“They’ll All Laugh at You!”

“Did he care what people thought of him? Maybe. But not enough to keep him from doing what was right.”*

If your life is going to have a dramatic impact on others, on your community, or especially on your culture, you would want the same to be said of you.

The context Dr. Emil Freirich used his fearlessness to revolutionize was a children's leukemia ward.
The context Dr. Emil Freirich used his fearlessness to revolutionize was a children’s leukemia ward.

There are crossroads that each of us will come to where we know what we should do, see that no one else is doing it, know people will think we are nuts, and have to decide if we are going to do it anyway.

The single factor that stops so many would-be great leaders is that they know others will think less of them. Then they stand down. They conform. They take the one thing that is truly unique about themselves and tuck it away on a shelf, because they know that it is so new and so unique that initially, people won’t know what to do with it. That makes people uncomfortable. When you make people uncomfortable they don’t like it and therefore don’t like you. Just ask Jesus.

Untold thousands of children have enjoyed full lives since the brave work of Dr. Emil Freireich.
Untold thousands of children have enjoyed full lives since the brave work of Dr. Emil Freireich.

How passionate are you about doing what you know to be right? Can you take the heat, the criticism, even the mockery? If you can, the sky’s the limit. You might very well be the one to revolutionize your industry, your ministry, your community, or even your family.

 

*This quote was said about Dr. Emil J. Freireich, a now renowned physician who risked everything from his reputation to his career to implement groundbreaking new practices in the treatment of childhood leukemia. You will be able to read his amazing story in my upcoming post.

Tuesday Morning with a Prostitute – A True Story of Pain, Redemption and Thanksgiving*

Warning: this post may contain triggers for sexual abuse survivors.

You don’t expect a casual conversation to result in a call to the FBI. But there’s a first time for everything.

When I volunteer at Watered Gardens, I never know who is going to walk through the door.  If I know them, they are typically moving forward in their life, have established better habits and are off of the street, like Linda. She’s a very kind black lady who spent years on hardcore drugs but has been clean for a long time.

But sometimes a new person comes in. He or she might be a transient, in Joplin for a bit before they move on. Other days, I get to visit with someone who barely has one foot out of hell. Something, or rather Someone is trying to drag him into a new life, and that’s why he’s here. Today was one of those “other days”.

The statue "Mary Magdalene Crying"
The statue “Mary Magdalene Crying”

When Latasha walked in, I could instantly tell she was sassy. She exuded personality. She was friendly, had a big smile on her face, and loved to talk. For the next hour I was going to be privileged to get a glimpse into a life very similar to Mary Magdalene’s, I just didn’t know it yet.

After a few minutes of small talk, Latasha started telling me her story. She held nothing back.

One thing I’ve learned is that everybody has a “rock bottom”; a place in life that makes someone so uncomfortable that they finally make major changes. But it’s not the same for any two people. Latasha’s  rock bottom was the lowest I had ever witnessed; and she had hit it….hard. The amazing thing is that she lived to tell about it.

She was dropped off at Watered Gardens after detoxing at a facility a couple of hours away. She had checked in on her own. “You come here (to Watered Gardens) if you want to live,” she said. I could sense her determination to maintain a grasp on this different kind of life.

“What made you decide to leave?” I asked her.

“I could sense God pulling on me, and I was sick of living with my dope man. He made me watch nothing but porn and since I was always high, I was paranoid and wouldn’t go outside at all. I could barely bring myself to look out the window.”

A lot of people don’t realize that drugs like crystal meth literally open a door to the spiritual realm. Behind that door are the things that nightmares are made of.

She went on to describe the physical fights she would have with demonic forces when she was high. But when she wasn’t in that state, her “dope man” as she called him, wasn’t much better. In addition to pornography constantly streaming on the television, they fought all of the time. He was an active Satanist, a drug dealer and displayed all sorts of odd behaviors.

“He has computers all over the house! They’re wired up all strange and I can’t make sense out of it. He’s always switching out hard drives, too. He has like 75 of them!”

To Latasha, his actions weren’t something to make sense out of; they were just bizarre. But I was looking at the situation from a different perspective. I knew that there were only a few things sensitive enough to merit that type of behavior, and since his day job was laying tile, I knew he wasn’t dealing in top secret government documents. That left me with only one option that made sense.

“He produces child porn!” I said, as I tried to grasp just how evil this man was.

“What?!”

Latasha was shocked at what I said. But then I could see her start to think. She began remembering details that never made sense before.

