Saturday, October 31, 2009
Maybe my hatred for what I consider the dumbest holiday every started as a young child. In kindergarten, my mom did buy me a Strawberry Shortcake costume. I wore it in 1st grade too. It's the only one I ever remember having. (Other than the one time the whole family dressed up as characters from the Wizard of Oz for a church party.)
And as far as Trick-or-Treating, my brother and I only went to about five houses total. I think that's all we were allowed. Halloween never has been my thing.
I just find it utterly ridiculous that people load their kids up in the back of trucks and on trailers to go to neighborhoods of people they don't even know and drop them off to beg for candy.
When I got home a little while ago, I went out to get my mail. A mini-van came by with three teenagers sitting across the back with their legs dangling out of the back door, prepared to open the back door as soon as the car came to a stop.
If you really want candy so bad, they'll have a great sale on it tomorrow at Wal-Mart so that they can switch out the packaging from orange and black with ghosts to red and green with Santa Claus.
Enough of that for now. I have some more interesting things to blog about over the next few days. Have to finish some other things first.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Back in May, I met Bob after one of his sessions at the Association of Biblical Counselors conference. The title and topic of the book interested me - friendships, soul care (a term I've become more familiar with as I've worked with counselors) and the stories of women - so I agreed.
What’s the “big idea” behind Sacred Friendships? What would you like readers to take away from it?
Far too often we build our models of ministry by ignoring over half the Christian world—women. The big idea of Sacred Friendships is to give voice to the voiceless by celebrating the legacy of Christian women and by applying that legacy to our ministries today.
We want readers, men and women, to learn from godly women of the faith how to be powerful spiritual friends. Readers will be enriched by the powerful stories of the heroic sisters of the Spirit to apply proven ways to help people find healing hope in the midst of deep pain. They’ll be empowered to help people to find God’s grace for their sins and God’s strength for their journey.
Who should read Sacred Friendships?
I love this question. First, anyone who loves riveting stories of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat should read Sacred Friendships. Susan and I like to think of our roles as “story-tellers”—we share stories from the lives of over 50 remarkable Christian women. If you like a good, true story, read Sacred Friendships.
Second, people might assume that Sacred Friendships is a book only for women. Not true. Susan and I like to say that Sacred Friendships is a gift to women and a gift from women.
As a gift to women, Sacred Friendships puts to rest the lie of Satan that women in church history have been second-class spiritual citizens! Just one example: the famous Church Fathers were mentored by the lesser-known but incredibly gifted Church Mothers. Sacred Friendships encourages and empowers women to realize that as bearers of God’s image they have equal worth, dignity, value, and giftedness as men have. Women young and mature need the message told by these stories—because the world surely is not the place to turn for validation of worth in Christ.
As a gift from women, Sacred Friendships is for men and women—it’s for anyone who learns best by example. Men and women can read Sacred Friendships and glean life-changing skills to empathize with hurting people, to encouraging people with Christ’s sure hope, to exhort people by speaking the truth in love, and to equip people to tap into Christ’s resurrection power.
That question is vital to the main purpose of Sacred Friendships. Some books write about church history. A few focus on women in church history. Some highlight women counseling women. We took the daring and unique step of writing about the history of how women ministered personally to others, and then drawing implications for today. To do that, we followed a church history model of ministry.
In church history, there are four road map markers for what today we call “counseling.” They are known as sustaining, healing, reconciling, and guiding. These four themes become like compass points on a map guiding us toward biblical soul care and spiritual direction.
Sustaining is like modern-day empathy where we say to a hurting friend, “It’s normal to hurt.” I like to use the somewhat macabre analogy of climbing in a casket. When the Apostle Paul was hurting in 2 Corinthians 1:8, he spoke of such agony that he “despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” Far too often, as Christians we refuse to let people go there—we want to race them to healing before we join them in hurting. Our women forebears climbed in the casket.
Of course, we don’t want to remain in the casket! So healing is the next road map marker. Healing says, “It’s possible to hope.” I like to use the picture here of celebrating the empty tomb. Paul said it this way, “But this happened so that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Healing moves with people from casket-like pain to resurrection power. It empowers people to move beyond the suffering to healing hope.
If sustaining and healing move us from hurt to hope, then reconciling and guiding offers us God’s grace for our disgrace. Some models of counseling only focus on suffering, others only on sin. True biblical counseling and historical soul care and spiritual direction focus on both. In reconciling we say, “It’s horrible to sin, but wonderful to be forgiven.” This is where confronting sin, repentance, forgiveness, and grace are all crucial. And the women of Sacred Friendships were not timid about confronting sin!
The final compass point is guiding. With guiding we say, “It’s supernatural to mature.” Here brothers and sisters in Christ help one another to apply Christ’s changeless truth to their changing times. It is the mutual application of biblical principles to daily life issues and relationships. The women of Sacred Friendships were exemplary mentors and we learn so much about spiritual direction from them.
I (Bob) can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
A free sample chapter of Sacred Friendships is available at: http://bit.ly/1S1haj
And also can be found at: http://www.rpmbooks.org/documents/Sacred_Friend_Sample_Chapter.pdf
Sacred Friendships is on sale at 40% off for $12.99 at: http://bit.ly/MG1l5
Or simply by going to orders at: http://www.rpmministries.org/
People can also order at Susan’s new website: http://www.eternalcommunity.org/
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
I HATED high school. In fact, I say that I could have been voted most hated in my high school class. More on that later. That's a teaser for a future blog entry.
Have to take care of some things right now. Just hold on and I'll tell more, even if it comes whlie I am on vacation next week.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Sometimes Mondays are just Mondays because they are Mondays. For me, they just aren't my most productive day of the week. There always seems to be problems with Monday morning interviews, but scheduling and such really had nothing to do with it being one of those days.
As soon as I arrived at work this morning, I had to turn around and come right back home for a really, really stupid reason. (Stupid on my part.) By the time I got back, I just got a 30 minute late start to the day.
As the day progressed, it just seemed off for me. I did a fantastic job of burning my tongue on some really hot stew after work. I'll be feeling it for the rest of the week I did such a great job of it.
After that, I went to the grocery store because I had been putting it off because I just flat out didn't want to go. I couldn't make myself go this past weekend. My freezer had one french bread pepperoni pizza that's been in there way too long, a package of frozen pineapple and ONE toaster strudel. In the fridge was some sliced cheese, grape jelly, tortillas, sweet pickles and microwavable bacon. The cabinet? Some Cheetos, cereal and a jar of peanut butter. If I expected breakfast in the morning I was going to have to douse my honey nut Cheerios in Diet Dr. Pepper - the only thing I had to drink. My hair also deserved to be washed with something other than the little bit of shampoo left in the leftover hotel shower bottle. It's undergone a few too many bad days recently from just being its naturally curly self and my lack of desire to get the straightening iron out.
I arrive at the grocery store, and the place rejects me. The automatic door had closed all but about 3-4 inches behind whoever went in before me, and would not open. I pushed at it, it would not open. The woman behind me had to back up so that I could back up and trigger the sensor again.
I wanted to shout out it "FINE!!! I didn't want to come here anyway!" and turn around and leave. But, unless I wanted cheese on a tortilla for lunch tomorrow, I had to make my way in.
I get home with my laundry detergent, and something was messed up with the bottle. As I pull it out of the bag it's leaked out everywhere. No wonder I smelled it as I got it out of the car. While trying to poor it into the old bottle, I had detergent everywhere. And it's so slimy and slicky that it's hard to get the bottle all rinsed off. I didn't go back out to the car to see if I need to rinse out the back seat. It's too dark anyway.
Oh, and I realize that as I get my stuff out of my car that I forgot to buy a bag of candy corn. I really wanted a bag of candy corn. The one and only good thing about Halloween which is the dumbest holiday ever.
Along the way today, I had a conversation with a friend that really left me feeling quite defeated and puzzled. I hate it when that happens, especially when it causes a lot of over thinking.
Now, I need to balance my checkbook (yes, I still do that) and work on my bills for the upcoming month. Doesn't that sound like the most awesome, not depressing, thing to do? Exciting night at Audra's house.
In other news, I'm going to figure out who the one person in the world that I want to email me and talk about them a lot. Evidently, everybody and their Mama reads my blog.
Saturday night, I commented on the woman who showed up at the Vicki Lawrence show dressed like "Mama" from Mama's family. My mom was bound and determined that she knew who it was. My mama was wrong! As it turns out, the mystery Mama was Debi Snider of Midlothian, TX. She emailed me today to tell me it was her. Hi Debi, nice to meet you!
I appreciate that much more than the Branson Tourism Bureau who felt compelled to contact me after I talked about not wanting to go there. I'm on vacation next week. Would the tourism bureau of anywhere except Branson or the Black Hills of South Dakota like to contact me? If you would like to give me a free trip so that I can sing your area's praises, I can be bought. (WHOOPS... is the FTC going to nail me for that one?)
Broyhill still hasn't contacted me about that purple couch I kept talking about either.
Oh, there was a commercial with McDreamy on it. Patrick Dempsey, feel free to stop by my site and email me.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
B&H Books (October 1, 2009)
James David Jordan is a business attorney in Texas and was named by the Dallas Business Journal as one of the most influential leaders in that legal community. He holds a journalism degree from the University
of Missouri as well as a law degree and MBA from the University of Illinois and lives with his wife and two children in the Dallas suburbs.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (October 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I hadn’t seen her for twenty years, and the idea that she might show up at my door was the farthest thing from my mind on a Thursday morning, a few weeks before Christmas, when the music alarm practically blasted me off my bed. With the Foo Fighters wailing in my ear, I burrowed into my pillow and tried to wrap it around my head. I rolled onto my side and slapped the snooze bar, but smacked the plastic so hard that it snapped in two, locking in another minute and a half of throbbing base before I could yank the cord from the wall socket. It wasn’t until my toes touched the hardwood floor and curled up against the cold that I remembered why I was waking up at five-forty-five in the first place. Kacey Mason and I were meeting Elise Hovden at eight o’clock in a suburb northwest of Dallas. We would give her one chance to explain why
nearly half a million dollars was missing from Simon Mason World Ministries. If she couldn’t, our next stop would be the Dallas police.
Since Simon Mason’s murder earlier that year, I’d been living in his house with Kacey, his twenty-year-old daughter. I had promised to watch out for her if anything happened to him. It wasn’t a sacrifice. By that time Kacey and I were already so close that we finished each other’s sentences. I needed her as much as she needed me.
