Packing our bags for the long drive, I was certain we had everything we needed. Making sure the children were tucked in nice and warm, we started our journey from the sub-zero temperatures of South Dakota and headed for the southern part of Kansas. It was the week before Christmas and we wondered whether we would soon be moving.
The drive down went without a hitch and we arrived in a tiny little town that was located way out in the middle of Kansas wheat fields. It was flat with nothing of interest between us and Wichita which was about an hour drive to the north.
The town itself had a population of less than 2000. After driving around the entire town, my wife and I were convinced that the number on the sign must have included all the stray dogs, cats, and chickens we saw running around.
Pulling in at the only motel in town, I gave my details to the owner who gave us a warm welcome and stated that if there was ANYTHING we might need to just let her know.
Taking the key to our room, we were the only people staying there for the night, so we expected that it would be quiet.
Unpacking, we prepared for the next morning and my interview process. You see, the purpose for my driving to the middle of nowhere Kansas was to candidate for my first pastorate. It was Saturday night, and I was still not certain that I was prepared.
I was meticulous about the notes I had written and studied for two morning church sessions and one on the Sunday evening. I had also meticulously prepared my answers for all the questions that I thought the church and the pulpit committee might or might not ask me. My notes were ready, my Bible was ready, and the only thing I needed to do was make sure my clothes were ready.
Laying out the clothes for our children for the next morning, I was also meticulous in making sure that my shoes were shined again, that I had my shirt ironed, my suit had been freshly dry-cleaned before coming down, and that I had the perfect power tie to go with — —
What?? Oh no!!!
There was no way this could be happening.We looked high and we looked low. We checked, rechecked, and then rechecked again every part of our vehicle, but to no avail.
I felt like I was going to be committing a cardinal sin. Here I was over 500 miles away from home on a Saturday night, preparing for a nerve-wracking day of interviewing and preaching, with no stores any around that were open at almost 9pm, the problem was –
I had NO tie.
What preacher or pastor stands up to deliver a message in the mid-1990’s without being properly attired?
I would have settled for a string tie, or a cowboy tie, a bowtie, or even a wider fat tie, but I really wanted the nice power tie that I had ready to make the trip. However, my power tie was still resting on our bed back home in South Dakota.
Needless to say, I was embarrassed, but I remembered what the elderly lady at the front desk had told me.
Walking from our room to the motel lobby, I told her my embarrassing predicament. She informed me that her husband had passed away a few years ago and that she had only just a week or so ago finally cleared out all of his clothes including the dozens of ties he owned.
I would have been happy with just one of them.
Not to be unhelpful, she said, “Wait a minute, I know somebody who might be able to help.”
Picking up the phone, she dialed a number.
“Hey, this is Martha down at the hotel. I have a gentleman here who has a slight problem. He has no tie for service tomorrow when he comes to preach at YOUR church!”
Are you kidding me? 2000 people in town and the one person she calls for help was actually one of the church deacons and the head of the pulpit committee for the very church I will be at in the morning.
I was mortified!
Deciding to put my best foot forward, I agree to have the man come over to our hotel room and bring me a selection of ties.
A few minutes later, a deep throated roar split the air. My boys run to the window and look out to find a short, heavy set man with a graying beard dressed all in leather and wearing a Santa hat. He was riding a 1936 Harley Davidson complete with Christmas lights that twinkled as much as his eyes did for the Christmas season.
My wife and boys found the scene quite funny, and I was just trying to figure out what we had gotten ourselves into. The head of the pulpit committee didn’t look like he had ever worn a tie. In fact, my boys were fairly certain that Santa was real after all and he lived in southern Kansas.
The man laughed and tried to put me at ease as he handed me a selection of ties. With a quick round of greetings, he said, “These are the only ones I have, so you can take your pick. See you in the morning.”
With that he was gone and I thought I had just witnessed a rather quaint Kansas version of “The Night Before Christmas.”