“You’re right! That’s why he started telling me after I put my kids up for adoption that he was losing money on me.”

“He would get me stoned out of my mind, then he would disappear to this shed behind the house and lock himself in there for hours. He never would tell me what he was doing.”

“And then there were the screams…..”

She described times where she had heard the screams of children coming through the walls, but her intoxicated state and his dismissive comments made her push them to the back of her mind. But now, sober, out of his reach, and the recipient of a new life, she knew exactly what she had heard.

She shared more disturbing specifics, so I was pretty confident in my conclusion. Even if she wasn’t willing to do anything about her dope man, I was going to. I asked her some detailed questions about him and took notes, making sure I didn’t forget anything of importance.

She then started talking about her more distant past.

“My dad has always hated me. When I was two, he put me in the deep freeze. Later, when it became known that he had pointed a pistol at me and wanted to kill me, the state took me away. I spent the next 15 years in and out of foster care.”

This is my princess Chandler at her school Christmas program last night.
This is my princess Chandler at her school Christmas program last night.

Ministering to the broken is a constant reminder of just how blessed I have been. It also turns the phrase “There but for the grace of God, go I” into something far more than a cliche. Latasha’s father wanted to kill her. Mine helped coach my baseball team and took me fishing. Never for a second have I doubted my dad’s love for me. My daughter and she is three, and her name is Chandler. I call her my princess and tell her she is beautiful almost every day. Hearing about how her dad treated her made me sick to my stomach and furious at the same time.

Having no idea what being loved was like, in desperation, she reached out for a gross perversion of it and became a prostitute. My heart broke as I got a glimpse of what Jesus might have felt when the prostitute came and poured costly oil over his feet while others looked on in disgust. All they saw was her deplorable lifestyle. Jesus saw the pain….every bit of it; and loved her.

Latasha had recently experienced that same love, both from God Himself and the people at Watered Gardens That love saved her life. But more importantly, He saved her soul, and she could not stop thanking Jesus for it. Her desire to tell me her story was not to bring attention to herself. She was desperate to tell me what He had done in her life.

The last night with her dope man, things came to a brutal climax. Screams and curses filled the air. She grabbed a large butcher knife from the kitchen and held the tip firmly against her stomach.

As his hands grabbed on to the handle, she screamed at him, “If your devil is stronger than my God, then KILL ME!”

Hands tightened and fury filled the room. Her life could literally end any second, and she knew it. But she would rather die than continue this kind of life. And even though Latasha knew that he wanted to kill her, there was the feeling in the back of her mind that this battle between God and Satan had already been won long ago. And whether her dope man recognized the true Victor or not, he was powerless against the One who now claimed her as His own.

She left that night and checked into a drug rehab facility. After some time there, they asked her where she wanted to go. With no family to take good care of her, she chose Watered Gardens. The love the staff had showed her there was unlike anything she had ever experienced. They had been encouraging her in this odd new life, and she could not stop saying how thankful she was, both for them and to God. He had given her an opportunity to truly live for the first time.

Later that day, while at my office, I spent a half hour on the phone with an FBI investigator. I shared all of the details I had about her dope man: where he lived, his full name, his drug dealing, and my own conclusions. I had told Latasha that she needed to talk to the police, but since I wasn’t sure if she would follow through, I did all I could on my end. There was no way I was going to let that scum bag continue what he was doing if I had any chance of stopping it.

When I got off of the phone, it took me a few hours to calm down. Simply witnessing a life so intensely hellish had taken a toll on me; and Latasha had lived it for most of her life.

I came away from this experience knowing something first-hand that Christians who live more average lives often give lip-service to. No matter how far gone a life may appear to be, there is no such thing as a life that is out of God’s reach. He can rescue the most destitute. He can restore the most broken. He can redeem the most guilty.

Latasha’s life is proof of that, and that is why I am telling you about her. It is indeed something to be thankful for this Christmas season.

And thank you, Latasha, for entrusting me, a complete stranger, with your amazing story.

May God bless you in your new life.

*All of the details of this story are true. I have only changed the names of the individuals involved.

The Power of Purpose

Two men, doing the same thing, at the same place and at the same time.

One of those men is perfectly content. Actually, he is more than content. He is enjoying himself thoroughly and could continue doing exactly what he is doing for hours.

The other man, however, does not look content at all. In fact, if you were to sneak up behind him and listen carefully, you would hear him mutter some very choice words in relation to his thoughts on his current task.

