Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What Makes a "Bad Word" Bad?

By Mark Montgomery

Have you read that old western novel entitled the “Virginian?” Early in the story the Virginian is called a name. It is a name that often causes trouble. Instead, he smiles when he hears it. Why the smile? Because a friend had said the words, and was also smiling.

Later in the book the Virginian is called the exact same name. But this time, not by a friend. So the Virginian pulls out his Colt revolver, lays it on a table and says, “Smile when you say that.” Everyone knows that trouble is just a heartbeat away.

Same words. Different results. Somehow, bad words are not always easy to figure out.

When preachers from my home church said the words, “Unless you have been saved you might go to hell,” it did not have the same effect as when a stranger said, “Go to hell.”

Recently, while alone with my granddaughter, she started singing a song. When I asked about the song she became embarrassed. She said, “It is a song I really like, but it has a bad word in it.” Then after a period of silence she added, “But my daddy likes the song too.” Uh-oh.

She was honestly wrestling with the question, “What makes a bad word bad? “

Is the word OK if it is in a popular song? Is it OK if my daddy likes the song? Is it OK for me to sing it with my friends at school but not in front of my grandfather in his shop? The word in question has already been established as a word our family does not use.

This is a legitimate problem. She will eventually have to answer, “Should I listen to my parents when almost everyone else, from the Vice President on down, seems to think that profanity is just fine.”

She better get used to the internal debate. For it gets more complex.

Some words that were once common are now bad. Others don’t mean what they used to. Words that once were able to have some shock value are so common now as to be meaningless. Profanity is now considered “adult” language where it once was the childish refuge of the witless. What’s a little girl to do?

I once played on a collegiate intra-mural basketball team that was quite successful. The team voted to name themselves the “Black Jews plus One.” I was the only Caucasian on the team. The name could have been worse. One of the original suggestions had been “Black Jews plus Whitey.” After forty years of making decisions about words, I don’t think any of us would pick that name today, (or been allowed to keep it by the university!) Maybe we should have known better back then. But in 1969 it felt funny, irreverent and rebellious.

Incidentally, I told this story a few years ago and was soundly chastised by well meaning folks who said, “Black” should be “African-Americans.” Jews should not have been named, “Why are the Jews mentioned at all?” Etc. I could only reply, “It was funny at the time.” The debate over language never ended for me and will never end for my granddaughter. Or perhaps, for any of us.

I believe that this eternal, internal, infernal debate is actually a very good thing.

The New Testament letter from James warns us that, “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”

He goes on to add,”…but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

These lines are a pretty good hint that the “word debate” never ended for James either. His tongue, which in later life praises God and invites folks to faith, is the same tongue that spoke out against Jesus and did not believe him. (John 7:3)

James’ advice for the rest of us about this tongue tussle is this, “The wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” Now those are “good words.”

So that is what I will tell my granddaughter. We are Christians. We use words to love, praise, help, pray, teach and sing. If a word or words do not feel right, stop and think. If what we are about to say passes James’ test, we can be certain that no word, of any age or meaning, takes control and uses us.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

You Ask, "What's In A Name?"

By Blackie Blackwell
(Guest Contributor)

Imagine yourself in a multiplex movie theater. Curiously, no walls separate the half-dozen theaters that form the multiplex. Miraculously, you are watching six different screens all at once, thoroughly understanding and enjoying every scene, word, character.

Welcome to ADHD.

You Ask, “What’s in a Name?”

One of the eight original Blackwells – that wild East Coast family whose members buck the impossible – did the unthinkable.

Blackwells die? gasp six ADHD screens in hushed unison. You’re – you’re wrong. You guys don’t. You can’t. Didn’t Jeff have ADHD? How could this happen?

On July 15, 2000, my brother’s youngest daughter tells the family she cannot awaken daddy. Eldest brother Mike leaps stair steps three at a time to find Jeff motionless in his childhood bed, one arm resting on the other, hand gently cradling his head. The heart of “JB” peacefully, quietly, easily ceases its rhythms on the second night of a family-wide reunion missing only my twin sister and me.

I leave behind my position as keynote speaker (to 400 youth campers and adult counselors in the California mountains) and rush back to New Jersey. Why didn’t I get to hold JB a final time? Punch him, hug him, tell him I will miss him desperately? What is life without Jeff? He and Mike are a team. A killer combo. The dynamic duo. They’re … they’re -

The Big Boys.

