I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Last Chance

This is your last chance to sign up for a chance to win a copy of my new book, The Experience of Christmas, in the October 1 drawing. I'll post the name of the first winner on October 2. If you are interested, here are the details:

Starting on October 1, I’ll be giving away autographed copies of my books and/or audio CDs from presentations I’ve done at various writers’ conferences to randomly chosen people on the Little Nuances e-mail subscription list. Here’s a schedule of planned giveaways:

October 1—The Experience of Christmas
December 1—The Experience of Christmas
February 1—Single Servings
April 1—Single Servings
June 1—So You Want to Start a Blog? (audio CD)
August 1—So You Want to Start a Blog? (audio CD)
October 1—The Experience of Christmas
December 1—The Experience of Christmas

In addition to the scheduled giveaways, I’ll also do unannounced giveaways throughout the next year. So, if you’d like a chance to win, subscribe to the Little Nuances e-mail update list by providing your e-mail address in the box in the upper right hand corner of the page. Your e-mail address will never be sold. To be eligible to win, you’ll need to be willing to provide a mailing address if/when your name is chosen. I won’t ask for a mailing address before then. And just like with your e-mail address, your mailing address will be kept completely private.

If you are already on the Little Nuances e-mail update list, you don’t need to do anything. You are already eligible for the prizes.

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Christmas Devotional

Everybody who has ever written a book is excited about its release. I'm no exception. My latest book, "The Experience of Christmas," was released yesterday by Barbour Publishing. It might be a little early to be talking about Christmas, but it is my favorite time of the year, and I'm already beginning to think about it.

But as I said in the introduction of the book, "Every year the Christmas season seems to come and go more quickly. In spite of our best intentions and deepest longings, any hope of slowing down to enjoy the real meaning of the season fades with each pressing commitment." I got tired of that and I wanted more from the season.

Most years, I look for Christmas devotionals that might help me to focus on the important things of the holiday. Several years ago, I found a book I enjoy called "Love Came Down" that includes devotional writings from Anglican believers from the 1400's forward. It contains readings from December 1 through Epiphany on January 6. But other than this particular book, I haven't found a lot--especially from Protestantism. So I was grateful for the opportunity to write one myself.

The Experience of Christmas contains readings for every day in December. Each day is centered around one of seven topics (that are each covered once a week throughout the month of December): fulfilled prophecies about the coming Messiah, ways families can serve others at Christmas, the meaning behind Christmas symbols and traditions, the meaning of the names of the Messiah, what Christmas worship looked like in the Scriptures, ways to share the Christmas experience, and family prayers that use the ACTS prayers model. Each day not only contains a reading, but also suggested prayers, Christmas carols that are tied into that particular devotion, and family discussion questions and activities.

I'm hoping that families will use this book around the dinner table each night during the month of December. I'd love to hear stories of children being engrossed in the Christmas story, and desiring to live the Christmas experience. And I'd love to hear stories of families drinking deeper of the things of Christ this Christmas season.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Family History

Nothing quite connects the ancestral dots quite like reading something handwritten by an ancestor. That’s why I gave my grandmother, Modene Warren, a gift for Christmas one year called “The Heirloom Memories Book.” I’ve written about it once before, here. She didn’t fill out the entire book, in fact, she only filled out four pages, plus one additional page she added on a piece of notebook paper. But I’m still thankful for what she did write because it answers the question about why so many of my family members ended up in Omaha, Nebraska—where I still live.

Here’s what she said:

“I knew Ed [her husband of 49 years] about 6 years before we started dating [while they both still lived in Arkansas]. We dated for 2 years and married July 3, 1935. We moved in with Mrs. Warren and Ed’s two sisters, Nadine and Erma for a year. Then we moved into a two room house next door.

“We had no money and were always getting things on time. We’d pay them off when our crops came in. Then we’d start all over again. After we made a crop one year, I told Ed to leave farming—to go some place to find a job. He said not until we get the crop out. I said I would hire help to get it out. After talking, he said we can’t do any worse, so I said ‘go.’

“He left for Omaha the last of September. I came in November. Mrs. Warren was in Omaha by this point. He would find work at first, but only one or two days. Boy things were hard. He walked from South Omaha to North Omaha looking for work. Then, he worked for a year straight. I worked at St. Catherine’s old hospital for $25.00 a month and was glad to have a job. I worked from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., five days a week, riding the bus for ten years. Ed was always working. We saved 10 cents for a loaf of bread. Then we saved $5.00 and got an apartment in South Omaha across from the post office.”

One simple desire by two people nearly sixty years ago changed the lives of the generations who followed them. Most of my family still lives in Omaha. They've met spouses, had children, bought houses, worked, played, enjoyed life, and some have even died here already. Some of my family moved to St. Louis and did all of the same things. And I still have many relatives in Arkansas. I just love knowing how it all came together. And I know because my grandma took the time to record it.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

7th Heaven Returns

Everything is seasonal. The trick is knowing when the seasons change, and then gracefully accepting that fact. Unfortunately, the producers for the hit show 7th Heaven  are either looking at the show through a different set of lenses than I am or they are just holding out hope that they can recapture the magic that has made the show so popular for the last eleven years.