Looking down at the ties in my hands, I was appalled. The selection of six brightly colored ties looked like they had come from the very bottom of the bottom of the bottom of the bottom of a barrel at Goodwill that time had forgotten from the 1970s. You know the ones that could have passed for a bib or apron.
However, Saint Nick on his Harley Davidson had also handed me a box that contained a nice brown striped tie. With no other option before me, I decided that it would have to be the one that put me front and center before the congregation of the country church. If they don’t like me because of having no tie, then we would simply go back to South Dakota.
We arrived to the church early the next morning and I sat on the front row trying to keep anybody from seeing the tie I was wearing. Thankfully, the head of the pulpit committee and his wife make a late appearance and showed up right before service started. My intention was to make a quick dart up to the platform and hope that nobody noticed my tie did not quite match the rest of my attire.
Standing to start the service, I moved quickly to the platform and turned to face the small congregation whereupon the deacon and his wife start chuckling, then laughing out loud, and the wife starts snorting. She is turning red as she tries in vain to keep from disrupting the service.
Feeling like a failure, I decided to start the service by admitting my error from the night before. Relaying the entire story, I knew my face was red with embarrassment. There was no way this church would be voting to call a new pastor who could not even remember to bring a tie. This was despite the fact that nobody else was wearing a tie.
Summing up my story, I concluded, “So, that is what brings us here today and why this is probably the first and only time I have ever worn a tie that can do this!”
Reaching down, I grabbed right below the knot and with a small twist, the tie stood straight out — like a board.
Because that is what it was.
Actually, it was made of several pieces of board from different trees. They had been glued together and placed on a strip of leather with a Velcro strip around the top that allowed the wearer to keep it in place around his neck. The tie I had chosen from the box was actually a gag gift that the deacon had stored in his closet for years.
The deacon and his wife were beside themselves and so was the rest of the congregation. It broke the ice and I don’t think any of those present would ever forget the day the new pastor wore a wood tie to church.
As for the outcome of what would be a new career change for me, the church decided to vote that next Wednesday on whether they would extend an invitation to call as pastor the man with a tie for every occasion.
If you are like me, the amount of material on how to write better can be overwhelming. Bookstores, websites, blogs, seminars, etc. make it hard to choose which direction to go, especially when there seems to be a media format for just about every imaginable genre.
The wise King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 12:12, “My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” (ESV)
So, here are five quick tips, in no particular order, to help you write better.
1. Write for yourself!
You MUST like what you write. I love watching cooking shows like Top Chef. One of the maxims food critics and judges live by is that a chef must stand behind his or her dish. Stand behind what you write because your words should be a reflection of YOU!
2. Don’t imitate others!
You will NEVER write like Tom Clancy, James Michener, or J.K. Rowling. The simple reason is this — YOU are not Tom Clancy, James Michener, or J.K. Rowling. If you are ever going to be successful as a writer, set your own rules that define what you are or what you want to become. Be yourself.
3. Use available tools!
You do NOT have to spend large amounts of money to purchase specialized software, to go to seminars, or to take advanced classes on writing. Research what is available. For example, Open Office is a free word processing software that includes spell and grammar checkers. Use them liberally. There is little that is hard to endure than glaring spelling or grammatical errors that could have been easily fixed with an extra minute using a free available tool.
4. Write, write, write!
This should be self-explanatory, but it seems that some who want to be a writer think that staring at a screen will improve their chances of making a best seller list. Write on paper, computer, clay tablet, or even paper napkins at your favorite restaurant. Write on a mountain, on a train, or in a box. Write in English, Hindi, Russian, or Mandarin. JUST WRITE!
5. Be a drudge!
Ignacy Paderewski was a master concert pianist. It is said that at one concert, a woman was enamored with him and his playing. After several minutes of this unwanted attention, the great pianist is said to have stopped her and said, “Madame, before I was a genius, I was a drudge!”
Don’t worry about whether you are good right now. Write and write — going from drudge to genius will take care of itself.
You probably have no clue, but you have a problem. In fact, it is the same problem that I have. It is not a new problem, but one that has existed for quite some time.