Two dozen people cry hard in the front yard of our New Providence home. I join them, melting into Mike’s shuddering embrace. As comfort flows from the strength of his arms and the press of his chest, my screens speak up.

Didn’t really lose Jeff, y’know. You’ve got Mike. They’re inseparable. Same formidable sports skills, handsome faces, charming personalities.

One screen laughs. Yes, but ol’ Mikey never had JB’s incredible gift for …

“New rules,” says Mom at dinner years earlier. “From now on, speak in your own voices.”

Jeff perfectly mimics cartoon character Foghorn Leghorn, “Boy! I say, boy! Boy’s about as sharp as a bowlin’ ball!”

“Jeffrey Roger Blackwell!!!”

Quick Draw McGraw arrives next. “It’s OK, Baba-Looey. I’ll do the thin’in’ ’round here!”

“Hey, Ran-ger Rick,” shouts top-hat-and-tie-wearing Yogi Bear, “I’ll just take that pic-a-nic basket. I’m smarter than the average bear!” Humble sidekick, Boo Boo, murmurs approval.

Our dinner table explodes in an uninvited array of characters and personalities. Deputy Dawg, Snagglepuss, Huckleberry Hound – even nasally sportscaster Howard Cosell – all join the meal. Jeff and siblings unleash voices so fast, so well, Mom laughingly threatens to sell our TV and sits down, defeated.

Ah, but back to the sadness in the yard. Mike will, in the days ahead, come alongside JB’s widow and help raise the children. Perhaps that is why, here and now, his voice breaks above me: “I miss JB bragging about his kids.”

Screen Six pipes up the loudest and seems to have the best question: How do you s’pose JB knew, even with his kids so young, the way they’d turn out?

Jeff and I watch his extremely active trio playing in the sand by the lake. I ask him if he’s figured out their strengths and weaknesses.

“That one,” he says and points, “is my hard-headed kid. Doesn’t wait for all the facts. Ever.” Sighs. “Can’t tell that child a thing once the mind’s made up. Always right – doesn’t need the details.” He shakes his head, laughs. “That could be – in the proper places – a really good thing. Very confident.”

A second child walks up, hugs JB’s leg. “This is the soft one. Gotta watch my tone … the tears come so easily. Still, what a listener – and such compassion! Hope the world’s careful with this kid.”

I point at the third, feverishly building a sand castle. “Omigosh,” JB exclaims, “everything’s a contest! Dad, I can do this in 10 seconds! Dad, let’s make that using half the wood. Dad!” A pause, then the voice shifts to admiring tones. “Imagine that competitive drive put into sports, or homework, or college?”

Laura Beth, Eric and Alyssa form the beautiful legacy JB left for us to love.

Man, did your brother call that, or what? You should tell him how well they –
I do. All the time. “JB, you and Cher have a right to be proud. A handsome son. Two beautiful daughters.  All three funny, bright, creative. We love them as our own. The Blackwell aunt and uncles are their greatest champions. ”

Still not sure how these stories tie in to a name change. Details, please …

I follow JB to Ohio University, where he is the dashing senior captain of the soccer team. Fast-running, hard-playing, quick-thinking Jeff is called “Blackie” by the other players, who marvel at his speed and talent.
My arrival, far from eliciting remarks of wonder at sports ability, instead sparks confusion. “What do we call you?” the coach asks. Some forgotten genius says, “Well, he’s only a frosh. Call him Little Blackie.”

I, the smallest in the family, am alone in having never blossomed into a rugged six-foot frame. “Little Blackie” painfully underscores lack of height. But my new nickname puts me in JB’s classy category, so I eagerly grab that opportunity.

Our college season ends at the University of Toledo’s soccer stadium. For the first time ever, I share the playing field with “Big Blackie” in his last game ever. We nearly, but do not, combine for a goal. Then, much-admired Jeff graduates, I move to captain, and “Little” is chopped away. By me.

Across the years, the nickname “Blackie” comes and goes. But it kicks in – finally, fully, forever – when Jeff’s heart calls it a life and JB leaves behind his family and many fans, weeping at his absence, laughing at his presence.

So, please, call me Blackie – even “Little Blackie,” if you must – because each time that name’s spoken, you give me back another moment with Jeff, the brother who stepped away too soon.

