Category Archives: Political and Social

The Problem that’s even Bigger than the UAL Debacle

My opinions are my opinions. They do not reflect the position of any airline or employee of any airline.

The incident that has spiraled into hellish proportions across the media, and in and out of the annals of cyberspace (as incidents via the annals of cyberspace always do) demands a thorough evaluation. (You know the one: a paid passenger is informed he has to disembark from his flight; he refuses; subsequently, the police are asked to escort him off; he still refuses; and then-well the situation goes to hell from there??-Yes, that one.) But in order to evaluate this incident at United Airlines, there is a bigger problem in our American culture that precipitates this one which demands our attention. Moreover, it demands our unbiased input. It demands our intellect. It demands our common sense. It demands our courage. And, as I always tell my three nearly grown-up daughters, if you don’t have anything to bring to the table, then stay home. In other words, if all you can do is rumble, rant, and threaten, you’re counterproductive to discussion of policy, politics, and community building. Do you really and truly want what happened with this Republic Airlines flight to never happen again? (Yes, it was actually not a UAL flight. They were not UAL pilots boarding the plane. It was Republic Airlines. But that is neither here nor there.) If you can say, “yes, I wish this could’ve ended differently, could’ve been handled differently, and would’ve had a different outcome,” then read on. Otherwise, just quit reading now. Go do whatever it is that makes you happy (complaining.) This incident with UAL flight #3411 begs the question that is in front of every American teacher, cop. and customer service agent (private or public sector) every. where. When the rules dictate certain processes and/or when a situation necessitates a student (for instance) to switch desks or to put their phone away in class, and IN those cases, when the person absolutely (wrongly) refuses to comply with the person in the place of authority, what options do those in the place of authority have for doing their job? I mean really. What options do they have? I am all for not dragging a student out of the classroom by their hair or a passenger off the plane by his limbs. I think we all agree on this. But let’s sit down together and agree that first of all, people cannot just blindly disobey authority-not in a free society! I am not talking about teachers, cops, or customer service agents who are abusing their jobs or acting criminally. I am saying when they are doing their job: Writing a traffic citation; executing a legal warrant; asking a student to put their phone away during instruction (I experience this frequently); telling a pass traveler there is a dress code for pass traveling (had this happen to me); requiring a dress code for the professional work place. In those cases, when protocol is being followed, when what they are asking is absolutely reasonable and expected, what in heaven’s name, can the person in authority do when a student or a criminal suspect or an employee or a customer looks them straight in the face and says “NO!” Do we insist on promoting anarchy in a country that actually became a country based on a constitution where laws are imposed and enforced so that we can be the kind of free country where the exercise of our rights and our freedoms are protected not by the exercise of our rights, but rather by the enforcement of rules and policies that actually anchor those rights. Alarmingly, we are becoming a country where our own individual and personal rights (as we see them) trump everyone else’s rights, and the very rules in place that protect all of us. And as the smart phone cameras are rolling, people (students, customers, criminal suspects) quickly and clearly understand: “I can say NO! I can physically refuse to comply.” Why? Because they believe and know that the minute I lay a hand on them to escort them to where they need to go or the minute the police officer goes to execute an arrest warrant, that they can fight, resist, hit, kick, and scream. It will be filmed (that’s a given) and it will be ugly. They know and understand that if they go crazy, the chance is great that their behavior or wrong refusal to cooperate will be diminished and/or mitigated in the light of a physical confrontation that they know looks really bad on film.

But the preferential choice of anarchy in our country to authority figures: teachers, police officers, customer service agents, is frightening when you have children you are sending out into this narcissistic and selfish world to live on their own without the safeguards that are naturally in place inside our house. All of this tyrannical resistance to authority is further aggravated by cases and events not being considered on their individual merits but ALL grouped into a “one size fits all” category. This reckless and truly ignorant way of approaching every conflict we see on the news that takes place between a person in authority and a customer, citizen, suspect, or student is ripping away the very fabric of our nation’s security and it is undermining our teachers, our education system, and the course of living peacefully in our daily lives.

We have three daughters. I will repeat what I said earlier in this blog. We have told them that in the area of politics, policy, ministry, education (their high school and colleges), if there is something they don’t agree with, they better know that there is never an excuse for shutting down the conversation or for misleading others because of their own inability or refusal to gather information and to sort out fact from fiction. I have told them if they don’t come to the table with something to offer, then don’t come to the table at all.

And NOW, a honeymoon couple on a UAL flight who continued to try to switch to an upgraded seat after repeatedly being asked to stay in their own seat is removed and rebooked. In a Boeing 737-800 like the one the couple was on, United considers Row 21 “economy plus,” which is an upgrade. UAL released this statement: “These passengers repeatedly attempted to sit in upgraded seating which they did not purchase and they would not follow crew instructions to return to their assigned seats. We’ve been in touch with them and have rebooked them on flights tomorrow.” What this couple tried to do is shoplifting. I mean would you go into a store and carry something out without paying for it? (In this self entitled world we live in, I am afraid the answer to that is becoming yes, yes, and yes.) This is precisely the same thing as walking into a restaurant and stiffing them by not paying your tab. Or retail shoplifting. What kind of person marries the kind of person-that on one of the first days of the rest of their life together-they would practice-not humility and truth-but self entitlement and rudeness?

You know what? There IS a discussion of policy on bumping passengers that needs to happen. I once tried all day long to get from Oklahoma City to anywhere on the east coast that could deliver me to my home (at that time) in Germany. After a very long day in the airport, I was bumped by a paid passenger who literally showed up for the flight just as the doors were closing. Only I was in my seat and strapped in. Talk about disappointing. I stepped off the plane and eventually got to my destination. But blaming an entire airline for this incident or the one on flight #3411 is reckless and unfounded. Oscar Muñoz is sincerely a great CEO. He brought this company together at a time when the various work groups were quite discombobulated (in a post 9-11 season of unrest and uncertainty.) He did this largely due to his ability to unite people from all demographics, groups and positions. He is a breath of fresh air to UAL and to Corporate America.

My fear (which often keeps me awake at night) is that we are becoming a country, a culture, where generosity and compassion and caring about others is secondary always to “me, me, me.” It only follows then that a pervasive negative and volatile attitude towards those who have the right to tell us “you can’t do that,” becomes an epidemic. Today, (it just so happens), I have a class full of 7th and 8th graders to whom I am delivering a lesson titled “Taking Responsibility for Me.” Wow! Sadly, I have great concern that my expectation for these children to learn this very important attribute for living and for being successful is heavily overshadowed by literally millions of adults in their communities and in their personal lives who have failed to learn and adopt this character trait themselves.

