Billy Graham – may he rest in peace

The world is learning of the death of Billy Graham today. He had a life well-lived lasting ninety-nine years, most of which with his beloved Ruth who passed a few years ago.

Graham touched many lives during his career as an evangelist. And, he walked the talk. Some evangelists let their faults show through, but outside of his lamenting of letting a politician take advantage of him, he was true blue.

He counseled many Presidents over the years and even Queen Elizabeth. They needed him more than he needed them. Yet, after the Nixon tapes of all Oval Office conversations, he lamented not doing more to countervent Nixon’s language and bigotry. He cautioned religious leaders to be wary of aligning with politicians as a result. Unfortunately, his son Franklin has not learned that lesson, which detract from his own good works.

I admire the elder Graham for staying true to his beliefs and convictions. I took pride in seeing three living ex-Presidents (Bush, Clinton and Carter) attend the opening of the Billy Graham Library here in Charlotte.

I hope other leaders can live closer to his standard. We will be in a better place if they do. Bless you Billy.


Bless his heart or God love him, we are all imperfect

There are two expressions that either precede or follow a phrase where someone’s imperfections are mentioned. A Southern minister once told a group that “Bless his heart” is used to sand over a more offensive indictment. In other parts of the country, “God love him” would fill that role.

“She does not have the sense to get out of her own way, bless her heart,” someone might say. “He is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, God love him,” another might add. Invariably, the author of the quote would have their own imperfections.

We are an imperfect lot, all of us. Mark Twain famously said, “Common sense is not all that common.” Having been a manager of people and a HR consultant, one of the observations a colleague made sticks with me. “Every employee thinks they are above average, but that cannot be true.” If you contrast the self-grading performance to that of managers or peers, the self-grading would tend to be higher.

So, maybe we should use “Bless my heart,” when we self-reflect. “I need to do better at giving people the benefit of the doubt, bless my heart.” Or, “I need to not be critical of something I know little about or without knowing the context it was offered, God love me.”

Let me close with a great lesson from Dr. Wayne Dyer, the late, renowned self-improvement speaker. He used a term to “defend the absent.” So, if he was in a conversation which went in a direction of running someone down, he would defend the person’s actions since they were not here to defend themselves. “You know that does not sound like something (that person) might say,” he would interject.

We are all imperfect, bless our hearts. Let’s do better to listen to each other and understand points of view and the context in which they are offered. I am reminded of a Black man who convinced KKK members to turn in their robes – he did so by asking questions and listening to the answers. What a novel idea!

Beautiful Beaufort

My wife and I ventured to a quaint town and area called Beaufort for the weekend. Pronounced Bew-fert, it is located on the coast of South Carolina between Charleston and Savannah. It is a historic town and has beautiful architecture as it sits on the Beaufort River. We just wanted to get away and this trip did the trick.

Beaufort is where the South Carolina leaders fomented the plan to secede from the United States. Ironically, Abraham Lincoln had an armada and ten thousand troops invade the port town just after the war started, so it fell into Union hands as the town leaders left quickly. It was called the “Great Skedaddle.”

The historic homes and stories behind them are marvelous. One interesting story is of a slave named Robert Smalls, who was educated and became an indentured servant which led to him being a ship captain. He later bought his old slaveowner’s house and brought in his destitute owner as she became homeless following the Great Skedaddle and Civil War. He took care of her until his death and asked his family to continue such until she died, letting her stay in her old bedroom.

Smalls later developed the first church built specifically for African-Americans. It was featured in the movie “Forrest Gump,” which was filmed in the area. Tom Hanks is remembered fondly in Beaufort and even used a box of chocolates from a store there in the movie.

Other movies filmed there include “The Big Chill,” “The Great Santini” and “The Prince of Tides” to name a few. The southern author Pat Conroy penned several of his books there, two of which were made into movies noted above.

The nearby islands add so much to a journey there. While we stayed in town, we did venture to Hunting Island State Park and enjoyed a beach with no houses, just tree-lined. Plus, I did climb the lighthouse to get some cool pictures.

The scenery and the food make it happen. Low country food such as shrimp and grits or Frogmore stew are worth a try.  Plus, one of the restaurants had a local guitarist perform his own and orher songs, so it added to one of our meals. We toured one house and did a carriage tour, which we both enjoyed and recommend.

If you come from a distance, the area has a lot to offer. Savannah, Hilton Head or Charleston are neat by themselves, but could easily be included in a longer visit to Beaufort. It is worth the venture.

A Monster Calls

Do you ever get surprised by a movie or book? You did not expect to like it, but it touches your core. The movie “A Monster Calls” fits into this category.

The movie stars Felicity Jones as a divorced mother of a boy, Conor, who is bullied at school, but has anger issues, the source of which are revealed as the movie develops. Conor is played by Lewis MacDougall who does a wonderful job revealing his angst, which is far more than the bullying.

Conor loves to draw like his mother and is quite imaginative. He awakens each night at 12:07 am to a monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) who evolves out of an old tree Conor can see from his window in a field near a church. The monster teaches him parables, one each night, with one requirement. Conor must tell him a key truth when he is done with all of his lessons.

