A walk through the yellow pages

May it never be said that it takes much to entertain me.  That’s why when my brother or sister and I get together we can sit around a table and laugh hysterically while the rest of our families wonder how strange our childhood must have really been.

A few days ago Kelly and I headed off to northern Michigan for a few days of much needed R&R.  We didn’t have much planned – just a few days to hang out, relax, read some books, play some games, get some sleep, and visit the local coffee shop (Kelly’s idea).  It was a great plan – and it went quite well, but then I found myself paging through the local phone book of Manistee, Michigan – for what reason I have no idea other than that I was tired of playing games, reading books and relaxing.

As I was thumbing through the yellow pages, it happened.  I started laughing.  I was reading the headings at the top telling what the first and last businesses listed on each page were – and I hyphenated the two words, and well, I found myself amused.  But think about some of these business possibilities for a minute…

  • concrete-consignment:  sure, you’re done with it, but don’t throw it away – someone might pay for your used concrete
  • chiropractic-churches:  the ultimate holistic approach
  • mold-motels:  I think I stayed in one of these once in Sandusky, Ohio
  • pregnancy-publishers:  when you want everyone to know, they’ll get the word out
  • kitchen-landfills:  otherwise known as left-overs
  • drug-entertainers:  is this even legal?
  • toilet-towing:  it makes sense, especially if you can’t drive it to the shop for repairs
  • children-compressors:  are your kids getting too big? Or just too big for their britches?  These people can help!
  • septic-sprinklers:  this is simply recycling gone way too far

I told you, it doesn’t take much.  And remember, the next time you get bored – just let your fingers do the walking.

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Customer Service

Recently our hospice team watched a webinar on the subject of customer service.  The guy teaching it ( Bryan Williams) was in charge of the guest relations department for the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain for years before going into business as an independent consultant.  His material was really good, so I started writing notes –  not so much because I thought it would be helpful in the hospice world, but because I thought it might be helpful in the church ministry world.

From my (random) notes:

  • The golden rule says treat others the way you want to be treated.
  • The platinum rule says treat others the way they want to be treated.
  • The double platinum rule says treat others the way they don’t even know they want to be treated.
  • Remember the 10’/4′ rule.  Anyone with in 10′ of you should always be acknowledged.  Anyone within 4′ of you should be engaged.
  • Recognize the difference between function and purpose.  Function is what you do; purpose is why you do it.  Make sure your team knows the purpose.
  • There are four basic steps of service: 1] a warm welcome using the person’s name,  2]  complying with wishes / anticipating needs, 3]  offering additional assistance, and 4] a gracious farewell.
  • Whatever you focus on improves.
  • Invest where the improvement comes the easiest.
  • Always give your team appreciation.  Without it they quit and leave.  Worse yet, sometimes they quit and stay.
  • Always get the input of your team.
  • Take advantage of every touch point.  Make deposits and not withdrawals.

An Easter story

My story goes back more than 15 years, though in many ways it seems like it just happened yesterday.  It happened on this same Saturday – the one between Good Friday and Easter – when I was officiating a basketball game for some high school guys in the church gym.  We were several minutes into the game when one of the players cut through the lane and got pushed.  I called the foul – but the player fell to the ground.  At first we all thought that he was goofing around, making the foul seem worse than it actually was.  But then I realized he wasn’t acting.  He was struggling for breath.  In the next few seconds his body went rigid, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he started convulsing.

I immediately called for help, and the coaches came running.  But by the time they reached the player, he was no longer breathing.  Someone ran to call 911 while the coach tried to administer CPR.  Within minutes the paramedics arrived and the boy was rushed to the hospital – but he never regained consciousness.  He was gone.

We were stunned and shaken.  Things like that aren’t supposed to happen to healthy, athletic sixteen-year-olds.    But it did.  As I stood there in disbelief, it was if someone started whispering in the back of my mind.  I can still hear it today as I did back then.  “He is not here, for He is risen.” It was the words the followers of Jesus heard when they went to the tomb on Easter morning.  And it was those same words that I was hearing.  Maybe I was hearing those words because Easter was the next day.  Or maybe I was hearing those words for a different reason.

