After Graduation, Love the Kids. Just Don’t Worship Them

Sam and Tyler K5 graduation

Graduation is upon us once more. All across the area high, schools, trade schools and colleges are releasing their eager, bright eyed students into the the next phase of their lives. My wife and I have graduated several times, and have graduated two sons. It’s an emotional, beautiful time when Pomp and Circumstance turns moms into weeping messes of mascara and tissue, and dads into great, red-eyed lumps who choke back tears and say muffled things like ‘I…I’m fo prd ov you. I lvvv you,’ sniff, sniff.

The kids are emotional but boy, are they ready. They toss those hats into the air (as parents try to grab them as keepsakes) and they head off to jobs, or to parties or sometimes to pre-loaded cars headed off for the beach. Some go to their own weddings and some go to basic training, or their first overseas deployment with the armed forces. Big stuff all around.
But as I thought about the whole process I realized that one of the great dangers of a successful society (and by any measure of the world at large or history ours qualifies), is that we are capable of investing all of our worth as parents into the activities and successes of our offspring who are now springing off on their own.

As such, we forget something very fundamental. Once the kids grow up, they can largely do what they want. Just like most of us did. But what does that mean exactly?

Well, first of all those graduates with all of their dreams, like ’I want to do forensics,’ ‘I want to be a marine biologist,’ ‘I want to be attorney general,’ etc. may or may not do those things. Their dreams are useful guiding stars at first, but most of them will change course for a variety of reasons. Thus, I am not a full-time magazine journalist as I originally intended. Nor an Air Force navigator…probably good given my tendency to get lost.

We love to brag about what our kids will do. I certainly do. They are hints of the future, and sometimes we believe their successes will somehow atone for our own shortcomings, our own failed dreams. But it’s important to step back on occasion and realize that the future may look very different from what they, and I, and all of us, think it will be for them.

Second, they may decide that the educational path we hoped for them to follow isn’t right. These days, many college majors are a poor economic bet compared to heating and air or welding. My professional friends in medicine and law are particularly stricken by this. When one says to another, ‘Tim dropped out of USC. He’s decided he wants to be a contractor,’ there’s an almost palpable tension and a pat on the shoulder. ‘Well, he may go back to school later.’ Or he may be a wildly successful contractor. Or he may just like building things more than thinking about things that don’t interest him. Who knew?

Third, they will love and marry people we didn’t expect. Just like we did. We can have all kinds of plans for betrothal and hopes that they’ll find this girl or that guy. But in the end, as Pascal said, ’the heart has reasons of which reason knows not.’

And now the hardest, dear weeping parents, and many of you know this. They will make their own mistakes. They will lose jobs and ruin relationships. They will set themselves back. They will violate, sometimes, the law of man and often the law of God. This is called being human. For Christians, it’s tough realizing your kid is a sinner too. (In the secular, world, the equivalent might be realizing your liberal family raised a Republican and you have to love them anyway. Cheer up! Prodigals do return!)
Allow me to review: the kids will study what they want, work at what they want, love whomever they want and make big mistakes. The best we can do is show the grace and love throughout all of it.

But to love them well, we have to take them off the altar. Our worth as humans cannot be wrapped up in our children. That’s a terrifying and overwhelming idolatry and it holds them to far too high a standard.

So as they get those certificates and diplomas, remember they’re humans. Hope and fear, success and struggle in dynamic tension.

And love them.