I will leave the summation at that. Sigourney Weaver plays his grandmother who has a hard time understanding her artistic daughter and grandson. Weaver does an excellent job in her role, as she must come to grips with her own angst and get closer to her daughter and grandson.

Give the movie a chance and don’t let the title turn you away. You may want to have a Kleenex close by, just in case. The simple truth may touch your core.

If you have seen it, tell me what you think. If you have not, you may want to avoid reading the comments. What other movies or books surprised you?

Four friends, one parent left

I have shared before that I am blessed to still have two friends dating back to elementary school with a third one being added in junior high school. We four visit when I return to my home town of Jacksonville, usually over much laughter and time well spent.

Unfortunately, some of the recent visits have been for funerals for our parents. Tomorrow, I will be headed down for the next to last parent funeral for our group. Glenn lost his mother this week.

That will leave Frank’s mother as the last parent. Unfortunately, she has been burdened with Alzheimer’s like my mother. So, she won’t likely remember any of us. But, she is a rock for us all, as we spent  more time with her as Frank’s father died forty years ago.

Glenn’s mother was a gem as well. One of my favorite stories about Glenn’s mother is while she drove any of her children, regardless of age, when she braked the car, she would invariably shoot her right arm out to restrain her child. For my British friends, think left arm. Picture an adult child being restrained by his mother when she brakes.

She was a caring woman whose husband was a minister. He passed away two years ago. Her several grandchildren called her “Nana.” I like that as it suits her well.

She will be missed by her family and friends. She lived a full life and raised a beautiful family. Please think a good thought for her. And, if still blessed to have your mother and/or father, give them a call. If not call a brother, sister or friend.

Be not afraid – a memorable hymn

We attended a funeral today for the father of my daughter’s friend who passed way too early at age 53. Growing up Catholic and singing harmony with her father in a small church, my wife recognized immediately the encouraging hymn “Be not afraid” that the congregation was asked to sing.

I knew this would be both memorable and melancholy for my wife as she sang it beautifully next to my whispering voice. She and her father sang well together. Here are the words, crafted by English author Alfred J. Hough, which are poignant next to the beautiful music of Charles Hutchinson Gabriel.

“You shall cross the barren desert but you shall not die of thirst
You shall wander far in safety though you do not know the way
You shall speak your words in foreign lands and all will understand
You shall see the face of God and live

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me and I’ll give you rest

If you pass through raging waters in the sea you shall not drown
If you walk amidst the burning flames you shall not be harmed
If you stand before the power of hell and death is at your side
Know that I am with you through it all

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me and I’ll give you rest

Blessed are the poor, for the Kingdom shall be theirs
Blessed are you that weep and mourn for one day you shall laugh
And if wicked men insult and hate you all because of me
Blessed, blessed are you

Be not afraid, I go before you always
Come follow me and I’ll give you rest”

Whether you are religious, the words offer a great example of the comfort that be gleaned at a time of grief and need. These hymns are mileposts in our lives and can remind us of earlier moments. To me it reminded me of the times my wife would rehearse on Saturday evening with her father and perform in the church service the next day.

“Be not afraid” are comforting words. I hope they were for my daughter’s friend and her family.


Sentimental Journey

The older I have gotten it seems the more sentimental I have become. Certain scenes from movies will cause me to tear up or become emotional no matter how many times I see them.

Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time on Christmas Eve, I am sucker for the ending. Especially moving to me is when Harry Bailey arrives and makes a toast to “My brother George, the richest man in town.” Seeing how George made such a difference through kind and courageous acts is compelling.

Another movie scene that gets me is the end of “Field of Dreams” with Kevin Costner. Ray Consuella, played by Costner, asks his father if he wants “a game of catch.” My Dad played catch with me often. So it gets me every time.

Yet, it is not just tears that can be evoked. There is no harder movie to watch than “Sophie’s Choice.” For those who have not seen this, it is Meryl Streep’s finest performance. Without giving away the plot, the movie climax will be as troubling as any you will witness.

The same holds true about a pair of movies that have similar themes. “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” and “Life is Beautiful.” They both are about Nazi persecution. While the latter is in Italian with subtitles, it is both terribly sad and uplifting at times, with the love of a father for his son and wife.

There are certain movies where we know the endings will be tough. “La Bamba” and the “Buddy Holly Story” are sad for the same tragic event which took the lives of three entertainers. “Terms of Endearment” was heading toward the ending from the outset. All are wonderful movies.

Yet, what seems to impact me most are parent/ child moments in movies. For that reason, I will end with “Steel Magnolias,” which had a wonderful cast surrounding the mother/ daughter relationship of Sally Field and Julia Roberts. Two scenes stick out – the first is the scene in the beauty parlor where we first realize Roberts’ character is diabetic as she goes into insulin shock. The second is the cathartic moment when Olympia Dukakis’ character offers up her sour-puss friend Weezer (Shirley McClain) as a punching bag for comic relief to the grief stricken mother.

This is by no means a complete list. What are some of your favorite sentimental scenes?