple sentence moved me in so many ways but as much as any to avail myself to those that cross my path in this life. My students will attest to this for they bring in such issues and problems that can be a barrier to the learning process. As I begin to detect the barriers, I autonomically begin to probe to find an entry point for the student to feel open and comfortable enough to express thus bringing light to the darkness of the hurt, the pain, the fear they possess.  So many people have touched each of us in so many ways and I think it vital to take moments to reflect and ponder the impact and implication of that touch.
During the long, cold, snowy day yesterday and in the loss I was feeling about Bob and Alta, my mind shifted to my college basketball coach, Riley Whitaker, in Gadsden, AL.  I picked up the phone and called him and had a wonderful thirty minute conversation.  He has had a tough journey of late as he approaches his seventy-fifth year but his mind was perfectly clear yesterday as we told stories, laughed, shared memories and it gave me the opportunity to verbalize how God had used him on a very special day in 1967 when I felt like my world was falling apart and a phone call from him truly out of the blue turned to a beautiful sunrise for years to come.  He never knew what that call and the ensuing opportunity to play basketball for him meant to me but he does now. We both were teared up by the end of the call. I thank God for Riley Whitaker.
I thank God for Alicia Williams, Coach Walter Holt, Glenn Avery, Gary Muskett, Zeddie Morton, Ruth Epley, Lamar Berry, Joe Cowan, Bill Sharp, Jerry Butcher, Jeannine Keim, Taylor Williams, Neal Wheeler, Lowell Dunckel, Larry Lee, Fred Jennings, Gary Vincent, my mother and the list becomes endless!  Our life truly is a portrait and the colors and hues and images of the portrait are provided by so many people at different points on our portrait.  I am truly humbled when I think of the many I have known that have amazingly touched my life at the heart which is the only place that matters. But I would be so remiss if I did not add to that list Jesus Christ for His touch on my life at a young age at Forrest Avenue Baptist Church.
With loss comes pain.  With pain comes hope for ease.  Friends bring the scalpels that surgically affect our very existence.  I find that the greatest joy I experience in teaching thousands of students is getting to have access to their tool chest as they prepare for a life journey. I know  as the days unfold for them, as for me, the day will come when they will begin to reflect on those that have touched their heart.  There were many expressions of kindness to the tribute I wrote about Alta Cornutt and was able to get to his daughter. Many of the expressions posted to FB when I was asked to post the tribute to FB caused people to stop and make calls, write letters to those that had touched their lives. That is a great thing.
So many I wish I could call now and tell them I love them and why but they are gone.  I implore you this day to consider making a list of the ten most impactful people in your life and find a way to express specifically why they are so special to you. Play it forward! I believe this is a message God has brought to me this morning and I hope it is received with the love, respect and honor with which it has been written.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A View to the Hinterland