If you think you know what the problem is, then you are probably mistaken. Very rarely will you find a person who even knows how to correctly identify the real reason why the problem exists. This problem is not just an isolated case though. It causes continued failure practically every time that it makes an appearance.
At this point, I should probably give you fair warning that the real problem is going to shock you. Therefore, I will wait until you are sitting down comfortably. Grab a coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or a stiff drink.
Ok, here we go.
The real problem is YOU!
If you are thinking inside the box, then you are the problem! If you are not developing a mindset outside of the proverbial box, then you are the problem.
Before you get upset, please let me explain.
When we started our lives in kindergarten, certain things were expected of you and I. We followed along with the plans from the establishment. At the end of the year and with much pomp and circumstance, we were graduated to First Grade. Woohoo! Parties, ice cream, cake, and presents made us feel special, but we were just like everybody else.
Each year a new grade came and went. Elementary school finished and moved us into junior high, and then into high school. Each milestone produced another graduation and we again felt special. However, more likely than not, we were just like all the others. We were NOT different.
12th Grade — Senior Year — Class of ???? — Standing there in cap and gown, you and I insisted that we were going to be the graduating class that changed the world. But, we were all the same.
This has been drummed into us all of our lives. Are the teachers at fault? Yes, they must take some of the blame, but at the end of the day, they face the same problems that you and I face. They are a product of what they were taught to believe, namely, that everybody else is the problem.
Our lives in front of us, we either go to learn a trade, go to university, or begin a menial job. Each day, we continue to add to the reason why we are a failure.
Business school, success seminars, #1 best-selling books all contribute to the sad reality that YOU ARE THE PROBLEM. You have allowed yourself to buy into what we are spoonfed every day.
Still not sure what I mean. Let me give you a few examples.
“Be like Mike!” — The problem is that YOU will never be Michael Jordan. YOU will never even be like Michael Jordan. YOU cannot be Michael Jordan. YOU cannot play like Michael Jordan. Why? YOU are NOT Michael Jordan.
Take a person like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana, Mother Theresa, or any other famous person that you can think of. YOU will NEVER be any of these people.
So, why get stuck in the box of thinking you can be? If you think that YOU can succeed by becoming just like somebody else, YOU will fail miserably. YOU will remain the real problem. YOU will continue to lack the strength to stand out from the rest of the crowd who are doing the exact same things that you are doing.
Even in your talents or skills, YOU will never be like somebody else. There was only one Beethoven. One Michelangelo. One Buddha. One Julius Caesar. One Michael Jordan. One Bill Gates. One Princess Diana. One Michael Jackson. One Will Smith. One _______________ (fill-in-the-blank).
To the delight of my adoring fans, there will ONLY ever be one ME.
Ultimately, there will ONLY ever be one YOU!
Stop being the problem and locking yourself into the boxes that you have built. NO matter how hard you try, and no matter how long you try, you will never be somebody else.
If you going to be successful, you need to break free from all the boxes that you have allowed yourself to be put into down through the years. You need to remind yourself that your talents and skills are yours alone.
However, there is a danger that YOU must avoid. If you follow this simple principle, you must work diligently to encourage others to do the same.
Personally, I hate “How I Did…And How You Can” type books. The real reason is because I do not act, think, speak, listen, or behave like the person who has written the book. Even if you and I followed every single step just like the “successful” person has done, we will ALWAYS reach a different conclusion.
The entire point of this blog is this –
If you want to write, then write, but don’t try to write like everybody else.
If you want to play sports, have a career, whatever you want to do, then just do what you have set your heart and mind to do. However, don’t imitate others because you are TOLD that is what you MUST do in order to be successful.
You have the freedom to choose your path. You have the availability and the responsibility to think outside the box. You have the choice to blame others for your failure or to accept that you are not where you want to be because of YOU.
Relish your new freedom.
Let the real you shine in a way that NOBODY else can duplicate, because nobody else is JUST LIKE YOU!