Big Blue Nation

When I stopped to count it up, I realized that even though I’ve never “lived” there, I’ve spent somewhere around a year of my life in Kentucky. Mostly eastern Kentucky–which truly deserves its own acknowledgment and perhaps it’s own star in the flag.

It’s coal country, natural gas country, and four wheelin’ country; but the thing that seems to bring them all together is the way they love UK basketball.

In case you are not familiar–the Rupp arena seats 22,000 people and it will be sold out every home game. In fact, you probably can’t get a ticket if you weren’t born with one.

I’m not saying they are cultish about basketball. I’m saying they are what comes after cultish. It’s not like they have flat screen TVs playing the games at their wedding receptions–it’s that you don’t get married on game days. Not if you want your groom to show up.

Santa wears blue in Kentucky, and if you’re in Lexington on game days, you won’t see much besides blue.  I’ve never seen blue grass in Kentucky; I think it the country got its name from all the UK Fans looking at the world through blue sunglasses.  

Due to the generosity of some of our clients (prompted by an untimely scheduled funeral), we were blessed with tickets to a recent UK game. Tickets, we were informed, some of the locals would about shoot us over. 

The Rupp arena is strategically connected to both a mall and a hotel. So when the 22,000 fans descend on Lexington, the food court will be full of bright blue shirts. And if you are an out-of-towner trying to sneak in without getting shot, you can buy a blue shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, pants, muffs, pajamas, or Hello Kitty doll.

This particular game was at 9:00 pm on a Tuesday.  It was cold and snowy and generally a terrible time to be out. And as we were entering the arena, people were outside in the cold wearing signs that said, “I need to buy tickets!”

It was tempting, but I put my game face on and we marched inside.  In our section, all the seats were held by season ticket holders. They know who they are sitting next to. In fact, they probably know about everything there is to know about them.

Consequently, the people next to us immediately recognized us at outsiders, but they were kind enough to let us pretend for the night.

I was a little surprised by the demographic of the crowd at first. There were a lot of middle age people and even more older folks.  I guess that makes sense–They probably have a little more time and a little more money on their hands. 

They kicked off the game with live music, fireworks, and a lot of enthusiasm from the crowd.  I did see a few empty seats in the nose bleed section, but not many for 9:00 pm on a school night.  Kentucky easily got the ball from the start–thanks to the seven foot center who made the other team’s 6 foot 9 players look like they needed to do some growing up. 

Most of the fans–at least the older ladies–think of the team as their sons.  And no one was allowed to say anything negative about their boys but them.  If the other team so much as breathed on one of “their boys,” they would threaten them with slow and painful death.  But if one of the boys missed a shot or a pass, they weren’t above letting the boys know what they thought of them and why.

The opposing team–Boise State–was undefeated so UK fans took special delight in watching them spend the night chasing the UK score. 

It was impossible not to catch some of the enthusiasm.  Maybe the blue from my shirt was bleeding into my veins.  I shouted “white” and “blue” and “go cats” with the rest of them.  We truly did have good seats–about 10 rows up behind the clear backboard– close enough to see just how young those kids were, but hopefully far enough that the players couldn’t hear the lady behind us yelling, “What’s the matter, ‘Pointless’?”  Put the ball where it belongs!”

 Nothing makes for a bad day in Kentucky like a mark in the L column.  I can only imagine the pressure those kids were under.  The quality of life of hundreds of thousands of fans lies on their ability to get the ball through the net. 

And maybe a year in Kentucky is long enough that I’m starting to take a little bit of ownership. Who knows, maybe it was my yelling “go cats” that helped them score those last few points…or my seal motions that caused the other team to miss theirs.  Either way, I was one of the happy faces coming out of Rupp arena at 11:30 at night. And Wednesday dawned a beautiful day in Kentucky.

5:30 AM

For various reasons, I had decided to go to the gym a little later that particular morning.

That meant I needed to get most of my morning routine done before the gym–walking the dog, washing my hair, and packing a lunch. I had just about an hour–enough time to do each of those things and get to the gym if I hurried.