Well, as we move toward the ending of another event-filled week, I continue to take pause to ponder where our nation is really headed. The partisan rancor continues unabated. The POTUS is now managing the nation via Executive Orders versus the Constitutionally mandated legislative process thus assuming the role of "king" instead of President.  We have a POTUS inaugural soon and it is actually sad to remember just four years ago with all the thousands crowding into Washington for the event, all the rhetoric but, this year, feels more like somebody dropped a bowling ball with a large, dull thump. The energy has left the building as has legislative process it would seem.
But hey, it is a beautiful Saturday morning here in Northeast Ohio, I get to see my grandson play basketball today, I get to sing to a group of widow and widowers at my church and I get to socialize with friends from my church tonight; now that makes for a great day.  A mega event for me was yesterday in sitting with a distinguished veteran of WWII that was highly decorated but as he unpacked his story via Q&A, and I always have lots of Q, he calmly told me of dangerous feats as though he were filling his car with gas. No pretense, no chest beating; just plain, simple, down-to-earth telling me of his story that led to his awarding of the Distinguished Flying Cross for action over Sicily against the Germans in support of Patton's move north toward Italy.  I left there awed, humbled and proud all over again to be an American. My departure from him was a handshake, a crisp hand salute and a gentle hug with tears from both of us for the hour we had gotten to invest in each other. Art Rohr; an American hero ... and my new friend!
I find almost daily wondering about just how far into the pit our nation will go before hitting bottom and begin moving toward the light of prosperity and joy.  I realize that more and more I find people simply unhappy, downtrodden, hopeless and scared.  I see in the jail work a growing sense of it almost being alright to break the law, serve the time which means they are protected, fed and are perfectly comfortable living off the dole of the taxpayer funding.  I see it in my students that take the easy route to their course work meaning they do not commit to the journey, seek ways to escape the challenge and accountablity; all indicators that the future is less bright than it otherwise could or should be.
There is so much to be frustrated and even angry about.  But you know, there is so much to be over joyed and thankful for. Health is a major one.  Just this week I saw a great friend that had fallen in the parking lot at church, eighty years old, more concerned about his crying wife than he was about his possible injuries; that was love unbounded and so heartwarming.  Just this week I had time with a dear friend that is really struggling with major health issues witnessing his love for our Savior to those that would enter his room.  So yes, for me, this has been a great week. I have gotten to know a hero, a friend and a mutal Christ-follower in the midst of pain and turmoil in their lives lift me to a new perch of being proud of my life, my health, my family, my Christianity.
As mother used to say that we never know what a day will bring.  Today, while we know not what this day will bring, I know that whatever it brings we can deal with it for I Know Who Holds Tomorrow and I Know Who Holds My Hand ... amen?? Um Hummmm!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Clear and Cool in Ohio

Good morning on this sort of rainy, foggy yet warming Saturday morning in Northeast Ohio.  Have awakened with five grand kids bouncing on my bed hitting on "Poppy" telling me they loved me, getting fives and rocks from all and pulling me out of bed for breakfast .... that is a great morning!  Before going to bed last night I was feeling lifted by having served in two back-to-back jail services at the Stark County Jail with a total of about fifty men.
I was reminded and re-energized all over again as to why I continue to do that work for it truly is a ministry.  It is now moving toward ten years I have serving in jail ministry and the number is approaching 200,000 men and women I have worked with of all ages, colors, creeds, crimes and still I feel a yearning to continue this very strange sort of ministry work.  Never will I understand why or even how God called me to this work but I know without a shadow of a doubt that it is a God-called ministry that warms my heart in the midst of "interesting" smells, comments and reactions. I have seen first hand the power of God's Hand touch a heart through a song, a sermon, a prayer, an arm around the should in encouragement.
In doing this work I have learned much about myself I realize.  I realize that not a single one of these men and women were born and reared with an intended purpose to do wrong and end up in a jail or headed to a prison when they transit from the jail.  Everyone of these people had visions of good in their lives. All wanted to cast off the bonds of their usually economic chains for a better life, a family, a career.  But 200,000 people later I have realized that when each of them are in a jail, they are joined by countless children, spouses, parents, grandparents, friends; all of which are incarcerated as well.  When I think of the untold numbers of children affected by their dad or mom being in jail and the prayer requests, the tears, the hurt they each of them know they have unilaterally invoked on those that love them; that is the greatest pain of all I realize.
Another learning point for via this work is seeing the trapping power of disappointment in the inmates difficulty in truly being able to forgive themselves for their wrongs.  I am in no way excusing the wrongs they have done nor their sentences and consequences of their poor choices and am very frank about that in my comments in each service.  With bad choice comes bad consequence and that is the price to be paid.   But some interesting points I believe I have witnessed up close and personally: of the hundreds of jail services, there has never been a single case of fighting, disrespect or disruption seen by me.  These are big, strong, tough, scarred men and women and gang activity is ever present in the jail service congregations. However, I see a side of them in "God's House" in the chapel, where all of that is left at the door; Praise God!
Something I began several years ago is that if an inmate comes onto my radar for some special reason, I will write them a letter of encouragement in the days following the service experience.  I always use my church's return mailing address for security reasons.  Some of the hundreds of letters I have received in response are uplifting, painful and at the core of them is a stated desire to straighten out the web of despair they have created, thousands of prayer requests for families, victims, etc. My heart is touched with each letter I read.
This morning as I was being bounced out of my bed by my five precious grand kids and then to sit around a table to have breakfast with them, we prayed for those men of last evening for they would all love to be having breakfast with their families this morning but cannot due to bad choices in their lives.  It has come clear to me you can, in fact, hate the sin but not the sinner.  I do have a very wide and deep love and joy for these men and women that cannot be explained in human terms but is fully clear in my heart in God's Hand write on my heart.  I believe the work we do with these inmates has to have some positive impact on their lives in the years ahead thus it is an investment in the future thus a capital investment!
Some of you reading this know first hand what this life in incarceration and issues with the legal system means and the angst and disappointment that comes with it. I covet your prayers for these men and women and for those of us that have chosen to serve in this troubled environment.  Joy does come in the morning the song says but sometimes I almost feel guilty knowing what I get to wake up to versus when I know those men and women are waking up to this morning.
So on this cool and now cleared Saturday morning, know what a blessing freedom of living really is.  Also never forget that but for the Grace of God, each of us could find ourselves behind bars this morning looking longingly to be united with family and friends.