Book Review: “The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation”

The Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church DesegregationThe Last Segregated Hour: The Memphis Kneel-Ins and the Campaign for Southern Church Desegregation by Stephen R. Haynes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Haynes, a Rhodes College professor, highlights the segregation crisis of 1964-1965 in Protestant churches in the South by telling the story of the “Kneel-In” campaigns across the south, primarily composed of college age student protestors, particularly in Memphis and particularly at the Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis, a suburban wealthy white church, that actually started in downtown Memphis but as it grew, the church moved to the suburbs. I love this book for many reasons. Kneel-Ins were similar to the “Sit-Ins” of those days that happened at cafes and diners to protest segregation. Kneel-Ins were non-violent prayerful protests of segregated churches. Haynes says “Unusual features of the SPC Kneel-Ins were its duration, the prominent role played by white students, the low profile maintained by the church’s ministers during the crisis and the church schism that resulted.” The schism being the split that inevitably resulted when the church FINALLY welcomed desegregation which resulted in the hardliners (the elders and their followers) that had stood staunch against integration, moved out to start a new church, “Independent Presbyterian Church” also of Memphis. Both churches are still in Memphis today. Both are desegregated now, and both have a very active role in the local area in fighting poverty and reaching out to marginalized citizens of their city. Both have made some sort of public and/or private apology to kneel-in participants who back in ’64-’65 were not allowed in their churches, first at SPC and then later at IPC once SPC became integrated. BUT the road to this repentance (and very well to their redemption) was paved with unbelievable racist acts and eventual imploding of its members. So many things to say, but I shan’t make this review itself-a book. For ONE thing, it’s amazing to me that ANY church can allow men (or women, but in this case-men) to control the church with an iron fist, putting their own personal agendas above everyone and everything even when their agenda is downright sinful. It is amazing to me that pulpit ministers can actually be hired by churches with the singular purpose of keeping them in a puppet role. In the case of SPC in the 60’s, the pulpit ministers had absolutely no influence or override ability with the “session elders,” the latter of whom wielded their racist beliefs with vehemence and an intensity that was incredibly awful. And furthermore that those pulpit minister would be so very cowardly and perhaps so in fear of losing their jobs that they would do nothing to stand up to the tyranny of their elder pharisees, who in their case, were just plain wrong! Many of these elders were successful business men in the area and had lots of money, and with that money came social and political power. They exploited that shamelessly to achieve their ends and agendas both inside and outside the church. Mostly the white students that participated in the Kneel-Ins attended Southwestern University, the majority of funds of which came from parishioners at SPC. Southwestern is now Rhodes College in Memphis. Those students were threatened, and nasty letters full of lies were mailed to their parents by SPC elders about their “clandestine” activity in the Kneel-Ins and their shamelessness in standing alongside black students. The black participants of the kneel-ins were mostly from Memphis and attended black churches in the area. Many of them were also college students but not at Southwestern since it had yet to become an integrated college. I think one of the main themes this book highlights are Christian Casualties. Casualties of churches. This was surely ONE of the ways we Christians and our churches produced casualties. There are many others. But surely this was a big one. When the church which espouses Jesus love and the gospel as the way to eternal life and the blueprint for truth and justice, but yet doesn’t allow blacks to enter their church, yes, absolutely, many kids and young people are going to make the decision to leave the church. And in many cases, that is exactly what happened here. And one has to wonder what has been the ripple effect of this racist climate of churches (in the 50’s and 60’s) over the course of a century? How many lives have been shaped, lost or derailed because people who called themselves “Christians” looked very much like sinners. It’s one thing to be a sinner and act like a sinner. But when you are a Christian and act hatefully and selfishly, you, more than the sinner, will lead people away from God. Haynes wrote with regard to SPC and other churches like them: “As it became clear that segregation could not be sustained in the institutions that shaped their lives Monday through Saturday, they were determined to make Sunday worship in the South the last segregated hour.” Different questions the book asks US-the reader: 1 “Do I have the courage to stand up to blatant wrongs being committed by people who are supposedly a messenger of God? 2 If I CAN’T change that situation, and if it is one that consumes my place of worship, therefore hampering greatly the witness of that church to the community and the world, do I have the courage to leave and go somewhere else? 3 If I were in that wealthy white church in the 60’s would I have been a participant of the Kneel-Ins along side my black brothers and sisters or would I have been hiding under the tall steeple of that church, huddling inside the warm sanctuary with “my people,” while the elders of my church stood arm in arm on the front steps-guarding the entrance to keep black people out? Where would I have stood? 4 What about today in my church? Are there people of color there? What am I doing to be a light for Jesus in order to bring people toward Jesus (including my children) as opposed to away from Jesus? Does my life now model one for others that makes them wonder who is the God that she serves? I want to know Him. Or does my life model for others one that says “I want no part of that woman’s christianity?” Read the book. Learn. Grow. Change.

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1st Hand Experiences not Required. Engage your Role Models now!

Photo by
Inspireconversation.com
This just in. We don’t always have to experience things first hand. Talk about a time saver. Not to mention a better view in life’s rear view mirror. We have role models in our lives, both good and bad that have already done the hard work for us. It’s true! Some we know personally, and some we just see on TV or social networking. This could eliminate a LOT of time and trouble for us. They are everywhere and in every industry, country, city, school, religious circle, and home. The bad news is, that sometimes, we, or our children, are in the path of a bad role model and take a direct hit. But the good news is that role modeling-BOTH the awful and the awesome-can be enormously valuable teachers for all of us. If only we will let them.

If you’re a parent, you can readily see that absent fathers (either by divorce or by choice) cause havoc. It’s not a secret. Watch the news. Talk to school teachers. Get to know your neighbors. It’s amazing to me how many thousands upon thousands of crime sprees are committed by those from broken homes; how many victims of sexual assault and abuse have grown up without a father (and/or a mother.) Yet, we never ever talk about this on the news or very seldom when trying to find solutions. It’s forbidden. Well, after all, it could mean we are demoralizing single parents. Which of course is ridiculous. They should be reinforced not abandoned. Bolstered not broken. But just that one variable in their child’s life, puts them at risk for rocky relationships, poor grades and low self-confidence. So if your child’s father is absent, what can you do about that? Can you find someone else to fill the void in her life? It’s perhaps a tall order I know. But can you? Can you look to other families who have successfully negotiated this difficult terrain with their kids, and find out what they did that worked well? And if you’re the absent father, can you start engaging with your child now before it’s too late?