I slid my feet into my slippers and padded down the hall toward Kacey’s door. Chill bumps spread down my thighs in a wave, and I wished I’d worn my flannel pajama bottoms to bed under my Texas Rangers baseball jersey. Rather than turning back to my room to grab my robe, I decided to gut it out. I bent over and gave my legs a rub, but I knew they wouldn’t be warm again until I was standing next to the space heater in the bathroom.
I pressed my ear to Kacey’s door. The shower was humming. Of course she was awake. Had there ever been a more responsible college kid? Sometimes I wished she would let things go,
do something wild. For her, that would probably mean not flossing before going to bed. If hyper-responsibility got her through the day, I supposed it was fine with me. After all, she was a markedly better person than I had been at her age.
By the time I met her father I was twenty-nine, and thanks to a decade of too much alcohol and too many useless men, I was dropping like a rock. But Simon Mason caught me and held me
in place for a while, just long enough to give me hope. Then he did what he had to do, and he died for it. Some things are more important than living. He and Dad both taught me that. So now I was changing. To be accurate, I would say I was a work in progress. I hadn’t had a drink since before Simon died, and I’d sworn off men completely, albeit temporarily. Frankly, the latter was not much of a sacrifice. It wasn’t as if a crowd of guys had been beating a path to my door. I simply figured there was no use getting back into men until I was confident the drinking was under control. One thing I had demonstrated repeatedly in my life was that drinking and men just didn’t go together—at least not for me.
As for Kacey, after everything she’d been through, it was amazing she hadn’t folded herself into a fetal ball and quit the world for a while. Instead, she just kept plugging along, putting one foot in front of the other. I was content to step gingerly behind her, my toes sinking into her footprints. She was a good person to follow. She had something I’d never been known for: Kacey had character.
I shook my head. I was not going to start the day by kicking myself. I’d done enough of that. Besides, I no longer thought I had to be perfect. If a good man like Simon Mason could mess
things up and find a way to go on, then so could I. Even in his world—a much more spiritual one than mine—perfection was not required. He made a point of teaching me that.
I closed my eyes and pictured Simon: his shiny bald head, his leanly muscled chest, his brilliant, warming smile. As I thought of that smile, I smiled, too, but it didn’t last long. Within seconds the muscles tightened in my neck. I massaged my temples and tried to clear my thoughts. Soon, though, I was pressing my fingers so hard into my scalp that pain radiated from behind my eyes.
If only he had listened. But he couldn’t. He wanted to die. No matter how much he denied it, we both knew it was true. After what he had done, he couldn’t live with himself. So he found the only available escape hatch. He went to preach in a place where his death was nearly certain.
I lowered my hands and clenched them, then caught myself and relaxed. This was no good. It was too late. Not this morning, Taylor. You’re not going to think about Simon today. I took a deep breath and ran my fingers back through my hair, straightening the auburn waves for an instant before they sprang stubbornly back into place. Today’s worries are enough for today. That was the mantra of the alcohol recovery program at Simon’s church. It was from the Bible, but I couldn’t say where. To be honest, I didn’t pay attention as closely as I should. Regardless of origin, it was a philosophy that had worked for my drinking—at least so far. Maybe it had broader application: Focus on the task at hand and let yesterday and tomorrow take care of themselves.
At the moment, the first priority was to get the coffee going. I started down the hall.
When I turned the corner into the kitchen, I could see that Kacey had already been there. The coffee maker light was on, illuminating a wedge of countertop next to the refrigerator. In the red glow of the tiny bulb, the machine chugged and puffed like a miniature locomotive. Two stainless steel decanters with screw-on plastic lids waited next to the ceramic coffee jar, and
the smell of strong, black coffee drifted across the room. I closed my eyes, inhaled, and pictured the cheese Danish we would pick up at the corner bakery on our way out of our neighborhood. That was plenty of incentive to get moving. I headed back down the hall.
When I reached the bathroom I flipped on the light, closed the door, and hit the switch on the floor heater. I positioned it so it blew directly on my legs. Within a minute the chill bumps were retreating. I braced my hands on the edge of the sink, leaned forward, and squinted into the mirror. Glaring back at me was a message I had written in red lipstick the night before: Start the coffee!
I wiped the words off with a hand towel and peered into the mirror again. A tangled strand of hair dangled in front of one eye. I pushed it away, blinked hard, and studied my face. No lines, no bags, no creases—no runs, no hits, no errors, as Dad used to say. I was beginning to believe the whole clean living thing. Zero liquor and a good night’s sleep worked like a tonic for the skin.
It was tough to stay on the wagon after Simon’s death. I had never been an every-day drinker. My problem was binge drinking. With all that had happened during the past six months, the temptations had been frequent and strong, but I was gradually getting used to life on the dry side of a bourbon bottle. There was much to be said for routine. Maybe that’s why dogs are so happy when they’re on a schedule. When everything happens the same way and at the same time each day, there’s not much room for angst.
On second thought, the dog analogy didn’t thrill me. I pulled the Rangers jersey over my head, tossed it on the floor, and turned to look in the full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Standing in nothing but my bikini panties, I rocked onto the toes of one foot, then the other. My long legs were still lean and athletic. Fitness was something Dad had always emphasized—fitness and self-defense. There were times when I had hated him for it, but now I was glad for the benefits. It would be years before I had to worry about really showing age. I might have lived harder than most twenty-nine year olds, but I could still turn heads in a crowded room. No, the dog analogy was not appropriate. I had plenty of issues, but I was no dog. At least not yet.
I turned on the water and cupped my hands beneath the faucet. It was time to wake up and plan what we would say to Elise. After splashing my face and patting it with a towel, I turned around, leaned back against the countertop, and crossed my arms. I caught a whiff of the lavender cologne I’d taken to spraying on my wrists before bed. The Internet said it would soothe me into peaceful slumber. For fifty dollars an ounce, it should have brought me warm milk and rocked me to sleep. I tried to recall how I’d slept the past few nights, then caught myself. I was just looking for ways to waste time. I needed to focus. The issue at hand was Elise.
Simon informed me about the missing money just before he left for Beirut. His former accountant, Brandon, had confronted him about it, thinking that Simon had been skimming. Simon wanted someone to know that he hadn’t done it, someone who could tell Kacey that her dad was not a thief. That’s why he told me. In case he didn’t come back. And as the whole world knew, he didn’t come back.
Elise was the obvious person for the board of directors to choose to wind up the business of Simon’s ministry. She had been his top assistant for years. When I told Kacey about the missing money, though, she bypassed Elise and went directly to the board to demand an audit—impressive gumption for a twenty year old. It didn’t take the auditors long to confirm that Simon had nothing to do with the missing money.
The accountants concluded that the board had assigned the cat to clean the birdcage. Elise had set up dummy vendor accounts at banks around the country in a classic embezzlement scam. Simon’s ministries had major construction projects going, and Elise issued bogus contractor invoices to Simon
Mason World Ministries from fake businesses with P.O. box addresses that she controlled. When the ministry mailed the payments, she picked up the checks from the post office boxes and deposited them in the bank accounts. Who knows where the money went from there?
The ministry had grown so quickly during the years before Simon’s death—and Simon was so trusting—that controls were lax. When the invoices came in, the payables department
paid them without question. By now the money was probably stuffed under a mattress in some tropical paradise. That was another thing I intended to pursue with Elise. She had developed a great tan.
Before I stepped into the shower, I wrapped myself in a towel and went back into the bedroom. I pulled my Sig Sauer .357 out of my purse and checked the magazine. It was full. I slipped the pistol into the inside pocket of my purse. Elise didn’t strike me as the type to get violent, but people did weird things when backed into a corner. If I’d learned anything during my time in the Secret Service, it was to hope for the best—and prepare for the worst.
Friday, October 23, 2009
As you can see, I've been very, very busy. I've simply not been able to make myself sit at my computer at home and type. I turn it on, think about it, and turn my computer back off.
I've even had a book review that I could post on my latest "just for fun" book that I read for probably two weeks. (I'll try to get it posted this weekend - I'm too tired right this minute to be able to do anything except ramble.) I've been trying to read a book that someone asked me to blog about for two weeks, but I'm not doing a very good job of it. Part of it's the fact that my brain seems like a bunch of mush, and I'm just not comprehending.
Tomorrow night, Vicki Lawrence is coming to the big town of Corsicana. Seeing as this is Corsicana, and this is a big event for this town, I'm looking forward to seeing her performance tomorrow night. I mean, if you look at her schedule, the next show she performs after Corsicana is in Las Vegas (and I don't mean the one in NM).
You know, I really realize I sound like a 62 year old rather than a 32 year old. I mean, I go to Kenny Rogers, the Oak Ridge Boys and Vicki Lawrence with my parents. I know, I know, I need to get out more.
Week after next, I have the week off. I have no plans. Some of you may say that sounds most excellent. But, I really need plans. Not in an obsessive, in control, really need to have plans way. I take that back, maybe it is an OCD way. Or maybe a "so that I won't be OCD" way.
In either case, I'll post more this weekend and try to do better next week. I promise to try.
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Richard Exley is the author of twenty-nine books and has written both fiction and nonfiction. His articles have appeared in numerous magazines, including Leadership Journal, Charisma, Ministries Today, The Pentecostal Evangel, Advance, Enrichment, and New Man. He has served as senior pastor of churches in Colorado and Oklahoma, hosted several popular television and radio programs, including the nationally syndicated Straight from the Heart, and appeared on the 700 Club, Richard Roberts Live, Action Sixty, the former PTL, The New Jim Bakker Show, and The Harvest Show. Richard and his wife, Brenda Starr, spend their time in a secluded cabin overlooking picturesque Beaver Lake in Northwest Arkansas.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The first letter
How often I think of the loss of your beloved and the anguished grief to which it gave birth. The initial moments have been indelibly imprinted upon my mind. I can still see you smiling bravely as you rose to greet me when I came to give what comfort I could. Somehow that brave smile was even more heartrending than the sobs that came later. Even in the moment of your loss, you still wanted to be the caregiver; you wanted to make my task easier.
In your grief, you said that you felt handicapped, that you had never had to deal with anything like this before. How right you are. Nothing in life really prepares us for the death of a loved one, especially if that death is totally unexpected. Although we know that people—even children—die every day, we never think it can happen in our family. And with good reason, for it has been estimated that the average person can go through a twenty-year period without being exposed to the death of a single relative or friend.
Still, sooner or later all of us are confronted with the inevitable. It may come unexpectedly. A phone call in the middle of the night notifies us of our brother’s sudden death. A uniformed police officer quietly informs us of a fatal car accident involving our son or daughter. Or it may come as the long-awaited blow at the end of a lengthy illness. However it happens, it is always painful and inevitably followed by grief and an almost overwhelming sense of loss.
