John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

green doorOne of the teachers of the law came and asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

I recently got invited to visit Northeastern Louisiana, which just happens to be the place where I lived for the first decade of my life. I was originally scheduled to do a lot of speaking, but things changed and I found myself with a fair amount of time on my hands. So, I took the opportunity to drive through my old neighborhood.

What a remarkable place it was. I drove past houses and remembered names I hadn't thought of in years. The Myers. The Allisons. The Morans. The Clemons. The Starlings. The Smiths. The Morgans. The Watsons. The Youngs. The Seals. The Whitmires. The Sartains.

These were our neighbors. We all knew each other. Most of the dads worked together. The kids went to school together. We went to church together. We were neighbors.

That's such a wonderful word: neighbor. It comes from the old word "nigh" -- as in close -- and the old word "boor" -- as in to dwell. Your nigh boor is the one who dwells close by.

And think about that winsome question: Won't you be my neighbor? Few things in life feel as good as being invited into that kind of relationship.

Dave Runyon wrote a book a couple of years ago called The Art of Neighboring. Dave is a leader in his church, and he talks about having a crazy idea. He and several other church leaders started to wonder how they could actually make their community a better place. They went to see the Mayor of their city and asked him. His response was interesting.

The Mayor told Dave that what makes a great city is more than good infrastructure. Of course, that's important, too, but lots of places have good infrastructure but lack something vital. He said the most important thing is to have a lot of really good neighborhoods. And the key to good neighborhoods -- again -- is more than swimming pools and tennis courts; the key to good neighborhoods is good neighbors -- people who are committed to living neighborly.

When a city has good neighborhoods filled with good neighbors, crime goes down. The elderly are cared for. At-risk youth becomes less at-risk. Yard work gets done. Property values go up. Test scores soar. An extraordinary amount of social problems would be significantly reduced if people were committed to living as good neighbors.

People trump programs. That's what the Mayor told Dave.

Maybe when Jesus told us to love our neighbors, he was onto something. Maybe this wasn't just a platitude that fits nicely on a bumper sticker. Maybe he knew this was some kind of keystone habit for making the world a better place.

He certainly gave this idea a lot of airplay. It wasn't peripheral to his message. Jesus wanted us to understand quite clearly that it is impossible to love God without loving people. This is why he tied the command to love our neighbors to the command to love our God. The two cannot be disconnected.

Of course, we could have a long conversation about what exactly it means to love our neighbors, but at the very least it must mean to want what is best for them. To love anyone is to intend good for them. St. Paul would state it negatively, "Love does no harm to a neighbor." Stated positively, love seeks good for a neighbor.

Of course, neighboring has changed since Jesus' time. They did not have garage door openers. And they did not have indoor lighting and electricity. People spent more time outside back then, and this brought them into more regular contact with their neighbors. Up until the past century, houses were designed with front porches. I know some of you probably have a front porch on your house, but there was a time when people actually sat on their front porches and talked with the people who lived in the house next door. After World War II, things changed, and people started spending more time in the backyard with a high hedge or privacy fence.

All of this makes it more difficult to love your neighbor. You have to be a little more intentional about it. And one of the things that surprises me is how few churches are actually talking about this. Dave Runyon had a conversation with an Assistant City Manager who told him that from their perspective, there's no noticeable difference in how Christians and non-Christians neighbor. What an indictment. Shouldn't people who follow Jesus be the best people in the city at loving their neighbors?

When I was growing up there on Love Street in West Monroe, Louisiana, no one had to tell me how to be a good neighbor. I watched it happen. We borrowed a cup of sugar. We pitched in to do big projects. We helped. We watched. We noticed.

But now? We don't. At least I don't. And I haven't for a very long time.

I've recently been spending time with a woman who lives in a neighborhood where they do this. They get together. They know one another. They talk. They have dinner together. They watch each other's kids. In other words, they neighbor. It's remarkable, and it's kind of sad that it's such a rare commodity -- especially in a place where there are so many churches filled with so many people claiming to take Jesus seriously.

All I know is I want that. I want neighboring. I didn't know I was missing it until I experienced it again.

I wonder what might happen if we who wear the badge of Christianity stopped trying to convince people that our way is the right way, stopped trying to get people to vote for our candidate, stopped trying to lobby for laws that give us favored status and simply got serious about loving our neighbors.

I realize this won't solve all of our social problems. But what if Jesus was onto something? What if that bit about loving your neighbor as you love yourself -- what if he really meant that? And what if it might do something -- like help create the kind of neighborhood where things are the way they're supposed to be?

Love your neighbor this week. Go on. I dare you.

 

Photo Credit: Buzac Marius

How to Eat

porn tenderloin supper club"Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale." (Elsa Schiaparelli)

I like to cook. I like to eat. I like good food.

When I travel -- which is quite often -- I try as hard as I can to never eat someplace I have in my own hometown. That means I don't eat at Chili's or Applebee's or TGIFriday's. Don't get me wrong. I have eaten there. I just try not to.

I'd rather eat where the locals eat -- get me some of that local cuisine. Let me taste what this particular region has to offer in the way of food and beverage.

This is not merely some bacchanalian impulse for me. This is more than indulgence run amuck. I do have self-control. I even use it on occasion. Rather, eating and drinking for me has taken on a very soulful quality. I'm trying to be mindful of what I'm putting into my body and how I'm doing so. This isn't wanton gulping and slurping (okay -- maybe sometimes it is). This is an awareness that receiving food and drink is a gift. I have come to feel a sense of respect for it.

There was a time when I, like so many others, would hurry with food. I rushed through the grocery store, piling the cheapest and quickest items into my basket, scurrying home to rush through the acts of meal preparation, consumption, and cleaning -- checking these off my always too full to-do list.

But the more I read about other cultures, the more I realized how foreign and strange -- how uniquely American and recent -- this kind of behavior is. I don't want to nuke something unrecognizable in the microwave and sit in my couch tweeting, emailing, or watching TV. I want to linger leisurely with friends and family over a luxurious meal.

I remember a friend who was a fan of science fiction telling me once that one day we'd have food pellets. They would be extremely nutritious and virtually tasteless. Then we would never have to waste any time on meals. At the time it sounded expedient and efficient. Now I can hardly conceive of what he meant by wasting time. Is it wasting time to dice onions? To watch them turn translucent in the oil? To smell the mirepoix reducing in red wine?

How is it a waste of time to pass an evening in the company of good friends, enjoying rich conversation and inside jokes, sipping deeply from the draughts that make one's life expansive? To slow down, to take care of your body, to connect with other people?