At the end of last season, the WB network decided that 7th Heaven had indeed runs its course. They brought the show in for a landing, and it was time to do so. Plot lines were a little thin. Characters were acting out of character, or becoming caricatures of themselves (Annie and Lucy primarily). And oddly, the show had a “forced” feel to it.

Then the WB and UPN joined forces earlier this year under the CBS and Warner Brothers banner to form the new CW network, and they decided to bring 7th Heaven back. I watched the first episode on the CW on Monday night and unfortunately, everything that was wrong with the show in recent years is still present. And it might even be magnified.

In the espisode on Monday, Lucy, who is an associate pastor in her dad’s church (leaving the theology of such a thing aside), got up in front of the congregation and blamed her husband, and her entire family, for her miscarriage. I love the fact that the show was willing to deal with the very real pain of such an event, but I just can’t see anybody getting up in front of a large group of people and saying such a thing—especially if the people she is speaking about are present. A person might think it, or write about it, or tell a best friend about it, but to go as far as she did seemed odd and unnatural.

In tha same episode, one character, who became a Christian during the Christmas episode last season, is already studying to become a minister. Huh? The Camden household is always in disarray. Annie is always freaking out about something. They’ve taken the “life is hard” theme too far. They never give viewers a chance to catch our breath or to celebrate with them. And that’s kind of sad, because this show used be one of the best shows on television.

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

George Brett

Continuing with my Tuesday Top Ten Athletes of All-Time series:

#2: George Brett

George Brett started his major league career at just about the same time I started following baseball—1974. He was everything a baseball player is supposed to be. He cared more about his team than he did his individual statistics. He hustled hard on every play. And the continual smile on his face told you he enjoyed and appreciated every moment he had while on the diamond.

Brett was a 12–time All-Star, the MVP of the American League (1980), a Gold Glove winner (1985), and he put up huge numbers. In fact, he was the first player to ever accumulate 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, 600 doubles, 100 triples, 1,500 RBI, and 200 stolen bases—all of which led to his Hall of Fame induction in 1999.

So many of the things he did are ingrained in my mind. They are part of my childhood. Who can forget his magical 1980 season when he chased .400 when nobody thought it was possible (nobody had done it since Ted Williams in 1941)? I got chills when he lifted his arms at second base to acknowledge the fans during a game in August when he doubled to go over the .400 mark (he ended up at .390). I can still hear the crack of the bat when he turned on a 98 mph Goose Gossage fastball in Game 3 of the 1980 playoffs that landed in the upper deck in New York. And I still love to watch the video of Brett embracing Bret Saberhagen on the mound after the Royals won the World Series in 1985.

As he approached the end of his career, I filed away many other great memories. I was in the stadium during one hot July afternoon (probably around 1990) when Kauffman Stadium (then called Royals Stadium) still had astroturf. George already had several hits that afternoon, but with the Royals trailing by a run, he hit a high looping shot to left-center field, and he took second knowing that the ball would bounce high. He surprised the outfielder, and he went on to score the winning run. That was the way he played the game. I can still hear Fred White’s call of Brett’s 3,000th hit in Anaheim in 1992. I was in the stadium for Brett’s final game in Kansas City in 1993. Emotion hung in the air during his final at bat, during which he singled up the middle to drive in a run. After the game, he got down on all fours at home plate and kissed it. I could hear sobs throughout the stadium, and I was fighting back the tears too.

Such great memories of the greatest player to ever wear a Royals’ uniform.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

Dover 400

Once in a great while, you get to see a sporting event in which athletes perform at their highest levels while never seeking to gain the advantage in a dirty fashion. In my opinion, such instances don’t happen often enough any more. But it did yesterday at NASCAR’s Dover 400. With 25 laps to go, the race came down to two drivers—Matt Kennseth, who was the race leader, and Jeff Burton, a guy who used to win on a regular basis, but hasn’t done so since 2001.

If you follow NASCAR, then you know that Kennseth and Burton are two of the good guys in the sport. I like both drivers, but I was rooting for Burton at the end because he hasn’t won for so long. Burton repeatedly tried to pass Kennseth, but he couldn’t get around him. Television coverage cut to Burton’s wife, Kim, several times during the last few laps, and she was near tears at the thought of Jeff winning. 

Burton had no intentions of bumping Kennseth out of the way, or to drive into one of the corners so deeply that he wrecked both guys. He stayed on Kennseth’s bumper—always looking for a clean way to pass. Kennseth knew what type of driver that Burton is. He knew Burton wouldn’t play dirty. That meant Kennseth felt free to drive his car to the best of his ability—free from concerns about being knocked out of contention.

With six laps to go, Burton drove underneath Kennseth and passed him in a corner. A few laps later, Kennseth ran out of gas and Burton went on to the Victory Lane. In an age when so many athletes prance and dance and brag and seem to have no respect for their sport or fans, seeing such a gutsy performance by two athletes who care deeply about doing things the right way was a blast to watch.

