Dealing with Challenging People

explosive child

In Ross Greene’s book, “The Explosive Child,” he writes about using three baskets when communicating with kids who have special needs to lessen the possibility of an explosive situation occurring:

 Basket A:  The essential safety behaviors. Non-negotiables.

 Basket B:  The high-priority behaviors which are very important, but not worth a power struggle that will result in an explosive melt-down. Use as opportunity to teach compromise and negotiating skills.

 Basket C:  The behaviors which once seemed important, but are not really a top priority and certainly not worth a melt-down. Things that in the big picture don’t really matter.

Of course, it can be challenging to determine which basket applies to a given situation, but I have found that this approach has been very helpful to me in the world in which I live. I have found that it can be useful in dealing with “The Explosive Adult,” also.

 

Frank Deford (1938-2017)

I was saddened to hear of the death of sportswriter and commentator Frank Deford at his home in Key West, Florida, at the age of 78. There were many reasons why I admired him. To begin with, he was a marvelous writer. One doesn’t win “Sportswriter of the Year” six different times for sloppy writing about “safe subjects.” He was willing to tackle controversial subjects, and even though I often disagreed with him, his arguments were always logical and well thought out.

While often writing about serious subjects (apartheid in South Africa, for example), he could also let his hair down as he did in this Miller Lite commercial with Billy Martin and Marvelous Marv Throneberry:

“The” commercial

The reason that I admired him most, however, was his willingness to openly share the pain he experienced as he cared for his daughter, Alexandra, and the grief that haunted him because of her death to Cystic Fibrosis in his book, “Alex: The Life of a Child.” As the father of a child who had that horrible disease, I was helped tremendously by knowing that there were other people who felt many of the same emotions as I did as our family walked that lonesome valley. Thirty-five years later I still pull that book off of the shelf and read it from time to time, and I admit the tears flow almost as readily now, as they did the first time that I read it. After Alex’s death, Deford picked up the mantle and from 1982-1999 served as the Chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, bringing greater awareness to that often misunderstood disease and raising countless funds for research to combat it. The following is a snippet from his book that may give one a hint of his prowess as a writer, and his willingness to share some of his most personal memories to help others. This is his description of a conversation he had with eight-year-old Alex when she asked him if she was going to die:

“ ‘Well, sure,’ I said, as casual as I could be myself. I’d been prepared for this for a long time. ‘You’ll die sometime. But I’ll die, too. If there’s one thing we all do, it’s die.’ 

“ ‘But you’ll be real old,’ she said. 

“ ‘Not necessarily. I mean, I could die in an accident anytime.’ 

“Alex threw her arms around my neck. ‘Oh, my little Daddy, that would be so unfair.’ 

“ ‘Unfair?’ I said. Unfair is just what she said. 

“ ‘You don’t have a disease, Daddy. You shouldn’t have to die till you’re real
old.’ ”

Thank you, Frank, for your love for your family, and your service to many others in need. And, furthermore, I, for one, am glad that the Lord saw fit for you not to have to die until you were “real old.”

 

 

 

Memorial Day (Thinking about Bubba)

bubba williams

Today those of us in the United States will celebrate what has come to be known as Memorial Day. It was originally named “Decoration Day” and there is some question as to the actual beginning of the observance. Women in the South were decorating the graves of the Confederate dead before the end of the Civil War, but the first official observance came with the declaration of General John Logan (a Union general) when flowers were placed on the graves of Confederate and Union soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery on May 30, 1868. The northern states and southern states celebrated Memorial Day on different days until the end of World War I, when the observance “remembered” all those who gave their lives in service for their country, not only in the Civil War, but in all wars. Until 1971 it was observed on May 30th, but then Congress changed the timing to the last Monday in May to insure a three day federal weekend holiday.