A meal is not a waste of time -- at least it need not be.

I have come to believe that it is simply impossible to enjoy a happy and centered life if we're always eating in a hurry. There's even research suggesting that people who enjoy food more tend to eat less of it, because they feel satisfied enough to stop before they feel engorged.

What follows now are some tips on how you might come to enjoy food and mealtime more. Take what you find helpful and leave what you don't. This isn't any kind of authoritative list. This is just from me to you.

First, eat actual food. Here, I am borrowing from Michael Pollan who recommends eating food that your grandmother would recognize as food. Eat whole foods. Eat simple foods. He says five ingredients or less, but I'm willing to give some wiggle room -- just watch the list of non-foods sneaking their way into your system. Avoid nonundelows (NON-dairy, UN-sweetened, DE-caffeinated, LOW-fat).

Second, eat less food. It's normal to want to eat more of something that tastes good. I get it. But if you overindulge at every meal, you end up feeling out of control, unhealthy, and sluggish. Furthermore, if every day is a feast day, then you lose the ability to really enjoy days that are supposed to be feast days (Thanksgiving, Christmas Dinner, Birthday Celebrations, etc.). Eat good food, eat less of it on a consistent basis, and then eat more of it less often.

Third, eat different food. I know it's easy to eat the same things over and over again. And I know most main dishes come down to the same four things: cow, pig, chicken, or fish. But experiencing new things can be a rush, and you can enjoy food on a whole new level if you approach it with a sense of curiosity and, even, adventure! Try something different. Try duck. Or sushi. Try Indian food or some spicy Korean Kimchi. Live a little!

Fourth, make food with other people. Sure, we're all busy, and the idea of laboring over a hot stove for hours at a time might not sound appealing. But it takes on a life of its own when you involve other people. Get your family involved, or invite your friends over to cook. I've noticed that when someone else is helping with the chopping, there ends up being a lot of chatting. Pretty soon a bottle of something is opened, and music is playing. Dancing ensues. Laughter. Who knows where all that might lead -- certainly not to monotony! And all because you invited someone to help you make a meal.

Now, I understand that very few people are able to devote hours and hours to preparing and savoring dinner every single night of the week. Kids have activities. There are meetings to attend. But no one is saying this is an every night occurrence. Schedule a couple of nights a week where dinner isn't an interruption to everything else you've got going on; on those nights, let dinner be the thing that you've got going on. See to it that there's nothing else you have to rush off to. Make your sole objective on those nights the preparation and enjoyment of a fine meal.

You might not be a good cook. You may lack confidence. That's all beside the point. The point is to slow yourself down enough to immerse yourself in the experience. Tune in to the smells going on in your kitchen. Listen to the sounds. Feel the textures. Taste the flavors. Be fully present.

Someone once told me that food is just fuel. They suggested a lot of health problems in our society could be solved if we'd stop trying to think of food as anything else. I disagree with this entire premise. Food is more than fuel.

Humans are not gas tanks waiting to be filled. We're not machines. We are passionate persons who seek pleasure, and there's nothing wrong with that so long as we seek our pleasure from healthy sources. Food is energy -- literally. And few things give us more energy than connecting with others. I say combine the two. That's how to eat.

Remember That Time We All Watched CNBC?

John Purple Headshot Dec 2014Okay, it's been a week now. Most of the folks involved have had adequate time to calm down. I think I have. So, let's talk about that one time we all watched CNBC and see if we can figure out what happened. To begin with, this two-tier debate format -- with a JV squad coming out first and then the Varsity Squad taking their turn -- that's been terrible. And the worst thing is that it shows the stark contrast between what kind of conversation you can have when the stage isn't littered with 15 candidates. Once again, the pre-debate debate was vastly superior in terms of content and civility. Those guys actually talked about policy. And...three of the four talked about climate change as if it were an actual thing. Republicans. Talking about climate change. Shocking.

And then the main event got started, and...oy vey....

I believe if you're running for a chance to negotiate with China or Vladimir Putin, you should probably be able to handle a little heat from the moderator of a debate. I believe the job of the moderator of a debate is to hold the debaters accountable -- make them answer the question and abide by the rules and all that. But this...this was a group of hacks trying to see who could be the most obnoxious. I remember a time when journalists were cautioned against ever becoming the story. Those days are long gone.

At points it seemed like the CNBC personnel were intent on doing the job of the SNL writing staff. Did they really begin with, "What's your biggest weakness?" Yes, they did. That's not even a question I would ask the interns I used to interview.

Did they actually ask Donald Trump if he running a comic-book version of a Presidential campaign? Yes, they did.

Did they really ask Jeb Bush if the reason he's not doing well in his party is because his party is stupid? Yes, they did.

Did they really ask Carly Fiorina if she planned to reduce a 70,000 tax code to three pages by using really small type? Yes, they did.

Did they really ask Senator Rubio if he is running for President because he hates his job? Yes, they did.

The tried everything -- bullying, interrupting, "gotcha" questions. I think they even pouted a few times when things didn't go their way.

Now, I'm not here to endorse any of these candidates, but c'mon CNBC. You're supposed to be journalists. You guys were trying to start a fight up there, and I guess I get it. You're not really journalists; you're capitalists. You're there to drive up ratings, so you can sell advertising. You trying to manipulate these candidates into fighting with each other reminds me of parents who tell their kids, "Are you gonna let him call you names like that? Go on. Hit him."

It was a weak and transparent attempt at bear-baiting. Shame on you.

Eventually, the candidates surprised the moderators by -- instead of turning on one another -- turning on the moderators. If I'm being honest, I'm pretty sure the candidates took this as an opportunity to avoid answering some hard questions.

Notice was served last week to all future moderators of future debates: Go ahead and ask tough questions, but when your partisanship shows itself in the rude tone you take, we will all make fun of you. We will boo you. We will call you on your nonsense.

As for the aftermath of the debate, Jeb Bush is done, and if he doesn't know it yet his handlers do. They've come up with a new slogan: Jeb can fix it!

Am I the only one who is thinking about Bob the Builder now?

That little stunt he pulled, trying to jab at Marco Rubio, his former protege, did not help him nearly as much as he must have thought it would when he mapped it out in the greenroom. Beyond alienating the French, he looked awkward and decidedly unfunny. And then he got judo chopped by an obviously well-prepared Rubio. It appears the student has become the teacher now.

I like Jeb Bush. I bet he's a really affable guy in person. I can't imagine him being President -- especially now.

Ben Carson has plummeted in the polls. Fiorina as always bounced up after a debate but won't stick for very long. Meanwhile, The Donald keeps doing what The Donald does the way The Donald does it.

