Courage!

What is your biggest fear? I don’t mean a phobia like fear of heights, fear of spiders, or fear of public speaking. I’m asking about more common fears like the fear of loneliness, or the fear of rejection, failure, inadequacy, or the fear of being physically hurt or even the fear of uncertainty or meaninglessness. Fear unconsciously (or consciously!) blocks us from so much in life. Did one of those fears stand out to you when you read it? That, then, may be your biggest fear. But, this post isn’t about fear. It’s about courage.

Courage

I had to start with a brief mention of fear because fear plays prominently in the definition of courage. Courage, in the online dictionary,  is “The ability to do something that frightens one.” Or, as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” That’s a powerful statement. Some people have said that courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. No disagreement here, but Roosevelt’s quote seems powerful to me because it talks about why someone might overcome fear to take action.

That raises another question. What’s important to you? Another way of asking that question might be, what do you consider valuable? Setting aside for a minute valuable stuff, is your family valuable to you? Is safety and security? Your job? What about other valuable things also known as values, like integrity, love, honor, humility? These are questions we must answer if, by Roosevelt’s definition, we ever hope to be courageous. Which of us, after all, has never fantasized about being a “hero?”

Categories of Courage

Since the very definition of courage contains a clear reference to fear, it seems reasonable that categories of courage would align with a list of various fears. But, I think it’s helpful to consider them this way. Here are a few categories of courage:

  1. Physical Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your physical safety and security. Our first responders and military, for example, have made a career out of this assessment.
  2. Social Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than your social comfort or sense of belonging. Leaders need social courage when they ask their people to believe in and follow them.
  3. Moral Courage – this is when you assess that your convictions are more important than your social standing, your job, or, in some cases, even your life. Religious martyrs and social activists require moral courage.
  4.  Intellectual Courage – this is when you assess that something else is more important than being right or being part of the “in” crowd. Truth seekers require intellectual courage.

Did one of those descriptions draw you in? Can you see yourself being a physical hero? Maybe. Or what about a social hero, or a moral hero, or an intellectual hero? And that’s not an exhaustive list. The point is that courageous people are clear on what’s most important to them.

A Call to Courage

It was after dark one evening 25 years ago. I was the brand new pastor of a small church in a small town outside Lincoln, Nebraska. Suzi, the kids, and I had just arrived home from a visit to central Illinois where we had lived and pastored previously. The drive was seven and a half hours so we were ready to settle in for the evening. Right after we arrived home we got a call telling us a dear friend who was a member of our previous church had passed away while we were driving home. We had just visited with him on our trip. He was ill but we didn’t expect him to go that quickly.

In the midst of our road weariness and grief, the phone rang again. This time it was a member of our new church. There had been a terrible car accident involving teenage boys from our small community. She was calling from the hospital, “almost the whole town is here,” she said.

“Are either of the other pastors there?” I asked. There were two other churches in town and I wondered if pastoral care was available.

“Yes,” she answered. But it was clear she wanted her church to be officially represented, too. I understood that, of course.

It would be a 25 to 30 minute drive to the hospital in Lincoln. That’s no big deal in and of itself. Being called upon to serve in these situations despite personal tiredness and grief was what I signed up for so that wasn’t part of my struggle. But I did struggle. None of the families involved were from our church and I was afraid that my showing up, the new pastor of the “other” church, might appear morbid. It might appear like I was trying to horn in on the community’s grief to benefit myself or our church in some way.

The Rest of the Story

I made a decision. Serving those people with injured children and answering the call of the person from my church was more important than my fears. I put those in God’s hands and headed to the hospital. By the time I arrived, providentially, everyone else had gone home. Only the parents of the injured boys were still there. I had uninterrupted access to the single dad of one boy and the mother and father of the other. I did my best to offer grace, compassion, prayer, and any other support they would need in the coming days.

It was a genuine tragedy. The single dad lost his son. The parents of the other boy eventually brought him home but he would never be the same due to traumatic brain injury. In the days before those outcomes were known, the people of our church stepped up to serve those families and the community in amazing ways. The result of their actions opened doors to ministry in that community that had previously not been opened. I was a small part of a big thing God did in those days. Had I not done my part, He would have found another way, but I’m grateful to have participated.