- "Blackie" -

Postscript: On July 21st, 2000, my company’s computer system glitch is resolved. Among the many delayed e-mails sent my way, I miraculously find this July 7 message from the brother who’s been gone nearly a week:

I promise not to hurt your daughter while playing monkeyball at Copper Springs Swim Club. But you should wring the same promise from the other uncles and her cousins! … I have to go, dude, but have a great time on your next trek into the wilderness with 1000's of screaming kids....
Love, JB

"I’m eternally grateful, 'Big Blackie,' for that one last hug through your prophetic e-mail. Not even death holds ADHD for long, eh? I love you."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Sorry Mustang: "No Soup For You!"

By Mike Kelley

Ford Mustangs are one of my life’s top passions. Last year, I bought my third. But, I can’t just own them. I have to soup them up! Stripes, racing wheels, and performance mufflers are just a few of the projects that have captured my time and my dollars. I’d already had such modifications in mind for my latest Mustang (and yes, it’s already striped). That is, until Adleigh Grace arrived.

Adleigh Grace is our brand new baby girl. She was born March 26. She is a true joy, but also quite the education. (To say I’ve gained much wisdom is an understatement.) I now know what it is to love your own child. It really is indescribably unique. The kind of love that has me giving constantly of myself, without regret, but not without knowing the sacrifices involved.

One such sacrifice is the amount of time I now spend driving the Mustang. I drive it less than I did before she was born. Now, I’m almost always driving the SUV instead. I never understood why so many Americans drive SUVs these days. Everywhere I look, it seems that people are driving trucks with four door crew cabs and SUVs almost exclusively. But with nearly everyone
having children at some time or another, including me, the reason has become crystal clear.

Car seats! Eureka. Much to my dismay, I’ve discovered it. Ohio law requires that children ride in car seats.  For newborns, the carriers have to be rear-facing and, preferable, centered in the back seat. Let’s not even talk about how incredibly difficult it is to maneuver the huge car seat into our two-door car. The size, and our car’s “hump”, won’t allow it to be centered behind the Mustang’s front seats, so it must be locked into a rear bucket seat instead. But then you must move a front seat so far forward the person riding there kisses the windshield! The compromise is neither safe nor comfortable. I say, forget it.

That’s right. I just forget it. I don’t even bother to drive the Mustang much anymore. Life has changed, and with that change come sacrifices. Sacrifices I choose to make because I love my daughter I give up my mustang because I love her. I can’t begin to imagine it being the other way around. Giving up my child because I so love the Mustang. That’s ridiculous. In fact, I can’t for a moment think of anything or anyone I would give her up for. If there were such a thing or such a person, the love required to get me to give Adleigh up would have to be a love so strong I can’t comprehend it.

But that is exactly what God did for us. In John 3:16 it is Jesus himself who speaks one of the Holy Bible’s most well recognized truths when he says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”. Now that I am a father, I can better understand the depths of that sacrifice, and the power in God’s love for us. For, without a love so incomprehensible and so supernatural, we could never see Heaven. Thanks to God’s special love, someday we can.

But for now, my passion for Mustangs is turning toward a calling for a crew cab truck. I can’t wait to get one, so I can soup it up. Add a lift kit, racing wheels, and performance mufflers. All that followed by the most important modification of all. I can add that huge car seat, and Adleigh Grace. Ah! Now that’s what daddy calls a little taste of heaven.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"How Much More?"

By Kyle Kleeberger

Sitting alone on the bank of Eastern Honduras’ Patuca River, I was lost in thought.

How much more beautiful would life be for the Tawahka tribe if they didn’t worry whether their next drink of water would lead to disease and, quite possibly, death?

“How much more?”

This burning question inspired me to launch an adventure of learning! 
Working with the non-
profit organization Broken and Poured Missions Inc., maintaining the posture of students rather than teachers, young Honduranian Exse and I were sent to research where our first “clean water” initiative might be sited. After a long flight to Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital city, and two other shorter flights in smaller, adrenaline-pumping 6 passenger planes we landed safely on a grass airstrip in the middle of Exactly where we wanted to be.

We loaded our trip packs and food into the pipante (a canoe-like craft carved from a tree), its ancient 60-horsepower motor slowly taking us toward Krautara, one of the Tawahkas’ seven jungle villages. Our prayerful hope was that the tribe– who had no idea we were coming– would be open to our living with them. For two full weeks, we would learn about their community, their surroundings, and what they thought made life meaningful to them.