I was well aware of Memorial Day as a child because it was celebrated on my Mom’s birthday, and in the 1960s, with the Viet Nam Conflict raging across the Pacific, it was not unusual to see newspaper stories of local guys who were killed in action. However, Memorial Day really hit home for me when we received news that Marine Staff Sgt. Benjamin D. Williams, along with two others had been killed on June 20, 2006 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. For me his death put “a face” on Memorial Day. It became more than a generic day of remembering but a personal day of sadness mixed with profound gratitude. I had watched Bubba (that’s what many of us called him) grow up and although by then I had been separated by many miles and many years from him and his family, his death was a grim reminder of the horror of war. Every Memorial Day Bubba’s life and sacrifice is one of the first thoughts that comes to my mind when I rise on the day when most of America is barbequing, picnicking, and celebrating the coming of summer and the end of school.

I would encourage everyone to take some time today to remember the sacrifice of the many that paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and those family members who feel anew the grief that never really goes away completely. Thank you, Bubba, for your sacrifice; you and your heroism will not be forgotten.

 

Life is Precious!

Thirty-six years ago today, a 1970 Chevrolet Nova (with no AC, by the way) came screeching into the emergency room of Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas at 5:05 A. M. driven by a young seminary student with his wife in the back seat just about to give birth to a daughter. Those were the days when birthing rooms were brand new at hospitals, and we were excited to be able to do labor, delivery, and recovery all in the same room. Of course, that would have happened if we hadn’t been cutting it quite so close in getting to the hospital. Since her birth certificate stated, “Time of birth: 5:10 A. M.” one can see why we didn’t get to be a part of this new concept in labor and delivery care. (They actually got a doctor out of the next delivery room to oversee the birth. Our doctor came strolling in later saying, “After hearing all the excitement over the phone, I didn’t think I would get here on time.”)

In this less than serene way, Leah Michelle Rankin was born into a fallen world. She discovered rather quickly that life on this terrestrial ball was not always easy and pleasant. From the very beginning she experienced digestion problems, and soon developed pulmonary problems, and after 18 months of numerous visits to doctors and hospitals was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF). We had heard of cystic fibrosis but had no clue as to what that diagnosis would mean to Leah or to us.

CF is a disease in which the mucous glands produce excessive amounts of mucous which complicates digestion and makes it difficult for the body to thrive, and, more importantly, makes pneumonia a constant danger because the mucous build-up in the lungs provides a perfect place for bacteria to grow. We found out that the average life span of a CF child was about twenty years (that was in 1981; much progress has been made in treatment options since then).

Leah’s life was filled with four breathing treatments a day, followed by percussion (to loosen the mucous in order that it could be coughed up), taking enzymes with food for digestion, IV antibiotics administered through a port-a-cath at home when pneumonia developed and in the hospital when the pneumonia was more acute, large doses of steroids to keep the air passages open (which brought about steroid induced diabetes which meant the need for insulin) and numerous hospitalizations.

I will be forever grateful for the support that we received from our families, the churches to which we belonged during those years, the doctors (especially Dr. Dan Seilheimer), the child-life therapists (Mandy Calderon was one of Leah’s favorites), the respiratory and physical therapists, the school teachers both in Mauriceville and at Texas Children’s Hospital, and countless others who made Leah’s life and our lives easier during those difficult years. However, the message that I would like to stress most in these few paragraphs is that LEAH’S LIFE WAS WORTH LIVING.

Leah’s life was difficult, but she was able to love, and be loved; she was able to enjoy the beauty of music and art; she was able to enjoy time with her friends and her family; she was able to enjoy numerous books (especially the ones about Ramona Quimby), and to enjoy her seemingly endless number of stuffed animals (which she would always pick out just one to sleep with every night); and most importantly of all, she was able to rest in Christ alone as her “only hope in life and death.” Although we only had Leah for eight short years here on this earth, those years were special to us, and, I believe, to her, and I would never trade those years for anything.

