Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Things you know, but wish you did not...

You should know by now that whenever your wife hands you something to read with the suggestion that “this is really an interesting article" you can be assured there is a “message” contained therein just for you my friend. So it was when my wife “suggested” I would really be “interested” in a recent article about Charles Barkley. Actually, I smelled this one coming around the coffee table knowing that King Charles was a most recent spokesman for Weight Watchers. And there he was. And, I must admit amazingly svelte having dropped a smooth 100  plus pounds with a Weight Watchers regimen of sensible eating and exercise. And if you are taking notes, he was big on eating breakfast and drinking at least 64 oz of water every day. 

But I have recently learned (don’t ask  me how!) that you can literally carry your bad eating habits directly to the grave. Wouldn’t you know that if you are just “too big boned” or “too large framed” yada ,yada for your casket, there’s an App for that!  It is called The Jumbo Casket, for those folks who never met a second helping they did not like.. And yes, it is somewhat more expensive.  And of course, the Jumbo Casket must be accompanied by it's jumbo companion,  "The Jumbo Outer Container". And while there is still the six positions for pall bearers on The Jumbo Casket instead of an embarrassing eight, your selected six should be on the stout side . Moreover, it would be prudent to review your pallbearters most recent stress tests and EKG reports. The only good news (economically speaking) is that the hole and the attendant cost for digging same  does not increase. Go figure.

I have also learned  (don’t ask me how…again ) that one of the first secondary insider questions asked by funeral personnel sent to retrieve your body upon death, is ( to quote Roy D. Mercer)  “Well Just how big an ole boy was he ? ) . Then there are the usual questions of whether there is a second floor or basement to be traversed.  It’s pretty much like the volunteer church movers’ question about whether there is a piano involved and if so if it is located in a basement  or on a second floor.In other words, the last words spoken by your beloved pallbearers will be "Whew! ", "Holy Moly", or something more direct.  Just say’n !

So for those folks who say you can’t take it with you, well you actually can… and pay extra for the privilege!.

Further Affiant Sayeth  Not

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

It's so hard to say good-bye

She  was two years old in 1997 in when I first saw her in a small cage just outside the rescue shelter. I circled the block to see her again because I was "just looking". But when I saw those big  brown eyes , I knew she was  going home with me.  At the time, we were both in need of rescue. She was timid, shy and unfortunately prone to car sickness. Over the years she outgrew her motion sickness. From that point on, riding anywhere in the car became the highlight of her day. She knew which places dispensed dog treats, and slobbered all the way to Starbucks, the  bank and the cleaners with doggy anticipation.

She was our family pet, but she was my dog. When I was home, she followed me everywhere just so she could be in the same room with me. And yes, we had our sappy little rituals. She had to go outside at 5:30 every morning  just so she could sniff the usual spots in the yard. Because when  you are a dog, you just never know who may have stopped by to pee on the mailbox between late night and early morning. After  morning rounds, she would get up in the chair with me and   roll over onto her on her back while I read the newspaper. All 75 pounds of her! I could read the paper and scratch her at the same time. If reading  the paper received more attention than scratching, she would swat the paper with a paw to remind me about the priority of the two activities.

 She rode in the back seat of my pick up and hung her head over my shoulder so she could experience the full effect riding in the truck with me. I knew people often stared, but I didnt care.  She would also nuzzle the back of my head when it was time to hang her head out the back window.  She learned  commands of “sit” “stay” and “heal” in 45 minutes. From that time forward, she could be walked and managed without a leash. We never had to discipline her. She instinctively knew the rules of engagement.  Just raising your voice or pointing your index finger in her direction would upset her to the point of having to “make up”. Even though she loved to snuggle, we had a rule she could not sleep in the bed with us. That rule lasted for one day, and she slept with us for the next ten years. We also took all those goofy dog photos that make non pet people cringe including reindeer ears at Christmas, photos with Santa at Petsmart, and others to embarrassing to admit. She was a part of our family.

