Monday, March 6, 2017

Grief 101

I am by no means an expert on this subject.  Fortunately, I had only two deaths in my life that were meaningful before my dad's departure last month.  One of those was my grandfather, who died when I was 5 years old and frankly I was was not exceedingly mature and the impact on me at that time was therefore not very profound.:)  The second was a man that I didn't meet until he was well into his eighties and I was honestly just thankful that I had the chances to learn from him that I did.  I also haven't had a life worthy of many other huge griefs.

Therefore, I am not writing this because I think anyone will learn or even needs to learn from my writing.  I am writing this because I realize just how poor of a friend I have been to those who are friends of mine, who lost someone.  I am writing because I never knew what to say to people when they were grieved by things that just didn't affect me very much.  Finally, I am writing because I am hopeful that it will be cathartic for me to put words to the page.

The first thing that has surprised me is that recovering from grief is not linear. In fact, it often is all over the place.  Much like many things in life, there are good days and there are bad ones.  I've made it through an entire day where my life almost seems normal.  However, that does not mean the next day will be more of the same.  I do believe that as time continues to march on and I build more memories with the people I have left, the impact won't encompass as much as it does.  But I learned from my father and the aforementioned death of his father that that pain never truly leaves and there will probably be days when my son becomes an adult that just make me sad thinking about how much I want my dad.

Sometimes being busy takes your mind off of the situation, but there have been a few times in just the short time I've had, where my busy-ness makes me think I need to tell my dad something or reminds me of a time we were working together.  As I pick up my phone, I realize that he won't be on the other end of that call.  I find myself suffering from intense malaise.  I have been so much less productive with my life, and it isn't that my dad is needed for me to do the simple things (like pay my bills), but rather that I just can't seem to be as excited about life in general.

I can only imagine how difficult it would be if I didn't have faith in God or the knowledge that my dad was with him.  Even that knowledge does not take away the reality that my life is forever changed.  While that knowledge makes me very happy for him, it still leaves me missing him.  Finally, I don't need the comfort of hearing where he is.  I imagine this is even more true for the atheist.  What we want, I believe, is someone to empathize with what we are feeling, not to tell us what he is feeling.

By the way, we all love hearing that people are willing to help, but I think a more appropriate statement would be identifying a precise way that you can help.  For example, I'll bring you dinner on Tuesday or we'll watch your kids one night or let me run an errand for you or this is how we can meet and reminisce about your dad.  No one in grief is likely to make a Rolodex of all the people willing to help and call them as the needs come in.  In fact, the needs are normally unknown.  I mean someone had to remind me to eat the other day.  Me!

Overall, the biggest thing is that I am not necessarily doing better today, just because my father's death is one day further away.  Today might be the first time I heard a song he liked in church or the 20th time I get into the car that used to be his or the first time I saw his favorite team play or the 800th time I run across something at work that he would be a great sounding board for.  The reality is that for 40 years of life, my dad was my confidant, my fan, my mentor, my accountability partner, my fellow cheerleader for our teams, my friend, and my father.

Life just won't ever be the same, and no matter where I know he is, I selfishly want him here.  I want him to see his grand-kids continue to grow (hopefully in the nurture and admonition of the Lord), and then see my grand-children do the same.  I want him to give me advice and be there for my mother, my sister, and me.  But most of all, I just want to see him.  And while I do not grieve as those who have no hope, I'm sure I'll continue to cry for me.  And I'm not sure that will be any different, even if I live another 40 years.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Few Insufficient Words about Paul West

If you did not attend my father's celebration of life party/funeral, you must watch the video we showed.  At any rate, a few people asked for a copy of my remarks at the funeral.  Here they are.

For the first 18 years of my life (Do you remember back in elementary school or high school? when you are trying to get your identity.  When most of us are wondering what we will ever turn into)– yes that first 18 years of my life– I think everyone knew me as Paul's annoying son.  I was OK with that, I was proud of him, and I was never jealous of anything that he had.  That's probably because my father was the most generous man on the planet.

I was the son they had to put up with to spend time with the greatness of Mr. West.  But somewhere around the end of that childhood, something magical began to happen.  People started telling me that I would turn out just like my father.  I wore it like a badge of honor.  To this day when people tell me that I will end up like him, I get excited.  I think one person even tried to insult me with it, but I took it as such a compliment that it never stuck.

