About jimpriest

I am a husband, dad, attorney, and CEO of a large non profit agency in Oklahoma City. I frequently speak around the state of Oklahoma on the subjects of employment law, substance abuse, ethics, marriage & family and Christian faith. I have an undergraduate degree from Houghton College in Upstate New York and my law degree from Syracuse University. I no longer practice law and am CEO of a non profit agency in Oklahoma called Sunbeam Family Services, serving the poor and working poor. sunbeamfamilyservices.org For ten years I wrote a weekly column for the Oklahoman entitled “Family Talk”. For several years I also wrote a weekly column on the subject of ethics for the Journal Record, Oklahoma's daily business newspaper. My life mission is to live a life of Enthusiasm, Encouragement and Integrity and to encourage others to do be thoughtful and persistent in living a life based on timeless, God inspired values.

Preparing Your Loved Ones for your death

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Spoiler alert:  This is one of those  topics that is necessary but not fun.  Dealing with death.

I was talking with my older sister recently and she told me a family story I had not heard before.  My grandpa Tom passed away when I was one month old.  He was dying an early death from a combination of cancer and black lung disease, a suffocating condition caused by years of working in coal mines.  Although I was too young to have knownr him my sister, seven years older, remembers him.

Linda said one day in the summer before he passed, Grandpa Tom took her to a park.  Just the two of them. They played for a while but then Grandpa took her to sit at a picnic table.  He grew serious and tried to explain he was not going to be around much longer.  When you’re seven this is a hard conversation to grasp and Sis said she doesn’t think she really understood it at the time.  But, looking back at it, she knows what he was trying to do.  Prepare her for his impending death.

Sometimes we do not have time for these conversations.  A sudden car crash.  An unforeseen accident. And in a moment, we’re gone.  Our death leaves our loved ones breathless and dazed.

But sometimes we can tell death is creeping up on us.  We try to wear a brave face.  Be strong for the family.  Still, many of us dodge the conversation we most need to have.  Preparing loved ones for our departure.

This prep conversation is something all of us can begin having, regardless of whether death seems imminent or distant.  As we grow older—but not too old—we need to talk with our family about LAU:  life after us.

There are lots of books and articles about preparing your final will.  Planning your funeral.  Disposing of belongings.  But precious little has been written about preparing your loved ones for life after you leave.  How do we do that?

I confess, I have only a few ounces of experience on this subject.  I have tried to talk to my family about life after Jim.  I’ve told them, if I died today, they should know I’ve enjoyed a great life.  I have been loved well and have few regrets.  I know they will probably miss me when I’m gone but it won’t be the end of their world.  That my greatest legacy will not be the number of trials I’ve won or the awards I’ve been given.  My greatest legacy will be them.

Yes, I have written a will and signed Do Not Resuscitate papers.  I’ve sketched out what my funeral service should look like.  But most of all I want to have prepared my living legacies, not my legal papers.   I want my family to know, whether I die suddenly or slowly, I have loved loving them, that I’m proud of them, and that their lives may outlast mine but my love for them and in them will never pass away.

Is it kinda morose to have this talk?  Maybe, a little.  But the fact is none of us is getting out of this life alive.  Begin preparing you family for that certainty.  Sooner, rather than later.

The deal with the devil

You know those photos you see when you log on to your computer?  They are usually of beautiful places and always, until this week, in breathtaking color.  But this week’s photo on my computer log in page was black and white.

It was hauntingly breathtaking in the way black and white photos can be.  A photo of Rakotzbrücke, also known as the Devil’s bridge, a famous bridge in Eastern Germany located in Kromlau Park, Saxony.  Built in 1860, legend says it was built by Friedrich the knight who, because he was running out of time to complete the bridge, made a deal with the devil to help him finish on time.  As with all devil deals, a price was demanded:  the first to cross the bridge would be given over to the devil.  Friedrich agreed, the devil aided timely completion, and, in return, the devil got his due.  But instead of a human being, as the devil assumed, the first to cross the bridge was an animal, prodded to cross by Friedrich and the other builders.  The devil was outraged and slaughtered the animal in anger before leaving.  It’s just a legend, of course, but the tall tale affirms how we like to deal with the devil and then look for an escape clause in our deal.

The same thing happening in the story The Devil and Daniel Webster.  The great statesman and lawyer Webster was hired to represent a man who sold his soul to the Devil.  Webster won the jury trial despite the fact the jury was comprised of ne’er do well captives of hell.  In rendering a verdict against their master the jury said, “Perhaps ’tis not strictly in accordance with the evidence but even the damned may salute the eloquence of Mr. Webster.”

