An Ever-Changing World . . . Yet some things never change!

On Thursday evening, we received a request to FaceTime with Chris, Ali, and Abi.  It was fun and the little girls were entertaining . . . and they both were fully aware that they were the center of attention and they responded as they should!

That has caused me to think about the changes which have occurred in the world in just recent years. There have been amazing changes since my grandfather was a boy . . . and here are just a few I have thought about:

TRAVEL: I can drive to the ranch in six (6) hours (well, if Sandy isn’t along).  I spend that six hours in air conditioned comfort listening to XM Radio, constantly being entertained with a Bose surround-sound system, or keeping abreast of current events with a number of 24-hour-per day news networks available.  I also have a cell phone close at hand to stay in communication.  I also have On Star just the push-of-a-button away. A hundred years ago, my grandfather would have been on a serious and dangerous journey of perhaps a month by horse-drawn wagon, or 10 to 12 days by Model T.  That trip would have involved nights sleeping on the ground, facing any number of challenges, threats, and struggles.  Of course, he would have had no conveniences on his trip, plus very little means of communication with the world or family that were not traveling with him.  Even further, air travel is easily accessible and affordable today and cuts the travel time down to about two hours.

 

Sandy, Dorothy, and I are planning to buy a nice, comfortable motor home and drive up to Alaska, tour the State, and return home.  All through the trip, we will have GPS, iPads, and laptop computers along to verify weather conditions, area attractions, route planning, and to gather all sorts of data and information.

Such a round-trip adventure for my grandfather would have been almost impossible, and at best would have been something like a 20-year process, filled with great challenges and dangers. 

TECHNOLOGY: I am not even sure where to begin about this constantly changing area. A hundred years ago, my grandfather didn’t even have access to television, and he lived in a world that was rather small and simple (at least what they knew about it).  My family has been told that he came from a family of 13 children and as they all left home in Tennessee and wandered away, they lost all contact with each other for the remainder of their lives.  The truth is today, that one, for all intents and purposes, would have to plan and scheme well to simply disappear . . . if that was what he wanted to do.  There are so many ways to track, locate, and identify a person today.  Simply getting a job requires using a Social Security number and with today’s technical capabilities, false SSN’s entered into the system are identified quickly.

While my grandfather lived in a house without running water, bathtub, or shower; indoor plumbing or electricity; the vast majority of homes have all of those things, plus at least one computer and one television.  Almost everyone has a cell phone (drive down the street and look . . . even the yard man has a cell phone).  The internet is free and can be accessed at local places such as the public library and Dairy Queen.  We live in an era of internet, emails, faxes, text messages, cell phones, and 24-hour-a-day television.

KNOWLEDGE: What my grandfather and his generation knew about the world was actually quite limited, and full of error and superstition.  Medical knowledge was extremely limited and medical care was largely unavailable to poor people in rural areas.  In fact, it was in 1948 that the World Health Agency was formed as an agency of the United Nations, and since then changes have taken form.

Today, there seems no limit to knowledge.  Almost anything or any subject can simply be googled and instant information is at hand!  The culture has moved a long ways from the Three R’s of my grandfather’s day.  Medical advances are mind-boggling and there are few parts of the human body that are not being replaced . . . almost on demand today.  I spent a day in the surgical waiting room of the University of Pittsburg’s amazing hospital last year and could not believe all of the things folks talked about their relatives were having done.  I mean things I had never even known to be possible.  It seems there is no limit to what can be done with hearts, organs, and joints.

COMFORTS: The automobiles we drive and the homes we reside in are light years beyond anything my grandfather ever experienced.  Most folks today have HVAC systems that make the home more comfortable, modern electrical service, hot and cold running water, indoor plumbing, insulation, and modern kitchens for keeping and preparing meals.  The poorest of Americans today live at a level that is well above the level at which middle-class Americans lived with when my grandfather was my age.

Today, we are told that 190 million FaceBook users are mobile only . . . with 30% of FB’s ad revenue coming from mobile use.  My grandfather never heard of FaceBook.

LinkedIn has two new members join every second.  My grandfather also never heard of LinkedIn, nor would he have had need of it.

However, in spite of all of the great advances over the past 100 years, there are some things that have not changed at all.  It Seems to me . . . that in spite of such great changes and enlightenment . . . The world is still a sinful place and people continue to be plagued by the stains, pains, and chains of sin;

  1. That children still need loving parents and a guiding hand;
  2.  That churches still have a critically important mission;
  3. That man may now be able to walk on the moon, but he still struggles with being able to walk in honor and integrity;
  4. That the Statesmen of yesterday have been replaced by cheap, vulgar politicians today;
  5. That the world and living conditions are getting better, but man’s plight, basic nature, and inclinations have not changed much as evidenced by reports that crime abounds and society cannot build prisons fast enough . . . our prisons are full and running over;
  6. That God is in control and everything is playing out pretty much as it is supposed to play out, and none of it is a surprise for God; and
  7. There is still a day out there . . . somewhere in the future, when the lion will lie down beside the lamb . . . and when that occurs, things will really change!