I won’t pretend that I know entirely what you are feeling or that I can fully comprehend the depth of your grief. Nor will I pretend that I have all the answers to your tormenting questions. In truth, all I really have to share is my love and the painful lessons I have learned while dealing with my own grief and while helping others deal with theirs.
My first experience with death came when I was just nine years old. Mother was taken to the hospital sometime in the middle of the night, and Grandma Exley came to stay with my two brothers and me. For the next two and a half days, Mother struggled to give birth to her fourth child. She succeeded only after the doctors belatedly performed a cesarean section. I was too young to understand any of this, but I can remember the laughter and cheers when Grandma told us that we had a baby sister. In minutes we were announcing it to the neighborhood.
Sometime later, Dad came home and gathered us three boys around him. He was bowed with weariness and grief. With great difficulty, he told us the painful news. Yes, Mother had given birth to a daughter, our long-awaited sister, but things didn’t look good. The baby was hydrocephalic and wasn’t expected to
live. Even if she did live, she would never be normal.
Tears were running down Dad’s cheeks when he finished, and I seemed to be smothering. I couldn’t get my breath. I sat there numbly for a minute; then I burst off the couch and ran through the dining room and kitchen, choking on my sobs. I flung open the screen door, making a frightful racket, and stumbled down the back steps toward the garage.
For the better part of the next hour, I lay facedown on the dirt floor. Great heaving sobs convulsed my small frame, and it seemed like everything in the universe withdrew, leaving me alone with my pain. The dusty floor mingled with my tears, becoming mud, and I pounded my fists into the ground until I had no strength left. After a long while, my grief seemed to exhaust itself, leaving me with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach.
I think I accepted Carolyn’s death that afternoon, but it wouldn’t become a reality until just before Christmas, three months later. The intervening weeks were filled with several crises. Once, Dad and Aunt Elsie rushed to the children’s hospital in Denver. When they arrived, Carolyn was critical,
at the point of death. The doctors were able to stabilize her condition, and after she had spent several days in the hospital, they brought her home for the last time. I vaguely remember Mother placing Carolyn in my lap as I sat in the armchair. She watched with a painful love as I fed my baby sister a few ounces of formula.
It seemed that each day brought some new disappointment. Soon we realized that Carolyn was both blind and deaf, and her head, larger than the rest of her tiny body at birth, became increasingly disproportionate. With a pain that still lingers, I remember watching Mother as she bathed Carolyn tenderly, then carefully measured her head to see if, by some miracle, it was any smaller. It never was. Mama would bite her lip, and silent tears ran down her cheeks as she put away the cloth tape measure.
Carolyn died in her sleep at home early one morning. Our family doctor and Aunt Elsie arrived at about the same time. He confirmed the death, and Aunt Elsie fixed breakfast, which no one ate. A short time later, the mortician came and took Carolyn’s tiny body away, and the gray December day passed in a maze of necessary activities.
The funeral service and the trip to the cemetery have been completely blocked from my memory, leaving me without a single detail. However, I do remember eating supper after the funeral. Grief rendered the food tasteless, but we ate anyway, mechanically, out of some misbegotten sense of obligation. We ate in the kitchen with one small lamp as the only light. It cast deep shadows around the table, shadows that matched the sorrow in our hearts. To this day, I have not had a sadder meal.
As a child, I was able to accept Carolyn’s death without affixing responsibility. It was enough to know that she was with Jesus, in heaven, where there is no more sickness or pain, no more sorrow or crying. By Christmas her death was already becoming a painful but fading memory.
The questions came later, after I became a pastor and found myself ministering to families in similar situations. Their desperate questions gave birth to my own: Was God to blame for Carolyn’s death? Did He kill her, or at least allow her to die? Questions like these drove me to my knees. Desperately I searched the Scriptures for understanding.
After months of painful agonizing, I concluded that sin, not God, is responsible for disease and death. That is not to say that Carolyn’s death was the result of her own personal sin, or even—God forbid—the sin of her parents. Rather, it means that sin has tainted the entire human race, and diseases and death are the inevitable consequences. Romans 5:12 (KJV) declares, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the
world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men.”
As I counsel those who question why humans must suffer, sometimes I simplistically explain that we inhabit a planet which is in rebellion, that we are part of a race living outside of God’s will, and that one consequence of that rebellion is sickness and death. God doesn’t send this plague upon people, nor does He will it. It is simply a natural consequence of humanity’s fallen state. Although as believers we
are new creations in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), we remain a part of this human family—a family that is tainted by sin and death. As a consequence, we, too, suffer the inevitable repercussions of that fallen state, even though we may be personally committed to the doing of God’s will and the coming of His kingdom.
In truth, the cause of sickness and death is not God but the hated enemy, sin. Not necessarily our personal sin, nor a specific sin—for life and death cannot be reduced to a mathematical equation—but the fact of sin.
Jesus addressed the relationship between personal sin and death in Luke 13:1–5: “Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you no!’”
Jesus does not tell us why these particular individuals died while others equally sinful were allowed to live, but He does make it clear that the reason for their deaths is far more complicated than mere cause and effect.
As you well know, David, when death strikes unexpectedly, we long for a reason, an explanation, but often there is none. In desperation we try to make some sense out of it, but often there are simply no pat answers, no ready conclusions. In times like these we must always resist the temptation to speak where God has not spoken. Beyond the simple explanation that death comes as a result of humanity’s sinful state, God has not given us any insight into the “why” of individual deaths.
In many ways, David, death remains a mystery, even to the Christian. Why is one child taken in infancy and not another? Why is a good man stricken in the prime of life, leaving behind a wife and children, while other vicious and cruel men live to a ripe old age? Why? Why? Why? The questions are almost endless, and I must admit that I am often without answers, but of this one thing I am sure—God is not to blame! In fact, when tragedy strikes, when a loved one dies, God’s heart is the first of all hearts to break!
In His comfort,
Lord Jesus, my grief is unspeakable; the pain never goes away day or night. I can’t sleep. It seems I watch the clock tick away the minutes all night long. I have no appetite, no interest in food. The tastiest meal is tasteless in my mouth. All the color has gone out of my world, leaving it bleak and barren. Worst of all are the tormenting questions. Why did this happen? Why didn’t You answer our prayers? Where are
You when I need You?
Yet even in the darkest night I cling to You. I trust Your love and wisdom even when I cannot understand
Your ways. In my heart of hearts, I know You are too wise to ever make a mistake and too loving to ever cause one of Your own needless pain. When I weep, I choose to believe that You are weeping with me. Knowing that You share my grief gives me comfort even if it doesn’t take away the pain. The promise of Your presence and the hope of eternal life give me the strength to go on. With Your help I truly believe that my mourning will one day be turned into dancing, and until that happens, I will trust You. In Your
holy name I pray. Amen.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or
danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. —Romans 8:35, 37–39
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. When You Lose Someone You Love by Richard Exley. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
At age thirty-four Roger Parrott became one of the America’s youngest college presidents. Parrott is currently the president of Belhaven College, an innovative liberal arts institution recognized as the leading evangelical college in the Arts. He earned a PhD in higher education administration from the University of Maryland. Parrott serves in leadership of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Mission America Coalition, and Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He has advised a wide variety of ministries in the US and internationally.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
The heart of the longview does not begin with actions as much as attitude. Imagine that the organization and position you are in right now is what God wants you to do for the rest of your professional life. For many, it might be discouraging to truly feel “locked in” to your job. But contrary to the mantras of popular career gurus, this is one of the best things that could ever happen to you and your ministry, because only from that immobile position will your outlook on leadership be revolutionized.
To live without professional advancement opportunities would, of course, be demotivating and create an unhealthy situation for both you and your ministry. But to lead as if you must remain in that same position forever—and live with the long-term consequences of every decision—will shift your perspective, align your priorities, and build lasting strength in your organization, rather than allowing you to settle for the comfort and accolades of immediate results.
When a leader is thinking, living, and acting in terms of only the short-range, everyone around him suffers and may be handicapped for years to come because the decisions of today will either expand or narrow subsequent options and opportunities. The compounding weight of each shortsighted decision speeds the deterioration of the ministry’s foundation, while a long-term perspective strengthens that substructure for a higher reach in the future.
Longview Decision Making
When President Jimmy Carter held a thirteen-day summit at Camp David in 1978 with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin, a formal state of war still existed between the two countries, with Egypt determined to reclaim the Sinai territory seized by the Israelis twenty-two years previously. In the woods of Maryland, these long-hoped-for negotiations came to multiple stalemates. But each time Carter found a way to keep the discussion alive, even though deep-seated mistrust between the two Middle Eastern leaders kept them from talking directly to each other, causing the U. S. President to shuttle between their private cabins, triangulating the dialog.
On the morning of the eleventh day, the arduous process appeared to disintegrate when Prime Minister Begin decided to leave the meetings over the wording of a side letter on the status of Jerusalem. He wouldn’t have his mind changed by the immediate needs of securing the peace in the Middle East and freeing his country from the relentless cycle of violence. But with brilliant insight, President Carter shifted the perspective from the immediate results to the long-term implications: as Prime Minister Begin was packing his bags to leave, President Carter brought to him eight personalized autographed pictures of the three leaders working together, and told the Prime Minister they were for him to take home to his eight grandchildren so they would always remember what the three men had tried to accomplish together. With a new long-term perspective, Begin unpacked and days later signed the Camp David Accords.
Now, while it is certainly true that a decision regarding what is best for the immediate may often be the same as the choice that is best for the future, it is essential that leaders get into the groove of thinking beyond the near horizon. Otherwise, they lose the proper perspective that allows them to consider long-term issues and ramifications.
It is fairly easy to bring about positive short-run change in most organizations. Wise leaders are aware there is always low-hanging fruit for change, and they know how to harvest it to get off to a fast start when beginning in a new position. But when short-term triumphs take precedent over long-term success, those same aggressive leadership skills can deteriorate into selfish decisions, fearful management, and self-deceiving evaluation. And the longer a leader continues in this pattern, the more troublesome the consequences and limiting the solution options. Eventually, a leader can become entrapped in a cycle that demands ignoring the mounting crisis of the future, in order to sustain the appearance of current success.
Measuring Long-Term Ministry Leadership
Relieving your immediate stress cannot guide a decision when the consequences are yours to shoulder long after the applause dies down.
Tough personnel issues are unavoidable if you must live with these people for the rest of your career.
Taking shortcuts to clean up a problem is unacceptable because your challenges will be even tougher in the future if you don’t do it right the first time.
Good stewards of God’s house don’t sweep problems under the rug.