We should value each other more than politics

Allow me to spin tangentially off of politics for a bit, if you don’t mind. (I promise to bring it back around.) After all, I suspect even the most passionate political advocate would welcome some news coverage of an alien invasion or a cat that speaks French, or anything just to take our minds off of the endless drone of political conversation. I feel like Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in the classic movie, Groundhog Day. ‘There’s no way… this winter (or election)…is ever going to end.’
Instead, I want to talk about perspective. Many readers and friends will recall that five short years ago my wife Jan had a metastatic throat cancer. She endured some pretty miserable radiation and chemotherapy. After that she had a large pulmonary embolus (blood clot in the lung) which put her into intensive care and scared us all.
Over time she recuperated fully and our family went back to life as before, but with some incredible perspectives on the value of life, love, health and the inevitable passage of time. She recently had her last oncology visit and was released. Like a cat tip-toeing on wet grass, the years crept up on us and the thing we hoped and prayed for arrived at last, with less fanfare and perhaps more joy than ever. This year we celebrate her 13th birthday, on February 29th, seeing her as the treasure she is.
The great insight here is that all of our battles, won or lost, illustrate an often neglected fact. Which is that however much we may care about elections or economies or all the rest, the real joy and pain of life circles around that person, or those persons, we love the very most. And anything that makes life better for them, or us, probably won’t come from any elected official of any party but will mostly be the fruit of individual effort (and insight) motivated by intimacy and love.
Indeed, those who govern us have their effects, but hour to hour, day to day, year to year, they remain (quite expectedly) unfamiliar with the unique issues of the many and varied lives of their citizens. We, who love one another year to year, hour to hour, day to day, are best suited to improve the lives of our friends and family members, simply by holding them close in life’s assaults.
Happily, this election too, shall pass. Winners and losers will rise and fall, switch places and mostly end up as impotent to steer the ship of state as all those before them. Scandals will strike, accusations fly, a few good things will result and standard political doldrums will likely set in as always. The political pendulum will pause and swing back and forth as it has for ages, with utter disregard for our messianic political prophecies.
The future will come however we fret about the present. In the end, we will (hopefully) leave behind all of our invective, our screaming, our memes, rallies, slogans and our absolute conviction that a particular candidate will end or miraculously transform life as we know it. We’ll simply move on, as all humans do, to new idols. We’ll then cast the current objects of veneration on the dust-bin of history.
Perhaps, if we are attentive, we’ll then see that the things we dread about the future rarely come to pass at all and suddenly, five years, or ten, will pass and we will still be here, expecting the worst. All the while, of course, living in what is possibly the best time to be human in the history of the world. Many of the things that seemed so immediately critical will probably fade and many of the things that really mattered will remain despite the way we ignored their value. Then we can move forward…till the next election!
Ah, but those we love! Their troubles and victories will remain. Our shared joys and struggles will go on, bonding us together as no election ever could, motivating us far more than any party. They are the arena, they are the causes and campaigns where we make the most difference. They the ‘candidates’ who need and deserve our endless, unwavering devotion and sacrifice.
In our deep need to follow, let’s never forget to follow most closely the ones entrusted to us in the daily trials and wonders of ordinary life.


We can’t go it alone; a lesson for an election year.

One of my Christmas gifts was a book by Lewis Dartnell titled ‘The Knowledge: How to Rebuild Civilization in the Aftermath of a Cataclysm.’ The goal of this book is to serve as a kind of basic repository of the things humans would need to know if society came crashing down and we had to rebuild our civilization and our technology.

I love knowing how things work. I think I would have enjoyed taking engineering classes; except for the fact that I’m intellectually stuck somewhere around Algebra I. I’m fascinated by electricity and airplanes, by bulldozers and cell-phones and all the amazing things humans have made.

Since I’m a physician, I often think about how little I could do without all of the wonderful things that science and industry produce for me to use. Something we take so for granted, like Penicillin, was discovered, developed, produced safely in mass quantities and distributed in ways that made (and continue make) life better for literally billions. And that’s just scratching the bare surface. Medicine is wonderful because we have drugs, devices and procedures to make it so. If those things suddenly went away, the world would be a darker, sadder place.

Dartnell makes the point that for a while after the collapse of society, we’d still have lots of ‘stuff,’ and might be able to live comfortably on the remains of the world that unraveled before us. But in time, we would have to start making things, growing food, developing ways to manage clean water and sewage. We would want electricity, we would need transportation and machinery, unless we simply wanted to revert to a kind of primitive existence. That sort of ‘noble savage’ life always sounds fun until you go camping with small children for a week, after which you’d give a kidney for a hot shower.

What really got me, though, was the way the author pointed out that most of us, as individuals, can’t make much of anything even now! Granted, some are better than others, and doubtless there are those amazing people who can make a gas engine from an erector set and toilet paper roll. But on the whole, we can’t and we don’t.

