When Your Talk Bombs

You know what’s funny (and a bit sad)?

That throughout my entire middle school and high school student ministry career, I can hardly remember any talk or sermon given by my youth pastors. And if you, for some reason, actually end up reading this Josh or Mary Jo, please know that I don’t blame you.

It was totally on me.

Do you know which talks I can vividly remember nearly every detail of?

The ones that bombed.

And I don’t mean had a small glitch. I mean epically went south and we had to call it a night.

Like when one youth pastor (not previously mentioned) literally got up on stage, gave a 5 minute talk about how he forgot to plug in his tape player but was trying to watch a movie and couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work. Then he read one verse and said we had to be connected to the power source in order to make an impact in God’s kingdom.

Then he said “Sorry guys, that’s all I got this week.”

And we all went home.

Another time, I was the youth pastor. And in the middle of my talk, I mean right in the dead center of the sermon, a fight broke out. Not a small fight. A knock-down drag out fight of epic proportions.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve bombed a couple of talks. For one reason or another the things just degenerated into chaos and we had to tell everyone to pack it up and call their parents.

What do you do when your talk bombs? What do you do when the students revolt and you have no other option?

Try these on for size and let me know the story of when you bombed:

Have a plan

Don’t plan on your talk to bomb (or a fight to break out), but try to have a game plan for when the inevitable happens.

Does everyone go outside and play volleyball? Do you call all the parents and tell them its time to pick up their kids super early? Do you bust out the video games and get a tournament going?

Those aren’t ideal situations, but if you (and your volunteers) know the plan, then at least you can execute well.

Have a good attitude

Your students might not remember the words of your last talk, but they will certainly remember the way you reacted. If yelling and screaming is how you react to unruly students or a sermon illustration that sets off the fire alarm, students will certainly remember.

Make sure your attitude is full of grace and truth.

Don’t beat yourself up

My wife has to remind me that I’m human. I will make mistakes.

In light of those mistakes, remember there’s only been one perfect preacher and his crowd didn’t like what He said either.

Learn from your mistakes, adjust accordingly, and then prepare for the next time you teach.

Because, whether it’s fair or not, your students will probably better remember the talk that bombs than the one that goes off without a hitch.

When Other People are Excited For You

Wayward ebook twoOk, so I wrote a book and you may or may not know about that. If you don’t know about it, then it’s probably my fault.

I said in a post that I didn’t want to be “the guy with the book” and only talk about that, and that’s still true. But I also said I wouldn’t mention that book ever again, like it was a thing I shouldn’t talk about because….

Well fine, I didn’t really have a good reason.

I wrote a book and I’m happy with the results. And someone was gracious enough to highlight it on her blog and host a giveaway of it. You can find all of that here and even try to win the ebook giveaway if you’d like. (That blogger also has her own book, and I’m sure she’d love some people to check out her stuff also.) And when someone is excited for you and with you, it’s really hard to keep quiet.

I’m having a hard time keeping quiet about this. I’m genuinely excited.

I wrote a book.

I finished writing a book.

I’m currently writing the second one.

Is it the greatest book you’ll ever read? I hope not. But I do hope it’ll at least be entertaining to the ones who do.

Maybe at first I thought it was just a weird thing (or something really nerdy) and so I didn’t want to talk it up. Well, my excitement is winning out right now over fears of being called nerdy. Besides, it’s about time I embraced being nerdy anyways.

I wrote a book. You can buy it if you want, but what would really be cool is if you were just excited with me and this new thing I’ve got going.

And if you’re really excited, you could offer up an honest opinion in the form of a review on whatever site you purchase this thing from.

But hey, let’s not get too crazy here.

Today, I would have called home

I probably would have called home today.

For lots of reasons.

Penny got her first cast (pink with sparkles) and has the honor of being our first child to break a bone. I would have called to talk about her new cast and how she did a great job cooperating with the doctor.

Evan is coming to visit this weekend, so I may have talked about that as well. My twin is a great guy and the girls love him. He puts up with being climbed all over to hang out with us.

It’s my day off and the day after a long Wednesday night. The ministry here gets done late and I’m usually not home until late as well, so instead of calling like I normally would after Wednesday night youth ministry, I would have called sometime today.

Just to say hey and check on things and see how everyone was doing. Like I do often.

But I would have called home today for one reason in particular.