If I had to guess, here's where I'd land:

  • Trump for President
  • Rubio for Vice President
  • Ben Carson as Surgeon General
  • Lindsey Graham as Secretary of State
  • Ted Cruz as Attorney General

But it's early, and there are many miles to go yet. Too many unknown between now and next November. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

One thing's for sure, CNBC is never getting another GOP debate.

In Praise of Small Steps

path to the lake"Each step you take reveals a new horizon." (Dan Poynter) For years now I've been listening to business and leadership gurus tell me that I have to know my big, ultimate, overarching purpose before I can get anything done. I'm supposed to start with WHY. I'm supposed to know my vision and let that determine my strategy and tactics. Everything I do should be done with the end in mind. If it doesn't move me closer to my Big Hairy Audacious Goal, then I'm not supposed to do it.

Right.

I've watched a lot of my friends become so paralyzed by this kind of analysis that they never do anything. They're stuck gazing at their own navel. They spend years trying to figure out what their "One Thing" is, and they bog down on a dead-end job or servicing a cul-de-sac of a contract, living a life that does not service them.

It's not that these ideas are bad. Once you know your purpose in life, it's an amazing feeling to align everything you do. But I'm coming to the belief that clarity like that only comes after action -- not before. I'm growing more and more convinced that you'll never figure it out without going out and doing a bunch of things.

What's worse (and I know this from personal experience) if you don't develop a bias for action now, when you do find your One Great Purpose you'll find it nearly impossible to engage in it because you won't have the momentum you need to jump on board. No one goes from sitting still to surfing a wave. You've got to be moving when the wave shows up.

The snow doesn't go from zero to avalanche. The wind doesn't go from zero to tsunami. Something starts to slide first. Some butterfly flaps its wings. Everything starts with a small movement.

So...if you have no clue what your big thing is -- or if you have a hunch -- or if you've had an epiphany and you know for sure what you want -- the solution is the same: start small.

Sadly, this is the total opposite of what a lot of us have heard for a very long time. We've been told to Launch Big, to go big or go home, to take a giant step, to leap, to reach for the stars. But most of the success I've seen, both personally and from surveying the landscape of entrepreneurial experience, has started with small steps. More often than not, those small steps were taken with no clue as to where they might lead.

Sure, in hindsight, we all like to say, "I meant to do that." And it sometimes feels that way. When you actually get to the peak of the mountaintop, you've been climbing the path for so long it's hard to remember what it felt like when you took that first step. But if you could travel back to the beginning of the journey with some of your heroes, you'd discover that they stepped out into uncharted territory. They knew they wanted to go somewhere, but they didn't exactly know where. They didn't know their "why" -- they couldn't articulate their vision.

What set them apart and what set them up for success was that they weren't willing to sit around and think about it. They took a step. They didn't think about something. They didn't talk about something. They did something.

They made a phone call.

They sent an email.

They wrote a sentence.

They took one small step that started something sliding. They flapped their wings. They generated momentum. They learned that taking one small, imperfect step today is more effective than taking the perfect step tomorrow -- because if you're waiting to take a perfect step, tomorrow will never come.

As of August, I have been blogging for 11 years. It's only been in the last six months or so that I've figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I'm a writer and a leadership consultant. I help people stay calm, so they can connect better with God, with others, and with themselves. That's it. That's my big thing.

It's driven me crazy for more than a decade. I had hoped it would find me, but I wasn't content to sit still and wait for it to show up. It didn't occur to me in a dream. It wasn't some sudden realization. It was borne out of me getting tired of not having an answer. I determined to figure it out by doing things.

I went to Graduate School. I became a research assistant for Ken Boa. I shadowed Reggie Joiner. I traveled to Ecuador with Compassion International. I worked as a ghostwriter. I wrote curriculum. I served as a pastor.

I also did some terrible stuff. I engaged in work that was not worthy of me. I did things that did not make me more alive. I did things that were soul-numbing. I took on clients and helped them just because I needed the money. I worked with people who lacked integrity. I did work for which other people took credit. If there's a misstep that could be made, I've made it, and I paid a price for it.

But all of these steps -- right or wrong -- were crucial elements in getting me to where I am today. Moreover, no one of these steps would have gotten me here. I had to do each of them to get where I am now.

And my point here is that I didn't wait for clarity. If I had waited, clarity would never have come. I took small steps -- oftentimes into a dark unknown. I knew the steps would lead somewhere. I simply had no clue where they would lead.

So, that's my story. Now let me ask you about yours. Where are you going? You're trying to sneak a peek at the end of the story. You want to read the last page to make sure everything is going to be okay, that you'll live happily ever after. You want to know how it's going to end before you begin.

But life doesn't work that way. Those characters you read about in the Bible, they had to live the same way we do: one verse at a time. The clarity, the certainty, the success -- they all come after you move. If you want them, you'll have to muster the gumption to take the first small step. It will require a mixture of both courage and caution. Courage to jump into the unknown. Caution to do it in a small way at first.

You don't have to sell your house. You don't have to cash in your 401k. The big, grandiose moves are hardly ever the ones that pay off big. Small investments, made consistently over time -- those things pay big dividends.

Do something small today.

Keep doing it.

Get better at it.

Eventually, the rest of it will work itself out.

Of course, I realize all of this is easy to say. I also know from personal experience that it's hard to do. But, as I've mentioned above, I help people stay calm so they can connect better with God, with others, and with themselves. That often involves helping people discover what it is they want most out of life. This isn't just a passion of mine, it also happens to be something I'm pretty good at.

If you're starting to feel like you might want some help, I'm available. Leave me a note in the comments section, and I'll shoot you an email. Together we can figure out what your best next step could look like. This could be the very thing that creates the momentum you need to uncover the One Great Purpose that's already at work inside of you.

 

Photo Credit: Tanguy Sauvin

How to Help

drowning "I don't want to live in the kind of world where we don't look out for each other. Not just the people that are close to us, but anybody who needs a helping hand. I can't change the way anybody else thinks, or what they choose to do, but I can do my bit." (Charles de Lit)

I recently found myself in a conversation with a friend -- we'll call him Jim. The conversation had somehow or other gotten tense. I didn't mean for it to go that way. It just turned. It began to feel hostile. It sounded like Jim was accusing me of something.

I paused. I took a breath. And in that moment it occurred to me that the topic at hand -- which we'd been discussing in purely hypothetical terms -- was something about which Jim felt very passionately. There was something going on beneath the surface. Jim had gone through something similar to our hypothetical topic. I should have remembered that. He was still very hurt and angry about the way things had gone.