The Short Run Never Works for Long
Here is a vivid way to grasp the problem that short-term perspective brings into your ministry. Think back to that time when you had a great employee who, because of family or career issues, began to seek a new position. The search was not far enough along for you to be brought into the discussion but, mentally, the employee had already moved on—and you knew it.
Even if the job-searching employee was one of your key players, that individual had already been demoted, in your view, from the person around whom you were building a future to one whose contribution was suspect at best.
In that rapid transformation, the only attribute that had changed about the employee was his perspective. He still came to work with the same skill set, same hours, same types of ideas, and same energy. But because his viewpoint was now focused only on the short run, you could not count on him to make decisions that were in the long-term best interest of the ministry. Now multiply that scenario into the life of a CEO or other top leader—not just a rising employee—and consider the potential damage.
A short-term leadership perspective is devastating in ministry, but the impact can be illustrated best in the corporate world, where results are totaled on the bottom line. “As goes General Motors, so goes the country” has been part of the American psyche for generations, and GM was always the most progressive in their innovation for the coming model year and in producing quarterly earnings that impressed Wall Street. But the Japanese automaker Toyota did what the captains of industry once considered impossible—it surpassed the century-long domination of General Motors as the leading automaker.
Could it be that a major factor in the growth of Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Subaru, and Mitsubishi is that Japanese leadership expected they would remain with the same company a lifetime? Fifty years ago Toyota’s board and top management implemented a comprehensive plan to accomplish what is being realized today. In contrast, GM’s leadership remained primarily focused on their latest quarterly earnings projections during those same years.
The best leaders understand they should always be held accountable for the long-term before they are rewarded for their immediate results. The pastor who envisions reaching his whole city, will always be more effective than the one who is concerned about making a glowing report at the next conference gathering. A fund-raising professional who desires to build relationships matching donors with their passions will always raise more money than one striving to meet an urgent campaign goal. Over time, even the school administrator who fixes the nagging plumbing problem will be appreciated more than the one who spends that same money to install new carpeting.
In the Harvard Business Review analysis “If Brands Are Built over Years, Why Are They Managed over Quarters?” Leonard M. Lodish and Carl F. Mela explore why short-term thinking dominates business marketing today even though branding is an extremely long-term process. They determined that companies have shifted their focus to quarterly outcomes over long-term success because of three factors. First, there is an abundance of real-time immediate data that allows corporate leaders to measure results in great detail in ways we could not in the past. Second, at the same time, long-term results have become even more difficult to measure, thus pushing the focus to a short-run agenda. And third, the tenure of managers is continually becoming shorter as they see their future linked to demonstrating immediate results.1
It is critical to understand that the root of this pattern does not rest only at the feet of self-serving or short-sighted leaders, because boards and constituencies have allowed organizational success to become measured by quarterly results rather than long-term success. Unfortunately, our culture rewards leaders for such shortsighted decision making. The New Republic reported examples of “Kenneth Lay of Enron pocketing an extra $101 million in the months before Enron’s collapse wiped out shareholders; Bernard Ebbers of WorldCom ‘loaning’ himself $366 million in the months before his cooked books wiped out shareholders; L. Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco paying himself $426 million, from 1998 to 2002, even as his self-serving decisions were wiping out shareholders and driving the company into the ground.”2 Ken Lay, Bernie Ebbers, and Dennis Kozlowski, along with a horde of leaders who never got their name in the paper, were focused on their own short-term accolades instead of the organization’s long-term needs.
The most public firings of CEOs seem to nearly always reflect a pattern of cheers for that leader through a relatively short period of repeated quarterly reports and then a startling discovery by the board of serious foundational issues gone awry. But these same boards have demanded, rewarded, and praised immediate success at all costs. The real irony is that these boards have also learned to solve their crisis with a short-term solution of firing the CEO, rather than doing the hard work needed to correct the foundational issues—and the cycle is likely to repeat down the road.
And then there are the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately employees or constituents that press leaders for decisions that feed the hunger of instant gratification instead of long-term results. From outside the corner office, pressure has mounted for leaders to make decisions only in light of short-run objectives if those choices will boost today’s benefits. The challenge of leadership is balancing the scales to assure ongoing organizational stability while also providing fulfilling opportunities for the stakeholders today.
By ignoring the long-term ramifications of decisions in order to solve the immediate challenge, organizations stockpile future problems and gloss over the most difficult issues. The foundational erosion caused by decisions guided only by short-term vision will eventually undermine or destroy all the good that has been achieved, because the damage will eventually be discovered and will be difficult and costly to repair.
This same pattern holds true in ministry:
We have become focused on measuring the short-term results of our work, i.e. the proposals we write to foundations promise immediate outcomes.
The transformation of lives for the long term is only measured in eternity, and thus it is nearly impossible for us to track the impact of our most significant work.
Boards and CEOs want to hire people who have demonstrated measureable results. But when we overvalue the short-term results that are more easily measured, we in turn reward leaders who produce immediate advances over long-term ministry significance. Accordingly, the most “productive” people are always being tempted to move to a new place of service.
Instead, the commitment to lead with a longview will transform how you approach leadership more so than any other shift you could make. No matter what your tenure horizon may be—whether you are just starting a new job, considering a change, or fast approaching retirement—if you make decisions as if you are will remain in your current position forever, you’ll make dramatically better choices and make them for the right reasons.
Fast Wins Eventually Lose
One of my especially fun projects was starting a football team at Belhaven College several years ago, and building on our successful model, I had a number of college-president friends also launch football programs. One of my peers, who wanted to get started right at his University, hired a coaching staff who were strong Christians, well known in the football world, and wonderfully experienced—they knew their Xs & Os. They recruited talented players, created an intense football atmosphere for the team, generated lots of press coverage, and won football games. What the president didn’t realize at the time was his coaches were focused on gaining attention-grabbing success in order to move on to the big leagues of coaching.
The University discovered over time that the scholarships were overspent, the drop-out rate among players was astronomical, and many of the recruited athletes did not care about the benchmarks of character that were important in attracting students to a Christian school. The president finally overturned a rock exposing how bad it had become when a conference official told him about a horrible intrasquad brawl the coaches were trying to keep under wraps. His “go to” coaches became his “be gone” coaches in a hurry, and the school spent several years sweeping up the mess to build integrity into the program, balance out the money, and quiet the sports bloggers. Interestingly, none of those coaches ever made it in Division I football.
The consequences of not making decisions as if you’ll be there forever will create an unseen and quietly eroding process that always has the same predictable outcome—it is expensive and time consuming to fix. The harm created by near-focused leaders may be imperceptible at first and the impact not be seen for years or sometimes decades to come—but the problems created when leaders are not guarding the long-term future will be complex to solve and will limit the opportunities for sustained success.
What's Your View?
To protect against this crippling pattern, a bit of periodic self-evaluation will reveal your current longitudinal view in leadership responsibilities:
If you knew you could never have a different job, which decisions over the past year might you have made differently?
Do you find yourself putting off a difficult personnel issue or a hard decision in hopes that someone else in the future will have to deal with it instead?
Which of your recent decisions made you feel most proud? Were they made in light of the long-term implications or the short-term impact?
Have you purposefully made decisions recently that were best for the long run, even though another choice would have made you look good in the short term?
What will your legacy with your ministry look like twenty-five years after you are gone?
As you attempt to answer these questions yourself, consider that every leader’s responsibility is to fulfill a calling rather than gratify immediate desires. Jesus taught us the ultimate example of never wavering from a long-term view when we have been called to a purpose. In the garden of Gethsemane He prays, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.… If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me” (Matt. 26:38–39). Although fully God, Jesus was also fully man, and that is the cry of an anguished leader at the crossroads, one longing to give into the short-term options rather than the long-term objective. Had Jesus taken the immediate view and revealed His power, the mockers would have been silenced, His followers’ political dreams would have been accomplished, and the whole world would have been left amazed. But instead, He made a decision from the perspective of forever and prayed, “Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matt. 26:39). And like Jesus, a Christian leader’s proper long-range view must extend all the way into eternity.
Learning to make decisions with the mindset of remaining in your current position forever will change your perspective on all actions and will mandate that integrity, service, and lasting quality are the guiding forces behind your leadership. Along with a determined godly focus of your attitude, one tool to assure you maintain proper perspective is to listen to the people in your organization who have a long-term perspective in their DNA because they never expect to go anywhere else. Becoming a college president at age thirty-four, I didn’t assume my first school in rural Kansas would be my last. But to assure I was always protecting the long-term interests of the institution, I met regularly with a group I privately called “those who will be buried in the local cemetery.” I wanted to be sure that the perspectives of the long-term faculty, who would be part of the school long after I left, were always considered when I made decisions.
The day a leader begins to look at his or her responsibility in terms of a limited future is the day leadership effectiveness begins to spiral downward. This is part of the reason why freshly appointed leaders always discover previously unseen issues that need attention—they know they have to live with the problems if they don’t fix them now. In contrast, leaders who become complacent in a position will tend to make decisions in terms of how the results will shape what they expect their current tenure to be.
During the modern missions movement God built His church through people who committed themselves to a long-term outlook.
William Carey, the first missionary to India, worked for seven years before he had his first convert.
Adoniram Judson worked for nearly the same amount of time in Burma before he saw his first convert.
Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary to China, labored for a quarter century and had fewer than a dozen converts.
The missionaries to East Africa in the early 1800s shipped their goods to their new home in coffins because they didn’t expect to return any other way.
These leaders, and thousands whose stories are not remembered, valued the longview significance of ministry over short-run measurable “success.” By tilling the soil for future returns, their results are recorded in eternity.
In an age of mobility and global connectedness, God is not likely to call you to only one place of service during your career. But no matter where He calls you, you need to think, work, live, and commit as if it is the only future God has entrusted to you.
Leaders who base decisions on a long-term perspective may not be as flashy in their immediate results, but they hire better people, build foundations of constituency strength, preserve organizational infrastructure, and leave a legacy that tells the full story of their success.
Great leaders will make decisions on their last day before retirement as if they were going to be in the leadership chair another quarter century
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Longview by Roger Parrott. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
Friday, October 16, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook (2009)
Best-selling suspense novelist Kathy Herman has written fourteen novels, including CBA bestsellers The Real Enemy, Tested by Fire and All Things Hidden, since retiring from her family’s Christian bookstore business. Kathy and her husband, Paul, have three grown children and five grandchildren and live in Tyler, Texas.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Number of Pages: 340
Vendor: David C. Cook (2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
A strange noise interrupted her thoughts. She peered through the blinds on the glass wall into the bustling detective bureau and listened intently. There it was again.