Leah will always be a reminder to me that all of human life is precious, and that life in Christ, is even more precious, for Jesus promised in His Word, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)  And, I must say, I look forward to joining with her one day around the throne of God to sing with the church triumphant, “Alleluia! Salvation and glory and honor and power belong to the Lord our God!

Old Geezer Report

ITV ARCHIVE

I am officially an old geezer now. I woke up at 3:00 A.M. and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I finally got out of bed, got a cup of coffee (that didn’t seem counter-productive at the time), and decided to see what happened while I was asleep for four and a half hours. On the bright side, the Texas Rangers didn’t blow another ninth inning lead (Thank you, Jose LeClerc). The United States didn’t go to war with anyone, but technically, we haven’t gone to war with anyone since the last time Congress declared war in December of 1941, so that was not so unusual. They tell me the NBA playoffs are about to begin and the Lakers will not be a part of it again (at least that made me smile, and yawn), and I am not sure if that giraffe has been born yet.

Everyone else is asleep at my house so I have enjoyed “the peaceful, easy feeling” of being alone for a bit. All in all, waking up so early wasn’t a disaster for me, and Dixie and I are planning on going to a movie this afternoon, so if I fall asleep watching “Going in Style” it won’t be the end of the world (as long as I don’t start snoring in Tinseltown). Full disclosure: The last time I fell asleep at the movie theater was watching “Out of Africa” many, many years ago. And, I wasn’t an old geezer then; it was just a horrible movie. Now it is 5:45 and it is time for me to get on the “stupidbicycle” for thirty minutes. That’s not so bad for a geezer.

“The Morn of Song”

RPC

After several challenging years, the last twelve months being especially challenging because we did not have a pastor, our church (and I use that “our” to denote belonging, not ownership) unanimously has voted to call a pastor. I am truly excited about the future as this man is a Confessional Presbyterian who understands the importance of the ordinary means of grace in the life of the church. Pending approval by our Presbytery, he should be on the field within the next couple of months. I believe he will fit in well with something that I used to write in a letter to those who visited Reformed Presbyterian Church during my almost decade as an Associate Pastor:

RPC is a church that desires to be God-centered in our theology, God-centered and reverent in our worship, and God-centered in proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost world.”

As I think back over the last year I am especially grateful to those who kept things going at RPC. I appreciate our Interim Pastor, John Wagner, who has stepped in and preached God’s Word faithfully and showed pastoral care to a hurting flock. I, also, appreciate those who filled the pulpit on Sundays before Pastor John arrived.

I appreciate the work of our ruling elders who had a difficult situation thrust upon them and worked diligently to hold things together, reading and answering numerous emails, phone calls, and questions. These are men who have families and real jobs in the real world, who sacrificially give of themselves to minister to the people of God. They are not perfect men, but they did the best job that they could do as they attempted to lead us through uncharted territory.

I also appreciate the Pastor Search Committee who worked so diligently in finding the right man to lead this congregation to be a Gospel light in a very, very dark world. I pray that the Lord will bless them for the time that they spent away from their families during this past year, meeting, praying, sorting through MDFs, listening to sermons, etc.

And, maybe most of all, I appreciate those faithful members who continued to worship, pray, give, and work uncomplainingly that RPC might continue on during this challenging time. I am sorry that I could not do more during this time because of my demanding family responsibilities, but I can say that even through this difficult season, there is no other place that I would rather be than with my brothers and sisters in Christ at RPC. Over the past year my thoughts have returned again and again to a hymn by Samuel Stone that gave me hope during that troubled time:

Though with a scornful wonder the world see her oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping; their cry goes up: “How long?”
and soon the night of weeping shall be the morn of song.

A Day in the Life of the Rev. Will B. Dunn (Honorably Retired)

bill-the-cat

It is said that “confession is good for the soul;” both positively and negatively. Perhaps that is why Bruce McIver’s book, “Stories That I Couldn’t Tell While I Was a Pastor,” was so funny. Last Sunday I experienced one of those stories, and since it happened to me, I assume that I can tell it without offending anyone (which would be somewhat of a feat in these sensitive days).