More than that, though, I began to realize that Jim was holding onto his anger and hurt. He had been wronged by someone whom he had loved and respected, and now he had an overwhelming urge to convince me that this other person was wrong and shouldn't be trusted.

I tried and tried to help Jim see things differently, but that quickly became an exercise in futility. Jim had his mind made up. He was determined to be angry and hurt. It was as if this was what he wanted. He was committed to it, and all he wanted from me was validation.

Later, as I processed through that conversation, I was reminded of times I've done the same thing. I spent years fuming, feeling like a victim. Any threat to that comforting sense of self-righteousness only served to further stoke the flames of anger within me. When I eventually found the wherewithal to let go of that grudge, I felt frustrated at how much time I had wasted. I had unnecessarily injured myself.

This was one of the reasons why I wanted to help Jim so badly. I wanted to help him get out of his own way. I wanted him to do what I had failed to do for far too long. Seeing his stubborn commitment to remain bitter reminded me of how embarrassed I had been when I realized that the only person I was imprisoning with my refusal to let go was me. I had enjoyed being a victim, receiving attention and pity from others.

That internal conflict -- those mixed-up emotions and motives -- made it impossible for me to offer Jim any sort of unbiased support. Jim needed to come to his own conclusions and make his own decisions if he was going to resolve this. I had judged myself, and I was judging Jim.

It's impossible to help someone you've judged. People do not open up to genuine help when they feel like someone is looking down on them. No one wants to have your baggage projected onto them -- even if your intent is to help them.

Also, no one can be coerced into believing something if they're not ready to believe it.

So, how can you help someone? What is it that actually helps people create internal change when they act as if they don't want help?

First, you must check yourself. Does the other person need help, or are you just trying to fix something from your own past by fixing them? Why are you so attached to their choices? Perhaps this is an area of your own life where you still need healing.

Second, let their choices be theirs. Their challenges, their choices -- these are their lessons to learn, and they must learn them at their own pace. There's an old proverb that says, "You cannot wake someone who is pretending to sleep." I take that to mean you cannot help someone who does not really want to be helped. All you can do is love them until they're ready and willing. Love them until they learn to love themselves.

Third, stop judging them and encourage them instead. Plant seeds. Ask questions. Talk less. Listen more. If they don't want help and you find spending time with them to be draining, limit your time with them. Put tools in their hands to help themselves, show them how to use them, stand back, and be there to love them when they fall down. Repeat as necessary.

Fourth, stop trying to make them do what you want them to do or be what you want them to be. You can't decide what's best for them. You cannot love someone and try to control them at the same time. You can only choose for yourself. Sometimes the best help is to let someone figure it out on their own. Heal your own stuff so the other person can see that healing is possible.

Fifth, let go. You're not responsible for them. You're responsible to them for what you choose to you and how you choose to live. Focus instead on your own well-being. Draw good boundaries so you can be stable enough to support them when/if they ask for it. Refuse to manipulate or interfere with their journey. Butterflies need the strength they develop breaking out of the cocoon in order to fly. If you help them break out, they'll die.

Sixth, letting go doesn't mean cutting them off. Letting go just means refusing to manipulate them. Letting go also means accepting them for who they are -- warts and all. You may decide that it's not safe for them to be in your life, or you may choose to limit your time spent with them. If so, communicate this to them in a way that lets them know that their actions impacts other people. But, patience is a virtue. Never underestimate the power of someone who sticks with it, even through tough times.

Finally, remind them that there's an unlocked door ahead. They'll walk through it when they're ready. They may need you to remind them of this periodically. Nag them gently with this information.

In a follow-up conversation, I tried something different. I spent my time asking Jim questions. I tried not to speak a single sentence. I tried to just ask questions. One of the questions I kept coming back to was, "So, what are you going to do?"

Eventually, Jim said, "You went through something like this, didn't you? How did you handle it?"

I got to tell Jim what I regretted. How I'd been so eager to cling to that unfair treatment for so many years. How I'd allowed it to shape my identity. How I'd ended up missing out on a lot of life by doing so. I acknowledged that he's a different person in a different stage of life than I was at the time. I told him I can't make any assumptions or judgments about his particular situation or what's right for him. But I did tell him that I wish I'd let it go a lot sooner.

I hope that by owning my junk I may have inspired him to do the same. I'm coming to believe that one of the best ways we can help others is by continuing to help ourselves in their presence.

 

Photo Credit: Christopher Campbell

He Speaks

John Purple Headshot Dec 2014I had the opportunity to be on the radio with my good friend Eric Metaxas yesterday, and -- as a result -- I have a lot of new folks checking out my blog (and my twitter...and my Facebook). Most of these people know me as a writer, and that's one of the things I do. It's one of the things I love to do, in fact, and I'm planning to do a lot more in the coming months with a couple of book ideas getting ready to be pitched by my literary agent extraordinaire, Jason Jones. But wait...there's more!

Did I mention that I also speak?

Yes, friends, I do a lot of speaking for various groups -- churches, schools, non-profit organizations, businesses. I do conferences and retreats and youth rallies. As a matter of fact, I'll be speaking in a couple of weeks at the Discover Youth Rally in Monroe, LA. Then I'll head to Dallas, TX, for the Preaching Initiative. A couple of weeks after that I'll be preaching for Piedmont Church in Macon, GA.

So...as you can see, I speak.

Now, suppose someone out there wanted me to come speak at their place. How would they do that? Well, I'm glad you asked. I'm in the process of overhauling my website. When it's all shiny and chrome it will have a page where you can send me a request. In the meantime, I suppose you could just leave me a request in the comments section.

If you're not sure what you want me to come talk about, let me share with you some of the topics I often address.

5 Truths Every Parent Needs to Know: As a Sr. Fellow at the ScreamFree Institute (and a certified ScreamFree Instructor), I got the opportunity to travel literally around the world and back, speaking to parents of all ages and stages, in different cultures and different socio-economic situations. One thing I've learned is that every parent loses it from time to time. But I've discovered 5 simple truths (simple -- not easy) that every parent needs to know. This 90-minute workshop could give you the keys you need to have the calm household you've always wanted but maybe never thought possible.

How to Talk to Your Kid about Sex (Before Someone Else Does): Research has shown that most parents believe they have talked to their kids about the birds and the bees, but most teenagers cannot remember having that talk. Either we're not really talking, or they're not really listening (or probably a little bit of both). I know. It can be awkward and uncomfortable, but the truth is someone is going to tell your sweet, innocent, little child about sex. It might as well be you. This hour-long talk offers honest and age-appropriate tips for how to have one of the most important -- and most difficult --  conversations you'll ever have.