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Friday, September 22, 2006

This Is Who I Am

As my coffee maker was coming to life with that marvelous blend of coffee grounds and water yesterday morning, I flipped on the television as I usually do before work to quickly get caught up on the news. The first imagine I saw was of Barry Goldwater giving a speech. It turned out to be a documentary called Mr. Conservative: Goldwater on Goldwater that is currently running on HBO.

Goldwater was before my time. At least his run for the presidency was. I was born in 1966. He made his unsuccessful bid in 1964, but I heard about his campaign from my dad. Dad used to tell me that he realized that he was a conservative for the first time during that election cycle because Goldwater crystallized his thinking about so many things.

As I watched the documentary, I felt such a connection to dad. And then it triggered a memory from 1995. That was the year Dad found a copy of Goldwater’s ground-breaking book called The Conscience of a Conservative while rummaging around in a used book store—as he often did. Dad had read the book during the 60’s and been move greatly by it. He plopped down a quarter for it, inscribed the title page to me, and then began making little comments in the margin throughout the book. When he gave it to me, I felt like he was passing the political torch—but it was so much deeper than that. It was like he was telling me, “This is who I am. Read this.”

I raced to my bookshelf yesterday morning, pulled the book off the shelf, and opened it to read his inscription. Here’s what it said:

[Dear Son, Can you believe I purchased this book for a quarter!! As I reread this book I realized how lucky I was to have seen the results of the last elections! July '95]

I flipped through the rest of the book and read his other comments. I’m so glad he did this, because by doing so it’s as if he’s speaking to me from the grave. So, after that emotional moment, I grabbed my freshly brewed coffee and a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and headed for my office to do my devotions. The very first words I read were these: “Hear O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight…” (Proverbs 4:1). Wow. More emotion—and a definite connection.

Then, in the afternoon, a UPS truck pulled up. I thought the delivery man was going to hand me a box that contained books I ordered from Amazon.com last week. Instead, he handed me a big enveloped that contained my next book, The Experience of Christmas. The book will be released officially next week, but this particular copy was my advance copy. (The publisher changed the cover recently. I posted a new picture of the cover in the right hand column.)

Receiving an advance copy of a book you’ve spent so many hours writing leads to so many different emotions. Joy, elation, and satisfaction are the first three that come to mind. But then I think about the people who will never see it—like my dad, and the mood changes a little. Of course, with thoughts of my dad already running through my mind yesterday, he was the first one to come to mind after my first few minutes of bliss.

He wanted to be a writer when he was young, so I would have loved to have seen his face when I handed him a copy. In a way, it would have given me the chance to return the favor by saying, “This is who I am. Read this.”

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Moleskine to the Max

I love the way technology sometimes complements old ways of doing things. You might think that the last place on earth you’d find a community of people who are into recording things with pen and paper is online, but if you google “moleskine hacks,” or check out the “lovemarks” page dedicated to moleskines at the lovemarks website, or visit the “wandering moleskine project” over at the moleskinerie website, or stop by the Google group for moleskine junkies, or marvel over the many “moleskine clusters” at flickr, then you’ll see how many people are using technology to talk about the old way of recording everything imaginable.

I’ve written here several times about my love for moleskine notebooks. I started with one, and now I’m up to five. I have one to record quotes, make lists, record phone calls, etc, another for sermon notes, another to record my devotional thoughts each morning, another to record my general thoughts, and finally a small one (thank you sis’ for giving this to me for my birthday!) to keep track of my daily to-do list. A bit excessive? Perhaps. But I no longer have little scraps of paper scattered everywhere that I can never find when I need to. And I’m recording more of my personal thoughts because these things are so portable.

As much as I love my Palm Pilot, it has become simply my address book and calendar. And it does just fine in that role. But I can’t easily write notes in it and my to-do list almost never fits on one screen and sometimes lines wrap around to the next line (I hate that!). It serves a purpose, but when it comes time to capture creativity, give me a moleskine notebook any day.

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wait for Me

I’m still reading a book called Independence Day by Richard Ford. It’s taking me forever to get through it—partially because I’ve had a lot of deadlines to hit in recent weeks and therefore haven’t read as often as I prefer, and partially because it isn’t the type of book a person reads quickly. It’s 90% internal dialogue and introspection from protagonist Frank Bascombe—a divorced, middle-aged former sports writer who is now selling real estate and is in what he calls his “Existence Period.”

I read a scene in the book recently that really hit home. Frank has just fallen asleep after thinking about his ex-girlfriend who was recently murdered. He didn’t want their relationship to end, but it did. Much like he didn’t want his marriage to end, but it did also. With all of that running through his mind, he drifts off to sleep and here’s what happens:

“Suddenly my heart again goes bangety-bang, bangety-bangety-bang, as if I myself were about to exit life in a hurry. And if I could, I would spring up, switch on the light, dial someone and shout right down in the hard little receiver, ‘It’s okay. I got away. It was close, I’ll tell ya. It didn’t get me, though. I smelled its breath, saw its red eyes in the dark, shining. A clammy hand touched mine. But I made it. I survived. Wait for me. Wait for me. Not that much is left to do.’Only there’s no one. No one here or anywhere near to say any of this to. And I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.”