Sometimes we just can’t fix it . . . Try as we may

The first time I saw him he was making his way down the “A” dock at Key Allegro Marina.  It seemed he just ambled along without purpose or direction.  They say first impressions are very important; it sure proved to be in this situation.

It was about 8 p.m. and the word I had received was that he got off work at 6 and needed to go home to clean up and have dinner and then he would come to the boat to meet with me.  I sat on the fly-bridge enjoying the April evening listening to oldies being piped up to the speakers on the bridge.  As he ambled along, I was pretty certain he was who I was scheduled to meet.  The dude just looked the part. I had heard about him from Pierce, my new friend who owned the boat in the next slip.  Just for clarification, I had recently purchased Aftermath and had berthed her at Key Allegro.  I had owned a number of boats but never anything quite like this vessel.  It quickly became clear that I needed to hire someone to help with maintenance and repairs.  Pierce was convinced this was the guy.  Pierce’s report was that the guy worked in a dumpy old auto-repair shop and was a mechanical genius and desperately wanted to transition from auto repair to boat repairs.  He loved boats.

The meeting that evening would prove both a blessing and also to become one of the great mysteries in my life.  Ten years later as he left town . . . after being asked to leave by his family . . . he continues to be a great mystery to me; perhaps a mystery I will never figure out.   

As I interviewed him that evening, I was impressed with his mechanical knowledge.  I was also pleasantly surprised at how likeable, soft spoken, and agreeable he was.  He knew a great deal about boats, fishing, and the local waters.  I was pretty certain that he would be great as both a mechanic and also as a deck-hand during trips out, and that was a big thing.  One of the issues with bringing someone onboard always involves being able to spend long hours in close quarters. A few hours at sea can radically change good friendships.  As we visited and inspected the vessel, discussing a wide variety of items, I hired him.  He told me that he wanted to charge $40 an hour for his services.  I told him that I thought $50 an hour for actual mechanic work was more appropriate, but that number would have to be adjusted for time when other items such as maintenance and service were being performed.  He agreed and we then settled fair compensation for such things and for his time when serving as a deck-hand.  We agreed on a schedule for maintenance and compensation.  I gave him a check as a sign-on bonus, gave him keys to the vessel, dock box, and bath house; we shook hands we left the marina as new friends.  I genuinely liked the guy.

Over time, I learned that he and his wife had divorced 15 years back; then they had gotten back together, but never bothered to remarry.  There were two kids at home, a boy and a girl.  There was a shock each time one of his family members showed up.  I remember the first time he went out on the boat with us.  We had several couples scheduled for an outing and dinner aboard.  I had casually told him about the group and said he was free to bring his wife along if he wanted.  She came and after we returned and docked, he and I secured the vessel while our wives walked to the marina’s restaurant/bar with the group.  Later that night, Sandy told me that his wife did not hold him in a very high regard and made several comments that he was very lazy and shiftless.  Sandy and I agreed that we had seen no indications of that.

It wasn’t long after that he told me that he was in danger of having his home go into foreclosure. As I listened, I learned that he had bought an old house in the Houston area at a really good price, repaired it while living in it and had then sold it for a good price.  His wife wanted to relocate to Rockport, so he took the equity and got a mortgage and built a home in one of the lower-income areas on the back side of the bay.  It wasn’t a bad house, but he had done a series of re-financings and soon ended up owing more on it than it was actually worth.  About that time, appraised values on the coast went nuts, as did windstorm insurance rates, and he soon found that his escrow for taxes and insurance alone were now greater than his total payment for mortgage and escrow together had been earlier.  He wanted me to help.  As I looked at his situation, I knew that he was beyond my help.  I put him in contact with a banker who specialized in difficult loans.  The banker met with him and later told me that the dude’s goose was cooked.  Added to his mortgage woes, his credit was shot.  I did help him sell the house to escape foreclosure and he actually came out of the deal with a pretty decent check as his walk away-money.  I offered him some financial advice on some ways to grow his equity, but he ignored that and the money was gone in about 90 days. 

I met the son and got another surprise.  The son was quite dark-skinned and was quite obviously bi-racial.  I cautiously asked him if the boy was adopted.  He said no, that he was their son.  Not sure how he was ever convinced of that, but he was absolutely convinced of the issue.  He was able to see what no one else could see, while seemingly everyone else saw something he could not see.

When I met the daughter, there was another surprise. She openly, in front of him and without an ounce of respect for him or with a second’s hesitation, said things about him along the lines of what her mom had said to Sandy the first night we met her.  In fact, even the boy echoed those sentiments but in a quieter manner and more under his breath.