What a Divorced Guy can Tell You about How to Stay Married: No one walks down the aisle and says, "I do" thinking that one day they'll have to hire an attorney to communicate with this person standing next to them. But it happens. It happens too often. It might seem strange to have a divorced guy come talk about marriage, but there are some things only those who have gone through the pain of divorce know about marriage. This 90-minute talk can help you and your spouse stay both calm and connected so you can be the spouse your spouse always dreamed of.

Note: I have done the above topics in explicitly Christian contexts and in completely secular environments. I can also do extended versions of these topics in a retreat setting or spread out over a weekend. 

The Leader's Edge: Very few people are what could be considered "natural born leaders". Instead, most of the top leaders in our world made the most of their innate abilities and cultivated the skills they'd need to take the next step. In this 90-minute presentation, I'll share with you the leadership lessons I've learned watching some of the most innovative and strategic thinkers in the world up close and personal. Some of it may sound counter-intuitive, but I guarantee you'll come away with a better understanding of what it takes to be a next-level leader in today's world.

The Place You Want to Work: Aside from our homes, most of us spend most of our time at work. Alas, this is not always where you want to be. Workplaces are often filled with more politics and drama than prime-time TV. It doesn't have to be this way. This 90-minute message shares an understanding of why your work is the way it is -- and how to change it for the better...even if you're not the leader.

Note: In addition to these public presentations, I do a fair amount of private coaching and consulting for leaders. If you think you might be interested in improving your leadership and the environment in which you work, leave me a message in the comments section. 

The Multiplication Weekend: Most churches in America are either plateaued or in decline. They want to grow; they just don't know how. Often, churches resort to doing things the way they used to do them, hoping this will bring back the kind of growth they once experienced. It hardly ever works. I believe your church could grow and could be healthy. I believe you could do that with the resources you currently have. It just takes a shift in perspective. In one weekend, I believe I could help you shift the paradigm of your leaders and core members and change the trend-line of your church.

The 90-Day Turnaround: I am available to partner with a limited number of churches, taking the gist of the Multiplication Weekend outlined above and implanting it into the DNA of your entire congregation. This would be a 90-day partnership, involving a weekend visit at the start, a series of coaching consultations via Skype and/or FaceTime, and a weekend visit at the end. Think of it. In just 90-days you could turn the culture of your church completely around.

Note: In addition to all of the above, I just love speaking for local church groups. Call it a pastor's heart. Blame it on my upbringing. I don't care. I have a heart for the local church. If you're interested in having me come visit, don't let money be an obstacle. If I have a free Sunday, I'll do everything I can to make it work. I want to help people, and I believe the local church is God's plan to change the world. Leave me a message, and let's see what we can work out. 

Construction

cranes and construction I am aware that my website is in need of a major cosmetic overhaul! Over the next few weeks you'll see some changes around here.

  • I'll continue posting articles -- probably three or four posts per week.
  • I'll also be including more links to my speaking -- videos and audio.
  • I'll be updating my speaking calendar so you can see if I'll be visiting your part of the world.
  • There will be a way for you to send me a request to have me come speak at your event or for your organization.
  • There will be a page where you can purchase my books.
  • And I'll be offering coaching/consulting for a few clients. There will be a whole page devoted to that stuff.

Lots of changes. In the meantime, I appreciate your patience. Hopefully, it won't get too messy around here. In the meantime, make sure you keep up with everything going on by following me via social media:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram

The Day the Sun Stood Still

sun over field"The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since." (Joshua 10:13-14) I was humbled and honored recently to be a guest on my good friend Eric Metaxas' radio show. His book on Miracles comes out in paperback tomorrow, and he had asked me to contribute a story to that book -- a story about an actual miracle I witnessed. The conversation we had reminded me of my uneasy relationship with miracles and the miraculous in general.

I did not grow up among a people who believed in miraculous activity. We believed all that supernatural stuff stopped a long, long time ago. And that has affected the way I pray ever since. I don't pray for big, crazy things to happen. I don't believe they will. And I don't like it. I'm trying to change.

I have some friends who are going through a difficult time with their daughter. They asked me if I’d pray about the whole situation. They want some kind of miraculous thing to happen. They want God to reach down and tweak this young woman — set her on the right path and keep her out of trouble. That’s what they want.

But if I'm being completely honest, I’m not sure I can pray that prayer. I’m not sure that’s how it’ll work out.

I know God can do that. He’s God, right? He can reach into our universe anytime he wants and turn someone’s life completely around. He CAN do that; I just don’t think he DOES do that — at least not very often.

So, I’m oftentimes conflicted in my own prayer life. Is it okay if I confess that to you?

A pastor friend of mine once asked me about stuff like this. I was speaking at his church, and there was some dangerous weather in the forecast. If a tornado were headed straight for this campus, he asked me if he should just walk outside and speak to that tornado. Why wouldn’t a leader just go out there and command it to go elsewhere? That sounds like something that might happen in the Bible, doesn't it?

I told him he should do that, and that we should also have another plan — just in case. Being honest.

There’s a crazy story in the Bible — Joshua 9-10 — that this all relates to. You probably know the story about the Jewish people coming out of Egyptian slavery. You’ve seen the movie — 10 plagues, 10 commandments, Golden Calf, etc.

They’re headed to this land that was promised to them — the land their forefathers lived in. Problem is: they’ve been gone for 400 years. Someone else lives there now. They have a rightful claim to it, but the people who have lived there for so long aren’t just going to leave because these wandering Jews say their God told them they could have it.

Now, that’s not a huge problem. God is not afraid to kill people who refuse to cooperate. That is not a statement many people like to hear, but the Bible makes that pretty clear. It’s not his first choice, but he’s not afraid to pull the trigger, either.

So, as Israel starts working their way through the countryside, anyone who attacks the Hebrews gets crushed. Heshbon. Bashan. Ashtaroth. They cross the Jordan River and Jericho falls — literally. There’s one temporary set back in Ai, but that gets settled pretty quickly.

Everyone was terrified to see them coming. So, several cities decide to band together. Maybe a united force could repel the Israelites.

There’s one little city-state that chooses not to join forces with everyone else: Gibeon. They were just as scared as everyone else, but they had a different plan:

They approach the Hebrews and say, “We’re not from around here, but we’ve heard all the great things your God has done for you. We don’t want any trouble, so we’d like to sign a peace treaty with you.”