Maybe you’re a college student. There are a lot of role models in your life right now, including fellow students. What do their lives teach you? Have you seen poor judgement and co-dependency result in reckless behavior that in turn, results in pain and heartache? It’s a great time to learn a lesson. Moving out, on your own away from the protective swath of parents, and a comfortable routine, is difficult enough. Recklessness in your new social circles and a need to party until the cows come home, could make you vulnerable and an easy target for some dirty rotten scoundrel co-ed who only wants to exploit you. It’s a ripple effect. This is about prevention. We aren’t exonerating the dirty rotten scoundrel of his or her responsibility for their criminal actions. We are just watching, learning, and then thinking before acting. It’s a natural part of caring for yourself and your friends.

Maybe you are in a season with your marriage or your kids and you have experienced or witnessed your share of bad marriages and poor parenting, but also the opposite, positive (not perfect) parenting and thriving (not perfect) marriages. Then why are you still sitting on your duff and not engaging those who have gone before you? You’ve got questions. They’ve got answers. You’re wondering how to negotiate this argument over finances or your teenager’s rebellion. You’re wondering how to overcome infidelity, addiction, or potty training. Ask someone for Pete’s sake.

Violent crimes, high school graduation rates, addiction, assault, broken relationships are all issues that we are dealing with in our communities that need attention, but so is the familial foundations of our children. Family harmony, or the lack thereof, directly correlates to how much pain and heartache will manifest itself in the lives of our children and in their behavior. But talking about this is practically taboo in politics, community policy discussions, and education reform. Even though we all agree on this one point: that children of broken homes and broken relationships are often marginalized in our society. And we also know that this is often generational.

So here’s what we can do. We can take individual responsibility to watch, listen and learn. And we can and should come along beside those who feel alone and are hurting for help. Newsflash: literally millions of others have gone ahead us on the same road that we are currently traveling. The absolute best resource we have available to us as we navigate the stuff of our own lives is the stuff that’s already happened to someone else. Let all of us: single, widowed, married, divorced, parent, child, spouse, ALL of us, take our heads out of the proverbial sand, and enlist the help of a mentor or accountability partner, or prayer partner, or a role model. And when you bear witness to your own relationship casualties, go to the heart of the problem; own your part; stop the cycle. Recalling an old favorite movie of mine, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” we are compelled to take cues from all kinds of role models and from each another as we make decisions about what is right and what is wrong. Just pay attention and learn.

The Marriage of Immigration and Citizenship: America’s Sore Spot

A couple of weeks ago my youngest daughter Katie and I were going through a wonderful museum in Chicago: The American Art Institute. I highly recommend it to anyone who finds themselves in the windy city. It is such a gift to have museums right here in the states which boast so many wonderful works of art, both American and European, all in one place. This particular exhibit from the American Folk Art section of the museum, really captured our attention. It’s a whirligig.

The Whirligig by Frank Memkus
America, The Whirligig by Frank Memkus

Yes, that’s right a whirligig. I love the whirligig, and not just because I like to say the word. Apparently whirligigs were used for a number of things-scarecrows, weather vanes to name a few. But the most significant fact about this whirligig is its creator and the inspiration of the creator. This whirligig aptly titled “America,” was made by Frank Memkus, a Lithuanian immigrant to the United States of America during the 19th century. On the placard right next to this exhibit, it states the artist’s clear purpose: “This early 20th century example (of a whirligig) is both whimsical and utilitarian, made to honor this country in a gesture of pride and patriotism.” Wow! Being an American patriot myself, obviously I love the way this whirligig bleeds red, white and blue. And I love the story behind the artist and his creation.

Anyone who knows anything at all about American history, knows that with the one exception of Native Americans, ALL of us come from somewhere besides here. Most of us are of European descent. My maiden name is English. My married name is either Irish or Scottish (the jury is out on this). I have friends galore with German last names and those with Italian last names, all English-speaking born and bred Americans. Our country was first settled in the 17th century by those who came from England (by way of Holland) seeking their independence and escaping the tyranny of a Monarchy. Read up on Ellis Island. Or better yet, pay the island a visit. Millions of immigrants came through Ellis Island in the early 20th century, not looking for a handout, but looking for a place to hon and market their craft. They were looking for a place to live life, to grow and to have their families. Unwittingly, in the process of seeking a better life for themselves, they built up a country. I love studying Texas history. For one thing, I live in Texas. But the story of Texas’ independence is absolutely fascinating. In 1824 we Americans were immigrants to Texas, encouraged (and invited) by the government of Mexico to settle the land. In addition to Americans from the bordering union states moving to Texas, were also thousands of German Americans. When this hodgepodge of American citizens became seriously oppressed and abused by the Mexican government, they fought together, died together, and inevitably, won their independence from Mexico. They became the “Republic of Texas” until they were annexed to the USA in 1846.

The common denominator between Frank Memkus, 17th century pilgrims, 20th century European immigrants, and 19th century Texans is this: they were all immigrants working toward a common goal. That common goal included a common language, and a common purpose: freedom. Therein lies the sore spot for Americans today. Are immigrants in this country still coming here to live, work, improve their lives and to contribute to the lives of those around them? Is their purpose like Frank Memkus, to hon their craft and to boast pride and patriotism in the country that has afforded them such an opportunity? Many are indeed. But still many are not. And therein lies the chasm between voting Americans who have clashing views on immigration.

Today there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of immigrants who fly the flag of their native country in their front yards, but not the American flag. There are also immigrants who want the abusive legal framework of their country to be applicable here in America. And then there is the language issue. I think it is an atrocity that American Schools do not focus on foreign languages the way European countries do. If we are to remain a global power economically (and otherwise,) we need to better address the foreign language requirements in public schools. But I also think that every person who lives and works in this country and wants to immigrate to this country to live the life of freedom that characterizes America, should know how to speak its language, English. It is the one single thing that binds us all together. What makes us American? Diversity? Absolutely! But that diversity demands a common bond that glues us together in peace time and in war. That common bond from the beginning of our formation was our language. And after that, our flag: old red, white and blue. The two represent ALL of us,: everyone that came over on the Speedwell and the Mayflower. Our language and our flag include everyone that walked through the doors at Ellis Island. Our language and our flag include every Texan that died at the Alamo. Our language and our flag include every soldier, North and South, who died in that bloody American Civil War. Like other American states who proudly don their state flags, in Texas we proudly fly the Lone Star Flag of Texas along with the American Flag. What I don’t see is the “Republic of Texas” flag? Why? Because in 1846 Texas became part of this great country, the United States of America. That’s why I think it is so sad when I see people flying the Confederate flag. It minimizes and debases The American flag. It minimizes and devalues all who died in the civil war. The American flag is what our ancestors, friends, and relatives have died for. I don’t care what war it was. And that’s why I am equally sad when I see an American immigrant today from any country, flying his native flag in his front yard either above or in lieu of the American flag.

