Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How Do You Thank The Most Important People in Your Life?

As 2013 comes to a close I’m not much different from most in wanting to reflect on what I’ve learned over the last year and what I would love to do better in the coming year. I know that as I approach the memorial service for my mom and dad in a week that it isn’t easy to know how to express a big thanks for lives lived well that have impacted many lives, mine included. It is sad to think that many won’t really understand what they had in a spouse, parent or sibling until they are gone. I’m blessed to have had two amazing parents who each in their own separate and very different ways made me who I am today.

Yes, I admit that it is rather painful and teary eyed to actually sit down and put pen to paper or actually finger to keyboard to list the many traits and experiences that have shaped my life through my mom and dad. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to appreciate and better understand a person’s choices in life. I will attempt in a few paragraphs to share the life lessons both my parents have given to my brothers, my family and me. I again can’t fathom expressing in a short blog the life story of the two that brought me into the world, walked with me in my youth, guided me in my adolescence and then supported me through marriage, adulthood and parenting over the last 60 years of my life.

My mom, born Bernice, but known as Peggy, was your go-getter military officer’s wife who understood the dynamic of always moving and having a husband always in harm’s way. I got use to my mom’s tactic of taking us around our new neighborhood and imposing us on our neighbors. I never lacked for friends and in the bigger context I learned quickly how to adjust to new circumstances. My mom was someone who spoke her mind, was always quick to help anyone in need, didn’t make excuses and didn’t tolerate anyone who didn’t say thanks. I never really understood some of my mom’s issues until after she died. She was one who could face any pain she experienced, the worst with her chemo, and use it as a positive life lesson.  My mom taught me how to be a people person that loved God and was a willing servant leader.

My dad was the by product of a broken home where he in many ways got the leftovers but you would never know that from how he chose to live. My dad went out of his way to never allow his past to determine his future. I know that at a young age he had envisioned his path to be in the Air Force, which would be his opportunity to see the world, do college and raise a family. My mom and dad were both raised around the race wars in the 50’s & 60’s but never allowed this to bias their thinking that all people should be treated equally. My dad, very different from my mom, was a bookworm that had a penchant for collecting books. One of the ongoing wars between my parents was what to do with all of dad’s books every time we moved. It was my dad who gave me a passion for learning, education and music. My dad would seldom share much of his youth with me so it wasn’t until after my mom’s death that he opened up more about his youth with the stark reality that he pursued his athletic goals, which got him into college and eventually into the Air Force to be away from painful memories.

I admit that my dad was always great at starting projects but for some reason got sidetracked when it came to finishing in a timely fashion. (I have to be honest in that a good portion of my youth my dad was away on missions for months at a time.) This would drive my mom crazy at times but ultimately he would finish. I have great memories of us building a Vox Combo Organ together that had numerous circuit boards that each had to have different diodes soldered into place. This became the hit of my rock band, which my dad seemed to secretly love whether or not our decibel level was ear splitting. My parents were both very generous and quick to help out with finances or special needs. They were the perfect grandparents who knew how to be there and do babysitting but also knew how to draw boundaries so we didn’t take advantage of them.

The end of anyone’s life usually isn’t, as one would expect. I never fathomed that my mom would battle cancer for 10 years and suffer the last 2 years in a way that hurt me as I watched her suffer. I’m thankful for my dad’s incredible care of his lady over this period of time. I’m thankful that my mom was able to attend my brother’s graduation when he received his PhD in Santa Barbara. I had a sense as my mom’s life was coming to an end that my dad had memory loss issues. Here was someone that had flown literally all over the world and never gotten lost but now has issues with getting back from the Dominos Pizza around the corner. I’m blessed to have been my dad’s special friend the last 3 years of his life. Little did I know or understand how gentle, sweet and kind my dad really was as a person. Yes, he was an officer at heart who demanded respect but one that would go out of his way to help.

The picture I remember best of my mom and dad is them together just after they got married with my dad in his military best and my mom dressed to the max with pearl earrings and a pearl necklace.  Words will never express the gratitude I have towards two of the most amazing people that understood grace and forgiveness that have impacted my life and those around me. I love you mom and dad! I miss not having you around to cook dinner, clean up or have grandpa recite another poem that he had memorized. My life will never be the same because of Ed and Peggy Bennett.