For safety purposes, we picked up a neighboring tribe’s dentist on our way upriver. For this area is a hub for drug trafficking from South America to the states. We introduced ourselves as a dental team. Several dental clinics later where we gave many shots, and pulled many rotted and aching teeth the Tawahka people were grateful! Yet some remained skeptical of the tall white man who slept in the school house.

That skepticism eventually faded after two weeks of working alongside them in their homes and fields, of sharing many conversations and meals.

They turned out to be some of the most hospitable people I’d ever met.

They gave me the few material things they did have, providing shelter, a bed, food, and water (For bathing only!). It wasn’t much, but they didn’t have much. Upon my departure there were tears and long embraces looking forward to the next time we’d see each other.

I saw Jesus in them. It’s as if Jesus had already shown up and taught them how to love and treat people. Their lives were simple, beautiful and I desired to be more like them. They were content with very little, with rice and beans every meal. What a surprise it was to me that their lives had so much joy despite their lack of “stuff”!

That morning as I prayed alongside the muddy Patuca River, I asked that He’d allow me to bring clarity to the Tawahkas’ water source. I never imagined that the tribe would bring clarity to my faith, my call, and my pursuit of our Creator. This unexpected reversal has altered my prayer:

“How much more beautiful would life be if our world took time to learn from people like the Tawahkas?”

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Life-Changing Experience

By Frank T. Alcorn (Guest Contributor)

Has a single unexpected incident--one that sucker-punched you in the stomach and forever-redefined "normalcy"--ever profoundly changed your life?

On February 23rd, a Saturday, at 7:45 p.m., I experienced such an event.

If you are squeamish, I suggest you read the following with only one eye.  I touched the edge of my table saw blade while it was engaged.  The tip of my left thumb looks like the ground chuck section of Kroger’s meat counter.  What was I thinking?  Thinking!  Who was thinking?

This is the event that defined my new normal.  Within 12 hours, I was devastated to find:

•  I could not remove the top of nor squeeze the toothpaste tube with my left hand
•  I had difficulty putting on my left sock
•  I could not tie up my pony tail
•  But the final straw was that I could not open a sealed plastic bag of shredded cheese to add to my morning omelet.

I cried aloud, shaking my good fist at Fate, for this calamity.

The dark cloud of melancholy hovered above me, boiling like a vat of liquid charcoal.  As I clung to the tiniest thread at the tip-end of life’s long rope, a golden aura fringed that ominous cloud and symphonic music filled the room.  You may have heard of the old “silver lining” myth, but take my word for it, gold is the color and it was   the birth of a spectacular idea.

Despite my physical deficiency (mental deficiency is already well-established), I feverishly outlined the idea before my delirium passed.  The drum roll you hear in the back of your mind is not imagined; it is the precursor to the idea.  I have formed an activist group representing accident-prone woodworkers such as myself.  Thus far, our members are all males.  While there are many fine female woodworkers, we have yet to find one stupid enough to touch a whirring saw blade rotating at six gazillion rpm.

The group is the Society for the Protection of Unintelligent Thumbcutting Underbrained Men.  We go by the catchy acronym of “SPUTUM”.  Our motto is, “Combine our IQ’s and it won’t amount to a spit in the ocean”.

Need more information?  Contact us at www.sputum.dumb/xz!argh.

If you qualify, you would be well served to join.  Our inaugural meeting was wondrous to behold.  What had been an austere union hall was now tastefully appointed in colorful streamers and sparkly confetti with helium filled balloons tap-dancing along the ceiling.  The room overflowed with men of the brotherhood, respectfully waiting the entrance of the Chairman.

Silence prevailed, yet the excited heartbeats of the faithful resonated throughout the room as though a base drum were beating rhythmically.  Without fanfare, cheerleaders standing statuesquely against the walls pirouetted onto the floor to lead us in a rousing cheer:

                SPUTUM, SPUTUM, is our cry.
                V – I – C – T – O – R – Y.
                Are we with it?
                Yes you bet.
                SPUTUM, SPUTUM,
                We’re all wet.

I still feel the electricity of the moment.  Each man quietly returned to his inner self. One by one, they arose to thrust a thumb - or stub - toward the heavens to recite the SPUTUM Pledge:

“I (mumble your name), formerly being of sound mind do hereby pledge to make it my life’s mission to honor the bureaucracy and society which enables me to blame others for my own failings.  Plaaay ball!”