Some months later, following an outing on the boat, everyone returned to our house for a backyard cook out and a dip in the pool.  He asked if he could bring his mom to the house for dinner (she was visiting from Houston).  When he escorted her into the yard, he introduced her to me, excused himself to go to the kitchen to put a bag of ice in the freezer.  As soon as he walked away his mom said, “Mr. Melton, thank you so much for what you are doing for my son. I think you are exactly what he has always needed.”  Shocked, I inquired about what she meant.  She smiled and said, “He is bit with a bad-luck bug and it kills his motivation.”  I told her that I wasn’t sure about that but one thing I had discovered was that all of the women in his life were highly critical of him and quick to tear him down.  I commented that if the people you love are always telling you that you are a loser, it should not be a surprise that you begin to act like a loser.

I kept him pretty busy and he did a variety of tasks . . . work on Aftermath, work on Bamonitias, occasional work on company vehicles, restoration on an old corvette (he delighted in that), and even doing some work at the ranch (he loved that, too).  He often told me that he was making more money than he had ever made in his life, and was having more fun that he had ever had on a job.  He even became my fishing bud . . . we caught a bunch of fish and always had a great time.  He even joined my Sunday school class.

As time passed, others up and down the dock began asking him to do repairs on their vessels. Sometimes, he would jump right on it and folks were thrilled with his work.  But after a while, he began to change . . . he would agree to do a task, but would never seem to get around to doing it.  Folks began calling me asking me to “get him to do what he had agreed to do.”  That always put me in an uncomfortable situation.  It really became uncomfortable when I discovered that he had begun having folks give him a cash deposit toward the repairs, but didn’t do the repair or refund the money.  During that same time, he would come by the office wanting to “borrow a couple hundred bucks so the lights or phone didn’t get turned off” and while he was there his phone would ring and it would be someone asking him to make a repair on their boat.  The dude would stammer a bit and then say, “I am really pretty swamped right now, but I think I can do that in about a week”!

Soon, it got to where I, along with everyone else, had a difficult time getting him to do anything. I would talk with him at length. I would ask him, “Do you know what honor is?” and “Do you know what integrity is?” and “Do either of those things have any value for you?”  He would offer text-book answers.  Finally, I began to suspect that he had some medical disorder so I paid for a physical with a doctor.  He checked out physically.  I suspected that perhaps he suffered from depression, and even paid for doctor visits and tests, and even medication.  Nothing seemed to work . . . the dude had enjoyed it all for a while, and then it just instantly changed, and he simply quite caring about anyone or anything.  He was perfectly content to sit on the sofa all day watching old reruns, telling his wife to cook for him, eating food totally purchased with food stamps, and letting her use her disability social security check to pay the rent and utilities. This mechanical whiz . . . who could fix anything and everything . . . except himself!

In spite of his unwillingness to do any work, he would still drop around asking me “to loan” him some money.  I would try to be as pleasant and polite as possible and say, “Actually, you don’t need to borrow any money . . . I will pay you double that amount to go to the shop and fix _______.”  He would act highly offended and say, “I have to go” and walk out with his head down.

It broke my heart to see my friend like that.  I really liked the guy and enjoyed him . . . well other than the shiftlessness.  He honestly had so much potential that it was just tragic to see.  I recently saw his daughter and she said he had left town and had gone to Houston . . . to live with his mother.  I told her that surprised me.  She smirked and said, “My mom told him that she wanted him to leave, that she could not afford to support him on her disability check,” and concluded, “We are so glad to finally be rid of that bum.”  That broke my heart. What a sad conclusion to a man’s relationship to those he called family for 25 years . . .

I am wondering what happened to my friend.  I know that ever since the human story began back in the Garden, there has been an on-going dilemma over what people do . . . over what people don’t do . . . and the rewards . . . and consequences over choices . . . and behaviors.

As I study Proverbs and read the wise man’s instructions to the young man, I scratch my head over my friend. See Proverbs 13:4 . . . 14:23 . . . 20:4 . . . 24:30–34 . . . 26:13–14 . . . 28: 19 . . . 6: 6–8 . . . 10:5 . . . 14:4 . . . 21:20 . . . 24:27

Solomon introduces a new term . . . Slacker!

QUESTION: What is a Slacker?  I recently stumbled onto the following definition, which I am not certain is correct, yet it offers me something to work with as I struggle trying to figure out what happened with my friend: “Driven by personal wants . . . not willing to exert the time or energy to accomplish the job . . . lazy . . . irrational.”  The truth is that I think, rather than being a proper definition, it is perhaps simply a description of the characteristics of a slacker.

As I have fretted over my friend and his decline, I have wondered what I might have done differently.  Both Pierce and Sandy have flogged me for even asking the question.  Both have assured me that they had reached the point of being ready to strangle me over my patience with him.

I still think he is a really nice guy and I am sad for him.  Sad because . . . It Seems to me . . . that my friend doesn’t seem to be able to grasp what a precious gift this thing called life is . . . how important honor, integrity, and self-respect are—and the need for a sense of well-being is.

Shut Up . . . and Think!

