Monday, February 23, 2009

It Didn't Take Long to Get Here

It was one of those moments when you grasp an entire scene in the blink of an eye.

Saturday morning. I was brushing my teeth in our bathroom. I could hear Kristi and the boys talking and playing at the other end of the house through the baby monitor that we still use for our now two year-old son. (Just when do you actually retire those things?)

I wasn't quite ready to emerge from the bathroom, when my morning routine was interrupted abruptly.

It was a sound I recognized right away. A great sound during a test run, but not a sound you want to hear unexpectedly. There was no mistaking it; the burglar alarm had been tripped.

My mental rolodex of possible explanations spun at light speed:

*No beep preceding alarm; that means back door. (Hadn't disarmed the system yet.)

*A burglar breaking in after daylight, with people obviously home? Not likely.

*I knew I hadn't opened the door. And Kristi wouldn't have without disarming the alarm. Only two suspects left.

*The top lock, the one out of reach of the kids, had to have been left unlocked for either of the boys to be able to open the door.

I sprinted from the bathroom to the living room. No burglar. Back door closed again. Benjamin running back down the hall to his bedroom. I hollered to Kristi that Benjamin had opened the back door, ran to the keypad, and punched in our code. Alarm stopped. Back to the bathroom to get the cell phone off the charger and await the call from the alarm company. Call came, password given, police averted, all was well again.

Now that everyone was back where they started and the dust had settled, the voices once again came through the baby monitor:

Kristi: "Benjamin, did you open the back door?"

Benjamin: "No. Daddy did."

Oh, yes, he said it. Our firstborn. That little baby we held in our arms. Benjamin Bunny. Little Bennigan's.

Our boy had looked Mom square in the face and told her a bald-faced lie. There was nothing subtle about it. He saw that Door #1 might have led to some type of reprimand, and instead chose Door #2, not grasping that the truth was already known, and that even if it had not been, Mom would have checked with Dad anyway. And that, even if she hadn't, lying is still the wrong thing to do.

Man, it didn't take long to get here. Our four year-old has taken his first step into that risky mine field of deceit. It's a tempting place to walk. The shortcuts and payoffs often seem great in comparison to the danger. The chance of harming oneself or a loved one seems ever so remote. It all seems so easy to control. And sometimes it is. That's what's so scary about it.

All of us who have walked that field know that eventually you take the wrong step and lose something more precious than an arm or a leg.

The trust of those who trusted you is hard to win back. And like the prosthetic limbs of an amputee, it's just not what it used to be. It can't ever be like it was.

Don't get me wrong; I don't distrust my son. He's only four. I did the same thing. Really, it probably wasn't the first time, and I am confident it won't be the last. But this time, it hit me that a threshold has been crossed in his life and ours. He is starting to see his options as being wider than simply doing what Mom & Dad would like for him to do.

That's a threshold we all cross at some point. We cross it at home, and we later cross it with God.

Father, please help us:

*To see our children as You see them.

*To accept that our children will go where we've warned them not to go.

*Not to overlook it when they do, but not to overreact in anger when they do.

*To make sure our children learn to accept the consequences of their mistakes.

*To trust our children as they grow up, and to allow them to learn how to earn the trust of others.

*To remember that deceit is tempting, and that our children need us to be watchful for it in their lives.

*Never to model deceit for our children, or be the ones to teach them how to lie.

*Not to believe the deceiver's lies, who tells some that their children do no wrong, while telling others that their children are no good.

*To be brave enough to lead our children to You, in the face of a world that would draw them away.

And as for me and Kristi, please help us to remember to lock that top lock on the back door.

Friday, February 6, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

I was driving from my campus to my boss's office one day last week, when I passed by the Statue of Liberty.

Well, sort of.

If you've read my profile, you know I live in Texas, nowhere near the Statue of Liberty. In fact, I've never even seen her in person, though I've always wanted to. After this story, you'll understand why I want to see the real thing more than ever.

There's a mom-&-pop tax preparation business located on a street I take on this particular route, and both tax seasons I've lived here, this business has engaged in a marketing ploy that, in my opinion, is pretty senseless.

To attract customers who need their taxes done, they post a person out on the sidewalk in front of their office, wearing a costume of our Ellis Island landmark, complete with robe, hat, and torch.

The person in the costume waves energetically at motorists passing by, just hoping to attract that random taxpayer who will realize, "Oh my goodness! I haven't filed yet! And all my papers just happen to be right here handy in my car! And I have nowhere else to go right now! I'll just swing in here!"

Just my cynical side coming out. I guess I don't see how an "impulse purchase" marketing strategy could do much for this kind of business. But maybe I'm wrong. It's the second year I've seen it, so maybe it does work.

So, as I passed by the waving statue again this year, I thought the same thoughts about it, but noticed something just a little bit different than I had seen before. I thought I saw, and looked again to be sure I saw, a cloud of smoke billowing out of Lady Liberty's mouth.

I got closer and saw her bring her hand up to her face and take a long drag before waving at motorists again, this time with her cigarette clasped between her fingers in her grey-gloved hand.

Now, I don't know about you, but seeing the Statue of Liberty prancing around on Rancier Ave. in Killeen, TX, is already a bit of a stretch for me. But the cigarette just took the whole thing over the edge. A lame marketing strategy became something out of a low-rate comedy routine, just like that.

I'm not talking about whether or not people should smoke.

I'm talking about an image. I'm talking about impressions and associations. And ultimately, I'm talking about respect.

Who on earth would associate the Statue of Liberty, and all the grand ideals she stands for, with something as mundane as smoking a cigarette, or even munching on a sandwich or swigging on a soda, for that matter?

How could anyone, with any respect for this landmark, publicly bear her image and then treat it like it's no different than anything else you might wear?

