Thursday, August 30, 2012

Angels and Smiles - Counting Blessings in Caring for Dad

It has been a while since I've seen my dad really smile. There have been a few times when he has given a slight sign of being amused, but no broad grins.  His dementia and other health trials seem to have robbed him of the beautiful, toothy grin to which I have become accustomed after more than 4 decades of walking the earth as "Sam's Boy".  It has been a faint shadow that one notices but can't quite place in the routine interactions with a loved one who is wrestling to maintain their wits in a brutal struggle to keep one's personality.  I had almost given up that I would ever see his smile again until yesterday, when a number of events gave me renewed joy in the journey of walking with my father in this deeply shadowed valley.
It was a tough but good day. Lots of legwork in securing Dad's personal business - talking to banks, securing documents, running all over town. God is good and gave us much favor in our dealings. SO many I encountered had compassion born of walking in similar environs.  We were able to secure a place for Dad in a wonderful State veterans facility in Fayetteville run by people with a heart for Veterans - An energetic, highly motivated, knowledgeable and extremely friendly admissions official whose own father is a veteran. This angel of mercy sees folks like Dad as part of her extended family. She views what she does not as a job, but as an opportunity for passionate service to those who have born the battle in their time of greatest vulnerability.  We were also blessed to meet another angel - a statuesque, Wonder Woman look-a-like, retired paratrooper whose own distinguished career has given her a drive to serve those who like her, have given so much to the nation, going wherever sent, with no hesitation and no regrets. She sees her work as an honor and privilege!  The 3rd angel we encountered is a no nonsense administrator who is tough but loving and looks out for the residents with the focus and intensity of a mother lion! She laid out the rules without even smirking, but after laying out the law, softened enough for us to understand that she cared. God has supplied a great group of folks to look after Dad who truly understand where he's been and where he's at!

After those encouraging encounters, our time with Dad tonight was sweeter than we expected. His mind was with him and he engaged us in conversation quietly yet joyfully. He grasped my hand and commented on the beauty of his granddaugthers at length with no prompting.  Luz teased him and like the "Sam Jackson" of days gone by he started grinning with gusto and chuckling with delight!  His smile showed up and lit up the room like a 100 Megawatt power beam!  We truly enjoyed each other's company. His presence of mind made our goodnight salutations tougher than normal. We hugged, kissed and cried until our eyes no longer held moisture, yet it gave the opportunity to share much love and to recognize our crying as cleansing tears, and our abundant hugs and sweet kisses as precious moments to treasure and tuck away as gifts from God!

The battles of caring for an aging parent are continuous and sometimes victories seem few and far-flung. Yet, as people of faith, it is critical to count the blessings God provides - to celebrate the victories and to count it all joy, knowing that our trials can provide fertile ground to produce compassion, maturity and greater dependence on a Great God who made us, loves us and has designed us not for ourselves alone, but to walk arm in arm with others in love, that our good work might be seen and He might be glorified in the process.  Praise God for Dad's smile!  Until next time...


Friday, August 17, 2012

Daniel's Riddle: Knight Takes King

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's passing.  My friend Chip Armstrong, who has a knack for stimulating great discussions via the NET and for inspiring others to take time to consider the important themes that confront us in daily life, posted a picture on facebook of the L.A. Times front page from that fateful day in 1977.  With the picture, he posed a question that immediately prompted many, including me, to respond with memories of what we were doing when "The King" died.  Other than the headline addressing Elvis' death and the pictures, I paid no attention to the rest of the stories from that day...but I'm not Daniel Helbling!