I imagine he’s just come face to face with the angel of death, and lived to tell about it. But he’s sorry that he has nobody to tell. He doesn’t say that he’s sad or devastated by this fact, instead he says he’s sorry—as if he has had a hand in his loneliness. And he did to some degree. His ex-girlfriend claimed he was boring and his ex-wife claimed that he “relies on how he makes things seem.” Frank seems to be willing to own both accusations. But when things got rough, and he felt like he was about to die during his dream, he was sorry for not being more aware of his faults and for not doing something about them.

I’ve never had anything that dramatic happen to me. But I have woken up, or gone to bed, wishing that I had somebody to explain my own trails and dilemmas to. And wishing that I had someone to listen to in return. When this happens, it causes me to think about the ways I’ve blown it in the past or to regret not trying harder when I’ve had the chance. But unlike with fiction, real life relationships, or potential relationships, rarely end with the clarity that Frank had. Sometimes, it’s hard to know what exactly went wrong. Other times, the reasons seemed clear at the time, but they’ve become fuzzy with age.

But, to be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about where I’ve gone wrong or wondering if I’ve made the wrong decision. I can’t change any of that now. And I believe I’m in a healthier state of mind than I’ve ever been, but that doesn’t necessarily stop moments like the one Frank had from slipping up on me once in a while.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Andre Agassi

Continuing with my Tuesday Top Ten Athletes of All-Time series:

#3: Andre Agassi

I’ve written so much about Andre Agassi in recent weeks that I’ve probably bored you to death talking about him. But he really is my third favorite athlete of all-time. If you want to know why, you can read these posts:

Agassi walked off the public stage at Flushing Meadows just nine days ago and I already miss him. Mostly because I’ll never get to see him play tennis again…other than when it rains during future U.S. Open broadcasts, in which case, the USA Network will rebroadcast several of his classic matches again and again.

And you can bet that I’ll watch them every time.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Let it Ring

I love modern means of communication. I don’t understand how to use all of it that is available, but I use the technology I do have quite extensively. With rare exception though, I don’t feel the need to immediately answer every communication request that comes my way. Technology is supposed to be a tool that enhances life. If I’m not careful, it controls me rather than me controlling it.  

I have three phone numbers (home, home office, and cell)—all of which ring throughout the day. I don’t answer the home phone when I’m working, and sometimes I just let the machine pick up calls on my home phone when I’m busy after hours. I often don’t answer my cell phone if I’m working. And at times, I don’t take personal calls on my work phone—depending upon my work load. I have several e-mail addresses and instant message screen names. I don’t always respond immediately to e-mail or instant messages either.

I’m not anti-social. In fact, I’m trying to be more social now than I’ve ever been. But if I answer every gadget that rings or dings for my attention, I’ll never get anything done. I don’t expect others to answer my calls, e-mails, or instant messages right away for the same reason. I think all of us would feel a little less stress if we just learned to let the gadgets ring once in a while.

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Friday, September 15, 2006


Some might justifiably say that bloggers spend too much time in self-reflection. After spending some time thinking about Psalm 4, which I read recently during my devotions, I doubt that bloggers, or most other people, spend enough time in the type of self-reflection described in verse four of that Psalm: “Stand in awe, and sin not: commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.”

King David wrote this Psalm. We don’t really know what his circumstances were when he did so. We only know from verse two that people were turning his honor into shame and from verse three we know that he was calling out to God for his defense. In verse four, he seems to be saying to his detractors, “God is holy. Even if I have unknowingly wronged you, search your own heart when you go to bed tonight. Don’t talk to anybody else. Don’t stew about my wrongs. Don’t write down your thoughts. Instead, just lie in bed, completely still, and examine your own heart. Seek its motivations. Ponder its desires. I have an idea that you won’t like what you find. None of us do. But it is in the acknowledgment of such things that we find mercy for others and peace for our soul.”

I love what Matthew Henry had to say about Psalm 4:4:

“Commune with your hearts; examine them by serious self-reflection, that you may acquaint yourselves with them and amend what is amiss in them; employ them in solemn pious meditations; let your thoughts fasten upon that which is good and keep closely to it. Consider your ways, and observe the directions here given in order to the doing of this work well and to good purpose…Choose a solitary time; do it when you lie awake upon your beds. Before you turn yourself to go to sleep at night…examine your consciences with respect to what you have done that day, particularly what you have done amiss, that you may repent of it…”

We enjoy the type of self-reflection that explores our hopes and dreams, but we loathe the idea of going deeper—to the place where our motivations lie. We do anything possible to avoid it. We use noise, or activities, or various substances. We run from silence, fearing that our true motivations will finally find a voice, and then have the audacity to tell us that we must change. But by running from such moments, we run from the only true method for finding peace within our soul.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Human Touch

As a cat owner and lover, I really appreciated an article a friend sent me the other day. It’s about a woman who adopted two cats after their owner died during Hurricane Katrina. The article is written in letter format to their former owner and it’s quite touching. The writer does an excellent job of showing how people are connected, even if they never meet each other. Here’s a little of what she said:

“During this same period, my lifelong best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Then my boyfriend had a head-on collision with a drunk, putting him in the hospital for four weeks. It was almost too much, but then I thought about our cats. When I felt overwhelmed, they'd snuggle up on each side like a kitty holster to protect me from the blues as they must have with you. And I'd remember what they'd survived: losing someone they loved, that they'd almost died themselves, but now are happy and safe. They helped me realize that time heals, life goes on, and the power to survive comes from many sources.”