Dad would have been 67 today.

And I probably would have called him right before bed. Right when I remembered it was his birthday (I’ve yet to send mom a card on time).

Yesterday Facebook reminded me by showing me that standard picture for a profile with his name beside it. He never got the hang of Facebook, nor do I think he intended to use it much.

Oh but I’m sure he would’ve loved seeing his granddaughters’ pictures.

I could be sad or angry that he’s not around to see them.

I’m not. He’s much happier in the presence of God in heaven.

Instead of being upset or resentful, I’ll be grateful for the legacy he left for me to follow.

Happy birthday dad.

I still miss you.

Every day.

Writing Wednesday: The Bones

Remember in high school when the science teacher had a full sized skeleton hanging in the corner of her room? Remember taking pictures with the creepiest thing your high school had to offer?

Well fine, I took pictures with it.

I can honestly say that thing creeped me out, but it was also fascinating. To think that those bones are whats inside me and supports my organs, skin, muscles, etc. It was really cool.

When I wrote my book, I started with a skeleton: just the bones. I outlined it chapter by chapter. Each chapter had one paragraph that would explain what would happen in it and how it would transition to the next.

When I finished outlining it, I had a pretty good idea of what would sit on top of that skeleton.

As I wrote, some things happened the way I planned, some things changed. A bone would get moved from one place to another or get cut out altogether because it was unnecessary.

I feel like outlining your writing helps you see the big picture: the beginning, the problem, the drama, the resolution, the ending. It really helped keep me on track and focused.

If you’re writing something, try outlining it from the beginning to end. How you outline is up to you of course. The amount of detail you put there all depends on what you’re willing to give on the front end. Want to be really detailed? Give each paragraph in your chapter a sentence when you outline. Want to write more freely? Give your chapter a beginning, middle and end sentence then write more fluidly.

I found outlining to help me tremendously when I write.

What helps you?

Family Fridays: Frustration and Parenting

Can I make a confession?

I’m not a perfect dad.

I get tired. I get irritated. I get frustrated.

Last night I was putting a very tired Sophie to bed and FINALLY after getting passed brushing teeth (a big deal), picking pajamas (a VERY big deal) and putting her down in bed without tears (monumental), I finally left the bed room.

I was beyond ready to sleep. It was a long day. The girls had woken up early. I was exhausted.

I began picking up around the house (less than normal actually, thanks to a very loving wife who could tell I was tired) and then I heard tears coming from the bedroom.

Our girls share a room so I almost stormed into the room with the typical “You be quiet! Don’t wake up Penny! If you do you’re in trouble!”

And then I saw that she was holding up her nighty and her blanket.

Because I forgot to put a diaper on her and she had wet the bed.

Ugh.

An hour later, after new pajamas, new sheets, new diaper, new tears and lots of kisses, she went back to bed.

Beyond exhausted, I climbed into bed myself and was reminded by Bekah about two very important truths:

  1. There’s only one perfect Dad.
  2. Tomorrow is a new day.

Here’s to parenting with love and patience, even when you’ve run out of both. Because our perfect Dad has love and patience for us beyond measure.

I wrote a novel

Yup, a full out novel. Science fiction. Fantasy epic. Cool right?

So let me attempt to answer the questions you may or may not have actually asked.

Why did you write a novel?
I love a good story. I always have. And I think the world is full of great ones. When I began to see the Bible as great story (a true one!) God was telling over thousands of years I really got excited about the truth found in it.
Every story, in shape or fashion, tells a little bit of The Story. Whether intentionally or not, a story can turn our thoughts and hearts to God. No matter if it’s to remind us of our great need for Him or how great He is!
So I wanted to tell a story about good and evil and the war against them. Besides, we know who wins The Story we live out everyday. So why not write a story where we get to be a little less certain?

Will this be the greatest book I’ve ever read?
Nope.

Fantasy? Really?
Yes really. I’ve always been drawn to fantasy worlds. Narnia. Middle Earth. Then there are the worlds I’ve seen in Warhammer and in video games.
Again, I think we get this idea of creating worlds because we were created by a Creator. Therefore, we are creative.
Plus elves and wizards and goblins and stuff.

Where did you come up with this stuff?
A combination of adventures my friends and I made up in a chat room in the 90′s as well as several attempts to make my own rpg in a computer program.
Can you tell I didn’t play football when I was a kid?