One is angry and being drained. The other has a big smile on his face and is being uplifted. The task is cutting thousands of feet of ribbon into one foot strips.

Preparing lunch is not a chore at Watered Gardens. It is an opportunity to serve.
Preparing lunch is not a chore at Watered Gardens. It is an opportunity to serve.

The only difference between the two men and what they are doing is the reason for which they are doing it.

That is the power of purpose.

This is not a fictitious scenario. I know, because I was the one who was smiling. The individual across from me was a man named Jared.

We were at a place called Watered Gardens Rescue Mission, where I volunteer and where the poor and homeless can come in and earn many of life’s necessities.

Jared was annoyed because he was not accustomed to having to work for what he receives. To him, spending 2 hours cutting ribbon was merely an obstacle between he and the 4 items of clothing he would receive at the end of those two hours.

To me, I was doing something of significance. Cutting the ribbon was incidental. I was helping others get their lives back on track. Teaching them how to become productive members of society. Some have no interest in learning or growing, but many are sick of the homeless life and are ready to move forward.

Those are the ones who transform something as monotonous as cutting ribbon into something that gives you genuine joy.

That is the power of purpose.

chick-fil-a-umbrella
Only one fast food chain will help a mom with two kids to her car in the rain. They have helped my wife multiple times and she will never forget it.

This scenario is no different than the everyday work place.You and I show up at work and go home that night either feeling empty and drained, or feeling like we have accomplished something of significance.

Purpose is the reason you are treated so differently at Chick Fil-A than you are at McDonalds. It is the reason flight attendants on Southwest Airlines make you laugh when they do the pre-flight demonstration and you pay attention. Whereas with every other airline, you do your best to tune them out.

Purpose has the power to transform a monotonous task like cutting ribbon into something fulfilling and enriching.

You, as a leader, have the power to create a sense of purpose for those you lead, just like the founders of the aforementioned companies have famously done.

Vintage Southwest
Southwest Airlines puts its employees before everyone else, knowing if they are treated well, they will in turn treat their customers well.

There is fast food. Then there is Chick Fil-A. There are airlines. Then there is Southwest. What distinguishes these two businesses from every other one in their industry is the reason they do what they do.

That is the power of purpose.

*Coming Soon: Creating Purpose that Resonates

Take Time for Josie

I don’t always feel like hearing someone’s story. Sometimes I am busy.

Me teaching a class in the Willard Learning Center
Me teaching a class in the Willard Learning Center

Sometimes I have other things on my mind. But never did it cross my mind that if I don’t hear what he or she has to say right now, I will never get the chance again. Well…it does now.

I was in the Willard Learning Center at Watered Gardens, a place where I help teach people who have been through hell how to get back on their feet. Some are homeless and still active drug users; but others live here, which means they have taken some very significant steps forward. If you are a resident, you have to be sober and attend classes, such as the ones I teach.

I was testing out the new projector when Josie walked in to clean the desks. At Watered Gardens, if you want food, clothes, a shower, or anything else, you have to earn it. A strong work ethic is something they begin instilling in individuals the second they walk through the door.

Charles, who was once homeless, is working roasting coffee beans for their delicious Redeemed Bean custom brew.
Charles, who was once homeless, is working roasting coffee beans for their delicious Redeemed Bean custom brew. Try some here: http://goo.gl/5G1p6B

The concept is sometimes shocking to people who have been living on government handouts for years, drinking and drugging away their days. Living on the streets or under bridges, many anxiously await the first of the month when Uncle Sam indiscriminately puts more money into their accounts. Recipients can get fifty cents cash for every dollar of food subsidies, and then it’s off to buy the drink or drug of his or her choice.

I introduced myself to Josie and could immediately tell that she was doing well. Clear eyes, coherent speech, and a sharp mind meant she had overcome many of the demons that drag others to the grave.

We began to dialogue and I asked her some benign questions: Where are you from? What brought you to Joplin, Missouri? etc. It didn’t take her long to sense my sincerity and then she started to tell me her story. Everyone who ends up on the streets has a story, and I am yet to hear a single one that begins in a happy, healthy home. Josie’s story was no exception.

“My mom died recently,” she told me. “Before they put the casket into the ground, I walked up to it with a black rose clasped behind my back. Then, with the preacher standing right beside me, I placed the rose on her casket and said, “I hope you rot in hell, you b—-.”

