When I was ten years old, bell-bottoms flooded the fashion world like a tsunami. They were everywhere, but my mother wouldn’t let me wear them. Her lame excuse was something like, “You shouldn’t be a slave to fads.” (I think she just disliked them.)
Children always tell their parents that they are the only kid at school without an “X”: a cell phone, an iPad, or a personal condo in the Cayman Islands. Well, I checked. I was literally the only kid in my class without bell-bottoms, except for the one girl who wore a dress.
One day an older boy at school stopped me and asked why I wasn’t wearing bells. To a ten-year old boy, the only thing worse than being wretchedly uncool was to miserably admit, “My mom said I can’t.” So I just stood there, head down, conflicted and dejected.
As the older boy stared at me, wonder washed over his face, and he exclaimed, I know what you’re doing, you’re sticking it to the man, aren’t you? You’re sticking it to the man!
I had no idea what “sticking it to the man” meant, but I sensed a ray of sunshine pierce my storm. Not wanting to lie, I simply smiled. Sort of knowingly.
Three or four years later, bell-bottoms had the fashion-appeal of last week’s lukewarm latte.
Last week, a delay by God disappointed me. It also shocked me awake like smelling salts.
For ten years, I’ve wanted (and waited) to write a book on hearing God. Last month, I finally finished it. And I’ve paid a professional to edit it, commissioned an artist to design it, and found a proofreader to fine-tune it and a marketing expert to promote it.
I originally planned to publish Hearing God in Conversation last May, but I was hindered by a month-long bout with pneumonia, friends with unexpected needs, and my first ever (hopefully my last ever) IRS audit.
After months (and years) of postponements, my book was finally ready for release September 1st.
Then a friend slipped a copy of my manuscript to a publisher. The publisher invited me to meet their management team. And the team offered me a contract last week. But a contract with a hitch (because we missed an important publishing industry window). If I sign their agreement, my book’s release date will be deferred by yet another year. Argh!
I was disappointed, dismayed by another delay (though thrilled that they liked the book). I asked myself: Should I publish it myself in three weeks or wait another twelve, long months?
And then one of my smart-aleck kids (never mind which one) commented, “Gee Dad, you’re writing a book about hearing God; have you asked him what you should do?”
When I first began Beliefs of the Heart, all my blogs were videos. Below is my very first take, shot and published March 19, 2010. I’m on vacation, and I hope you find my first blog interesting.
It asks the question: How does God think of us? What does he see that we don’t see? Scripture’s answer is surprising.
(My early production standards were simple: If it recorded, ship it. See if you can identify out dog Puzzle, the gale-force winds, and the reversing dump truck).
Length: 3 minutes 27 seconds
Over the last month or so, I have heard of, witnessed, and (sadly) perpetrated several damaging acts of offering advice, examples where the counsel backfired and the recipient was worse off than before.
And I’m talking about examples of good, sound, wise, practical advice. Instead of strengthening the listeners, the guidance pulled the rug out from beneath them; instead of encouraging, it discouraged:
- A grown man told me how his father’s advice on how to handle school bullies made him feel like a lifelong coward;
- I saw a man offer his wife excellent principles for dealing with her incompetent boss, and his advice shriveled her spirit;
- I suggested to a friend three guidelines for strengthening a daily prayer habit, and the man’s prayer time went from ten minutes to two.
How many times have you received unsolicited advice and you wonder, Do I really look that stupid to you? Why does advice—and I’m talk about good, practical guidance—so often boomerang?
A couple years ago I had an awful day in the middle of a horrible week in the midst of a bad month. A sniffle turned into post-nasal drip which turned into bronchitis—for the third time in five months. When I inhaled, it felt like shards of glass shredding my lungs.
I canceled everything so I could have some recovery time. But, later, that same day, I ended up with six hours of unexpected, unscheduled, and exhausting meetings.
Now I was both sick and tired.
That same night an organization I belong to sent out its weekly email. Hidden in the email was the description of a decision that I considered a tactical blunder. So I dashed off a short email to the leaders asking them to reconsider.
Alas! I ended the email by shooting off a nasty, sarcastic barb:
“Why don’t we think first? For a change.”
The next morning several people emailed back, correcting me for my caustic comment.
My initial response was self-defense: I was sick. And their decision made little sense. And my day of recovery had been stolen. By one of those leaders. And besides, in their haste they had failed to consider a crucial element.
But that was just defensiveness. The truth was I had been a jerk. No one forced me to pen those final words. They were unnecessary and inflammatory. And no one had a gun pointed at me when I hit “send.” The gun was in my hand, pointed at others.
Why didn’t I just think first? For a change.
[Click here for an audio version of this post: The Self-Centeredness of Unselfishness.]
Our romantic 30th anniversary trip to Italy began the same week Dan Brown published his latest book, Inferno (Italian for Hell). I think it was prophetic.
Carla and I have very different ideas of vacation. She likes cultural sites. I like scuba diving. She likes exploring museums. I like exploring shipwrecks. We are very different.
Our differences make it difficult to find a good place for anniversary getaways. We went nowhere for our 15th, 20th, and 25th anniversaries, except out for dinner. In the past we’ve had several family scuba vacations, so I agreed to a trip to Italy for our 30th.
On our first day in Italy we toured the Vatican Museum, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. On the second day we visited the Coliseum, the Roman Forum, and the Pantheon. After two days, I had walked 33,134 steps through museums and cultural sites, and I had seen approximately 4,741 masterpieces.
My flat feet ached. My fat brain overflowed. I was irritated and I didn’t hide it. I kept thinking, “I can’t take another twelve days of this!” Maybe I sulked. I was tiresome enough that Carla was thinking, “I can’t take another twelve days of him!”
The countless masterpieces were driving me nuts, and my sulkiness (I’m ashamed to admit) was driving Carla nuts.
Our first two days in Rome were hell.
We’ve been remade through a re-birth; we’ve become new creations and given new hearts; and the walls that imprisoned us have been bulldozed. And yet . . . we still fear our bosses, speak harshly to friends, dwell on anxious thoughts, and obsess about ourselves. Why is that?
Years ago I read an article written by a counselor who worked with concentration camp victims shortly after World War II. The sheer breadth of the war’s destruction restricted the Allies’ ability to help feed and shelter people, so refugee camps were built for the victims.
The counselor noted that many of the victims in the refugee camps acted as though they were still in prison. While they had been freed from the camps, they asked permission for the smallest liberties, such as a nighttime stroll outside their dormitories. The therapist made this observation:
We took the victims out of the camps in an instant,
but it may take decades before the camps are taken out of the victims.
Their story is our story. God has opened the prison doors on the outside, but we still need him to free us from the prisons walls within.