So which character is Jesus? The sinful man? Abraham?
Woah, slow down. I’m not C.S. Lewis nor am I smart enough to pull that kind of writing off. Maybe in the future, but don’t go looking for the Christ character (yet) in this book. I’m going for more subtle than naming a character J.C.

What’s with the “Legends of Gilia” and “Volume One” business?
I’ve got several ideas floating my head about this world I’ve made up. In this first book, you’ll only see a portion of it. I plan to write more as time and creativity allow! I have planned this book to be a part of a trilogy. We’ll see how that goes.

About time. Didn’t you just start a new job and move to Texas? When did you have time to write this?
I got motivated to do nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and so that knocked out 50,000 words in one month. My goal for the novel was 90k and at last check it was 97,000. So starting on November 1st and going until February 7th when I finished, I basically had to write 980 words a day.
This blog post is about 680 words and took me 20 minutes to write out. On my phone. So by finding little bits of time each day. Mostly at night while everyone else was sleeping.

Well, it’s been nice following your blog and being Facebook friends. Now that all you’re going to talk about is your novel, I am unfollowing you. Ok?
Not ok.
I don’t want to be “that guy with a book.” So you are reading the first and last post I’ll ever make about this book. No tweets. No instagrams. No Facebook posts. This is it.
If indeed I finish another book, I ask permission to at least Instagram an announcement for you. Ok?
So can we still be friends?

But Ronald. This is the coolest thing ever. How can I keep up with what’s going on with your writing and your world and all this other awesome stuff if you aren’t post in it here?
By going to this website: http://www.retrovertbooks.com. Check out the map, the music, and other nerdy things I made up there.
Here’s a preview of a really cool map someone made for me. Pretty cool, huh?

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There’s also a place to listen to some cool fantasy music while you read. Get into the groove.
Plus I’ll actually keep a very sporadically updated blog on that website.
Want updates? Follow that blog and twitter account. Don’t want updates? Don’t worry. None forthcoming here.

Can I buy this thing?
You can. Paperback and kindle version are up on Amazon. Knock yourselves out. Click here to grab whichever you’d like.

Can I approach you about this novel in a public setting?
Yes. But we’ll need to work out a secret handshake.
And don’t ask for a copy. I don’t plan on carrying an inventory. But you can ask for a signature. Because I doubt you actually read this far or want one!

I like you. Can I help out?
Please do! Use this picture of the novel cover and tweet, share, Instagram or whatever. Talk it up with your friends. Read it and write a fair and real review on Amazon (reviews make the book come up more in searches and rankings).

So there you have it.

I wrote a book.

Six Years to the Day: Union Tornado

Photo from wikimedia commons

Six years ago my wife and I sat in our apartment at Union University, doing homework and trying to get through another rainy day in Jackson, TN.

Then the sirens blared.

I’ll never forget the yells of my wife as the pressure dropped.

I’ll never forget the sound of a F5 tornado rampaging through our campus.

I’ll never forget running to the back door of our apartment in the darkness after the power went out.

I’ll never forget the deafening silence that followed as I opened the door and saw several of Union’s dorms leveled.

I’ll never forget the first thought that ran through my head:

“How many of my friends are dead?”

By God’s grace and mercy, of the 3000 students who were on campus that night, not a single one was killed.

I continually remember a friend telling me that Jackson General Hospital prepared 150 body bags when news came that the dorms were destroyed.

I’ll never forget what my wife suggested we do next: grab every blanket and water bottle we could find and go help our friends.

On the way out, we called our parents and told them we were ok. For the rest of the evening we had no service.

The entire country was trying to call students in Jackson, TN to ensure that they were ok and the cell towers were jammed.

The events that followed were a blur. We helped empty out McAfee and get students to the newly constructed and least hit building: the science building.

I remember seeing nursing students aiding others in the PAC, some who were bleeding and others who were just in shock.

Bekah and I left campus with everyone else that night. We were evacuated because another storm cell was coming our way. We went to Lexington, where I had just started as Youth Minister, and slept at the Lowrance’s house.

We spent the next week living in the basement of another church member, Frank and Belinda McEarl, before they allowed students who lived in the apartments and dorms that were unaffected by the tornado to return.

Students were housed all over the city: by generous church members, by the generosity of Englewood, by family and friends of friends.