Incredible Friend

I had a voice mail from a good friend’s wife yesterday. It seemed initially to be in regards to a yearend gift to New City – Barrio Nuevo. Yet, as I returned the phone call it turned out to be an example of someone who was able to care in such an incredible way because of their love for God. I have known this individual over the last decade. He has become a major player in our painting projects having helped paint over 15 houses in the last 6 years. As I listened to his wife tell me what was really happening it was a sad story about his dad’s decline and being in hospice care. I was humbled that he would think about me as he is with his dying dad.

My friend had taken a couple of weeks off to repair his parent’s house and help his dad especially. I know that he and his family had little idea that his dad’s days were coming to an end. My friend’s dedication to God and family is amazing. I was actually shocked that in the midst of his suffering that he would call his wife and remind her to send a year end check to New City – Barrio Nuevo. She called up to make sure the details on the sheet were correct.

I quickly e-mail and texted my friend knowing somewhat his experience after being with my dad just months before as he faced the end of his earthly life. I echoed my friend’s sentiment that the huge hole in his life that would happen because of his dad’s passing was my present experience. I can’t describe the sense of loss and clear question of why now? Yet, I’m learning that part of life is facing death in a positive way that allows those around you to see through the hurt and heartache to understand the gifts of the life of a dad, mom, brother or sister.

I’m so thankful for my friend’s example of being someone who cares for others in the midst of real pain and heartache.  I hope I can be able to do this as I face hardship in life.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Tough Year or a Year of Gifts?

As we finish out 2013 it is often too easy to look at what might be perceived as the unfortunate things to miss out on what is really important. I have received many letters, cards and e-mails about my dad’s passing. Yes, this aspect of my life is sad not to have any of my parents around to share in the ongoing Bennett history. My prayer was for both my parents to see my kids get married and be blessed to see their great grandkids. Yet, I knew this most likely wouldn’t happen. I was excited to have my dad be part of my son’s wedding to such an extent that others commented on how well grandpa was back in March.

As the close of a year draws near it is to easy for me to make a list of accomplishments over the last year, which are all important but not necessarily the most important focus. I know that it isn’t easy to talk about the difference between doing and being. What is most important in your life? Is the list of accolades that someone else might place next to your name? Is it the sense of understanding that the most important issues before any of us must be our family, our values and our core beliefs? I will be the first to confess that I can error on the side of being a doer without giving enough attention to what should make up the essence of my heart.  

It has been the people behind the scenes who typically do most of the work but get little attention that have been my heroes over the years. I’ll get a letter from a friend who is now in her 90’s. My memories of this friend from over 25 years ago is that her and her husband would be the ones to stay after church to clean up and never complain. They would be the ones to go the extra mile and everyone just knew that they would do this. I recently received a letter from my dad’s sister that totally shocked me. She offered to my brothers and me a guitar from her youth with a very interesting story.  My dad was someone with musical abilities but I’m afraid that wasn’t the case with our aunt.

As the story goes this special guitar, which is a Martin, was actually stolen during the funeral of her dad. It reappeared about a year later along with some other things that had been stolen from the house. What is unusual is that the guitar wasn’t hurt and was still in great condition. The catch is that this was almost 60 years ago when this happened. I’m humbled and blessed to have an aunt who is willing to let go of some of her history to help me better understand the history of my dad, her brother.

Yes this was a tough year watching someone you love slowly lose their grasp on life. The sad happy part of this is that there is always some aspect of life that comes out of death that wouldn’t be here without my dad going onto a better life with the one he really loved and missed! I’m so thankful for the impact my mom and dad had on my life. The lessons they taught me are both priceless and timeless and will last a lifetime. I love you mom and dad! I miss the both of you!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tis the season to reflect, remember and rejoice!

One of my favorite Christmas movies next to ‘Home Alone’, ‘The Christmas Story’ is ‘Christmas Vacation’. It’s a totally silly off the wall type of movie that I seem to have made a holiday tradition that I must watch along with the Pope’s midnight mass before Christmas. My wife I know wants to beat me on occasion for watching such foolishness but it just reminds me of some of my childhood memories about my parents being your typical parents.

I have memories of always looking under the bed, in the closet or in the storage area in the garage to see what I was getting for Christmas. Yes it did get to a point where I truly thought I had our ‘foxed’ my mom. Yet, she figured out that my brother and I had been too nosey so she instead put the presents with a neighborhood to stop our crazy search. This didn’t stop the excitement and joy of Christmas.