I put a leash on Julie Anne and headed outside in the dark. I needed her to hurry up and do what dogs do.

But Julie Anne was in no hurry.  Or maybe the change in schedule had her a little confused. I steered us along well lit areas and she sniffed and poked and played and scratched and–at times–acted like she was going to take care of business–but didn’t. As the minutes ticked by, I began to get more and more anxious. It was cold. it was dark. I was in a hurry.  And I was remembering a man’s scream of “Help! Help!” that I had heard from the warmth of my bed a few hours earlier.

I do not know what happened before that. I do not know what happened after that.  But someone had been screaming not far from here not long ago. Julie Anne, please do your business so we can get on with this day.

Julie Anne sniffed a little more and I was hopeful. Anywhere will do. This whole grassy area is designed specifically for this.

She poked around.

Honestly, girl, this blade of grass…that blade of grass. They are all the same.

She kept sniffing.

See this bag, Julie Anne? I’m just going to pick it up anyway. It isn’t going to matter two minutes from now. Just do it. Julie Anne–

She suddenly stiffened and turned and stared intently at the darkness in the trees behind the little strip of town houses. Julie Anne– She still stood motionless.

I could hear those screams.

Whether they were real or from my dreams, I knew not, but I could hear them.  And I was staring into the darkness myself and starting to feel a little creeped out.  There were no other brave souls out with their dogs at that time of morning.

Julie Anne stood frozen.  Alert. She had no intention of doing her business anytime soon.  And I had no intention of being that girl that got murdered standing outside in the cold waiting for her dog to poop.

So I headed home.

I was a little irritated as we reached the safety of my little place.  A good 15 minutes wasted.  Nothing accomplished.  My tightly packed schedule was now all askew and we would have to go for yet another walk.  I didn’t know when.

Patience has never been one of my strengths. It requires too much humility.  It requires me to put other people’s needs and schedules ahead of my own.  Patience understands that my time is no more valuable than the person in line in front of me at the grocery store with 100,000 coupons.  It is subject to the law that requires me to sit at a woefully long red light when there is not another car in the same zip code.  Patience sees interruptions as opportunities to yield, and grow, and learn.

And patience requires faith–because to be patient, I must choose to believe that someone else’s way is truly better than my own.  When it comes to some people, that sometimes requires quite a bit of imagination.  And when it comes to God, it means being to content to accept what my finite mind cannot even imagine.

As I mentioned, patience has never been one of my strengths.  In fact, I was born in a hallway because I couldn’t wait for the delivery room.  My dad will tell you that I’ve been in a hurry ever since.

But God apparently is not content to leave me that way.  Hence, Julie Ann.  And plenty of other people and circumstances which shall remain nameless.

It is interesting to me that when Apostle Paul penned the great “Love Chapter,” I Corinthians 13, the very first attribute ascribed to love is patience.  Love is patient.

Love recognizes that sometimes another person needs a little time to come to their own conclusions.  Another person may have a different order for the same priorities.  They may have their own plans for the best way to redeem the time entrusted to them.  They require a different amount of rest and relaxation.

The next attribute of love in I Corinthians 13 is kindness.  And the more I think about it, the more I realize how tied together those two are–patience and kindness.  Kindness is really humility in action too.  Quite simply, it is caring about someone else’s feelings.

Kindness can mean the world to another person.  And it doesn’t cost a thing.

I figure the average person gets about 160 opportunities a day to work on  deficits in the patience and kindness department.  For me, that’s about one every six minutes I’m awake.  Some days more, some days less.

Some days those opportunities start at 5:30 am.  Some days I fail at 5:30 am.

But God, in the perfection of His love, doesn’t give up.  He faithfully peppers my life with opportunities to learn kindness and humility.

Thank goodness that love is patient.  Even at 5:30 in the morning.

Happy Employee Appreciation Day!!!

First there was Mother’s Day. Which made sense. Because who, in their right mind, wouldn’t want a special day to thank mothers for their tremendous investments in the lives of the world’s most valuable resource? We don’t have to look far to stand amazed at all the sacrifices mothers quietly make from their mobile offices…a/k/a mini vans. Besides, with all that was going on in our country, President Lincoln needed a little positive PR.