Here’s a link to the article: A heartfelt thanks to a certain Katrina victim

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

High School Football

Last Friday night, a friend and his wife invited me and a couple of my friends to see their son play in a high school football game about a hour away from where I live—in a small town of 615 people. Small towns in Nebraska play 8–man football because the towns are so small that they can’t field 11–man teams. I love going to high school football games in small towns. The game becomes the central unifying focus of the community and it’s so neat to see and experience.

Here are a few snapshots I took at the game:

The mosquitos weren’t all that fun to experience, but everything else was a blast. On one end of the stadium, several people had a grill fired up. I bought a hamburger that was rather tasty, and a .75 cent can of pop. Where else can you buy a can of pop so cheap? I could hear conservations all around me among friends who were catching up on each other’s lives. And little kids were everywhere—playing and chasing each other, while my friend and his wife cheered for their son and his team (they won 34–0, by the way).

At half time, I broke out the nerf football and played catch with my friends. Even though I was sore for two days, it was still worth it. I told one of my friends that the experience seemed to come straight out of a John Mellencamp song called “Small Town.”

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Mike Sweeney

#4 Favorite Athlete of All-Time: Mike Sweeney

As you probably know by now, I’ve been a fan of the Kansas City Royals since I was a small boy. Hundreds of Royals’ players have come and gone since I started following them, and I can remember many of them. But a few of them stand out in my mind. Mike Sweeney is one of them.

The Royals drafted him in the tenth round of the 1991 free agent draft. He worked his way to the major leagues in late 1995, and then again in 1996—after being named to the Minor League All-start team (as a catcher) by Baseball America. He spent a little time in the minor leagues in 1997, but he spent the majority of the season as a catcher at the major league level—splitting time with then Royals’ catcher Mike Macfarlane. He put up mediocre numbers for his first couple of major league seasons, but in 1999, the Royals moved him to first base just as he was beginning to gel as a hitter. He hit 22 home runs and drove in 102 runs that season. In 2000, he drove in 144 runs—which is the all-time Royals’ record for a season. Sweeney has since developed into one of the best hitters in baseball. He’s been a major league All-Star five times. And he’s become the face of the Kansas City Royals.

I’ve cheered each one of his on-field successes. He’s one of the best clutch hitters I’ve ever seen. But that’s not the only reason that Sweeney is one of my favorite athletes of all time. I admire him for what he has done off the field. He spends time at Children’s Mercy Hospital and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. He spends countless hours investing in youth through the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He teams up with the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation to help raise money for children’s charities. He’s a spokesman for “Enjoy the Game” in which he encourages good sportsmanship and teamwork. He started something he calls “Sween Team” in which he provides Royals’ tickets to disadvantaged youth. On and on it goes. In an age in which so many athletes are part of the problem, Mike Sweeney is part of the solution.

I had a chance to interview Mike in June. One of the articles I wrote about him appeared in a newspaper called The Pathway. Here’s a link if you are interested in reading it: Royals’ Star Relies on Faith. Another article I wrote, in which I quoted him extensively, will appear in a national publication next month. The Royals were in the midst of a fire-storm of media attention when I interviewed Mike. A new general manager was about to take over, and a steroid scandal had broken out—in which a former Royals’ player was implicated. Yet, in between interviews with ESPN and other media, Sweeney still made time to speak to me, knowing that I was working for a publication (the article that will be released next month) that is targeted at youth. That’s the type of athlete and man that Sweeney is.

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Monday, September 11, 2006

911 Stories

Approximately four million babies are born in the United States every year. That means that twenty million babies have been born since September 11, 2001. They have no recollection of that day. They only have the videos, pictures, books, articles, and our stories. And right now none of those things mean a lot to them, but it is our responsibility to make sure that as they grow older, they understand what happened that day.

2,996 people—including husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins, co-workers, friends, firefighters, and police officers—died that day at the hands of Islamic terrorists. And all of the people who loved them experienced the anguish that death brings. Seeing all of those people hanging flyers and desperately searching for loved ones was heart-wrenching. But America responded, as she often does, and strangers began helping strangers. And all over America, the things that divided us, seemed to fade into oblivion—at least for a while.

Everybody has a story to tell about that day. Whatever your story is, tell it. Again and again.