The Israelites believe them and say, “Sure, let’s do it.” The problem is they forgot to check with God. God would have told them that these people were lying.

They signed the treaty, and three days later they realized they’d been tricked. They get angry, but a promise is a promise.

Now, the Israelites weren’t the only ones angry at the Gibeonites; the people from the other cities were a little upset as well. They were already afraid to fight the Israelites; now they would have to fight both the Israelites AND the Gibeonites.

So, they laid low and the Israelites went on their way. And, when they’d gotten far enough away from Gibeon, the unified forces attacked the Gibeonites. Of course, the Gibeonites cry for help from their allies, the Israelites.

Now, if I had been Joshua, I might have been tempted to take the scenic route, but he decides to march 30 miles through the night and take the unified armies by surprise early in the morning.

A chase ensues, and a crazy thing happens: God causes it to hail. Actually, the text says that God hurled large hailstones down on the opposing forces. It even says that more soldiers died from the hail than from the fighting. Chaos ensues, and the enemies sounds a retreat.

But wait. There’s more. Joshua starts to worry that maybe the enemy is going to get away. The light is starting to fade, and if they escape into the night, they might be able to regroup and rally the next day. So, Joshua prays for the sun to stand still.

And then…what happens next is crazy: the sun stood still. For an entire day.

Hmmmm…okay.

Let’s get a couple of things out of the way here: I believe in a God who is magnificently sovereign and omnipotent. That word “omnipotent” means he can do anything. His power is limited only by his own choice. If he can pelt one army with hailstones and keep the other army from harm, if he can part the Red Sea and the Jordan River, if he can provide manna in the wilderness ,and create everything there is…that God can probably figure out a way to stop the rotation of the earth without having us all fly off into outer space or being drowned by the tidal waves we might think would be inevitable. Yes, I agree to this presupposition.

And, yes, I also know the sun cannot technically stand. I also know that even in our age of glorious scientific enlightenment we continue to use the words “sunrise” and “sunset” — even though we know the sun neither rises nor sets. So, I think the writer gets a pass on that one.

Here’s the truth: we don’t know what happened. I’ve read everything I can find, and I’m just not sure. Maybe it’s poetic license. Maybe it seemed like time slowed down. We say things like that. Maybe the earth’s rotation actually did slow down or stop. I don’t know.

My question is this: What if it really did happen? Would that be so strange? Would it be unlike God to do something like that?

I find it interesting that none of the other battles in Joshua are won with supernatural help like this. Only Jericho and Gibeon. From here on out, they win their battles the old-fashioned way: cunning strategy and hard work.

That seems like the kind of thing God might do: flex his muscles a little at the beginning to give his children confidence that he’s in control and is strong enough to take care of them if/when they get into trouble. Then stand back and let them fight their own battles. Sounds like a good Father to me.

God doesn’t want you to sit back and wait for someone else to fight your battles. He wants you to know you have brains and you have strength and you can do big things.

But I have a confession to make. If I had been there — if I had been, say, an advisor to Joshua, I probably would have laughed and made fun of him for praying such a ridiculous prayer.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe God CAN stop the sun for you; I just don’t often believe he WILL.

And here’s what I’m embarrassed to admit: I also believe God CAN miraculously heal your friend of cancer; I just don’t believe he WILL — not very often. I believe God CAN reach down and grab your teenager and put them back on the right track. He CAN do that; I just don’t always believe he WILL.

And that says a lot about me. And my lack of faith. And it may explain why God doesn’t do that kind of thing very often in my life. We tend to see what we expect to see. And we sometimes get what we pray for — which means we sometimes don’t get what we don’t pray for.

I have a love/hate relationship with being right. I study hard and work hard to know the right answer. And I’m fairly confident in my education and ability to tell you the theologically correct answer to any given question. And there is a part of me that loves that.

But there is another part of me that would love to be proven wrong — about this in particular. I would love to have God show up and be bigger than even I can imagine him being. I would love nothing more than for God to show up and heal that cancer. I would love for him to stop that tornado in its tracks. I would love for him to turn that teenager around.

I don’t pray for those things very often. But I want to. I want to be surprised by a God who does that kind of thing more often. It would make me laugh and cry and clap my hands…and possibly become a better man.

I want to pray for big things like that to happen in my life. I wish I weren’t so afraid to ask. So, how about this: how about we pray to the God of Joshua — the one who somehow or other made the sun stand still — the one who demonstrated his love on the cross and his power in the empty tomb — the one who says, “Ask. Just ask.”

 

FYI: this post is adapted from a chapter in my most recent book Crazy Stories; Sane God.

 

Photo Credit: Jake Gard

Being Human

hipster in midair"Man is the only creature that refuses to be what he is." (Albert Camus) About a century ago, an argument that had been brewing in academic circles spilled out into Christian churches. One group of scholars got together and decided that the Jesus of history was merely a wise and moral teacher. He went around doing a lot of good, but he never actually performed any miracles. I mean, miracles don’t really happen, do they? Of course not! They’re unscientific. So, let’s dispense with all the nonsense about virgin birth and walking on water and healing sick people and all that. Let’s especially do away with the silly notion of a bodily resurrection from the dead. Jesus was just a wise and moral teacher, and we would do well to learn from him. Let’s not say he was God in a body.

But the other side of the theological spectrum maintained their belief in Jesus as God — Jesus as eternally pre-existent second member of the Trinity — Jesus as sinless, supernatural, and divine. Jesus born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, buried, dead, raised again, ascended into heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. Jesus the spotless Lamb of God sent to offer his life as a ransom for all.

One side said we should focus on Jesus’ moral teachings. The other side said we should focus on Jesus’ atoning actions.

This all may be boring to you, but there are some implications for us today. Stick with me.

The debate had some underpinnings that we can talk about, but the focus of the conversation shifted midway through the century away from the pressing question, “Who is Jesus?” towards an equally pressing question, “How do I get saved?”

Is there anything I can do to save myself? Is it all from God? Can I help? Do I contribute anything? Is it some kind of partnership where God does one part and I do the rest of it? Who initiates? Where is obedience in the mix? Do I have to obey, and, if so, how much, and which parts?

One camp said perhaps we shouldn’t take the Bible so literally when it talks about things like sin and miracles and people being completely unable to save themselves. They believed that the Bible is really trying to teach us how to be better people. So, we take the moral and ethical teachings to heart. We leave the rest behind, chalking it up to primitive people trying to understand the unknowable God of the universe.