I don’t know anyone who has entered into a contract with Mephistopheles, but I do know a great many who have made a devil deal with their own.  An unreliable person offers a deal to a needy individual who, despite misgivings, shakes hands and exchanges something of value for a promise never fulfilled.  Like Friedrich and Daniel Webster, regret makes renegers of us all.  In our damnable devil deals we want to avoid the consequences.  But that’s only successful in legend and fiction.

You know those scary movies where the characters always do something stupid like search through a haunted house at night with a weak flashlight?  When you watch those movies you scream “Don’t do it!” and “How could they be so dumb?”  It’s like that when you see someone making a deal with the devil.  You want to cry out a warning.  But even if you did it wouldn’t be heard.  The devil deals seem irresistible.

In real life we must pay the devil his due.  Not the literal devil, of course but the earthly, unreliable, all hat/no cattle devil whom we saw as an answer to our problems.  We suppressed our misgivings and shook hands, hoping the outcome would not turn out badly.  It nearly always does.

Before you shake hands on your own devil deal.  Before you accept that proposition.  Before you support a particular candidate.  Ask yourself, “Am I making a deal with the devil?”  Don’t suppress your misgivings.  Listen to them.  And don’t do the deal. If you do the deal, you will pay the devil his due.

Epiphany and wisdom

It was not lost on me that Epiphany was the day our nation’s Capitol building was assaulted by insurrectionists and seditionists. It was an ultimate irony. Epiphany is the church holiday that commemorates the coming of the wise men to visit the infant Jesus. It is traditionally a day of joyful celebration and, in some countries, is accompanied by the giving of gifts (like the wise men gave Jesus).

But those who launched a destructive break-in at the Capitol building on January 6 were not wise men or wise women. They broke the law. They engaged in mayhem. They injured people and property. It’s reported they had worse in mind.

Unwise doesn’t begin to describe their behavior.

Wisdom is defined as ‘the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight…and virtues such as ethics and benevolence.”

Examining the video based evidence of the Capitol insurrection reveals the absence of all the defining words of wisdom.

Nevertheless, I remain hopeful, albeit apprehensive about our country.

I am hopeful because of our nation’s motto: E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. I am hopeful because we are a diverse people who can join together in crisis and overcome adversity. I am hopeful because of our history of overcoming: The Civil War. The Great Depression. The World Wars. 9/11. History can repeat itself.

But not without harmony leading to unison.

I attended Houghton College, a small Christian liberal arts institution in western New York. It was there I learned how to really sing hymns. The Houghton practice was for all of us gathered together to sing harmony, beautiful harmony, until we came to the last verse of the hymn. On the last verse we would all sing in unison, symbolizing our unity in Christ. Whenever Houghton grads gather and sing, even today, we follow this same harmony/unison practice. I sing hymns this way wherever I am, even without the presence of Houghton grads.

That’s what we need to do now in our country. Sing harmony. Some of us are sopranos, some altos. Some are tenors, others sing bass. Different people, different parts, different perspectives. Sing we must. But in harmony, not the cacophony of January 6.

And then, after the harmony, we must learn to sing in unison. Together. Unum. Not allowing division to multiply.

Can we do this in America? I am hopeful. But apprehensive. Because if we do not, cacophony, not harmony, will become our national anthem.

Choosing Joy

“Give thanks in all circumstances,

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

 I Thessalonians 5:18

I’ve been doing some thinking about joy and have decided to make it my “theme” of 2021. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll be sharing excerpts from the Sunday School lessons I’ve prepared on this subject as I begin my year long quest to “Choose Joy”.

Scripture indicates that rejoicing is a “choice” and it is tied with expressing gratitude and giving thanks.  The two seem always connected.  In I Thessalonians 5:16-18 Paul “commands” us to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  Later, in Philippians 4: 4-6 Paul says something similar: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!…Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”

Look at the all encompassing language Paul uses. Always. Without ceasing. Everything. Always. Nothing. Everything. In the law when a law is proposed that covers everything on the subject it’s called an Omnibus bill. Paul is proposing an omnibus attitude. He’s giving us commands about what we should be doing ALL THE TIME.

Joy then is a choice and rejoicing is a command to be followed rather than a feeling to be sought.  Joy is closely connected to giving thanks and living with gratitude, which is why Stefanick give us Rule #1 for Living Joy:  GIVE THANKS!