If you doubt me, look around your house and ask how you would make a new refrigerator, how you would repair broken furniture, how you would get water if the supply stopped, and how you would heat your home on a cold night. Then, ask yourself how you would manage to make toilet paper, where you would get fresh vegetables and if you could, or would, be willing to kill an animal to eat.

Currently, someone does those things for you, for me. I am humbled to realize that we are so profoundly interdependent. We need each other far more than we realize, or admit. The man who built my house needs my expertise on medical care, and I don’t know anything about construction or carpentry. My children need professors who know things I can’t begin to understand, and those professors need mechanics to work on their cars. And good heavens, do we ever need farmers to grow our food and truck drivers, train engineers and pilots to deliver goods! The farmer needs the researcher to tell him how to get a higher yield. And just how do those guys work on electric lines in the dark stormy nights to return our power to us? We all need them, as we need those who produce the electricity they help deliver.

We all need bankers and investment specialists to manage money in a complex market and they, in turn, need firefighters, paramedics and police officers to keep them safe. We all need our soldiers to keep us secure, and they have little time to do much of anything else and need us too.

The list is almost endless. And in an election year, this is really important. Because we divide ourselves during elections. We point fingers and call names. I do it, and so do many others. But perhaps the most important thing we can do is remember our tightly woven, almost biological links to one another. America is a living organism that needs all of its parts to work together. Party affiliations aside, ideology aside, a thriving society requires connection like a body needs nerves and blood.

Perhaps the best leaders are those who recognize that for all of our frustration and animosity, none of us can go it alone.

Don’t Freak Out! Be Calm in 2016…

Here is my column in this week’s Greenville News.  Enjoy!  (And call your grandparents…they love you.)

A common theme in the emergency department is this one: ‘Doc, I freaked out and came straight to the ER!’ I wish I knew how many times someone has said something similar to me. ‘The baby had a fever so I freaked out.’ ‘I fell and got a big bruise and I was afraid I had a blood clot so I freaked out.’ ‘I saw a spider on my leg and I freaked out so here I am!’

I’ve wondered about this for a while now. I have a theory. I believe that some of the freaking out that leads people to the ER results from the absence of sufficient grandmothers and grandfathers. It isn’t that those dear folks aren’t out there doing their best. It’s that families are often mobile or broken, disconnected from all roots. So the collective calm and wisdom of the ages, often found in grandparents, is often difficult to obtain.

I remember any number of my childhood injuries consoled, bandaged and painted with Merthiolate by my grandmothers. What I don’t remember is anyone freaking out. Not even when I nearly impaled my foot on a makeshift spear whittled from a broom handle.

In addition to ‘the grandparent’ issue, we really don’t do a good job of teaching young people about sickness, injury or even health outside of birth-control; even though life involves far more than reproduction.

The medical world of freaking out, however, is a microcosm of a greater problem. We seem to be a nation that ‘freaks out.’ We freak out over weather, politics, culture, relationships, celebrities and whether or not our own social media posts or pictures are getting enough traction. We freak out when life is difficult and we freak out when we’re bored because life is so good. And when we freak out, we go looking for someone to keep us calm, cover our wounds and give us hope.

Maybe we freak out simply because we watch too much television, where every medical event is a screaming, chaotic blood-fest. Or it could be that we spend too much time on the Internet, where every insect bite is deadly and every bit of swelling is (of course) the sure-path to cancer. Sometimes we freak out because of what we put in our minds. A patient once told me, in tears, that he thought about death all day. It turns out his television viewing exclusively involved shows about murder.

On the other hand, perhaps it’s more than being educated (by school or grandma) about all the the things which should make us ‘freak out’ or not. Maybe it’s a matter of how to deal with anxiety and uncertainty in general. I have observed over the years that children from chaotic home-lives are much more anxious when we have to stitch their wounds, start IV’s, give them injections or any other stressful, frightening procedure. Those who come from homes filled with consistency and calm can often be managed with simple reassurance. It could be that calm was the most important salve applied by grandmothers.

I believe in preparing for crises. I became a physician in large part because I didn’t want to be powerless in the face of medical emergencies. I say we teach young people as much as we can to prepare them for life’s troubles, whether they involve open wounds or flat tires. Knowledge is power, as they say.