But really what is this blog about? It’s about trying to shine a bit of light on both sides of the issue. Those who think we should block immigration all together have forgotten they themselves are an immigrant. And it is for those on the other side of the issue who have forgotten what binds us all together, our flag and our language. Both are paramount in bringing us together as a country whether it’s in the arena of public policy or the public park. Ironically, both sides have forgotten about Frank Memkus. If it weren’t for the Frank Memkuses of yesterday, this country would be a fraction of what it is today. Frank Memkus came here like so many hundreds of thousands of other immigrants grateful for what this country offered him, a chance. And a place to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. His whirligig is a resounding and thunderous message of his gratitude and his heartfelt thank you. That was and still is the American dream.

Majority Rules! How we spend our time and our money counts!

How do you spend the "majority" of your time and money?
Photo Creds:Willblogforfood.com

How do you spend the majority of your time and your money? Do you believe the statement, “How you spend most of your time, and where you spend most of your money says the most about who you are as a person?” Why or why not? Okay, you can answer those on your own. But here’s a starter for you. The majority of my free time (free time from work paid or unpaid-however you define your “free” time) is spent_____________________. (fill in the blank) The majority of my money (after rent, mortgage and household utilities) is spent_______________________.(fill in the blank) I realize that some of you will struggle with the money question, because beyond monthly living expenses, you actually have no idea where the money goes, other than it goes. True for many of us at some chapter of our lives. If that’s you, then this message is well intended. You can’t possibly be putting your money to work for you, your family, or towards other worthy contributions, wisely if you have no idea where your money is going beyond monthly fixed expenses. Furthermore, if we apply a brutally honest examination of how we spend our free time, many will discover that we have exchanged reading a book for watching television. We have exchanged playing a board game (or outside activity) with our kids for social networking. We may discover that less and less time has been committed to the kitchen on either week days or weekends, and that more and more time has been spent in the drive-through. How we spend our time and money will certainly impact our relationships and our health. We can’t devote all of our free time to our hobbies, for instance, at the expense of our marriage. On the other hand, if we spend all of our time at work, at the expense of either hobby or marriage, that isn’t good either. Social networking isn’t the same as a real cup of coffee face to face with a real friend. You can’t exercise if you’re sitting on the couch. You can’t learn a language, start a bible study, go to the gym, work on your finances, At. All. UNLESS…You decide you are going to do so. How we budget our time effectively is different for all of us. Some of us may need to move our rear ends off the couch. Some of us may need to plant ourselves there once in a while. The inability to rest can be just as bad a habit and hard on your relationships as lethargy. The singular way to find a valid, useful and credible solution to poor time and money expenditures, is to evaluate your own personal tendencies with a very introspective approach and answer those two questions we have already talked about. How do you spend the majority of your free time and free money? There’s an old saying “Majority Wins.” When I was a kid, my sisters and our cousins spent a ton of time together. We would often “vote” on a game or activity. With hands all raised in the air, inevitably one of us “winners” would yell triumphantly, “Majority Wins.” Sadly, the losers knew it was true. Maybe that’s applicable to us as adults in answering these difficult questions. Bottom line, we can hope that we are doing what we need to do most of the time (NO one gets it right ALL the time people!) We can even believe that we are generous and compassionate, and that people like to be around us (and/or our children). We can allege that we are healthy and mindful of our good health habits. We can wish, assert, even say out loud many many things about ourselves and our priorities. But I will submit to you that “Majority Wins.” Whatever we are spending time and money on, IT wins. To be sure, SomeTHING. or SomeONE loses. It may be your relationships, your peace of mind, your job, or your dog, but, in the end, “Majority Wins.” We cannot simply hope and wish that our time and our money will tell the story about us that we want told. We have to take practical measures. Evaluate (Your time and budgets) Elevate (Family, marriage, your job, your friends, specific events, specific activites-WHATever in your life is crying out to be elevated) Erase (Negative behavioral patterns, poor spending decisions; time wasters-Ouch!) and then finally, Execute (Implement that budget; Add family night back into your week. Eat dinner around the table. Have that difficult conversation with a colleague. Make time for coffee with a friend; Get counseling; WHATever needs to be done, put IT in place, make a plan. Then Execute!) Change your “Majority” (if necessary) to reflect the love you want to give, the good you want to do, the people you want to spend time with, the goals you want to fulfill, and the life you want to live.