I had a tremendously enthusiastic and energetic father.  When I went to college, it was the one time in life when a majority of the people I knew and interacted with did not know me as the son of Paul.  Nevertheless, his impact was profound.  I remember his calls of encouragement and his championing my choices.  He flew me home to take the real estate exam.  He flew me home to watch my favorite basketball team (Shawn Kemp and the Seattle SuperSonics) in both Miami and Orlando.  He went to law school and told me I should go, too.  He congratulated me and was excited for me when Kelly and I got engaged.  I began to believe that “nothing great in life can happen without enthusiasm.” 

My father was about the most supportive man you could imagine.  He set me up for success in law school by buying me books for classes, hooking me up with an old high school friend of his who ended up being family to Kelly and me while we were in Tallahassee.  When I finally graduated from all my over-education, he hired me.  I’d go off and find other jobs, and he would re-hire me.  I never had to worry about a place to work, as he continued to provide for me even past when you would think it would be normal.

My father was a tremendous grandfather.  He began to move around less and was slightly less energetic, but he was a grandfather who had inside jokes with every grandkid.  He made each of them feel super special.  He continued to exhibit to me what it means to be a good father and husband.  He was an endless supply of love for all of us.  He truly rejoiced with us when we rejoiced and wept with us when we were weeping.

I feel blessed beyond measure that I had the most loving father.  I’ve read that many people struggle with a concept of God because their earthly fathers were not.  But through my father, I have easily learned what it means to have a God who gives us endlessly.  I see what it means to know a heavenly Father who likes to give good gifts, regardless of our worry.  I see what it is like to have someone who loves you, even when you are unlovable.  But the absolute best thing about my father is that when I tried to tell him stuff like that, he would merely say that he was a shadowy, in-a-glass, dark representation of Christ.  He was flawed, but his Savior was not. 

Throughout my life, I can hear my father quoting Scripture to me (and I still can hear his voice teaching me through Scripture).  You see the legacy of Paul West is not just that he knew a lot of Scripture (though he did), or that he encouraged all of us to learn Scripture (though he did that, too), or that he exemplified what a godly man looks life (once again, he did).  It’s that he did all of that concurrently while all the time saying that you could live like that through the help of his God.  And that has impacted my life so profoundly and I know it has impacted many of you in the same way. 

You see, his legacy will continue by us all applying the great things he taught us and becoming saints like unto him.  This is a precious occasion, as “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.”  The challenge for me is not to remember him fondly– that is easily done– but rather to live the life that he would be proud of and that can only be done by constantly going to the reservoir of God’s love as my dad has shown me to do.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

I'm Chasing Ghosts

"Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you."

When I was younger, my father encouraged me to Bible Quiz.  Because of that, I learned many, many Bible verses.  While I complained about his nagging as a child, I find myself doing the exact same thing (though perhaps less lovingly) to my children.  This is because the momentary frustration of the time is not even worthy of being compared to the benefits I continue to observe from this blessing into adulthood.

Now, my father passed away yesterday, and the repercussions of that are going to be carried on into the rest of my life, as I begin to learn to navigate the next chapter of my life in this world without him.  How do I pay tribute to the man who shaped me more than can be expressed with words?  The reality is that I cannot.  

As my extended family came together this week to mourn the passing of my father, we told stories of our wonderful lives, because of him.  As the outpouring has come, we know that so many of you were impacted also, because he was a great man.  But, some of the people who were greatly impacted led to stories about how awesome my dad was that I didn't even know.  The reality is that he was not just a great man at home or just a great man in the public eye, he was always exemplifying Christ wherever he was.

While my grandparents could not have known 65 years ago when they named him after the apostle that he would turn out as fantastic as he did, the reality is that the above named verse, written by the man whose name he shared, is one that I will carry when thinking about him.  This is not just because in the sub-vocalization of this Scripture in my mind, the voice-over I hear is my father's voice. It is because I know that the things I need to do are those things that I learned, received, heard, and saw in him.

My good friend, David Poston, pointed out to me a few years ago that many modern Christians will say don't ever look at me, only look to Christ.  And while we would both affirm that salvation only comes from Christ, it is also true that the Bible affirms that God puts examples in our lives for the express purpose of our edification and training.  I was fortunate to have that example in my home for the first half of my life.

It would be difficult to shape someone more than my father shaped me.  Briefly, he is the primary reason I participate in Bible Quiz, he made/encouraged me to get my real estate license right after high school (much of my work centers around real estate), he encouraged me to go to law school, and he modeled being a wonderful husband and father to me.  I hope to be half that good of a husband to Kelly, and father to Jacob, Emily, and Julia.