Dixie was not feeling well, so Reed and I went to church without her; and since she wasn’t there, we sat closer to the back of the worship center than she normally likes to sit. I think it has something to do with sitting on podiums for 35 years. We stood for the Call to Worship and then sang as robustly as one can with a cough drop in his mouth, “The Mighty God, the Lord” (a great hymn from The Scottish Psalter of 1650). It is here that my story takes on a more ominous nature. When Pastor John began the Invocation I swallowed my cough drop. Well, maybe “swallowed” was a misnomer, because it didn’t find its way all the way down. So this 62 year old man starts choking on his cough drop. Fortunately, Pastor John prays pretty loudly during the Invocation (it must have something to do with his days of ministry in Scotland) so I started out the back door of the building without disturbing anyone, through the foyer and out on the front porch.

It was here that it dawned on me, that I was still choking, and that obstinate cough drop would not go up from whence it came, or down to where I could have some relief. People say that one’s life passes before his eyes when he is about to die, but for me it wasn’t so (the fact that I am typing this gives you a clue that I didn’t choke to death although I did not know that for sure at the time). What went through my mind? “Great! Now I am on the front porch (where on one knows I’m here) and I am going to die because there is no one here to do the Heimlich maneuver on me!”

In God’s providence, after much gagging (I know, TMI) the cough drop defied gravity and clawed its way back up my throat into my mouth. After spending a few more minutes of coughing (apparently choking to death is much like an earth quake with the accompanying aftershocks), I was finally able to enter the building and finishing worshiping the Lord. Just so you know, if I would have collapsed, a late entering family (who will remain nameless) would have found the body and performed whatever emergency medical procedures were necessary (they always “kind-of-liked” me, so I hope they would have), so all would not have been lost.

Next time I will tell about throwing up in the choir…no, I probably won’t.

Merry Christmas!

merry-christmas-2016So this is Christmas
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun
…”—John Lennon

I don’t often quote John Lennon in a positive way, but as I prepare this “Christmas Letter” it seemed appropriate. This is the second year in a row in which we didn’t send Christmas cards out, but as the Facebook relationship status sometimes says, “It’s complicated.” We do the best we can, and learn to appreciate God’s grace at work during the complicated times.

It is Clifton’s first full calendar of retirement. The year has been a challenging one, but Dixie and I have both said again and again throughout 2016 that the decision for me to retire was the right one. I miss preaching and teaching, but I am needed here with my family, at least for the immediate future. Sunday in and Sunday out we are reminded by people that they are praying for us, and that is what the Body of Christ is all about. You may think that saying, “I am praying for you” is trite, but it means the world to us and helps keep us on our feet. I am probably experiencing the best physical health that I have experienced since high school, so I count my blessings and keep riding the “stupidbicycle.”

Dixie’s year has had its physical challenges with her battles against cholesterol, TMJ, all the other ailments that often test a woman who is entering her fifties, but I think that she has liked having me around after years of sharing me with the rest of the congregation. We manage to get out together most Thursdays to spend some time alone, and that has been a wonderful blessing for us.

In August Reed began his second year of working at Dairy Queen. While it probably is not necessarily good for someone with Type 2 Diabetes to work at a fast food establishment (temptation everywhere), he works for good bosses, with good co-workers, and is learning how to deal with a public that is not always at the apogee of good behavior. He has also enjoyed his weekly time at Tyrrell Park Stables learning from Deanne about the care of horses, and spending some time on horseback.

Caleb has spent the year working at Sonic (we Rankins have the fast food establishments in Sour Lake covered), and going to the Lamar Institute of Technology. He is sorting through what he wants to do with his life, and hopes to come up with some answers in the coming year.