Chris Stefanick in his book Living Joy talks about the universal search for joy.  Or maybe some people would call it happiness.  But happiness is rooted in positive circumstances.  Joy is found in giving thanks in ALL circumstances.

Stefanick’s first “rule” for living joy is to intentionally adopt gratitude as a “first response”  

Stefanick says “We are all natural malcontents” and many times we bond together by talking about negative things.  Our first instinct is for survival and, therefore, we tend to see “danger” first.  That’s why most of us tend to see the negative side of things first.  Some of us do this more than others (because of genetics and habit).  Stefanick says we need to change our thinking habits as a first step toward living a life of joy.  We should not be “stressing over our blessings.”  Instead we should adopt the intentional mindset to give thanks in all things, just as Paul did.

Give thanks: Research by Michael McCullough, Robert Emmons, Lyubomirsky, and others has revealed the power of simply counting our blessings on a regular basis. People who keep “gratitude journals” feel more optimism and greater satisfaction with their lives. And research shows that writing a “gratitude letter” to someone you’ve never properly thanked brings a major boost of happiness. 

The old “how-to” according to Stefanick:

 Count your “gratefuls” first thing every morning.

“Here’s what I do every day when I wake up and I want you to do the same thing.  When my brain first wakes up, before my eyes open, I begin to direct my thoughts away from my problems, my to-do list, the news feed, and toward my ‘gratefuls.’  I take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ (II Cor. 10:5).  I begin to give thanks.  This simple act of gratitude reorients my mind from stressed to blessed.”

  • Let trials “trigger” your gratitude.

Every time you’re annoyed I want to challenge you to give thanks and praise to God.  We need to get into the habit of replacing habitual whining with habitual praising.  The way you think forms “gullies” in your mind.  You can form gullies of whining or mountains of joy.  It’s up to you.  Solanus Casey said “Gratitude is the first sign of a thinking, rational creature.”

  • Say “thank you” often throughout the day.

Everything, no matter how silly or small, is an occasion for thanks.  And this is not only the case with God but with others.  Open your mouth and say thank you many times each day.  To friends.  To loved ones.  To people who serve you or work with you.  And to God.

Which of the three “how to’s” will you, realistically, commit to doing this week

 in order to begin living joy?

His voice in my ear

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I shoveled snow from my driveway and sidewalk today. In Oklahoma I don’t often do that. But in Syracuse, New York, where I grew up, it was an almost daily task in the winter. Most often my Dad and I would shovel together and as I shoveled my Oklahoma snow today I heard my Dad’s voice in my ear as I recalled the things he taught me about shoveling snow and about life.

  1. Work effectively and efficiently. In Syracuse, over the course of the winter, the snow would build up along the side of the driveway. Sometimes 6 feet tall or more. When it got to that point you had to throw the latest snow high enough up that it didn’t come rolling back down. So Dad would always say “Throw it up high enough that you’re not shoveling it twice!” What he was telling me was to work effectively and efficiently. Don’t do your work haphazard so that you have to do it over. I try to remember this every day, and especially when I shovel.
  2. After we finished Dad would always throw a snowball at our big maple tree and challenge me to throw one that hit his mark. It was a game we played, back and forth, trying to match each other’s marks. Dad was telling me, in so many words, “Work first but be sure to have fun”. I do a lot of the first but often forget the second.
  3. After the shoveling and the snow ball markmanship, we would put the shovels away and Dad would always say “Another job well done by Priest and son”. Dad was telling me to take pride in work done well. Often people finish up a job and hurry on to the next one without pausing to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a task well. This is another thing I’m still working on. I promise: I’m trying, Dad!

I think about all the things my parents taught me and how often I hear their voices in my ear. I’m grateful for their positive influence. They weren’t perfect people, but they were persistently caring and loving. I’ve learned, over the years, it’s not perfection but persistence that marks the path of personal and professional success.

Keep shoveling and remember to have fun!

Family Resolutions

I admit it.  I am one of those who makes New Year’s resolutions.  Every December I evaluate how the prior year progressed and what I’d like to do to improve.  Then I write down a dozen or so goals for the following twelve months.  At year’s end I generally give myself a grade on each of the past year’s goals.  Every year I fail to pass all my subjects.  Maybe I need fewer, less ambitious goals.  But some of us need to set goals and stick with them.  Consider this:

25 percent of people abandon their New Year’s resolutions after one week.

60 percent of people abandon them within six months.