But I believe we can help the ‘freak out’ crisis with two other things. The first is by keeping families connected and involved, so that the young can see how adults handle stress. It’s important to model this for our kids, well into their 20s.

The second, however, is a little harder. I believe that everyone needs a belief system to bear them through hard times. As modern, technological and scientific as we have become, we have yet to escape our deep need for hope and meaning, for transcendence in the face of trouble. And yep, I’ll say it; for a God who will calm the storm or calm us in the storm and be waiting on the other side of it, in this life or the next.

Life is hard and scary. But there’s way too much freaking out. And with the right application of grandma, knowledge and God above, maybe we can spend 2016 with just a little less freaking out and a little more hope.


A Fresh New Fundamentalism Threatens America

My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.


If you haven’t heard the name Kim Davis lately, you’ve either been in a coma or stranded on a deserted island. If either applies to you, she is a county clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex (and straight) couples because of a faith-based stance against same-sex marriage. She was subsequently ordered to do so by a judge, continued to refuse, was jailed for contempt of court and then released.

She has become, in the eyes of many, the great Satan of American Christian conservatism. Unimaginable numbers of news stories, blog posts, panel discussions, op-eds, Facebook and Twitter posts and all the rest have been devoted to her. The majority of what I’ve seen are well-crafted to highlight the way in which she is a hypocritical Christian (who has been divorced more than once and has children by more than one father). Furthermore, photos of Ms. Davis are not flattering. She is, to cultural progressives, the perfect bedtime monster. She is seen as an overweight, unattractive, fundamentalist Christian hillbilly who dares to stand against both the courts and popular cultural opinion (emphasis on the second) on the issue of same-sex marriage. In other words, it’s perfectly acceptable to hate, and fear, her.

For the record, as the reader prepares an angry invective against me, I believe that Ms. Davis should have accepted the judge’s accommodation to remove her name from marriage licenses, or she should have resigned. Accommodations are compromises at the intersection of religious belief and work. Still, the law is the law and whether she agreed or not, she should have obeyed it. Render unto Caesar and all that.

Except, it doesn’t always work that way. For instance, sanctuary cities like San Francisco have officials who, on moral grounds, refuse to enforce federal immigration law. Four states have legalized recreational marijuana; thus, their state politicians simply choose to ignore federal drug laws. Anti-war protestors in the 60’s, civil rights activists in the South, radical environmental groups, all stood (or stand) against the codified laws of the time on moral (if not religious) grounds. In fact, there was a time when the granting of marriage licenses to same sex couples in California was illegal. It still happened. The furor over this issue, in light of other, more ‘acceptable’ instances of defiance, is a hypocrisy far more stunning than that of divorcee Kim Davis’ chaotic personal life.

Because of Ms. Davis, our country has again been warned of the incredible dangers of letting religion into politics. We are told that we can’t have people using government position or authority to force people to embrace a set of beliefs. Why, just think about the Christians of history and all of their cruelty towards non-believers! How horrible! Wait, that seems odd. Kim Davis was imprisoned for a belief. But remember, she’s a hick who deserves to be taught a lesson! I mean, just look at the pictures!

The most striking thing about this entire issue, and the cases of bakers and photographers declining to do same-sex weddings, etc., is that America, taught to be deathly afraid of people imposing their beliefs on others is now all about forcing beliefs on certain people. Comply, in public life and private, or be fined, jailed or asked to the door. Brendan Eich, developer of JavaScript and (among other things) Chief Technical officer and CEO of Mozilla, was forced to resign over a $1000 donation he gave, in 2008, to the California’s Proposition 8 pro-traditional marriage initiative. The Denver City Council may well refuse to allow Chic-Fil-A in the Denver International Airport because the company’s owners are opposed to same-sex marriage. The list goes on.

In truth, I’m much less worried about who marries who than I am about the religious and free speech implications that come along with same-sex marriage. And I’m far less concerned about Kim Davis being jailed than I am about the giddy delight expressed nationally by US citizens who want to see people punished for having the wrong beliefs.

Anyone who thinks this behavior isn’t the same as ‘forcing your beliefs down someone’s throat’ is simply choosing a new, shiny, post-modern fundamentalism. And First Amendment or not, it’s a dangerous and remarkably hypocritical way to run a country.