Hush overtook the hall anew as the Chairman approached the podium, his eyes solemnly downcast.  He softly cleared his throat, visually embracing the sea of grateful faces and proclaimed, “There being no further business, I declare this gathering adjourned.”  The recall of such power, insight, and eloquence, even now, produces a grapefruit-sized lump in my throat.

Life just gets rosier from here.  As you know, the federal government monitors activist groups and seeing merit in our cause, moved with expediency to bring about relief to this huge voting constituency.  A bi-partisan bill passed, without dissent, directing the House Ways and Means Committee to allocate $100,000,000 to provide an answer to why seemingly stable individuals touch moving saw blades.  A “Special Investigator” is appointed to leave no stone unturned in finding where the fault really lies.  Early suspects include the Power Tool industry and magazines specializing in woodworking articles.

Some decry this as early rush to judgment. While those in authority agree (off the record), nonetheless, these are the heads pre-selected to roll.  And roll they will, like Tina Turner performing Proud Mary.

My Congressman acknowledged all of this to be good and proper but made an impassioned plea from the floor of Congress, demanding emergency and immediate relief for the brotherhood.  Modesty and a non-disclosure clause dictate that I not mention numbers, but my monthly stipend exceeds five figures in perpetuity and, in return, my Congressman expects re-election in perpetuity.

Were all of this not good enough, I save the best news for last.  Hollywood has bought the rights to my life story and will soon begin production.  Tom Cruise waived his customary salary just to have the chance to portray me.  He says the challenge of bringing to the silver screen the depth of emotion, physical strength, and courage I have displayed throughout this ordeal, except for the short time that I cried like a baby, will be career changing.  The screenwriters have promised that their version of my tears clearly will reflect that walnut dust had blown into my eyes, and I was bravely blinking away the caustic irritant.

These screenwriters are ok, but I requested Bill Shakespeare, Sammy T. Coleridge, and Ed Alan Poe be hired to ghostwrite my story.  I have been advised they may be deceased.  Clearly, the Hollywood crowd does not understand the concept of ghostwriting.  However, I believe them to be alive and well and performing as a country group in Peoria.

The entire “A” list of Hollywood’s who’s who is lined up for the possibility of landing even a cameo role.  My friend, Mark, whose project lies dormant in my workshop, the victim of an Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA) lockdown, a parallel to the horse-and-barn-door story, is to be played by Brad Pitt.  As an aside, the accuracy of this casting is uncanny. The Supreme Court, or maybe it is the Supremes, will portray the ministry team, with the sole exception of Blackie.  Frodo, not the actor, the real one, has been awarded that plum.  Did I not say this casting was uncanny?

Oscar buzz has this film scoring big in all categories on the night Hollywood honors itself.  An old Dean Martin classic has been reworked for our film and is a lock for the best song Oscar – “Everybuddy loves thumbuddy thumbtime.”

Life is good again.  Dumb pays dividends and stupid is as stupid does.  Except that pain and exhaustion overtakes me, I am confident I could dredge up at least a half dozen other platitudes and trite phrases.

I leave you with two observations, these expressed by the best of America’s thought leaders.  The first is contemporary and attributed to the man who in a controlled and systematic way is presiding over the disintegration of Chicago, – “You can’t let a good tragedy go to waste.”  The second and no doubt music to your visual ears is from my lifelong idol, Porky the Pig -  “Ba-dee-ah, ba-dee-ah, be-dee-ah, th-th-that’s All Folks!”

But since I can’t help myself, I leave you with a third observation requiring a whole new story for which I show you the mercy of not recounting.  If you decide to turn to a life of crime, the removal of a thumbprint could prove useful.  I understand authorities are mystified by the unusual thumbprint left at the scene of several recent crimes.  For this I make no admissions.

Remember Kids, don’t ever touch a moving saw blade; leave that to the professionals.

In the late 1940’s, when television was in its infancy, Milton Berle reigned as Mr. Television.  A favorite expression was “All seriousness aside folks …….”.  All that precedes this next paragraph is my “All seriousness aside folks”.

I have had a life changing experience – a real old school one.  On my knees in the sawdust, at the urging of the Holy Spirit, my life was not just changed and not just transformed, it was made new and about that, I am quite serious and most thankful.