Only 5 percent of those who lose weight on a diet keep it off.

Even after a heart attack, only 14 percent of patients makes any lasting changes around eating or exercise.

These stats may discourage you from setting goals, but there are ways to make and keep resolutions to improve your life.  At the top of most of our lists for improvement is the area of family.  We pledge to spend more time with family.  Have a better marriage.  Be a more positive mom or dad.  But these general goals, while laudable, are too nonspecific to be meaningful.  As we begin a new year we would do well to lay specific plans for what lies ahead.

 Let the three Rs guide your Family Resolutions: Realistic, Recordable and Rewardable.

 Realistic:  Don’t be too general (to be a better wife) or overly ambitious (to spend an hour a day with each of your children).  Set a goal that makes you say “I think I could do that”; then go out and do it for thirty days.  Perhaps it’s to have family dinner together at least once a week.  After practicing something for thirty days you’ll form a habit and have a better chance of following through on your resolve.

 Recordable:  Write down your goal(s) and post them where you’ll see them.  Tell a trusted friend what your goals are and ask them to keep you accountable.  Then measure your progress and write down how you’re doing every week or two.  Recording your resolutions will assist you in keeping them.  Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, did a study on goal-setting and found you are 42 percent more likely to achieve your goals just by writing them down.

 Rewardable:  After you hit the thirty day mark, give yourself a little reward for your initial success.  Splurge on your favorite ice cream treat or download a song you’ve been wanting.  Positive reinforcement will mentally cement your accomplishment and motivate you to stay the course.

 After all is said and done, more is said than done.  But this year can be different for your family.  Make a plan for family improvement, write it down and then commit it in prayer to God.  Proverbs 16: 3 says “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”  You can have a better year with your family if you have a plan and a prayer. 

An end and a beginning

I’ve learned that my column in the Oklahoman newspaper will end with the close of the year. It’s been a good run. I’ve written a weekly column called Family Talk from 1996 to 2006 when it was ended by the Oklahoman. Not enough space in the newsprint, they said. Years later someone encouraged me to ask the Oklahoman if they would run the column again and–surprise–they said they would. So I restarted Family Talk in 2016 and will finish up next week at the end of 2020 The reason for ending the column this time, they said, was not enough clicks on the digital website. Ah yes, we must have clicks.

While it makes me a bit sad I am grateful to have had the opportunity to write. And I believe there are such things as “necessary endings”. A couple of years ago I read a book by that title written by Dr. Henry Cloud and it helped me through a challenging time. It helped me see some things must end in order for us to move ahead. This is not just Pollyanna thinking. It’s reality. And although some endings are painful they can, at times, be truly necessary.

So I will look for a new venue in which to write. Perhaps here on this site. Perhaps in another publication. I think I still have some things to say. Not that I have a corner on the market of truth or good ideas. Part of the reason I write is to aid my thinking. I’ve always believed we think better through the point of a pencil or pen (or a keyboard) than we do when ideas simply loll around in our head.

The other reason I write is because I want to encourage others and I believe my writings, at times, can do that. I recall, years ago, learning that a marriage was saved because of one of my articles. I had written a column about the importance of dads in the lives of their kids. I later learned the column had been read by a man who had decided he was leaving his wife and kids. Leaving that day. Giving up on husband-hood and fatherhood. But that morning, before he left, he read the column and something fired a synapse in his brain. An idea that he could be an influence in the life of his children even if his marriage wasn’t ideal. So he stayed. And, today, he’s still with his family. His marriage even got better. That single incident has kept me going when I’ve wondered, as I pound a keyboard, whether the effort to come up with ideas each week is worth the effort. I believe it is.

So we’ll see where this ending leads and what form the new beginning will take. Necessary endings can be enlivening. That will be something to look forward to.

“ad meliora,” or “Toward better things.”

The touchy topic of gun violence

Discussing touchy topics with family members often generates more heat but not more light. Because of this, touchy topics are often avoided. But one touchy topic we must touch upon in family discussions is gun violence. Only an ostrich buries its head in the sand and there can be no ostriches in our families when it comes to this important and recurring issue.

No matter what your perspective on the Second Amendment, we can all agree the spate of mass shootings is not only deplorable, but must be discussed. Rationally. Civilly. Creatively. And especially with our children.

Many of us feel ill equipped to talk about gun violence with our kids. Maybe we are reluctant to raise uncomfortable subjects in general. Perhaps we think we’re under informed about gun related issues. But for the sake of our children and our families we must nudge ourselves over the speedbump of conversational hesitation and give a little forethought to what we’re going to say.