Human Trafficking; Closer Than You Think

This is my column in this month’s SC Baptist Courier.  If you have a subscription, here’s the link.

One of the wonderful things about medicine is the insight it gives us into humanity on a daily basis. After sufficient time, a physician learns to see, simply in passing, signs of illness or injury in other people. Problems past or present jump out to our eyes. And in fact, as Christians we should develop similar skills out of love. Given that the church is called to be salt and light to the world, it makes sense for us to also serve as scouts, as ‘life-guards.’ As such, we should be constantly on the lookout for the oppressed, the suffering, those subject to cruelty and tyranny, violence and harm.

Unfortunately, in modern times one of the things we should be watching for is evidence of human trafficking. Tragically, all around the world human beings are bought and sold in enormous numbers as victims of such horrors. They are sold as sex slaves (forced into prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation), as wage slaves (never making enough money to deliver themselves from unfair labor practices and contracts) and into frank slavery in everything from farms and factories to restaurants.

While victims of trafficking may not attend a worship service, there are other places where Christians interact with the public and where we might be able to identify, and report, those in distress. For instance, they might come to our food-banks or other church-related services like children’s festivals or community-wide parties. We might see them putting children onto a VBS bus, or simply observe them in the secular businesses where we work each week.

We can help identify these persons, and alert authorities, by knowing warning signs of human trafficking. The FBI offers a number of identifying characteristics (see also the link below): those who are victims may have no ID or money or documents. We may observe that they are closely watched and are highly controlled by others. It may be evident that they live in terrible living conditions and have poor clothing and nutrition. Furthermore, those who are victims of trafficking may report that they move frequently; or more likely be very evasive about any interaction. We should also be attentive to places where humans are behind locks and fences, or where persons have very long work hours and very little income. These same individuals may suffer wounds from abuse, work related injuries, or other illnesses for which they are not allowed to seek adequate care.

In fact, human trafficking is a problem of exploding proportions, and a business that is worth an estimated $150 billion per year worldwide which currently enslaves some 20 million humans of all ages. While in America, it typically involves foreign citizens trafficked into the US, the fact remains that about 33% of victims are US citizens. The great tragedy of human trafficking is that it preys almost exclusively on the most vulnerable of all citizens: the poor, the alien, the uneducated or undereducated, the weak, the young, substance abusers and those with mental illness. As Christians, this aspect should be particularly galling to us all.

And it should prompt us to learn how to diagnose this disease of humanity so that it can be identified, dealt with and ended.–en/index.htm

The dangers of a culture of feelings. (My latest Greenville News column.)

Bruce Jenner and the cultural peril of ‘feelings.’

One of the great things about Christianity is that Christians like myself are endlessly challenged. In this modern, ever skeptical world, Christians truly have to ‘sink or swim.’ While some believers are troubled or offended by this, I say it is a gift. And I would point out that Jesus spent much of his life on earth teaching people who wouldn’t simply accept his words without question. I get the feeling he enjoyed the discussions.

The days of defending our faith to non-believers by saying ‘well, it’s true because the Bible says so,’ are long past. If they ever existed at all, that is. Those of us who believe might abide by that rule, but others aren’t so constrained. And they expect, and deserve, more from us than platitudes.

This makes us better, I think. It forces Christians to confront our own beliefs, facts, fallacies, biases, hopes, joys and failings. We don’t get a pass in popular culture, national media or academia. We have to understand history, archeology, language, ethics and all the rest in an endless attempt to try to demonstrate the truth and relevance of what we hold true to those who are unconvinced. And, by the nature of our faith, we are supposed to do it all in love. We are to love God, love man and love even those who press against us, challenging us at every turn. This is how we are to confirm, and spread, our beliefs. Not by theocratic fiat.

This is so true that I would offer a gentle warning to those in colleges, universities and even the media who try to shield their students or audiences from ideas that conflict with their own. These days the ‘trigger warnings’ on content in media, books or classroom dialogue, the banning of contentious speakers (usually from the political right) serve to offer a soft downy nest for minds young and old. But minds (like bodies) have never grown stronger by comfort, only by challenge. If you want people to have incisive minds, it is better for them to be questioned rather than coddled.