Frank T. Alcorn
(The “T” formerly stood for Thomas but is legally changed to Thumbcutter)


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

I Have Four Daughters

By Travis Montgomery

“You are going to die.”

The words being said to me do not come from physicians and medical experts. The words come from acquaintances who have just heard me say, “I have four daughters.

Were you standing beside me, you would see these friends burst forth in a deep, almost maniacal, sort of laugh, then emit a lung-emptying “Oh!” But I quickly learned that such a single-syllable utterance loosely translates, “You are going to die. And it will be your daughters who are the death of you.”

I try to assure these naysayers I’m proud to have fathered four girls. They will not listen.

“Travis, why would you do that? Were you trying for a boy? Do you have any idea what you’re in for? Wait until junior high. No, wait until high school. Worse, wait until college! Do you know how expensive weddings are?”

Why do others’ minds transform my beautiful children into an unstoppable rebel force, one bent on banishing peace and robbing me of fatherhood’s joys? It’s clear to me the listeners expect my four to display daily drama, wield womanly wiles, and wreak relentless ruin.

Despite the prevalence of that thinking, I don’t believe it. Never have. Never will.

My wife, Carol, and I are confident about our daughters’ futures despite the power of a culture that would teach them empty values: image over character, hedonism over relationship, and entertainment over knowledge. No, there aren’t magic pills that I force my daughters take to eliminate the potential of any future error or damaging decision that they could make. The enticement and ease of such and existence is in stark contrast to a challenge-filled life of a girl who knows who she is and what she’s about.

There are, however, four primary pillars my wife Carol and I have built into our child-rearing process. These pillars provide a faith-filled hope that our girls will become something other than the simple-minded product of an overwhelming cultural presence. The enticement and ease of such an existence is in stark contrast to the life of a girl understanding who she is and what she’s about.

The four pillars comprise we call our Family Legacy. That legacy is a set of stories, traditions, or beliefs associated with a particular group; or the history of an event, one which arises naturally or is deliberately fostered.

We do not create “lies to live by” in order to produce the results we want. Our daughters soon would discover the lies, which would shatter our integrity as parents and ultimately produce the very rebellion we sought to avoid.

Truth, instead, creates the foundation of our family legacy.
  1. We believe our daughters are created in the image of God. Inherent in that image are (among other virtues and characteristics) true beauty, strength of character, the ability to reason, an understanding of eternal significance, and hope for the future. This is the understood end result of who we expect our daughters to become. 
  2. We highlight stories of our family’s history that illustrate our identity as a family and demonstrate the substance of which our children are made. Children are told from birth, “You look like your mother.” Or, “You act like your father.” Science lessons about DNA further reinforce that children are “a chip off the ol’ block.” Our daughters need to believe that who they are, and what they’re made of, can produce the desired results. Such beliefs may be as simple and self-affirming as, “I can be courageous because my father is courageous. I can be beautiful because my mother is beautiful. I can be brilliant because my grandfather is brilliant. It is in me. It’s part of my history. It’s the basis of who I am.” 
  3. We create family traditions to help our children acknowledge and confirm they are made of the same substance as the family members before them and are an extension of that history. Brianna, our oldest daughter at 8, fired a rifle this year under careful tutelage. She, Abigail at 6 and McKenzie at 4 slept in the forest without a tent… in December. My two oldest daughters ride 50cc motocross bikes. Don’t tell them they aren’t strong. They won’t believe it. The strength of their history is put to the test in them so they may confirm, “Yes. This is who I am.” 
  4. We ultimately expect our children to succeed and they expect to succeed because of it. Along the way they may fail, but failure will not be the end result. It simply will be an obstacle to be overcome in order to succeed. 
Even as I write this, I sense there will be parents who read this and say, “Yea, right! Wait until the girls get older. Let’s see what happens when they discover boys. I’ll bet things will go wrong when…"

Such folks will list the potential challenges that my daughters could face, then dismiss our system. What they don’t realize is that they’ve created a legacy of their own… a legacy of failure that states, “This is who you are until you’re challenged.” Their children will reflect and confirm that grievous mythology.

Am I being unreal? I understand it’s unlikely our daughters will make the right decision every time. I do not expect every outcome will be favorable. Yet, I’m willing to bet on who they will, in the end, become. Why?