Josie then told me about her step-father who molested her from the time she was 2 until she was a teenager. Her mom would stand in the doorway and watch.

She started drinking at just 12 years of age to  try to silence the pain. Running away multiple times proved fruitless. The police would always bring her right back to the people who were supposed to love her more than anyone else on the planet. But they didn’t love her. They violated her.

But her story didn’t end in disaster, as many do. She stopped drinking before it consumed her, which amazed her counselor. She was now in a relationship with a kind man and they were just about to get their own apartment, which is a major accomplishment for someone who has been homeless.

Watered Gardens had given her a safe place to earn life’s necessities and be around people who helped her to grow.

She then paid her boyfriend one of the most significant compliments I can imagine coming from a lady. “Even at 50 years old, he makes me feel pretty.”

I thanked her for sharing her story with me and asked if I could share it with others. I then asked her if I could be praying about anything specific for her. She told me she had a blood clot that her doctors were concerned about, then I gave her a hug and she left the classroom.

I saw her a week later at Watered Gardens, but for the next few weeks noticed that she wasn’t around. So many people who come here are transient, though, so you never know how long someone will be around.

About a month after I met Josie, I was walking up to the front door and passed Joshua, who was locking up his bike. Joshua is an incredibly nice guy and a regular at Watered Gardens. I have run into him other places as well, including a grocery store on the opposite side of town. He puts a lot of miles on those tires.

I stopped to ask him how he was doing.

“I’m just trying to make it, Brian. Life just knocked me down pretty hard.”

I told him I was sorry, then asked what had happened.

“My girlfriend died. We were only 3 days away from getting our own place. She died in her sleep…in my arms.”

His next four words broke my heart.

“Did you know Josie?”

Yes. Yes I did. But I had no idea the two people were connected. I was so glad that I had taken advantage of the only significant encounter I would ever have with her on this side of the grave. And it didn’t surprise me a bit that Joshua was the one about whom she had spoken so kindly.

He fought back the tears as he finished fastening his bike lock and I told him how sorry I was. I also told him how well she had spoken of him. I tried to offer him some comfort and walked on into the building, where every week I do my best to take time for Josie.

*For information on how you can make sure someone like Joshua or Josie has a safe and clean place to sleep at night, along with training and mentorship, please check out their “One Night” campaign with the link below. You can help sponsor the bed I chose (bed #1) for 1 night a month and have an enormous impact on somebody’s life. Feel free to contact me with any questions.

http://wateredgardens.org/onenight/

Life with Headphones On: Hearing What you Never Knew Was There

It is amazing what you can hear when you really, really listen.

My brother Allen enjoys and selects his music like a connoisseur enjoys a

My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.
My brother Allen (on the left) and me enjoying time together at the beach house.

good bottle of wine; dissecting sounds, instruments, techniques and influences. Unless you do the same, you have probably not heard of Animal Collective, Boards of Canada, or 90% of the other bands he listens to.

Many, like me, simply listen to the music on the radio. Allen will hear a random song he likes, find out the band, then purchase their music. If he really likes it, he will begin reading about the band and who inspired them. “What other bands influenced them?” is a question he is always asking. And since he has been enjoying music like that for many years, he has gone back from one level of influence to another to discover the pioneers of various styles of music.

Recently we were running errands together and he played a song from his Ipod on the stereo in his car. We listened to a few other songs by the same artist as we went to a couple of stores and then made our way back home.

When we got back, he pulled out his very nice V-Moda headphones and said, “Now listen to the same song on these.”

I sat down, put them on, and began to listen. At first, my eyes got big. There was so much to be heard, my mind couldn’t take it all in. I noticed my eyes were looking back and forth, like they could actually find the source of the many layers of instruments; instruments I hadn’t even known were playing when I listened to the exact same song in the car.

For four minutes and thirty-two seconds, I was transfixed. Then, when it was over, I still sat there for a while in an attempt to process all of the input my brain had just been exposed to. I stood up and simply said, “Wow!”

We process the vast amount of what goes on in our lives like we listen to music on the radio. We hear or experience something, and we like it or don’t like it. We keep going down the same road based on this preference or lack thereof and keep moving on, often taking little time to truly process what we experience.

We experience hurt and pain, exhaustion and depression…joy, love, passion and apathy. The stimuli are people, events, challenges and even the weather. Each one tossing us around emotionally like a rudderless ship on sometimes calm, but sometimes very turbulent seas.