But now, perhaps, we Christians have an opportunity to simply take it easy. Because the rules for truth claims seem to have taken a downward turn. The evidence for this is Bruce, aka Caitlyn Jenner. You see, in our evolving culture, ‘facts’ are considered oppressive things. Feelings, however, are inviolable. So when former male Olympian Bruce Jenner feels like a woman, or ‘identifies’ as a woman, that’s all it takes. Suddenly, she/he is a icon of feminine glamor, splashed across magazine covers and welcomed to womanhood by no less than the President of the United States. And anyone who denies him/her is simply on ‘the wrong side of history,’ whatever that ridiculous phrase means.

The greater implications are that everyone must be accepted and embraced based on what they think, or feel, inside. As such, a suicidal person who says ‘I’m not good, I should die,’ must be speaking the truth. A racist of any stripe who sees herself or himself as fundamentally superior must have a unique inner perspective worthy of our respect. And by extension, the young woman with anorexia, who believes she is obese, cannot be denied. All truth emanates from one’s own mind.

By extension, then, who can tell me that God does not dwell in my heart? That my motivations for morality, however I live them out, are false? Who could now scoff when someone says, ‘God speaks to me every day?’ Or even, ‘catering that wedding will violate my inner conscience?’

In this evolving intellectual climate, no one can do so. My beliefs, our beliefs as Christians, suddenly take on a protected status, not subject to denial, whether they concern abortion, homosexuality or any other hot-button cultural issue. If that’s the ‘lay of the land,’ we would be mad not to use this to our advantage. It is, after all, a supporting premise of modernism. Perhaps we’ll end up in a cultural maelstrom in which feelings superseded all tradition, legislation or litigation, with a federal Dept. of Feelings to arbitrate it all.

However, I sure hope not. Because I’d prefer the give and take of genuine inquiry, the tough question, the freedom to argue and the liberty to boldly disagree, to the mental mush that would result from shielding and ensconcing the whims of every individual’s subjective perceptions.

At least, I feel like I would!

Lost and Found

This is my column from the April edition of Emergency Medicine News.

I recently found something I had lost. Or rather, I found someone I had lost. He was a dear friend from my childhood. We spent days and nights roaming the woods near our homes, catching crawdads and minnows in the creek and turning rocks over to look for banded water snakes. We shot bows and arrows and rode bikes. Standard Appalachian stuff, that.

In the winter, we would sled until we could barely feel our fingers and in the summer, work in gardens and on lawns in the sauna-like Ohio Valley swelter. We took Tae Kwon Do together, working out in a gym free of air conditioning, with a kind and caring teacher. We spent many an hour poring over martial arts magazines in our young zeal to be great fighters (and look cool). In the woods, we would duel with long sticks on logs over creeks, like Robin Hood and Little John. (Or perhaps Porky Pig and Daffy Duck.) And when we once went to Myrtle Beach together, it was unclear whether we were more excited by the ocean or the prospect of buying fireworks (then illegal in West Virginia).

My friend, A, loved animals then (and now). I well recall the day we spent at my grandparent’s house, catching a flock of near-wild Bantam chickens for him to raise. We would follow them up the hill, and they would fly down. We would go down and they would run up. It was exhausting and it was entirely hilarious.

After high school, I lost touch with A. We took very different paths in life. He had adventures and battles of his own. I had the whole college and medical school path, and wife and children. At one point, I wasn’t sure if A was alive or not; I was saddened by that.

However, a while back a mutual friend referred to him. I contacted A and he contacted me and we sat down one day and had a phone conversation that lasted at least an hour; maybe more. We revisited our stories and our joys, and caught up on the blessings and sorrows of our own families. We laughed and basked in the glow of friendship rekindled; of a treasure recovered.

We’ll not lose touch again. We plan to have many more talks. If we lived near one another, we’d probably take long walks again. Odds are, we’d disagree on a few things, like politics, religion and culture. My long lost friend is gay, you see and lives with his long-time partner. And I’m a straight, conservative evangelical. But none of that mattered when we reconnected. We were so happy to talk again that those things were too far down the list to merit discussion. And even if they do emerge, I suspect our talks will be conducted in the framework of mutual concern, respect and shared history; not contention or anger.