And, this is why I am chasing ghosts.  My father left such an indelible imprint on this world that I find it impossible to believe he did it all in just 65 years.  I have no doubts that my father has heard, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant" and is with his Savior.  I also have no doubts that the only hope I (or any of us) have is that we allow God to do great things through us.  I also feel like I cannot possibly catch up to the legacy my father left.  But I know, with God's help, I will do all I can.  He gave me the name "West" in pristine condition, and I will try to keep it that way.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

So, I got a Speeding Ticket

The title alone will grip most of you, especially those who have braved a trip or two in a car with me.  As far back as high school, a friend created a nickname for the handles in the car I drove, as he always felt the need to hold them.  Especially when on trips, I find the need to go faster as it cuts down on travel time and allows me to get to the hotel where I can order a pizza quicker!

 So, while I am admitting guilt in general, the frustrating thing about this ticket was that I was not guilty on this one occasion.  And, unfortunately, I feel like the person giving me the ticket knew I wasn't speeding.  I feel like this was a case of someone knowing that he could get away with giving me a ticket.  So, how did I come to this conclusion?  Well, here is the rest of the story.

I was traveling to a Bible Quiz event in Athens, Georgia.  I had my older two children in the car, and I departed from my home around noon.  Because of reasons I cannot pinpoint, I got in the car and started heading to Greenville, SC (most of my quiz trips in the car are headed that way, but it really is an excuse-less crime).  I was past Daytona (over an hour drive from the genesis of my trip) before I realized that I had completely dropped the ball.

At this point, I called my wife and asked her to look on the computer and see if it was faster to turn around and drive that extra hour plus or to cut over from I-95 westward sometime later in the journey.  Her quick research told me that it was faster to cut over on I-16 and then head up GA-19 to US 441.  So, that became our new plan, and my daughter (who was taking a road trip on her birthdayisn't she a glutton for punishment) would have to wait longer before using her birthday present (a tablet) at a hotel to watch children's movies.

So, travelling interstates is pretty standard and not worthy of extra care, so I am confident I sped a fair percentage of the time on them, but once I got off of I-16, I had to trek on a two to four lane road with which I was not familiar. Therefore, I was driving extra slowly.  Much of the road had a 65 MPH speed limit, which I adapted to by setting cruise control at 69 MPH.  (So, I am admitting to speeding a little).  There was a sign that said reduce speed ahead and intersection.  As soon as I saw that sign, I hit the breaks, not because I am a law abiding citizen, but because I did not want to get lost in a place I did not know, running low on gas, with two pre-pubescent children in the back seat, who are likely to fight if the situation turns negative.

Within a half mile, the speed limit reduced to 55 MPH.  I was heading up a hill, so while I do not know precisely how fast I was going at each instant, I am aware that I was gradually slowing down and I know that after the hill was a sign that said 45 MPH.  When I passed the sign I looked at the speedometer, which read 43 MPH (don't you love digital displays?) at the moment I crossed into the slower zone.  About a mile ahead was a stop light, next to which was a police officer.  As I traveled seven tenths of a mile, I pulled up to the stoplight, where I came to a complete stop and the police office pulled up right behind me.

As I sat there for what seemed like forever (the clock ticked off 4 minutes, and nary a car was anywhere in sight), the light eventually turned green again.  I took off, careful not to exceed the 45 MPH.  I got about a half mile down the road, when the officer turned on his lights.  I knew I had not sped since he was behind me and it had been greater than seven minutes since I had even been speeding the 4 MPH I knew about.  So, I am thinking of witty rebuttals and what I should say, and then began freaking out, as I had no idea where the rental paperwork had been put by my wife, when she packed my kids' things.

Officer Terns Fadley (or something close to that, which I cannot read off the ticket) came up and said "Give me your license."  My first thought was this guy is not a police officer, as I've been pulled over before (again, I speed with some frequency) and never had the guy not asked me what I had done or told me what I did.  However, with children, I didn't want to alert him that I would not cooperate.  Then, as he left with my license, I began to think that he just wanted to verify that I was a legitimate driver, as I was in the middle of nowhere with Florida plates.

