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.

 

“Hope does not disappoint”

hopelessness

While scrolling through Twitter this morning I came upon this quote which had been posted without attribution: “The poorest people in the world aren’t the ones without money…It’s the ones without hope.” When hope is absent, life is almost unbearable; and there are many navigating through life whose hope has been crushed by the cruel circumstances of a fallen world. They see no end to their suffering.

The darkness that accompanies mental illness, debilitating sickness, broken relationships, and destructive addictions seems deep and never ending. Like Sisyphus repeatedly rolling his rock up the hill only to see it crashing down to the bottom, people often do live what Thoreau described as “lives of quiet desperation.” While admitting that God can and still works miracles, we also know that there are times when we will not see relief from our circumstances in this present evil age. So where is our hope to be found? Paul gave us the answer when he wrote to Timothy almost 2000 years ago:

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope.” (1 Timothy 1:1)

Our hope is not to be found in a new product, a new lifestyle, a new leaf, a new way of thinking, a new job, or new friends; our hope can only be found in Jesus Christ. He is the only One who can give us hope both now in this “present evil age,” and in “the age to come.” That is why I love the Reformed faith: the doctrinal truths found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and the Smaller and Larger Catechisms point me to Jesus Christ and the mercy and grace He pours out upon me even in the darkest of nights.

If there is never a “healing,” or a “reconciliation,” or a “deliverance,” in my life, the Christ of the Scriptures is still an “ever present help in time of trouble.” Through our pain and through our darkness our “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5)

The pain is real. The darkness is real. Yet, the hope that is found in Jesus Christ is even more real.

Tuesday Hymns: “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art”

I greet thee, Lord

This past Sunday at Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaumont, Texas, we sang, “I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art,” directly after our Corporate Confession of Sin and Assurance of Pardon. It is a wonderful hymn speaking again and again of God’s marvelous mercy and grace that has been poured out upon us by what Jesus Christ accomplished through His life, death, and resurrection. The words have often been attributed to John Calvin, but most historians doubt that he was actually the author. The text first appears in the The Strasbourg Psalter of 1545. It is most often sung to Loys “Louis” Bourgeois’ tune from The Genevan Psalter, “Toulon.”

I greet thee, who my sure Redeemer art,
My only trust and Saviour of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake;
I pray thee from our hearts all cares to take.

Thou art the King of mercy and of grace,
Reigning omnipotent in every place:
So come, O King, and our whole being sway;
Shine on us with the light of thy pure day.

Thou art the life, by which alone we live,
And all our substance and our strength receive;
O comfort us in death’s approaching hour,
Strong-hearted then to face it by thy pow’r.

Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness,
No harshness hast thou and no bitterness:
Make us to taste the sweet grace found in thee
And ever stay in thy sweet unity.

Our hope is in no other save in thee;
Our faith is built upon thy promise free;
O grant to us such stronger hope and sure
That we can boldly conquer and endure.

 

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!

When the Days are Dark


Most of us who grew up in the 1960s and 70s know who Joni Eareckson Tada is. In 1967 she was injured in a diving accident at the age of seventeen which resulted in her becoming a paraplegic. By God’s grace and through agonizing rehabilitation she has lived a very full life over the last fifty years, being an example to all of us that “God’s grace is sufficient” for whatever comes our way. She has written over fifty books and is the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center. In 2010 she was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and subsequently underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy. If anyone knows what the phrase, “a dark providence” means, it would be Ms. Tada.

When asked how she had been able to deal with all of the challenges that went along with her paraplegia she responded, “I suppose what helped me get through this more than any other thing was reading Loraine Boettner’s, ‘Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.’” It was the truth that God was in control and that He had a plan and purpose for her life kept her going. I am sure that there were times when she felt alone, afraid, despondent, and forgotten, but that truth kept her going forward even through the darkest night.

Yes, “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) As dark as life gets, as lonely as we feel, and as painful as our personal life experience gets; God, in His love, brings light, His comforting presence, and His all sufficient grace. As our new pastor, Nick Napier, said this morning (quoting Thomas Wilcox), “Judge not Christ’s love by His providence, but by His promises.”

(And it wouldn’t hurt to read Dr. Boettner’s book, either.)

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.

Tuesday Hymns: “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord”

timothy-dwight

It has been some time since I posted a Tuesday Hymn, but Timothy Dwight’s, “I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,” caught my eye and ear yesterday morning when we sang it during worship. Dwight was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards (Edwards’ third daughter, Mary, was his mother), was a Congregational minister, and eventually served as the President of Yale University from 1795-1817. (Plus, he had great side burns.)

This hymn speaks of the author’s love for the church of God. Christ died for His church, and God has chosen to give “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XXV.3) It is “is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” (WCF, XXV.2)

This hymn is a great reminder to us that the Body of Christ is the “apple of [His] eye and [is] graven on [His] hand.” It is often sung to the tune, ST. THOMAS S.M.

I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord,
The house of thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With his own precious blood.

I love thy church, O God:
Her walls before thee stand,
Dear as the apple of thine eye,
And graven on thy hand.

For her my tears shall fall,
For her my prayers ascend;
To her my cares and toils be giv’n,
Till toils and cares shall end.

Beyond my highest joy
I prize her heav’nly ways,
Her sweet communion, solemn vows,
Her hymns of love and praise.

Jesus, thou Friend Divine,
Our Saviour and our King,
Thy hand from ev’ry snare and foe
Shall great deliv’rance bring.

Sure as thy truth shall last,
To Zion shall be giv’n
The brightest glories earth can yield,
And brighter bliss of heav’n.

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.

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