Sunday, December 21, 2014

The meeting

The woman called me on Thursday.  She wanted to schedule a meeting for the next afternoon, the Friday before Christmas.

I was super-busy and didn’t really have the time to spare, but—in the spirit of the season—I said, “Sure, I can meet tomorrow at 2:00.”

The next day, the woman was running late.  She called me with updates, “Should be there in about 15 minutes.”

I didn’t want updates.  I wanted to meet, finish up some work, and get on home.

At 3:15, there was another update.  She’d made it to my building.

And then … she got lost … inside my building.  (Okay, it is a big building.)

She finally showed up at my office about 3:45 … almost 2 hours late!

I was annoyed.

I’m sure it showed on my face, but I said, “No problem,” and we settled in for the business at hand.

Our time together was short, and we sprinkled it with a little bit of small talk.  The woman had flown in from California to meet with several people in the area.  Her schedule, like mine, was fully-packed.

As we closed things out, I continued the small talk, not really thinking much about what I was saying.  “So are you going to make it back home in time for the holidays?”

She shook her head, “No, I’m working through the holidays, right here in DC.”  She added that she’d probably be writing reports on Christmas Day.

And right then, right at that very moment …

I didn’t feel annoyed anymore.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Losing my voice

When Cheryl and I lived in North Dakota, I lost my voice 2 or 3 times.  Completely.  I’d never experienced laryngitis before.

I’d wake up in the morning and feel like my vocal cords were wrapped up in a blanket, and then I’d walk around for a few days whispering to people or writing out messages on paper.

It was embarrassing, especially at work where I was still meeting new people.  Here I was trying to make a good first impression, and the only thing coming from my mouth was an empty speech bubble.

Flickr photo by Tim Morgan

I felt powerless.  There were all of these really important things I wanted to say, but I couldn’t.  I had to remain silent.

A few years later, when our family was living in West Texas, I was asked to lead an upcoming Air Force parade.

Let me rephrase that.

I was a student at a military training base, and I was ordered to lead an upcoming parade, a painful task unless one happens to be an extreme extrovert or an aspiring Shakespearean actor.  Safe to say, I saw the task of shouting out commands to a horde of airmen as daunting.

And, as you may have guessed, the “shouting” part of this caused me some problems.  After the first practice at the parade grounds, I began to lose my voice.

In order to help myself, I harkened back to my days of high school chorus and started doing vocal warm-ups sessions every morning in the shower.

I wasn’t quiet about it, and I got on Cheryl’s very last nerve, but I think it helped.

me me Me ME Me me me
la la La LA La la la

I was able to keep my voice and led the parade (and I only forgot a couple of my lines).

And in the end, I learned a valuable lesson from all of this …

I would rather have a voice than not have a voice.


Through the years, I have found myself in places—churches, jobs, communities—where I didn’t feel like I had much of a voice.  Have you ever experienced that?

And the deal is … I want to have a voice.  I want to have opportunities to speak up and be heard.  I want to be able to disagree—hopefully with some love and grace sprinkled in—and for people to say, “That’s okay.  You’re okay.  Keep talking.”

Isn’t that desire—to speak and be heard—within all of us? 
And I don’t want to just be a talker.  I want to listen as well.  I want to hear and to understand the words and thoughts and stories of a wide-range of others who are using voices …

… given to them by God.


“I love the LORD, because he hath heard my voice …” – Psalm 116:1

Monday, November 10, 2014

Forgiving Kramer

If you know me well, you know I am a Jerry Seinfeld fan.

It all began back in the 90s.  Cheryl and I got into the routine of watching Seinfeld every Thursday night.  We looked forward to it.  We taped it on our VCR.

Then every Friday, while Cheryl was out teaching or doing something else, I’d drive home for lunch (hit rewind) and then watch it all over again.  I didn’t want to miss a single joke.  I wanted to be able to throw out funny quotes in the office or at church.

I know … it was kind of weird.

In 1998, Cheryl and I watched the show’s finale while we were living in Hawaii.  It was sad to see it go.  It wasn’t like losing an old friend, or anything close to that, but more like seeing a funny acquaintance move to another town.  We had enjoyed so many laughs together.

And then the Seinfeld DVDs started coming out.  Season 1.  Season 2.

We (or should I say “I”) started buying them and watching each episode all over again.  Hilarious!

Then something happened that sucked the joy right out of all things Seinfeld.  I didn’t think the jokes were funny anymore.  I didn’t want to see another minute of Jerry and the gang.  I stopped buying the DVDs.  I launched my own personal boycott of the show.

Because …

As you probably remember, in 2006 Michael Richards (the actor who played “Kramer”) lost his cool after being heckled in a comedy club.  He let loose a string of racially charged statements.  Really offensive stuff.  It’s all there on YouTube … over a million views.  In the days and weeks afterward, Richards made some public apologies, but I didn’t want to hear it.  What he had done was just too wrong.  Unforgivable.

I know.  It’s weird.  How can I be so angry at a guy I don’t even know?

How could I be so angry?