Regardless of the day or what I wore, she always knew if I was going to work, or if the trip to the garage involved errands.  She would position herself by the garage door with those big brown eyes campaigning silenlty to be included in the errand.

As the years passed, she became more loving  but less active. When we were told three weeks ago that her persistent  limp was actually the result of  severe and aggressive cancer, we were devastated.We were crushed when the Vet said we could expect debilitating pain and suffering in as little as two weeks. We did the the only thing we could do. It was so hard

But our family  received 17 years of  unfailing love, companionship and devotion. She was our sweetheart. When the time came, she just slipped away into a deep and forever sleep, I know it’s silly to say, but I feel like a part of me is gone. We had photos with her on her last day. Our son held her with a pillow that said,”I wish I could be the person my dog thinks I am”. That only reinforced the magic of our mutual bond. Even now, I  still walk into our home half expecting and half hoping to  see her looking around one of  the corners of her favorite spots. It’s so hard to say good-bye.

"Goldie" was 17 years young when she left. She is forever gone, but forever present.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Simply Red...

“ Simply Red…”

I recall my second grade teacher telling me if I “ didn't straighten up and fly right, she would call my Mom…at home! That was 1953. My Mom now resides in an assisted living center near my home in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  She is occasionally admonished by the staff to “chill” or they will call her son…at home! Role reversal of parent and child has its little moments, and I have now come to know the entire facility staff on a first name basis.

Despite firmly attached labels and colored signage attached to helium balloons, my Mom still aims the portable phone at the TV and talks to the channel changer. Interestingly enough,  I believe she has better luck than I do at home with my  over priced multimedia device which to my surprise will occasionally and without warning  open my garage door.

The stiff-upper-lip mantra of “pre Boomer” sons and daughters passing each other in the hallways of assisted living centers that house our aging parents is: “It could always be worse!” The mother of one such newly commissioned “role reversee” would toss channel changers in the trash along with used tissue when she had finished adjusting her television. For a solution, my friend bolted her channel changer to a table. When that became unworkable, he adjusted the TV to her favorite channel, super glued the TV controls, and explained how to plug and unplug her TV to an electric outlet. Problem solved!

Yogi Berra supposedly said, “It’s amazing all the things you can see when you take the time to look”. Many untold stories lie silently and desperately in the hallways of assisted living centers of our communities. These untold stories are fascinating.   I moderate a “Talk Soup” session for a group of men every Wednesday morning in a local assisted living facility. The men’s ages range from 80 to 100. We discuss current events, but more importantly we share old stories. I want to videotape those stories for family members.

My Mom once lived in another assisted living facility before we moved her closer to our home. When I visited her, I was always welcomed by a huge man who was also a resident. He spent most of his days in the common living areas greeting people when they entered the facility. I did not know much about him because sadly I wasn’t looking. I later researched his life for his memorial service.
 He was 89 years old when he died. He was born in West Texas as the 9th child of 11 brothers and sisters.  He learned how to break horses and play a guitar equally well. He played football for Baylor University, but withdrew from college to volunteer for WWII. He became a well known singer and story teller in the Pacific Theater, and he was featured in a 1940’s lead article in Colliers Magazine which called him “The Texas Troubadour of The Pacific”. He won the Bronze Star. After the war, played and sang with Hank Thompson throughout the United States. He returned to Baylor, obtained his teaching degree, and taught special needs children for 33 years. He also found time to work as a horse wrangler for 32 seasons at special needs children’s camps in Arizona. He later served on Baylor’s Board of Trustees.

In the final seasons of his life, he moved to Stillwater. A granddaughter, whom he had raised as a child, quietly cared for him.

Our assisted living and nursing facilities in the United States and similar facilities in the world house are now homes for many forgotten men and women. We should listen to their stories.

The big man who greeted me in mom’s former assisted living center was known simply as “Red”. But he was so much more. I wish I would have seen more when I looked. He was the “Texas Troubadour of the Pacific”. He was so special to those he encouraged and inspired during his lifetime. But in the final stages of his life, sadly unremembered, he lived quietly and anonymously in a nursing facility.