I’ve already shared my own experience. Here it is again:

Like everybody else, I can remember exactly what I was doing on September 11, 2001 the moment I heard that the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I was working at a bank, sitting in my cubicle, going through my normal routine. A woman I worked with was listening to the radio and she told me what happened. I was suspicious after she told me about the first plane, but after I heard that the second plane hit, I knew we were under attack. Then came news of another highjacked plane, and then another.

I live in Omaha, Nebraska—the same city in which President Bush flew into that day to meet with administration officials and military advisors. As the day progressed, my co-workers witnessed something in me that they hadn’t seen before—extreme anger. I was angry at the media for telling the entire world where President Bush was located throughout the day and I was livid at the unknown enemy who attacked us.

I rushed home to see the video and to hear the stories on television. Buildings collapsing, people dying, heroes being heroes, and terrorists being terrorists. And before the night was over, I spoke to my family. And in the midst of such chaos, just hearing their voices was nice.

If you get a chance today, check out a blog called 2,996. On it, you’ll find links to posts that bloggers wrote to honor each person who died that day.

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Friday, September 08, 2006


Nobody will ever say that my social skills are top notch. I’ve always been on the shy side, but I’m much better than I used to be. But everybody experiences awkward moments. Like when you get on an elevator with a member of the opposite sex who you don’t know and you both sort of pretend the other person isn’t there. Nobody glances. Nobody says a word. But then you get off the elevator and as you pass somebody in a hallway, you exchange salutations. What is it about elevators that make us clam up so?

Or how about the awkwardness in grocery stores? If you are like me, you start at one end of the store and work your way toward the other side. It always seems like somebody is working the same aisle as you, but they are coming from the opposite side. So you pass each other ten or fifteen times and never say a word to each other. I always find that to be so odd.

When I first hit the walking trails last year, I expected much the same, but I was pleasantly surprised when more than half of the people I passed greeted me in some fashion. For somebody who wants to interact with people more, I find all of this etiquette to be quite confusing. But it’s made me appreciate something I called “forced interaction” a little more.

I’ve been playing tennis about once a week for the several months, and often, one of the other courts is being used next to the one my friend and I play on. Invariably, either my friend and I or the other group will hit a tennis ball that strays onto somebody else’s court. Usually, the offending party will apologize and the other person will say it’s no problem. Before long, everybody has returned so many tennis balls, that everybody feels comfortable interacting. I love it when that happens.

I wish all of us were a little more open to interacting with each other, but I understand people’s reservations. As a male, I’m always conscious of the fact that when I’m interacting with a woman, that she may be leery because she doesn’t know my intentions. And I’m sure that women are a little hesitant to initiate polite interaction with men for fear of sending the wrong message. I really don’t see any way around this between the sexes, but I suspect all of us could do a little more to encourage interaction between people.

The other day, I was standing outside of a restaurant, waiting to meet my mom for supper. A guy who is a different nationality than I am walked by me and said, “Hey, how’s it going?” I returned his greeting, but then I was sort of irritated at myself for not saying something to him first. I just chalked it up as a learning experience. Hopefully it’ll encourage me to be a little more open in the future. 

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Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chasing Bugs

When Midnight (my beloved cat) was a kitten, she chased everything that moved—shoelaces, newspapers, shopping bags, and even pencils if she saw me writing with one. And she loved to chase bugs. She used to hang out a lot in one of my windowsills to soak up some sun and for whatever reason, flys were attracted to that particular window. She’d stand up on her back legs, and swat them with her front paws. Judging from the way she favored her left paw when she swatted them, I think she truly is a southpaw.

In recent years, things have changed. She’s 16 now. According to the chart on her veterinarian’s wall, that makes her around 64 in cat years. She’s still frisky. She still gets the midnight crazies. She still likes to fight with me before I go somewhere. And she still likes to impersonate Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka by jumping off my headboard at night and landing either on me or right next to me. But for some reason, she has stopped chasing bugs. I have no idea why. She can still see them—she’ll often watch them buzz by, but she doesn’t make a move toward them.

If I had to guess, I’d say she’s finally figured out that spending all that energy to catch bugs isn’t really worth it. It proves that she’s “still got it,” but beyond that, why would she want to eat bugs when she has her daily pick between canned wet cat food, dry cat food, and people food which she often mooches off me during supper?

In some ways, I think all of us chase bugs, and in the process we miss out on a proverbial feast. Our instincts tell us to chase bugs—most of which aren’t inherently bad, but they just aren’t as good as what we miss out on while pursuing them. Maybe Midnight is on to something. Sitting in the sun and ignoring her urge to chase bugs seems to suit her well.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Economy of Time

During Andre Agassi’s farewell press conference, he touched on a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot in recent weeks—the cost of our actions. He said that all the time he put into training, and traveling, and playing tournaments was time that he took from somewhere else—his family, his foundation, his community, his friends, etc.

In a sense, every decision we make is economic. Any time I choose to read, I’m making a decision to not spend time with family or friends, or in producing a manuscript, or in working on my health. And any time I choose to do one of those other things, I’m making the decision to not do everything else.