However, fifteen minutes later, I began to wonder what was going on.  Some twenty seven minutes later, he came back, took 10 seconds explaining the ticket to me, dropped it off, and went back to his car.  Somewhere in that explanation I hear "seventy five."  I look at my ticket and he says I was going 75 in a 55.  Now, first, assuming that his radar equipment is able to check for speeds on the other sides of hills, I have no idea how he knows whether I was going that speed in the 55 or 65 MPH zone.  Second, why did he sit behind me for four minutes at the light and let me take off before pulling me over?  Third, why did he not show or tell me how he got me?  Finally, why did he say I was driving 75 MPH, when I never was on that road?

The problems with this are I cannot prove anything (I would love to see the video, as I am quite certain that he did not do what he was supposed to do, even if I had been guilty), I never go through this area (and, after this, I'll make sure it never happens again) and the cost to go defend it (even if I were guaranteed a win) would probably be greater than paying the stupid ticket.  So, why do I even talk about this?  Well, first of all, this is the first time in my life where I felt I was targeted.  I've lived a pretty good life, free of feeling like I was unduly targeted, but honestly, that is my feeling in this.  As I have sat on this for three weeks, I have only become more convinced of this fact.

This one time of small persecution is not even worthy to be compared with what many others have suffered, but I now feel that I have a greater appreciation with those who have suffered at the hands of institutional targeting, persecution, or harassment.  Maybe that is the lesson that I need to learn from this, though I am sure God also wants me to slow down regularly.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Why My Christmas may Look Different than Yours!

In the past, I have written posts about how my philosophy and thoughts about Christmas are “weird.“ Clearly, I am not in the majority of how people live and think about the Christmas holiday. I am comfortable with that. Here is the crux of my thoughts. I believe that any time you give children presents, the focus of the day (or season, even) becomes, for them, the presents. I like presents. I like giving my children presents (Matthew 7:11).

On the other hand, I don’t want to ever do anything to encourage my children to think that some earthly good is ever comparable with The Gift of Christ. In my (perhaps flawed) mind, juxtaposing presents with Christmas (whether on the day or shortly before) will naturally shift their focus. My desire for them is to use the entire holiday season as a celebration that culminates in the worship of our Lord on Christmas Day.

In my experience, items that are created merely for the purpose of accenting presents (like a Christmas tree) are things I do not include in my house. I love looking at Christmas trees, and we go to a Christmas tree farm every year. But we do not put one in our house to draw attention to the myriad of gifts our children receive.

Because I want to give presents to my children, and our culture does this around Christmas (or Chanukah), I like a compromise. This compromise would be the giving of gifts on New Year’s Day. New Year’s is a fun holiday that does not have a deeper meaning than the passage of time. Starting a year with a new thing would be cool; a resolution and a gift seem appropriate.

So, if you see me, you don't need to avoid talking about Christmas. I love Christmas, and if you talk to me about it at any length, I'll go on about how wonderful it is that the God of the universe decided to put on skin, live among us perfectly, and take our punishment. I'll even share joy with you about the great things you do for your friends and family. However, I would like to kindly request that gifts to my family and children be given at New Years. I know it isn't normal. I also know that I am required to answer to God for how my conscience is pricked in the rearing of my children.

While strange, I don't feel like this is a struggle unique to me and my family. As I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, I see them struggling with the meaning of Christmas. (Yes, we watch Christmas movies and listen to Christmas songs). I believe that the byproduct reality of a culture mesmerized by a system of deceiving people into a belief that a fictional character delivers presents, especially when juxtaposed with a capitalistic, materialistic culture, is that the focus will be on the presents.

My children might prefer to get their gifts a week earlier. They might be cursing me under their breath and behind my back. However, one thing that is certain is that they know that the meaning of Christmas is not about receiving some worldly good that they will hopefully appreciate for a while. And they don't just give lip-service to the birth of Christ being the reason, but they really know that in our household that is the way it is. And while I am sure many parents are able to do that in a variety of ways, the way I have chosen is to push back presents and do away with the things that point to them.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What Would You Do?

This week, I have been going through the inordinate displeasure of moving my office. Since the place into which I am moving will not technically be ready to go for another week, the problem is exacerbated. So, I hired a company to have four movers show up shortly after 7 AM yesterday at a rate of $189/hour. I had arranged to meet with the new owner at my current building yesterday afternoon after the stuff was removed, return the keys, and make everything work. I also arranged with the current owner at my new building. He was able to meet us yesterday to allow us to move into our new building (we still couldn't use the stuff for a week, but it would at least be stored in its permanent place).