Life is seldom dull. It is seldom easy, either. Especially not for long.Music Director Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 2011 European Tour

Believe it or not, in the midst of all the chaos, an entire symphony is playing in the background of our lives. As we drive to work, sit in boring meetings, eat our breakfast…it is constantly performing, its beautiful notes and harmonies practically begging for an audience. Heard or unheard, the symphony plays on.

There is, however, only one way to hear these instruments that are drowned out by our daily lives. Silence. You must do for yourself what headphones do for your ears and block out any and all external noises and distractions and simply listen.

At first you may hear nothing, because your world is silent, but your mind is not. It is still rambling on about how you need to pack your gym bag so you can work out this afternoon. If you have a pen and paper handy and write that down, your mind no longer feels the need to think about it, so it is gone. Do so with the other things that come to mind and eventually even your mind can experience silence.

That is when the first notes become audible. The tune will likely sound somewhat familiar, since you’ve caught glimpses of it from time to time, without ever realizing its source.

Soon, more and more instruments break their silence and an entire symphony is playing. But it is not playing for your entertainment. It is playing because it IS. It exists at all times, whether or not you ever take the time to notice. It is a mysterious combination of your deepest thoughts, your deepest feelings (including the ones you try so hard to suppress), your own mind’s analyses, and most importantly, the quiet whispers of a loving God.

All of these sources are not simply conveying information. They are intercommunicating in a complicated, yet beautiful, musical piece. As you allow yourself to think your deepest thoughts and feel your deepest feelings, God not only hears them, but also speaks into them, often giving them new meaning, new significance.

Something from your past that you don’t even like to think about comes to mind, and with it the pain it always brings. This time, however, you don’t retreat from it. You allow yourself to hurt and acknowledge the wrong that was done to you.

As the initial swell of pain begins to subside something new emerges. On the other side of the pain, a kind voice speaks to you and reveal the mysteries behind that event. As He brings to light the glorious blessings that would have never come to pass in your life and others’ otherwise, He almost magically transforms that time of intense pain into a source of deep and lasting joy.

A part of the song that sounds much like the source of daily stress that eats at you comes to the fore, and at first you start to get up and turn off that dreadful tune. But you stop yourself. You force yourself to sit and listen to a collection of minor notes and clashing chords. It hurts your ears at first and it is more cacophony than harmony.

But as your peace returns, you begin to make sense of the song, and almost enjoy it. A flash of insight comes! For the first time, you clearly perceive the source of this internal conflict, and even better, what you can do to alleviate it.

When you feel the musicians are done performing, and get up from your chair, you will notice a difference. As you go through your day, some may think you seem distracted a bit more than usual; less affected, somehow, by the frantic goings on around you. And in a rare quiet moment at the office, someone will look over and see you looking very intently at something, follow your gaze, and find nothing at the end of it to justify such a stare.

“What is he looking at?!”

No, not looking. Listening.

 

 

 

 

Smile! Your Life May Depend On It.

You haven’t lived until you’ve been surrounded by an ever-growing angry mob of West African criminals.

“Not that old phrase!” you’re probably thinking.

Brian (me), Ryan and Jed (from left to right) in The Ivory Coast with our friends in Oume.

I know. I’ll try to use less common sayings from here on out. It just fit too well with the story I am about to tell you.

It was during the summer of 1998 or 99 and we were traveling through the countryside in Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast) and spotted a picturesque roadside market on the…side of the road. (Dadgummit! I walked right into that one.)

It was quite busy, so we carefully pulled in and found someplace to park. I was with two of my good friends, Ryan and Jed, and our wonderful host, Kuami.

Kuami is a fascinating and brilliant man. He is native to West Africa and spoke fluent English. His use of the word “dilapidated” caught me off guard one day when were walking, hand-in-hand (a custom there when in conversation, even among men…it made me feel funny) and carrying on a conversation.

But his linguistic acumen did not stop there. He taught English and German

This is Kuami, sporting his beautiful smile.
This is Kuami, sporting his beautiful smile.

and spoke fluently a total of 16 different languages and dialects.

The four of us split up and starting looking at the various wares for sale. We found a couple of handmade knickknacks for souvenirs, took a few pictures and re-grouped as we got ready to depart.

Before we got back to the car, though, two agitated men, in their early twenties, approached us and confronted Kuami.

I couldn’t understand a word that was being said, but the angry tone told me enough to make me nervous. We three skinny white boys watched as the discussion got more heated, glances were being made at Ryan, and Kuami was…smiling?!