And now, 8 long years later, I find myself getting back into Jerry Seinfeld again.  I can’t help myself.

He’s started a web series called Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.  In the show, he meets comedians, takes them for a drive in a car, and they get coffee together.  Genius!

And it is funny.  To me, at least.  Cheryl laughs way less hard than I do.

And one of Jerry’s guests on the show … drum roll … Michael Richards.  And I had to think about it--I’m not kidding--did I really want to watch that episode?

And I did want to watch it.

And there he was, “Kramer,” still expressing remorse for what happened all those years ago during his stand-up routine.

And there was this tiny “click” inside my head.  If you’d been sitting next to me, you might have heard it.  I thought, “Okay, I forgive this guy.  I forgive him for what he said.”

It was time to let go … to give grace.


And it is time to begin forgiving …

The guy I know who had an affair.

The person who lied to me.  

And to extend some forgiveness to myself too.  I’ve got a good bit of Kramer in me.  I need some of that grace.

How about you?  Any Kramers in your life?


One more thought …

In my mind, forgiveness is a lot like grieving.  It takes time.

It doesn’t have to be immediate.  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  We all process it differently.

Give it as much time as you need.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Breakfast with an atheist
Flickr photo by gemteck1

The man sat across the kitchen table from me.

He’d come to visit my dad.  They’d studied to be preachers together in college.

The three of us chowed down on some breakfast.

From time to time, the man and I would turn to face the head of the table, whenever my Dad had something to say.

The man, small-boned and bookish-looking, devoured his meal.  I don’t think I’d ever seen a person enjoy a plate of eggs as much as he did.

Between bites, the man visited with Dad, catching up on news and who they’d run across in the past few years.

At a pause in the conversation (and there weren’t many), the man cleared his throat and said:

“Jimmy, I want you to know I’m an atheist.”

Things got quiet, and I felt a little scared for some reason.

Dad took a deep breath and started a whole new discussion, or what some of you history buffs might refer to as a full-on Lincoln-Douglas.

The man argued against the existence of God (and of Jesus too), and Dad defended Them.

And I just sat there in wonder.

Back and forth they went, almost like they were arm-wrestling instead of just talking.

And I didn’t say a thing.  I don’t think I could have, even if I tried.

How in the world could this man not believe in God?

They went on and on for what seemed like a considerable amount of time, and I’m sure I missed a few cartoons or some other kid activity, but sitting there at that table was where I wanted to be.

A front row seat to the greatest debate I’d ever seen.

And finally, the intensity and the words—as they always do—began to peter out.  And there sat the man, still sticking to his atheistic guns.

I was amazed.

And then, before the dust had even settled, he was off.  With a grin on his face, the man excused himself from the table, thanked my mom for wonderful breakfast, shook my dad’s hand, and walked out the side door.  I watched him stroll across our carport and disappear from sight.

I don’t think I ever saw him again.

And later on, as I had some time to think the whole thing over, I came to realize something.  I’d say it sort of crept up on me.

For some reason, it seemed to me like the man hadn’t really wanted to believe in God.  It seemed like he had actually wanted to disbelieve.

And as I thought about it some more, I knew one thing for sure.

I wanted to believe.

I wanted to live in a world with God in it.

And even today … I feel almost exactly the same way.  I really do want to believe.

In God.

In a loving God.

In a God of mercy and grace.

In Jesus.

And maybe the wanting is half the battle?

Maybe it’s more than half.

Monday, September 29, 2014

To the bridge and back
From the 1977 Petit Jean

Picture day

Not official picture day where we dress up a little bit and the photographer calls us in and says, “Well, hello there, now who was that little blonde girl I saw you with?” which makes us smile for the picture even though he uses the exact same joke every single year

No, this is yearbook picture day

Much less formal where we wear our everyday school clothes and march out to the playground to stand in front of the slide or monkey bars or some other apparatus and get our picture taken in 5 minutes or less

But this year, this 5th grade year, something is different

Mrs. Helston, our teacher, leads us out to the playground and then we turn left and head out the big gate on the north-side, the gate that allows trucks to pull in and out of the printing plant that’s attached to the end of our school building

And then we turn east and walk down to the 4-way stop where the safety patrol keeps very busy in the mornings and afternoons helping kids to cross the street, except that right now is the middle of the day and there are no patrol members available

So Mrs. Helston acts as our safety patrol, standing in the middle of the street until everyone is safely across

Where are we going?  This certainly is not a normal picture day!