A burly man appeared in the doorway. He bumped off either side, then staggered into her office. Facedown. Hands dripping with blood, clutching his abdomen.
“What in the world …?” She jumped to her feet, frozen in place.
Detective Sean O’Toole looked up and stretched out his hand toward her, his eyes screaming with pain. He collapsed in front of her desk and hit the floor.
“Officer down!” she shouted. “I need an ambulance—now!”
She hurried around the side of her desk, grabbed the clean hand towel next to the coffeepot, and got down on her knees. She laid the towel over the bloody wound and applied pressure.
“Sean, talk to me. What happened?”
The detective’s face was ashen. “He c-came from behind … put me in a choke hold … stuck a knife in my gut … said he was coming after you—to f-finish the job.”
“You never saw his face?”
“No. Hairy arms. White guy. Navy blue short sleeves. Smelled like c-cigarettes. Deep voice.”
“Where did this happen?”
Sean moaned, his face pallid and contorted with pain, his eyes slits of icy blue.
“Come on, Sean, stay with me.”
Detective Captain Trent Norris burst into her office. “I’ll take it from here, Chief.”
“How did he get from the watercooler to my office without someone in the DB seeing he needed help?”
“I guess we were all focused on other things. It’s been crazy.”
Trent got down on the floor and swapped places with her, his palms pressed over the wound. “Hang in there, buddy. The paramedics are just down the block. They’ll be here any second. You’re going to be fine. Stay with me. Talk to me.”
Brill sprang to her feet and hurried over to the officers who crowded outside her door. “O’Toole was just stabbed by some lowlife who snuck up behind him at the water cooler. We’re looking for a white man wearing a short-sleeve, navy blue shirt, possibly bloodstained.”
She locked gazes with Sean’s partner. “Detective Rousseaux, secure the scene and make sure it’s not compromised.
“Captain Dickson, lock down the building and search every corner of every room.
“Sergeant Chavez, set up a containment for two blocks around the building.
“Sergeant Huntman, clear the route to St. Luke’s and make sure we have officers in radio cars ready to escort the ambulance. Come on, people, move it!”
The officers scrambled in all directions, and she ran out to the restroom.
She tore off paper towels until she had a stack, folded them in half and held them under the faucet, then pressed out the excess water and rushed back to her office.
She got on her knees and gently pressed the wet towels onto Sean’s forehead, all too aware he was sweating profusely and still bleeding despite the pressure Trent was keeping on the wound. “We need something to elevate his legs.”
She went over to the bookshelf and grabbed several thick books and put them under Sean’s feet, hoping he wouldn’t die of shock before the paramedics arrived.
Lord, don’t take him now. He’s young. He’s got a wife and three kids.
“Come on, buddy, talk to me.” Trent patted Sean’s cheeks. “What else do you remember about this creep?”
“Tell Jessica I love her. The kids, too. Promise me.”
“You’re not going to die,” Trent said. “The bleeding’s slowing down. Talk to me, Sean. We want whoever did this to you.”
“He’s coming after the chief. Going to kill her.”
“Who’s going to kill her?” Trent’s dark eyes shot Brill a glance. “Give us something else. You’re too sharp of a detective to have missed anything.”
“Had a mark. Top of right hand.”
“What kind of mark?”
“A tattoo. Or b-birthmark. Size of a quarter.”
Brill heard voices and heavy footsteps in the DB, and seconds later two paramedics glided through the door and asked her to stand aside with Trent.
She observed in disbelief as the pair worked to save her detective’s life, heartsick that she might have to tell his wife and children he’d been murdered on her watch—and just feet away from armed police officers.
She started to brush the hair out of her eyes and realized her hands were bloody. She shuddered with the realization that whoever thrust a knife into Sean O’Toole had threatened to finish the job when he got to her.
Five hours later Brill sat at the conference table in her office with Detective Captain Trent Norris, Detective Beau Jack Rousseaux, Patrol Captain Pate Dickson, and Sheriff Sam Parker trying to assess where they were in the case.
“It’s a miracle Sean made it through surgery.” Brill looked from man to man. “We could be sitting here planning his funeral.”
“He’s too stubborn to die,” Beau Jack said.
“Stubborn’s no match for a knife blade, Detective. I want this animal locked up.”
“Don’t forget he threatened to come after you,” Trent said.
“How’d he get in here, anyway?”
Pate’s face turned pink. “One of my sergeants, Tiller, reported that a white man dressed in navy blue coveralls with the Miller’s Air Conditioning logo on the pocket was standing outside the door when he arrived this morning. The guy said he was here to fix the AC. He had a toolbox and a big smile. Dark hair and mustache. Big guy. Looked fifty to fifty-five.”
“So the sergeant just keyed in the combination and let him in without checking with maintenance?” Beau Jack said. “Real smart move.”
Pate stroked his chin. “Come on, Miller’s service people are in here all the time. The sergeant let down his guard. We’ve all done it.”
“Yeah, well, my partner nearly died because Sergeant Tiller let down his guard.”
“What’s done is done,” Brill said. “It’s not like we have a precedent for this kind of thing in the Sophie Trace PD.”
Beau Jack stuck a Tootsie Pop in his mouth. “I guess we do now.”
“We definitely need to tighten security,” Trent said. “Since we have no idea who this guy is, everyone we bring into the DB to be interviewed will be suspect.”
“I can’t spend the rest of my life in fear of this nutcase coming after me,” Brill said. “I have a job to do. Trent, you take charge of tightening security. All of us need to heighten our awareness of our surroundings. Anything or anyone that doesn’t feel right, check it out.”
Sam’s white eyebrows came together. “I can’t believe y’all were that trusting. My deputies would never let unauthorized individuals into a secured area. They’re trained to follow protocol.”
“So are my officers.” Brill forced herself not to sound defensive.
“But those of you in the county sheriff’s department deal with a broader range of criminals. Until now, the Sophie Trace PD had no reason to fear an officer being attacked in a secured area.”
“I’ll cover it in each briefing,” Trent said. “From this day forward, no one gets in the secured area until he has clearance. I don’t care how inconvenient it is to check him out.”
Brill looked over at Pate. “Tell me about your search of the building.”
“No evidence was found in the building, ma’am. My officers searched every nook and cranny and checked the sinks for hair and blood. Doesn’t appear the attacker stopped to clean up.”
“How’d Chavez do with the containment?” she said.
“He contained a two-block area around city hall, checked license plates, and talked with pedestrians. That yielded one female witness who passed the suspect on the sidewalk around 10:45—just after O’Toole was stabbed. The suspect was headed down First Street at a pretty good clip. Our witness says he was overweight, average height, dressed in navy blue coveralls and a black windbreaker and carrying a gray toolbox. She said he was wearing sunglasses and did not have a mustache. She’s working with Tiller and our sketch artist. We ought to have something soon.”
“Did she see which way he went?” Trent said.
Pate shook his head. “Once he passed her, she didn’t give him a second thought until Chavez questioned her.”
“Well,” Brill said, “I’m eager to see the sketch. If this man has threatened to come after me, I’d sure like to see if I recognize him.”
A short time later, Brill sat at her desk and studied the artist’s sketch of the man who stabbed Sean O’Toole. Sergeant Tiller was the only one who saw the suspect’s eyes, and the female witness was the
only one who saw his mouth without the mustache. He looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t put a name to the face or even explain what it was about him that looked familiar.
Her cell phone vibrated, and she read the display screen.
“There you are,” she said. “I guess you got my message?”
“Honey, I’m so sorry,” Kurt Jessup said. “I’ve been following the news. I’m glad Sean pulled through. Must’ve been horrible for you.”
“I thought we were going to lose him.”
She told Kurt everything that had happened from the time Sean O’Toole staggered into her office until the paramedics took him to St. Luke’s in an ambulance—except that the assailant told O’Toole he was coming after her to “finish the job.” Why get into that over the phone?
“Sounds intense. You must be emotionally drained.”
“I don’t think it’s caught up with me yet. It was surreal washing Sean’s blood off my hands, and I had to throw away my uniform shirt. Beau Jack lent me the extra shirt he had in his locker so Emily wouldn’t have to see the mess. Does she know about the stabbing?”
“Yes, but I made sure she’s not planted in front of the TV, listening to the gory details. It’ll just trigger thoughts of the hostage ordeal, and we both know she’s not over it.”
Are any of us? Brill glanced up at the clock. “I’ll be home in forty-five minutes. Is Vanessa there yet? I can hardly wait to see her.”
“She’ll be here between seven and eight. Said not to plan on her for dinner.”
“By the time I get home, it’ll be too late to cook anything,” Brill said. “And you know what Friday night is like. If we go out, we’ll have to wait forever, and I don’t want Vanessa to come home to an empty house.”
“I’ve got it covered, honey. I bought a baked chicken and a quart of potato salad at the grocery store. We’ve got stuff here for a green salad. That should work.”
“What would I do without you?”
Kurt laughed. “I have no idea.”
“I’ll see you soon. I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Brill hung up the phone and looked out the window. Through the leafy trees and beyond the ridges of hazy green foothills, the blue gray silhouette of the Great Smoky Mountains dominated the early evening sky. She sat for a moment and just enjoyed the beauty and the calm.
Lord, thank You for letting Sean pull through.
Her office phone rang, and she picked it up. “Yes, LaTeesha.”
“Captain Donovan from the Memphis PD is on line one for you.”
“Thanks.” She pushed the blinking button. “Hello, John.”
“Hey. It’s great to hear your voice. Saw you on the news last fall. I figured you’d make a name for yourself, but I didn’t think you’d go to such extreme measures.”
She smiled. “Things got pretty crazy, all right. So are you enjoying my old office?”
“Not today. I’ve got bad news … Zack Rogers was stabbed night before last. Happened in his driveway. Some worthless piece of garbage came up behind him and stuck a knife in his gut, and said to tell District Attorney Cromwell he was coming after him. I didn’t call you because the doc said Zack was going to be all right. But his heart gave out …”—John’s voice cracked—“an hour ago. No one saw it coming. His kids are still in high school, and with their mother dead … well, it’s a tragic loss. I knew you’d want to know since you and Zack were partners for so long.”
Brill felt a wave of nausea sweep over her, a decade of memories flashing through her mind in an instant.
“The thing is,” John said, “we knew Zack was being targeted because one of my detectives was stabbed last week, and the perp told him he was coming after Zack. We offered Zack protection, but you know how independent he was—bound and determined he could take care of himself.”
Brill’s heart pounded so hard she was sure he could hear it. “John, one of my detectives was stabbed today just outside the detective bureau. The attacker told him he was coming after me, to finish the job. This can’t be a coincidence.”