Not a grin, or a smirk, or a nervous twitch. He was beaming! Smiling from ear to ear!

“Give me your camera.” Kuami said forcefully to Ryan with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Why do you want my camera?!” Ryan asked.

“These men are criminals and they saw you take a picture of them. They are afraid you are going to take it to the authorities. Give me your camera.” The smile never left his face.

Oh, lordy!

The tension continued to mount and more and more people were crowding around us. Not one had any interest in helping to ease the conflict, either. They were all starting to get worked up, and the crowd kept growing.

Kuami grabbed the camera. “Don’t give it to them!” Ryan said. “Just give them the film!”

We all reached forward and multiple nervous hands tried to pry open his camera. The men were shouting at us. I still couldn’t understand a word, but it was probably something like “Give us the camera!”

Finally the camera snapped open, revealing a partially used roll of film. Kuami aggressively started pulling out the film, just like they do in the movies. I don’t think cameras like that very much.

And as he was pulling it out, he still looked like he was happy as a clam! Who is this guy?!

Kuami quickly handed the film to the angry men, the open camera to Ryan, spoke a few words to them, then turned to us. “Let’s go.”

We pushed our way through the crowd, Kuami smiling at every person he could. Nobody was smiling back.

After we got to the car and locked the doors, Kuami turned the key and we were all wide-eyed, staring out the windows at all of the people surrounding the car and shouting.

As the car slowly eased forward, the crowd parted, and we were soon back on the road. I looked at Kuami, who was not smiling.

“Kuami, why were you smiling the whole time?!” I asked.

I have always remembered what he said next. And even though I already respected him, after this I respected him more.

“It is much harder to be angry at a person who has a smile on their face. It could have gotten really bad back there, so I was smiling to keep their anger from escalating.”

Good grief! This guy must be pretty accustomed to highly tense situations to have the presence of mind to think of that. And fortunately, he did. And we were all fine as a result of it.

So, as you’re going through your day, SMILE! Not just if you’re happy, but even if you would like to alleviate the anger of some criminals you happen to run into at the market.

Smiley Face

Reflections from the Waiting Room

My wife, Nicole, and I are currently sitting in a surgery center waiting room. Operating RoomOur beautiful daughter, Chandler, who turned 3 six days ago, was just put to sleep for minor surgery.

Our explanation to her consisted of “we’re going to get your teeth fixed so they don’t hurt anymore”. That made sense to her, and she happily followed us back to a room full of metal beds and strangers wearing funny hats. However, when it came to taking a small dose of pink medicine, Nicole had to lay her down, pin her arms and use a syringe to make her swallow it.

All Chandler was aware of at the moment when her own mommy was pinning her down, was that the medicine she was being forced to take tasted “yucky”. She had no idea why she needed the medicine, and if given the explanation, then the option of whether or not to take the medicine, she would have still rejected it.

Chandler turned 3 on February 12 and there is no way that Chandler could understand that her chipped and aching tooth is only what she can see on the surface. The x-rays told a far worse story. All four of her top front teeth were in desperate need of capping, as were some others in the back. If action wasn’t taken very soon, the pain would have only gotten much worse.

I did not want to leave my still conscious 3 year-old princess in the hands of those strange men; knowing they would put a gas mask on her, knock her out, insert an IV, force a breathing tube up her nose and into her lungs, and then grind away at her tiny teeth. I did not want to allow that one bit. But I knew if I didn’t, she would suffer far more pain in the long run.

I have been a father for five and a half years, and I understand now, far better than ever, why the Bible constantly compares God’s relationship with us to ours with our own children. The parallels are seemingly endless.

My princess Chandler, with her Nanny Cee Cee at the beach.
My princess Chandler, with her Nanny Cee Cee at the beach.

God takes no pleasure, whatsoever, in any of the trials or suffering that you or I have to go through. If I enjoyed watching my Chandler suffer, you would call me sick and demented, and rightly so. Why then do we entertain the thought that God might enjoy or even be indifferent to our suffering. Remember, He is not the flawed father. I am.

However, our issue is really not so much that we think He is indifferent to our suffering, but rather that we tend to forget that He places a much higher value on certain areas of growth than we do.

Unfortunately, the currencies of this world often undervalue certain character traits that from heaven’s view are literally priceless.