To Hell With It: Making and Keeping a New Year’s Resolution

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Photo Creds Flickr.com

Today I read a great story about Delta Airline pilots who broke tried and true rules of flight by returning to the gate to get a grieving family. Through no fault of their own they had missed the last connection of the day to Tennessee where they were going to attend their father’s funeral. The pilots saw their crying and grieving faces in the window, and though it’s true, I was not in the cockpit, I’m pretty sure both of them looked at each other, and said something to the effect of “To hell with it,” and proceeded to carefully and competently turn that jet around and return to the gate for this distraught family.
My husband is a commercial pilot, and on top of that, I do a fair amount of air travel myself. I know the seriousness of that decision. It is definitely breaking the rules. What could have possessed the minds or hearts of these pilots to put their own jobs in jeopardy to do such a thing?
All of us have had a “To hell with it” moment in our lives. As the New year of 2016 is upon us, once again, we are contemplating past and present resolutions: I am going to lose weight. I am going to get fit. I am going to get control of my high blood pressure or type 2 Diabetes. I am going to attend church. I am going to take my kids to church. I am going to be more generous, get out of debt, quit swearing, (I know-the irony of this post!) Maybe you have committed in this New Year to tithe, or to give some of your earnings to good causes. Maybe you have committed in this New Year to being a more loving parent or spouse, to institute game night with your kids, or to find time to say yes to a friend in need. Maybe you think, “This is the year I am going to have company over for dinner, or invite people to my house.” Maybe you’ll write that book or finish school, or go after the dream job you have always wanted. I will submit to you that we can make resolutions all day long. We can say, “I’m going to try.” But until we face the truth of our absolute unwillingness to change that bad habit or start that good habit; until we face the reality that “trying” is really defined as, “I’m talking about it; my lips are moving, but I’m not demonstrating practical change,” until we say “To hell with it, I can do this,” I’m not sure that we are ever going to make the decisions that are the healthiest, or best for our family, our marriages, or our professions. Having defined “trying,” we should also define “To hell with it.” The latter is on some level, abandoning traditional norms or even rules. Traditional norms, absolute rules, prevented the Delta pilots from getting that family on board. “To hell with it” said I am going to make an exception (albeit in their case-isolated and unusual). We need to decide we are going to make exceptions in our lives from social norms and traditions, and from our own poor behavioral patterns, in order to achieve these very important goals. Spending every dime we have at the expense of paying off our debt or saving for our futures is pretty typical among Americans. We have to quit “trying” to do the right thing with our money and get real about budgeting, planning, and assigning each dollar a job. We need to quit “trying” to improve our marriage, and look on our calendars and block out a date night or (for those of us married to pilots), a date day. We need to quit wishing our spouse would conform to all our desires and find positive and possible ways to adjust my attitude. The same goes for opening up our homes to others. Quit “trying,” and add some margin to your calendar each month. Find a Saturday night that’s open, dedicate it on your calendar and send out an email to your friends.
I absolutely love the idea of “To hell with it.” Some of you (I know) find this title understandably, a coarse use of language. But in its literal sense, I find it very appropriate. Sending the negativity in our lives, metaphorically as it may be, to the depths of hell where it belongs may be the Single. Solitary. Strategy. for our success. Sometimes you have to just quit. Quit procrastinating. Quit Trying. And as the saying goes, “To hell with it.” Ask the girl out. Ask the girl to marry you. Leave the dead-end job you hate and pursue the job you love. Give a dollar to the homeless guy at the busy intersection near your house without going through the same old twenty reasons in your head why this complete stranger doesn’t deserve your kindness. Volunteer. Start exercising. The endless possibilities effect not only your happiness and fulfillment but also that of your family, spouse, children, and co-workers. What do you have to do to make this happen? Make a list. Get on it. Think about what has not worked for you in the past and say “It ends here.” What has not worked for you over and over? That jelly donut? That dead-end relationship? That expensive mortgage? Get rid of whatever jelly donut is keeping you from becoming what you need to be. I have had so many “To hell with it” moments in my life. But unlike what you might be thinking, “To hell with it” is not an abandonment of common sense. In this case, it is more an embracing of common sense and what you know to be the right thing. It is the climactic point of a journey you have already been on for years, but perhaps have not grasped fully the practical steps needed to make the same old New Year’s resolutions a reality. “To hell with it. I’m going to do this thing.” It doesn’t mean you abandon your family to become a rock star. It does mean you abandon the fears that keep you locked into the same old cycle of failed resolutions. Oh and one more thing, it also doesn’t mean that if you’re sitting in the Starbucks at the airport with your ear buds in and don’t hear your boarding call, the pilot is going to come back and pick you up. Nope. Not going to happen!

What do we owe them?

My sisters and I before our parents died.
My sisters and I before our parents died.

How do you remember your past-your growing up? Difficult? Easy? Carefree or demanding? Rather than remember, is it one you’d soon forget? Mine has a mixture of both. When I was just shy of 6 years old, I stood with my sisters on the shore of an old coal mine strip pond as we called it, in rural Indiana watching my young parents drown in a freak fishing accident. This would truly define much of who I was to become in the years to come. We three girls went to live with my maternal grandparents. We were very poor by worldly standards, but though we were low on money, we were high on vegetable gardens and a few livestock. I bet you thought I was going to say, “Though we were low on money, we were high on love.” Well, not really. I don’t believe in painting an unrealistic picture of my life after the deaths of my parents. I’ll never be accused of overestimating the affection coursing through our home as a child. My oldest sister was separated from us when she was only 13 years old to a teen home 2 hours away. I was 10. I would only see her every other weekend and holidays for our remaining childhood years. We were afforded no counseling and no time to grieve. No one was reading me bedtime stories, hanging my artwork on the refrigerator, or telling me I could grow up to be whatever I wanted to be. I didn’t learn how to communicate well in relationships. It was a lot more about resilience than it was warm fuzzies. It was primarily about work, responsibility, and self-initiative. Less about love, tenderness, and family vacations. This is not a plea for pity. It’s just a story. And like so many others, my past is inextricably linked to the past before me. That renders understanding and insight for all us in better understanding our American roots. My grandparents did the very best they could with what they had. I could never in a million years repay them for their contributions in my life, and in spite of a childhood lacking in tenderness, they loved us still in the only ways they knew how. I didn’t have a lot, but I had everything they were capable of giving me. They did not withhold affection out of spite. Their love language-their only love language-was service. Before you say, “Oh that’s so sad,” while on one level it is, on the other hand, I did learn how to survive difficult ordeals, orchestrate food for large groups of people, and the value of hard work and perseverance. I (and my sisters) absolutely entered young adulthood with an insufficient lack of emotional coping skills. Undoubtedly, we were at a clear disadvantage when it came to understanding what it meant to nurture and to be nurtured. There were scars just like there are for many of you. Nonetheless, while we had a “raising” that didn’t render itself as always rosy or self affirming, we can say with 100% assurance that we weren’t nurtured at home because well, nurture just wasn’t in their nature. In fact, it was their raising that made them bull-headed and even cold at times. They and their parents before them had survived both world wars, Vietnam, Korea, bad politicians, good politicians, The Great Depression, short life spans, and grueling manual labor both at home and at work. Indeed my grandparents were an intricate part of that generation who built up American industry, the backbone of American farming and post depression economic growth. They stormed the beaches at Normandy, lived and died in The Bataan Death March, and saved the free world from tyranny. They worked the tough, hard labor jobs that rebuilt a post war America into a global power. This generation was not one that excelled at nurturing. They excelled at survival. This was also reflected in their huge sense of community. Because of their experience in the war and the Depression, they recognized (better than we do today) that people work better and accomplish more together than they do apart. Thus in war-time, they gave up their “day jobs” to build Higgins Boats in Louisiana, and sell war bonds on Main Street. In snow blizzards, whoever owned a tractor, plowed the driveways of those who did not. Potluck dinners for years, served to feed the masses while accomplishing their tasks at hand, planting fields, raising barns, or building fences. When someone was sick and homebound, there was undoubtedly a neighbor nearby to bring them hot soup or cart then to the doctor if necessary. Hard work wasn’t an option. Rest was overrated. Everyone was working the garden, the livestock and doing laundry. (NOT in an automatic washer and dryer that we enjoy today!)

Not surprisingly, my grandparents, from this very generation, lived impoverished lives growing up and likewise when raising their own children, my mother and her siblings. Their income was meager. Inevitably their days were long and difficult. The picture here truly speaks 10000 words.

What do We Owe Them?
What do We Owe Them?