Then there was Father’s Day. Which made sense. Because if the general course of life is not enough to thank mothers, then it shouldn’t be considered adequate for the head of the family who often serves as the primary bread winner, T-ball coach, lawn mower, taste tester, bed time story reader, and anchor.

Then there was Grandparents Day. Which made sense. Because even though all grandparents are either Fathers or mothers, schools across America recognized grandparents as a great source of guilt-based fundraising and Grandparents Day was a perfect time to tap into that resource with special programs, lunches, and other cool gifts.

Then there was national Teacher’s Day. Which made sense. Because there is a high caliber demographic of our society—some of whom are not mothers or fathers–that weren’t getting an annual supply of cards, chocolates, Starbucks gift cards, and soap-on-a-rope.

Then there was Administrative Professionals Day (f/k/a “Secretaries Day”). Which made sense. Because Administrative Professionals are often the people who get all the work and none of the credit. And it’s convenient to only have them expect a “thank you” once a year.

Then there was Boss’ Day. Which made sense. Because no one ever thinks to tell their boss thank you unless prompted by Hallmark. And most won’t even then.

And then there was Employee Appreciation Day. Which made sense. Because most bosses in this particular era of world history find themselves entirely confused about who their Administrative Professionals are. Believe me, this is quite a dilemma. And I bet there are bosses out there who didn’t get a card on National Boss’s Day solely because they got it wrong. After all, hurting people hurt people.

Mind you—I have skipped things like Memorial Day and Veterans Day—days when a percentage of our working population actually get time off, because those kinds of holidays serve an entirely different function. I mean, if you actually get a day off, you feel thanked and thankful. You don’t really need soap on a rope.

So…while I stand by my previous post affirming the importance of Valentines Day, I have to say that I think that all the days have pretty much been used up already.

If you don’t believe me, ask Google (actually, I use Duck Duck Go) and you’ll discover that yesterday you missed National Cheese Doodle day, National Multiple Personality Day, and World Spelling Day. That was just one day in World Orphan Week.

And today, in addition to being National Employee Appreciation Day, it is National Dentist Day, National Frozen Food Day, and Middle Name Pride Day. Who thinks this stuff up???

No wonder employees don’t feel appreciated. Having to share your day with dentists, middle names, and frozen food is pretty much a bummer.

And to make matters worse, most employers don’t even know its Employee Appreciation Day, much less, that it is the 20th Anniversary of Employee Appreciation Day. This is big. I think the federal government should start spending tax payer dollars on billboards and TV commercials so next year employers can be better prepared. They could raise payroll taxes a couple of percent to cover the cost so it doesn’t have to come out of our defense budget. And if they have any extra, they can also mention cheese doodles and frozen food.

The other thing I think we should do is start a Twitter campaign with epic tweets like this one:

RED – ‘Recognise Every Day’
67% of employees record they’d work much harder if they were better recognised by their managers. If your want your people to give your their best, give the best to your people. #recogniseeveryday

I hope that wasn’t your administrative professional. Because I strongly suspect she is one of that 67%.

So…in case your boss forgets or just doesn’t know, here is a heartfelt “thanks” for all you do.

I hope it means a lot to you.

And that it inspires you to give your best to your people.

Perhaps you can celebrate by going to the dentist, giving him your middle name, and eating frozen food.  It just makes sense.

God of all Comfort

A friend of mine called me unexpectedly. After we got through the small talk there was an awkward silence. I figured there was some reason why she would be calling, but whatever it was, she was having trouble getting it out. Finally, she did.  She was struggling with life–physically and emotionally.

So I tried my hand at counseling.

It was humbling.  It was humbling because I quickly realized I was not the Bible scholar I thought I was.  It was humbling because I realized my own reservoir of experience wasn’t deep enough to draw from in a meaningful way.  It was humbling because she seemed to give me more questions than I gave her answers. I found my muddled brain saying time and time again, “I don’t know.”