Four rows of family members sitting in an otherwise empty funeral chapel tearfully clapped in cadence to an old 1945 recording of his favorite Hank Williams song “Jambalaya”..

To every unsuspecting person he greeted, he was the big man in the lobby who was known simply as “Red”.  But the real Albert L. “Red” Cheek” was the spirited and generous “Texas Troubadour of the Pacific”. 

I have been honored by his acquaintance.

Friday, April 6, 2012

I'll bet it's snowing in Chicago...

Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address was perhaps his most memorable. The long and bitter civil war had ended with a catastrophic loss of life for both sides. During the war Lincoln had agonized over the irony that both the North and South had gone to war thinking that each of their positions was a matter of God will, and each side was simply acting upon it. He in fact had attempted to resolve his dilemma by settling upon the thought that God had permitted the conflict in order to end human slavery, a proposition that was deeply disputed by most Southerners.

The war had ended at a terrible cost of lives, and Lincoln second inaugural address was conciliatory in tone urging “malice toward none”. He was also keenly aware that he had become the focal point for everyone’s disappointment in for the crippled economy, the tremendous loss of life, and the fact that many parts of the country in ruin. He was immensely unpopular and in some respects hated by families all over the nation whose sons were the victims of the war. Lincoln was assassinated six weeks after that.

When Lincoln died there was only two items in his wallet. One was a photograph of his 12 year old son Willy who died years earlier from smallpox, and a very old editorial clipping from a British newspaper. The editorial expressed the opinion that Lincoln would in time , many years after his death  be remembered and memorialized by the American public as one of their greatest Presidents.What is remarkable to me is not that the prediction came to pass, but that Lincoln’s personal legacy mattered so much to him. Arguably, more than anything else.
What’s in your wallet? Maybe it’s another way of asking what’s in your heart.  Parenthetically, deleting just the apostrophe after the word “what” “may pose a more disturbing question. Many have observed that a cursory review of our pocket books and appointment calendars would reveal a candid “snap shot” of who we really are and what we actually value. We all want normal lives which we define as “what works for me” at a particular times in our lives. All our activities are selected and prioritized by what we value. I am not articulating the smaller issue that children’s sports, yard work, golfing, fishing, several extra hours at the church of the inner spring verses church attendance at Sunnybrook. All the above is true, but I am more concerned with the bigger picture, a bigger priority, and a bigger commitment.
One of my favorite licensed clinical theologians Sharon Daugherty expressed it best when she said “We are worldly people trying squeeze in a spiritual component, when we should be spiritual people trying to influence worldly culture”.  We must ask continually ourselves “do our worldly (personal) plans intersect the will of God for our lives?”
 For many, doing God’s will means asking God to come alongside or validate the decisions we have already made.. But when do we ever legitimately ask about God’s will for our lives? I love Francis Chan’s story in his series “The Forgotten God”. Francis talks about sitting on the beach at sunrise with starbucks and a blueberry muffin asking “What do you want from me God?”.  When God responded Francis revealed his embarrassment of not be able to the people all around him that he had somehow overlooked –or forgotten. God wasn’t asking Francis to minister to people on a beach at dawn with starbucks and a muffin, but to people who have never seen a beach but who exist without water and food on a daily basis.
I remember a story years ago by humorist Erma Bombeck entitled. “I’ll Bet it’s Snowing in Chicago”. I tried to find the story on the internet but could not. So with apologies to the late Erma Bombek , I will paraphrase her story.
Erma was traveling to her home in Chicago for Christmas, and was in a crowded New York airport on Christmas Eve waiting to board a flight. She was uncomfortable in having to take a seat in the crowded boarding area next to an older woman who was poorly dressed and struggling with a knitting project. Erma says she was heavily engaged on her cell phone and lap top when the woman said,”I’ll bet it’s snowing in Chicago”. Erma immediately expressed  her hopefulness that it was not snowing in Chicago and went on to blurt out all the last minute details that had yet to be accomplished before Christmas. After she had complained about all her distractions and difficulties with arranging family gatherings during the Christmas holidays,, she paused to ask if the woman was going home to be with her family.
The woman said she no longer had a family, that her husband had died a few days earlier, and she was accompanying his casket on a plane to Chicago much later that evening. Only Erma could accurately express her feelings of self absorption and shallowness. She spent what little time she had in what Erma described as one of the most real conversations she experienced in a long time. As Erma stood to board the aircraft, another traveler took her seat in the boarding area. And as Erma walked away she could hear the old woman say, “I’ll bet it’s snowing in Chicago”.
Earlier this week, I received a phone call from a woman in Minco, Oklahoma who told me her daughter, an OSU student, had obtained a bible given to her by young man from Sunnybrook. Over the years, many people have given to me Bibles as presents because I suspect they figured I needed to read it more than most. Many of them had my name imprinted on the cover.  Recently, I gave a rather large collection of my “gift Bibles” to one of our actively engaged college students to distribute to anyone whenever he thought it would be helpful or appropriate.  The girl had given a Bible with my name imprinted on the cover to a family friend who is in prison.  The young man in prison beganto read the New Testament. He also became curious about the name imprinted on the cover of his newly acquired Bible. His family did a little research, and they found me and my story. They are heartbroken about their son. They asked if I would come and talk to them in Minco, and if I would be willing to visit their son in prison.
I’ll bet it’s snowing in Chicago…..