A few days later the viewing was held for Quincy, the young man who died.   Literally hundreds of teenagers filled the church auditorium where he lay.  And then his cousin stood up to speak.   With a clear voice she told of the day that she and Quincy had stood on the back porch of their house and Quincy had trusted Christ.

“He is not here for He has risen.”

That was the whisper.  Now I knew.  Quincy was no longer lying on that floor.  He had risen.  He had risen because Jesus had risen – and he had Jesus.

That is the story of Easter.  Death, as heart-wrenching as it was in that instance and still is, is not the end.  It is merely the beginning – because 2000 years earlier Jesus defeated death.  He walked away from the tomb and gave hope to us all.

“He is not here for He is risen.”

It’s a ‘dogs life for me

Just in case you’re wondering, I’ll be cheering for the Butler Bulldogs this Saturday.  And just to stay in keeping with the Final Four idea, let me give you four reasons why.

1.  They’re from Indiana.  This is not a team recruited from across the nation – this is a team of home-grown talent.  That’s right, ten of the players on the roster played their high school ball in the Hoosier state.  And why does that matter?  Because for 33 years I lived in Indiana, and I’m still a Hoosier at heart.

2.  They’re the underdogs.  I know that some people are favoring them against Michigan State, but let’s be for real.  MSU is the 8th largest university in the US with a student population of over 45,000 while Butler boasts a student body of 4,500.   That extra zero makes a big difference.  We’re talking David vs. Goliath here.

3.  They’re a team.  And basketball is still a team game.   Basketball’s not just about talent – it’s about  fundamentals, it’s about playing smart, it’s about making the extra pass, it’s about working for the good shot, it’s about blocking out, it’s about making the people around you better – and yes, it’s about playing good defense. (When you play pick-up games in Indiana, there is no such thing as “make it; take it.”  When you score, you have to earn the ball back.)

4.  There’s no reason to cheer against them.  Duke – you get all the calls.  Michigan State – you’ve been to more than your fair share of Final Fours.  West Virginia – your coach has some major question marks floating above his head (I would give your team props, though, for taking out Kentucky – remember, I’m from Indiana).  Butler – there’s nothing bad to say.

So it’s the Bulldogs life for me.

Hanging Tough

My Dad sent the following out in his daily email.  It’s his list of things to do when you are facing tough times.  I thought it was worth copying and passing along.

1. Recommit to the will of God. God is sovereign and in control.  Your resistance to God’s will isn’t going to change anything.  Your resistance will only make things worse.  You’ll find most peace in settling the issue of surrender at the outset of your problems.

2. Recognize God as your ultimate source. Everything finally issues back to Him.  He can do for you what no one else can do.  Best to turn to Him for His help before anyone / thing else.

3. Focus on the promises of God. Keep a list of them.  Be sure they pertain to your situation.  Keep them constantly before you.  Be specific in regard to prayer requests.  Make prayer lists and mark off answers.  Nothing encourages like seeing God’s hand at work. Don’t be afraid to ask God for anything.

4. Keep a long-range view in regard to God. Realize anew just Who God is.  Remember His long-term dealings in your life.  Remember other times when He cared for similar (or more serious) situations.  Realize that He has long-range plans and sees the end from the beginning.  Don’t give in to the feelings that God doesn’t know what is going on in your life.

5.  Look for blessings God sends in the midst of the trials. There are few things more encouraging than to know that God is at work in a situation.  Try to find ways in which God is working in your behalf.

6.  Keep your life in focus – maintain outside interests. Don’t allow your trial to consume you.  Keep other interests in life as an alternative focus.  Don’t allow your trials to destroy your relationships.

7.  Don’t allow your mind to make things worse than they are. Most of us can create monsters where none exist.  Few things in life are ever as bad as they could be or as they seem as if they will be.  Thought control is difficult, but it is possible.

8. Don’t allow yourself to ask questions to which you know you have no answers (or that have no answers). There are answers to every question, but God has chosen not to give us some of them now.  Asking unanswerable questions only leads to mental frustration.  Time may give some answers; the Lord will give the rest.