We were willing to allow Chandler to suffer physically for a short time so she could avoid far greater pain in the future. But there are actually worse things than physical suffering. From God’s perspective, the presence of traits that will have eternal ramifications, such as humility, integrity, holiness, patience, etc. are more important than the absence of physical or psychological pain, which is temporal.

I wanted to cry as I thought of what they were going to do to Chandler, but I didn’t, because I knew it was actually a blessing, albeit a veiled one. Don’t ever forget that it truly breaks God’s heart to see us suffer. But when it comes to the most important things in our lives, our Father does indeed know what is best.

To My Valentine: So Much More than All Right

Lovely Pasture
Part of the view from our bedroom of the pasture.

As the sun makes its way over the horizon, the dew shimmers in the pasture below. I look beyond the balcony and watch the horses graze and see a couple of deer frolicking in the distance. I then make my way into the bathroom and start brushing my teeth, completely unmoved by what I had just seen.

When you live every day in the presence of something that is exceptional, you grow accustomed to it. Intellectually, you appreciate it, but it ceases to move you as it once did.

It doesn’t have to be the case, though. There is a way to avoid this pitfall, and I use it regularly. And since you and I are pretty tight, I would be more than happy to share with you the trick I employ to ensure that I am regularly entranced…by my wife.

Pretty Nicole Cropped
See! I told you she was pretty! This is pre-kids.

My wife, Nicole, is beautiful. And by beautiful, I mean stunning. She’s the kind of pretty where she can walk into a room full of people and 50% of the guys turn and say to the other 50% of the guys, “Who is THAT?!” Then they sheepishly look over their shoulders to make sure their wives didn’t hear them.

And what’s even more amazing is that after 7 and a half years of marriage and two kids, she continues to get even prettier! I’m not just saying that to be nice, either. It’s the truth. If I was a rapper (and I most definitely am not) I would frequently liken her to fine wine. You know, the whole “better with time” sort of thing.

Do I catch a dubious glint in your eye? “That’s very sweet of you, Brian. It’s Valentine’s Day and you’re supposed to say things like that.”

“Besides, you’re just some tall, lanky guy who stands with his toes pointing outwards, looking kind of goofy. In fact, your high school basketball coach, Coach Jenkins (you remember…the weird muscular one who had 19 inch arms, but insisted on wearing shirts sized to fit a small girl, so he had to cut the sleeves to maintain circulation beyond his shoulders, and everyone said he was a male stripper at the very classy “La-Bare”) used to affectionately call you “String Bean”.”

“How would you ever manage to catch a babe like that?”

Well, now you’re getting plain rude! And thanks a lot for reminding me about Coach Jenkins! Eeeesh!

Truth be told, I have no idea. But evidently she saw something in me that made her think she was “landing the big tuna”. (I just learned that phrase yesterday and figured if I didn’t use it now, I’d never get to.)

This past Christmas, looking as pretty as ever, she is sporting her white elephant spoils.
This past Christmas, looking as pretty as ever, she is sporting her white elephant spoils.

She even says that after dating me for only 2 weeks, she knew she was going to marry me. They say love is blind, so maybe that played into the equation.

But I don’t spend too much time wondering how I got her. I’m just thrilled that I did! Oh yeah, I was going to teach you my little trick.

When we get to go out in public together, which happens pretty rarely now since we have two young kids, this is what I do. It works really well at malls or large department stores.

When she goes off to look at something on her own, I know she is most likely going to eventually return. Assuming that, as I am looking at clothes, or other wares, I keep looking out for her in the distance, among the other people in the store.

I then perform some sort of odd mental gymnastics and put myself in someone else’s shoes. I am then some stranger, who happens to be shopping at that place and time.

As I lift my head and look in the distance, I catch a glimpse of blonde hair, slightly above the heads of the others in the women’s shoe section.

“That’s pretty hair,” I think. I then follow some very complex logic only a male would be capable of and deduce that pretty, blonde hair is typically on top of a pretty lady. So naturally, I continue following the hair with my eyes.

She continues walking perpendicularly to me, blocked from my view. At the end of the display, she turns, comes into full view and BAM! “Who is THAT?!” I whisper. And she knocks me off my feet all over again.

This trick may or may not work for you. But it’s worth a shot. If you have someone as spectacular as I do, anything that helps you continually appreciate him or her is priceless.

So here’s to my beautiful Valentine: Happy Valentine’s Day, Nicole! Thank you for being the best wife, mom, business partner, and companion I could have ever asked for. I love you like crazy and hope that you always feel loved by me. And did I mention….you sure are pretty!