Every day may present an opportunity to overcome some fear. If we focus on what’s most important to us, get clear on that, I believe we’ll become more courageous.

A White Cop and a Black Kid

Suzi and I are doubly blessed to have five children. We are blessed once to have them and the double blessing is that we had them through adoption. Two of our children came through inter-country adoption from Guatemala. A third was born in the States but of half-Guatemalan descent. So, our older three (who self-identify as “Group A”) are Guatemalan. Group B, as they call themselves, came along ten years after the last of Group A. They came together as twins and are of African-American descent. Suzi and I, then, are the minority in our family. The kids are all grown now, but whenever we would go anywhere as a family we got interesting looks. Two white people with three Hispanic kids and two Black kids brought a mixed bag of reactions.

The Car

The two younger ones got jobs and so they needed transportation. They borrowed some money from their big brother and bought a modest sedan from a small dealer. That was just as the pandemic was shutting everything down back in March of 2020. The DMV was one of those entities that shut down. The dealer turned in the paperwork for the sale of the car by mail and paid the fees. For months no tags or registration came so the kids drove on the temporary dealer plate.

As I write this in August of 2021, they still have not received the registration and plates for that car. The DMV is conducting an investigation into what happened. The dealer paid the fees as his receipts show but somehow the system shows them still outstanding on the car so it won’t issue tags. It’s quite a mystery and it puts the kids in a quandary. The car is not technically legal but they still need to get to work. So, they’ve been driving it.

The Black Kid

Our Youngest son, Jordan, is a winsome and gregarious young man who seems like a natural at whatever he decides to try. He is an athlete musician. In High School, he ran track, swam, played water polo, and was in the band. In band he easily picked up and switched back and forth between multiple instruments, woodwinds and brass. He also loves helping children and was involved in a high school program that mentored children with disabilities.

When our family moved to China for two years, Jordan and his sister were nine years old. I guess that was just the right age for him to catch a bug for living overseas. He’s dreamed of moving overseas since then. A Multi-Country European excursion with two friends right after High School graduation only added fuel to that fire. He also has a knack for languages. I remember how funny it was to see this young black boy successfully hail a cab and tell the driver where we wanted to go … in Mandarin! In High School he studied German.

He recently completed a course in teaching English as a second language and has accepted a job offer to teach next year at a small school in Spain. Seems like a fitting combination for him. He’s very excited and is working and saving money to make the move. He even opened a Go-Fund-Me page to help raise moving money.

The White Cop

As a result of the car tag fiasco, Jordan has been pulled over no less than five times for the expired dealer tag. Each time has resulted in a warning to get the situation corrected. He has a court date later next month but still needs to get to work so he continues to drive, often late at night when he closes at the fast-food restaurant where he works.

On a recent stop, after the usual explaining why he’s driving the car like that, the running of the driver’s license, and the officer telling him to get it taken care of, the cop didn’t ask him to step out of the car or begin to search him or draw his weapon, instead, he started making conversation. During the conversation, he heard about Jordan’s plans to teach English in Spain.  Then he asked an unexpected question, “Do you have a Go-Fund-Me?” Jordan was a bit startled by the question but told him he did and the conversation ended shortly after that when the officer had to get on with his work.

Later that day, Jordan got a notification that someone had contributed to his Go-Fund-Me account. He looked to see who it was, and was surprised to find that the officer who pulled him over had donated to his fund.

That’s not what you might expect to read these days when you see a title like “A White Cop and a Black Kid” so thought this might be a good story to share in the current climate. Thank you for reading.

Another Super Star

Two weeks ago I wrote about restaurant staff who work hard to provide a great dining experience in the midst of all different kinds of customers. Just the other day I saw a picture of a sign someone had put up that said, “The whole world is short-staffed, be kind to those who showed up.” Great point! I kept that in mind last night when Suzi and I and another couple (different couple from the ones I wrote about before) did a progressive dinner date. We went to one restaurant for dinner and another restaurant for dessert (no, we don’t live our whole lives in restaurants). At dessert, I actually thanked our server for showing up to work today. That restaurant was busy and the wait staff was a bit harried and they did their best.

Every once in a while you run into a superstar like Bailey who I wrote about two weeks ago. She’s the one who put “orange juice” on top of our sundaes. This story isn’t mine, but I love it and wanted to share it with you.