The other side fought tooth-and-nail to hold onto a literal reading of the Bible. The miracles are recorded there because they literally happened. And sin is condemned because sin literally brings death to a person. And when the Bible says humans are completely unable to contribute one whit to their own salvation, it means that literally. Humans are utterly depraved and unable to do anything good or right or holy on their own.

Sadly, the theological conservatives thought it was so important to defend their doctrinal purity that they felt justified in ignoring social concerns. In fact, bringing up social concerns like feeding the hungry and caring for marginalized people came under some suspicion from some conservatives. They began to think that if you talked about human rights and human dignity, you were probably going to say that Jesus was just a wise and moral human teacher.

God only knows how many trees gave themselves for the sake of this argument — which continues to this day, by the way. But I think something has happened. While the church continues to argue over how people get saved and how to read the Bible, society has moved on to another question — a question they don’t even seem to know they’re asking:

What does it mean to be human?

Because here in America the church has had such a tremendous influence on culture, regular folks were keeping up with us in the previous two intramural arguments I mentioned. Regular folks were interested a hundred years ago. They wanted to know what they should do with Jesus. And many regular folks were interested 60 years ago when folks like Billy Graham started talking about how to be saved.

But more and more it seems like no one’s listening these days, and I think it’s because we don’t know what’s really keeping folks awake at night. It’s time for the church to turn its attention to the big question being asked over and over again by everyone from the #blacklivesmatter activists to Caitlyn Jenner to the Supreme Court to Planned Parenthood.

It’s everywhere you look. But no one knows it’s the question underneath the question on everyone’s mind: What does it mean to be human?

Is my gender part of my humanity? What about my sexual orientation? What about my race? What about the race with which I identify? At what point in time does a human become human? Is my online persona part of my humanity, and, if so, is that online persona subject to the same ethical standards I employ IRL? And what exactly does being human merit? Are there such things as universal human rights? If so, who decides who gets them? And when? And for how long?

What does it mean to be human? 

Obviously, I can’t answer that question fully here. But I think this is the question we must begin to think through, and we must seek out the best possible answers from the fields of philosophy, psychology, medicine, and, yes, theology. Of course, if we involve theology, someone’s going to want to know what the Bible says about being human. Then we’re going to have to ask whether or not we’ve learned anything in the last 2,000 years about human nature that the original writers and readers of scripture didn’t know.

That’s a question most Christians don’t want to consider.

But we must.

No. Drama. Ever. Period.

open arms “You can’t save others from themselves because those who make a perpetual muddle of their lives don’t appreciate your interfering with the drama they’ve created. They want your poor-sweet-baby sympathy, but they don’t want to change.” (Sue Grafton)

A while back I realized that a lot of my relationships reminded me of junior high. On Monday we'd be fused and codependent and attached at the hip. We'd send texts throughout the day like passing notes in class. By Wednesday we'd be clubbing each other over the head with a heap of emotional baggage, suspicious half-thoughts, and unfounded accusations. By Friday we'd have some overblown come-to-Jesus sit-down that would lead to some short-term reconciliation.

These friendships were like some sort of toxic Hydra situation. I'd eliminate one, and it would regenerate immediately. I was baffled at my string of bad luck with friendships. It reminded me of the girls I used to date in high school and college....

And that's when it dawned on me.

I was the common denominator.

I was drawn to drama like a moth to a flame. I was addicted to it. Chaos was my normal, and when it wasn't present, I panicked. I wasn't comfortable without someone with whom to fight. I said I hated drama, but I kept coming back like the junkie that I was. To be honest, it was just easier to blame the world; that allowed me to complain without ever having to change.

You may not be a drama king like I was, but most of us have had our fair share of relational histrionics. Maybe your best friend has as many tragedies as their are days of the week. Maybe you're the person everyone always calls with their problems. Maybe you unwittingly turn mole hills into mountains.

Whatever the case, if you'd like to have just a wee bit fewer histrionic episodes, read on. I've come up with a list of ways to minimize drama in your life.

First, own your part. If drama is a regular feature in multiple areas of your life, guess what? You're the common denominator. Be honest with yourself. You might be generating (or at least perpetuating) it. Now, the truth is that no one does anything more than once or twice unless there's a payoff in there somewhere. So, ask yourself: what's in this for you? Are you looking for attention? Do you think this is an adventure? Did you grow up with drama, so this feels normal to you? If you want attention, can you just say that to the other person out loud? "Look, I need some attention right now, and if I don't get it I might cause a scene." Or if you're looking for adventure, maybe go on a real adventure. Like go out and find something adventurous to do -- something that might change the world for the better.

Second, get out of your head. A lot of drama happens in our own heads -- usually because we're too close to the situation to realize it's not nearly as bad as it seems. When you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with things, take a step back and ask yourself if this is going to matter a year from now. If not, it's probably not worth worrying about. What you're feeling isn't permanent. This too shall pass. Gaining a little perspective may help you focus on what you actually can control -- what you can actually do today to create a better tomorrow.

Third, refuse to wade into another person's drama. What if you were known as someone who didn't participate? Maybe that person who repeatedly comes looking for someone to bail her out of the catastrophe du jour would take her stuff to someone else. If she persists in bringing it to you, give yourself a window of time when you'll listen. Once that timer goes off, walk away. You might be surprised at how quickly she soothes herself when there's no one around to validate her complaints.

Fourth, get new friends. I know this sounds harsh, but sometimes you just have to say, "Life is too short to deal with all this drama." I'm not saying you have to sever the relationship with those folks, but you can go find some people with good energy. Heck, spend time with yourself -- that's preferable to spending time with someone who is constantly stirring the pot. Who leaves you feeling stressed more often than not? Minimize your time with them. At the very least you can recognize the triggers. When the conversation veers towards her ex, steer it somewhere else.

Fifth, be open and honest with other people. If you have an issue with someone, go talk to them instead of talking about them. Gossip breeds drama. When you muster up the gumption to say what you mean (and mean what you say), it may be more difficult short-term but it saves a lot of drama in the long run. If you really want to go to the next level, let people know that they can be honest with you. When we feel like we have to walk on eggshells, we hold things in -- but that's like trying to hold a beachball under water. It will eventually come out -- if not in words then in actions.

Sixth, be careful what you call drama. Sometimes people have legitimate problems and legitimately need your help. Everyone needs grace -- including you. Practice the golden rule. Love people a little more than you think you can. Listen more. Speak less. This will give you the bandwidth to think and respond instead of reacting. Be a friend. Be present. Be in the moment. Then remember that you need to put your own oxygen mask on first, so let the drama go when you walk away. Don't turn it over in your head later. Stay in the moment -- especially when the dramatic moment has passed.