There was a long moment of dead air, and she figured John was processing the implications.
“You and Zack helped put away lots of perps, Brill. And Jason Cromwell was district attorney during the time you two were partners. Did anybody ever threaten you?”
“Are you kidding? All the time. We blew it off.”
“Well, looks like one of them was dead serious. Anybody in particular stand out?”
“Sure, Bart and Sampson Rhodes. But they’re lifers and not eligible for parole. Zack and I busted them what, nine or ten years ago? If they had been serious about taking us out, they could’ve snapped their fingers and gotten it done in nine or ten minutes.”
“Maybe they’re patient,”
“Or maybe this is someone else,” Brill said. “Someone who was forced to wait a long time for the chance to get even—someone who served out his sentence. Someone who wouldn’t think of hiring a hit man, but rather delights in the systematic elimination of the people who put him away. Someone who enhances his enjoyment by first stabbing a person who is close to the intended victim and making sure that person lives long enough to tell the intended victim that he or she is next.”
“You’ve worked with the FBI profilers so long you actually sound like one.”
“Unfortunately, John, I think I’m right.”
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Last Word by Kathy Herman. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
Jesse Rice is a writer and musician and served for eight years as the Contemporary Worship Arts Director at Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, a large and thriving congregation in the heart of Silicon Valley. Jesse has a Master’s in Counseling Psychology and is an authority on the search for meaning in a fast-paced, hyper-connected world. He is a sought-after worship leader and speaker with more than fifteen years of experience working with college students and young adults. Jesse and his wife, Katie, live in Palo Alto, California.
Visit the author's hilarious website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (October 1, 2009)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Akumal, Mexico, is just over an hour south of Cancun on the Mexican Riviera, a quaint resort community surrounded by white sandy beaches and lush jungle palms. Its miniscule “downtown” is composed of two small grocery stores, half a dozen restaurants, and a scuba-diving shop. It is positioned on a long stretch of beach regarded for its snorkeling and giant sea turtles. It is a tourist trap but few tourists know of it, keeping life in Akumal consistently vibrating at little more than a soothing hum. In other words, it is paradise.
On New Years Day 1998, three particularly pasty psychologists found themselves luxuriating in Akumal while discussing the topic, “What makes people happy?” As soft, eighty-degree breezes swept over the tops of their little tropical drinks sporting little tropical umbrellas, it was difficult to imagine discussing anything else.
Renown psychologist Martin Seligman was one of the three. His round, clean-shaven face and mostly bald head framed an easy smile, making him look like a beardless Santa Claus with a badly sunburned nose. Together with Ray Fowler and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yes, that’s a lot of consonants but it’s easily pronounced: “cheeks-sent-me-high”), he was celebrating his very first day as president of the American Psychological Association. Seligman was known around the world for his work studying learned helplessness, depression, and, conversely, for his founding contributions to the emerging field of positive psychology. Each incoming APA president is asked to choose a theme for their yearlong term of office. Seligman, frustrated that so much of his field seemed entirely focused on the broken parts of humanity, wanted to steer things in a more optimistic direction. Thus the quiet beach resort, thus the tropical drinks, and thus the question, “What makes people happy?”
One year after that very conversation, Seligman and company—plus a group of young talent being groomed to lead the charge for a more optimistic approach in their field—returned to Akumal as part of a first annual conference on “positive psychology.” The tiny beach community had never seen so much pale skin. Not that psychology had always turned a blind eye to optimism. Throughout the decades there had always been a few rogues willing to brave their fellow researchers’ suspicious looks and folded arms in order to promote a more positive approach to well-being. But here was the beginning of a movement to reorient the entire field, to mainstream what had until then seemed little more than a fringe curiosity.
In the years following the conference, the evidence for what makes people happy began to roll in like a gentle wave in Akumal. What did researchers find? You may be surprised.
More money doesn’t make you happy. Yes, we’ve all been told that “money can’t buy happiness,” but here for the first time was actual scientific research that showed, once our basic material needs are met, additional income does almost nothing to raise our sense of satisfaction with life. (Wouldn’t we all love the chance to prove the exception to the rule?) How about education? Would another degree at a better institution make me happy? Again, research showed that more or better education or even a higher IQ did not equate to happiness. How about the quest to remain eternally young? In a culture that has elevated adolescence into an art form, surely perpetual youth would make us happy? Not so fast. Older people, studies revealed, were consistently happier than younger people. They were also less prone to bouts of depression. What about sunny weather? Be honest: Aren’t Californians happier than Michiganders? Research suggested that while those surveyed in the Midwest assumed Californians were a happier bunch thanks to their extra dose of vitamin D, it turns out there is no correlation between balmy weather and consistent feelings of well-being (though after a long Portland, Oregon, winter, my in-laws usually beg to differ).
So what does cause happiness? Dr. Edward Diener—known to his associates as “Dr. Happiness”—conducted a 2002 study along with Martin Seligman at the University of Illinois. That particular study summed up much of positive psychology’s overall findings. Students who tested with the highest levels of happiness and the fewest signs of depression all had one foundational thing in common: significant social ties to friends and family.
In other words, connection is the key to happiness.
“Authentic connection,” writes psychologist Janet L. Surrey, “is described as the core of psychological wellbeing and is the essential quality of growth-fostering and healing relationships. In moments of deep connection in relationship, we break out of isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state
of mind and heart.”
At the root of human existence is our great need for connection: connection with one another, with our own hearts and minds, and with a loving God who intended intimate connection with us from the beginning. Connection is the very core of what makes us human and the very means by which we express our humanity. As Surrey notes, there are no “growth-fostering” or “healing” relationships without connection. Apart from its presence the human heart becomes isolated and fragmented. Let’s look more closely at the power of connection through the lens of two compelling stories.
Harry Frederick Harlow was born October 31,1905. His parents were Mabel Rock and Alonzo Harlow Israel. Harry Harlow was not Jewish, but as an adult he changed his original surname from “Israel” to “Harlow” because he feared the prejudice he likely would have encountered in academic circles of the 1940s and ’50s. In grade school and throughout high school, Harlow demonstrated great proficiency in English, so when he headed off to university, he naturally chose English as his major. Harlow spent his first year studying at Reed College in Oregon and then transferred to Stanford University. At Stanford, Harlow continued his studies, but to his surprise, began doing very poorly in his English courses. Partly to avoid flunking out of Stanford and partly due to a growing interest in human behavior, Harlow switched his studies to psychology. Small decisions can make a big difference. Harlow’s decision to switch majors would eventually revolutionize the entire field of psychology.
Harlow completed both his undergraduate and doctoral degrees at Stanford, taking a professorship at the University of Wisconsin almost as soon as he removed his graduation gown. It was at Wisconsin that Harlow would make a name for himself in a series of cleverly designed experiments that involved a seemingly endless supply of rhesus monkeys.
Harlow, who looked exactly like what you’d expect from a research scientist in the 1950s—white lab coat, horn-rimmed glasses, grease-slicked black hair—was interested in love. In fact his name eventually became synonymous with the “science of affection,” and his best-known paper was titled, “The Nature of Love.” Harlow’s fellow researchers often heckled him and dismissed his fascination with affection for not being “scientific enough.” But he wasn’t deterred. Love was on Harlow’s mind and he knew it was on most other minds as well.
Interestingly, Harlow’s own romantic life would itself become a laboratory of love. He met his first wife, Clara, while she was a subject in a famous IQ study that Harlow just happened to be helping to administer. Clara posted a whopping 150 on the IQ test—well into the “genius” category. They were married in 1932 and had two children, Robert and Richard. Harlow and Clara later divorced in 1946. One
year later Harlow remarried. His new wife, Margaret, was herself a bright psychologist. Together, they had two more children, Pamela and Jonathan. Sadly, Margaret died in 1970 after a long battle with cancer. Again just a single year passed before Harlow was married once more. What kind of brilliant mind did he choose to wed this time? To everyone’s surprise Harlow remarried his first wife, Clara. They lived out the rest of their days together until 1981 when Harlow passed away. Hollywood screenwriters have written less interesting love stories.
But all of that lay in the future. For now, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Harlow’s primary “romantic interest” was in primates. One experiment in particular put Harlow on the map. Curious how infant rhesus monkeys would behave in an artificial environment, Harlow and his team built two artificial monkey “mothers.” The first was constructed of simple wire mesh and had a blank-faced head screwed on the top with a tube running out from its neck that could deliver milk to the infant monkey. It resembled he kind of demonic stick figure that people typically ignite at the end of the annual Burning Man festival. The second “mother” was identical except that its “face” was more monkeylike, and its wire mesh frame was covered with soft, warm terrycloth. It looked like an elongated furry snowman that would like to be everyone’s friend. There was one more key distinction between the two mothers: The cloth-covered contraption did not have a feeding tube. It was incapable of providing the infant monkey with food.
The black-and-white film from Harlow’s experiment is both hilarious and heartbreaking to watch. As the tiny elflike monkeys stumble around their cages just a few days after birth, they quickly climb up and take a sip from the wire mother but then scramble immediately back to the cloth mother, where they spend the vast majority of their day. If any element of fear was introduced into the environment, as was the case when researchers placed a drum-playing toy bear into their cage (and who wouldn’t find such a thing troubling?), the little monkeys always ran to the cloth mother for comfort instead of the fooddispensing
wire mother, clinging to her with all their strength until the fear passed.
Harlow and his team had expected the infant monkeys to create some kind of “bond” between mother and child immediately following birth. What they did not anticipate was, if forced to choose, the monkeys would select the nonfeeding cloth mother over the food-delivering wire mother every time. Their need for comforting connection, it seemed, was even greater than their need for food!
But there was more. Following his initial discoveries, Harlow introduced a series of modifications to his experiment. In one case he took away the choice between monkey mothers by separating the infants into two different environments: one with only a wire mother and one with only a cloth mother (a tube was added to the cloth mother to support feeding). Harlow found that monkeys from either environment developed physically at the same rate. It appeared there was little or no difference in the “connective effects” of cloth or wire. This seemed to imply that what the monkeys were connected to did not really matter. The only important thing was that they had some kind of connection.
But the scary drum-playing toy bear changed all of that. When the mechanical bear was placed in the “cloth” cages, the frightened monkeys would scramble on to the cloth mother, cuddling and rubbing against her until they were at last able to calm themselves. At that point, the monkeys would relax and
even become curious and playful about sharing a cage with a toy bear, venturing away from the cloth mother in brief excursions to sniff and paw at it.
The monkeys in the “wire” cages, however, could not have responded more differently. When the menacing toy bear was introduced into the wire cages, the little monkeys fell to pieces. They threw themselves on the floor, and rocked back and forth. They screamed in terror. The effect is so dramatic
that footage from the experiment can be quite disturbing to watch.