Another Super Star

Several years ago I read a good book by John G. Miller called  QBQ! The Question Behind the Question: Practicing Personal Accountability at Work and in Life,  At the beginning of Chapter One he tells this story.

It was a beautiful day when I stopped into Rock Bottom restaurant for a quick lunch. The place was jammed. I didn’t have much time, so I was happy to grab the one stool they had available at the bar. A few minutes after I sat down, a young man carrying a tray full of dirty dishes hurried by on his way to the kitchen.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed me, stopped, came back, and said, “Sir, have you been helped?”

“No, I haven’t,” I said. “And I’m in a bit of a hurry. But all I really want is  a salad and maybe a couple of rolls.”
“I can get you that, sir. What would you like to drink?”
“I’ll have a Diet Coke, please.”
Oh, I’m sorry, sir, we have Pepsi products. Would that be all right?”
“Ah, no thanks,” I said with a smile. “I’ll just have water with lemon, please.”
“Great, I’ll be back.” He disappeared.

Moments later he returned with the salad, the rolls, and the water. I thanked him, and he was quickly gone again, leaving me to enjoy my meal, a satisfied customer.

Suddenly, there was a blur of activity off to my left, the “wind of enthusiasm” blew behind me, and then, over my right shoulder,  stretched the “long arm of service” delivering a twenty-ounce bottle, frosty on the outside, cold on the inside, of–you guessed it–Diet Coke!

“Wow!” I said. “Thank you!”
“You’re welcome,” he said with a smile and hurried off again.

My first thought was Hire this man! Talk about going the extra mile! He was clearly not your average employee. And the more I thought about the outstanding thing he’d just done, the more I wanted to talk to him. So as soon as I could get his attention, I waved him over.

“Excuse me, I thought you didn’t sell Coke,” I said.
“That’s right, sir, we don’t.”
“Well, where did this come from?”
“The grocery store around the corner.” I was taken aback.
“Who paid for it?” I asked.
“I did, sir; just a dollar.”

By then I was thinking profound and professional thoughts like Cool! But what I said was, “Come on, you’ve been awfully busy. How did you have time to go get it?” Smiling and seemingly growing taller before my eyes, he said, “I didn’t, sir. I sent my manager!”

The Point(s) Of The Story

That server was clearly amazing. And the author goes on to make his great points about asking the right questions like, “What can I do in this situation to make a difference?” rather than what he calls “incorrect questions” like, “Why do I have to do everything around here,” and, “Who’s supposed to be covering this area, anyway?”

I would also like to give some recognition to the manager in that story. How many managers do you know who would respond to their employee by actually going to the grocery store and buying that coke? That person understood their role in supporting amazing performance. In my book, that makes them pretty amazing, too.

One final point. There is a lot of complaining going on in the world these days, much of it is justified. But, there is also amazing happening. Keep your eyes open for amazing, acknowledge it when you see it. Better yet, be amazing.

When No One Is Watching

Christian apologist and well-known author of The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching.” One thing about restaurants that I find fascinating is that each table is a separate little world where the inhabitants seem to believe that no one is watching them even though they are in full view of everyone else in the room. Ironically, that makes for some interesting people watching.

Once in a while, when Suzi and I are out alone, we’ll imagine the story behind a certain scene at a table. We’re not creepers but every once in a while a particular scene will be so obvious that we can’t help but be curious about “what’s going on over there?” That reminds me of a story I recently read. I thought it was interesting and had a great life lesson along these lines.

An Unexpected Interview

I’m reading a book by Richard Stearns, former CEO of Parker Brothers, Lenox, and World Vision, called Lead Like it Matters to God: Values-driven leadership in a success-driven world. In a chapter about integrity he relates the following story:

Early in my career, I was put to the test on this principle of private versus public behavior in one of my first job interviews. I was twenty-five years old at the time and had a full day of interviews set up for that entry-level marketing position at Parker Brothers Games. I was impressed that even for an entry-level job they had arranged for me to meet with several vice presidents, three marketing directors, and even a “drive-by” with the president. I really wanted this job, so I did my best to make a positive impression. Then at lunch, I was kind of surprised that they sent me out for almost two hours with a much lower-level employee named Clint, who worked as a marketing research analyst. I doubted that his input would matter much compared to the directors and vice presidents. but off we went to a local eatery.