I cared.  I tried.  And sometimes, after our phone calls, I would hang up with a satisfied sigh–convinced we were almost through the darkness of her depression.  But it was like drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalk. Real life would hit like a rainstorm and wash my handiwork into a kaleidoscope of marred colors as nothing more than evidence that we had tried and failed.

One question she asked stuck with me. God is supposed to be our comfort, but I don’t feel at all comforted. And so people tell me God is my comfort, I just can’t feel it. But what good is comfort you can’t feel? Isn’t comfort a feeling?

I’m pretty sure I must have given my standard answer to that.

I don’t know.

But I trusted.  I knew God had rescued me from my own pit.  And I knew that there was a way out for her too.  I just didn’t seem to have the right words at the right time.  She seemed inclined to believe that people who tried to help her were just artificially filling in the vacancies God had neglected.  What was I to say to that?

David is, in no small way, my go-to author for these kinds of times.  David knew about depression and despair.  He knew what it was to be hated.  To be hunted.  To be overwhelmed.  To be pressured.  To be sick.  To be desperate.  To be broken.

In Psalm 69, he paints a compelling picture of himself sinking into a pit of quicksand.  He cried for help until he was weary, his throat was parched, and his eyes grew dim.

David was in pain.  The God of all comfort loved David dearly.  And David knew it.  He believed it.

But he did not always feel it.

So…what about my friend’s question?  What good is comfort if it doesn’t make us feel better?  Shouldn’t comfort make us comfortable?  Shouldn’t it take the stinger out of the pain?  If we’ve been comforted, shouldn’t we feel comforted?

After pondering this a while, I realized the answer will always require a measure of faith. Jesus didn’t promise comfort so we wouldn’t know pain. He promised pain so we would know comfort.

Jesus promised to send a Comforter soon after He promised tribulation, persecution, and pain. Then He promised to be with us until the end of the age.  The comfort is His work of grace to get us through this life glorifying Him by longing for the next.

Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.  His words were words of comfort, not words of cure.

I’ll never forget the words of a lady I know whose husband of twenty five years had recently abandoned her for another woman after a long, secret affair. She returned my note of attempted encouragement with a card that said while she regretted the circumstances, she would not exchange “the sweetness of her close fellowship with Jesus” for anything.  God sent her comfort in the form of Himself and His Word.  She was happy despite the storm that would rage in her family for years.

But it doesn’t always look like that. 

I read the story of Darlene Diebler Rose, a young missionary wife who ended up in isolation in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. God sent comfort to her starving body in the form of a hundred bananas dropped off by a man she regarded as an enemy. God sent comfort by meeting her physical needs in a miraculous way.

But it doesn’t always look like that.

Apostle Paul needed comfort. He needed companionship to buoy his spirits and energize his faith.  Paul needed friends who would come and see him in prison.  Who would help meet his physical needs.  Who would act as his courier.  Who would pour energy into him so he could, in turn, comfort others who would in turn comfort others in their times of need.  2 Corinthians 1:3-7.

Most of the time, it looks like that.

Sometimes comfort is simple.  Ordinary.  It comes in the form of a friend–their caring touch or simple generosity. Imperfect, unromantic, but comforting nonetheless if we choose to allow their kindness penetrate the crust of our hurt.

Friends may be guessing at what to do and what to say–and getting it wrong much of the time–but comfort is no less from God because it comes at the hand of another person.  It is no less real.  No less biblical.  God can send a raven to deliver a meal, but He is more likely to send a church member, a neighbor, a friend.

In the end, my friend was able to look back on her time of depression as a time that equipped her more to be able to help others who face similar circumstances.  And I sure hope that, one day, someone asks her questions like “if God is our comfort, shouldn’t we feel comforted?”

If nothing else, it would comfort me a little.


I was looking for a book.  Not for me, for a friend. I pulled a few out of my bookshelf and perused them. I even read a few chapters of one that had a promising title.  But each chapter seemed like another lap around the same track.  After a few minutes, I had read enough.  Six times.