Of course, we need to spend time making a living, and handing out with friends, and nurturing our health, and feeding our mind and soul. So, I’m not taking a negative view of the economy of time. In fact, I think seeing our time as economic in nature can help us to find a balance between all of the necessary endeavors we need to pursue, and it can help to weed out activities that are not only a waste of time, but a waste of time that takes away from something, or more importantly, someone, we love.

Several years ago, I met a writer named Jo Kadlecek at a writer’s retreat. She wrote a book called Feast of Life: Spiritual Food for Balanced LivingI devoured her book after I got home. Check it out if you get a chance. She points to our need for balance in the following four areas of life: (1) solitude, (2) service, (3) community, and (4) contemplation. In the first chapter, she makes this point:

“Many of us fill our lives with ‘nervous activities’ that can never ‘satisfy the longing of the heart’ [she’s referring to a quote by A.W. Tozer]. What happens as a result? We get so busy looking spiritual that we neglect our solitude with God. Or we become so immersed in our community relationships that we forgo the nourishment of individual contemplation. Or we serve and give of ourselves until we collapse from exhaustion, feeling discouraged, hopeless, and far from God.”

I think she’s giving us the benefit of the doubt in a big way. I’m not so sure that most of us are so engaged in attempting to look spiritual, or in immersing ourselves in community, or in service to others that we feel hopeless and far from God as much as we are spending time in the nervous activity of simply pleasing ourselves in ways that have no lasting or pertinent value. 

Wasting time on things that don’t matter is a big concern I have for my own life. I’ll never make all the right decisions when it comes to how I’ll spend my time, and some days, I’ll fail miserably. But seeing time as economic in nature helps me to get back on track more quickly.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Jimmy Connors

#5 Favorite Athlete of All-Time: Jimmy Connors

I love seeing Jimmy Connors on the tennis court again. He disappeared from the tennis scene upon retirement in 1993, and he didn’t return until a few weeks ago when a struggling Andy Roddick hired him as his coach. Seeing Connors walking the hallowed grounds at Flushing Meadows this past week brought back such wonderful memories of the run he made at the U.S. Open in 1991 in which he got all the way to the semi-finals at the age of 39 before losing to Jim Courier.

I can specifically remember his fourth round match that year when he played 24 year-old Aaron Krickstein. Connors was behind 5–2 in the fifth set and he charged all the way back to force a tie-breaker. He pumped his fists. He pointed to the crowd. He ran all over the court as his adrenaline pumped furiously. And he won the tie-breaker 7–4. 

Connors had an unbelievable career. He won 109 tournaments—far more than any other player (Ivan Lendl was second on the all-time list with 94 career tournaments wins). He won 8 majors—including the U.S. Open on three different surfaces (clay, grass, and hard court). He held the number one ranking for a total of 263 weeks in his career (159 of which where consecutive). And as impressive as all that it, I was still always taken by his passion for the game.

I can remember ordering a scholastic book about him when I was a young boy and then reading all about him. I have to confess though, when he played John McEnroe, I always rooted for Johnny Mac. I hated being neutral, and since I liked Mac better, I had to root against Jimmy. But I loved to watch them play each other. Mac would hit all sorts of angles and use various different spins. Jimmy would hit his T-2000 flatter than a pancake. They both played with their emotions on their sleeve. And it was a great rivalry. I watched them play so many times that I equate their matches with my teen years.

Unfortunately, Connors felt shunned by the sport toward the end of his career, so he walked away from tennis entirely. I don’t know how long his arrangement with Roddick will last, but even if it doesn’t last long, I hope that he Connors finds a way to stay involved.

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Monday, September 04, 2006

Writer's Conference

In March, I told you that I’ll be on-staff at the Glorieta Christian Writer’s Conference in Glorieta, New Mexico in October. I’ll be teaching a class about advanced blogging. And I’ll be leading three “Meet-the-Pro” roundtable discussions about (1) freelancing for small local newspapers (2) starting and maintaing a blog, and (3) writing for the Christian sports market.

For those who are interested in writing, and I hear from many of you, this is an outstanding conference to attend. I wouldn’t have been able to establish the connections that I currently have in the publishing world if I hadn’t started attending writers’ conferences in 2000.

If you check out the Glorieta website, you’ll see that 32 editors and agents are scheduled to be at the conference. And you’ll see that 50 professional writers and other experts will be there as well. All of these people are going to be available for one-on-one appointments with conferees. In addition to formal appointments, many of these people will be available during meals and at various other gatherings. And in some form or fashion, all of these people will be teaching classes or leading discussions about the publishing world.

In today’s publishing world, more and more book publishing companies are closing the doors to unsolicited manuscripts. But if you meet these editors at a conference and pitch an idea to them that they like, they may invite you to send it to them—in which case, your matierial is not considered unsolicited. And you won’t find a better opportunity to approach magazine editors with multiple aritlce ideas. Finally, with so many professional writers on-staff, you’ll have a chance to pick their brains.