Because this is precisely who God created them to be. As they understand what they came from (familywise), and Who crested them, they will confirm that in themselves and never let it go.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Special Kids

By Scott Carman

I read the following statement and wonder whether it broke the very heart of God:

“Ninety percent of ‘special needs’ families do not attend church.”

Sadder still, they do not attend because they’ve had unsettling reactions from congregations.

As the parent of a special needs child, a dad who treasures both his daughter Alexys and his Father God, I shake my head at that appalling statistic. In His own churches, we’re not following in the caution Jesus issued in Matthew 18:10: “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in Heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father.” [NIV]

If acceptance is not found in His gathering of believers, to whom do we turn for help, hugs, hope?

Taking well-adjusted children to church is a challenge in itself. We ask a great of deal of them in expecting they’ll sit quietly and behave for more than an hour. But such children understand disciplinary measures follow misbehaviors. Many demonstrate abilities that bring them through the “endless” service or they are rescued by the youth services churches offer.

Most special needs children, however, have neither the gift of associating discipline with the moment’s troubles nor the coping skills to settle down and ride out the storm.

I know this storm all too well. My daughter has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS, a form of autism. She is a blessing that brightens our home with laughter and joy. She also brings new challenges.

Everyday encounters in public places that once were easy, can now be a struggle. Noises. Smells. Lighting. Crowds. Doors that open themselves. These can all send a special needs child into a ‘meltdown.’ To add to the frustration the air thickens with comments communicated by onlookers: “That child needs discipline.” The silent ones speak through body postures and eye movements. We “hear” you. Yes, it would be reasonable--fabulous, really--to leave this untamed spirit at home and accomplish twice the errands in half the time. But that doesn’t work in our situation because Dad’s at work, or Mom’s the trusted guardian, or timing insists we stop now for milk.

So we blush in embarrassment, flame in anger, boil in our condemnation. At times we pray our way through the judgments because we walk through a lost world that shouts “tolerance” for immoral behavior but carries no such love for “different” kids.

It will be better at church, we sigh to ourselves. There we will find souls willing to peer past exteriors- the way God cautioned the prophet Samuel to disregard the outward appearance of David’s brothers--and see the heart for which Christ gave his life.

Yet it is not better. Week after week, only 10 percent of us dare brave the rejection.

Should we not expect more from our church?

The same struggles that we face in those public places, our special kids face in our church. The group of people gathering just inside the doorway as you walk in. Ushers hand you bulletins. The volume of all those people greeting one another, hugging laughing and carrying on conversation is an avalanche of sight and sound. Add to that the lighting changes, music playing, candles burning, stained glass shimmering.

For a sensory sensitive child, church can be overwhelming.

Through Facebook, my wife belongs to several support groups for parents of special needs children. With two friends she’s met, Jeanette has created a web page permitting families worldwide to share their stories, strategies, blessings, tears and so much more. These people have become friends, confidants, family. Jeanette often says that this journey would not be possible without them.

Wading through a virtual alphabet soup of neurological and behavioral conditions, the readers and writers hold one another tightly and look to the heavenly Father for strength in tending the youngsters He’s granted.

Jeanette and I decided to approach these parents with questions regarding their family and church experience. Questions like: “Do you go to church?” “Have you experienced struggles there?” “Is your church accepting of your children?”

We asked that all the answers be honest. Soon after we wondered if we were ready for the answers we may receive? We had no idea what to expect. 

The response was amazing. Most of those who attend church regularly have had a wonderful experience. Their churches accepted their children and loved them. I was thankful to hear this.

Some families struggled with “looks”, inappropriate comments or lack of acceptance. One family was actually asked to leave. Another person shared that some in her church accepted her child and others did not. She thought maybe a lack of education about her child’s condition may have scared them.

For some families just the thought of going to church is too intimidating. One shared that they watch a church service online at home where the child is comfortable. I can relate to some of these struggles. I can relate to both sides. The fundamental question is: Should a bad experience keep these families from worshipping the Lord?

My daughter Alexys loves attending church. That does not mean we don’t go through any given church service without struggles. I give the credit for my daughter’s love of church partially to my churches. They have been wonderful. I am proud of them.

Jeanette herself has shared a story of a peaceful church service gone wildly wrong in mere moments. The result of a simple tap on my daughters shoulder during a sermon caused her to go into a meltdown. She started screaming “mommy hit me” over and over again. I quickly took her outside to calm her. Our church did not react. As we walked back in, Pastor Mark smiled at Lexy and with a soothing voice welcomed her back. Both the congregation and the Pastor reduced the trauma for her.