My Sunday school class is currently studying Proverbs . . . wisdom literature!  Wisdom is the skill to make the right choice . . . at the opportune time.  The book of Proverbs offers wise counsel in a wide range of human experiences.

One of the most remarkable Proverbs is 9:10 . . . “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.”  King Solomon, the wisest mortal to ever live, defines true wisdom as, “being in right relationship with the Lord” . . . in such a committed manner that it drives one to obey the Lord and strictly follow His ways.  Solomon extolled not human intelligence but Godly wisdom as the secret of a successful life . . . a life of peace: . . . peace with God . . . peace with others . . . and peace with one’s self.  Solomon uses the first three chapters to teach his son about Godly wisdom.  In the remaining chapters, Solomon applies wisdom to several areas of life: speech, work, finance, friendships, alcohol and drug abuse, and moral purity.

Our lesson Sunday last came from chapter 17 . . . and focused on verses 27 – 28, and the lesson title was “Guard your Speech.”  That is actually a really good thing for all of us to think about and an area of life where we would do well to work at increasing our consciousness level.  The truth is that many times we say some really ignorant and hurtful things without even realizing it . . . and, sadly, many of us do it.

Where does wise speech begin?  I believe it begins with the issue of whether to speak . . . or simply remain silent. A modern day proverbs in our culture is, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”  That is great advise!  The simple truth is that we do not need to always have an opinion and . . . we sure don’t need to always be ready to impose it on everyone.

  Another proverb of our culture is, “Stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.”  That sounds so clever . . . but it is just flat wrong!  Words have great power . . . and can be used to for either good or evil.  The truth is that our words can heal or they can injure and scar.

I know some people who are just rude and ignorant . . . quick to speak and slow to think.  They hurt people’s feelings regularly, but simply are unable to understand what it was they said wrong when someone calls them on it.  However, an amazing thing with that group is they are so sensitive to anyone saying anything to them.  In my youth, we described that as, “He can really dish it out, but, hey, he just can’t take it.”

Solomon says there are certain traits of a wise person:

. . . That person controls what he or she says;

. . . That person keeps a cool head . . . and doesn’t allow anger to fuel words; and

. . . That person has “understanding” . . . which means that he or she knows much more than just facts and details . . . but also has discernment . . . and based on God’s wisdom, plus the strength of will . . . is able to apply that discernment . . . at the appropriate times.

Another proverb of our culture is to: “Count to 10, before you reply” . . . and that is good, but sadly the truth is that with some characters we encounter in life, it requires us to count much higher than 10!

The simple truth is that guarding and controlling one’s speech is supposed to be so fundamentally basic to the Christian life that when we fail to do so, we appear even more foolish than an infidel.

As I think about it, I simply don’t know one person who enjoys being insulted, spoken to in a rude manner, being bullied, disrespected, being subjected to rude, vitriolic, caustic comments and replies, or being made the butt of a stupid joke.  Yet, there are many of them out there using those very things as their mode of operation, and I am sad to say that I know a number of them, but I do try to walk a wide circle around them.  They are not pleasant to be around.

Paul, wise man that he was, counseled in us in his writing to, “season our speech at all times with the salt of grace.”

Solomon has a considerable amount to say about speech and the use of words, some of which can be found in the following Proverbs: 10:18-19; 12:17-19; 25:11; 11:13; 26:20-24; and 18:20-24.

There have always been those who take pleasure in speaking rudely.  There have always been those who liked to gossip.  There have always been those who like to tell untruths.  There have always been those who like to slander and bear false witness.  There have always been those who like to back-bite and spread rumors.  That crowd will always be around, and we simply must navigate around them and try to never get caught in their wake, but sadly sometimes we do. That is when it is critical that we remember the instructions of Solomon.  In such times, I try to remind myself that if they can get me to behaving like they behave, then they won and I lost.

Here is the $64,000 question: “If graceful and loving behavior and proper speech originates and flows from the throne of God, then just where is it that all of that junk originates?” 

The older I get, the more I try to remind myself that one day each of us will be judged for every idle word spoken.  That ought to make our knees tremble!

It seems to me . . . that the Master removed any mystery from the equation when He said, “Be ye kind, one to another.”

It was a difficult lesson, and I did not enjoy it much, but I am confident that there are not many subjects more needing to be addressed in the modern-day Church than this one.  There are a group of seekers out there and they are showing up at local Churches, and they are not coming to discuss, defend, or explain their tatooes, piercings, hair styles and colors . . . so just shut up and see what happens.  This group is timid and are easily scared off.  We need to remember that The Lord loves them . . . and He loves them just as they are!

I just keep thinking about a young dad I know and love who has to get up each Sunday morning and dress his little boys and take them to Church . . . alone and unsupported.  Why?  Because his wife was one of those seekers and she was insulted by an ignorant older lady in the Church nursery over the behavior of her toddler, and was told that she ought not bring him back to Church . . . So, right or wrong, that young mom who once came seeking . . . Refuses to ever go back.