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Considering Real Transformation

One of the expectations of our “Go, Gather, Grow” strategy is that “Grow” implies a transformational change in our lives as we pursue the goal of becoming more like Jesus. Too often, we measure our spiritual growth only by an increased understanding of God, rather than a life that reflects his teachings. Transformational change is a balance between understanding and application. The vision of Sunnybrook is “To be known a church that inspires people to live sacrificially for the cause of Jesus”.  I sometimes ask myself if I am just learning more about Him, or if I am actually becoming a little more like Him?  On the other hand, am I still the same person with the same inconsistencies and reluctance to change. The old cowboy poet laureate, and large animal veterinarian Baxter Black expressed it another way.
I first heard Baxter Black recite this poem over twenty-five years early one morning on National Public Radio. That was long before I recognized the significant and needed changes that were necessary in my life. It was a different time and a different place, but the bottom line (no pun intended) of the message remains true. I have used this poem in many contexts and once very recently at the funeral of a long time friend. We can never fool Him, but are we fooling ourselves ? Baxter Black frames the question this way:
"What does Transformation mean?"
A cowboy asked his friend.
His pal replied, "It happens when
Your life has reached its end.
They comb your hair, and wash your neck,
And clean your fingernails,
And lay you in a padded box
Away from life's travails."
"The box and you goes in a hole,
That's been dug into the ground.
Transformation starts when
You’re planted beneath a mound.
The clods melt down, just like your box,
And you who is inside.
And then you’re just beginning
Your transformation ride."
"In a while, the grass will grow
Upon your rendered mound.
Till some day on your molded grave
A lonely flower is found.

And say a horse should wander by
And graze upon this flower
That once was you, but now's become
Your vegetative bower."
"The posy that the horse has eaten
Up, with his other feed,
Makes bone, and fat, and muscle
Essential to the steed,
But some is left that he can't use
And so it passes through,
And finally lays upon the ground
This thing, that once was you."
"Then say, by chance, I wander by
And sees this upon the ground,
And I ponder, and I wonder about,
This object that I found.