Jeanette was devastated. People had heard Alexys yell “mommy hit me.” Jeanette never wanted to return to that church again. Thankfully, as Jeanette realized that everyone understood she was able to move past it. We never heard any comments or received any looks. What we did hear was support and affection.

I do not judge those who make the comments or give the looks. I pray through awareness they will change. But I have a confession to make. Not that many years ago, I was the judgmental onlooker, quietly steaming as a family allowed their “spoiled child” to run wild through a Ford dealership where I worked as a salesman.

Shortly after I was told the child was autistic. “I could NEVER raise an autistic child.” I harrumphed to another salesman. “No way.”

Then God blesses me with Alexys and I discover how little I know of life and love.

The challenge to educate belongs to all of us. We must start with ourselves. Read up on special needs children--the internet is a wealth of information. Approach parents and ask how better to interact with their sons and daughters. Better yet, spend time with such youngsters directly. I imagine how Jesus would play with an autistic or special child. Join the fun. Welcome the brave families who do come to your church and defend them against those who speak ill.

But above all, practice daily the attitude of John 13:35, which says simply and gently, “Your love for one another will prove to the world you are my disciples.” Show others the unconditional acceptance of all His children and you will win many to his side…including that once forgotten 90 percent.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sticker Shock

By Rev. Mark Montgomery

Christmas morning, my four year old granddaughter and I were playing. She pulled out a box of stickers, carefully selecting a flower for herself, a kitten for her sister and a butterfly for me. Making it clear the butterfly had to be placed in just the right spot on my left shoulder, she took her time positioning it, stepped back and nodded in satisfaction.

Then she looked at her sticker and said, “I am a flower.”

So I pointed to my sticker and asked, “Does this mean that I am a butterfly now?”

She remained silent a long while. Looking at her flower, then me, then my butterfly, she finally answered, “No. You are not a butterfly. You are still old.”

A precious, humbling, honest moment.

This beautiful little girl saw absolutely no problem with the idea that she could be a flower. That comparison did not violate her concepts, definitions or the balance of the universe! Her sister could easily be a kitten. No problem there either. But some definitions can be pushed only so far. To my granddaughter, butterflies are never old. Butterflies are young, vibrant, captivating, and lively. They are colorful ballet stars dancing on the stage of summer breezes.

To my great and everlasting joy, some things my granddaughter believes I can be are quite wonderful, like a Christmas morning playmate. But for me to be a butterfly? Even the creative imagination of a four-year-old could not push the conceptual boundaries to that point.

With a bow to her wisdom, I surrender my butterfly sticker. Perhaps now, it is my turn to define a concept for her.

There is a word that means a great deal to me. It is easily defined. But so often when I hear people speak it, their descriptions have nothing to do with the concept my mind pictures. Maybe my concept needs to be re-worked. If so many folks laugh at what I “see”, then maybe I have gone too far.

The word is “married.”

For me, being married is like watching a butterfly dance, beautiful, vibrant, lively, and captivating. It is a ballet of the heart on the stage of life’s warm breezes. When I say, “I am married,” feelings erupt from the fiery, joyous, volcanic core of who I am.

The marriage concept I picture is graceful but strong, mature yet playful. In that vivid imagery I stand under the arching branches of a life spent together with a woman I love. The scene changes as we age. Once gray, we sit on Cupid’s bench, resting in the shade of the memories that forged us.

Because of the strength of the woman beside me, I am stronger. Because of her faith, I walk closer to the throne of God. Because of her love, I am a proud father and grandfather. Because of her wisdom, I am less susceptible to the barbs of dark days.

That’s my concept. That’s what I see.

I feel out of step in a world where others say the word “married” as if it is a burden, a curse or the first line of a comedy routine.

It does not matter that the world will laugh at this corny old coot - a coot who pays attention to a child’s analysis. Let them define marriage any way they like. As they snicker, I and my wife will be here, on a wrought iron love seat, in the shade of our family tree, watching our granddaughters, “Flower and Kitty,” sprout and grow.

And someday, just maybe, when those little girls are women and the word “married” comes up in conversation, the pen of their imagination will dip into an inkwell of memory and draw Rebecca and me upon the canvas of their mind’s eye.