What Harlow concluded was that the monkeys in the “cloth” cages must have had access to some kind of psychological resource—what he later called emotional attachment—to help them deal with challenges in their environment, especially the introduction of fear. The monkeys in the “wire” cages had no such resources and fell apart at the first sign of danger. This, Harlow began to see, was evidence that there was in fact a certain kind of connection important not only to healthy development but also to serve in adequately facing challenges that might appear.
Harlow found that there are indeed different types of connection that make for different types of responses. There are some types of connection that enable adaptation and resiliency. There are other connections that create psychological breakdown. The monkeys from either cage developed physically at
normally expected rates. They appeared to be identically healthy and normal from the outside. And they behaved as you would expect healthy monkeys to behave. But those similarities vanished the moment some change—especially some threat—was introduced into their environment. When that happened, the difference in their “inner” realities became obvious. One kind of connection had led to the inner strength necessary to cope with and even overcome environmental changes. The other had led to inner chaos and a radically diminished capacity to cope with anything at all.
Harlow’s findings reflect what we now know to be true for human babies, as well. Bonding, the psychological process by which a mother creates a safe and nurturing environment for the child to develop, lays the groundwork for the baby’s ability to grow into a healthy and well-adapted adult. That is why, as soon as is possible, the new mother is handed her fresh-out-of-the womb baby to physically bond with. If a physical connection is not possible—for example, a health issue that requires the baby to initially be kept in an incubator—mothers are encouraged to speak tenderly to their child, connecting and intimately bonding through the soothing tones of their own voice. Studies have shown that, just like the little rhesus monkeys, a human baby’s need to bond with its parent may be even more important than
its need for food.
Harlow’s findings revolutionized the way psychologists thought about human relationships. Until then it was unlikely any scientist in his right mind would have claimed that some kind of emotional connection was more important to a growing infant than the most basic of all needs, food. But what Harlow demonstrated so vividly with infant monkeys, and what study after study has shown to be all the more true in human beings, is that connection is not just “what causes happiness.” It is also our most basic need.
The reality of our innate need for connection is often most clearly revealed in the experience of dis-connection. Dropped cell phone calls, the loss of a job or career opportunity, a romantic breakup, the death of a loved one—each kind of disconnection alerts us to the fact that we were meant to connect. The feelings that result from a broken connection can run the gamut from simple frustration to complete personal devastation. But we need not explore something as painful as death in order to further illustrate the effects of disconnection. We can do something as simple as turning on the “telly.”
The BBC, the United Kingdom’s mammoth media empire, produces some of the most clever and thought provoking programming that often tickles the funny bone while stretching the intellect. And no, I’m not talking about The Office. In 2006 a BBC television series called Horizon invited six people to take part in a compelling experiment. Adam, Claire, Rickey, Judy, Barney, and Bill agreed to subject themselves to forty-eight hours of sensory deprivation. They signed up to be “disconnected” in every way in order to see what would happen.
Adam is a stand-up comedian in his late twenties. He has a significantly receding hairline, a slight paunch in his belly, and eyes that appear slightly crossed. He’s the most extroverted of the six, a person who—like most extroverts—requires a great deal of sensory stimulation to make sense of the world. He jokes self-effacingly as he imagines the toll the next two days will take on him. “I’m afraid I’ll go mad. What if I start smashing things up?”
Claire is also in her late twenties with short dark hair and a pretty smile. She says she likes a challenge. “I do try to push myself.” As a doctoral student in psychology, she seems ideally suited to thrive in an experiment where her mind will be put to the test.
Bill looks lean and strong and is a former ad executive. He is the oldest in the bunch. He plans to cope with the forty-eight hour experiment by using his skills in meditation. “Every day I like to spend time on my own. I sometimes fantasize about being a hermit, about living up in the mountains and coming down to buy a few supplies in town, then going back to my cabin.” If anyone is going to be fine after two days without human connection, it seems to be Bill.
Rickey is a thirtysomething postal worker whose primary hobby is running one-hundred-mile ultramarathons. Yes, you read that correctly—one hundred miles. He plans to think of the experiment as just another test of his endurance.Barney is a film archivist who imagines quietly that he will probably have a hard time over the next two days. Judy is a copywriter for a toy manufacturer. “I’m very excited to get started,” Judy says, not sounding too excited at all. “I don’t know how I’m going to last, but I guess I’ll just keep going.”
As you can see, the “Horizon Six” were not extraordinary people, at least not any more extraordinary than the rest of us.3 They all had their own ideas of how to best handle a situation like this and their own concerns about whether those techniques would actually work. They were average folks who simply wanted to put themselves to the test, to see what would happen when they were disconnected from life as they normally experienced it.
The experiment took place in an abandoned nuclear bunker, the kind of dark and creepy place straight out of a Hollywood horror film. Walking down the stairs and into the long, dimly lit halls of the concrete structure, one might expect to stumble upon a cast of overly attractive twentysomethings being systematically stalked and hacked to death by some very disturbed but strangely likeable assailant.
The six subjects were given a battery of tests to use for before-and-after comparisons. In the first test, they were given a letter—F, for example—then asked to think of as many words as possible in one minute that began with that letter. Classic Adam: “Fake, farting, football …” For the most part, each of the six breezes through, listing dozens of words that begin with F, though no one else seems to come up with anything as creative as a “fake, farting, football.” The next test is presented to them. In this one the subjects are handed a sheet of paper. On the paper are the names of colors printed in columns: black, red, green, etc. But here’s the catch: The names of the colors do not match the actual color of the ink with which they were printed. For example, the word “black” was actually printed in green ink, the word “red” was printed in black ink, and so on.
The subjects are then asked to name the color of ink with which each color’s name was printed. It’s trickier than you think. Our brains typically register a printed word before we register the color of the printed word. But with a little bit of thought, each subject does quite well. They moved on to the final test. While the researchers were curious how the subjects would perform on the first two tests—any drops in performance would be easy to measure when everything was over—they were secretly interested in something quite different.
The last test, the one the researchers were most interested in, measured “levels of suggestibility.” What they wanted to find out was just how vulnerable someone might become to the power of suggestion when they are cut off from connection, disconnected from their social and sensory worlds. Would they fall for a lie? Would they give in to someone else’s point of view even if it were clearly “wrong”? To test for suggestibility, the researchers read their subjects a story with lots of intricate details, then quizzed them. “Was the assailant hit with a fist or a handbag?” Claire is asked. She looks at the researcher with a furrowed brow. “Well, neither.” Claire gets it right. They were trying to pull one over on her, but she was alert for the details. In fact all of the men and women in the group tested fairly well in the first round. In other words, they had very low levels of suggestibility and could not be talked into believing something
that wasn’t true.
With the testing behind them, the Horizon Six were placed into tiny individual concrete rooms with nothing but a lonely bed for furniture. The rooms looked very much like prison cells without toilets. Three of the subjects were placed in rooms completely sealed off from any light source; they could not see their hands in front of their faces. The other three were placed in well-lit rooms, but it came with a catch. They were stuffed into large, padded gloves and socks to disrupt their sense of touch, frosted goggles to completely hinder their vision, and headphones that played nothing but white noise to thwart their hearing. (The gloves were later removed when the subjects complained of painful rashes.)
As the experiment finally got under way, Claire was immediately overwhelmed by the inky blackness of her cell. She anxiously relayed to her observers that her bed sheets were cold and wet and that something should be done immediately to remedy the situation. Intending to remain silent so as not to influence any outcomes, her observers acquiesced to her concern and assured her via intercom that she was mistaken. The sheets were not wet, they said. She was just imagining things. “I don’t think you’re taking my concerns about the blankets very seriously,” Claire lamented. “No one should have to sleep in wet sheets.” After a short time Claire gave up trying to convince them and climbed into a fetal position on her bed.
After just nine hours the subjects were showing signs of wear. “I’m finding this grossly boring,” said Barney. Adam echoed Barney’s thoughts: “It’s unbearable. I can feel my brain not wanting to do anything.” Adam’s statement may not be far from what actually happens during solitary confinement and sensory deprivation. Just as new neural pathways form in our brain as a result of stimulation, there is now research to show that the opposite may also true. If the brain does not get the stimulation it needs, it begins to turn to mush. Bill, who seemed so keen to spend time by himself in the beginning, now complained, “I don’t really want to be here. It’s starting to get on my nerves. I feel like a … helpless lab rat.” Claire was found in her “cell” counting to herself. Barney had taken up singing. Judy, in the meantime, had simply fallen asleep.
After twenty-four hours (or the time it takes Jack Bauer to save Los Angeles from imminent destruction), the subjects began to exhibit truly bizarre behavior. They raised their voices in angry complaint to the walls. They wept uncontrollably. Many experienced vivid hallucinations. Adam reported, “I thought I could see a pile of oyster shells, empty, to represent all the nice food I could have eaten inside here.” Poor Claire was suffering similar effects. “There’s a snake there,” she said, pointing to the floor. In another strange visual display of the effects of disconnection, almost all the subjects began to pace their tiny rooms back and forth, their brains working to selfgenerate some kind of stimulation in order to keep them going. Not Judy, of course. Judy was still asleep. Judy’s eternal sleep, it turned out, was simply her body and mind’s way of dealing with the overwhelming lack of connection, just another form of a coping mechanism.
After forty hours Adam was in tears. “This is close to insanity.” The subjects seemed to have plummeted in both cognitive and behavioral functioning. Barney was singing again—poorly. Most had begun “hearing things,” and claimed that “someone seemed to be in the room” with them. Judy was—you guessed it—still sleeping.
Finally, the experiment came to a close. A researcher’s voice broke through the inky silence in each of their cells, causing them all a fright. “The forty-eight hours are over.” Adam cried out for relief: “I just want to kiss the person who’s letting me out!” Bill was similarly thrilled and laughed to himself. Claire
was visibly relieved. Judy mumbled sleepily, “Oh. Excellent.”
But before they could be reconnected to the outside world, the subjects were readministered the same battery of tests they were given at the beginning in order to reveal any cognitive changes resulting from their two days as lab rats. Of course, almost without exception, everyone performed poorly, further
proving the disabling effects of isolation (as if anyone needed more evidence than the video footage captured in each subject’s room5). Finally, the camera followed each of the six as they walked back through long, dark halls, up the tall steel stairs, and finally out into the sunshine. Adam, Claire, Rickey, Judy, Barney, and Bill were elated to be set free into a world brimming with connection. “My senses are overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells,” said Adam. “You have no idea how good this feels.”