I thinks of transformation,
Of life and death, and such,
And I  come away concluding: You know Dude,
You haven’t  changed, all that much

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

“The World’s Strongest Man”

I was recently helping our youngest son through a rehab period as a result of some very involved back surgery. His employment requires some moderate lifting and positioning of heavy and cumbersome sales samples, so I began looking at various websites for large rolling product and display cases.
While exploring the internet, I found an interesting looking website in Vidalia, Georgia, and decided to call them. It was a small custom order shop where you talked a real person (not a series of phone prompts) and this time to a woman with a distinct southern accent. When I placed my order and gave them my name, “Paul Anderson”, I heard a small chuckle from the other end of the line. The woman said. “Do you know who Paul Anderson was?” I told her I did indeed although I had not been asked that question since the late 1950’s. Back then, I was asked that question at least two or three times per month.  But I told her I had not been asked that question in well over forty years.
The first time I saw Paul Anderson was in the summer of 1958 when he made a guest appearance on the old “George Gobel” Comedy Hour.  George Gobel was a former night club comedian who was featured in a weekly television variety hour which was similar to the television comedy shows of Steve Martin, Jackie Gleeson, Lucille Ball and other successful entertainers of that era. George’s special guest that evening hoisted up the rear end of a Volkswagen about chest high. (I never fully appreciated the irony of lifting up a German made car rather than an American made car until much later). To my then surprise, George Goebel introduced his special guest as “Paul Anderson, The Strongest Man in The World!”
Paul Anderson won that title through a series of events beginning in 1955 when he was twenty-two years of age by winning the USA National Athletic Union Weightlifting Championship. That won him a trip to Moscow where he captured the world’s attention by lifting more weight on his first lift than any of his Russian competitors. In the fall of that year, he won the World Championships in Munich Germany surpassing two more world records. He was booed by German spectators because he so easily defeated other well known European competitors. In 1956, he won the Gold Medal at the Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. To date, he is the only American Super heavyweight to come away with the “gold” at the Olympic Games. For many years, Paul Anderson was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for dead lifting and incredible 3,270 pounds, the greatest weight ever raised at that time by a human being, a feat accomplished on June 12, 1957 in his hometown of Vidalia, Georgia.
But the most incredible statistic for Paul Anderson was not the astonishing amount of weight he was able to lift, but the fact that he released his amateur standing in order to lift the spirits of homeless boys between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one by establishing The Paul Anderson Youth Home in his hometown of Vidalia Georgia. The boys were selected as high risk individuals for whom prison was a likely option. Paul purposely chose parentless boys who had never been selected for anything other than, “most likely to cause trouble”. Paul chose to invest tremendous resources in order to help small numbers of boys in a residential setting-one boy at a time. Giving up his amateur status so he could raise funds, Paul raised money by giving lifting exhibitions and accepting speaking engagements across the United States. The youth home opened in 1961. Parenthetically, The Oklahoma Lions Boys Ranch in Perkins, Oklahoma which houses and serves a maximum of 12 residents is similar to the model of the Paul Anderson Youth Home. The Lions Boys Ranch accepts referrals from the State Department of Welfare for abandoned boys who are considered too risky for state facilities. One of their graduates from many years ago is now a youth Pastor in Stillwater. Another went on to graduate from OSU and recently earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart in Desert Storm. He now teaches school in Oklahoma City.
Paul was diagnosed with Bright’s disease in 1983, but continued to take on more than 500 additional speaking engagements and lifting exhibitions. Many who heard him recall his booming voice which inspired and mesmerized. He spoke to civic clubs, high schools, colleges, business industries and military bases. According to most reports, he and his wife Linda almost singlehandedly raised the majority of funds necessary for the large endowment necessary to operate The Paul Anderson Youth Home.
This “gentle giant” credited his Olympic victory and other successes to The Lord. He was ordained into the ministry by his home church in 1965. His simple message focused upon Jesus Christ, family values, patriotism, and the free enterprise system. He used his influence as a Christian athlete to instill moral standards and set spiritual goals for the nation’s youth.
Crossings Church in Oklahoma City hosted a recent national convention for The Fellowship Christian Athletes (FCA), and Former First Lady Laura Bush was their honored guest and keynote speaker.  The program noted that Paul Anderson once served on the Board of the Directors of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Paul was was awarded the FCA Branch Rickey Award in 1992, the highest honor presented to laypersons by the FCA.
Paul went on to be with the Lord in 1994. Paul’s wife Linda continues to operate the Youth Home in Vidalia.  Each boy receives her personal attention just as if they were her own. Paul and Linda’s only child, Paula Anderson Schaeffer, lives in the home where Paul was born. Paula is an Executive Director for a local YMCA. She continues to serve on the Board of Trustees of her parent’s ministry.
One of the greatest reported comments given to Paul Anderson of Vidalia Georgia was made by a state media reporter who spent several days with him as he traveled the country. The reporter’s final statement was: “Paul Anderson is The World’s Strongest Man, and he also lifts weights”!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