Friday, January 4, 2013

What Lurks at Your Core?

In today's devotional from Our Daily Bread and from Jimmy Carter's Daily Devotional, there was discussion about one's core. We all have a core which are a set of beliefs that formulate the framework of who we really are when nobody else is looking!  The architecture of my teaching is in establishing clearly the Mission which I define as one's reason to exist. Once that is defined, the destination must be determined which is what I call one's Vision. This is vital for Vision encompasses, embraces and energizes the person and / or the organization. So what is left is the pathway from the Mission to the Vision. These pathways are what I call the Strategies.  The progress metrics along these pathways are the Goals.  It really is all quite logical I have learned in my life for the framework is applicable at a personal level and at an organization level.
When you stop and think, really, really think about what formulates your core, it creates an increased heart rate for it gets very personal and intimate.  There is a great adage that states that a rising tide lifts all ships.  That is great unless your ship is anchored therefore as the tide rises, the anchored vessel is sucked beneath the rising tide, right?  Anchoring steadies and stabilizes  both of which are good.  But when the time comes, and it will, for movement to a new, different location, destination, vision, the anchors have to be cut loose to be able to take advantage of the rising tide.
As I watch my students, friends, family, business associates, I find myself assessing my own core values and beliefs to better understand myself for I have a fundamental sense that as I know myself better, the real me, then I can be a better me and thus be able to be a better teacher, leader, family member and therefore be part of their rising tide. I hope that is clear for it is abundantly clear to me.  So the question that begs an answer: what are your core values?  What is it that in the midst of absolute upheaval in your life or business or relationships, you can know how you will work your way through the maze of the angst, pain and disappointment? We can look around our world every day and see pools and pockets of events and issues the must be dealt with "at the core" and not the periphery.
I think a great, pertinent example is the debt debacle of our nation and how our fiscal leaders are trying to manage the terrible dynamic. What values are our elected leaders displaying in finding a way to SOLVE the issue and not continue to hope the rest of the world will continue to bail us out by continuing to buy our debt?  Frankly, and I watch this closely, I have no idea of what the Congress and POTUS of the United States of America's core value are. I find that sad and perhaps I am missing the answer but all I see is partisan rancour. I watched the 113th Congress swearing in yesterday with all the joviality, families and photo ops and felt good about it for I want so badly to have hope.  But then the Speaker of the House elections proved that the core values of the collective Congress are still undefinable. 
I will stop with this challenge!  Today, go somewhere alone and in the quiet, do a personal self assessment of what you feel resides at your core.  Build scenarios of things that could happen in your life and then test them in how you think you will navigate the straits of despair.  If done properly and honestly, you will begin to see the mist clear and you can begin to see the real core of what and who you are.  This is not some academic exercise but a real life assessment of yourself.  I commit to doing this today for I have done this several times in my adult life and realize that it is time for another mirror viewing of Jim Williams, the real one. 
If you would like to share your thoughts on this, I would be more than thrilled to read and or discuss.  This is a very different type blog for me for the devotional time touched a very unique chord in my heart which has led me to this pathway. I think there is a purpose for that.