As I recall, Clint and I had a good time eating fried clams somewhere in Salem, Massachusetts, and talking about what it was really like to work at Parker Brothers. A few days later I was thrilled to get the call that they were offering me the job. When I showed up for my first day of work a couple of weeks later,  I spent the morning with my new boss getting briefed. But his opening comments are the ones I remember to this day. He  looked at me and said: “You know why we hired you, don’t you?” Of course, I’m thinking it must have been my scintillating interview technique, my winning personality, my prematurely graying hair, my impressive Wharton MBA,  or maybe my solid twenty months of previous work experience. But no, he said, “You passed the ‘Clint test.’ We knew you would be on your best behavior with the directors and the VPs, but we wanted to see if you were a jerk when your guard was down, so we sent you out to lunch with Clint. You passed. Clint told us he thought you were a good guy, so we hired you.” Wow! And I thought no one was looking.

When No One Is Watching

Just like the people Suzi and I watch in restaurants, Richard didn’t know anyone was “looking” during his “final interview.” The real lesson for me is when I flip that around and ask myself who’s looking at me or at us? What story might they weave based on their observation of my behavior?

I’m a person of faith so I believe there is always someone watching. That both comforts me and keeps me on my toes. Whether or not you believe someone is always watching over you, C.S. Lewis’ quote about integrity is true. Character in general and Integrity, in particular, is what makes people, families, and nations strong from the inside. We seem to be experiencing a shortage of that these days.

Will you join me in self-reflection on the question, “Is there integrity between what’s on the inside of me and how I behave outwardly?” Am I a person of character and does it show? Because you never know who’s watching.

Eating On Purpose

No, this is not a post about dieting (as you can see from the picture). This is a post about eating out, on purpose. Suzi and I love to watch people in all kinds of settings. Restaurants are a particularly interesting study in human behavior. I’m sure you know what I mean. You often have the elderly couple who sit across from each other and eat without saying a word to each other during the entire meal. Or, you have the table full of 4 – 5 teens, each one on their phone seemingly isolated by that device from the person next to them. You may have the family with unruly kids running around making noise and a mess, or the table full of guys who’ve had a little too much and are laughing way too loud.

In the midst of all that is the restaurant staff. Servers, Bussers, Kitchen staff are all working hard to make everyone’s dining experience as good as it can be. These days, with short staff and restaurants opening to fuller capacity, that can be a tall order. Suzi and I have always made it our purpose to brighten the day of the restaurant staff when we go out to eat. Whether it was when we had all five of our young kids with us back in the day, or when we go now with just friends or by ourselves, we strive to make a connection with the staff and make their day.

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had servers tell us our group has been the best customers they’ve had all day, or that we’re so much fun or something like that. Another way they communicate their appreciation is by little extra things they do.

Orange Juice on A Sundae?

One example of that is Bailey at the “Rebel Grill.” I call it that because they never shut down during the pandemic. One evening a couple of months ago, Suzi and I and another couple who have the same mission we do when they eat out went to the Rebel Grill. We go there often but we had a new server this night. Her name was Bailey.

We had our usual fun and received our usual comments from her but she went a step further. We had been joking about toppings for a sundae for dessert. It went something like this, Bailey said, “I can put anything on your sundae that you want.” One of Us: “Can you put orange juice on it?”  She said, “If you want!” All joking aside, we ordered our favorite sundaes (with no orange juice). If you look closely at the picture I included with this post, you’ll see that Bailey made little signs, attached them to toothpicks, and put them on top of each of our sundaes. The signs said, “Orange Juice.” She actually did put orange juice on top of our sundaes!! You may also notice that she “Misinterpreted” the meaning of “Small Sundaes.”

Bailey was great fun but the interaction started out in the normal way. “Can I get you something to drink, etc?” As we two couples interacted with each other in a very positive way and drew Bailey into the conversation, she loosened up and had fun too. Those incredibly fun sundaes were her way of showing us that we had brightened her day.

A Follow Up To Orange Juice

We (all four of us) have been back to the “Rebel Grill” several times since then over the last couple of months but we hadn’t seen Bailey until just the other night. When we walked in Bailey was our hostess! We had a fun little reunion while she seated us then our server came to take our order. At first, we were a little disappointed it wasn’t Bailey. But, very shortly we were back in “Make her day” mode.  At dessert time we ordered with no unusual fanfare. But, when our sundaes arrived, there was extreme fanfare. Right in the middle of the whipped cream on each sundae sat a tiny paper condiment cup filled with … orange juice!