On the left is my great-uncle, actually my grandma’s youngest sibling of 14. My great-grandmother was already dead in this picture. My grandmother took her brother in when he was 16 months old. She had other small siblings in her home as well. The oldest daughter between my grandparents is my grandma’s first daughter from her first marriage. That husband died when she was only 17 or 18 in a work related accident. There was no OSHA then. There were no annuities for my grandmother, a widow and single mother at 17. A year later she married my grandfather. Sometimes you married or you starved. They had 5 children. That’s their first-born, my aunt you see in the front wearing glasses, and my grandparents holding the twins in their arms: my mother and her twin sister, and later two additional boys came along (not yet born when this picture was taken.) It seems counterproductive to those of us ever so enlightened by this modern society in which we live (sarcasm intended), that such impoverished folks would choose to have so many children. Having offspring was much more of a cultural expectation in America in those days than it is now. Furthermore, this was the generation of Americans that populated our country. The baby boomers born in post war American between 1946-1964 (give or take a year), was literally the largest generation of Americans born in U.S. history. (Yours truly says thank you for that!)

Today we live in an incredibly great country. One that is still full of promise and opportunity. But it is also one of the most self-entitled, materialistic, and self-centered cultures that American has ever known. This I believe is the American Dream gone rogue. Once upon a time the American Dream was defined simply as the opportunity for home ownership in a free society where every citizen was free to innovate, create and live peaceably. But that definition of the American Dream has since been distorted, the original tenets of which have been misused and misrepresented by scores of politicians hoping to strike a chord of unity with a society that has distanced themselves from their past, away from their poorer, less formidable ancestors. Even though, it was their ancestors who blazed the freedom trail for us through hard work, war, and personal sacrifice, so that we could now “wallow” in the plunder. I don’t want to be an American who simply sits back and wallows in what my grandparents have built. I want my citizenship to be one that pours back into the communities I live in-the communities bequeathed to me by generations of Americans before me. What do Americans of the 21st century owe them? Impoverished though they were; unskilled communicators, slow to show affection, demanding, and maybe even harsh? We owe them everything.

Grown up sisters, Cindy, Lori, and Judy
Grown up sisters, Cindy, Lori, and Judy

Pull out the pictures-you know the ones! They’re in the deep drawer of your grandma’s bedroom chest of drawers full of black and whites (reel to reel if you’re lucky) Ask someone who will know: “Who’s that?. What did they do for a living? How did they die?” You may discover amazing and healing facts about your relatives, as well-about yourself and who you are and from whence you came. And in the process, learn something about your America.

7 Simple ways to Make a Difference: It’s never too late!

Kindness3
We live in a dadgum ugly world. Global unrest is present in politics, economics, religion, and social relations. In the middle east, militant muslim groups continue to wreak havoc in their homelands, among their own people, as well as in America and other democratic countries. We have seen this repeatedly, most recently, with the senseless and tragic murder of four marines in Chattanooga, Tennessee. They (militant muslims) thrive and survive on the rush they inhale from the absolute hate that courses through their veins. For the promise of what? Who knows? There is no possible positive outcome to be seen or imagined resulting from their violence and their perpetual fighting and hostility. Then there is the violence and hate on our own soil-perpetrated by our own citizens. This is evident in the massacre of nine innocent people in Charleston, South Caroline by a guy who is absolutely so racist, he can’t function in a civil society. This is also evident in the road rage incident in Houston, Texas recently that left an innocent man dead, shot by another man who by all appearances, seems like a “normal next door kind of dad and husband,” who got ticked off for some relatively insignificant traffic issue, so he simply took his personally owned weapon and killed his offender. He’s free now while a Grand Jury decides if he has committed a crime for an act that had a police officer done, well…I doubt it would take long to indict the police officer. And then there’s the idiotic, senseless issues that garner tons of money and precious energy and serve to distract, distort and detract from what truly needs our attention. I got so sick of hearing about the Confederate flag I was nearly physically ill. First of all, I’m pretty sure that the flag of these United States of America for which 100s of thousands have bled and died in EVERY war fought BOTH on our soil and abroad, is “Old Glory.” flag
I would think if there was only ONE thing, ONE LOUSY thing that unites us in this country, one thing that could stand in the chasm and close the gap between left and right, black and white, red and yellow, it would surely be the American Flag. But apparently, we can’t even agree on that. I mean really slamming the “Dukes of Hazard” for their display of the confederate flag on top of “The General Lee,” revoking syndication of this rated G show, is simply over the top stupid. I call that OVERcorrection. On the other hand, flying the Confederate flag from a government building alongside the American flag to me disrespect and is offensive not so much to people (as much as I know that ticks you off if you find it offensive,) but it really and truly disrespects and subverts the American Flag, Red. White. and Blue. I mean really, what’s the point of having one flag, you know as the pledge goes “ONE nation under God, etc.” The pledge doesn’t say ‘Two or Three nations under God….’ One nation. One Flag. I’m all for state flags showing their pride for their state. Each state is so unique in its history and contributions to our nation as a whole, and I think state flags embody that very element. I see no problem with that. But that’s not the case with the Confederate flag. It does not represent one individual state. It represents a defeated nation.
Okay we could go on and on. I am concerned because in view all of the discourse ripping our nation apart, the forming up of “sides,” and pointing fingers, many of us are guilty of caving into the attitude of “gloom and doom,” “the sky is falling,” and “it doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t make a difference.” To that, I say “Hogwash!” Don’t buy into the lie that you alone as one person canNOT make a Single. Bit. Of. Difference. Here are 7 opportunities and every single one of them has your name on it. Now quit whining and get busy.
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1. Quit watching the news. Okay maybe not entirely cold turkey. But there are those of you who go to work, come home watch the news, eat dinner (or supper depending on your geographical location), watch more news and go to bed. What goes in, must come out. Turn off the news. Really? Is it any wonder that you are so angry and depressed all of the time? “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
2. Take a casserole to your next door neighbor. Or cookies or pie, peanut butter and jelly, or pizza! It doesn’t matter. You know the ones. The neighbors whose business shut down last month! The one whose beloved mother died recently. Or the one who is going through a divorce. OR the one you’ve been meaning to get to know better. “The second greatest commandment ….Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mark 12:31
3. Write a note of encouragement to someone who needs it desperately. This is so stinking easy. Last week I just by chance engaged in a conversation with a friend and found out that she and her family had been going through an extremely emotional and trying year. I had absolutely no idea. I went home and within 24 hours I sent her a note of encouragement. It wasn’t an idea on my part. Rather I felt like it was a command on God’s part. How could I have listened to her story and not have acknowledged it later? “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up!” 1 Thessalonians 5:11a
“….the God of all comfort who comforts is in all of our troubles so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 3:3-4