P.S. This is the song that inspired the title, and it pretty accurately conveys how blessed I feel.

How are you going to make your Valentine feel special today?

Sometimes too Much of a Good Thing is…Simply Delicious!

It’s confession time, and boy do I have something to confess.

Last week, my good friend Jeff and I sat down and did something that we immediately regretted afterwards.

I’ve tried to forget about it; pretend it never happened. I’ve used desperate psychological techniques to attempt to force it into the far recesses of my psyche, where it will only come out when my subconscious comes to life at night and I wake up in a cold sweat.

Nothing has worked, however, and I still have to feel the bitter pangs of regret Chick Fil A Buildingevery single Friday, when we go to Chick Fil-A. (It’s called “Chick Fil-A Friday” for a reason, my friends!)

I like to eat healthy, most of the time…during the weekdays, but not on Friday night. (That’s when my wife, Nicole, and I get Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Cheddar’s, or some other very high calorie meal.)

But starting Monday, up through, and including lunch on Friday, my diet is pretty strictly regimented…or so I thought!

“So what did you do?!” you ask.

Okay, I’ll come clean. Jeff and I sat down together, with an iPhone, to determine exactly how healthy our Chick Fil-A Friday outings were. The results were devastating!

Allow me to walk you through it. We’ll just pretend I’m ordering.

“I would like a spicy chicken sandwich please (490 calories)…deluxe, that is (+80 calories).”Chick Fil A Spicey Chicken

“Would you like fries sir?”

“Well, since you asked, yes. (400 calories) Oh, and why don’t we make it a large. I’m famished!” (+120 calories)

“And to drink, Brian?”

“I would like half Sprite and half diet lemonade, please.” (95 calories)  This drink they now affectionately call a “Brian Palmer”, which gives you an idea of how frequently I go there.

“Why don’t we make that a large.” (+50 calories)

“That’ll be $7.65, sir.” (Yes, that’s exactly how much it costs.)

I know what you’re thinking. “Brian, that’s not too bad. Plenty of people eat lunches that total one thousand, two hundred and thirty five calories!”

Thank you very much for your reassurance. But unfortunately, I’m not done. It’s the next question that really gets me.

“Would you like sauce with that?”

“I appreciate you asking, kind lady. I sure would! May I have three tiny Chick Fil-A sauces and three, seemingly innocuous BBQ sauces, please.”

“My pleasure,” she says, as she passes a 6-inch stack of sauces across the counter. (That stack of sauces just added another 555 calories to my otherwise “light and healthy” lunch. A small price to pay for so much deliciousness, though.)

Prior to this fateful day, I would then sit down and blissfully enjoy my meal. Little did I know, by the time I walked out the door, and ordered one refill for the road, (+145 calories) I would have consumed a total of 1885 calories.

That means that in less than half an hour, I ate 115 calories less than what the FDA recommends I consume in a total of 24 hours. But what do they know?! Pyramid, schmeeramid!!

Sometimes, I will get the Cobb Salad (which keeps me at around 700 calories). But this is still my big treat of the week. The service there is amazing, the employees are kind, and the food is always delicious.

Who’s up for some Chick Fil-A? See you Friday!

 

 

 

How They Get There

I helped a 33 year-old man create the first resume of his life today.Life the Fallen

He has been in jail a few times, done a lot of drugs; taken the typical path that leads to homelessness.

“My dad was a church deacon,” he said. “But he was also an emotional terrorist.”

“He used to tell me that I was God’s punishment on him for all of the bad things he had done.”

“He beat me too, of course. The last time he laid his hands on me were when I was 14. The things he used to do were…horrible. I’ve talked to him maybe three times since.”

It’s easy to look down on people like him…until you learn how they got there.

His expression as we printed off his resume will stick with me for a long time. He was genuinely proud. An expression I doubt he displays often.

“Can we get something nice to put it in?! Some kind of folder or something?”

“You bet!” I said and walked over to grab him a nice new manilla envelope.

He put the resume in the folder and said, “Perfect!”

Walking out the door, he smiled and thanked me.

I got more out of it than he did. I guarantee it. And all it took was 45 minutes of my time from start to finish.

It’s pretty easy to be a blessing to a person who has lived most of his life on the threshold of hell. A little common decency, some smiles and kind words will put a smile on his face.

But if you genuinely, deeply care for him…now that will blow him away.

I think I’ll do it again next week.