Bailey not only remembered our previous encounter, but she brought our new server into the story. How fun is that?! That’s just one story. There are many. Some are fun, others are touching, some others turned into long-term friendships. Here’s my recommendation. Go out to eat. Do it with a purpose to makes someone’s day and see what happens.

A Special Day

I didn’t put up a normal Engager Dynamics post yesterday because I was honored to officiate at the wedding of my nephew Luke and his new bride Genevieve on Sunday.  Suzi and I drove from California to Colorado last week and are on our way home this week.

A wedding is a wonderful celebration. This one was in a beautiful outdoor setting with a mountain backdrop and a stream running alongside the venue. Aside from my car alarm going off right at the beginning (I’m not kidding about that), the ceremony went off without a hitch. 

There is a lot of planning and work that goes into a wedding. But, as I reminded the couple, the wedding is just the first day of the rest of their life together. I hope and believe they will put at least as much work and planning into their marriage every day as they did into their wedding.  They will also need the support of their family and friends. I challenged the wedding party to continue to stand with the couple from this day forward and those who gathered for the ceremony to continue to surround them with love and support.

I once saw a plaque hanging on the wall of a friend’s house that read “A Happy Marriage Is the Union of Two Good Forgivers!” That’s true and it’s good advice for all of us in all our relationships.

Whose Story Is It?

I got a win the other day. I started last week’s post with an epic fail so I decided to start this week off with a win. Also, it’s newsworthy for me to get a win on this topic because I struggle with this one as much as I do with last week’s. After a meeting, an older gentleman came up and began to tell me his life story. It was very interesting. He had wanted to design and built boats but wound up in law enforcement for 35 years. After that, he ran a homeless shelter for 15 years during which time he went to seminary and became an ordained minister. He currently serves as an associate pastor and often sings on the worship team.

Where’s the win? The win is that I got to hear his story because I kept mine out of the conversation. Most people love to talk about themselves. I have a friend who likes to joke, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think about me?” That line is funny because it’s true. We want to talk about ourselves. I started this post with a story about me. Yikes! I didn’t even think about that correlation until now.

Other people’s stories enrich us. In her TED Talk on how to have a good conversation, NPR radio host, Celeste Headlee says, “Be interested in other people. I grew up assuming everyone has some hidden amazing thing about them. I’m a better host because I keep my mouth shut as often as possible, I keep my mind open, and I’m constantly prepared to be amazed. And I’m never disappointed.”

Be Proportional

We have two ears and one mouth. When we interact with people, we should listen at least twice as much as we talk. I’m as guilty as the next person of jumping into someone else’s story to share part of mine. Our minds process what we hear by searching our memory files for similar information or experiences to help us understand and relate. When we find such an experience our tendency, or at least my tendency, is to share it. My intention is to relate with the other person. But, it doesn’t come across that way usually. Usually, it derails the other person. The story isn’t about me, it’s about them and when I jump in with my story it’s more of an interruption than an aid to the conversation.

We relate better by listening than by talking. Listening says, “I’m interested in you.” Talking says, “you should be interested in me.” Next time you’re in a conversation, try holding back, resisting the urge to share your story, and see how it goes. You might get a win like I did.

Be Inquisitive

I’m not suggesting we don’t speak at all during a conversation. In fact, someone has described a good conversation as being like a game of catch. It goes back and forth. The purpose of the conversation will determine how much back and forth is best. Right now I’m talking about a specific kind of conversation, one where you want to hear the details of what the other person is saying. It may be an interview or an investigation. It could be a get-to-know-you conversation of any kind or it may simply be an honorable way to ask, “how was your weekend?”

I wrote a post almost exactly a year ago called “Listen with your mouth.” The most effective use of our mouth in this kind of conversation is to ask questions. Good questions show you’re interested in what the other person is saying. They also help you guide the conversation into what interests you most or what you most need to know. In the conversation I started this post with, I asked that gentleman a couple of probing questions about what he learned from his work with homeless families. It was very enlightening. He eagerly offered his observations and it was information I was interested in. It was also a conscious choice I made when the urge to interject my story came up.