4. Go volunteer! And do it quickly. This is non negotiable with my teenagers. Hashtag: three teenagers who have everything they need. I believe with every fiber in my body that the quickest way to humility, joy, and most importantly perspective, is absolute without a doubt serving another human being. Volunteerism in our country is engaged by a minority of people according the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Why is that? We are B.U.S.Y. But we waste as much time as we spend. And the time wasted is evident in the precious energy we expend in that vicious cycle of watching the news and the complaining that ensues. The volunteer rate for Americans 15 years and older, was little changed at 25.3 percent ending in September 2014. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25
5. UNplug your teenagers (and yourself) at least one day a week and eat dinner around the table at least three days a week. Seriously this makes a HUGE difference in the lives of your kids. It gives you opportunity to teach them how to make a difference in the lives of others. Teach them how to have a meaningful conversation with others without the aid of electronics. How? By YOU having meaningful conversations with THEM minus the aid of electronics. “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be many in the land the Lord swore to give your ancestors, as many as the days that the heavens are above the earth.” Deuteronomy 11
6. Stop. Look. And listen. Remember those three little commands you taught your toddlers about crossing the road? Well, it also works when you want to make a difference in someone’s life. Last week my husband and daughters were eating breakfast at the local Ihop and engaged in a conversation with the hostess and found out she has an adult daughter in Oklahoma with late stage cancer. Her story was heartbreaking. Halle stopped. Looked at her. And listened. Then she asked her for her daughter’s name to put it in her prayer journal. I plan to follow-up with her to see if there’s something more we can do. Be aware of what’s going on in your world. In order to do that, you have to remove yourself (or your child) from the center of it.
To answer before listening, that is folly and shame.” Proverbs 18
7. Pay for someone’s meal. Sponsor a child for summer camp. Buy a single parent a refrigerator. Help your friends move. Pack out their house for them. Watch your neighbor’s dogs while they are on vacation. Invite your kids’ friends over to give their parents a night out. Make a dessert for someone who goes out of their way providing customer service. Kroger has pre-bagged groceries for the homeless. You just throw it in your cart and pay for it when you check out. Kroger does the rest. Mentor a child. Read to your kids. You get the picture.

While it’s true that our world is full of discourse and trouble, that only means it is bursting at the seams with opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life.
We simply cannot afford to allow the difficulties and the politics of this world to render us useless and helpless. That would be a shame. There’s so many wonderful acts of grace and kidness you can engage in now and so little time. So get out there. Turn off the tv (and your phone if necessary) and go make that difference. And for goodness sake, have fun doing it.

Can bad manners alone incite riots?

Manners

Two current events and one ho-hum event from my every day life. First, riots in Baltimore that include destroying property and looting businesses, physically assaulting innocent people, and critically injuring a police officer. Second, A professor at Texas A&M University in Galveston fails his entire class as his last official act before quitting his job, citing a pervading attitude of insolence, cheating, and extreme disrespect in his class. Third, A substitute teacher at a local high school in a Houston suburb. An entire class of students refuse to do their work. They are disrespectful, mouthy, and call their substitute teacher vulgar names as they exit the classroom. What do these three events have in common? Two current events in the national news and one event in the humdrum, perhaps mundane events of my own daily life. What do they possibly have in common? One common trait from each event that stands out to me is this: they all exhibit many of the same behaviors. Rude, disrespectful, inhumane, mean-spirited, self entitled, self-centered, and sometimes criminal. Just bad manners. Period. They are from all walks of life, different races and ethnic backgrounds, men, women, boys, and girls.
But why are they acting like uncivilized human beings devoid of decency and humanity? Please don’t say they were rightly provoked by the incident surrounding Freddie Gray’s death. How could that possibly explain stealing and thievery, arson, and assault? Surely no reasonable person could excuse that sort of behavior or perceive it to be “ok” in any case whatsoever? And if you can excuse this criminal behavior, then you must also believe that a civilized society is completely incompatible with one that does not allow the freedom to commit crimes under extreme duress. I would think especially if one of the looters or arsonists or physically combative persons in Baltimore were truly indignant over an alleged act by the police which they felt to be criminal in nature, surely that person of all persons, would be completely opposed and have an aversion himself to committing a crime that he (or she) personally finds so appalling. Right? Then there’s the college classroom in Galveston. Here’s a teacher who has no history of indiscriminately failing students. By all accounts he appears to be a decent human being and teacher, above reproach in his place of employment and his community. He said “I was dealing with individuals swearing at me both in and out of class and it got to the point the school had to post security guards in this and another class.” He further claimed that the students had spread online rumors about his wife and added that their immature and incompetence would hamper their efforts at entering the professional work force. Then there is the substitute teacher abuse. Multiple classes. Multiple students. Refusing to do class work for no other reason than they simply don’t want to. Calling the teacher names like “nasty ho,” an act that if it were reversed would get the substitute teacher fired for sure.
Really how has it all came to this? But I know this is not new. People, citizens, have been acting this way for centuries. But here’s the thing. As society has progressed over the last century, there is an expectation or a belief, perhaps too unreasonable of one, that people grow and mature at the same rate as their civilized society grows. In others words, there is a general sense among Americans that we are not the “same” unlearned, prejudiced, imperialistic nation that we once were. That along with astronomical growth in areas like technology, space exploration, medical advancement, great educational strides, scientific discoveries, we are also growing and maturing as humanitarians, as generous and compassionate adults. Unfortunately this is not always the case. The former does not = the latter. In all three of these cases-two current events and my one “ho-hum” day-to-day life event, we are dealing with men and women, boys and girls, young and old alike, whose moral compass is virtually absent. The only compass they have as a guiding point is the one guiding them to ill-gotten gain, and the shortest route to satisfying their own selfish wants and desires. Whether that is a big screen tv in a looted and burning business in a district like Baltimore where political unrest has afforded a target of opportunity to combatants and aggressors to do what they might have done otherwise, or a classroom of students who just want to “goof off” and accuse their teachers of being lame or somehow beneath them, in lieu of working, studying and putting their parents’ tax school dollars to proper use. In the case of the college students, their moral compass was so absent that their teacher feared for his own life and felt his only recourse to protecting himself as well as his wife’s honor was to quit his job.
quote-the-children-now-love-luxury-they-have-bad-manners-contempt-for-authority-they-show-disrespect-socrates-310695
In 1995 I had five co workers killed in the Oklahoman city federal building, 5 best friends. I also watched my parents die as a five-year old. They drowned in a senseless accident in front of my eyes as I stood helpless on the shore with my two sisters. This event led me down paths for years to come that I found very difficult to navigate. In my life, I have been hurt by others, betrayed by some, beaten down by circumstances. Yes. But never once was I driven by my pain, betrayal, or my lot in life to loot and burn businesses to the ground, to physically assault any innocent person, including a police officer. Never once did I find it necessary or right to mouth off to a teacher, terrorize them through social media or bully adults and peers. Even someone I did not like. Never. One. Time. That’s not to say I have never been disrespectful. (If only..) It is to say that disrespect was never excused by my circumstances.
I would submit that the ones who truly care about Freddie Gray and the circumstances surrounding his death are not the ones burning down buildings and looting and stealing and assaulting police officers. No I do NOT for one minute believe that those persons perpetuating crime and violence, and terrorizing their own communities, in which they live, are the ones who give a flip about Freddie Gray. Neither my anger, my indignation, my position-wrong or right, my political beliefs, my sexual persuasion, my marital status, my lot in life, my age, my gender, my grade in school, my disagreements, my agreements, my height, my weight-Nothing. Not One Thing. No incident, tragic or joyful in my life has ever, ever persuaded me to destroy buildings, physically assault people, or treat teachers disrespectfully just because I can. My freedom was paid for with a high price. That price was too high for me to turn around and loot, burn, and hate. That is most assuredly not how I say thank you for my freedom. It is not how I choose to exercise my freedom or my rights. I simply never have a right to do what is wrong. I always tell my girls, “Do the next right thing.” That is not about following the rules, although rules are good things. It is about exercising common sense and compassion.
Good-manners-matter
Finally, where are the parents? Yes, I know it’s usually what I end with. I can’t help myself. Too many parents have too many priorities that don’t include rearing a child that is a generous and compassionate adult, and simply respectful of others. Absent fathers keep piling up along with disrespect and bad manners. And as long as they do, it will be difficult to find good candidates to teach our children, police our neighborhoods, hold town hall meetings, and to lead our communities into the future, a future that should be full of continued advancements in technology, but also one full of hope, living in a place where we feel safe and secure.