What I want to reflect about weren’t the assortment of gifts we would get and whether I would be jealous of my brother or vice versa but the real meaning of Christmas. Yes that God did something rather amazing in reaching back to us in history and time to show us how he intended us to live. I know that the Silent Night version that reflects on all of the ‘bad stuff’ happening is a reminder that for the most part nights usually aren’t silent and most tragedies take place during the moon’s watch and not the sun.

My parents were great at making Christmas about family and caring for each other. I will always remember the little things that my mom would do that made each Christmas something I would remember. I know that this will be my first Christmas without a parent and I’m rather sad to think about it. I am fortunate to have many photo albums that my mom put together of the family over the years with my kids when they were very young. Yet, I would rather have them by my side to savor the moment.  

I know that my Anne struggles a lot with how to make Christmas special when our kids are now aging adults who have their own traditions that don’t always mesh with ours and the real challenge is always scheduling. I’m so thankful for memories and perspective on understanding that Christmas is about family, giving of yourself and I also think forgiving those who have hurt you and also considering asking for forgiveness from those you have hurt.

I know that some of the crazy traditions we continue will help me be ok without my mom and dad physically being here yet they here in spirit. We have gone out to Denny’s or Coco’s after going to a Christmas Eve Service for the last 19 years. The unfortunate fact usually is that the service is usually horrible on Christmas Eve because everyone is short staffed and would rather be home. Yet, we continue to do it regardless of the service level.

My Christmas Eve will be special as we make a meal for our homeless friends in the morning with the help of 70 friends. These special friends will help me carry on the mindset of my mom and dad which was to help those around us that don’t have a family but do have the means to be thankful for the greatest gift of all history the birth of the God-man Jesus Christ. Yes this is a mystery that for centuries we have debated but the reality is that the God of creation choose to enter into our space and time to show us the real meaning of life. I’m thankful for the parents he gave me that helped me to understand the real meaning of Christmas, which I hope my kids and their kids will comprehend.

Merry Christmas dad and mom! I’m thankful to have you as my example of the real meaning of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reverse Racism?

I have to admit that I tire of hearing about racism always in relationship to me being a ‘White guy’.  I have a passion for people that came out of disadvantaged circumstances but what I don’t appreciate is someone who makes an excuse about their present circumstances because of something that happened generations ago. I don’t view myself as being an Anglo guy but just a human being who was born in Bourne Mass to parents that were both from St. Louis, MO. I was blessed to have parents that taught about character and integrity as the basis to judge another person and not skin color, educational background, accent or where you were born.

Yes, I admit that because of my background I do have certain advantages that are part of the culture I have been raised around. It was my choice to be someone to focus while in school and not totally mess around. I wasn’t necessarily smart but learned through my parent’s example that hard work ultimately pays off. Yes, I agree that getting a job is based upon whom you know and that other people can be racially biased in their employment selections.  I experienced, as a college grad, discrimination when it came to working as a union cement finisher in the Bay Area in the late 70’s. The assumption was because I was a college grad that I had no business doing cement work and taking jobs from those without college degrees.

I worked for a year with a totally Hispanic Concrete Company where I was the first ‘White’ guy to hack working with this small but amazing crew of finishers. I know that the first couple of weeks of working with Henry’s guys the talk, I speak a little Spanish, was to see if they could get this ‘White’ guy to quit. I was making close to 2.5 times what I would have made as an entry level lab tech with a Biochemistry degree. So I figured that it was worth putting up with the discrimination and see if I could hang in there and win these guys over.

The ultimate proof of my being accepted was after the birth of my daughter who was literally flown from our small town setting to the big city. My boss and now respected friend asked me to sit down at his desk. Henry pulled out his checkbook and asked me how much money I needed to pay for Heather’s hospital bills. He was prepared to write me a check for $10k. I was humbled and had learned lots about racial issues after being trained my E & A’s guys over a year. I learned a lifetime lesson about the benefit of understanding about the ‘blue collar and white collar’ world around me.

I have learned so much about life, love, forgiveness, mercy and grace from my kids that represent the cultural diversity of Phoenix. I personally don’t care what others think about my choice to be a non-colored person in a neighborhood of color. My hope, especially at Christmas time, is to encourage everyone to step back and appreciate people for who they happen to be and not allow stereotypes to bias them. I know that taking a picture of two my kids with a ‘White’ Santa might offend some but I didn’t have a choice because he was the only one willing to play Santa.

I confess to the fact that I am interested in seeing racial reconciliation be more part of the rubric of our culture than discrimination.  I long for the day when people will be viewed by their passions in life and doing something that will be remembered regardless of their racial or socio-economic background.