I met Daniel in seminary in 1987. Daniel had more life experience than the rest of us, but possessed a timeless youthfulness that gave him a constant aura of being "cool".  After spending time with Daniel, it became apparent that he wasn't "the average bear".  His family was beautiful and as impressive as he was in every way. Their prodigious gifts were as unassuming as his, hitting you with surprising and delightful force as they shared a song, passed on a kernel of knowledge that truly informed or just blessed you with kindness and compassion.  Daniel and his tribe were multilingual, talented, adaptable, charming  - true renaissance folks with a deep commitment to Christ and a commitment to share Jesus' love with all people. As my friendship with Daniel grew, I learned he had a knack for noticing details - a skill cultivated in his service to the nation.  I also learned that his contemplative powers and ability to see beyond the obvious were enhanced by time he and his wife Arnelle spent under the tutelage of the great thinker, Dr. Francis Schaeffer. In a very unassuming way, Daniel employed an easy style of sharing deep truth that captivated, convicted and inspired us to pay more attention to where God had placed us and to not overlook the obvious in our pursuit of knowledge and spiritual growth.  I was reminded of those subtle lessons when I saw Daniel's posting of an intriguing riddle on the heels of his responding to my re-posting of the Elvis headline.  The Riddle was this:

Which southern Republican judge was responsible for the following decisions?
Browder v. Gayle (1956)
Orders the racial integration of the public transportation system of the city of Montgomery, Alabama.

Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1961)
Invalidated a plan by the city of Tuskegee, Alabama to dilute black voting strength by redrawing city boundaries so as to move concentrations of black voters out of the city limits.

United States v. Alabama (1961)
Ordered that black persons be registered to vote if their application papers were equal to the performance of the least qualified white applicant accepted on the voting rolls.

Lewis v. Greyhound (1961)
Required desegregation of the bus depots of the city of Montgomery.

United States v. City of Montgomery (1961)
Ordered the city of Montgomery to surrender its voting registration records to the US Department of Justice.

Sims v. Frink (1962)
Required the state of Alabama to reapportion state legislative districts to adhere to the 'one man, one vote' principle.

Lee v. Macon County Board of Ed. (1963)
Mandated, in Alabama, the first statewide desegregation of public schools.

Williams v. Wallace (1965)
Ordered Gov. George Wallace to permit the Selma to Montgomery march, which were organized by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), to take place.

White v. Crook (1966)
Ruled that the state of Alabama must permit Blacks to serve on juries.

United States v. Alabama (1966)
Declared the Alabama poll tax unconstitutional.

Smith v. YMCA of Montgomery (1970)
Ordered the desegregation of the Montgomery chapter of the YMCA.

Garcia-Mir v. Meese (1986)
Upheld that existing U.S. law superseded customary international law.
NAACP v. Dothard
Required the state of Alabama to hire one Black state trooper for every white state trooper until racial parity was achieved?

One stouthearted soul asked the question many of us had been asking since the first line of the extensive list of adjudication that Daniel had shared..."WHO?"

Daniel, a master teacher, gave a hint that required the curious to investigate further by providing a link to the answer. I will post the link that leads to the full answer at the end of this entry. Nevertheless, I'll also share a little more.  The link leads to an article printed on the same front page that the Elvis story dominated. The article tells a fascinating story of a man who should  be more well known, but isn't, and served for the sake of blessing others, not to call attention to himself. It is the story of a man who largely remains obscure with respect to fame, truly made - as in caused the transformation of - history.  By spending a little extra time to read THE REST of the front page of that fateful day, Daniel gleaned a truly golden glimpse at a man who did so much to open doors of immense importance for all of us!

Daniel's Riddle was a convicting reminder to me of the perils of living a life more focused on worshipping pop icons than on learning from lesser known yet devoted servants who humbly go about their business, skipping the pomp and circumstance, preferring the satisfaction of doing one's duty to the best of one's ability while looking forward to the one "Well Done" that really counts!   It is not my intention to be a kill-joy; I still love Elvis and I will never forget having just arrived in the Federal Republic of Germany when he died and my listening to every Armed Forces Network broadcast I could bear to hear and reading every Stars and Stripes article printed on his passing.  Nevertheless, Daniel's Riddle has reminded me to pay closer attention to detail, remembering that the world is truly blessed not as much by Iconic Kings as it is by the Silent Knights in our midst.  Oh yes... the learn more about the answer to Daniel's Riddle, visit this link:,0,5864561.htmlpage You'll have to pay attention to find the answer, but it is prominent.  Look for a reference to an agency first directed by J. Edgar Hoover :-).

Happy Learning! Until next time...