Kindness

The smell of my grandpap’s Marsh Wheeling Stogies wafted throughout the cab of his company truck.  I sat holding a glass gallon jug, off on an adventure with him which included a stop at the local Tastee Freeze to get their special brew of root beer.  My 6 year old fingers held tightly to the jug as we drove the 5 miles down the mountain into the small town of Wellsburg, WV.

Once the jug was filled, my gradpap surprised me with a special treat.  “Two ice cream cones” he ordered, and my excitement could hardly be contained. One for me and one for him. This was indeed a wonderful surprise and one to which I was unaccustomed.  The soft, silky texture was enough to put a star on this already special day.

But then, he went even further.  “Make them ‘dipped’.”  I had visited the Tastee Freeze on rare occasions and only lusted for that special added feature.  It cost another nickel and that was just too much of a splurge.  Grandpap paid for the cones and handed me mine.  I started eating it on my way to the truck for the return trip home.

Then tragedy struck.  As he opened the truck door for me to climb in the truck, my cone fell to the cindered parking lot.  My heart sank.  I am sure my grandpap saw a tear start welling up or maybe even a whimper sneak out.  Without hesitation, he handed me his.  “Here, take this one.  I don’t need one anyway.”

That single act of kindness happened over 50 years ago and is still seared in the part of my brain where I keep all my fond memories.  I was interviewed by a paper recently on the topic of kindness.  The reporter was trying to understand the effect of kindness on people.  Her premise was that kindness was in short supply and she was trying to understand why.  She asked me if I thought we were born kind and that society takes it away from us.  I told her that I believed that we are taught to be kind and that we let society rob us of this wonderful virtue.

I recently listened to my old football coach, Bobby Bowden, as he spoke at a fundraiser for Fellowship of Christian Athletes.  He told a story about being on a talk radio program where he fielded an interesting question.  “Have the young men whom you coached changed over the years.”  Coach Bowden thought hard over his career which spanned over 50 years and had what I thought was a very insightful reply.  “The young men who come to play ball have not changed.  The parents have.”

If we are indeed taught how to be kind, where else do we learn this trait than through our family?  There are too many young men and women being brought up in environments which model selfishness and anger.  “Grab what you can and don’t worry about the people around you.”  If the adage of “you reap what you sow” is correct (and I think it is), the lack of kindness in the world is present because it was sowed.

Even as I write this article, it is on a plane headed to where I will be working with five couples who are struggling in their marriage.  I haven’t met them yet, but I guarantee that many of their problems are because they quit being kind to each other.  Some will even feel that they are justified in treating their spouse poorly.  They don’t realize that in doing so, they will also reap what they sow.  Kindness begets kindness.

While on the plane,a neighboring passenger opened up her carry on beverage only to have it explode out of the bottle.  She quickly put the lid back on but not before it got on her and the innocent passenger beside her.  The woman apologized and the other woman was very understanding.  Another passenger saw the predicament and quickly offered some paper towels she had available.  i had some wet wipes that helped clean up the sticky mess.  Kindness and understanding flew into motion. I think it is still alive and well and hopefully will always reign. The beverage that was spilled… root beer.

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To Give or Recieve

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The conversation around the Christmas celebration dinner table seemed easy enough.  The first question was, “What was your favorite gift you remember receiving as a child?”  Fond memories flooded everyone, who included five people ranging in ages 25 to 93.  Bicycles, dolls, wagons, etc. were commonly shared as stories of Christmases past were happily shared.

The second question had a more interesting outcome, and one that surprised me. “What was a gift that when you gave it meant a lot to you?”  A much harder question to answer for some around the table, but especially for one person.  This person continued to share gifts they had received but could not recall one they had given.
This caused me to consider how this could be.  Either, this person who could not remember was completly self-absorbed and selfish and she believed it was more blessed to receive than to give, or there was another answer.
Which has the most impact on our own hearts?  Receiving or giving?  Being loved or to love?  To have someone show appreciation to you or for you to show that appreciation?  I have no scientific research to back up this assertion, but I believe my heart is more warmly touched and indelibly marked upon receiving.
Please, don’t get me wrong!  I believe we should seek to give and bless people regularly.  This is a virtue with which no man will argue.  But to have someone stop their world even for just a second and gift us with a “thank you”, a warm hug or even a thoughtful present, fills a part of our  heart that longs to be filled.  It is a God created space that is meant to be filled by Him, but also by others.  It is one of the many blessings of community.
So, I’m going to give the person at the table who could not remember a gift that she had given, some grace.  She obviously had received many expressions of love and those gifts filled her heart and mind.  The talk around the table also made me more mindful of the need to make sure that I keep a balance in the universe of giving and receiving.  I hope that if I am around a table and a similar question is asked, even if I can’t recall the gifts, those around me can remember for me how I had blessed them.  If they do, I guess I’ll be receiving again.