When They Call Your Number
I enjoyed watching the Heisman presentation this week-end. The show reminded of another great player from my hometown.
He was the great grandson of an early Oklahoma United State Senator. He stood 6 foot 5 inches, weighed 245 and he could fly like a sprinter. And man, could he ever zing the football on a line. He could flat out “bring it”. He had all the impressive stats and stature of today's pro quarterback.
But the year was 1962, and he would become later known even to this day as the greatest athlete to ever come out of Lawton High School. For many years, he held the state high school record for high hurdles. He was member of the heralded 1962 Lawton High School Track Team who that year won the state championships. Lawton’s 1962 track team was named the 44th best high school athletic team of the past 100 years by the Daily Oklahoman.  He led Lawton to its only state high school basketball championship in 1962 beating the number one rated team Tulsa Central coached by a twenty six year old coach in his first high school basketball season named Eddie Sutton. He was The Daily Oklahoman Football Player of the year in 1962 filling the sports page with a full three column photo under the caption, “The Blond Bomber” .He was the starting quarterback in the 1962 All –State football game and later quarterbacked Oklahoma to a victory over Texas in the 1962 Oil Bowl Game. He had over 41 offers to Division I schools, and chose The University of Oklahoma.
He was the scheduled starter for his first season at OU until knee injuries side lined him for a year of rehab. He came back the next season as the starting deep safety and held that position for the next three years. He intercepted two passes in Oklahoma’s victory in the 1964 Gator Bowl. In 1965, he won the low hurdles event in the Big Eight Track and Field Championships in Oklahoma. He was drafted by The Oakland Raiders.
There was another player who was a member of Lawton’s 1962 basketball squad. He was at the other end of the skill set and rarely played unless several of the regulars were severely injured, missing, or if we had a comfortable double digit lead that began with a three. It was one of those opportunities to sit, reflect and be ready if your number was called. They never called my number during those days of “pine therapy”.  Probably just as well under the circumstances. Better to ride the bench and let people wonder about your basketball skills than to take the court and confirm what most suspicion by an absence of significant playing time. I remember our basketball coach (who fancied himself as an amateur comedian) telling a local Lions Club that “Anderson is not particularly fast, but I did see some interesting foot speed when he got off the team bus for the pre-game meal at a buffet in Chickasha”. That’s not the sort of clipping you want to show your grandchildren.
 “The Blond Bomber”, or better known as my longtime friend Bill Thomas, went on to enjoy a wonderful family and a successful career in real estate, and later until his retirement in teaching and coaching. I was stunned to learn that the “Blond Bomber” died in Sun Lakes, Arizona earlier this year after a long bout with bone cancer. Those of us who remembered his quiet but powerful leadership were sadden by his passing.
I remember the agony of “riding the pine: in those days. I wondered if the coach would ever “call my number” to get in the big game. How insignificant those feelings have become.
Three of my closest high school experienced adversity this past year. Each now live within 30 miles of each other in southern Arizona.  Bill died of cancer. Our class president went through the heartache of being abandoned by a wife who no longer wished to married. Our head cheerleader experienced a similar situation only to experience a subsequent unexplainable and unexpected death of her only son. Each called to ask me where was God in these situations. Each asked why God allowed these tragedies to invade their lives. I missed my chance with Bill who died before we could visit. I have not been back to Arizona since most of you know why and when.
I won’t miss this chance again, because when God calls your number……