How could anyone not realize that this behavior would be offensive to witnesses who associate this image with greater things? Or even if not offensive, at the very least unfitting or unbecoming?

How often do we forget to take seriously the names we wear and the images we show the world around us?

How quickly can our credibility be damaged or destroyed by carelessness with these things?

Verbal abuse from a counselor.

Profanity from a preacher.

Cruelty from a teacher.

Indifference from a doctor.

Corruption from a police officer.

Hatred from a parent.

I'm sure you see the pattern, and I'm sure you could think of other examples. These are deeds or traits that just don't fit the person they've been linked to, any more than a puff of cigarette smoke fits the Statue of Liberty. Someone responding to one of these images might ask, "And you call yourself a....?" Someone wearing that name just shouldn't act in that way.

If you take seriously the images just listed here, what about the name of Jesus Christ?

No, no one can be sinless. That's why we need Him.

But there is a big difference between a sincere soul wearing His name with awe and humility, and a careless one, wearing it like a cheap costume.

Are you wearing His name?

If so, how?

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hoods, Hooligans, & Honyocks

The doorbell rang yesterday, which is odd in the middle of a Saturday morning.

I answered the door and found a boy, maybe in the 5th or 6th grade, waiting on the porch. He had his bike with him, and an envelope in his hand. His buddy was back at the curb, waiting on his bike.

Assuming he was probably seeking customers for a school fundraiser, I greeted him, prepared to sign off on the purchase of a candle, a tub of cookie dough, or a discount card.

Instead, the boy simply held up the envelope in his hand, and asked, "Is this yours? I found it in the street."

I looked at the envelope, and sure enough, it was our monthly water bill, still sealed and in perfect condition other than the tread of a car tire across the front of it.

This young man had been enjoying a Saturday bike ride with his friend, had come across this envelope lying in the street, and had taken the time, on his own, to read the address, realize he was near my house, and stop what he was doing to see if the bill was mine.

Of course, I thanked the boy sincerely, and for just a moment, I wanted to say, "Tell me your name. What school do you go to? I'm sure I know your principal!" But, I didn't want to assume his parents would be thrilled that he had given his name and school to a random stranger, so I didn't ask. I just thanked the boy, shook his hand, and watched him ride off with his friend.

What a neat kid. What a cool moment. A child going out of his way to help a stranger, without any prompt from anyone. I would love to tell this story to his parents, and let them see some of the fruit of their labors.

This boy reminded me of a powerful passage, Proverbs 20:11. "Even a child is known by his deeds, whether what he does is pure and right." Without knowing anything else about this kid, it's safe to speculate he's laying the groundwork for a good reputation in life.

What are your feelings about the youth of today?

Are you concerned about the direction you see them heading? Worried over their exposure to images and content you weren't exposed to at their age? Offended at how spoiled and indifferent they seem to be? Perhaps indifferent to them at this point?

I throw out these suggestions only because these statements represented the general adult consensus 20 years ago, about my generation, Gen X, back when we were teenagers and coming of age. It was also the consensus opinion about the Baby Boomers, who in turn fretted over Generation X.

We shouldn't be surprised now that many folks feel the same way today about the kids and teens of this day and age.

(I had to laugh to myself one evening when we were having dinner at another couple's house. The wife was telling a harrowing tale from her afternoon commute, involving "some stupid teenagers" in another car. Funny; the woman telling the story was barely 30 years old. Just 15 years ago, someone might have said the same thing about her.)

But, yes, speaking from the perspective of a school administrator, I can say I have concerns of my own.

I've seen 13 year-old girls coming to school with their necks dotted with hickies. Young men stating boldly that they are willing to die for One-Tre Crip, Two-One, Eastside Locos, or whatever gang they happen to be claiming. Students exchanging profanity with their parents. Young teens keeping their forearms covered to conceal the cuts they've made in their own skin. I've seen a 15 year-old give the finger to a police officer. I've pulled marijuana out of kids' pockets and driven to seedy locales to find them skipping school.

Yes, there's a lot happening in our world and with our youth that should cause us concern.

But that's not the whole story.

For every horror story I could tell you about malice, mischief and mayhem, I could give you ten examples of fine and faithful young people, lovers of God, respectful of authority, desirous of honest success, intolerant of disorder, gentle to the weak and a comfort to the hurting, joyful in the face of hardship.

Future authors scribbling in their personal notepads. Future engineers asking tough questions of their Math teachers. Future counselors grieving over a parent lost at war. Future parents swearing never to repeat the failures of their own moms and dads.

And besides this, there are the remarkable cases of troubled young people who find their way back again, who are restored to a path of responsibility, and prove all dire predictions wrong.

Will some of my students end up populating our prisons? Yes, if statistics bear out, a few will.

But, the vast majority will grow up, leave childish things behind, raise families of their own, and lose sleep with their own grave concerns over the youth of 2030.

And, I earnestly believe this will even prove true of the hoods, hooligans, and honyocks from the stories I told before.

So, what are your feelings about the youth of today?

A better question: Are you engaged in any way with the youth of today?

Yes, if you're a parent, you're raising your own children, and no other priority comes even close.

But, are you engaged in any way with the youth of today?

I don't mean using their slang or wearing their clothes. They don't need more buddies; they need to be molded and led. The critical quality, however, is that they need to be molded and led by adults who at least try to understand them. People who are willing to establish relationship first, then let leadership have its influence in due time.

Volunteer. Tutor a student. Get to know a neighbor family.

Find a way to connect. Find a way to understand.

The easy and meaningless thing to do is to write off our youth as disappointments and failures. Every generation, in its youth, has been judged as such by its elders.

The meaningful and sometimes difficult thing to do is to resist that temptation and engage.

Will you judge from the sidelines, or be salt and light?