Family tragedies . . . yet, there is hope!

Certainly one of the sweetest experiences in my life has been the great privilege of being involved with, supporting, serving, and ultimately serving on the Board of Directors of South Texas Children’s Home Ministries (STCH).  My family and I lived in Beeville for a number of years, and it was there I first learned of STCH and its good work. Over time I came to know a number of folks from STCH . . . Jack Green; my dear brother and tremendous friend, Homer Hanna; Jim Ferguson; and Mark Childs, just to name a few.  I have always been impressed by the quality of folks involved with STCH, and the level of each one’s commitment to STCH, its mission and the precious children it serves.  I love STCH!

I have had some wonderful experiences and memories which involve STCH and the STCH kids. Some of those experiences have been:

  1. In the mid 1980’s, my  friend and Attorney, George P. Morrill, II, asked me along with a group of other men to serve as “guides” for a white-tail deer hunt on his ranch. The guests of honor would be the kids from STCH.  Each one of us guides were assigned a group of kids and, thus, responsible for taking the kids hunting, ensuring each one’s safety and success in harvesting a doe, skinning and processing it so that it could be delivered to the STCH freezers.  Each of us spent a couple of days with the kids.

 

  1. That hunt was such a success, he decided to have the kids back again in the spring for a bass-fishing tournament.  His ranch has a manmade lake that is something like 1,500 acres, and loaded with fish.  Each guide was responsible for bringing some type of small boat that could be launched from the bank . . . a canoe, plastic skiff, or such that could carry the guide and three kids out on the lake.  In addition, we were responsible for providing rods, reels, and tackle . . . and obligated to make sure that each kid got to catch some fish!

 

I will never forget the excitement of having three kids in a 10’ canoe and having a 12’ alligator surface right beside the canoe.  The kids thought it was great . . . but I saw my name at the top of the page!

 

  1. Serving as President of Bee County’s great Western Week organization in the heyday and at the time when Western Week assumed sponsorship of the Bee County Live Stock Show was another great experience.  There were a large number of STCH kids showing animals in that year’s show and Western Week did a great job of promoting, lining up buyers, and running the Jr Livestock Show.  It was amazing the amount those animals brought that year (our sales prices were actually quite close to those in the San Antonio show).  The excitement on the kids’ faces was priceless—over what their animals garnered.

 

  1. Being invited over the years to attend various events at STCH and seeing up-close how lives are touched and shaped by loving, caring people day-by-day.

 

  1. Teaching a Sunday school class for 20+ years that is totally and completely committed to serving and supporting STCH, and each year faithfully sends a significant contribution to the home: and

 

  1. Perhaps the best of all is that after each meeting, those who serve on the Board are privileged to have dinner with a cottage family in their cottage and get to spend some time with the kids.  I am always so touched by how precious the kids are and so appreciative of anything and everything.

Last week, we had a wonderful couple visit Sunday school. They visit four or five times each year as they pass by this way on their travels in their motor-home.  I have come to love these sweet folks and enjoy taking them to lunch when they are in the area.  Following Sunday school, she pulled me aside and asked me to pray for her family as they were in stress and turmoil—tensions were high.  She had told me over recent years about her son and his struggle with addictions and how it had torn his family apart.  He has a beautiful set of triplets.  She told me that the son was being sentenced this week on four counts of selling drugs to undercover narcs. She went on to tell me that the foster family who has had the triplets for the past three years has just announced that they must give up the kids.  The family is heart-broken over what will happen with the triplets in the days ahead.  As I thought about the tragedy of it all, I told her about STCH and said I would make a call to see if there was hope of help there.

The next morning, I called Eron Green, the terrific new President of STCH, and told him about the situation with this family and these precious kids.  Eron told me that the staff is currently working on one situation in which it will take in nine siblings together, and once again declared that STCH’s mission is to come along-side hurting families and help until things can get better.

Those hurting grandparents are traveling to STCH today to meet with the wonderful staff there. Won’t it just be wonderful if the Lord produces a miracle and all of the legal hurdles between two states can be cleared and STCH is able to offer a loving home to the triplets!  Heaven knows those sweet kids need something solid to hang onto as their world collapses.

The tragedy is that homes and families fall apart for many reasons . . . and the greater tragedy is that sweet innocent kids become the victims; yet, there is hope!!  Over the ages many people have responded to God’s call to . . . “Love ye one another . . . ” and many of those folks have had vision and set-up helping organizations such as STCH . . . that can step in and reflect God’s love and concern.

Looking for a worthy place to make contributions?  A place that serves serious and urgent needs and does so with great integrity?  You need not look any further . . . STCH is debt free . . . and is supported by private gifts . . .  

South Texas Children’s Home

P. O Box 759

Beeville, Texas   78102

 

STCH has a great website . . . feel free to check it out!  Be sure and read the testimonials of the kids who grew up there!