And we continue on down the sidewalk with the park off to the right and houses on the left

Mrs. Helston points to her house for anyone who doesn’t know where she lives, but we all already know where she lives, except for maybe one or two of us

And we know, even without her telling us, that she can walk to school in the mornings in 5 minutes or less

And we stroll along with our arms over the shoulders of our best friends or second-best friends and we jump from shady patches of sidewalk to sunny patches with towering and slightly bent trees all around us that are just starting to show their autumn colors

And we walk for a quarter of a mile, or maybe a little bit more, to a bridge which is not really much of a bridge, that passes over a creek at the end of the park

And we stop to form up along the railing, wondering whose idea this was anyway to walk so far from class just for a picture

And some of the boys get to sit on the railing, because girls, of course, would never ever want to sit on the railing

At least that’s what we think

And the girls line up together and the boys, well we keep our distance because we’re not supposed to like girls just yet, even though most of us really do already like them

And the photographer, a college student or a high school student, because sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference says, “1, 2, 3” and takes a couple pictures just in case 1 of them doesn’t turn out good, because we wouldn’t want to have to do this all over again

Even though we probably would want to do it again 

And after the picture is taken, we sit there for a few minutes longer as Mrs. Helston lets us just enjoy ourselves for a while

She’s never in a hurry, this teacher, the one who’s teaching us to love C.S. Lewis and a land called Narnia, the same teacher who taught us how to have a quiet time with God during Outdoor Education

And then it’s time to head back to the classroom by the same route we came

Traveling a quarter of a mile, or maybe a little bit more, with friends and a teacher we love

The whole thing taking a lot longer than any of us thought it would

But no one seems to mind.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Filling the void
Flickr photo by nevil zaveri.

Jesus tells this story …

An unclean spirit leaves a person and then walks through dry places, seeking rest.
Finding none, it says, “I’ll return to the place where I was before.”
So it goes back and sees that its previous home has been swept clean, making room for seven other wicked spirits to live there as well.
And the last state of that person is worse than the first.

I’ll admit—growing up—this was a hard story for me to grasp.  Wasn’t a clean-swept life (heart) a good thing?  I believe I understand the concept a little better now—we work on pushing out the bad stuff and replacing it with good.

So a few years ago, I was discussing this principle with a wise man I know.  We got to the part of the conversation where I could tell he was about to share his perspective on filling-the-void.  I got quiet.  I was all ears.

He said, “You might want to listen to a little Christian music.”

Really?  Christian music?  That’s the best you’ve got?

Now I’m no aficionado, but I do like me some music.  I tune in pretty much whenever I can: at work, in the car, at home, on walks, in the bathroom.  TMI?

But I have always had some issues with what we used to call Contemporary Christian Music (CCM).  For one, some of it seems to be—I hate to say it—a little bit corny.

But, thankfully, there have been a good number of singers and/or songs where both Cheryl and I have felt something more deeply:  Chris Tomlin (of course—who doesn’t like Chris Tomlin?), some Hillsong United, and let’s throw in a little old-school Amy Grant.  We also especially like music that incorporates some of the hymns we used to sing, like “Blessed Be the Tie” (Sara Groves) and “Jesus Paid It All” (Fernando Ortega).

So in the past few years, I’ve found that the wise man was right.  Some of these Christian tunes do serve as bits and pieces of good that can help keep the bad spirits away.

With this in mind, there’s one more guy I’d like to mention … if you’re looking for a little something to fill the void.  He comes to our church—all the way from Nashville, mind you—to lead worship from time to time.  His name is Christopher Williams, and when Cheryl and I see him walk out on stage, we immediately fist-bump.  He’s that good.

Christopher has a new album that’s just come out called The City Makes the Man.  It’s filled with light.  I’d heartily recommend it.  Just slip on some headphones, close your eyes and listen to “Nothing Can Separate” … and feel the good stuff seep into your heart.
Available at and iTunes

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mortgage burning

Many years ago, Dad got invited to speak at a Sunday morning church service, which was to be followed by a potluck lunch, and then a mortgage burning.

I was familiar with the first two items, but had never heard of the third.  Mortgage burning?  It sounded like some sort of Old Testament ceremony overseen by men in priestly garments.

It was to be, evidently, a very big day for the church. 

Dad explained it to me this way … 

This particular congregation had taken out a loan—probably tens of thousands of dollars—in order to buy their land and put up a building.  They’d made regular payments to the bank, and the loan had finally been paid off.  Now they didn’t owe a single nickel, which meant that more of their money could be devoted to the “Lord’s work” (such as missions and other evangelistic efforts).  

It took me a little while, but I think I got it.  Getting out from under a bunch of debt ... that was a good thing.

So when the mortgage-burning day finally arrived, Dad did what he often did:  he preached a fiery and amazing sermon and then joined the rest of us in the fellowship hall for fried chicken and other assorted meats and side dishes.

We all ate pretty quickly—as I recall—and then we trekked out to the church’s backyard and gathered around an old barbeque grill.  

Everything appeared to be set.

Then one man—I’m guessing an elder—spoke up and said a few words.  There were nods and smiles all around the circle.  I’m pretty sure there was even a prayer stuck in in there somewhere.

And then another fellow came forward and dumped a batch of official looking papers into the grill.  He followed this by striking a match, and—well—you can guess the rest.

As one, we all started cheering and clapping (which I’m guessing was okay, because we were standing outside and it wasn’t an actual church service).  We just couldn’t hold in our joy.

Our debt has been paid!  We’ve been set free!

Our debt has been paid.
We’ve been set free.

Yes ... that certainly is worth celebrating.

Flickr photo by MTSO fan.