9.  Do everything in your power to attack the situation. Take whatever practical steps you can toward a solution.  Don’t allow the size of a situation to keep you from doing what you are able to do about it.  The activity involved in doing what you can about a situation tends to be therapeutic.

10.  Find a friend in whom you can confide. Seek someone who is a willing listener but who will not reinforce your negative emotions.  Be sure your confidant in confidential.  Don’t be afraid of transparency.

11.  Keep some things before you as goals, etc. Don’t lose interest in life in general.  Keep some things in front of you that you would yet like to accomplish.  Develop your goals, especially mentally, as they will encourage you to keep on going.

12.  Refuse to quit or to turn on the Lord. It is always too soon to quit when God in involved.  Turning on the Lord never benefits anyone (it actually will hurt those who are around you).   Resolve with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.”

This date in history

January 20 has been a big day.

  • In 1892, the first basketball game was played in Springfield, Massachusetts
  • In 1954, the coldest temperature ever in the lower 48 states was recorded in Rogers Pass, Montana (-70)
  • In 1981, the 52 Americans who had been held captive for 444 days were released
  • In 1986, the first Martin Luther King day was celebrated
  • In 2009, Barack Obama was inaugurated as the first minority US president
  • And in 1978, Brent Wood played 7 seconds in a JV basketball game

That’s right, I still remember the date – and there’s a good reason why, but I have to tell you the story first.  In 1978 I was in 9th grade.   And I was small – like extremely small.  When I started school that year I was all of 4’9″  – about the height of your average kitchen trash can.  But I liked to play basketball.  Unfortunately, what I lacked in size I made up for in lack of ability.  I wasn’t very good, and I didn’t get to play very much.

Until my big break came.  Report cards came out, and while I didn’t do much on the court, I did do pretty well in the classroom – unlike several of my teammates who were declared ineligible.  The coach gave me the news – I would be starting at point guard the next night.  I was elated – and went home and told my parents who promptly decided to drive about  two hours to attend the big event.

The game started, and there I was on the court in my much-too-large jersy and short shorts.  The other team won the tip and went down and scored.  The ball was inbounded to me, and I started up the court.  But awaiting me was a half-court trap.  I’d never faced one before.  Know that little fact, the coach called a timeout.  And took me out of the game.  And I never went back in.  I still remember at halftime limping off the court because I was hoping people would think that I got hurt and that’s why I couldn’t play.

That night I went home and read my Bible.  And I came across this verse in Proverbs 20:24.

“A man’s steps are directed by the Lord.  How then can anyone understand his way?”

I still remember thinking that verse probably applied to playing time, too.

You don’t need to feel sorry for me, because I had a lot of good takeaways from that night.

  1. I ended up becoming a basketball coach and I was always careful not to embarrass a player with a few seconds of playing time.
  2. I learned that God’s Word can speak into your heart at just the right moment, even if you are only 14 years old.
  3. I am reminded that teenagers are a pretty insecure and sensitive lot – and not very confident.
  4. I still can go back to that verse.  When things don’t work out like I think they should, I can take comfort in the fact that God is still is in control – even 32 years later.

So January 20 is a big date for me in history – because when I got home that night, God was waiting for me.

If I heard him say it once…

… I heard him say it a thousand times.  These are some of the things that I heard my dad say over and over again while I was growing up.  They are now as much a part of my DNA as the genes he passed on to me.

  • “It’s never right to do wrong to get a chance to do right.”
  • “There’s a solution to every problem.”
  • “You can never outgive God.”
  • “People are more important than things.”
  • “You can always afford to be gracious.”

That gets me thinking about the things that I hope my son will repeat some day.  These are a few that come to mind.

  • “You can’t make bad choices and end up in good places.”
  • “You are the person you are right now because that is who you have chosen to be.”
  • “Treat others on the basis of who you are, not who they are.”
  • “The most important thing in life is to love God with all of your heart.”
  • “Don’t be afraid of hard things.”

What should I add to my list?  What are the things your parents always said?  What are the sayings of yours that you hope your kids will repeat someday?

I’d love to hear what you’ve got.

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