BBC’s Horizon experiment revealed two natural results of disconnection that illustrate our human need to connect. The first result: Cut off from connection, our ability to make sense of the world begins to break down. We begin to see things that aren’t there, to buy into a reality that is wholly skewed. There were no snakes slithering on Claire’s floor. Neither were her sheets wet and cold. They were dry and room temperature, the same as everyone else’s. And Adam did not really have a large pile of seashells growing at the foot of his bed. His room was as empty as the rest. In the real world—the world of connection—Claire and Adam were normally adjusted human beings. In the experimental world—the world of disconnection—they became hallucinating paranoids.
The second result demonstrated by the Horizon experiment was that, cut off from connection, our ability to cope with reality quickly dissolves. In just one day of sensory deprivation and social isolation, each subject was reduced to infantile and even animalistic behavior. They cried uncontrollably and talked to
themselves out loud. They rolled up into fetal positions and huddled on their beds. They yelled at the unsympathetic walls of their room. They even paced their constricting cages like jungle animals, waiting for the moment to attack and escape. Apparently baby rhesus monkeys aren’t the only mammals that
fall apart without the proper connection.
Obviously, the six subjects in the Horizon experiment were placed in extraordinary circumstances. Not many of us (hopefully) live in tiny concrete rooms dominated by an absence of sight, sound, and touch. But the experiment proved what Martin Seligman and his associates began to uncover on the beaches of Akumal, demonstrating its truth by revealing its opposite: If connection can make us happy, then disconnection can make us unhappy. No matter how it was tested, though, connectedness mattered.
Two stories, one common thread woven throughout: the inestimable power of connection. As we saw with Harlow and his monkeys, connection lays the groundwork for growth. In connection we find comfort and safety. We find a nurturing space that allows us to develop as a whole person, maturing inwardly even as we develop outwardly. Without it we might fall apart in the face of terrifying teddy bears. But in the presence of connection, the same toy bear—or whatever real-world challenge we might face—can become a mere curiosity, something we simply adapt to and overcome, growing stronger as we do.
The Horizon Six echoed Harlow’s research: Apart from connection we fall to pieces. Our physical, emotional, and cognitive powers weaken significantly. We become vulnerable to suggestion, and can be easily led to believe things that aren’t true. Our decision-making ability gets cloudy. Our way of viewing the world becomes skewed. We question our ability to cope: Are we going crazy? Will we be able to make it? Am I truly alone? Disconnection seems to leave us locked in little rooms with no light source and no sense of when the madness will end. But it also reminds us of how precious connection truly is. Remember how the subjects responded when finally released from captivity, when they were finally reconnected to their natural environment? Adam, the highly extroverted stand-up comedian, said it best: “You have no idea how good this feels.” Connection, it seems, makes all the difference.
Of course, we are talking about a certain quality of connection, aren’t we? Not just any connection can keep someone from falling to pieces. The average television satellite dish connects us to two hundred-plus channels, each with its own endless number of programs. But not many of us can claim that such a wide variety of connections has revolutionized our lives. Clearly not just any connection will do.
We can look to our own life experience as evidence in the case for quality versus quantity. There are certain people whose emails and phone calls we answer right away, and certain other people whose emails and phone calls we don’t answer at all. If we are having a particularly difficult day, questioning our own worth, wondering what is the point in going on with life, we tend to share this with a certain kind of person and not necessarily the young man behind the counter of our nearest gas station.6 Similarly, if we have good news to share—if a wedding is proposed or a baby is on its way—celebration is usually all the more rich when communicated to certain favorite people.
If we are to make sense of why certain kinds of connection are beneficial and certain others aren’t, we must be more precise in our definition of “connection.” We have to get clear on what kind of connection has the power to secure, grow, free, and transform us. Toward the beginning of this chapter, I quoted psychologist Janet L. Surrey. Here she is again.
Authentic connection is described as the core of psychological wellbeing and is the essential quality
of growth-fostering and healing relationships. In moments of deep connection in relationship, we
break out of isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state of mind and heart.
Surrey uses words like “authentic” and “deep” to convey the type of connection that is powerful enough to break us out of “isolation and contraction into a more whole and spacious state of mind and heart.” Even though “authentic” and “deep” are still fairly ambiguous terms, they’re a good place to start. Let’s
build on Surrey’s ideas.
Henri Nouwen, the great spiritual writer of the last century, was a man constantly in search of connection, and his many books represented that search. He wrestled with feeling loved even as he wrote about being the beloved (Life of the Beloved ). He wrestled with hope as he spiraled down into the inky depths of depression (The Inner Voice of Love). He reflected on life in the face of his own mother’s death (A Letter of Consolation). And even though he was a Dutch Catholic priest, his largest audience, by far, was American Protestant evangelicals. The paradox of Nouwen’s life and his message brought hope and healing to millions of readers around the world. His popularity revealed just how well he understood the human condition. He described it this way in his book Lifesigns:
Probably no better word summarizes the suffering of our time than the word, “homeless.” It reveals
one of our deepest and most painful conditions, the condition of not having a sense of belonging, of not having a place where we can feel safe, cared for, protected, and loved.
Nouwen claimed that human suffering was the experience of “not having a place where we can feel loved, safe, cared for, and protected.” He explained that this is what it means to be “homeless.” We can use the inverse of Nouwen’s definition of suffering to help us find a more clear definition of connection: The kind of connection we’re longing for—whether consciously or unconsciously—is the kind that creates a sense of belonging within us, a sense that we are “safe, cared for, protected, and loved.” In other words, we feel most at home—most ourselves—around people with whom we experience that deep and authentic connection that Janet Surrey talked about. As such, we know that, whatever else connection means, it has to include the qualities that most make us feel “at home” in the world.
Finally, listen to this simple dictionary definition, one of several found for the word connection:
A friend, relative, or associate who either has or has access to influence or power.
This is the definition we use when describing someone who got where they are in life because they had “great connections.” But it’s also a description of the kind of connection that matters. We might say, then, that the recipe for the kind of connection we’re trying to define is one that includes authenticity and depth. It is sprinkled with protective safety and dignifying freedom. It contains heaping portions of loving concern for our becoming a better, more whole person. It is seasoned with access to transformative power.
When used in its very best sense, the word home summarizes this definition perfectly. Most of us come from homes that have been fractured in some ways. Many have not been safe, nurturing places. We haven’t always gotten the support and protection we needed. But ideally home was meant to be all of those things—a safe, nurturing, transformative environment where who we are—just as we are—was always celebrated. A place where our highest potential was encouraged and sought after. When we go looking for a best friend, we go looking for home. When we go looking for a spouse, we go looking for home. When we turn our attention to the divine, to spirituality of all kinds, to God Himself, we are looking for home.
There is a truth about our longing for home—our search for community—that emerges from the beginning of the Bible in the second chapter of Genesis: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God makes this profound observation immediately after breathing His Spirit into Adam. God has just created something that appears to be incomplete; it’s missing something. Has He made a mistake? What does God do in light of his conclusion that “it is not good for the man to be alone”? The answer seems to emphasize the need for a certain quality of connection. God’s response to incomplete Adam: “I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). To be clear, God was not making a statement about gender roles, assigning women the collective position of “administrative assistant.” Nor was He making an isolated statement about the preeminence of marriage (though marriage, with its qualities of mutual submission, self-sacrifice, and unconditional love, has always been a biblical archetype for every kind of community). Rather, God was clarifying that the fullness of our humanity could only be truly expressed through relationship with a suitable other.
The key word here is suitable. What kind of connection would best “suit” Adam? What quality of relationship would not only meet his basic needs for “home,” but also help him grow and flourish? Badgers, despite their sassy attitude and rugged good looks, did not “suit” Adam. Could he find this quality of connection with a giraffe? Could he teach a parrot enough words to connect in conversation? Adam found himself in what was likely the most beautiful garden ever imagined—couldn’t it have been enough for him simply to connect with nature? While Adam’s ability to care for and relate in healthy ways to his environment was vitally important (as it is for us today), his greatest need for connection was with one of his own. The quality of connection capable of meeting Adam’s need for home was to be found in intimate relationship with another human being. He needed one of his own and that’s what he got—perfectly matched Eve (for whom Adam was also a suitable helper). Remember, Adam was surrounded by creatures. He lived in a world saturated with life; there seemed no end to his connections.
But by intentionally creating both Adam and Eve (and every man and woman since) “in His image” and placing them in unique relationship with one another and with Himself, God demonstrated that the quality of a connection clearly matters.
Think back now to the book’s introduction. When the ribbon was cut and hundreds of people began to make their way across the Millennium Bridge, their individual footsteps generated energy. At first this energy was random, firing all over the place. But very quickly the energy became “synchronized.” It began taking on a life of its own as it passed through various points in the bridge’s structure. That new synchrony, or new “order,” forced the pedestrians to begin walking in step with one another, waddling en masse in a “skating gait.” The event pointed toward the first “reality” we discovered in the case of London’s Millennium Bridge. Here it is again:
1. There is a force that is capable of synchronizing a large population in very little time, thereby creating spontaneous order.
Now consider this: In the first quarter of 2009, five million people joined Facebook every week. In addition, Facebook’s membership doubled from one hundred million to two hundred million people from August 2008 to March 2009. Perhaps most incredible, the vast majority of its members—140 million, in
fact—have only been on the rolls since February 2007. That’s 140 million new users in just over two years. Facebook isn’t just a white-hot social-networking platform. It is a radical example of Steven Strogatz’s spontaneous order.
In a very short period of time (five years), a very large population (several hundred million and counting) has been synchronized (pulled into the orbit of a single Web platform called Facebook). And what kind of gravity is capable of accomplishing such a feat?
The human need for home.
It might sound a bit ridiculous. After all, who would claim to be looking for home in a social-networking site like Facebook? We’re there to keep in touch with friends and family, to make some new friendly connections or reconnections, to share small slices of our personal worlds through pictures and status updates and playful games of Mob Wars. We just want a little mindless entertainment, for heaven’s sake. But as we’ll begin to see in the next few chapters, home is exactly the kind of connection that Facebook is offering. For now it is enough to say that the human need for home is plenty powerful enough to create a spontaneous order all its own. Not even Steve Strogatz saw this one coming.
But what is the nature of this new “order” and how does it help us make sense of this tendency to seek out home wherever we can find it? That’s what we’re going to explore next. And while we began this chapter on the warm, white sand beaches of Akumal, Mexico, I’m afraid we’ll need to venture to a slightly less exotic locale to facilitate our exploration in the next one. I’m referring, of course, to the tiny community of Angola, New York.
©2009 Cook Communications Ministries. The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.