On the first day of the conference, the entire staff will walk up on stage and give a brief 30–second bio about his or her publishing company, magazine, or level of expertise. This gives conferees a chance to jot down notes about the people they want to meet with during the conference. You can also find information about each staff member on the Glorieta website.

If you’ve been thinking about writing for publication, but you aren’t sure where to start, then this conference, or another one like it, is the answer. Here’s a link to the registration form for Glorieta. I’d love to see a couple of you there.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Agassi's Farewell Speech

Watching Andre Agassi play his third round U.S. Open match this afternoon against Benjamin Becker evoked all sorts of emotions in me. Agassi limped around the court and pushed balls that he have normally taken a full cut at, but still, he fought on. He’s been saying that he didn’t want to limp out of New York and that he simply wanted to be able to lean into the finish line. Oh how I wish he could have gotten his wish.

Seeing him in so much pain was difficult to watch. Seeing him battling to stay in the match when so many others would have given up was inspiring. But I found myself wishing that the match would end just so he wouldn’t have to run any more. I started thinking about his kids and about how difficult it is was going to be for him to pick them up in the coming days. And I started thinking about how difficult it must have been for Steffi Graff to watch her husband in so much pain.

But only Andre knew where his limits were. Only he knew how much he had left to give. After dropping the first set, he looked like he was in trouble. Again. But he pressed on and forced a tie-breaker in the second set. And after going up 6–3 in the tie-breaker, he pumped his fist and the crowd came to life. He clearly had a little left and he was going to leave every ounce of it on the court. He took the second set, and Dick Enberg declared that “greatness reveals itself under pressure and pain.”

Reality set in during the third set and Agassi’s limp was even more noticeable. He started taking big cuts when returning serve while just spinning in his own serve. He got down two breaks and it looked like he might just play out the remainder of the match and take his bows. But then he broke back. And then he held serve to make it 3–2 Becker, and once again, I started to think he might just pull this match out. Becker held his break though and won the third set.

Becker was up two sets to one and Agassi looked more like he ought to be on a trainer’s table than a tennis court. He continued to fight and he even earned a set point in the fourth set, but it wasn’t meant to be. Becker held on and won the match and the Andre Agassi-era of tennis finally came to an end. Afterward, the crowd cheered while Agassi’s pent up emotions spilled over, and he wept openly. When he got close to controlling his emotions, he took the microphone and said this:

“The scoreboard said I lost today, but what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. And over the last 21 years I have found loyalty. You have have pulled for me on the court and also in life. I have found inspiration. You have willed me to succeed—sometimes even in my lowest moments. And I have found generosity. You have given me your shoulders to stand on to reach for my dreams—dreams I could have never reached without you. Over the last 21 years I have found you and I will take you and the memory of you with me for the rest of my life. Thank you.”
A powerful, one minute, heart-felt speech that brought tears to the eyes of everybody who watched. Including me.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Agassi Does it Again

What more can be said about Andre Agassi? He played another match last night at the U.S. Open for the ages—this time against 21 year-old Marcos Baghdatis, who was the eighth seed in the tournament. And reminiscent of last year when Agassi defeated James Blake in rather dramatic fashion, during which 20,000+ New Yorkers were up past midnight on a work night, Agassi and Baghdatis kept them up late again with a thrilling match that had a little of everything.

Agassi jumped out to a quick two set lead, but Baghdatis found a way to win the third set. After Agassi broke Baghdatis twice to open the fourth set to take a 4–0 lead, the match appeared to be over. But judging from what I saw last night, Baghdatis is cut from the same cloth that Agassi is cut from regarding his will to win. He doesn’t give up. He broke Agassi twice and won the fourth set. And the crowd got nervous. So did I. 

The fifth set was something else. The crowd was going nuts through the entire set. Baghdatis started to cramp in both legs, and at times, he could barely stand. But he still found a way to hit winners and stay in the match. So, on one side of the net, we had an aging 36 year-old champion who had to go to the hospital after his first round match to get a cortisone shot just so he could play this match against Baghdatis. On the other side of the net, we had a 21 year-old up-and-comer who was more physically spent than his much older opponent, but he wouldn’t give up. 

The slugged away from the baseline. They hit aces and winners. They pumped their fists. They ran down balls that neither had any right running down. And they electrified tennis fans by their all-out effort. In the end, Agassi prevailed 7–5 in the fifth set and he gave us the gift of getting to see him play at least one more time.

Next up is Benjamin Becker. He’s a 25 year-old qualifier who is currently ranked 112th in the world. Becker did knock off Sebastien Grosjean, the number thirty seed, but as long as Agassi’s back holds up, I can’t see Becker beating Agassi. If Agassi prevails, that’ll set the stage for a possible fourth round match up between Agassi and Andy Roddick. What a match that would be! If Agassi got by Roddick, he’d probably play Lleyton Hewitt or Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals. And if you really want to dream, Agassi might face Rafael Nadal in the semifinals. And if he got by Nadal, he’d surely play Roger Federer again in a rematch of the U.S. Open final last year.

Regardless of how far he makes it, I’m savoring every moment he’s on the court, knowing that it could be his last.

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