The “why” and the “what” of April 19, 1995

April 19, 1995
April 19, 1995
20 years. That’s how long it has been since my world was turned upside down, inside out. That’s how long since so many lives were forever changed by the heartless acts of a domestic terrorist in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 168 people died that day in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at 200 NW 5th Street. 168 men, women, and children, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers. This weekend, 100’s of us will gather together on the ground where my “home away from home” once stood and remember our loved ones. But we will have something else on our mind during that time. It will not be just the past and the dead that we will be pondering. We will also be thinking about our present and our future and the living. We will be looking at those who are standing around us and marveling at the resilience of life. In our office alone, (DEA 9th floor) I am aware of the births of at least a dozen children and grand children borne by survivors. Out of the ashes of death, life blooms. In places where it seems only darkness can live, survivors manage to defy those odds. They get married. They have families. They graduate. They get jobs and promotions. They love and they grow. They retire. They continue to work and be passionate. They live on. They just live.

When I woke up on April 19, 1995, I fully expected to go on with my day, business as usual. But that was not to be the case. I simply cannot describe the feeling, the emotions and the devastation that consumed me standing in the rubble at the base of my building, trying to organize my thoughts, the names and faces rolling through my head: Who’s dead? Who’s alive? The tears streaming down my face were mixed with the sweat procured after sprinting from a meeting 4 blocks away to the sight I now beheld in grievous disbelief.

If you talk to anyone who survives a disaster, a car crash, a battle field, a bombing, while others they know and love perish, then you are certainly familiar with the term “survivor guilt.” In the weeks to follow, I know that I struggled with this. And 100’s of others did as well. Not just those of us who worked in the building. But also the rescue workers who spent hours recovering the bodies and endangering their own lives to do so. So many struggled with the question “Why them and not me?” And truly, when someone would say to me, “God must have a plan for you,” it would dig the knife in a little bit deeper. After all, did God not have a plan for my beloved friends? Did he not have a plan for the children? But I knew then (and now) that it is so difficult to know what to say to someone who has suffered a great loss. I know because I have been the one attempting to offer words of encouragement to others as often as I have been on the receiving end. I love and appreciate all who care so much for me that they struggle with what to say in my hour of need. So it was that after the bombing as recovery efforts continued to deliver us the news one by one of the names of those found in the rubble that day, I found myself contemplating the “why” and the “what!”

The “why:” As I sit here, incredibly 20 years later, I wish I could give you a reasonable and enlightened answer for the “why.” Why did Timothy McVeigh do what he did? Why did my best friend, or my spouse, or my child have to die like that? Why why why? I can’t. Sometimes you just can’t explain such evil and devastation. It has been going on for 1000’s of years, and I am sure it will continue as long as there is the will of some (or many) to pervert a civil society. In the same way, any tragedy that ruthlessly befalls us-the loss of a child, divorce, hurt, betrayal-the “why” can plague us, paralyze us, and break us. And truly, though I cannot answer the “why,” I do know that the unending pursuit for “why” will likely render us hopeless and helpless. It can and will pluck the fruit from our tree and rob us of our peace. At some point we must simply put one foot forward, forcibly if necessary, and trust in the Creator that indeed He has an “eye” on us. And moreover in this world, He has the last word.

The “what:” I can’t answer the “why,” but ironically because of that, I am compelled to ask “what?” What must I do now? In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, that was different for all of us. The “what” included grieving. It included supporting the families of the fallen, attending funerals, burying the dead, gathering up the physical remains of our office files, counseling, rebuilding, and the list went on and on. As the days turned into years, the “what” turned into- continue to do my job well, take care of each other, celebrate babies, birthdays, graduations, communions, baptisms, live life, retire, and perhaps even suffer more loss. Because as we know all too well, loss is an inevitable part of living.

So this Sunday, as we reflect and celebrate those loved ones who have died, we will look around and consider the living. We’ll say things like, “I can’t believe how much she’s grown,” or “Congratulations on retirement,” or “Have you seen his grand kids? They are adorable.” And in those moments whether we realize it or not we will have achieved the “what.” Presently we have answered the question we were posed 20 years ago-the most important question of all, not the “why” question, but the “what!” As one of my dear friends told me once, “when something goes wrong, we do the next right thing.” That’s the “what.” The next right thing. In that we honor our lost loved ones and we also find a great measure of healing.

I will see many people this week that I love like family though we don’t actually share DNA. They have suffered much. And while it’s true that many of us have suffered with survivor guilt, there is truly nothing to feel guilty about. We have continued to work hard. We have had beautiful children. We have taught others well. We have remembered our lost loved ones, each in our own way, and we share those stories with our children, their namesakes, who will continue to do the same. We have lived lives of integrity, examples of goodness and perseverance. Now what will we do in the next 20 years? Much of the very same thing I hope. Always remembering and always moving forward.

Psalm 27:13-14 I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord.
Be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.