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Holding Grudges

My wife and I were preparing to attend my 40th high school reunion when she commented she had not had time to trim her long hair.  I thought to myself, “How hard is it to trim hair?” I confidently volunteered for the task.  She only wanted an inch trimmed off the very tips.  I trimmed closer to 6 inches which was met with a gasp and tears.
Life is too short for lots of things.  For me it is too short to live in a town where it takes longer than 15 minutes to get from one side of it to another.  Life is too short to argue with my wife about what was “really” said or done or what she “really” meant.  But it is definitely too short to hold grudges.
Even saying the word “grudge” comes from the back of your throat like you are wanting to cough up a fur ball.  It is a growl of sorts that can consume the soul.
We say we “hold a grudge” or someone else is “holding a grudge.”  It is sometimes worn like a badge of honor or held close like something precious… which a grudge is neither.
Grudges are developed when we believe someone has violated our trust.  They have not treated us with honor or respect, thus deeming the violator untrustworthy, unreliable, or undependable.  Cheating, lying, breaking promises are just a few of the more common ways the violation will occur.  I have also seen grudges develop because of ignoring, avoiding or neglect.
Whatever the origins, when I feel a violation has occurred, I choose what to do with that violation.  It is sad when some choose to hold the violater responsible for the act months and years after the harm has been done. Communication cut off; the relationship forever damaged with no attempt to repair.   It seems like a smart and great idea at the time, much like the 1980 Chevy Citation I bought when it was new.  Soon the flaws in the design showed up and I was left with a car that stalled each time it went over a speed bump.
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Regardless the reason for holding a grudge, in the end, it is a poor reason.  I might even think it is a way to protect me from getting hurt again or a way of forever punishing the violator.  The reality is that the harm really occurs most to the one holding the grudge.  Attitude affects health.  Holding a grudge and sustaining a level of bitterness toward a person is a significant cause of a myriad of health problems that deal with digestion and heart.  “I’ll show you!  I’ll hold in my resentment toward you for so long I’ll develop acid reflux.  I’ll remember what you did to me each time I eat.   There, take that!!”
One thing to always consider when it comes to holding a grudge is ” What would it be like if everyone you offended or hurt decided to hold a grudge against you?”  Don’t run over that last statement too quickly.  It is only until we come face to face with the reality that we have hurt others just as deeply as we feel offended, that we will soften our hardened stance and consider letting go of the grudge.  Forgive so that you also can be forgiven.
After releasing the grudge, seek to reconcile when you can feel safe.  Trust might not be restored and it may be necessary to keep the offender at a safe distance, especially if they have a pair of scissors moving toward your long hair.  But at least your heart rate and blood pressure will likely improve. More importantly, your heart will be freed from carrying something that is not meant to be lugged around.  In the end, life is too short to hold grudges.  Let it go.

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“Just a Member”

It has been 7 years since I stepped out of working for congregations as a minister and started my own counseling business.  I sat in church service this past Sunday, as I have since then, realizing that I was “just a member.”  And I must tell you it was wonderful, enlightening and insightful.

Wonderful in the fact I could relax.  I have just read when it comes to depression and anxiety, ministers rate right up with lawyers and doctors.  I didn’t realize it was going to be so dangerous a profession when I answered the calling in 1976.  I was just being faithful and ready to use my talents for God.  The reality that the church had done well without me up to that point and was going to be okay without me had not yet been realized.  The push to make things happen in the church had been met with resistance and frustration.  Now, I can cheerlead, encourage and chill.

Enlightening because I realized that the very people that frustrated me in ministry, I now was; “Just a member”.  I was driven when it came to ministry.  Seeing the next wave and trying to move the congregation in that direction was both a blessing and a curse.  Small groups, contemporary music, discipleship, and media trends were just some of what I found myself “selling” to the typical member in the pew.  Now, as “just a member,” I can hear a sales pitch coming a mile away.  I am saddened when I realize how much energy I expended in trying to turn battleships when I could have just enjoyed the ride with some great people.

Insightful as I now can appreciate how naïve and spiritually arrogant I was in my ministry.  During worship service this Sunday, I sat among faithful members that included a 93, an 84 and a 75 year old.  The auditorium was filled with gray hair and experience. Sitting now as one of the mature members of the congregation, gimmicks and trends are of no interest to me.  Building character and virtue is.  I think in my ministry, I probably focused more on movement and activity, hoping character and virtue would show up.  One of the many insights I have had over the last 7 years.