I was recently asked to be part of a mediation conversation between an employee and a manager. On several occasions during that conversation, I asked one or the other, “A moment ago you said … this. Would you explain a little more for me what you meant by that?” Those questions helped guide the conversation to a favorable resolution.

I’m interested in people. I like to hear their stories. When someone is sharing their story with me I’m going to remember whose story it is and be proportional and inquisitive rather than constantly interjecting my story.

Hello Me, Nice to Meet You

Happy New Year! My last post went up during the last week of 2020. That was a year we were all ready to have end, wasn’t it? It was so filled with challenges that people began to say, “It’s 2020” in response to any unusual or difficult thing that came up. 2020 was certainly filled with problems. It’s fitting, though I hadn’t thought about it at the time, that I wrote about a personal problem in my last post. Problems are inevitable regardless of the year (sorry, 2021 will have it’s share, too). Here’s an important truth about problems. Speaker, author, and leadership coach, John Maxwell, writes, “Problems introduce us to ourselves.” When I look into the mirror of a big problem who do I see reflected back at me? For example, let’s explore that in the form of three contrasted questions.

Am I a Victim or a Victor?

Another way to ask that is, “Am I a blamer or a tamer?” What’s my first instinct when a problem presents itself? Is it to find out who’s to blame? Is it to focus on how the problem is negatively affecting me? Or, is it to ask the question, “What do I need to do right now to overcome this barrier and achieve my desired outcome?”

The difference shows my attitude. Problems introduce us to our attitude. If you look up the word “attitude” you’ll see that it has to do with posture or position. In an airplane, for example, it refers to the relative position of the plane’s axes to a reference point like the horizon. When we think about mental attitude, it means our mental position or posture relative to a given situation. Think of it as am I curled up in a ball wondering “why me?” or standing squarely in the face of the problem ready to take it on.

Am I a Hothead or a Level head?

When I see my reflection in a big problem do I see steam coming out of my ears? Frustration is the feeling we get when we are being obstructed or impeded in our progress toward a goal. Obstruct and impede are synonyms of frustrate. It’s normal to feel it when our progress is being thwarted by something, especially if it’s something out of our immediate control. The question is how much control over me does that feeling have?

The difference between hothead and level head shows my emotion. Another way to look at it is by the effect of each. Think of it this way. Am I a tornado or a Zamboni? The difference between those is what they leave behind? A tornado passes over something beautiful and wrecks it. A Zamboni passes over something wrecked and makes it beautiful. Does my emotional response add to the problem or help put it in perspective.

I said that frustration comes when our progress is obstructed. But an obstruction in our path presents a couple of options. One is we learn how to overcome the obstruction which is a form of progress called growth. Another is we take another path that could lead us to a better destination than the original path. Even if it doesn’t, as long as we learn something, even failure is progress. With that in mind, we can be less frustrated because we can see progress possible no matter what.

Am I a problem spotter or a problem solver?

Any “Captain Obvious” can point out a problem. Even If the problem is less obvious or anticipated, the question becomes what am I going to do about it? Am I the kind of person who only spots problems and points them out, or am I the kind of person who takes action to solve the problem?

I was on a daily call yesterday with my team. At the end of the call I always go around the group and ask if there’s anything else on the topic. One caller spoke up. They said, “I was talking with my peer who told me about this anticipated problem. I put together these supplies they would need, should that situation arise, and delivered them.”

Another one of the callers said, “My concern is that if the customer does this, then that might happen.” The second caller was spotting a potential problem. The first caller learned about a potential problem and took action to solve it ahead of time.

The difference between spotter and solver shows me my action. Spotting problems is important, especially if they’re hard to see or they are potential problems that people aren’t thinking about. But solving problems is what leaders do.

We learn a lot about ourselves by how we face problems. We learn about our attitude, about our emotions, and about our action. But, guess what, if we learn, the problem has become an opportunity.

Life In The Ranch – Trouble In Paradise

I drove up to The Ranch one afternoon shortly after we bought it and noticed water dripping from the insulation underneath, near the front middle of the RV. Uh Oh. I went to the side and saw a gap between the screws holding up the insulation and pulled down slightly to see if I could find out anything about the source of the water. When I pulled down it created a low spot at the edge of the RV and out poured a lot of water that had been sitting in there. The good news is the water was clear, meaning it was grey water at worst, fresh water at best. In case you don’t know, RVs have three kinds of tanks. One holds freshwater for if you’re camping somewhere without a connection to city water. Another holds “grey water” which is the wastewater from your sinks and shower. “Blackwater” is the wastewater from your toilet. Now you know why I said clear was the good news.