Finally, learn whatever lesson you're supposed to learn. Accept it for what it is. Learn from it. Get on with life. Move forward. Don't get bogged down. Sometimes we get stuck and feel like we're powerless to remove ourselves from the mire. But when you feel overwhelmed, this is your opportunity to learn how to deal with hard times better than you ever have before.

You can always find dozens of small fires burning in your vicinity. Stop giving in to the impulse to put all of them out. When you learn not to fan them, they may actually light the path forward.

 

Photo Credit: LifeLike Creations

Hole in My Heart

alone at sunset"We have all known the long loneliness, and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community." (Dorothy Day) In the beginning, when God was busy creating everything, there is a clear pattern to the Bible’s recording of the events. God spoke things into existence, examined them, and declared them: “Good”. Then, he would do it again.

Over and over this happens in the first pages of the Bible. God speaks, things appear, he examines them and says, “That’s good.” It's almost like a little song:

God speaks, and it is so. God saw that it was good. 

God speaks, and it is so. God saw that it was good. 

God speaks, and it is so. God saw that it was good. 

Over and over. Everything’s good — the sun, the moon, the stars, the oceans, the mountains, the birds, the animals -- everything is good -- until something isn’t.

Anyone remember the first thing about which the Bible says, “That’s not good”?

God surveys all of his magnificent creation and declares: “It’s not good for man to be alone.”

Think about this for a minute. This is before the Fall. Adam exists in unbroken fellowship with God. There is no sin, no shame, no separation. We would be tempted to have a conversation with Adam that looks like this:

US: What’s up with you, Adam?

ADAM: I'm not sure. I feel like something’s wrong.

US: Wrong? You're a perfect man living in a perfect world created by a perfect God with whom you have a perfect relationship. What could be wrong?

ADAM: I don’t know. Sometimes I just feel...I don't know...all alone?

US: Oh, Adam, don't you understand? As long as you have God, you’re never alone.

The problem with that conversation is that it is God himself who chooses the words in this portion of Scripture. And the words he chooses to describe a sinless Adam living in an unbroken relationship with his Creator at this point in time include “alone” and “not good”.

In other words (and I think I have borrowed this phrase from Gilbert Bilezekian), while there is a God-shaped hole in the human heart that no one else can fill, there is also a human-shaped hole in the human heart that not even God himself will fill.

One man, rightly related to God, with no experience of community, is not good. You were not only created to connect with your Creator; you were created for relationships with other human beings. Seeking something from humans that only God can give you is futile, but seeking something from God that he intends for you to find in community is equally futile.

My friend Tim Spivey once said, "Aside from the Holy Spirit, your circle of friends is more important than anything." Your friends will determine the direction and quality of your life. As Americans we value our independence, but the truth is we're interdependent and there's no getting around that. We need people. There's no shame in saying it. You're not meant to be alone.

Find your people. Seriously, if you don't have good people in your life, find some. Ask God to send them. Go look for some. Find some healthy people and ask them if you can join their circle. Stop pretending like you and God can do this alone. Even he knows better than that. You have a hole in your heart; go fill it.

 

Photo Credit: lee Scott

Sixteen Years Ago Today

2015-09-17 18.54.38August had been miserable in Columbia, Maryland. Hot and humid are even more difficult to deal with when you’re dirt poor and living in a 1,000 square foot apartment. September wasn’t much better. Indian summer stretched through the month, and the electric bill (from running the a/c) went through the roof. It was 90 degrees outside and about 60 in the apartment. There could have been a thunderstorm in our doorway! Making the month especially…uh…interesting: my mother had come out for the birth of her first grandchild. She was helping…sort of.

My father juggled his schedule so he could fly out the day after the due date. He spent an entire week twiddling his thumbs, reading all my books and jumping every time anyone sneezed. Eventually, my wife got tired of being stared at and started hiding in the back bedroom. Then he left disappointed — no baby.

One Sunday morning we were driving home after church, and my mother ordered me to stop at a produce stand. She bought peppers of every variety and turned them into the hottest salsa she’s ever made. Some old wives’ tale. We ate salsa until we cried. We went for walks. We did all the things grandmas say will make the baby come out.

No baby.

We blew past the due date. Then we lapped it. Finally, our doctor told us to schedule a time to come in and be induced. We were told to come in late at night. That way we could sleep while they were setting everything up, wake up the next morning (well-rested) and have us a baby.

So, after our Tuesday night Bible study we watched Emeril on the Food Network, packed our bags, waved goodbye to my mother, stopped at the grocery store for snacks, and headed to the hospital. On the way there, she had indigestion or Braxton-Hicks contractions or something. The funny thing is…they were 14 minutes apart.

It wasn’t until we were sitting in the waiting room filling out forms that I realized she was in labor. There would be no sleep that night…or the next.

The best things in life make you wait for what seems like an eternity. You get all excited, mark the date on the calendar in red and then wait while the days crawl by. You go about your regular activities, but they don’t seem to have as much meaning.

In fact, as I look back, I don’t remember anything substantial happening — even though I was serving a church and continued my teaching schedule. I know I must have spent time studying and meeting with people. But I can’t remember any of that.

The only thing I remember was waking up every day wondering, “Will it be today?” I remember every time my cell phone went off during those 10 overdue days: “Is it time?”

Every day was filled with hope and expectation and disappointment and more hope. I knew it wouldn’t be long, and even though it was longer than we expected, I never lost hope.

The baby ran out of water in there. She lingered and swam and rolled over until there was nothing left in there but her. And she still wouldn’t come out.

The doctors told us it would be soon. They lied. There was struggling and suffering and we waited too long for the really good pain stuff. I tried my best to keep everyone distracted, playing Yo-Yo Ma cello music softly in the background, reminding people to breathe, and cracking inappropriate jokes at appropriate times.

We laughed a lot and kept the doctors generally confused.

But that baby wouldn’t budge.

Then, after what seemed like an eternity, everyone got in a big hurry. The baby's heartbeat was growing faint. The doctor looked scared, and I readied myself for the possibility that I might not get to see her after all.

Suddenly we were whisked upstairs into an operating room. I had scrubs on, and they were cutting through skin and muscle — going in after our little girl who will forever be remembered by the scar she made on her way out. She still prefers to do things in her own sweet time.

I remember holding her for the first time. I didn’t have words. Sometimes I still don’t. She had that big ridge on her head from where she was stuck.

It all seems like a far away memory of a dream now. Everything was slow and fast all at the same time. I had no idea what I was in for. You blink, and she’s 16.

Oh, Time, slow down, please.