The semester resumed later and everyone, students, teacher, faculty, and staff rallied around each other.

In it all, I remember many students praying over one another during that night the tornado hit, reading scripture to one another to remind themselves that God was God over creation: even the whirlwind.

I’m so thankful for the generosity that poured in from all over the country for our school. I’m so thankful for the leadership of Dr. Dockery in the years that followed that saw our campus rebuilt and ready for the next fall semester with staggering new student enrollment numbers and the new dorms to hold them.

But I’ll never forget how God spared our campus from tragedy and death on the 5th day of February during my wife and I’s last semester at Union University.

The night God showed up in the whirlwind.

Family Friday: Photo Unavailable

The other day I was playing with Sophie and Penny. For some reason or another, we were underneath Sophie’s bed. Sophie’s gotten into playing in the dark so all the lights were off and underneath the bed, it was pretty dark.

So I turned on my phone and used the flashlight app to make it light up and turned it on its face so that we could see and the play continued.

We were being pretty silly and really enjoying ourselves and having a good time.

A couple of minutes into it I thought it would be good time to get a photo of the girls and I playing and being silly.

But instead, rather than take the pic, which is my normal thing to do, I left the phone on its face and played with my girls.

I don’t know about you, but I’m often distracted from my family by several things, and more often than not its my cell phone. And sometimes I feel like instead of actually spending time with my family, I’m cataloging me spending time with my family. Which, funnily enough, distracts me from actually being there.

So, for this one time when I think I did it right, take my example.

Turn off the phone. Tune out the distractions instead of your family.

Spend time with them instead of cataloging what you’re doing.

So sorry, but the photo of us playing as a family under the bed is unavailable.

Helping Students with Next Steps Part Two

Great time talking with Brandon and Ryan about helping students take the next steps in ministry:

  • Getting new students connected
  • Having a salvation conversation
  • Encouraging them to get baptized

Good stuff!

Healthy Hearts and Prayers That Ask for Them

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This is a guest post by my beautiful wife Bekah.

Well as you might have guessed I am not here to write about “Ministry Monday” topics. I know most of you who are reading this post have been wondering why no update has come forth about our echo with baby Ruth. I am sorry for the delay, however, we did not want to rush out information that may be cause fear and anxiety in our friends and family. A perfect situation would be for us to wait until we could speak to the cardiologist again, have all our questions answered and THEN post an update. But after talking, Ronald and I have decided that we would give you the information that we have and then update you as we are updated.

So here we go.

Baby Ruth is almost 23 weeks along in her development. We had the echo last Thursday as many of you will recall. I met a great cardiologist with many years of experience. The echo revealed both an echogenic focus in her left ventricle and she was unable to locate one of her right pulmonary veins. When they shared this with me initially, I asked the simple question of, “So what does that mean diagnosis wise?” She said that the potential diagnosis is Partial Anomalous Pulmonary Veinous Return or PAPVR.

Now before you start Googling, let me tell you what she told me. The echogenic focus could be two things: a calcified spot in her heart or ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It is not a 100% accurate indicator that something is wrong and often times they resolve themselves before birth. As it pertains to the missing vessel it could mean two things: surgery will be required to fix the anomaly or ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It could be merely hiding.

So the plan as of today is: wait and pray. We will schedule a follow up echo for Ruth shortly after delivery to see if the vessel is actually missing. After the follow up echo, we will know for sure if surgery will be necessary. Thank you for your patience while we sorted out our initial shock and had some private time to pray about this as a couple. I know it was difficult, but I appreciate your restraint and your consideration.

As a recap: I am fine. Ruth is safe and is growing right on track. Ruth may be born with an absolutely normal heart, but more diagnostics will be needed to determine this. I will be talking to the cardiologist sometime this week (hopefully) to get more information about prognosis and the time line should something be wrong.

As our friends and family we ask that you join with us in prayer. That is all we can do at this point. Pray that Ruth will have a normal, fully formed heart. Pray that she will deal well with the delivery process. Pray that if surgery is needed that it will bring God glory, just like Penny’s surgery did. In addition to praying, please note that we have not told Sophie or Penny that there COULD be something wrong with Ruth. It is with that understanding that if you do have questions, please make sure the children are not with us. We do not want to add to the stress of gaining a new sister. We love you all and thank you so much for your support, both now and in the uncertain times to come.