So, being “just a member” is a nice place to be right now.  Your congregation is filled with them.  My prayer is that you enjoy, cherish, and learn from them.

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Wherever He Leads

I had a tear in my eye this morning during church service.  I looked over to my wife and she also was wiping tears from her eyes.  It wasn’t about anything the preacher said or even a passage that pricked our hearts.  It was the singing behind us.

We are visiting a church that has been around for about 60 years.  We had decided to attend the traditional service which sings old hymns accompanied by an organ and piano.  They sing a lot of songs that are not familiar to us, but we have enjoyed learning them.  The gentleman behind us probably had been at the church ever since it began so he knew the words and tune well. I guess he was in his mid 70’s and he sang with a quiver in his voice.  But every word he sang we could understand, “Wherever He leads I will go.  I’ll follow my Christ who loves me so.  Wherever He leads I will go.”

We sat there just listening.  Our voices were still  as we just faced forward and listened, deeply touched.  There was just something about the words and how he sang them that led us to believe he lived those words.  He had probably been living those words much of his life.  Sweeter words could not have been sung that morning.

I spent over 30 years pushing the churches with which I worked to move to more contemporary music.  I have been touched by good worship leaders who knew how to take these new songs and do more than just hammer out the notes and perform a song.  They led me to worship and I would find my heart opened to God.

But for some reason, whether it is old age or the need to return to my roots, my wife and I have been led back to the more traditional music.  I think in a world full of uncertainty and flooded with change, these old songs brought us some much needed peace and assurance. They remind us fondly of simpler times.

In the past weeks I have sung, “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Just As I Am” to name a few.  It was wonderful to sing these old songs and to hear the words anew.  But even these old standards, without a heart singing them, are just words and notes.  This morning there was more; much more; and we were touched by them.

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April 2, 2014 · 1:47 pm

Deciding to Enjoy

I found myself doing something very surprising the other day.  I was admiring the scenery in Amarillo, Texas.  For those who have never been in west Texas, especially Amarillo, let me see if I can paint a picture for you.  Let me use my home state of West Virginia to draw a comparison.  What Mountaineer country has in common with the landscape of Amarillo is…   NOTHING!!!  No hills, no trees, no grass, no water, but other than that, they look exactly alike.

So, for me to find any beauty in this part of the country might be a sign of being in the dry, scorching sun way too long.  Or, I have let myself fall in love with the unique beauty of the high plains.

Have you ever been somewhere, with someone, or in a situation where you only saw what was negative.  No matter how much someone tried to convince you that there was a different, more positive view possible, you were not able to see it.  A fancy phrase for this is, “confirmation bias.”  This comes up a lot when, for instance, someone has betrayed or hurt you, and all you can see is evidence that the person cannot be trusted.  They could do a hundred things right but the one with the bias only sees the mess ups.

There could be several reasons for maintaining a confirmation bias.  First, there is the ludicrous belief that if you continue to look at the negative that you’ll keep from getting hurt again.  If you admit they might be somewhat trustworthy, then that opens you up for the pain again.   Second, the bias can be used as a form of punishment.  If you keep looking at the negative and withhold your attention or connection, then one could believe that the other person is suffering a similar pain that you may have experienced from them.  You might be thinking, “That will teach them,” or “I’ll show them.”.

Either way, if enjoyment of life and relationships are goals one might have, these behaviors or attitudes keep that from happening.  In fact, it sabotages the very things we seek.

So, I walked into the landscape of west Texas already critical and determined not to enjoy any of it.  I was able to keep that up for about 20 years.  So what happened that might have caused me to appreciate the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, the cool mornings and evenings, the tall prairie grass blowing in the consistent wind, Cottonwood trees protecting a lonely spring, and the majestic Palo Dura Canyon with its peaks and valleys?

These were always present, but I was not.  I would not let myself go there.  If I started to appreciate these things this might mean I’ll have to stay here.  So, I would just concentrate on what I didn’t like.  Much to my amazement I was not magically transported to the place of my dreams because of my negativity.  In fact, I was not only here, but I was now miserable.  That was, until I decided that I could choose to appreciate the beauty that was here. I could find contentment where I was.  It has been a wonderful change… in me.  I have even been able to appreciate the different shades of brown.

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How the Ministry Affects the Preacher’s Kids

This is a great little article that I hope reminds us of the unforeseen affects of being a “Preacher’s Kid”.

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October 18, 2013 · 7:41 pm