We ought . . . each and every one of us . . . to praise and thank God that we were blessed with parents who were able to raise us and keep our families together . . . but the sad truth is that there are so many who simply are unable to do that . . . and for those, we ought to support STCH and other such organizations who are there to help pick up the pieces.


 

About Face . . . Rather than Trying to Save Face

Some time back I wrote a blog about the generations, but I failed to say that generational changes are a subject of considerable interest and study for me. I think that my interest actually began to form at about the age of 13.  I recall that it was about that time when I began to realize the differences in what I believed and liked as compared to what my dad believed and liked.  Those differences in our tastes began to surface over things such as music, hair styles, clothing, shoes, movies, self-esteem, how we viewed others and the world around us.  It even spilled over to how we each viewed God and how we perceived that God viewed us.

The truth is that it was never much of a debate between my dad and me because during those years there simply was no debating with my dad; thus, it was really more of an issue that put a wall between us.  He had this thing about what I thought just didn’t matter to him very much, and I understood that I was to keep my opinions to myself.  I was pleased that in later years, he did come to the place where he seemed to value my opinion and often asked me about things. Oftentimes, he would say things along the lines of, “I like the way you see things”; “I like the way you say things”; or “How did you come to know or believe that?” I think with him it was an issue of one having to earn the right to be heard.

Through those early years, I silently vowed that I would never allow a generation gap to develop between my kids and me.  As I looked ahead to being a dad and considered my own situation, I was committed to always being cool . . . which would require that I be prepared to listen to my kids and eager to try to find ways to make them be right.  Of course, much of that changed over time as I came to realize I was destined to be one of their teachers about life, and sometimes that role would put us at odds.  Gradually, my commitment evolved into a new and better goal of ensuring that I always projected my love and respect to them in every situation.

Oftentimes, my kids were able to help me examine and get past an antiquated notion that I carried around without ever really realizing I was doing that.  One example of that sort of thing happened when I was a kid.  My sweet Mom came in from work one afternoon to find some of us siblings, along with some neighborhood kids, sitting around our dining-room table playing the board game, Monolopy.  She was delighted to see us all together having fun . . . well, that was until someone rolled the dice!  Heaven forbid . . . the very tools of satan actually being used in her house . . . by her own children!  A serious lecture followed her discovery, and we were put on notice about how we could possibly destroy our lives by becoming addicted to using dice.  I attempted to ask her about the difference between dice and the dominoes that were so frequently used in our home.  I tried to explain that as I saw it both objects were made of marble and had dots on the face . . . one was in the shape of a cube and the other was a rectangle.  She shuddered at my lack of sensitivity to the truth and forbade those sinful things from the house . . . along with playing cards!  As a dad, I learned that some of that same stuff in my sweet little Mama . . . was also in my DNA.

One area where Chris has greatly helped me is in how I tended to view Church and fellow worshippers.  He helped me to come to see that I had a strong tendency to set the bar really high and hold others to perform and behave at that standard.  He served as the Youth Minister at our Church and he was so accepting and forgiving of others.  I really admired that in him.

Yet, I was silly and believed that every man ought to wear a suit and tie on Sunday mornings . . . and “to do his best for the Lord . . . and that begins with his appearance.”  I resisted anything other than the traditional form of worship.  Chris helped me to understand that over the past 25 years, radical cultural shifts have occurred in the USA, and had spawned a generation filled with problems and damaged by serious chaos.  That chaos was caused by neglect, physical and sexual abuse, addictions, eating disorders, anger issues, crime, abortion, STDs, AIDS, and sexual addictions passed from one generation to the next.  My wise son helped me to realize that Americans went out for a three-decade binge on self, and our nation is now vomiting up the consequences uncontrollably.  Since it all began, there have been a series of cultural seismic waves that have rolled through our society that has caused an unexpected aftershock for the modern-day church. Through our discussions, I am coming to understand that guys like me, who insist on hanging on to the traditional roles that shaped who we are, just might one day cause the Church-house to become empty.

In a loving and steady manner— through the years—he continued to push me back up against my principle belief that Jesus died for everyone . . . that he came to be one of us in order that he might save some of us.  That truth does not change based upon a person’s body piercings; tattoos; length, color, or style of hair; where one has been living; or how one has been living.  The simple truth is that there are many, many prodigal sons around today . . . and the same grace that was made available to the young dude in the Bible is still available to those in this generation . . . unless narrow-minded people like I have been gets in the way and spooks the seekers away.   

What Chris has helped me to realize has enabled me to go to Charlie’s Place, week after week, and share with them that we are a people who can accept where they have been (their past) . . . willing to support where they are (presently) . . . but we will always seek to encourage their development (their future). 

We also tell them that the Lord loves them just the way that they are . . . but that He loves them too much to leave them that way.

We haven’t always gotten the generational gap resolved in the proper manner . . . but this time we did.  I appreciate your steady and firm position with me . . . and your willingness to work at teaching an old dog a new trick.   I was a slow learner . . . but you are a great teacher!