I think there’s a lesson for us here. As physicians, we’ll frequently find ourselves at odds with our patients, with our fellow staff or administrators. Sometimes, those differences will be striking. But when we take the time to know people, especially when we have shared history and concerns, we can transcend differences.

Conflicts don’t disappear, of course. To imagine that love means not only tolerance but the total acceptance of every viewpoint is folly, and a kind of intellectual tyranny. However, those differences are put in the right perspective. And the human being before us rises to preeminence.

It’s much like raising children. I have three teenagers now. (One has safely transitioned to the age of 20.) I don’t always understand their music, I don’t always get their jokes and I certainly don’t always share their viewpoints on many issues. Nevertheless, I smile and respect them, I hug them and cook for them, I tease them and play with them. I try to guide them and I would do anything to keep them safe, happy and whole.

People will always clash on issues of faith and culture, lifestyle and religion. These clashes can become bitter and painful. This perhaps more true in medicine than in any other arena, where we daily interact with a vast collection of human beings, some the same and some extremely different from us.

However, if we can remember to see them all as lost friends we haven’t yet met, our practices may be that much easier, and our interactions that much more joyous.

May you find someone you lost and know the same delight.

Marriage is a work of art and a labor of love.

This column is dedicated to my lovely wife Jan, as tomorrow is our 25th Anniversary!


When we look at beautiful houses, or breathtaking historical structures like the Pyramids or the Mt. Rushmore, we are in awe of the craftsmanship, the beauty. Sometimes it seems that they simply fell from the sky, magnificent as they are, and suddenly occupied the spaces before us. It is inconceivable that the field, the mountain, the lot was once empty, once the domain of small creatures and weeds. It is unimaginable that the thing that rises before our eyes was once stone sleeping in the arms of the mountain, wrenched free by untold thousands; or that the lovely shapes of a beautiful home are made by wood that grew in the forest and was assembled in noise, and dust and sweat by builders.

Just so, when I look at older couples, I am in awe. I meet them all the time. ‘We’ve been married 55 years doctor! It has been a great life so far!’ They touch their hands together, smile and dote. The movements of their eyes, the laughter, the instant grasp of communication, it all seems so natural. As if, from the moment they met, the connection was made. The carousel switched on and springing to life in the darkness, full of music and color.

We forget that there were times when those charming people struggled. When he thought she was crazy, and she thought he was lazy and all of their parents wrung their hands in worry and folded them in prayer for the young couple. There were times when they had no money and others when they had no time. And there was sickness and struggle and exhaustion as surely as there was health and joy and adventure. A marriage is an edifice that rises up with great, and endless, effort. The construction of one entity from two is no small thing, and while the words are said as covenant, the building process may last a lifetime, even if it looks perfect to the casual passerby.

This week is our anniversary, Jan’s and mine together. On May 26, 1990, we were young and in love, we were nervous and excited and we walked down the church aisle. She was one year out of graduate school and I was one week out of medical school. We were a little crazy and a little thrilled. Before us lay a move to a new city, and the beginning of new jobs for both. We were, to use the above analogy, an empty field, full of building materials. It was for God, and our own love and effort, to make the structure; to make a family, a temple of good things, a unity to care for one another and survive and thrive in the world.

Anyone who knew us well during those early days would say that the construction was, at times, a messy business. There was romance and argument, conflict and communion. There were days and nights apart due to work and there were amazing trips together which united us. Like a house rising from the dust, we took shape. Later, in time, the house was ‘in the dry,’ and it was a matter of decorating and beautifying the marriage; the comfortable, well furnished rooms with trust and comfort and hope and laughter, and then to bring children and turn them loose inside it.

Our marriage has lasted this quarter century and grown better and more beautiful every single day. I would not trade it for anything, nor her for anyone. We belong together. We have become, in every way, our perfect match. (A thing, young couples, that is seldom discovered but usually made.) Oh, we still have work to do. A room to add, a wall to paint, a rough edge to sand. But all in all, the whole thing is simply magnificent. Time and effort, God and devotion will do that.