Now What?

The dealer we bought the unit from had gone to great lengths telling us how differently they do business, that “As Is” (which is how used units are sold) doesn’t mean “you’re on your own once you drive off the lot.” He told me how they inspect the units carefully to be sure all the systems are working and that if there was anything they missed I should call him directly and “hit him between the eyes with the news.” So I called him. He asked me to send him some pictures which I did. I will admit, I was skeptical he would do anything. My skepticism seemed justified when he said on the phone, “I don’t know what to do, Jim. My repair guy won’t travel that far.”

I decided to try something. I called a local dealership and asked if they had or knew of someone locally who would come to my site and work on my rig. To my surprise, they referred me to a guy named Chris. I called him and described my situation. I told him I was hoping to get the guy I bought the unit from to pay for the repair. He didn’t think that was going to happen and told me he thought it would cost around $1,400 to repair my leak and good luck getting the dealer to pay for it. “I’ve worked with guys like that before,” he said.

I called the dealer and told him I’d found a local guy who would come look at it. He was skeptical. He said, “I’ve worked with guys like that before (funny huh?) “They’ll take you to the cleaners.” When I told him what Chris had estimated the costs to be, he said “See, he’s setting you up for a big bill.” But, to my pleasant surprise, he agreed to talk to Chris.

Then What?

Chris agreed to talk to the dealer but said he would only come if he paid for the service call upfront, $100. I gave Chris the dealer’s number and a little while later he called me back to set up an appointment.  Wow! I thought. This might work out after all. Chris explained what he and the dealer had worked out about how to approach the diagnosis of the problem and asked if I was OK with that. When I agreed he said, “I’ll see you then.”

Chris actually showed up. He drove up in his car, popped the trunk where he had a toolbox and a creeper (a board with casters for rolling around under things on your back). I hung out with him while he worked because I like to learn new things and I wanted to understand what was under The Ranch and what he would be doing to fix my leak. He cut into the underbelly insulating cover and peeled it back.  He discovered that one of the greywater tanks was completely full and, instead of backing up into the kitchen sink like it was supposed to when it was full, it was overflowing underneath.

That was actually good news. I was happy it wasn’t anything that needed to be replaced. It did raise a question, though. How did that tank get so full? I had emptied the grey water tank. It turns out there was a valve to open this tank located away from the other valves for the black water tanks and the other grey water tank. I hadn’t seen it. We opened that valve and the water drained out. The system shouldn’t work like that but it’s something I can manage now that I know. So Chris left to call the dealer with the report and get paid and I was happy with the result.

So What? – The Flexibility of Stories

As I was thinking about telling this story, I realized it could be told with a different emphasis to make the story about one thing or another. That’s really true about any story, isn’t it? This could have been about how the dealer kept his word. It could have been about the action I took to help get my problem corrected. I could have made it more about the colorful character that is Chris. Or, it could have been about systems in a 5th wheel. That’s one of the great things about stories. They can be true while remaining flexible to make different points.

An Indescribable Gift

This is the season of gift-giving. In fact, I’m posting this during Christmas week. This year, 2020, has been the most unusual year in my lifetime. With all that has been happening, it seems we need the hope Christmas brings more than ever. Last year I had the privilege of speaking at Grace Community Church in Lathrop, CA during the Christmas season. What I’ve included below is an expanded outline of a message I shared about God’s indescribable gift to us. A full transcript would make for too long a post, so I hope this will get the points across. Merry Christmas!

INTRODUCTION

Have you ever received a gift that left you speechless? It was so extravagant, or so unexpected, so beautiful, so personal … you couldn’t find the words to speak.

That’s how we’ve felt each time we met one of our children for the first time.

That’s how I felt when Suzi said, “Yes” that night on December 7, 1979, under the lightly falling snow on the corner of Dearborn and Chestnut Streets in Chicago when I asked her to marry me.