Josh and Kristi are still in Texarkana, Texas, where he coaches football and track at Texas High and she works at the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons of Northeast Texas. Yesterday (Dec. 21) their youngest, Delani, celebrated her first birthday. Kesh is now fifteen, Koen is thirteen, and Kya eleven. The “times, they are a changin’.”

Life in a fallen world is not easy, but it is precious. We don’t know what the Lord has in store for this next year, but we pray that He will be glorified in all that we do, say, and think.

May the Lord bless you this Christmas and all through the New Year.

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now…”–Joni Mitchell

clouds

I remember the years when I was a young buck in the pastorate. There were several of us in our local Baptist association who would eat together, laugh together, and would usually end up on the losing end of votes together (because we were the crotchety theological conservatives). One day, one of my young pastor friends commented, “I sure would make a great church member. I would support my pastor wholeheartedly.” None of us actually believed him (because he could be pretty head strong and cranky) but now I have realized that I get the opportunity to do just that.

I have been “honorably retired” (Don’t you love Presbyterian Church in America lingo?) for a year and a half, and I am now on the other side of Hebrews 13:17:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

As I submit to the elders that the Lord has placed over me several things come to mind (this is coming from a Presbyterian polity point of view):

(1) I don’t have all the information (and I don’t need to have it). I remember those years when I, being on the session, was aware of words and actions that had taken place, and I had to keep information to myself to protect “innocent” individuals and even to protect the “guilty” who had repented of their sins. When church members would come to me “fishing” for information from time to time, I would simply have to say that I could not comment.

(2) I need to remember that the elders spend long hours meeting, discussing, and praying about decisions (many of which consist of not what is “right or wrong” but of “what is best for now and for the future”) that could affect the congregation for years to come. I need to appreciate their sacrifice and trust their judgement.

(3) I don’t have to agree with everything they do. There were times when I was on the session when I didn’t agree with every decision that was made, so I don’t see why it should be any different now. I don’t have to get my way all the time (or so my wife says).

(4) When I hear the Word of God preached, it is not for me to say, “Well, I would have handled that text differently.” I need to simply receive the Word of God with joy and humility for I am not always right (my wife tells me that, also).

(5) I need to be faithful to worship with God’s people. We have family challenges at home, so that is not always easy; but even when Dixie and I have to split up, and one go on Sunday morning, and the other go on Sunday evening, it is important for us (and the congregation) that we attend each Lord’s Day for we need to experience the ordinary means of grace. I don’t go in order to “feel good,” I go because I need to (and it is a command of God to not forsake the assembling with our brothers and sisters for worship).

(6) I need to give God’s tithe and my offerings each week for the work of God’s kingdom. If I disagree so strongly with the direction of the church that I am tempted to withhold God’s money, it is time for me to find a congregation where I can give that full financial support.

(7) And, most of all, I need to pray for the elders that God has placed in authority over me. Their task is time consuming and difficult, and they need to know that I am approaching the throne of grace daily on their behalf.

There are many other things that I should do as a member of the Body of Christ, and I should do them all in a way that the elders can watch over me “with joy and not with groaning.” 

“It’s time to grow up!”

grow-up

 

 

 

As I peruse Facebook and the network news I am mystified by the idiocy that I see played out before me: People breaking windows (not their own, mind you), attacking others, burning cars, and various and sundry other acts of stupidity, and I might add, evil; all because of the results of a Presidential election. This just doesn’t make sense to me.

I have two sisters, and I don’t know for sure (my Dad was really big on that whole “secret ballot” principle), but my guess is that the three of us all voted for a different candidate in this election. And, guess what: We haven’t unfriended each other on Facebook, we still love each other (and even like each other), we haven’t called each other names, they haven’t thrown a brick threw my window, I didn’t yank one of their grand-kids out of a car and beat him senseless, etc. We just went on with our lives. Just the way we did four years ago, and eight years ago, and 12 years ago,…well, you get my drift.

America, it is time to grow up.

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