And to anyone out there wondering why they don’t have it yet, I say this: don’t put down the tools until you’re satisfied. Keep learning and growing and adding and building. And before you know it, you’ll step back and realize that the marriage you built looks perfect to everyone else. And you can smile at each other because you know that there are secret flaws. But that they don’t matter a bit because even they help hold the thing together, stick and stone, heart and soul.

So happy anniversary to my Wild Irish Rose! Thank you working with me all these years to get it right.

Sweet Tea: A Delicious Force For Unity

(By the way, I didn’t write the newspaper title for this piece.  I find it a little confusing given the context of the column.)

I have traveled all over America for the past year and a half. I have worked in hospitals large and small, in areas urban, rural and utterly remote. I have flown through so many airports that I have an internal list of my favorite concourses in which to be trapped by weather, and how to run through them when late for a flight.

Because travel for work is a lonely business, and when I’m lonely I eat, I have also accumulated quite a selection of favorite restaurants and fast-food places in the assorted towns where I have traveled and plied my trade. I find the Denver International Airport to be a place of delightfully varied gastronomic opportunity. I know that in Jasper, Indiana, nothing compares to the Schnitzelbank if it’s genuine German food you crave. The Double Barrel Saloon, in Craig, Colorado, has wonderful lamb stew, from locally grown livestock. That’s just scratching the surface.

However, as a wandering Southerner, it’s a lot harder to find proper sweet tea. This fact, dear reader, is just below ‘leaving wife and children behind’ as a source of deep pain and angst for this particular aficionado.

I think it’s important that we hold tightly to sweet tea as an integral part of our common bond as Southerners. So as we enter Spring and Summer, truly ‘tea time,’ it’s a good time to be reminded of what tea, proper iced, sweet tea, is and isn’t. Let me start with the negative. God did not intend tea to be sold in a large metal container under pressure, then poured through plastic tubes to a spout right next to the Coke, Pepsi, Sprite or Mountain Dew. It may say tea, but it isn’t. It’s heresy.

Next, tea shouldn’t be put into the ‘freshly brewed’ dispenser from a large plastic bag of tea, sent from some far away place where it was not made by loving Southern hands. That is trickery, mockery, disdain for all things holy and pure. When I recently discovered this travesty at a favorite establishment, I was out of sorts for days. ‘I can’t believe they, well, it’s…wrong!’ My daughter is tired of hearing about it. ‘That upset you didn’t it?’ Eyes rolling. These are not bags of tea in my opinion. They are bags of syrup, unpleasant at best.

Likewise, sweet tea isn’t just unsweetened tea with wretched little sugar packets poured into the cold, unrelenting water to collect on the bottom like dead sea-monkeys. How many times, dear Southerners, have we been in some northern clime and asked for sweet tea, only to be told by an unenlightened individual, ‘we have sugar.’ Ghastly.

Furthermore, as with fine wine, beer or bourbon, the tea lover can tell in a glance if things are right. In one Mid-Western restaurant, I was served a glass of iced tea that looked very much like red-clay from my yard, stirred and left suspended in dirty water. It appeared as if it had been made the year before and left in the back of the fridge for the next time some yokel asked for sweet tea. I took a picture to remember the horror.

There’s no single way to make sweet tea. Hot water in a pot, iced-tea maker, sun tea and others. We all probably have our own techniques and preferences. And to avoid contention and alarm, I won’t recommend any particular way of making the delightful nectar of Southern life.

In the end it is a medium amber color, sweetened with sugar and mixed with a little extra water to balance the flavor. It smells like hot days and cool evenings, like the beach and Thanksgiving. And when mixed with ice, it is truly the drink of the gods; ambrosia below the Mason Dixon Line.

It is one of our many gifts to the world, like shrimp and grits, barbecue, shag and camouflage lingerie. We drink it with our meals, by the pool, in the car, at work. We drink it at parties and picnics and it is, unlike Bourbon or beer (of similar color palate) fully acceptable and expected at church dinners. ‘Y’all, weren’t the Leaps supposed to bring tea? We should pray for them. Something must be wrong.’

God help us, we’re entering a Presidential election cycle. We are divided on many issues. But at least in the South, we should be united by one thing across all lines of race, sexuality, gender, religion and party alliance.

And that thing is sweet iced tea.