I could suggest the usual approach: (1) make all discussions with children age appropriate, (2) don’t let your kids only see news reports, talk to them about how they feel about it (3) assure them that you will keep them as safe as possible. But in light of recent mass shootings, aren’t we well beyond “the usual” approach? Isn’t it time we try something different?

The epidemic of gun violence in the United States demands a new approach in our country and in our families. Talk to your children—and adult family members—about practical actions your family can take to prevent gun violence and then (to co-opt a phrase) “Just Do It”. For starters, go to the Prevention Institution website for practical ideas about “first steps” you, as a family, can take to prevent gun violence.
https://www.preventioninstitute.org/publications/first-steps-taking-action-early-to-prevent-violence

When all is said and done, more is said than done. Be the exception to this tired bromide. Do something to prevent gun violence by beginning with your family. Don’t just talk about it. Do something!

https://oklahoman.com/article/5638279/family-talk-the-touchy-topic-of-gun-violence

Happy birthday, Dad

https://oklahoman.com/article/5637727/family-talk-happy-birthday-dad

If he were alive, my Dad would celebrate his 98th birthday on August 5. His life made all the difference in mine. I plan to buy him a birthday card even though I won’t mail it. Here’s what I plan to write in the card.
Dad,
I’m missing you especially today and wanted to say “thanks”, once again, for all you meant to me. You spent time with me playing catch in the backyard, going hunting and fishing, and teaching me how to water ski. You showed me how to tune a lawn mower engine, scrape and paint a house, fix a leaky faucet and wire a broken lamp. I used to think you involved me in these “adventures” because you needed my help, but I can now see you were showing me love by teaching me to solve problems. Of course the ultimate expression of love was when you gave up a promising career opportunity because it was going to demand too much time away from the family. You displayed how a man establishes priorities in his life, and then makes decisions based on those priorities.
I remember the talks we had on the front porch, in the car, on the lake, and in the woods. I never felt rushed in any of my conversations with you. It seemed there was time enough for talk, but also for pauses and reflection. There was room enough for silence. You know how you sometimes feel awkward when a conversation lags and silence hangs heavy in the air? I never felt that way with you. I guess the true test of a relationship is whether you feel comfortable with quiet moments.
After many years I discovered the theme emerging from your life, Dad. Love must be both spoken and acted. Loving words must be accompanied by acts of selfless kindness. Caring deeds need the companionship of unhurried conversation. I’m grateful you lived that in front of me.

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Thanks for the example, Dad. I miss you every day and remain proud to be called your son.

Love, Jim.

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The Both Way Benefits of Grandparenting

When my sister was a little girl she had the good fortune of living next door to one of our grandmothers. In fact, the families lived in a duplex with a connecting door. Whenever Linda got in trouble with my parents she would go sit by Grandma’s door, knock on it, and cry in a plaintive voice, “Gamma, I come live with you?”

I too had the great benefit of an engaged grandparent. My great grandmother, Maggie O’Keefe, lived near us and I would stop by her house once a week, on my way home from piano lessons. She would stuff me with warm bread and regale me with stories of “the old country”. I learned much about her life, and about life in general, from these visits.

Now that I have entered the ranks of grandparents I am a voracious consumer of information about how to be the best. So when my eyes fell on an article about the scientifically backed benefits of grandparents I eagerly dug in.

We all have this generalized, gauzy impression that grandparents are (mostly) good for grandchildren. They feed them cookies, take them to the park, clap wildly at their performances. But I was unaware research supports the engaged grandparent glow. Bona fide scientific studies establish children learn a variety of important life lessons from grandparents.
• They learn aging is a natural part of life.
• They have higher rates of compassion.
• They learn about supporting others (children experience support and they also lend it).
• By listening, they learn family history.
• And as a bonus, studies show you’re less likely to be depressed, both in your teen years and in later life, if you have an engaged grandparent.

And get this: being an engaged grandparent makes you live longer! According to one study, “Grandparents who babysit their grandkids live longer than same age adults without child rearing responsibilities.” Regular babysitters have a 37% lower mortality rate than those who don’t sit. The writer of the article observed, “The fountain of youth is a sippy cup.” https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/scientifically-backed-benefits-grandmas-grandpas/

The bottom line is, don’t just “be” a grandparent, engage as one. The benefits are better than a retirement plan.

https://oklahoman.com/article/5637177/family-talk-the-benefits-of-grandparenting

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