I opened another, simply titled “Humility.”  It had a “50% Off” sticker plastered against its face.  Probably the real reason why I bought it.  It was a deal.

It was Friday evening and I was doing nothing. So I started at the preface. And I read this:

“When I look back on my own religious experience, or on the church of Christ in the world,  I stand amazed at the thought of how seldom humility is sought after as the distinguishing feature of the discipleship of Jesus. In preaching and living, in the daily activities of the home and social life, in the more special fellowship with Christians, in the direction and performance of work for Christ–there is much proof that humility is not considered the cardinal virtue. It is not considered the only root from which grace can grow, and the one indispensable condition of true fellowship with Jesus.  The accusation that those who claim to be seeking the higher holiness have not always done so with increased humility is a call to all earnest Christians to prove that meekness and loneliness of heart are the chief marks by which they follow the meek and humble Lamb of God.”

And I kept reading. My friend didn’t need this book. I needed this book.

And despite his quiet, authoritative style, Andrew Murray held my attention and I kept turning page after page.  I wanted to read it all quickly. And slowly.  I wanted to see the whole picture and yet I wanted to be able to ponder each thought.

It was not a long book.  Still, not many people could write 124 meaningful pages about one word.  Unlike the first book I read, I didn’t feel like I was going round and round in a sea of anecdotes and suggestions.  I felt like Murray was just taking me step by step to a deeper understanding of the Scripture that teach us this elusive concept.

Here are a few key thoughts–discounted down to my own words:

Humility is the essence of discipleship.  It is a necessary ingredient of love, joy, peace, and patience–no, of every fruit of the spirit.

Humility is not about what we pray, what we sing, or even what we think.  Humility is how we treat others–difficult family members, irritating co-workers, and useless customer service reps.  Humility is the act of placing others above ourselves; of taking on the form of a servant.

Humility is rare and difficult because it requires the laying down of our lives.  It’s unnatural.   We repeatedly choose to believe the lies perpetuated by pride–that our happiness will come from standing up for our rights and being the center of our own worlds.

Humility brings eternal rewards.  Murray says it this way:

He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.’  Jesus Himself is the proof of the truth of these words.  He is the pledge of the certainty of their fulfillment to us.  Let us take His yoke upon us and learn from Him, for He is ‘meek and lowly in heart.’ (Matt. 11:29).  If we are willing to stoop to Him, as He has stooped to us, He will yet stoop to each one of us again, and we will find ourselves equally yoked with Him.  As we enter deeper into the fellowship of His humility, and either humble ourselves or bear the humbling of men, we can count on the Spirit of His exaltation, ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ (1 Pet. 4:14), to rest upon us.  The presence and the power of the glorified Christ will come to those who are of a humble spirit.  When God can again have His rightful place in us, He will lift us up.”

It is not a thriller or a mystery, but I have already read it twice in the last two weeks and I probably need to read it about 600 more.  Humility has helped me tap into the root of grace and, in turn, let go of hurt, pride, anger, and jealousy.

I never did find a book for my friend, but for some reason, I felt compelled to share this one with you.  And if Andrew Murray’s Humility isn’t your style, I’ll also share this poem (attributed to Beth Moore) which paints a vivid picture of the alternative in every-day English:

My name is Pride. I am a cheater.
I cheat you of your God-given destiny…
because you demand your own way.
I cheat you of contentment…
because you “deserve better than this.”
I cheat you of knowledge…
because you already know it all.
I cheat you of healing…
because you are too full of you to forgive.
I cheat you of holiness…
because you refuse to admit when you are wrong.
I cheat you of vision…
because you’d rather look in the mirror than out a window.
I cheat you of genuine friendship…
because nobody’s going to know the real you.
I cheat you of love…
because real romance demands sacrifice.
I cheat you of greatness in heaven…
because you refuse to wash another’s feet on earth.
I cheat you of God’s glory…
because I convinced you to seek your own.
My name is Pride. I am a cheater.
You like me because you think I’m always looking out for you.
I’m looking to make a fool of you.
God has so much for you, I admit, but don’t worry…
If you stick with me you’ll never know.