So, why is this story of any interest? Well, the moving company first called yesterday to say they'd be in at noon, then 2 PM, then 4 PM, then eventually they would not come at all until today. This also means that I had to gradually reschedule my meeting with the new landlord at my current building and the current owner at my new building, creating frustration for both of them. The new building operator is unable to meet us at any time today and the operator of the old building is understandably miffed that we are not out at the contractually agreed upon time.

When the owner of the moving company called yesterday for the last time, he was apologetic. However, this morning, his crew showed up with only three movers at a rate of $169/hour. For those good at math, you realize that will probably increase the rate we will be charged. When my intern called this morning to point out this frustrating tidbit, the owner of the moving company told him to do something that is anatomically impossible.

Further, I now have to rent a storage facility to store the materials for a week or so and then I need to get movers to move it again next week. If I hire a different moving company, I will now have the fact that both will claim it is the other company who damaged my stuff. If I hire the same company, I am getting a company who apparently cannot show up when they claim and then gets snarly about it.

Because of the moving company not coming through on the agreement, I now have significant lost goodwill with the owner at my current place of business. I have the additional cost of a second move. I have the day I spent yesterday sitting in a packed (e.g., no up and running computer) office where I literally wasn't able to do work. I have the owner at the new building frustrated that he spent a day sort of on hold. I have an intern who was yelled at and treated miserably.

That intern believes that we should sue for damages. The owner at the new building feels that there is some yelling that needs to take place. Another friend has suggested that I go to the media. I just want this nightmare to end and for me to get a functioning office. So, I ask, what would you do?

Around 12:30 today, they finished unloading my stuff into a storage unit. At this point, They billed me $1,300. Now, if you do the simple math of $169 per hour times 4.5 hours, that would come to $760.50. I also gave a $50 deposit, which should have been credited. It also rained for about 45 minutes where they were unable to work. OK, when I called, I was sworn at by the manager, who then yelled at me. As I was not remaining calm at all, I said that I might need to sue him, when he then told me he would tell his guys to leave with my stuff. The police needed to come, but it was a less than ideal situation, to be sure.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Whom do You Wanna be Like When you Grow Up?

When professional sports playoffs occur, teams play each other between four and seven times to determine who the best team is, and because of that, the teams begin to know each other. The ebb and flow of a series allows for adjustments and then for people to complain about factors that people are against them in an attempt to adjust the outcome in the future. The teams can no longer surprise the other and, usually, the best team wins the game. This is one reason I like professional sports. They reward excellence. I get to see teams (particularly teams of approximately equal skill) go head-to-head in different environments with different circumstances as many as seven times, and upsets are usually because we over-estimated or under-estimated a team and not usually because of a lucky play or two.

The NBA Playoffs have been fascinating this year, setting many records for close games and close series. And just when you think home court did not play a role, home teams are winning almost every game in the conference finals. At any rate, these series are happening at a time in my personal life when I am bemoaning the wussification of society in general. I'm teaching a children's Sunday School class and coaching a Bible Quiz team, and I sit in awe at the things that parents complain about and the things that parents allow their children to complain about. I detest it when people are always blame-shifting and not "manning up" and taking accountability for their own junk.

Against that backdrop, I come into sports watching them very differently than I did ten years ago. I watch them with my children (well, mostly my son and whichever of my daughters feels she can weasel her way into a later bedtime if she agrees) and hope to find teachable moments. I love it when people take personal accountability for how they perform. David DuPree says, "You have to respect the referees, and can't blame other people for your actions. If you make mistakes it's either on me or on you."

So, with apologies to my Pacer fan friends, I must say that I have a new-found appreciation of the Heat. After Game 4 in which Miami led from tip to buzzer and never really felt in danger of not winning the game, Paul George blamed the refs. Roy Hibbert blamed the coach. Several players said Lance Stephenson had put them in a bad position, and overall, they just didn't take blame. After Game 5, where LeBron James played less than half the game because of foul trouble, when at least four of the fouls look fishy to me, LeBron did not blame the refs. He said he wanted to play more, but praised his teammates for giving him a chance to win.

I will not comment on the potential benefits of complaining about the refs at this point. Instead I will say, that I want to keep a copy of that LeBron interview. I want to show it to my son. I want to tell him that this is how you act like a man and take responsibility. This is how you act. This is what I want you to do when you feel like you've been wronged. It's the first step in peace making and it is a huge step in maturity. I personally believe you can learn a lot about a man by whom he blames when things go wrong. LeBron took the blame and did not complain. This is the way to behave in a world of finger pointing and blame shifting.