Thanks, Dude!

I am anxious to watch you with Ali and Abi in the years to come.  I know that you will be terrific in raising those sweet girls. I am counting on that . . . and their future depends on it! 

 

Rip-Tide Walkers

We met in the pool and over time became friends, and ultimately evolved into a team. We each shared a common purpose . . . our health . . . and that was what drew us to the pool.  Some were trying to overcome a particular health issue; others simply trying to maintain good health.  So, each day we gathered in the pool and walked laps as a group.  Some days we walked and chatted, other days we just walked and were quieter.  Over time, we each came to look forward to the time in the pool and time with new friends.

In the fall of 2013, the subject of “Walk Across Texas” came up.  Each of us had heard about the program sponsored by A & M, but Mike had participated as an individual in 2013 and said he would like to see a team form and participate this year.  After some discussion and debate, our team formed and adopted the name “Rip Tide Walkers.”  We agreed that we would kick off our eight-week team effort on the first Tuesday in January, and that is exactly what we did. In spite of a number of struggles and issues—the contrary weather certainly being one—we have been determined, committed, and have kept our commitment to each other and as a team; we have, indeed, walked across Texas!  In fact, we have walked across Texas and back again at least twice!  We had team uniforms made, and we really are a team . . . a team that helps, encourages, supports, and compliments each other, and we have been reminded that “all of us are better than any one of us!” There is something special about team effort!

We won’t be awarded any prize for our effort, but we have won the respect of our teammates for making and keeping a commitment, and the prize of self-respect is actually quite a prize.

We challenge others in the community who may be struggling with health issues to come out and join us in the pool.  There are a variety of healthy things that can be done in the pool such as lap-swimming, water-walking, or aerobic classes, and the pool offers you a great option for exercise in spite of a bad back, injured knee, painful hip, and such.  There is a shoe commercial that says, “Just Do It” . . . and that is our challenge to you!  Whatever your struggle, it will be easier in 84-degree water when you are surrounded by fellow strugglers!

 

 

Things can change in a matter of seconds . . . (a nightmare which occurred in my life)

It was on this day in February, not too many years ago, that the man and woman walked in one of the apartment complex’s office and asked for her by name.  It was simply a miracle that I was even on-site.  I explained to the lady and gentleman that she no longer worked at the complex. Then each one removed a badge that identified themselves as Special Agents with the Inspector General’s office of USDA, and told me they had received a complaint that she had been falsifying information to USDA.  I declared that was impossible and the allegation was senseless, and surely were simply the complaint of a disgruntled tenant.  Over the next several hours an in-depth file review verified that she had, indeed, been falsifying information to the government, and she had been doing it for quite a while.  I was heartbroken; terrified for my friend; and concerned over how this would impact my company.  I was in a daze!  This lady had worked for me for 20 years . . . our families had meals together and she vowed to love my family as her own.  I had believed her!

After the Special Agents left with a box full of records they had copied, I went to the offices of the Auditor for my company and asked how this was even possible as the annual audit required a review of tenant files . . . why hadn’t we caught this in-house?  The Auditor, who is also my dear friend, said, “Actually, I haven’t looked at tenant files in a few years and am not required to do that any longer in my work.”  She explained that USDA had changed the regulatory requirements and she no longer conducted an “audit,” but rather followed a process the government imposed and defined as, “Agreed Upon Procedures.”  I was shocked . . . I was blown away!  Of course, I had heard the term “Agreed Upon Procedures” used over recent years, but just assumed it meant the procedures by which a CPA was required to follow while performing “an audit.”  In utter disbelief, I returned to the apartment office, simply not wanting to have to go home and tell my family that we were likely on the brink of experiencing something similar to what came upon the man, Job, in the Old Testament.  As I entered the manager’s office, I saw it hanging on the wall . . . the USDA Award certificate announcing her to the world as the “USDA Manager of the Year.”  The certificate had her name neatly typed in and said, “Because she has always gone the extra mile; has always maintained excellent records, and maintained model tenant file records.”

As I thought about it all, I developed a plan of action and determined to take several immediate actions.  I went home, told my family, packed a bag, and hit the road . . . convinced that my most prudent use of time would be to personally visit every property my company managed and conduct a file review to determine how deep this cancer might run within my company.  The tragic truth was that the guilty lady, the lady whom I personally trained and trusted, the lady who USDA had selected as the best manager in Texas saying such kind things about her and her work . . . had actually worn two hats; she not only managed an elderly complex (20 hours a week), she was also in charge of the Tenant Certification department of my company.  The very department that calculated the reports/invoices submitted to the USDA Payment Center for rental assistance for our elderly residents. 

As I made my rounds—conducting my file reviews—I was thrilled to discover what a fine job my staff had done in their work and record-keeping.  I was truly proud of the other managers.  As I explained the situation, they were each horrified and became angry, saying things like, “She was so hard on me about dotting I’s and crossing T’s.  She demanded perfection.  If I made a simple error, she took me to the woodshed.”  I would assure each of them that was, indeed, exactly the lady I had I known and trusted.

