Here are three snapshots of the man who I'm grateful to have as a second father:
In the spring of 1998, I was a senior in college, and Jamie was a junior. I knew I was headed to business school in Houston for my MBA after graduation, but Jamie would need at least one more semester to graduate (she started a year later than me, so she was actually ahead of the game). That meant that after three years of dating, I was coming up on college graduation, but I hadn't asked her to marry me yet. We had a mutually implicit understanding that we were engaged... it just wasn't official. For that to happen, I need to ask Lowell for permission to marry his daughter.
Fortunately he was scheduled to come to our college town that spring for some meetings. Also, you should remember that all four of my grandparents live in my college town, and were my best friends throughout school. That will come into play here.
So Lowell arrives in town, and my grandparents and Jamie start the scheming. Eventually they work it out so that on Saturday afternoon, all of them leave on some kind of shopping trip and leave me and Lowell at the house by ourselves for a couple of hours. Here's how it went down:
Me: "So, you can probably guess why they left us alone."
Lowell: "Yeah, it's kinda obvious."
Me: "I'm asking your permission to marry Jamie. She's the one for me, and I want her to be my wife."
Lowell: "Michael, we've been praying for 20 years about Jamie finding a great husband one day. And I think you're the guy."
Me: ".... that's it? No speech or life lessons?"
Lowell: "No. I don't think that's really necessary. How long is everybody going to be gone?"
Me: "An hour or two. I think they were worried that preacher Lowell would want to give a sermon or two at this big moment."
Lowell (laughing): "......"
Me: "What now?"
New Tricks for the Old Dog
Lowell was a preacher and minister for 30 years, but when they moved to Houston five years ago, it was to escape yet another church job that had not worked out as promised. He was burned out, disillusioned and unmotivated to find another preaching position. It was time for a change.
I watched him struggle for months to even figure out the next step. Eventually he decided on insurance sales, and studied diligently for more months to pass all of the license exams. He did pass them, and became an insurance salesmen. It wasn't a fit. He was unhappy and unsuccessful, and knew that something else had to be out there for him.
He knew he wanted to have a personal, spiritual impact in his job, but he wasn't ready to work in a formal church role. At some point a friend mentioned that he should check into becoming a chaplain. Immediately this idea clicked for Lowell.
He would be able to help sick people in hospitals, and minister to the family and friends of those who are sick. So at more than 50 years of age, after almost three decades of doing the same job, he started on something completely new.
The training and certification program for chaplains was surprisingly intense -- I had no idea what it took to qualify for the job. I'm not sure he foresaw that either, but again he made it through. By the time his training was complete, he was a vastly improved communicator and empathizer:
- He knew his natural response to stress, and why he responded that way
- He knew how to adjust his natural response and make it appropriate for each situation
- He knew how to walk into a hospital room and figure out which family member is alpha dog, who needs special counseling, and how they will deal with illness and even death.
- He knew how to connect with people from all faiths, or no faith.
Today he is a chaplain in a hospice care center, which means that his job revolves around helping people who are near death. And helping their families too.
His trademark skill is singing old gospel songs. Dozens of times he has been told that a patient was unresponsive, vegetative and simply waiting for their life to end. And almost every time, if they were a church member, he would find out their favorite songs and then sit with them and start singing. And almost every time, they respond.
So far Lowell's been a minister and a chaplain. I'm hoping that at some point he adds "author" to his reportoire, because I'd love to read "The Singing Chaplain" and get a glimpse of the way that music reaches into the depths of a person's heart, and touches them when almost nothing else can.
This is potentially the start of a new series about my family members. Beware, parents, grandparents, brother, aunts and uncles. You may be next!