Paul had that reaction in 2CO 9:15. He is talking about financial assistance to those in need. That leads him to talk about how God supplies, and he ends with the exclamation “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift”. The gift he’s talking about is called in another translation “unspeakable.” It’s unutterable, it’s inexpressible, it’s incomprehensible, it’s extraordinary because it’s paradoxical. Let me show you what I mean. Four Paradoxes of God’s Indescribable Gift …

This gift is given to everyone but only a few receive it

  1. It has been delivered to every front door – in fact, it’s said to be knocking at the door, but people don’t receive it
    1. Reject it – “Return to sender” because they don’t trust the giver
    2. Don’t know about it – someone needs to tell them what that knocking is at the front door.
    3. Don’t “need” it – what do you give the person who has everything?
    4. Are afraid of it (don’t know the giver) – what’s in the box? It could be a bomb, anthrax, who knows
    5. Ignore it – no time, no interest
  2. (JOH 1:12 Yet to all who did receive [this gift], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God) – heirs to the throne of heaven!

This gift is absolutely free, but it will cost you everything

  1. It’s free
    1. You can’t buy it – this offer is not available in stores (or online for that matter) You can’t get it at Amazon, there is no auction on e-Bay, Wal-Mart doesn’t carry it. You won’t find it at Nordstrom. Even Neiman Marcus doesn’t carry it. (Simon the sorcerer tried to ACT 8:18) the price is too high. You couldn’t afford it. No one but God could afford to pay for it.
    2. You can’t earn it (LUK 18 the young ruler, “What must I do …?”; ROM 6:23 wages vs gift)
    3. You can’t bargain for it – (“God, if you get me out of this, I’ll start going to church!” I’ll give you this if you give me that or do that for me) It’s not a quid pro quo transaction
  2. It will cost you everything
    1. When you receive it, (take it up, essentially “sign for it”) it changes your Character – This is not a gift you can just stick in your back pocket, or hang around your neck, or put up in the closet. When you take hold of this gift, it takes hold of you. It gets inside you and begins to change you from the inside out. Just looking at it transforms [metamorphosis] you 2 CO 3:18.
      1. Cost you who you are today to become who you were meant to be
      2. Cost you energy
      3. Cost you money
      4. Cost you friends
      5. It has cost many their lives – HEB 11, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Jim Elliott
    2. When you receive this gift, it changes your trajectory. This gift comes from God and it takes you back to God for eternity.
      1. Redeems your life from bondage
      2. Restores your soul
      3. Remakes your brokenness
      4. Resurrects you from spiritual deadness, and
      5. Returns you to the one who gave it forever

This gift is given to you, but it is not for you (only)

  1. You’re intended to re-gift this gift – the words from a song that plays at Christmas are, “Last Christmas I gave you my heart. The very next day, you gave it away.” In the song that’s a bad thing, but God says “Yes! And the next day and the day after that. Give it away.” You may just get a case of the “can’t help its.” Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning. (1951 Alistair Sim version). “I don’t know what to do! I’m as light as a feather! I’m as happy as an angel! I’m as silly as a schoolboy! I’m as giddy as a drunken man!”
  2. Part of the transformation is from selfish to selfless
  3. None of God’s gits is intended to flow into you like a reservoir, intended to flow through you like a river to benefit others – 1PE 4:10  “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
    1. Individuals – horde my gift away and maybe talk about it once in a while
    2. Congregations – sing and learn about our gift and invite people to come to see it – go give it away
  4. This gift grows in value as you give it away. You reap all the benefits of the gift and it continues to deliver – it’s the gift that keeps on giving

This gift is both a what and a whom

  1. This gift is not a thing – not a fire insurance policy – not a certificate of membership is some club.
  2. This is God’s gift of Jesus and all he is and brings when he is received.
  3. Jesus is called many things in the Bible. At this time of year we think especially of “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I love the title King; King of Kings and Lord of Lords. My journal, “I serve at the pleasure of the King.”
  4. In 1981, my senior year at MBI, Suzi and I attended Moody’s Founder’s Week in February S.M. Lockridge spoke. His message was entitled, “Amen.” During that message, he delivered this now-famous description of the indescribable Jesus! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzqTFNfeDnE 

CONCLUSION:

Pastor Lockridge asked several times, “Do you know him?”
Have you opened the door and signed for the gift God has delivered to you?