What she had done, simply explained , was limited how much of an elderly resident’s income was used to calculate the tenant portion of the rent, and in a large number of instances, she had used a fraudulent medical expense form of her own creation to further lower older resident’s rent.  She had actually completed the form as a medical provider would have, but she merely pulled numbers from the air.

It was a couple of weeks later, as we were busy conducting our own  in-house audit of files and re-certifying tenant’s and the appropriateness of their rent, that I was served with a Federal subpoena demanding a certified copy of every tenant record for all of my properties covering the past 7 years of operation.  Of course, I don’t want to go into too much explanation, nor provide too much detail, but I will say that complying with the subpoena cost the company over $100,000, and when finally assembled, the boxed up documents would stand over 50’ tall!  As it all unfolded and my team began to comply with the subpoena, one of the sweetest and kindest hearted managers who has ever worked for me (she managed a property in a neighboring town close to headquarters) came into my office one afternoon and said she needed to talk with me. She looked quite concerned, and began the conversation by confessing that she had known what her supervisor had done.  I almost fell out of my chair, and said, “But your work was great and your files were really good.”  She replied that she had not practiced or participated in the fraud herself, but she had known the other lady was doing it because she had told her about the system she had developed.  She said, “Look, they trust us, our company is greatly regarded, and this is easy to do, and it greatly helps the elderly residents.”  She said that she had been afraid, and had refused to falsify any records.  I asked her, “Why didn’t you tell me what she was doing?” and she replied, “I didn’t want to get my friend fired.”  Sadly, she got herself fired trying to protect her friend (her friend who had tried to persuade her to commit a crime).

I had a difficult struggle for a couple of years, unsure of what the future might hold.  I knew that I had not committed a crime, and was confident that no one else in my firm had, but one never knows how allegations can be lodged by overzealous investigators.  As an example, I recently read about a man in this area who had spent a couple of years in prison and upon his release, he went to work as a locksmith while failing to disclose that information.  The report said that a State agency had conducted an 18-month undercover investigation at a cost to the taxpayers of over $1,000,000.  Upon completion of the investigation, the State agency closed the investigation and charged the locksmith with a Class C Misdemeanor! He was fined $500.

 Then, one afternoon as I was returning home from San Antonio, my Attorney called and said, “The U. S. Attorney’s office called me saying they have finished with our mountain of records and want to know if we want to reclaim them, or would you prefer that they have the records shredded?”  I asked him what had happened and he said the former manager had been arrested, indicted, and charged, and she had entered in a plea-bargained confession, and in the process had exonerated my staff and me.

It Seems to me . . . that I have learned several things in this painful experience.  A few of them are:

1. Regardless of how terrific a person may be, or for how long, it is a wise and prudent thing to do some spot-verifications yourself.  The simple truth is we all have feet of clay and for any number of reasons can wander astray – President Reagan was right about “Trust – but Verify”;

2. My family and I were right to continue praying for the lady and her family, in spite of the struggle she caused for us.  We were also right to leave the judgment to the legal system and to the Lord;

3. That oftentimes thing do turn out right . . . in spite of how they may look;

4. That the company which I have spent 30+ years trying to build on Godly principles is both . . . better, yet also worse, than I had believed.  It is a good and healthy thing to remember that the things that are controlled, directed, and maneuvered by humans will never be perfect.  In telling a Banker friend about the situation early on, he told me about a man who had controlled the safe at the bank and had embezzled something like $300,000 from the safe over the span of a few years. My Banker friend said that as he sat with his co-worker and friend waiting for the Sheriff to come arrest him, he asked him, “Why?”  He said the man smiled shyly at him and said, “Jack, it’s just an easy thing to steal from and cheat folks when they trust you.”  We must always strive for trust, but we must also maintain a reasonable alertness.

5. That as tragic and heartbreaking as it is/was, it really was a victimless crime, and the cheating manager did not profit one red cent by what she did.  The truth of it all lies somewhere between two places as follows . . . she simply developed a lazy-streak and began taking short cuts (I never thought her lazy) . . . and/or . . . she tried to do good, but went about it in the wrong manner (she played Robin Hood, yet, the truth is I never observed her doing anything that made me believe that she had any great feelings of compassion for her elderly residents . . . she was always about business, and quite business-like).

6. The Lord can open doors that no one can ever close . . . and He can also close doors that no one can ever open again.

7. That it is right and good that we go find her, see what we can do to help her and her family, and that we forgive her and tell her that we still love her . . . and It Seems to me . . . that it is about time we do that very thing.  I know her, and I know that she is living with great guilt, embarrassment, shame, and is both broken-hearted and fractured.  She will find comfort and a measure of peace if we demonstrate the Master’s instruction . . . “and by this all men will know that you are my Disciples, that you have love one for another.”

I am relieved this experience is over!